Alternate Aesop Interpretation

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There's a reason fables always add explicit morals

Bashir: But the point [of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"] is, if you lie all the time, nobody's going to believe you, even when you're telling the truth.
Garak: Are you sure that's the point, doctor?
Bashir: Of course; what else could it be?
Garak: That you should never tell the same lie twice.

A Sister Trope to Alternative Character Interpretation, this refers to when the entire moral message of a story is subject to a strong kind of Fridge Logic. As in, while the characters may interpret the Aesop a certain specific way and the writer has also intended for the audience to see it as such, the audience may end up scratching their heads and noting that if the characters had followed a different course of action, they could have avoided most of the complications of the story just as easily.

Again, interpretations are not entirely official and/or logical.

Can often result from an Idiot Plot. Sometimes leads to Unfortunate Implications. For the weasel-worded, Accentuate the Negative troper version, see Warp That Aesop. An in-universe version can be a Spoof Aesop. If an Aesop's overt message is subverted by the story, it's a Broken Aesop, which some (but not all) of the examples below may be.

See also Accidental Aesop, for when An Aesop isn't intended, but is found anyway.

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Episode 11 of Cowboy Bebop, "Toys in the Attic," an Alternative Aesop was acknowledged after Jet lost his money (and clothes) in a card game with Faye. The Aesop he learns from it is that people can achieve something only by honesty and hard work. Faye, however, sees it as a proof for her Family-Unfriendly Aesop, that Humans Are Bastards and only the smartest and strongest can survive.
    • Throughout the episode, each character offers their own potential moral for the situation. By far the most sensible is Spike's take: "Don't leave things in the fridge."
    • Another interpretation of Jet's situation at the beginning might be, "Don't gamble against someone who you know cheats."
  • The Pain Invasion arc of Naruto. Was it supposed to be about The Power of Friendship, or, rather, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall"?
    • Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto's author, explained in an interview with Viz Media's Shonen Jump that the overall message of the series is that using violence to stop conflicts is wrong and that revenge only causes greater revenge. While violence is portrayed in a less than totally glamorous manner in Naruto, and villains commonly use peace as an excuse for their plans, it does seem to go against the impulsive, always-eager-to-fight nature of its protagonist. Given how the outlandish superpowers and elaborate fight sequences are a big part of the draw, it also smacks of Do Not Do This Cool Thing.
  • The moral of the Gundam franchise is supposedly War Is Hell but viewers have often wondered if the real moral is "Causing a war is bad, yes. But fighting a war defensively and against those who caused it, can be flat out heroic."
  • In Bakuman。, the main characters read "Classroom of Truth," which deconstructs various shonen tropes by, among other things, suggesting everyone is only looking out for themselves. However, they notice that the selfish characters died first, and wonder if it, in a way, promotes cooperation.

     Comic Books 
  • Tricked is a graphic novel in which we find out at the end of the story that the moral the surviving characters took from the plot was "guns are bad". But, the access Steve had to his deceased grandfather's guns was just dumb luck. Steve himself didn't know whether his grandmother had gotten rid of the guns until he was already there. By contrast, Steve's mental illness and erratic behavior was observed and commented upon by several characters in the story, but they all decide it's not their issue and let Steve go on his merry way. In terms of preventing the situation that makes up the climax of the book, better mental health awareness probably would have been a lot more help than gun control advocacy.
  • In Usagi Yojimbo, Usagi's master tells a young Usagi the story of the Honest Axe, and asks him to interpret the moral. Since the villager received the gold axe, young Usagi proclaims the answer to be "honesty will be rewarded". His master points out that a gold axe is useless in cutting wood, and the villager died the next winter. The actual lesson is "beware the gifts of those who bear you a grudge".

