Who would sacrifice their reputation for the sake of the world?
February 14, 2007 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Who would sacrifice their reputation for the sake of the world?

I'm looking for characters in both fiction and history who allowed themselves to be either completely forgotten or despised in order to perform what they perceive to be the greater good. I'm interested in characters who are correct, incorrect, and/or ambiguous with regard to what constitutes the "greater good." Examples off the top of my head include Judas from Borges' "Three Versions of Judas" and John Smith from The Dead Zone, as well as some characters from Joss Whedon's stuff.
posted by Sticherbeast to Media & Arts (71 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Um, fiction/history aside, what about Jesus?
posted by aberrant at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2007

Two more clarifying questions: does forgotten/despised also mean killed? Also, do you want despised "in the moment" - in which case most martyrs qualify - or despised forever?
posted by aberrant at 5:08 PM on February 14, 2007

It's difficult to "allow yourself" to be forgotten or despised. It's completely outwith your hands.
posted by fire&wings at 5:11 PM on February 14, 2007

does forgotten/despised also mean killed?

Nope. If anything, the sacrifice would mean more if you had to actually live with being a pariah or a nobody.

Also, do you want despised "in the moment" - in which case most martyrs qualify - or despised forever?

I'd imagine that many martyrs felt that the future would recognize their glory, if not eventually fulfill it. Most, say, Catholic martyrs are going to feel that Catholicism is the winning team, after all. Not that saints aren't humble, but I'm getting away from the point.

I'm more interested in someone who knows that, through their sacrifice, they must give up that sort of positive recognition of their actions. That's the key thing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:17 PM on February 14, 2007

Madame X.
Stella Dallas.

(You didn't qualify this as quality fiction....)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:19 PM on February 14, 2007

Also, aren't people who are "completely forgotten" outside of our ability to recount?
posted by baphomet at 5:21 PM on February 14, 2007

I haven't actually read the books, but I've heard Ender from Ender's Game gets vilified after saving the earth from aliens.
posted by cog_nate at 5:24 PM on February 14, 2007

At the end of the book "The Warlock in spite of himself", the protagonist does something really nasty as a way of bringing about a particular result that he thinks is important. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers.)

It's exactly the kind of thing you're talking about.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:29 PM on February 14, 2007

Severus Snape.

Or not.

(furtively pre orders book 7 six months in advance)
posted by jourman2 at 5:33 PM on February 14, 2007

Positive contribution: Rand Al'Thor from the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Although you'll have to read a lot of (phenomenal) books to get good examples, the stuff you're refering to is alluded to in the first 2/3 of the series and starts really looming in the last 1/3.
posted by baphomet at 5:34 PM on February 14, 2007

A classic case in literature -- perhaps the classic case -- is Stockmann in Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People.
posted by rob511 at 5:35 PM on February 14, 2007

To expand on what cog_nate mentioned (some spoilers for Ender's Game and the books following), Ender was a hero for saving the human race from big bad nasty aliens. Then, he was able to communicate with the aliens and wrote a book vilifying himself (under a pseudonym) for their extermination. So now Ender is hated, so he travels about under his pseudonym, which is revered. Or something like that.
posted by muddgirl at 5:37 PM on February 14, 2007

How about Judas Iscariot? I mean, he was vilified in the end, but he served a function necessary for the whole, uh, Christ-thing to happen. And it's not like God didn't know it was coming, right?
posted by TheNewWazoo at 5:45 PM on February 14, 2007

Atticus Finch might just scrape in, though it's debatable.
posted by robcorr at 5:50 PM on February 14, 2007

I think Jesus and other religious martyrs and saints may not really be appropriate. After all, what do they care about their reputation in this world? Where they believe they're going, they'll be VIPs. On preview agree with TheNewWazoo.
posted by zoinks at 5:54 PM on February 14, 2007

Stanislav Petrov meets your criteria, especially with the world at stake.

