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The stock drama in which someone's aspirations are impossible because of a physical defect. Used for comedy and dark comedy just as much as it is for drama. This is often a crucial turning point in a story, so be warned that there are spoilers below.
Related to I Coulda Been a Contender. Subversions and aversions can lead to a Handicapped Badass. Inversions can be Inspirationally Disadvantaged or have a Disability Superpower. If the character gains the defect during their life, then it's a Career-Ending Injury.
Not to be confused with All of the Other Reindeer.
Anime and Manga
- Full Moon o Sagashite Mitsuki wants to become an Idol Singer but can't because she has throat cancer and to live she'll have to have her larynx removed... she puts this off so she can still sing, but it means she'll die before she's really going to be old enough to achieve her dream. But then she gets to do it via magic.
- Rock Lee from Naruto wants to continue his career and become a successful ninja. He faces not being able to perform any ninjutsu or genjutsu, but gets around it by solely focusing on Taijutsu with Training From Hell. Later on, he suffers a Game-Breaking Injury during his fight with Gaara from using his Dangerous Forbidden Technique and having one of his arms and legs crushed, but a surgery manages to restore him to fighting condition.
- Filler character Yakumo wants to become a ninja, but tires easily after routine exercises. She says she wants to become a ninja who can use genjutsu, but Kurenai refuses to let her, as she would have to rely on the Id within her, and seals away her ability to use genjutsu. After Yakumo's Id kills her parents when they try to console her that there are other paths to take in life, she seeks revenge on Kurenai, believing her to be responsible, but the two eventually reconcile.
- Subverted with Kyousuke in Puella Magi Madoka Magica; at first he was a crippled violinist whose right hand couldn't be used anymore but thanks to Sayaka's wish, he is able to soon make a full recovery.
- Viral from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. His dream is to have a family, which we actually get to see in the alternate universe dream sequence, but it is also the one thing that he cannot have because he is a beastman and thus incapable of reproduction, and even if he settles down with a wife, he will eventually outlive her due to his immortal body.
- One pre-Popeye Thimble Theater strip played this for laughs. Ham Gravy, running a shoe store, hires and fires a few assistants because they keep stealing shoes. Eventually, he hires a man with two peg legs on the grounds that since he doesn't have feet, he won't steal shoes. Castor Oyl, hearing this, decides to apply the same logic at hiring an assistant at a hat store.
- Comics' Steve Rogers was classified as a 4-F and denied entry into the US Army because he suffered from various (unspecified) health problems which ultimately left him physically frail. Thankfully, he got better.
- The Flash villain Rainbow Raider, was a gifted painter, but was also, unfortunately, colorblind.
- Why didn't he just focus on black and white artwork?
- Someone Did Not Do the Research, as colorblind artists can be and are successful. Black and white artwork as mentioned above, alternate color palates, and abstract art are just a few examples of how to bypass this limitation.
- In Little Miss Sunshine, Dwayne discovers he's color-blind and can't become a pilot.
- Which is a fairly ludicrous premise - a teenager who's NEVER taken an eye test?
- Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon in Stuck On You. Kinnear's character wants to be a movie star despite him and Damon being conjoined twins.
- From Monty Python's Life of Brian:
Stan: I want to have babies.
- The hunchbacked Ephialtes in Three Hundred gets told he can't join the Spartans because he'll weaken the phalanx, as he can't raise his shield high enough to protect the men next to him.-- Ironically, the movie then violates this premise by having the Spartans break up their phalanx and fight individually.
- A review of the comic once remarked they could have used him as a skirmisher, messenger, water carrier or whatever.
- Rudy, you're too short to play football!
- Everest: one of the kids had braces, whose tendency to contract in extreme cold would become a problem on the high altitudes of Everest. As a result, he was sent home.
- Parodied in The Onion Movie. We are introduced to the "inspirational portrait of the week", which involves a man with no legs (and then no arms) first declaring that he wanted to do ballet since he was a child. After maybe 15 seconds, what he wanted to do all his life was hockey. A sequence of him follows being tackled harshly.
- Harry Potter - "Sorry Ron, but seeing as you can't walk" *they vanish*
- In From Russia with Love, Tatiana Romanova explains that she wanted to be a ballerina, but was rejected for being too tall.
- Ender's Game tries to justify The Smurfette Principle through evolutionary psychology (though several girls get into Battle School, and one makes it all the way to the final exam).
- A Song of Ice and Fire
- Bran Stark suffers from this in having dreamed about being a knight prior to being crippled.