    Fairytales 
  • The intended message of Beauty and the Beast is to look past appearances and judge someone for who they are on the inside...However, a less romantic version is "Abduction Is Love and kidnapping is romantic!"
    • Another popular darkening of the story is, "It doesn't matter what you look like, beauty is only skin deep...Unless you're the girl."
    • Except that even in the original version, Beauty went to the castle herself and chose to stay to save her father's life. She wasn't kidnapped in the usual sense of the word, at any rate, though the choice she made wasn't between very good options. And she realizes she loves Beast (who was actually always nice to her; Disney did some of their own Deconstruction by giving him a beastly personality) after he lets her leave and gets ill while she's away. The original intended message was an allegory for making an Arranged Marriage work, but as the story outlived the actual practice, "looks don't matter" was tacked on instead.
  • While the intended moral of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is "Don't tell lies", the structure of the story itself makes "Don't tell the same lies" a more easily deduced moral.
    • Or: "Don't trust liars—especially not children—with important responsibilities, such as watching sheep."
    • Also: "A broken clock is right twice a day" in regards to false positives. From the villagers' point of view, the moment they stopped caring about the boy's cries altogether was the moment they had no security at all for the sheep. Similar to any example where a security guard doesn't investigate a noise because "it was probably just a cat".
  • "The Tortoise and The Hare" is meant to teach that "slow and steady wins the race", but some have noted that the tortoise only won because the hare tempted fate and took a nap. So their Aesop interpretation is "Don't stop to do something for a long period of time during a race." More generally, it could be interpreted as "don't take your success for granted."