While he did get a measure of fame later, he's still mostly unknown to his own people, despised by his government, and living in poverty, when he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and great wealth for what he did.
posted by pandaharma at 5:55 PM on February 14, 2007

Ender - Ender's Game, etc. by Orson Scott Card.
posted by theora55 at 6:00 PM on February 14, 2007

Rorschach, from The Watchmen.
posted by mkultra at 6:03 PM on February 14, 2007

The Hobbit (Bilbo, that is.) Not that his motivation was the sake of the world so much as doing what he thought was right.
posted by anadem at 6:13 PM on February 14, 2007

Jack Ruby.
George Smiley.
The Unabomber.
Ralph Nader.
Dr. Kevorkian.
Edward Teller.
John Wilkes Booth.
Horton, who heard a Who.
Thurgood Marshall.
Rosa Parks.
Yoko Ono.
Edward De Vere.
Anakin Skywalker.
posted by Dizzy at 6:33 PM on February 14, 2007

in _stone of tears_ by terry goodkind, kahlan convinces her fiance richard to leave her by pretending that she hates him. she does this because he has to go do something to save the world and is unable to be convinced to leave in any other way, and of course he is really bitter about it and doesn't know her real motivation. it's not a very good book, though.
posted by lgyre at 6:33 PM on February 14, 2007

Nicolai Tesla.
Donald Rumsfeld.
Cristobal Colon.
Truman Capote.
The Thing.
The Dark Knight.
Most everyone in "King Lear".
Phil Spector.
Captains Ahab and Queeg.
Orson Welles.
posted by Dizzy at 6:43 PM on February 14, 2007

Howard W. Campbell Jr., in Vonnegut's Mother Night.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:47 PM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known." -- Sidney Carton from A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
posted by alms at 6:55 PM on February 14, 2007

To expand on what cog_nate mentioned (some spoilers for Ender's Game and the books following), Ender was a hero for saving the human race from big bad nasty aliens. Then, he was able to communicate with the aliens and wrote a book vilifying himself (under a pseudonym) for their extermination. So now Ender is hated, so he travels about under his pseudonym, which is revered. Or something like that.

On top of that, in the books set several thousand (?) years in the future, a sort of parallel event occurs where humanity feels threatened by an alien race and tries to kill them off. Then, he (although it's not known that he is Ender or his pseudonym by the general population - he's a third public persona) is vilified for trying to protect them.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:57 PM on February 14, 2007

King George V.
Daniel Ellsburg.
Margaret Sanger.
Sideshow Bob.
Most of the "Founding Fathers".
T.S. Lawrence.
posted by Dizzy at 6:58 PM on February 14, 2007

Oh man, Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces. I really don't want to to ruin things with spoilers, but suffice it to say that, among other things, Ignatius -- who lives in 20th century New Orleans -- initiates a "movement" he calls "The Campaign for Moorish Dignity". Amazing character, amazing book.
posted by cog_nate at 7:05 PM on February 14, 2007

Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Simon Cowell.
Rudi Geinrich.
"Sholess" Joe Jackson.
The Amish.
Robert Motherwell.
Drs. Jarvik and Lister.
Arnold Schoenberg.
posted by Dizzy at 7:11 PM on February 14, 2007

Raymond Shaw in "Manchurian Candidate".
Marquis de Sade.
Sacco and Vanzetti.
Charles Van Doren.
Dr. Frankenstein.
Gregor Mendel.
posted by Dizzy at 7:16 PM on February 14, 2007

Not quite on point, but close, is Horatio Hornblower in Hornblower in the West Indies. In order to prevent Napoleon from escaping exile and resuming the Napoleonic Wars, Hornblower, on his honor, falsely tells the captain of the rescue vessel that Napoleon has died. Having lost his honor, he expects to resign in disgrace from the service, only to learn at the last minute that Napoleon had in fact died.
posted by bac at 7:30 PM on February 14, 2007

Rorschach, from The Watchmen.

Ozymandias from Watchmen also fits.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:07 PM on February 14, 2007

Dizzy, either stop or explain your choices at least slightly. The "founding fathers" are neither forgotten nor despised, and Simon Cowell?

In the video game Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the Prince uses time travel powers to essentially delete the entire quest he has just completed, in order to save his love and his kingdom. He (and the player) remember the whole thing, but it is reduced nothing more than a story he tells to his beloved Princess (who no longer remembers him, as they met during the adventure).
posted by Rock Steady at 8:18 PM on February 14, 2007

alms - I initially thought of Carton to, but that tale doesn't really fit this prompt for at least two reasons.

1) He doesn't sacrifice his reputation (unless you count his reputation as a jackass?), he sacrifices his life.
2) He's not really forgotten. I mean, the happy couple certainly remembers him. I'm sure he's a family hero and all.
posted by muddgirl at 8:35 PM on February 14, 2007

Quellcrist Falconer, fully revealed in the third of Richard K. Morgan's excellent Takeshi Kovachs series.
posted by 31d1 at 8:37 PM on February 14, 2007

posted by 31d1 at 8:37 PM on February 14, 2007

Thanks for the responses so far...keep 'em coming!

