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File:Quo-vadis-nero-singt.jpg


The earth died screaming

While I lay dreaming

Dreaming of you.
Tom Waits, "Earth Died Screaming"

Something awful is happening. The world is ending, the economy collapsed, there's an earthquake, and rioting in the streets is commonplace. Everyone's in a panic -- except this guy.

They're still reading a book, listening to music, browsing this site, whatever. Maybe they just don't care, or they approve of what's going on. On the other hand, maybe they figure that if they're going to die, they might as well go out with quiet dignity rather than in a panic or with Rage Against the Heavens. If combined with Dissonant Serenity it might have heroic or stoic overtones.

The trope is named after Roman Emperor Nero, who is purported to have been singing and playing his lyre while Rome was ravaged by a massive fire (though there are no detailed accounts of the fire from contemporary historians, thus there is debate about how true that is), and as such implies an authority ignoring the pleas of its subjects, or simply not caring enough, although it has broadened to mean simply carrying on as normal when the whole world falls to pieces around you.

Compare with Holding Out for a Hero, Refusal of the Call, Achilles in His Tent, and Slept Through the Apocalypse. If the survivor seems to be actively enjoying the destruction, see Dancing in The Ruins. If it's more an example of heroically attempting to avoid letting nasty situations get you down, it's probably Screw the War, We're Partying. Not to be confused with Stiff Upper Lip.

Examples of While Rome Burns include:


Anime and Manga Edit

  • Played strait in One Piece. Sabo hears a rumor that the slums of his city will burn from a planned arson fire and thousands of citizens will burn. Sabo decides to go around the upper class area of the city to investigate. He sees that the rich nobles are calm and happy, so concludes that the fire won't be happening, until the nobles calmly mention it. Sabo is confused, wondering why no one is in a panic like he is. He talks with a wealthy elder, who confirms that the slums will burn and people will die, but the nobles don't care. Infact some nobles want the poor to die because 'they don't deserve to live if they aren't rich'. The old man actually warns Sabo NOT to save the citizens.
  • In X 1999, Seishiro and Fuuma stroll through Nakano Sun Plaza eating ice cream and chatting amiably. It all seems well and good until you realize that as they're doing this they're actively destroying the place.
  • Kasumi Tendo, the Yamato Nadeshiko of Ranma ½, is known for doing this as various crazy things happen in her house. Honestly, who can blame her? Considering the commonplace shenaigans of their lives, she may well have reached the point where the stability of getting dinner ready after the rampaging Interpretive Dance Ninja is dealt with was comforting. Or she's just cool like that.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, as the latest powerful Angel draws close to bringing about the Third Impact and the annihilation of humanity, Kaji Ryoji is found watering his watermelon garden. He explains that since he can't pilot an Eva, there's nothing he can do to make a difference, so he might as well spend his final moments calmly doing something he enjoys.
  • In the anime film Highlander the Search For Vengeance, Marcus does this a LOT.
  • Happens in Gundam Seed Destiny: as fragments of Junius Seven bombard the Earth and massive destruction is being shown, Lacus Clyne sings a gentle song to calm some kids in her shelter, also providing epic Soundtrack Dissonance.
  • In Future War 198X, Laura still sits behind the piano at the underground jazz bar in Tokyo after hearing that enemy jets are inbound, playing a mournful tune while thinking of Wataru. Michael heartbrokenly sings "Eidelweiss" to himself while looking at the white flower his dead girlfriend once wore in her hair after blasting the nuclear warhead and shaking the whole war.
  • Sora no Woto. You just found out that your superior officer, whom you held hostage at gunpoint after he found an enemy soldier you were sheltering, has escaped, and plans to assault your fortress in ten minutes to execute said soldier in a big display so the ongoing peace talks are ruined. What to do? Think it over a cup of tea and cake.
  • Toward the end of Speed Grapher, Suitengu seals up a majority of members into the club with intent to demolish it, if the JSDF doesn't do it first. Relatively few of them are shaking at the barred entrance in panic while most continue indulging in Hookers and Blow.
  • Sekirei has Natsuo Ichinomi who is the Ashikabi of the feared Disciplinary Squad. He combines this trope with Dissonant Serenity as he explains key info to Minato while a battle rages around them. They are almost killed and he resumes the conversation as if nothing is happening. None of the chaos caused by Sekirei Plan bothers him because he no longer cares what happens to him or the world.

