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Aesop Collateral Damage
King Midas's daughter appears to pay the ultimate price for Midas's gold.

In mythological, religious and fantasy works, somebody does or says something that shows he's in need of an attitude adjustment. Either a being (often a deity or similarly powerful creature) or Fate itself will act overtly to teach this lesson. Unfortunately, the direct victim of this tutelage isn't the person in need of the lesson, but rather one or more persons close to him who haven't been shown to have done anything wrong. Typical victims are children, spouses and colleagues of the culprit, and the suffering often involves their deaths. In light of this, the culprit expresses remorse and either changes his ways or gives way to grief. Either way, he won't be making that mistake again. It is rarely/never mentioned that the entirely innocent suffer the most.

This is quite common in many mythologies, where the gods teach someone a lesson by cursing his entire family — but not necessarily them — or setting up his descendants for misery. Sometimes this is the result of severe Values Dissonance. In comic books and the like, in Stuffed into the Fridge's purest form, female supporting characters die so that male heroes can learn vague lessons about the price of heroism, after which said heroes usually find new love interests and generally move on.

This often overlaps with Revenge by Proxy. Naturally, Innocent Bystander is an aspect of this trope. Generally a result of Protagonist-Centered Morality. Can be considered a Family-Unfriendly Aesop in its harshness — the culprit is taught that his actions have consequences that affect others. For cases when the aesop-learner causes the damage, see Kick The Wrong Dog.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • The origin of Spider-Man is all about this: he refuses to stop a fleeing criminal as petty revenge against the fight promoter who refused to pay Peter his award, and subsequently the hero's beloved Uncle Ben is killed by that criminal, teaching our hero that valuable lesson that With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
  • Batman: Dr Leslie Thompkins purposely let Stephanie Brown die just to demonstrate to Batman the dangers of letting kids fight crime. The subsequent Retcon held that it never happened; Dr Thompkins faked Steph's death and lied to Bruce about it.
  • In John Ostrander's take on The Spectre, this was sometimes used to illustrate the dangers of the Anti-Hero protagonist's extreme Black and White Morality, which bordered on Blue and Orange Morality at times. In one example, the Spectre threatened to slay every living person in the state of New York if an innocent man was executed, since technically the State of New York passed the sentence. The children, anti-death-penalty protestors, and the man's defense attorneys would presumably be among those killed.
  • Since the late 1990s, this has been played up frequently in Daredevil, as his supporting cast start to notice that they're often the collateral damage that teaches Matt Murdock a lesson about something or other.
  • In Hellblazer, John Constantine has a bit of a knack in keeping his Magnificent Bastard title in check. He constantly pisses off powerful beings like Heaven and Hell and flips them off when he's satisfied. Though his enemies can't touch him, his family and friends substitute to pay the price which supposed to be his in the first place. He ends up mourning them afterwards.
  • Happens in Chick Tracts. A particularly nasty example is Bad Mama, where the titular character and her delinquent sons commit various crimes. Then god kills all the children with a tornado so that the mother will repent. And the mother thanks god for his kindess in saving her, ignoring that the children whom she raised to be criminals are now burning in hell.

Literature
  • In the children's story "Sam, Bangs and Moonshine", Sam is warned that her habit of making up false stories will get her into trouble. She tells her friend, a little boy named Thomas, that her mother is a mermaid who lives in a distant cove. Thomas believes her and goes off to the cove (followed by Bangs, Sam's cat) and both are lost at sea in a storm. Sam is very remorseful about their loss and learns An Aesop about not lying to people. Thomas and Bangs are eventually recovered alive, but Thomas is ill from his ordeal.
  • A horrific and intentional example of Aesop Collateral damage is found in Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story Hell Screen. An obsessive and sadistic painter cannot paint anything he hasn't seen, so when he is commissioned to paint a picture of Hell by the tyrannical Japanese lord he serves, he tortures his apprentices to get the references he needs. Finally, he decides he needs to have a carriage set on fire and the woman inside to burn alive. The lord agrees. The victim? A pure, innocent and intelligent young woman ...the painter's daughter, and the one thing on Earth he truly loved. According to the servant narrating the story, the Lord does this to teach the painter a lesson about putting art above all other duties and concerns. However, the servant is unlikely to be telling the precise truth, out of fear of or devotion to his lord, so it seems more likely that this was the lord's twisted revenge on the daughter, Yukimi, for spurning his advances...advances that the narrator claimed never happened, despite witnessing his attempted rape of Yukimi. After the execution, the painter finishes his screen and is is Driven to Suicide - the lord is a Karma Houdini.

Live-Action Film
  • Clash of the Titans (1981). Queen Cassiopeia says that Andromeda is more beautiful than the goddess Thetis herself. The goddess says that Cassiopeia will repent of her boast and demands that Andromeda be sacrificed.note 
  • Common in the Lifetime Movie of the Week genre, as when an Aesop needs to be broken out, the heroine is always a bit removed from the consequences for MAXIMUM DRAMA!