Some extra examples:
Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (think Angel Season Three)
The Operative (from Serenity)
Coriolanus (sorta - the fictional rendition, at least)
Robert McNamara (again, sorta)

This might just barely scoot by, but when Bush 41 went back on his "Read My Lips: No New Taxes" pledge, he was doing what was best for the country, despite the easily foreseeable cost to his personal reputation.


Dizzy, I love your examples, but a few pass me by. I can see how the Founding Fathers risked - especially had they lost - being perceived as traitors, but I'm not clear on Phil Spector or Donald Rumsfeld's inclusion.

Good call on Robert Shaw and Daniel Ellsburg, though.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:38 PM on February 14, 2007

I don't know if he actually said it. But in the movie, Michael Collins, the eponymous Irish statesman (when accused of 'selling out' to British rule) said something along the lines of:

"If the price of freedom is the blackening of my name, then I shall gladly pay it"
posted by TheOtherGuy at 8:42 PM on February 14, 2007

Well, there's Tassadar, who gave up his Protoss honor and religion to save the universe, and Worf, who let his father be declared a traitor so another high-ranking klingon diplomat wouldn't be exposed.

...I'm not a total nerd, I swear.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:52 PM on February 14, 2007

I just got reminded of the very end of (the IMHO highly underrated) Smokin' Aces.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:59 PM on February 14, 2007

Tesla---died ostracised and forgotten. Recently re-habilitated.
Rummy--architect of folly, bete noire of pacifists nationwide.
Colon--self explanatory.
Capote---post "Answered Prayers", shunned by Haute NYC.
Thing, Dark Knight--- looksism, batshitinsaneism.
Mac--self-explanatory; (offing ol' 'Duff--BIG PR mistake.)
Lear, et al---family hate, class hate, jester hate.
Phil Spector---anal keepers of Beatle annals, LA District Atty.
Tintoretto---Venice paid, but Vasari, et al called him 'reckless'.
Caps. Q and A--- self-explanatory.
Welles--- Boy Burnout. Masterpieces derided until Sarris, et al.
Soctates--- self explanatory.
George--- self-explanatory.
Ellsburg--- smeared by GOP intelligentsia and CIA.
Kopernik--- discredited, loathed by the "Godly".
Sideshow Bob---ditto.
Founding Fathers--haters: George III; Englishmen; The East.
Lawrence--- hated by Englishmen, Westerners.
Tutu--- self explanatory.
Simon--- death threats from the talentless and anti-elitists.
Rudi---"Topless Swimsuit" la scandale for years.
Joe Jackson--- self-explanatory.
Amish---ROTC recruiters, Anabaptists, Swiss officials no likee.
Eichmann---ipso facto self explanatory.
Motherwell--- NYC hipsters, doddering fauvists say "meh!"
Mishima--- self-explanatory. Self-death, too.
Drs. J and L--- mercilessly derided by peers for "nonsense".
Schoenberg---dissed bt Strauss and many an anti-semite.
Raymond Shaw--- killed Red mole, ate gun saving Republic.
de Sade--- self-explanatory.
S and V--- ditto.
Van Doren--- ditto.
Frankenstein---poster boy for this thread.
Mendel--- weird little cleric rediscovered by de Vries.
Ruby, Smiley, etc., all self-explanatory.
posted by Dizzy at 9:01 PM on February 14, 2007

Ender's Game spoiler again: I haven't read the books in a couple of years, but Ender had no idea when he was committing the acts that saved the world that it was anything more than an exhausting game. Does this still count as him "allowing" himself to be vilified?
posted by lauranesson at 9:19 PM on February 14, 2007

Risto Ryti, who was the President of Finland towards the end of World War II. The oversimplified version is that he used a personal guarantee with Germany on a separate truce from Russia as a way to force Finland not to be directly associated with the Nazis. Before anything could be enacted, he promptly resigned and allowed the terms to work better in Finland's favour. He was sentenced to prison for his actions, though later pardoned.