- Gender roles are a running source of vexation for a number of female characters. Brienne of Tarth is constantly ridiculed for living the lifestyle of a knight. Asha has difficulty being taken seriously as a leader of the Ironmen for being a woman. Arya is always getting into trouble for being a tomboy and must practice fencing under the guise of "dancing lessons." Cersei repeatedly curses being born a woman, which prevents her from fighting or ruling for herself.
- Jaime Lannister experiences this after losing his sword arm while a prisoner of Vargo Hoat
- In How To Be A Superhero, Captain Eagle breaks into an orphanage to find a kid who's parents were killed by a mugger and might want revenge on crime. One boy seems promising, until one of the other orphans points out "But you've only got one leg, Bobby-Ray!"
- Done backwards in The Scarlet Ibis, where Doodle's brother has his dreams of a sibling he could run/play with dashed when his brother is born disabled.
- No Arms, No Cookies is supposedly an autobiography by a woman who had, well, parents who supplied her with the book title.
- In Warrior Cats this happens twice:
- Jaypaw just wants to be a great warrior, and won't listen when other cats tell him that he can't because of his blindness. He does get the chance to train as a warrior apprentice, but when a patrol he's on gets into a fight and he's easily beaten by an enemy apprentice because he can't make sense of what's going on, he has to come to terms with the fact that he'll never be a warrior. He ends up becoming a medicine cat instead.
- Snowkit is born deaf. His mother refuses to accept that he won't be able to become a warrior, and even tries training him herself. Then Snowkit gets carried off by a hawk because he couldn't hear it coming.
Live Action TV
- Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's famous sketch about a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan.
- An episode of Baywatch had a wannabe-lifeguard rejected because he wore contacts (and thus had bad eyesight). The plot ended with them changing that rule when the candidate pointed out the hypocrisy that once you passed the test you never had to retake it and that several of the older lifeguards may have once had perfect eyesight, but now wore contacts, but were considered perfectly capable lifeguards.
- One of the first episodes reveals in a Flashback Twist that Locke, who is a total Badass on the island, was once a delusional armchair explorer, totally oblivious to the fact that people in wheelchairs have trouble exploring. Getting stranded on the island has been a gift for him.
- In a much later episode, an alternate-time line Locke gets verbally slapped upside the head with this trope by Rose, the manager of an employment agency, and finally listens to reason.
- Parodied in Strangers with Candy: a blind boy decides he wants to join the football team. He finally convinces everyone to let him play...and thirty seconds into the big game, gets tackled by practically the entire other team, sending him into a coma.
- In an episode of Get Smart, the evil guy's assistant can only grunt but wants to be a band singer.
- American Gladiators: on one episode of the relaunch, they had a contestant with prosthetic legs compete. He was okay at the events that don't require much leg strength or agility, like Assault, but it was painful to watch him try to complete the Eliminator.
- When Richard Whiteley set an atrocious time on the Top Gear test track, a blind fan wrote in to say he could do better. And then did.
- On One Tree Hill, Lucas' dreams of playing in the NBA are crushed when he learns he has HCM, a heart condition that many young athletes die from. Similarly, Nathan's near-paralysis from a back injury in Season 5 threatens his own chances at the NBA. He gets better and gets to play with the NBA after all, but not without initial fears that further injury could leave him paralyzed for life.
- Lurch, the giant butler on The Addams Family television series, once revealed that his parents wanted him to be a jockey.
- A Saturday Night Live skit concerned a family called The Psychos, which included a daughter who wanted to be the world's first blind ballerina.
- An episode of CHiPs involved the younger brother of a CHP officer who'd been killed in the line of duty. He started posing as a cop in his brother's old uniform. When caught by Ponch and Jon, he protested that he couldn't join the CHP himself because he was color blind.
- Turk has a hard time finding the courage to tell a young concert pianist who has earned a scholarship to Julliard that he lost use of his right hand in surgery.
- The trope is parodied in another episode, where Eliot is taking on the incredibly unpleasant task of giving such bad news to patients simply so she can get some respect from Dr. Cox (she claims she enjoys helping people deal with such news, but it's really making her an emotional wreck). Cox tests her by asking her to tell a young woman who is a professional dancer and just had her legs amputated, that she cannot have her physical therapy (or recovery) in the hospital; as her medical insurance was through her husband, who just died. She agrees, and asks what room the patient is in. He stares at her, and then admits that there is no such patient, and he made up the most depressing thing he could think of.