Comic Books Edit

  • A rather chilling scene in the DC Comics miniseries 52: In Superman's absence (due to power failure), Lex Luthor has started a program to give ordinary people superpowers, and soon Metropolis is swarming with self-styled superheroes. But Luthor becomes obsessed with a new hero, Supernova, and to call him out, on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, during a huge rally for the new "heroes," he switches their powers off. Luthor spends the next few moments waiting for Supernova's arrival chatting casually on a cell phone as hundreds of helpless people fall out of the sky and onto the pavement.
    • The funniest part is when one of them is about to fall on top of him whil he's on the phone. He excuses himself, walks out of the spot and continues talking as the guy plummets just behind him.
  • Watchmen: while millions of people are dying from a Cosmic Horror in downtown New York, Ozymandias, its creator, enjoys a nice dinner. The arrival of the heroes hardly deters him.

Film Edit

  • Quo Vadis: Pictured above is the scene from 1951 Hollywood Film of the Book. And in the more recent 2001 Polish version, Nero is a Extra Large Ham.
  • In the War of the Worlds remake, Tom Cruise's neighborhood mechanic ignores all the ominous signs of the impending alien invasion in order to rush-fix a Dodge minivan. He keeps ignoring the aliens while Tom Cruise steals that same minivan, up until they shoot him in the back with the death ray.
  • Jenny from the film Deep Impact ends up spending her time at home with her dad as a huge asteroid approaches the Earth. A minute later, as a huge wave is destroying New York, we see a man on a park bench quietly reading a newspaper just before he's swept away.
  • The blockbuster film Titanic features the minor but memorable character Wallace Hartley, the ship's bandmaster who along with his colleagues plays uplifting music on the chaotic shipdeck as the tragic vessel sinks, culminating in a final, emotional performance of "Nearer My God To Thee." His final words being, "Gentlemen. It has been a privilege playing with you tonight."
    • Truth in Television, mostly. The band really did stay on deck and play serene music for the doomed passengers, but there are differing accounts as to what song they were playing and, obviously, any last words would be unknown. All eight of the men went down with the ship.
    • This example is so well known that the trope could easly be renamed The Titanic Players, or something.
    • The film also had similar scenes with Thomas Andrews, the ship's architect and Captain John Smith. Andrews stands in the first class lounge, calmly watching the clock tick away, and Captain Smith remains at his post on the bridge.
      • Again Truth in Television in Andrews' case. His final scenes are based off a real meeting with a steward that talked to him just minutes before the final plunge. Benjamin Guggenheim's quote "We've dressed our best and we are prepared to go down like gentlemen!" is taken also from a surviving steward's testimony, although the Brandy thing was added by James Cameron. On the other hand, Captain Smith's fate is entirely fictional. Andrews was last seen in the smoking room staring into space with his lifejacket cast aside.
    • Harry Chapin's song "Danceband on the Titanic" is also about this, and refers to Nero: "They say that Nero fiddled while Rome burned up / Well, I'll be strummin' as the ship goes down."
    • This is true of more than a few of the men and women who were too late once all the lifeboats had left. Accounts tell of this:
      • Archibald Butt and two of his friends went back to the parlor to play one last hand of cards.
      • The champion tennis player R. Norris Williams who ended up surviving decide to go ride the exercise bicycles in the gym.
      • Journalist William Stead, who had written articles predicting disaster on "unsinkable ships", calmly read a book in the sitting room.
    • Also hilariously parodied with Green Day as themselves at the beginning of The Simpsons movie. As their barge sinks into Springfield lake due to the corrosive pollution, they calmly pull out violins and play until all fall in and die.
    • Referenced in Osmosis Jones, where a couple of random cells say the line while Frank "dies."
  • The two Dawn of the Dead movies are effectively this, they hide away in their own little paradise while the rest of the world is destroyed by the zombies. Hell, in the remake a man starves to death just across the road while they're making lattes. They do care though.
    • Well they do try to send him food, they just fail miserably and eventually the entire mall is overrun with zombies.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there is an old lady sitting at the street side table oblivious to or uninterested in what's going on around her while the world is being destroyed. This is Douglas Adams's mother. The director didn't give any acting directions to her or anybody else in the scene for what they were supposed to do, to simulate chaos, so she just sat there reading a newspaper.
  • Con Air depicts the increasingly chaotic results of a bunch of convicts hijacking a prison transport plane. Toward the climax, while the plane is rapidly descending on the improvised landing strip and the surviving passengers flail about in a state of panic, Steve Buscemi's character sits unperturbed in his usual seat, cradling a Ken doll and singing "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands."
  • Der Untergang, or Downfall, features a scene like this where Eva Braun and the inhabitants of the Fuhrerbunker try to hold a dance party, even as Soviets troops bomb and shell Berlin into submission and everyone knows it will only be a few more days at best before the bunker is captured. The festivities come to a premature halt when an artillery shell blasts down a wall and fills the room with dust and smoke.
    • There's also a scene in which one of the characters, who has fled the bunker, is arrested by military police at what seems to be a drunken orgy.
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, there is a scene where British officers calmly go about their business as African aboriginal warriors brutally slaughter the troops in camp.
  • In Fight Club the ending scene features the main character kissing his romantic interest while watching various skyscrapers explode and collapse to the ground throughout the city.
  • Metropolis:

 "Let's all watch the world go to the devil."

  • The Day The Earth Caught Fire. As the Earth hurtles towards the Sun all water is rationed; we later see teenagers high on drugs having water fights in the streets.
  • During the sequence in Superman II when Superman and the Kryptonian villains are destroying half of Metropolis in the wake of their fight there is a crazed hobo in a telephone booth who laughs and talks to no one on the other end while the booth gets blown sideways down the street by super breath.
  • Batman Returns: As his Red Triangle Gang riots in the streets mere blocks away, Gotham City mayoral candidate Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. The Penguin) goes for a stroll in Gotham Plaza. Batman eventually makes his way to the plaza and demands to know what Oswald is up to. "Touring the riot scene. Gravely assessing the devastation," Oswald replies with mock seriousness.
  • The Disney version of Hunchback of Notre Dame has an almost literal version of this; "while Paris burns" to be precise. Frollo threatens to burn down all of Paris, and manages to burn down a considerable portion of it, but while Quasimodo and the gargoyles are looking out at the fire, they're discussing (and eventually singing about) whether or not Quasimodo might have a chance with Esmeralda after all.

 Hugo: Paris, the city of lovers, is glowing this evening. True, that's because it's on fire but still there's l'amour.

    • Well, it's not as if Quasi is in a position to do anything, since he's been forbidden by Frollo to leave the bell tower - and the one time he disobeyed this order, things didn't go at all well for him.
  • Shaun of the Dead plays it for laughs. The protagonists are too inattentive to notice the zombie apocalypse around them.
  • In Mean Girls, after the female population of the school has descended in to madness over the Burn Book, Regina stands at the top of the stairs and admires her handiwork as people run past and debris flies through the shot.
  • It's small and easy to miss, but in Meet the Robinsons, Lizzy can be seen smiling evilly as she watches the chaos that ensues when Lewis' invention malfunctions.

Literature Edit

  • As depicted in A Tale of Two Cities, Madam Defarge and the rest of the tricoteuses sit beside the guillotine and knit furiously while people are executed to show support for the Revolution and its Reign of Terror.
  • The Masque of the Red Death. They shut themselves in a tower to avoid a plague and hold a party. The whole point of the story is to give them a massively karmic death, a red death. The source tale, The Decameron, did not kill off the characters. It's just an excuse for a frame tale that shuts people in a room so they'll tell stories to pass the time.
  • Stephen King's Cell has the 'Sprinters', people who steal the most expensive/fast looking vehicles they can find and drive them down the street after the Zombie Apocalypse renders their owners either dead or insane. On the two occasions when specific Sprinters are mentioned, they manage to get themselves either injured or killed spectacularly.
  • Averted in The Roman Mysteries: Rome literally burns, but the characters are certainly not indifferent or distracted by irrelevancies.

Live Action TV Edit

  • Band of Brothers had an interesting example that happened after the disaster. The opening of one of the episodes showed a quartet of German violinists playing somber music as their fellow villagers were working to clean up the rubble from their ruined town.
  • The Day of the Triffids remake. A man is shown playing the violin while panicked policemen who've lost their sight gun down civilians. After he's finished playing, the man calmly walks to the balcony and throws himself off.
  • In The Outer Limits (2002 series) episode "The Human Factor", commander Ellis Grover sabotages the colonization project he was in charge of after finding out his superiors started a nuclear war that killed off most of humanity including his family. This is after he spent the entire episode trying to stop his Robot Buddy Link from doing the exact same thing out of the belief that Humans Are Bastards. Having come to agree with Link in the end, he reactivates him. When Link notes that Grover's sabotage leaves them with about two hours before the base is destroyed, Grover decides they might as well play one last game of chess. They spend the last scene setting up the chessboard while the base and all hopes of humanity's survival fall apart around them.
  • In the final episode of Kamen Rider OOO, Kosei Kougami indulges in his hobby of singing "Happy Birthday" and baking birthday cakes while the city outside is gradually being devoured by a monstrous construct out to absorb everything, and the building he's in grows increasingly damaged.