Wikipedia has an article about the Ryti -Ribbentrop Agreement, which dips into the very complicated history of how compromised Finland was during those war years.
posted by myopicman at 9:37 PM on February 14, 2007

Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
posted by concrete at 10:57 PM on February 14, 2007

There is a rock-opera group, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which has an album which is exactly what you're describing. You can read the "story" part to here keeping in mind that it's rock-opera and naturally a bit over the top.

A quick summary, since it's longish: Beethoven has just finished his tenth symphony (note that this symphony doesn't exist IRL) when the devil comes and informs him that it is time for him to die (and go to hell). Beethoven argues for his soul and the devil offers him a deal: he can live, but all of his music and all memory of his music will be lost to the world. Beethoven eventually refuses and is offered another deal, his soul for just the unheard Tenth Symphony. Again he refuses. The devil finally comes up with a threat--there is a street orphan outside and the devil will torture (or not torture) her depending on weather or not Beethoven will give up the 10th symphony. You can see where this is going, although there are some bizarre rock-opera twists at the end.

The lyrics are also possibly useful for you (although still over the top), things like:
"The things I have done/the places I've been/the cost of my dreams/the weight of my sins
And everything that/I've gathered in life/could it be lost/could it be lost in this night?"
posted by anaelith at 11:10 PM on February 14, 2007

Very interesting but also very confusing question.

As a result, not many of the examples you're getting work. Almost all fail your criteria somehow. Many of them simply had conflict in their lives, almost anyone famous or doing something new is going to have detractors, and many people sacrificed for the common good but this very sacrifice makes them famous and well thought of, not the opposite.

Did anyone listed yet consciously sacrifice their reputations for the greater good instead of instead just getting caught up in circumstances or in pursuing various goals in life.

Also, there would seem to be a basic conflict between us knowing they did something for the common good and either them retaining a bad reputation or falling into obscurity. If we know they did something "for the sake of the world", then they'd no longer be poorly thought of and not be non-famous, since we know about them.

Yoko Ono I'm not following at all - what did she sacrifice, fame or good reputation, and for what greater good?

Wells wasn't making any concious sacrifice, he just failed to fulfill his early promise.

Desmond Tutu's reputation and fame in fact depend on him sacrificing, the very opposite of what you're looking for.

The Amish are closer perhaps, sacrificing and earning derision from some if not all, but this really nets out to following the first answer in the thread.

Risto Ryti? I can't see how his reputation would be better or he'd be more famous if he'd acted differently, in fact the opposite.

I sorta get whistleblower Daniel Ellsburg except again, he's actually become famous for what he did and his long-term reputation isn't unambigously negative.

Who do you like so far though, can you favorite any of the suggestions?
posted by scheptech at 11:14 PM on February 14, 2007

Any answer will have to be controversial-- if a person is acknowledged to have saved the world, they will likely enjoy a stellar reputation. So unless someone has astonishing new evidence which casts a whole new light on Stalin (or whoever) you're left with people who are held by some to be villains and by others to be heroes, which is to say: controversial figures.

Oh, and fictional characters. Those examples are good.
posted by alexei at 12:07 AM on February 15, 2007

Very interesting but also very confusing question.

Yeah, so it would seem. Some clarification is in order.

I'm well aware that real life examples are going to be almost impossible to find in their pure state. I don't think it hurts one's case if someone is later recognized for their good works - that just means they got lucky, either before or after their time. Nonetheless, there's the obvious specter that all we really know of any historical figure is their reputation.

I would not count someone who endures trials towards a concrete goal. Rosa Parks, say, had a support system and a peer group who supported her, and she only did what she had to do in order to sway America. All perfectly awesome, but she does not count.

That said, I'd still count people who were wrong, and who knew that their actions would make them hated by just about anyone they'd ever meet, but who still felt that they were doing the right thing. These villains would be much easier to find than their heroic counterparts, it would seem. For example, if one could find a wholly sincere Nazi mole in a French unit. Although, to be a really good example, I'd hope for a zestier story than that.

Anyway, history's a place where I'd love to find examples, but it's also a bad place to find examples, so fiction's much easier, especially when we get into fantasy and sci-fi. Supernatural concepts such as prophecy and time travel allow for much more leeway here.

I stand by the examples I've given as being exactly what I'm looking for - Borges' Judas Iscariot (who gives up not only his reputation but also salvation itself), John Smith (no one will ever know that that lone gunman saved the entire planet), Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (who would rather be seen as a traitor and never see his friends than allow harm come to them), and The Operative (he will commit acts he knows to be heinous, and he will throw himself into the fire for it, to usher in a utopia for everyone else).

