Accidental Aesop

"Aesop's beast fables do not teach us to be wise or honest or kind. They simply show us what will happen if we dick around with talking animals."
Peter Chiykowski, Rock, Paper, Cynic

When a writer intends to simply write a piece of fiction without An Aesop but someone reads something into their work that they didn't intend. This can also happen when the creator did intend An Aesop, but the one people pick up is completely off tack from the one they intended.

This seems to stem from some people always assuming Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory, which leads to them gasping "What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?" when you tell them as such. This also generally requires the Word of God to clear things up — if, indeed, even that helps; don't count on it.

Like Misaimed Fandom (where readers fail to catch the moral or satire intended by an author), an Accidental Aesop may result from poor authorial communication or, indeed, the Unfortunate Implications that come with poor use of common symbols.

Compare: Alternate Aesop Interpretation, where a work has An Aesop, but a different one is found; Broken Aesop, where a work's moral is contradicted by its delivery; Clueless Aesop, where a work fails to get its moral across; Family-Unfriendly Aesop, where the moral goes against accepted wisdom; What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?; and Death of the Author. Occasionally these unintended Aesops have Unfortunate Implications. However, tropes are not bad; just because a text wasn't intended to be a commentary doesn't mean it can't work perfectly well as one.

If you want to assign a work one of these aesops for comedic value, head over to Warp That Aesop.

See also Denied Parody and Indecisive Deconstruction for other unintended elements/interpretations of the work.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • At first, Gunslinger Girl's disturbing depiction of the horrors and abuses its innocent little girl protagonists faced and how their lives were completely destroyed was lauded by many fans as a Deconstruction of the lolicon genre and/or a commentary on the use of Child Soldiers. Nope. Turns out it's straight-up Author Appeal. Many of the more subversive elements and Fan Disservice of the early part of the series were apparently to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience and probably weren't even the creator's idea. As time went on and the series' popularity grew, the creator gained Protection from Editors, and it became decidedly more Fanservice-y and disturbing for totally different reasons.
    • And then there's the straight out porn, drawn by the creator, of the girls being intimate with their handlers, consensual or otherwise.
    • Incidentally, the fact that the first season of the Anime has this Aesop but the second doesn't is likely part of the reason why the latter season was critically panned by comparison.
  • Princess Sarah was released at the time when ijime (bullying) was a hot-button issue in Japan. Combined with Lavinia's behavior towards Sarah, this led many fans to believe that the series was covertly dealing with this issue. However, director Fumio Kurokawa says that this was purely unintentional. In the interview, he points out that some fans went overboard with this — one fan even sent the writer a razor blade, with the message "Stop bullying Sarah!"

    Comic Books 
  • Even though The Smurfs's book "The Black Smurfs" was just a fun story about a Zombie Apocalypse (though family-friendly and luckily reversible), some people tends to consider it an allegory of black immigrants. They were made purple rather than black in the Animated Adaptation to avoid those Unfortunate Implications.
  • Galactus from Marvel Comics is a godlike being who eats the life force of entire planets to survive. Obviously, every time he eats, potential billions if not more die. Galactus rationalizes that he's got to eat and the inhabitants of those planets are far below him on the universal pecking order. His entire character might be the greatest Accidental Aesop in favor of vegetarianism ever... or was, until it was revealed that Galactus is required for the universe to properly function.
  • A lot of comics written by Mark Millar seems to have pro-family messages. Several of his characters have issues that can be traced to their family lives. For example, Ultimate Red Skull and Spider-Girl in Old Man Logan are both despicable psychopaths because they had an absentee father, toward whom they hold a grudge. Hit-Girl is completely messed up because of her psychopath father. The Unfunnies' Troy Hick has a Freudian Excuse in the mental breakdown he suffered after his wife left him, and Millar's run on Fantastic Four portrays Reed and Sue Richards as perfect and extremely happy with their lives. However, Millar has said he never intentionally put any sort of message into his works, so all of this is either completely accidental or subconscious on his part.