- Charles saves a man's leg from amputation, but the man's hand is beyond repair and loses some flexibility. After the surgery, Charles learns his patient is a concert pianist. Fortunately, as a classical music aficionado, he manages to find copies of one-handed concertos that the man can play with just his left hand. The young musician points out that he's not going to have a career playing a handful (no pun intended) of gimmicky pieces from one composer, and Charles agrees that that's not likely — what makes him a musician, however, isn't what's in his hands. Charles himself knows how to play, but he can't make music like this man can: he can write, he can teach, he can conduct, he can still make music the center of his life, even without playing.
- Other episodes dealt with a college football player whose career is sidelined by an amputated leg, and an infantryman whose face is disfigured and attempts suicide rather than go home and face his fiancee.
- Glee: Artie from gets moments like this occasionally, for instance when he performs Safety Dance. Subverted in season 2 when he is allowed to join the football team and becomes a "human battering ram."
- Used briefly in an episode of Dragnet where Sgt. Friday explains to an applicant to the Police Department that he's too short and therefore could not effectively restrain an assailant.
- In an episode of Star Trek, "Is There in Truth No Beauty?", we learn that a blind person is not allowed to pilot the Enterprise, even with the aid of assistive technology. The blind woman, an assistant to the maddeningly ugly Medusan ambassador, proves jealous of Spock's ability to see the ambassador--even though doing so drives him insane.
- No Ordinary Family seems to be trying to subvert this with the son's super-smarts canceling out his learning disability. His teacher has a particular awkward moment where he repeatedly calls him too stupid to have passed a quiz without cheating. Although the jury is still out on whether using a power that reveals the answers to you is cheating.
- Father Ted: Played for laughs: when the theft of a whistle is pinned on Ted due to a misunderstanding with Dougal, Ted tries to justify stealing it by improvising a story about a boy who is paralyzed except for his eyes, and needs the whistle to achieve his lifelong dream of training horses.
- Kamen Rider Kiva: Wataru's best friend Kengo, an aspiring rock guitarist, sustains injuries that render him unable to play anymore in his attempt to be a Fangire Hunter. This, among other things, leads to Kengo becoming a badass while treating everyone around him like crap. He gets better.
- "Frank's Not in the Band Anymore" by Worm Quartet describes a man who desperately tries to keep drumming despite loss of limbs.
- One Bloom County strip has the following exchange between Opus the Penguin and the strip's narrator:
Opus: "She said that all she needs from a boyfriend is 'Lips to kiss and a shoulder to cry on.'"
- An episode of Adventures in Odyssey has a wheelchair bound boy come into the class saying that his aspiration is to become captain of the football team. He didn't mean it seriously; partly he was being bitter about the wheelchair thing, and partly he was fed up with being made to introduce himself to his classes, as teachers often make you do when you're a new kid. Also, besides saying he wanted to be captain of the football team (or possibly soccer), he also said he wanted to break the school's high jump record. He managed to mortify just about everybody, including the teacher.
Stand Up Comedy
- At a Ross Noble show, one of the tangents he went off down was about a Street Urchin with rickets attempting to join Riverdance.
- Exalted has a few examples, given that the setting has hardwired rules about what certain Exalts can or cannot do, and a steady subtext of, "...but feel free to ignore it if your players are sufficiently awesome." One of the more frightening examples, though, is Raksi. She's one of the most skilled Lunar sorcerers in all of Creation - but as a Lunar, she's inherently limited to the first two circles of sorcery, and not the top circle that's reserved for the Solar Exalted. But she's got her hands on a book that covers all three circles, and she's been spending centuries trying to find some way to unlock the third circle... no matter who she has to hurt to do it. Anyone who knows of her ambition devoutly hopes she never achieves it, considering that she's completely out of her mind.
- Bagon in Pokémon wants to fly, despite not having wings. However, this trope is only in effect until it finishes evolving, at which points it becomes a Salamence, an extremely fast, part-flying dragon.
- Makai Kingdom
- Overlord Zetta confines himself into The Sacred Tome to avert the total destruction of his Netherworld. Anyone with sufficient Mana can write a wish in The Tome and it will become reality. Zetta has the Mana for it, but being a book, he no longer has arms to write with. Oops!
- Subverted by Babylon, who, when about to write, warns everyone not to ask about how he can write without hands. He should really get around to telling Zetta how he does it.
- The main character of Brass Restoration suffers from this after a train accident causes him to lose his arm, failing to become a professional drummer.
- Coach Oleander in Psychonauts. A memory vault flashback shows him denied entrance into multiple branches of the military due to his short stature.
- Subverted in Mr Square, in which Mr Square gets a limbless dog that lives a perfectly happy life...except the also limbless Square is unable to open its food.