My favorites from everyone else's suggestions:

• Stanislav Petrov
• Rorsarch
• Ozymandias
• Robert Shaw
• Jack Ruby
• Copernicus
• The Prince of Persia example (which is also nearly identical to an episode of Angel, which also underlines how much of the show is devoted to this very concept)
• Horatio Hornblower (from the example given, it sounds like sheer luck lets him stand tall)
• "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (sorta - he ratted on his teammates and insisted that he'd played his best, when he could have more easily stayed quiet and not allowed his name to become synonymous with the scandal. But he may have also just been reckless.)
• Daniel Ellsburg (not an ironclad example, but he could not have guaranteed that his whistleblowing would have survived his character assassination. He put his reputation on the line.)
• Michael Collins
• Tassadar, as described
• Worf, as described
• Howard J. Campbell
• Kahlan, as described
• Ryan Reynolds' character from Smokin' Aces

I've omitted examples that I don't personally know, which haven't been described in detail. And I've probably missed some winners, too.

Oh, also, I just thought of Frank Olson. He might count. He must have known, realistically, that he'd be put down and erased for taking his stand.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:26 AM on February 15, 2007

Jack Bauer.
posted by whataboutben at 1:03 AM on February 15, 2007

Detective Hartigan from Sin City is probably exactly what you're looking for.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:04 AM on February 15, 2007


OK! I still don't agree with all of 'em but at least now I see where you're coming from.


MetaFilter: NYC hipsters, doddering fauvists say "meh!"
posted by Rock Steady at 4:23 AM on February 15, 2007

I'm surprised I haven't heard JIMMY CARTER yet...his decision to attempt to rescue hostages in Iran cost him the Presidency...
posted by iwishmylastnamewaswallace at 4:45 AM on February 15, 2007

I don't know if you consider video games to be fiction, but an act exactly like this is the key to the plot of Konami's Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It's a great story, very compelling.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:58 AM on February 15, 2007

How about Valentine Michael Smith from Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land? I won't tell you what he does, because it would spoil the fun of reading it. It's a great story with just what you're looking for.
posted by gaiamark at 5:55 AM on February 15, 2007

lauranesson - it's when he writes the book as the Speaker of the Dead, which implicates that Ender unnecessarily destroyed most of the alien race, that he sacrificed his own reputation as Ender for the good of humanity (it could be argued that his actions to de-hero Ender saved humanity for a terrible civil war, etc).
posted by muddgirl at 6:08 AM on February 15, 2007

I've never even heard of "Ender's Game" (oldskool Heinlein and Asimov) but after reading your discussions here I'm getting outta my house and to the library asap!
Thanks for the tip!
posted by Dizzy at 6:32 AM on February 15, 2007

I don't remember which season it was in, but the President on "The West Wing" had a plan in hand from one of his subordinates that would've saved Social Security (I don't think the plan was actually fully fleshed out during the show since it's unrealistic to think SS can actually be saved :) Anywho, in order to get the bill passed, he had to turn it over to the leaders of both parties and let them take the credit for it, otherwise they wouldn't even look at it. At the end, he ended up doing so because the legacy of that success was more important than being remembered for doing it.

Politicians willing to do something for the greater good, rather than lining their pockets? Man, that was some serious fiction!
posted by Spoonman at 6:49 AM on February 15, 2007

Gerald Ford had to know he would be vilified for pardoning Nixon but felt it was necessary for the greater good.
posted by DanSachs at 6:55 AM on February 15, 2007

Ozymandias did not chose oblivion. It chose him. Lovely irony that he's probably wider known now than he was then. Which might disqualify him, no?

A lot of these examples are problematic in that whatever reputation they may lose on one side, they more than make up for on the other. Indeed, the hate of one side is almost a qualification for popularity with the other. The smaller the crew, the more intense the adulation - think LaRouche. I say, if you're not really truly going it alone, then you're simply a partisan. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but if some crowd somewhere will still give you a standing o. does it really qualify for inclusion here? (The founding fathers have been mentioned. Ditto Tutu. How about Ross Perot? Thomas More? They made him a saint, for god's sake.)

Consider Nat Hentoff, who alienated countless Village Voice readers for his stand against abortion. I'm guessing not a lot of pro lifers read the Voice or him at the time, nor a lot of National Review readers wrote in Right On letters.