    Fairy Tales 

    Films — Animated 
  • WALL•E is often interpreted as having a rather Anvilicious environmentalist or anti-consumerism message, but the director stated that there was not supposed to be any political message, and the setting was created to justify the story of "the last robot on Earth". Fred Willard also ad-libbed the line "Stay the course," causing some people to assume the film was commenting on the Bush administration.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • George A. Romero has always maintained that he did not intend to make any comments about race in Night of the Living Dead (1968). He hired Duane Jones, a black stage actor, to play the hero because "he gave the best audition." Much of the movie's dialogue was improvised by the actors during filming, with only a loose adherence to the script. It was only when the film was released that Romero says he became aware of the implications of Jones's character being black. However, some critics continue to insist that it's highly implausible for someone in the 1960s to cast a black actor as the lead without being aware of the significance. For better or worse, Romero subsequently started adding intentional but far less subtle aesops in all his following zombie films.
  • The Aesop of Seven Pounds is probably not "don't use your cell phone while driving," but that's what at least one critic concluded. It also isn't killing yourself is wrong unless you give your organs away, nor is it likely to be don't commit suicide by POISON if you intend to donate your organs.
  • The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), made at the height of the Red Scare, was praised by people on both sides of the issue who assumed the villainous pod people were meant to be analogous to either Communists or people being swept up by Senator McCarthy's witch hunts. Director Don Siegel was quick to say that he did not intend to portray any kind of message and just thought he was making a simple alien invasion film. Seeing as the film ends with the hero shouting into the camera "They're here already! You're next!", opinions are still divided. The McCarthy/HUAC furor had more or less died down by the time the movie was made, so the director was probably telling the truth.
  • The film adaptation of 300 is often interpreted to glorify secular, westernized countries standing against the religious extremism and intolerance of the Middle East. However, some critics pointed out that in the film, Persia is a massive, wealthy and culturally diverse empire bent on expanding its influence throughout the world, while the Spartans are a small group of dedicated, zealous fighters who are willing to break the rules of war and martyr themselves to resist the invaders. Some viewers interpreted Persia as representing the United States and Spartans representing the terrorists.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower — if you're struggling to fit in, hang out with much older kids, drink alcohol and take drugs.
  • The Artist: Adapt or kill yourself.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl — When making an agreement, be sure the terms are actually beneficial to you and leave as little to interpretation as possible, otherwise you leave yourself open to Loophole Abuse and Exact Words by a more savvy party. Case in point, Barbossa exploits loopholes overlooked by the other party twice, first when he takes Elizabeth hostage because she neglected to include her own release when exchanging the medallion for their cessation of their raid on Port Royal; and again when he forces Elizabeth to walk the plank after Will exchanges his blood to lift the curse for Jack's crew's safety and Elizabeth's release, but failed to specify where or when she was to be set free.
  • While it is hard to tell whether Fifty Shades of Grey the book has any kind of aesop hidden under its absolutely mind-numbing prose and cringe-worthy narration, the movie, due to the lack of the aforementioned cons and added focus on the actual character interactions (plus whatever nuances the actors put in) can be easily interpreted as "BDSM is awesome, but you should get into it gradually and don't rush with contracts and hardcore practices, or it will destroy your relationship."