Music Edit

  • The song "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" from Ultravox is about a man driving home from work and hearing that a catastrophe (presumably a nuclear war) is on its way. He then goes home to his wife, they get drunk, make love to their favorite music and the last verse ends with "it's time, and I don't think we really care."
  • "De Bom" ("The Bomb") by popular Dutch band Doe Maar revolves around this trope: "Just let it fall / it'll happen anyway / it doesn't matter if you run / I've never known you / I want to find out who you are / find out who you are"
  • It's the end of the world as we know it...
  • Prince's "1999".
  • Jars of Clay has "Goodbye, Goodnight", which was inspired by the aforementioned string section playing as the Titanic went down. "Strike up the band and play a song, and try hard not to cry/And fake a smile as we all say goodbye."
  • Steve Taylor's "Smug" lambasts Christians who take sick pleasure in thinking the rest of the world is going to hell. "Rome is burning, we're here turning smug."
  • Weird Al's "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?" has shades of this.
    • "It's Christmas at Ground Zero", if taken more seriously, also sounds exactly like this.
  • The video for Mythos & DJ Cosmo's "The Heart of the Ocean", a techno version of the main theme from Titanic, features a dance party on a sinking ship.
  • "We dance to the sound of sirens, and we watch genocide to relax."(Covenant, in "Theremin")
  • The song Accordion Player by Voltaire is about an accordion player who refused to take part in a war in his country, even when the fighting came to his town. The song ends with the musician declaring repeatedly "I want to die playing", the music becoming more frantic and impassioned as sounds of battle rage around it.

Theatre Edit

  • The second act of You Can't Take It With You ends with a lot of fireworks exploding offstage and a lot of people wildly shouting and rushing about onstage. The imperturbable Grandpa, however, just says "Well, well, well!" and sits down. "If a lot of people weren't in the way," the script suggests, "you feel he'd like to throw some darts."

Videogames Edit

  • Near the end of Metal Gear Solid 2, there's a soldier patrolling and listening to his Walkman, totally oblivious to the fact that the entire facility he's in is getting destroyed in six minutes, give or take.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, President Shinra looks calmly out of his window at the destruction of a whole sector of the city, a Haydn piece playing in the background.
    • When Weapon fires on Midgar, Rufus just stands and watches the energy beams heading right for the Shinra building before they blow out the entire floor he's on in a massive firestorm.
      • He does duck at the last second. Somehow, that seems to have helped him, since...
      • He got better.
  • The opening cutscene of Starcraft: Brood War features a marine who is saved by another marine with a rocket launcher. The aforementioned marine is black, wears sunglasses, has football face-stripes on and is rocking back and forth to rock music. When the marine he saved asks where the air support is, he calmly points to the battlecruiser hovering overhead (which the other dude somehow missed). At the end of the scene, the battlecruiser takes off, and the marine seals his suit with a reflective gold face-covering. The scene ends with a pull back from the two marines as an impossible number of Zerg units overruns them.
  • You can probably find countless examples from The Sims. One sim decided to take a bath while the kitchen was burning wildly and killing the sim's poor family members.
    • Although the times Sims do avert it are equally annoying, for example if a Sim stands around watching a tree on fire instead of going to his final exam. (The tree was outdoors, and not near any part of the dorm that could catch fire, and it was raining, so the fire would go out anyway.)
  • In the third Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game, Larry Butz sees a bridge burning...and instead of running for help, he sketches the scene.
  • Two examples in the Team Fortress 2 "Meet the Team" trailers, with one involving The Engineer calmly strumming a guitar and sipping beer while his turrets slaughter all incoming enemies, the other in the "Meet The Sandvich" video, with the Heavy observing a fight on a cliff while happily munching on a sandwich.
  • In The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask, after finally reuniting Anju and Kafei and obtaining the Couple's Mask, they remain in their room while encouraging Link to seek refuge, apparently aware and accepting of the fact that the moon is about to crash into the town.