Compromising politicians make an interesting category, but again, most lost reputation is more than made up for over time (cold comfort to them, perhaps, but still). Michael Collins are tragic heroes to most right thinking people, I would guess, but now heroes of the silver screen. Quisling, on the other hand....

So we come to artists. Pretty commonly, they must be self inflated enough to belief in their real or unreal achievement and ignore oblivion as realistic or opprobrium as meaningful- the belief in the artist as unappreciated in his own time and all that. Think Van Gogh and Gauguin. But this is largely ego, necessary to keep going at all. Or those who are actively trying to outrage because they like to outrage, or because it's part of the PR game. Talent may or may not enter the equation. Twentieth century was full of them, and to avoid arguments I am not going to name names.

A kinder take on the above paragraph are those answering the humble but genuine pull of self expression with no real concern for the consequences, where reputation doesnt really enter the equation - they do what they do because that's what one does. On the low end, think kindergartners. On the high end, think every anonymous manuscript illumination, or stone carver on medieval cathedrals. (Which I suppose could bring you Tom Builder from Pillars of the Earth)

Interesting question! Just from curiosity- what prompted it?
posted by IndigoJones at 6:58 AM on February 15, 2007

Most of the "political" villains on 24 (Graeme Bower, Tom Lennox, former President Logan) would see themselves this way.
posted by mkultra at 7:19 AM on February 15, 2007

The Rosenbergs. Their spying for the USSR was a matter of principle—in addition to being Communists, Julius Rosenberg said something to the effect that he believed the world would be safer if there were more than one power with the bomb (IIRC). Of course they were both vilified and executed; even their orphaned children were considered pariahs.
posted by adamrice at 7:30 AM on February 15, 2007

Why did somebody mention Rumsfeld and not Bush? Bush has stated that he will continue the war in Iraq even if it means the only people still supporting him are his wife and his dog. Whether he's actually accomplishing the greater good, in his mind he's got to understand that (at least for now), he's ruining his reputation -- of course, this is all taken under the assumption that he'll be vindicated after he's dead. But for the time being, he's got to at least know that a ton of people hate him for what he's doing.
posted by one_bean at 8:20 AM on February 15, 2007

My former teenage self chimes in to say that Ayn Rand is simply full of this.
posted by textilephile at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2007

My adult self chimes in to say that Ayn Rand is simply full of herself.
posted by mkultra at 8:56 AM on February 15, 2007

I second the Ayn Rand suggestion. The first "person" I thought of who matched this description was Howard Roark.
posted by juliplease at 10:08 AM on February 15, 2007

Interesting question! Just from curiosity- what prompted it?

Thanks! It's a theme I've always found haunting - I think my first recollection of it was in Borges. Recently, I finished up Angel, where variations on that theme keep emerging, and I wondered how many other variations there could be.

I also made the sensible conclusion that Borges and Whedon couldn't have possibly invented the idea, so I was eager to see how other people would tackle it, or if any non-fictional examples could ever really exist.

At any rate, the hive mind does not disappoint.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:25 AM on February 15, 2007

Dizzy was on the right track on a couple things. One of them: assassins. Assassins are generally the classic case of this; they usually don't expect to get away with it, and they do what they do, in their mind, for the sake of the world.
posted by koeselitz at 10:25 AM on February 15, 2007

Alexander Hamilton. The duel destroyed his reputation initially and obviously killed him. But he did it for no other reason than he knew that getting Burr to particpate would also destroy his reputation as well. Once the duel was over Burr's rep was destroyed and his political influence was negligible. All historical signs point to the fact that Burr was a genuinely pernicious influence on out nascent republic.
posted by Heminator at 12:40 PM on February 15, 2007

Further thoughts, from friends:

Bring It On (not quite, but it's fun to bring up)
Akheela And The Bee
After Dark, My Sweet
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:00 PM on February 15, 2007

A number of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels end with Marlowe's reputation taking a hit for his client; Farewell, My Lovely particularly comes to mind.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:37 PM on February 15, 2007

Michael Collins are tragic heroes to most right thinking people, I would guess, but now heroes of the silver screen

Damn! First draft read "Michael Collins and Thomas More" etc.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:42 AM on February 16, 2007

muddgirl - Thank you. I knew I was forgetting something.
posted by lauranesson at 10:01 AM on February 16, 2007

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