    Literature 
  • The Heather Wells book Big Boned can easily be interpreted as having the message 'Do not ever date your teacher', even if both parties are well above legal age of consent. There always will be the power-imbalance in the relationship, he might force you into doing exercise or could simply be using you, to make it big in the Big Apple.
  • The eighteenth century critic Thomas Rhymer said that there seemed to be two possible Aesops in Othello: either "Don't elope with blackamoors" or else "Take better care of your laundry." (The latter being a reference to Desdemona's handkerchief, which convinces Othello that his wife is cheating on him.)
  • An in-universe example occurs in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five: the "moral" that the Tralfamordians derive from The Bible is before you kill anyone, make absolutely sure that they're not well-connected.
  • Casabianca, about a loyal cabin boy who stayed on a burning warship until it exploded because he waited for his father to relieve him of duty without knowing he had died, has many times been interpreted as a warning against blindly obeying your parents.
  • The Novel of the Iron Maid, the final story in Arthur Machen's The Three Impostors has the distinct feeling of trying to teach the reader a lesson on the value of always reading the instructions, since it revolves around a collector of antique torture devices who accidentally crushes himself to death with his latest acquisition after very explicitly neglecting to read the enclosed instruction pamphlet.
  • Me Before You has, especially with the release of The Movie, being interpreted as having the Unfortunate Implications of if you're a quadriplegic, your life isn't worth living, so the best thing you can do is commit suicide and have it benefit the (abled) ones you love.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The series finale of Battlestar Galactica (2003) seems to have an Anvilicious anti-technology Aesop that comes completely out of nowhere. Ron Moore admits in his podcast on the episode that this was simply a desperate last-minute attempt to explain why none of the fleet's technology was discovered after they arrived on prehistoric Earth, and he didn't put much thought into any message that could be read into it.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Power of the Daleks": Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it—unless the Doctor arrives in time.
    • "The Unquiet Dead" was perceived in some quarters as an attack on immigration (since the episode features aliens who come to Earth on the pretence of finding a new home after their planet was blown up, but are actually attempting to invade), even though the subtext was entirely unintentional.
    • "Kill the Moon": Some viewers reacted angrily to what they saw as a pro-life (as in anti-abortion) message in this one. There's a question of preventing a birth and the Doctor gives the women the "choice" to terminate it. Then, in a democratic method, the whole world together decides to prevent the birth. But finally, Clara just can't bear to "kill the baby", and her decision to save it is proven to be the right one in the end. Alternatively, the message could be seen as that ultimately it is the woman's choice alone whether to terminate the pregnancy, regardless of what others tell her she should do or the outcome — making it a pro-choice message. It mostly depends on if you see Clara as analogous to the mother or as someone overriding the mother's choice.
  • The iconic Baltans from the original Ultraman series can be read as a case of a group of refugees being portrayed as an invasion. This may have been intentional in their case, however, as nationalistic themes were fairly common in earlier toku productions.
  • The Torchwood episode "Meat" appears to have a pro-vegetarianism Aesop. But episode writer Cath Treganna "enjoys a good fillet steak as much as the next person".
  • Genetic engineering is shown as a viable technology in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the person of Julian Bashir. On the other hand, there's the Jack Pack. Lesson: If you prohibit genetic engineering, people will go to Back Alley Doctors, with possibly disastrous results.
  • The episode "Darkness Falls" of The X-Files, where a logging company accidentally releases a marabunta of man-eating bugs, was praised and even received an award for its never intended ecologist message against deforestation. This is even funnier if you consider that every death in the episode could be blamed on the actions of an Animal Wrongs Group in continuous possession of the Idiot Ball, and that the bugs' release was going to happen anyway since they were originally trapped in a very old tree that was going to fall more sooner than later.
  • The original Star Trek episode "This Side of Paradise" is explicitly stated to be a modern take on the Lotus Eaters and the arrested development drugs and complacency can have, but to a modern viewer the Aesop appears to be about date rape when Leila Kalomi knowingly drugs Spock so that he will fall in love with her.
  • This happens in-universe on one episode of The George Lopez Show. When Max takes the computer apart without realizing the value of such things, his father George decides to teach him a lesson; by giving him a job at the factory George manages to show him the kind of hard jobs it can take to afford things like the computer. Unfortunately Max seems to think that the lesson was that working at the factory is great since he enjoyed and wants to work there instead of going to college. George toys with letting him do that, until he has a Flash Forward picturing Max being jobless in the future after the factory is automated. He does show Max the possible downside of that Aesop by showing him how much the factory workers freak out at the slightest possibility of the factory shutting down.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Neutral Zone" is about cryogenically frozen humans from the 20th Century coping with being awoken in the 24th. It's full of all sorts of anvilicious dialogue about how superior humanity has become, and seems to be intended as a Take That to the audience. One character in particular, a stock broker, gets the worst of it. However at the end he gives Picard some vital insight into what his opponents, the Romulans, are thinking. This has the effect of implying that the 24th century humans have become complacent and naive. (The script was in the midst of revision when a Writer's Guild strike hit, so it's possible that it was going to be rewritten to be more in line with later episodes, where humanity is still quite flawed.) The Stock Broker went on to join the diplomatic corps in the Expanded Universe, allowing the federation to better deal with races they're too idealistic to understand, like the Ferengi.