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Q Who". Irritated by Picard's arrogance, Q sends the Enterprise light years across the galaxy to an unexplored region of space and then disappears. They run into the Borg, who kill eighteen crew members. Picard learns his lesson, but eighteen innocents die for it.
  • In a Sabrina the Teenage Witch episode Sabrina's boyfriend Harvey is turned into a beast by her ugly aunt to teach her lesson about shallowness. The ugly aunt is treated as a Purity Sue, entirely justifed in teaching Sabrina her lesson while everyone ignores the fact that the blameless Harvey is the one who finds himself growing fur, claws and tusks.
  • Sometimes happened in After School Specials
  • Happens on My Name Is Earl. Earl develops a gambling addiction. He takes Catalina to a seedy underground "casino," and lends her his car because she's late for work. She ends up speeding to make up for lost time, gets pulled over, and the cops discover that her driver's license is a fake. She ends up getting deported back to her homeland (at this point, assumed to be Mexico, later called "Guadelatucky.") Earl has to go down there and bring her back to Camden.

Radio
  • The old-time radio show Diary of Fate had as its constant Aesop, "Choose evil and you will be destroyed." Okay, but often three or four people other than the main character would die in the process of him learning that lesson, without having chosen evil at all.

Religion and Mythology
  • The Bible is full of these. There is king David getting one of his generals killed in battle to get into the pants of aforementioned's wife. God inflicts an illness on the child coming out of this affair. David repents and God forgives. Him the king that is. To really teach David that justice has to be done, the child however still has to die from the illness. No mentioning of the mother of course. On the other hand, the story of Job is not an example, though it might seem so — it goes one step further, and beyond the trope, in that even the person who is "punished" by having his loved ones die is innocent. Job loses everything, including his family, but though his friends insist he must have done something to deserve it, he's in fact innocent and God is just (sort of) testing him. Still, the logic is much the same in terms of collateral damage — he even gets a new wife and new children in the end, and that seems to make it all okay, so obviously not a lot of heed is paid to the first ones as individuals.
  • Greek Mythology:
    • A strong example to modern eyes is the story of the Minotaur. The gods sent King Minos of Crete a white bull intended as an offering to Poseidon, but he decided to keep it as the prize in his herd instead. Aphrodite retaliated by making his wife, PasiphaŽ, fall in lust with it and arrange to play the part of a cow. Sure, Minos was stuck with the result of that union, the human-eating Minotaur, but that just inspired him to lock it away in a labyrinth and periodically feed innocent Greeks to the beast until Theseus finally killed it. PasiphaŽ, the Minotaur, and the innocent Greeks suffered, but Minos himself, not so much — he kept the bull, stayed king, and even became one of the three judges in the paradisical section of the Greek afterlife.
    • Niobe and her children is another example from Greek mythology. She boasted about them, compared herself to Leto and condemned people for worshiping Leto, and Leto's two children (the deities Apollo and Aretimis) slay all 14 of hers by shooting them with arrows. Niobe's husband Amphion either committed suicide or was also killed by Apollo for wanting to avenge his children's deaths; Niobe herself so grieved that she turned to stone with a stream flowing from it said to be caused by her tears.
    • Also from Greek mythology is the story of King Midas, who accidentally turned his daughter to gold, as shown in the page image.
    • Again from the Greeks is LaocoŲn, who interfered with the original Trojan Horse because he was Genre Savvy enough not to trust it. For jeopardising their plan, the gods sent a serpent to kill him and, inexplicably, his two sons.
  • According to some maltheists, the idea that everyone is burdened with "original sin" inherited from Adam and Eve is a variety of this trope.

Video Games
  • Puyo Puyo: Playing tricks isn't good, but playing matches is! Then you possess Satan to make your point...

Western Animation
  • Disney's Pinocchio. Pinocchio plays hooky from school and ends up being kidnapped and taken to Pleasure Island. His creator, the kindly woodcarver Gepetto goes looking for him and ends up getting trapped inside Monstro the whale. Pinocchio learns a lesson about being a good boy from the experience.
  • In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the household staff are cursed, as well as the Beast himself. The musical version softens the collateral damage by having the staff discuss that they were the ones who turned the Beast into a spoiled brat in the first place.
  • This is parodied on The Simpsons: A "Treehouse of Horror" episode had a fortuneteller curse Homer's family because he insulted her. They suffer through freakish transformations, and Bart actually dies, but Homer goes on refusing to reverse the curse by apologizing because none of it's happening to him. It's especially egregious given that the apology would even resurrect Bart.

Aesop AmnesiaAn AesopAesop Enforcer

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