 "We shall greet the morning... together."

    • On the eve of the final day, the good ending for the Romani/Creamia sidequests has the two sisters tending to their cow. Romani seems oblivious to the danger of the moon, but Creamia ignores mentioning it in front of her sister and handles their impending doom with calm acceptance.
  • Final Fantasy VI. During Emperor Gestahl's I Surrender, Suckers scene, where he repents for the evil he's done (ha!) and pledges to restore peace, balance, and harmony (double-ha!), while the party does not go karting with him, he does in fact expect them to dine at a truly lush and expensive banquet. Meanwhile, his Empire is in ruins, his soldiers are restless and skittish, his people are dying, and his capital is burning to the ground. Very unnerving scene.
  • In the Sadie's Story extras in Halo ODST, an overweight butcher stays in his store, happily trying to sell or outright give away his meat to refugees fleeing New Mombasa.
    • Though he's doing this so that people can have food while getting out of the city, and you can hear a woman thanking him profusely for giving her a number of kabobs. He also admits that he is extremely fat and would take up space on a bus or train that would be better spent on thinner people.
    • Halo: Reach's New Alexandria level has, as an Easter Egg activated by a switch on another building, a dance club where a DJ is spinning "Never Surrender" from Halo 2 (and "Siege of Madrigal" if you hit another switch on the roof) while the city burns. The grunts even dance to the music.
  • Dwarf Fortress -- yet another display of dwarven stupidity. When civilian alerts are called in zones, usually due to hazardous anything, they will still wander over to grab a drink, or take a break in a rock garden or waterfall, while their fellow dwarves are dying splattery limb-flinging deaths to murderous abominations.
  • In Fallout 3, you can stumble upon a bizarre building owned by a Russian named Dukov. All he does all day is party, drink, get high, and have sex with his two "party girls". They seem completely ambivalent to the fact that they are completely defenseless in the middle of a hilariously dangerous city full of mutants.
    • Not true. Dukov is an ex-mercenary, which is the only reason his whores stick around and put up with him in the first place. One of them even asks you for a safe escort out. Of course, Dukov is old, and likely both out of practice and drunk off his ass, so he's easy enough for you to kill. It helps that he wears pajamas.
  • Near the end of the second act of Bioshock, Andrew Ryan activates the Self-Destruct Mechanism of his underwater city. When you finally reach his office, he is calmly playing Office Golf. Things get worse from there.
  • At the end of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, there are alot of guards still hanging around while Fort Schmerzen burns and collapses.
  • If you count player action, the option to invoke this becomes a trope itself.
  • In Saints Row the Third, the antagonist Killbane, upon being humiliated on live television, (Either by de-masking him or by defeating him) actually quotes the origin of the trope itself...

  Killbane: This is MY city...and I get to fiddle while it burns...

Webcomics Edit

  • Homestuck,
    • Rose has roughly two minutes to save John from being killed by an incoming meteor. She spends the first forty seconds playing a violin refrain. The game sarcastically compliments the player's time management skills.
    • More figurative use of the trope would be when Dave and his Bro battle it out on the rooftop, with Houston being obliterated in the background. The battle itself is completely pointless.
    • Dave also seems perfectly fine continuing to update his absolutely awful webcomic, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, even though the world is ending.

Web Original Edit

Western Animation Edit

  • In the season 4 finale of The Batman, Alfred and Lucius Fox watch helplessly from a balcony on Bruce's mansion, drinking tea as ash falls like snow around them, before deciding that they're not that helpless. It's possibly the best scene in the entire series.
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Justice League. While the rest of the population of Vegas has fled because of Joker's bomb threats, a single old lady continues feeding coins into a slot machine.

 Joker: I love this town!

  • Subverted in the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Swarm of the Century". Pinkie takes one look at the crisis of the day and rushes off in search of a tuba. Everyone dismisses it as Pinkie's usual harmless psychosis, and sets about trying to get the parasprites out of town, while Pinkie passes through periodically asking if anyone's seen yet another piece of the polka ensemble she's been diligently assembling. Just when it looks like all hope is lost and the parasprites are going to be the end of civilization, Pinkie marches by strapped into a one-pony band, and the parasprites follow her in Pied Piper fashion. It's implied throughout the episode that Pinkie's dealt with parasprites before, but couldn't communicate this fact to the others because they have trouble with the idea that Pinkie is capable of lucidity.