    Music 
  • Quite a few Visual Kei artists, have, through the loss of their own lives, shown the problems inherent in abusing methamphetamine. hide, Soichiro Umemura, Daisuke from The Studs and Kagerou, and Taiji Sawada have all, sadly, served as very good examples for "meth will fuck you up" as An Aesop... unfortunately, it's not like many other Visual Kei artists pay attention, meaning more will likely join that list soon enough.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, due to its popularity and long run, often ran into this trope:
    • Schulz said he only created the Great Pumpkin as a fun idea: "What if someone believed in a Hallowe'en Santa Claus?" Many saw Linus's efforts as a mockery of the foolishness of religious people, but Schulz himself was quite religious, at least in the early years. note  Linus's statement that you should never discuss "religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin" was intended to show that he doesn't view the Great Pumpkin as his religion per se.
    • There's a strip where Linus asks Lucy about what would happen if a baby was in heaven waiting to be born but its parents decided that they didn't want any more children. Lucy points out his theological and scientific ignorance. It was meant to be a parody of people who ask really weird hypothetical questions, but people on both sides of the abortion debate seized on it as proof that Schulz supported them and asked him if they could have permission to reprint it in their literature. He said no. It may or may not be coincidence that Rerun, younger brother to Lucy and Linus, was born a few years later.
    • In an anthology, 1960s letters written to Schulz about his new African-American character Franklin are reprinted; because he was introduced during the Civil Rights Movement, people assumed Schulz was trying to make some sort of statement. No, he said, Franklin's just black by coincidence. However, when some southern newspaper editors told him to stop showing Franklin in the same classroom as white students, he consciously chose to use Franklin even more.

