In any vast bureaucracy, you’re bound to find obstructive bureaucrats and professional butt-kissers. But if you look long and hard enough, usually somewhere towards the bottom, you may be lucky enough to find one of the Last DJs.
The Last DJ is a man with integrity, who often puts honor before reason and cannot be bought, no matter how much his superiors try. Consequently, he usually ends up somewhere at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy, no matter how competent he may be. In extreme cases, he may be reassigned to Antarctica. Either way, do not expect to see him kicked upstairs–that’s for insufferably incompetent idiots who are promoted to an administrative post so everyone else can get back to the real work. If anything, expect this guy to get thrown under the bus.
Depending on the story, he may be a brotherly mentor figure for the main character or play some other sort of supporting role. However, don’t expect him to be much of a plot driver, unless the story is specifically about him. Because of his refusal to suck up or play office politics, he’s rarely in a position to effect change or become a whistle-blower.
Over time, this character may turn into something of a sour knight, developing a thick skin of crusty cynicism to protect his idealistic heart from all the crap he continually has to put up with. Like the Obi-wan, if he’s a mentor figure, he will probably die. If he’s the hero, though, or part of the ragtag bunch of misfits, expect him to be vindicated, possibly in a crowning moment of awesome. Rarely if ever will this guy be the villain–that’s the obstructive bureaucrat, whom this guy hates.
Lieutenant Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist is a good example of this trope. He’s a good soldier who was passed up on all the promotions because he refused to go along with the war crimes done against the Ishvalan people. His sister, who WAS reassigned to Antarctica (though probably by choice), is a whole other story.
Another good example of this trope is Lucius Fox from Batman Begins. The interesting thing about this one is that he’s a mentor figure who actually survives. This is probably because the story requires a lot of badassery from the hero, and Lucius is in no position to fill that role, so there’s no threat of him outshining Bruce Wayne. This is also a good example of the last DJ getting vindicated in the end.
In my own work, the best example I can think of is Tiera from Desert Stars. She’s fiercely stubborn with an uncompromising sense of honor, which results in her being stripped of her claim of inheritance due to her stepmother Shira’s wiles (although ‘stepmother’ isn’t quite the right word–how do you describe your father’s evil second wife, when he’s still married to your mother?). I’ve got some interesting plans for a sequel where she’s the main character, but that book is still in the early conceptual stages.
In my own life, I’ve actually fulfilled this trope. I don’t care to discuss the details of it publicly, but back when I was interning in Washington DC, I had a very negative experience that this trope describes perfectly. It’s one of the reasons I hate Washington so much, and decided to become a global nomad who makes a difference on the ground, rather than pushing papers in someone else’s petty empire of personal influence. It’s also one of the reasons why I started the Star Wanderers series–because I wanted to tell a story about people on the space-bound frontier, as far away from the galactic empire as possible.
I may not write many stories about vast bureaucracies or other hierarchical organizations, just because that doesn’t interest me, but whenever I do, you’ll probably see this guy pop up. As someone who’s been there, I have a lot of sympathy for this character. You’ll probably see him (or her) pop up in my work from time to time.