    Films — Animated 
  • The obvious moral of Kung Fu Panda is to always Be Yourself. However, the story conveys this moral by having Po understand the meaning of the Dragon Scroll when Tai Lung couldn't: The secret to limitless power is within oneself; the scroll isn't blank, it's reflective. Tai Lung's entire life is rendered pointless because even if he'd been given the scroll, there was nothing in it for him to abuse, and when he loses to Po, it's not because Po is a better combatant, it's because Po is an Instant Expert who is naturally immune to his best attacks and learned an instant-death attack after seeing it performed once. Add this to the Arc Words "there are no accidents", and it boils down to Hard Work Hardly Works. Fate is what determines your success, not your own effort.
  • The Lion King has a famously broken moral: don't run from the pain of your past, face it and grow, except Simba's tragic past never happened, it was all a lie. Until he clears his name, no one stands with him, not even his mother or his childhood friend-turned-lover, who specifically convinced him to return because Pride Rock needed him to return and take his rightful place as king. Compare this to when he first runs off: he meets Timon and Pumbaa and lives a happy (if bug-eating) life in a lush green paradise, utterly free of judgment and blame for something he didn't even do. Given that, the moral seems more like, "Once people think you did something wrong, nobody will forgive you unless you can prove someone else is at fault, so you might as well run away and start a new life somewhere else."
  • Disney's Mulan has a rather remarkable one. The titular protagonist is obviously intended as an example for girls to follow, and the rather blatantly feminist lesson is not to let your society's expectations (in this case, concerning femininity) prevent you from doing what you do best and keep you from doing what's right. Intentionally or otherwise, however, another lesson it teaches is "Don't knock patriarchal society until you've walked a few miles in its shoes." Something Mulan gets to experience from being on the front lines in a war is what kind of horrors the men are facing in hopes that their women won't have to. Also, while the villainous Shan Yu holds what many feminists would consider an enlightened view of women (the Huns and Xiongnu and other peoples of the steppes having no prohibitions against the women fighting alongside their men), all this means in practice is that he has no sense of chivalry and no qualms whatsoever about slaughtering the women and children along with the men (as Mulan learns from the Empathy Doll he left behind in a village his men burned to the ground). Values Dissonance doesn't occur in a vacuum, after all; back before technology rendered superior physical strength and endurance less vital to victory in battle, even military forces that did permit the women to fight alongside men were majority male, and not every girl can grow up to be an Action Girl Guile Hero the way Mulan did.
  • The main message of Wreck-It Ralph is "Be Yourself"; the main conflict of the story is caused by Ralph, the villain of an arcade game, leaving his game and entering another game where he can become a hero, only to end up letting one of the monstrous Cy-Bugs from this arcade game into a third game, where it lays eggs and quickly becomes a threat to the entire arcade. At the climax of the film, Ralph manages to save the day by luring all of the beastial Cy-Bugs into a bright and massive explosion, using his massive fists to dislodge the giant mentos used in the explosion. The point of this is to show that Ralph attempting to be someone he is not caused the problem, whereas being the person he is fixed it... but he didn't choose to be the villain of his arcade game, the role was forced upon him. As such, the message can go from "Be Yourself" to "Don't be who you want to be, be the person everyone else wants you to be".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • What eventually became Act of Valor was always intended to be a recruitment video for the U.S. Navy SEALS. And yet with an outcome of roughly half the team becoming casualties in the film's 1- to 6-week span, including one guy losing his eye, one guy getting shot repeatedly and sustaining major injuries, and one guy dying and leaving behind a widow expecting a child, the long version of the moral seems to pretty clearly be, "These guys are heroes because they get horrible outcomes on a regular basis." Which is arguably pretty good for only attracting the most committed for the SEALS, but might ultimately be counterproductive for Navy recruitment as a whole.
  • The Breakfast Club. The common interpretation is that the titular teens could overcome their differences by finding common ground and appreciating the uniqueness of each of their characters. The more cynical interpretation is that the characters didn't actually learn anything: At the end of the movie, their narrative function is pretty much what you'd expect from their character types. The girl with rich parents hooks up with the bad boy, the jock gets with the loner after she gets a makeover, and the nerd is the only one who puts any actual work into the assignment.
    • Made even worse by the fact that the message of the loner and the jock's hookup is basically "Boys will like you as long as you dress how they want."
      • That said, scenes before her makeover indicated that he clearly liked her, he just didn't know how to approach her. Notice his reaction to her makeover is, "I like it. You can see your face."
    • It's also easy to take away the message, 'It's ok for people from different cliques and walks of life to get along, as long as no-one else knows, and the popular members of the gang will most likely ignore everyone else again the next day, as though nothing happened.'
  • A common interpretation of Woman of the Year (1942) can be summed up as "Tess is punished for being a strong woman, and is made to eat Humble Pie at the end so that Sam can 'win' the Battle Of The Sexes." However, a more positive reading is that Tess learns that marriage requires time and attention—more than she has been willing so far to take away from her work—and her Epic Fail attempt to become purely domestic merely shows that she hasn't immediately found the proper balance (which Sam encourages her to find).
  • This trope grew to absurd proportions between about 2004 and 2007, when the Iraq War became a major point of controversy worldwide. For a while, it seemed as if every work of fiction was interpreted as an argument either for or against the war. The final Star Wars film (Revenge of the Sith) was taken to be a veiled condemnation of the Bush Administration, with Darth Vader as George W. Bush and Emperor Palpatine as Dick Cheney. Seriously. There have been conflicting or even parallel arguments for what, if anything, Revenge of the Sith was trying to be anvilicious about, ranging from the Bush and Nixon administrations to the rise of Nazism in Germany to oh, hey, look at those awesome digital effects! The Imperials in the original trilogy do have strong similarities with the Nazis in their uniforms and ideology however. According to Lucas, Palpatine's rise was based off Augustus and the fall of the Roman Republic, and he didn't mean it to comment on any modern society.
  • The Communist propaganda film I Am Cuba villainizes capitalists (particularly Americans) with stylized sequences of frenetic jazz parties. The viewers is supposed to find them shamefully decadent, but audiences instead thought that being a capitalist looked incredibly fun. The film was not successful as propaganda, but it fittingly gained a following in America many decades later from critics who admired the stylish filmmaking.
  • The Witch actually has a happy ending in a weird kind of way for its protagonist Thomasin, despite its Downer Ending as a whole. As a young woman living in the fairly oppressive and misogynistic 1630s Puritan society, her prospects in life don't go much beyond "being sold off to another family to become a housewife and mother". On top of that, she's already clearly The Unfavorite of her own family. By joining up with the coven, she's now free to do as she pleases and as Black Phillip puts it, "live deliciously".