    Video Games 
  • BioShock 2: has a 'forgiveness' aesop by making three enemy NPCs who don't directly hurt you, but do inconvenience you (in addition to doing something bad in your past) and can be killed or spared. The game expects you to spare them, which would be acceptable were it not for the facts that: 1) Only the first of them is truly innocent. 2) Even if you forgive the second NPC for stalling you and being partly responsible for your character becoming a Big Daddy, he also kidnapped a child and murdered an entire district full of sophisticated people because they knew too much. 3) To make things worse, the most common reason for killing the third of these NPCs was not because he was responsible for turning you into a Big Daddy - it was either because he had mutated into a giant, evil, squid-thing due to a failed experiment, or because there is a series of Audio Diaries by his former self, who knew what was going to happen to him and requests that someone euthanize him, taking very great steps to make it easier for you to do so. The aesop goes from teaching forgiveness to teaching that you don't get to punish someone for their crimes, or commit a Mercy Kill.
  • Thanks to Capcom's inability to make new main characters the Mega Man (Classic) series argues in favor of capital punishment, and possibly the dangers of racism. Because Dr. Wily was not executed after he was captured by the Blue Bomber in 6 (the intended end point of the series), he built Zero, causing a chain of events that, as of the Mega Man Zero series, has killed more than half the population of earth, and has left the planet itself almost scorched beyond recovery, which oddly enough involved another human villain that also wasn't executed once captured by our robotic heroes, which only made things worse when said villain came back. Also, because Capcom hasn't continued the Mega Man ZX series, it's implied that in the Mega Man Legends series, humanity has ultimately gone extinct because the legal system in this world couldn't put down a Mad Scientist who had certainly caused enough chaos to warrant such a punishment.
    • Mega Man 7 also has an accidental aesop found only in the English version. In both versions, the blue bomber prepares to shoot Wily and Wily reminds him that robots can't hurt humans due to being Three-Laws Compliant. In the Japanese version, Mega Man puts his blaster down with no argument, while in the English version we get "I am more than a robot!! Die Wily!!" but still hesitates long enough for Wily to escape. This not only supports the above message about capital punishment but can also be seen as condemning pacifism or that there are exceptions to principles like do not kill.
    • What seems to be a running theme in the series is that all of the problems stem from people charged with protecting the innocent not doing their jobs properly. The government neither executed Dr. Wily when he was caught, nor stepped in and ordered Dr. Light to take lethal measures at an earlier time. Also, a cut-scene in Mega Man X4 shows Sigma fought a Maverick Zero when he was still a Hunter. He lost because he didn't take Zero out immediately with his sword, even though his job was to kill Mavericks as quickly as possible, and decided to screw around. If he had done this, the events of the X and subsequent series wouldn't have happened.
  • The original Japanese script of SaGa 2 involved a smuggling ring of illegal opium in Edo. The 1991 official English localization could not mention such drugs, so changed opium to "bananas". An NPC lampshades this by asking why bananas have to be illegal in the first place. It's obvious to most players that criminalizing bananas is silly, and the sheer organized crime involved might not exist without a legal ban on bananas. In the real world, this is an increasingly vocal argument against the War on Drugs, especially after a 2011 United Nations commission declared the international War on Drugs to be a costly, violent failure — drug crime and drug violence are usually caused by drug bans, not vice versa.
  • Writer Walt Williams is not terribly keen on Spec Ops: The Line being described as an "anti-war" video game: he has stated that his primary intention was to create a narrative which asked players to question why they play shooters in the first place, and the War Is Hell aspect of the game came about largely as a necessary consequence of this rather than out of any especial desire to attack war in its own right.
    Antagonist: "You are here because you wanted to be something you are not. A hero."
  • The Grand Theft Auto series has never been kind to to the drug trade. However, Grand Theft Auto V inadvertently makes a case for marijuana legalization when Trevor tells a lobbyist that he opposes it because he makes "a shitload of money selling it." So the accidental aesop becomes: "Legalize marijuana so that criminals like Trevor can't profit off of it."
  • In Five Nights at Freddy's, everything that you can do to protect yourself from the animatronics costs power. Use too much and you'll run out of power before the night is over. What does this mean? Conserving energy is good, and if you don't do it, you'll be murdered.
  • Minecraft has a stunningly powerful Green Aesop as the player discovers grand sweeping vistas and slowly corrupts and ruins them, looking back only to find the landscape perverted by their own desires, a shell of its former self. Many players try and keep the landscape as pristine as possible just to avoid this, or replant religiously. According to Notch, this was completely accidental and people probably shouldn't read so much into it. Another easy one could be that Creepers are taken as a representation that all work is transitory, here one point and gone the next, or that some people just can't accept what you have built (or, in light of the Green Aesop approach, they represent Gaia's Vengeance). Because the game is so open ended it's very possible that quite a few accidental Aesops may just pop up at any time.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • From a Nezumi Man review "GAH! See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Smoke, and all your skin falls off".
  • If the way reincarnation works in the Reincarny webgame series is to be believed, the safest way to prevent criminals from committing crimes again for a long time is to give them life imprisonment without parole, since executing them will just allow them to escape from Hell and be reincarnated as adults who immediately start doing the same things they did before. (The game series is at least 90% of the way toward the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism)
  • Twitch Plays Pokémon Red became an almost debate of democracy vs. anarchy as well after democracy was implemented.
  • The Nostalgia Critic's episode of Princess Diaries II came off like "fake geek girls are real and they're bad" (because Hyper was using boy toys that she didn't like and pretending she did to get Critic to sleep with her). Later episodes focused on the kidnapping and whatever else she did bad to him to maybe dilute this.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Saddlesore Galactica" had Lisa taking part in a competition wherein the other team cheated (by using glow sticks, expressly against the rules) and won. She spends the rest of the episode appealing to progressively higher authorities until finally then-President Bill Clinton himself overturns the results. The Aesop in this case is pretty explicitly spelled out: if things don't go your way, you can always whine to someone until they do. Thing is, it was clearly meant to be a Spoof Aesop; Marge points out that it's not a good moral to take away from this, and Clinton simply replies that he's not a very good president. Be that as it may, "Calmly and logically appeal to authority figures when faced with an injustice" isn't really that bad a moral.
    • Word of God says the Green Aesop of "Trash of the Titans", which arises after Homer, upon becoming Springfield's sanitation commissioner and messing up Springfield so badly that the town is moved 5 miles away, was entirely unintentional.
    • "The Cartridge Family", in which Homer buys a gun and joins the NRA, satirized American gun culture, but Word of God was surprised that viewers saw a strong Aesop about the importance of gun safety (they did try to give both sides reasonable arguments), saying that the only message was that irresponsible idiots like Homer should be forbidden from owning guns.
    • The first episode had many animal advocacy groups praisng it for bringing attention to the plight of abandoned racing dogs. The writers had no idea at the time that it was such a big issue but were glad to raise awareness of it.
  • Parodied in-story in South Park episode "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs," the kids decide to write the most offensive book ever written, which to their surprise becomes an instant bestseller, even though people can't stop throwing up when they read it. Almost immediately, people start reading numerous and drastically conflicting political messages in the story. The kids, who only wanted to be offensive, find this all very annoying.
  • Zigzagged in the Futurama episode "Godfellas". The episode did indeed touch a little on the ideas of predestination, prayer, and the nature of salvation, and "God's" quote at the end "When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all" did have some deep meaning to it (as in, people tend to remember the bad things people do more than the good things), but fans tended to look into the episode a little too deeply. So much so that writer Mark Pinsky remarked that the episode might cause the viewer to need "to be reminded that this is a cartoon and not a divinity school class."

Alternative Title(s): Accidental Moral

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AccidentalAesop