Real Life Edit

  • Trope Namer: According to legend, Emperor Nero played the fiddle (or lute, or lyre) while Rome was burning down. Supposedly, his men actually helped set the fire. This story was more likely than not circulated by those who disliked/despised him. All actual evidence found suggests he wasn't even in the city at the time and quite possibly wouldn't have been in any position to help.

    His apocryphal behavior is traditionally described as "fiddling while Rome burns", which has predictably been played for all the Double Entendre it's worth for centuries.
  • Lou Henry Hoover did this a lot when stranded in China during the Boxer Rebellion. One time she was playing solitaire when an artillery shell crashed through her front hall. She kept on playing.
  • According to a letter written by his nephew, Pliny the Elder took a nap in Stabiae near Pompeii... while Mt. Vesuvius was erupting. Even though he was there in part to assist in the rescue of the villagers.
    • And, as we all know, he didn't survive it either. He suffocated for being too close to the epicentre.
  • Controversy surrounded George W. Bush when he chose to continue reading a children's book about a goat to a grade-school class after being informed that the 9/11 attacks occurred. Though a somewhat more generous interpretation is his not wanting to scare the kids, who would have plenty to worry about later, he was told during the event "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
    • More concretely, there was Bush actually playing a guitar on a California Naval base the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
    • Then there's the matter of President Obama reacting to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico by focusing like a laser on... his golf game.
  • A similar PR disaster struck the unpopular and gaffe-prone Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who was heavily criticised for continuing to play a round of golf after hearing the news of the collision between the Ehime Maru and the USS Greenville.
  • English soldier Jack Churchill started playing his pipe while waiting for the Germans to capture him. Since he is also the guy who fought with bow, arrow and a claymore (the sword, not the anti-personnel mine) in WWII, we shouldn't be surprised.
  • Another Roman example. When Emperor Honorius was informed that Rome had "perished" (sacked in 410 AD) he panicked, thinking his pet rooster also named Rome had died. When it was explained that Rome the city had been sacked, he was visibly relieved his rooster was fine.
  • Another famous example is Archimedes keeping on working on mathematical diagrams during the fall of Syracuse. He was killed by a Roman soldier who had come to arrest him. As the soldier approached, Archimedes was drawing some mathematical figures in the sand, and shouted at the soldier "don't disturb my figures". The soldier didn't like that.
    • If there is any truth behind the story, Archimedes' reaction was probably due to the fact that he knew that he was far too valuable to the Romans to be killed or mistreated. Unfortunately the soldier in question didn't know who he was. Archimedes wasn't an absent-minded tinkerer, but an individual with an excellent sense of economy and politics, fully capable of understanding the gravity of the situation.
    • Other retellings accentuate the irony by having the soldier ask him where Archimedes can be found, because they want him alive, and Archimedes ignoring him.
  • Former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon is now being compared with Nero after admitting that she went out to dinner with her husband and two friends on the evening of the Black Saturday bushfires, in spite of being warned of the likelihood of an high death toll shortly before leaving.
  • As hinted in the Downfall example above, there's lots of stories about high-ranking Nazis who were still in Berlin as the Soviets were entering during the closing days of World War Two engaging in hedonistic parties and orgies.
  • So many people during the Black Death died, some people knew that they were likely to get it and die, so what did they do? Party! Similar things are apt to happen during any large-enough scale disaster.
  • An apocryphal story tells that even as Constantinopole was on the verge of falling, the elders of the Byzantine Church ignored the threat and busied themselves discussing theological trivalities. Modern day Turkish Politicians occasionally bring the story up as a metaphor to criticize the hijacking of important debates by irrelevant non-issues.
  • A more literal and heartwarming example: During the Siege of Sarajevo, the Serbs would shell the city every night. It was under this backdrop of shelling that cellist Vedran Smailović would play christmas songs in the middle of the town square while the city was being shelled around him! He said he did this to prove that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place. According to The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, this act of bravery/craziness was the inspiration for their song Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.
  • Barbara Tuchman in The Guns of August characterised Nicholas II as a grotesquely incompetent, apathetic leader, stating that when Nicholas received a telegram informing him of the Russian fleet's annihalation at Tsushima, he read it, put it away and then went on to play tennis.
  • The saying "arranging deckchairs on the Lusitania / Titanic" is essentially used to refer to someone getting distracted doing something inconsequential or trivial during a time of great crisis. It's unknown whether anyone actually did worry about arranging the deckchairs on either of these ships as they were going down, however.