Icons of Incompetence
March 16, 2013 7:05 AM   Subscribe

What cultural figure might you compare someone to (individual or group) if you wanted to portray them as bumbling and incompetent? E.g. Keystone Cops, Inspector Clouseau, the Washington Generals... I'm particularly interested in international examples that Americans (like me) might not know about.
posted by pete_22 to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
On the show Community they use "Britta" (one of the characters' names) to mean "to make a small mistake". Some other person as verb usages throughout entertainment have the general sense you're looking for and might be broadly familiar.
posted by ecsh at 7:13 AM on March 16, 2013

Gaston Lagaffe
posted by zadcat at 7:16 AM on March 16, 2013

The British might say Colonel Blimp, based on the David Low cartoons (and not the movie, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). "Low developed the character after overhearing two military men in a Turkish bath declare that cavalry officers should be entitled to wear their spurs inside tanks."
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:19 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mr Bean
posted by anagrama at 7:24 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Wise Men of Chelm
posted by moonmilk at 7:31 AM on March 16, 2013

American example, but Captain "Wrong Way" Peachfuzz from Rocky and Bullwinkle. You'll still occasionally hear someone say "wrong way, Peachfuzz!" when someone is lost or misguided.
posted by dayintoday at 7:52 AM on March 16, 2013

Not a person, but Fawlty Towers is a cultural touchstone for bumbling incompetence.
posted by bimbam at 8:08 AM on March 16, 2013

It seems most cultures have their own version of "Polish" jokes. For example, in Ireland, you tell a Kerryman joke.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:11 AM on March 16, 2013

Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot.
posted by scruss at 8:28 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thomson and Thompson, the detectives from Tintin.
posted by bcwinters at 8:32 AM on March 16, 2013

Catarella from Il Commissario Montalbano.
posted by 445supermag at 8:33 AM on March 16, 2013

Mariano Melgarejo was president of Bolivia in the 1860s and his gross incompetence is the stuff of legend there.
posted by silvergoat at 8:57 AM on March 16, 2013

Van der Merwe is one from South Africa. The character Wikus Van der Merwe in District 9 is a reference.
posted by logicpunk at 9:02 AM on March 16, 2013

Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 9:11 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by elgilito at 9:18 AM on March 16, 2013

Another British TV example (to join Mr Bean and Fawlty Towers): Dad's Army
posted by James Scott-Brown at 9:26 AM on March 16, 2013

Agent 86 from Get Smart
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:29 AM on March 16, 2013

Mr. Magoo
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 10:16 AM on March 16, 2013

In Yiddish story telling tradition, when you want to tell a story about foolish people you would place it in the mythical village of Chelm.
A young housewife living in the town of Chełm had a very strange occurence. One morning, after buttering a piece of bread she accidentally dropped it on the floor. To her amazement, it fell buttered side up.
As everyone knows, whenever a buttered piece of bread is dropped on the floor, it always falls buttered side down; this is like a law of physics. But on this occasion it had fallen buttered side up, and this was a great mystery which had to be solved. So all the Rabbis and elders and wise men of Chełm were summoned together and they spent three days in the synagogue fasting and praying and debating this marvelous event among themselves. After those three days they returned to the young housewife with this answer:
"Madam, the problem is that you have buttered the wrong side of the bread."
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:16 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

The St. Louis Browns, one of the worst but most colorful baseball teams in history.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:19 AM on March 16, 2013

Wrong Way Corrigan.. Got his nickname by flying from NY to Ireland instead of California.
posted by Gungho at 11:39 AM on March 16, 2013

Additional Wrong Way content: Wrong Way Riegels
posted by rhizome at 12:53 PM on March 16, 2013

George W. Bush or Rick Perry
posted by a humble nudibranch at 6:03 PM on March 16, 2013

Obama or Biden. See I can do it too... Stick to the program

Homer Simpson. It's in the dictionary under "to do a Homer"
posted by Gungho at 5:25 AM on March 17, 2013

Barney Fife?
posted by ardgedee at 7:37 AM on March 17, 2013

The Chuckle Brothers
posted by crocomancer at 8:14 AM on March 17, 2013

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