- T-rex's desire to play the piano, thwarted.
- Cyanide and Happiness, here. "I'm sorry, Joey. Your legs just don't work" was originally suspected of influencing the trope name.
- One of the basic concepts behind Warbot in Accounting is the titular character's tragic (yet hilarious) inability to perform many of the functions of daily life because he's a huge freaking robot with claws instead of hands.
- The Pig's Ear does this multiple times in one arc - it's always one of these that keeps the Barkeep from hiring the applicant of the week until Gwen shows up. They include:
- A black double-amputee with hooks instead of hands, who tries to play the race card when Barkeep says it's just not going to work out.
- A gorgon who turns both Barkeep and the customers to stone.
- Who has, yes, made a second appearance and calls him a racist for this grievance.
- A slime that Barkeep was completely sold on until he got sucked down the drain.
- And a giant the size of the pub itself. Who also tries to play the race card.
- Zigzagged in Homestuck with Tavros, the paraplegic troll. Early in his story he's almost unable to enter the Medium, not because of the monsters but because Vriska deliberately built him a path made mostly of stairs. He eventually manages to escape by upgrading his wheelchair with rocket boosters and becoming more or less a Handicapped Badass.
- He did dream of joining some sort of beast-riding lancer squadron, if he wasn't culled for defects first.
- Homestar Runner : Li'l Brudder, a character created by Strong Bad, can never be a quarterback when he grows up, because he's a one-legged puppy. His theme song calls him "king of the dregs", which, presumably, are Tenderfoot the two-legged elephant, a parrot who apparently lacks any limbs at all and has his lower half bandaged up, and a mole with a human nose instead of a face.
Peter Phile: "There a few ground rules! One: everybody must have legs."
- Family Guy: Kid in Iron Lung: "I'm gonna play baseball!'
- Veggie Tales opening (paraphrased); note, all the characters are fruits or vegetables, none of them with hands, arms, or legs.:
"How about you play guitar...."
- In The Simpsons, Lisa can't become a saxophone virtuoso because of her stubby fingers.
- In American Dad, Francine vows to find out what happened when Stan and Roger went to Atlantic City. Klaus offers to help and she responds with "How can you help? You're a FISH!"
- In Futurama, Bender's inability to taste has often been cited as a handicap to his aspirations as a chef, not that he lets that stop him from trying.
- This trope is often the entire premise behind The Oblongs.
- Supermodeling. You could be the most attractive person in the world but you must be above 5ft 8 ins. There are some exceptions, but most supermodels below 5ft 8ins are something else as well like an actor or singer. Also, you usually can't be above a certain weight.
- In some cases, sperm donation. Clinics receive so many requests for tall donors that men under 6 feet are turned away.
- If you want to be in the Rockettes, you can't go being too tall either, dancers must be between 5ft 6in and 5 ft 10in.
- Even in amateur-level dancing, e.g. ballroom, things will be considerably easier if your partner is a good height match, otherwise you'll have to adjust your hold and step length, and probably won't be considered to look as good at it.
- The American military (not sure about others) rejects people for having certain disabilities, such as deafness.
- Though not quite within the limits of the trope, there are a LOT of mental disorders that will completely bar you from service, no ifs ands or buts.
- The United States Air Force only trains pilots who stand between 5'4" and 6"5". Because they don't make fighter jets in more than one size.
- Fighter pilots also must have perfect vision without correction (glasses or contacts).
- The Old Guard (3rd US Infantry Regiment) has a strict height range for those serving as honor guards at Arlington Cemetary (these are the ones you see at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and funeral duties). Being an officially combat ready infantry unit severely restricts any female presence.
- Romantic-era composer/performer Robert Schumann, did this to himself: he designed a machine to help extend the range of his right hand. Instead he damaged it forever, thus ending his public performance career (he continued with the compositions, though).
- The Blue Man Group requires its performers to be between 5'10" and 6'1" with an athletic build.
- Subverted by Jim Abbott, former MLB pitcher who was born without a right hand. To get around this, Abbott would rest a right-handed thrower's glove on the end of his right forearm. After releasing the ball, he would quickly slip his hand into the glove, usually in time to field any balls that a two-handed pitcher would be able to field. Then he would remove the glove by securing it between his right forearm and torso, slip his hand out of the glove, and remove the ball from the glove, usually in time to throw out the runner.
- Subverted by Rick Allen, drummer of Def Leppard, who lost his left arm, but continues to drum for the group using a combination of rapid armwork and a custom drum setup to let him play the snares with his left foot.