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"Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!"
Dennis, interrupting King Arthur's speech about how he is king because the Lady of the Lake gave him Excalibur (right before experiencing the violence inherent in the system), Monty Python and The Holy Grail

Ceremonies can be very significant. Swearing in of a president or crowning a king decides who is going to rule a country. A marriage ceremony declares that two people belong together, and a academic degree gives the recipient the right to be officially recognized for his competence.

But what if the ceremony is a sham?

The president was never elected, the king is just trying to avert attention from the fact that brute force is what's really keeping him in power, the academic degree was bought from a fake university, and so on.

Few dictators dare to openly say Screw the Rules, I Make Them. No, they need an excuse for wielding power over everyone. Of course, this excuse can have ANY degree of flimsiness, as long as people are sufficiently uneducated or scared to buy it.

Not restricted to political power, this trope include any case when a ceremony or ritual in itself gives power, privilege or recognition in society while the true power dynamic is obfuscated. Not limited to successful attempts, this trope include exposed and failed attempts to gain or maintain the status from a Sham Ceremony.

Sometimes called a Farcical Aquatic Ceremony, in reference to the scene quoted in the page quote.

Examples of Sham Ceremony include:

Comic Books

  • In one old Robin Hood comic, the Norman villain kidnaps a lady and forces her to marry him. When the heroes rescue her, she seems to be more upset about the discovery that the priest wasn't a real priest than about the fact that she almost got raped. A justified reaction, considering that in her society a unmarried rape-victim would be a social outcast.


  • Debated in the page quote from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. The peasants didn't get to vote for their king, so why should they obey him? Come see the violence inherent in the system! In other words, see the concept of Divine Right crumble into the dictatorship it really is.
  • Spaceballs starts and ends with a marriage ceremony that ZigZags between pure Farcical Aquatic Ceremony, the real thing and a in-between in the form of a Arranged Marriage bordering on forced marriage. It was all Played for Laughs, but the part that makes it fit this trope is when the princess is trying to escape the forced marriage and this escape is presented as if it was a official part of the ceremony.
  • In The Princess Bride, a Forced Wedding turns into a Farcical Aquatic Ceremony when the villain, stressed out by the arrival of the Big Damn Heroes, rushes the priest to finish the ceremony without wasting time on pesky details such as the "I do" part.


Live Action TV

  • This is how Jeff got his undergraduate degree in Community - it's also why he has to go to community college.

 Duncan: I thought you had a Bachelors from Columbia

Jeff: Now I have to get one from America, and it can't be an e-mail attachment.

    • His law degree was actually obtained legitimally even though he never took the required pre-law courses. Jeff is really smart but lazy.
  • Babylon 5: President Clark's installation ceremony.
    • The first ceremony was actually legit since he was elected and next in line even though he had his precedessor killed. It is what comes after he is in power that becomes a big sham.

Video Games

  • World of Warcraft have many of these, since every single character in this online world is treated like The Chosen One and the player is supposed to pretend that all other players (as well as his own alternate characters) are The Hero of Another Story in spite of doing the exact same quests.
    • Perhaps most noteworthy is when the character gets declared king or queen of the Ogres. Since the quest is a group quest and was quite popular back in its days, it rarely took long until a new batch of five new kings & queens was publicly announced by the same old ogre.

Web Comics

  • In Order of the Stick, the characters are made to stand trial, to be judged by an angel "Of Pure Law And Good". It's all fake, however, designed to trick an order of paladins.

Western Animation

  • On Adventure Time, the Ice King is always kidnapping princesses to be his wives. One episode has him getting married to one who appears to be willing, but on closer inspection, Finn discovers that he had cursed her into marrying him.

Real Life

  • The famous Sokal Hoax.The physicist Alan Sokal once had a bullshit article published in a the postmodernist journal Social Text, which for reasons that seemed good at the time, was not peer-reviewed. The article was named "Transgressing The Boundaries: Towards A Transformative Hermaneutics Of Quantum Gravity", and it was designed to point out a number of flaws with '90s postmodernism's somewhat peculiar and quite often hostile take on modern natural science. That he was able to publish an article that by his own admission was something he crapped out relatively quickly by simply using as many hip and pretentious polysyllabic words as he could was used by him as evidence that the whole "science wars"--'90s High Postmodernism's bizarre-in-retrospect quarrel with the natural sciences--was at best a highly questionable enterprise.
  • Single-party "elections".
    • Elections where all parties or candidates except one are suspiciously unambitious and underadvertised is the more modern version.
  • When Barack Obama was sworn in as U.S. president, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court read the oath incorrectly. Obama hinted to him it was wrong, but when the Chief Justice continued to ask him to recite it incorrectly, Obama just went with it. Later on that day, they had the Chief Justice re-administer the oath, this time correctly, to forestall any attempts by people to claim that the incorrect oath made his swearing-in a sham ceremony and therefore he wasn't really president. (There is debate as to whether he would have become President anyway regardless of whether he took the oath.)
    • Not that it actually did stop certain people from claiming the incorrect oath made his swearing-in a sham ceremony and therefore he wasn't really president. The "proper" swearing in, you see, couldn't be done because the first one had already invalidated his presidency--no take-backs!
    • Basically the question of the Oath boils down to whether taking the Oath is necessary to hold the office or exercise the power of that office. The prevailing view among legal scholars is that the winner of the election becomes President as soon as the former President's term ends, but can't actually do anything Presidential until taking the Oath. In practice, the question is largely academic, since the swearing-in customarily takes place the minute the new term begins.