     Literature 
  • In The Commitment by Dan Savage, one chapter mentions a sexually inexperienced wife who divorces her husband, concluding that some non-monogamy could have saved their relationship. This assumption is based off of the intense interest she takes in Dan and Terry's sex life. But, as she considers "sexual adventures she regretted" to be a good thing, and assumes that Dan and Terry are depraved homosexuals because they're gay, we could just as easily conclude that her sexual inexperience is leading her to over-romanticize sexcapades — recall Savage's earlier befuddlement at how "stupid mistakes you survive become points of pride". That's assuming that their marriage wasn't suffering other problems, which seems likely. The wife says, "I would love to have a three-way. But I wouldn't want my husband to know the details." When her husband laughs, Savage takes this as an example of how marriage can be prudish, but note that the wife's statement about Three-Way Sex implies that she would be having sex with two strangers. Dan and Terry, by contrast, had two episodes of three-way sex, which were them with a third man whom they had both gotten to know personally.
  • The obvious moral of the Harry Potter series is Love is more powerful than Evil. There are probably many possible alternative morals, but one easy one is: If you're putting all your security eggs in one basket (or seven horcruxes), keep track of those friggin' baskets. Another is "Don't let your arrogance override your intelligence." If Voldemort hadn't been so sure nobody would realize he was using horcruxes, he probably would have hidden them better and made them less obvious items. This one is even mentioned in-story as his greatest weakness; he cannot even conceive someone being as clever as him. Had he even a sliver of humility and made a horcrux out of a random rock and tossed it into a lake, he'd be unstoppable. (On the other hand, as Dumbledore pointed out in book six, if he'd had a sliver of humility in him, he wouldn't have been Lord Voldemort.) Yet another one is "Don't keep trying the same thing over and over after it's already failed several times, try something else instead." Seriously, after failing to kill Harry with AK three times, you'd think he'd have tried something else the next time!
  • The Little Red Hen is known for it's aesop that if you want something, you have to work for it. However, you can also get the exact opposite moral from the story; the first thing that happens in the story is the little red hen coming across some wheat seeds - had the hen never found those, no bread would ever have been made. Because finding the seeds didn't require work, you can interpret it as saying that luck is needed to reach success.
  • In Slaughterhouse-Five, Kilgore Trout argues that the real Aesop of The Bible is "Make sure people don't have connections before you kill them." For example, he claims that it would have been more meaningful if God had "adopted" Jesus Christ as he was dying on the cross rather than say he was God's son all along.
    • The novel itself qualifies, too. Superficially, Vonnegut seems to be saying that You Can't Fight Fate and that free will is an illusion. However, there are a number of subtextual clues suggesting that this isn't really what he meant. For starters, the Tralfamadorians, the biggest purveyors of the You Can't Fight Fate message, are depicted as destroying the universe through negligence - not an entirely sympathetic position. There's also the fact that Billy Pilgrim does just about everything possible to ensure he dies at his death. (Pilgrim himself is susceptible to Alternate Character Interpretation - there's a common theory that everything he sees after the war is a PTSD flashback or hallucination. See the trope page for details). And finally, there's the fact that it's commented in the first chapter of the novel that writing an anti-war novel is like writing an anti-glacier novel (there will always be wars, just like there will always be glaciers) - but Vonnegut wrote one anyway.
  • Most readers interpreted the moral of I Kissed Dating Goodbye as "Do volunteer work as a substitute for having a significant other" instead of the intended message of "Do not forget about spirituality (including, but not limited to, serving others) simply because you wish for romantic love".
  • There's a whole list of them over on Cracked, take a look.
  • Buzzfeed took a second look at various works by Dr. Seuss. Some of these are particularly Green Aesops. Considering the author, it is entirely possible that these are the intended lessons for adult readers.
    • Most of those listed are actually the primary aesop intended for the book.
    • The books were written to work on two levels: the timeless children's morality tale and political commentary on current events (for example, Marvin K. Mooney is Nixon). It's not as surprising when you realize that the first drawings he published were anti-Nazi political cartons starting in the late 1930s.
    • Green Eggs and Ham is especially odd in the two levels it has. At first glance, it's about why it's a good idea to try new things. Read a little deeper, though, and the message becomes "freedom doesn't work."
  • In The Riddle by Alison Croggon, Owan tells Maerad and Cadvan a story about how the sea once loved the mountains, however the mountains slighted the sea and the sea had been angry ever since. Cadvan interpreted it to mean that you should never refuse the love of a powerful woman, but Maerad interpreted it to mean that you should never love at all because it only causes trouble.
  • Are we supposed to sympathise with the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?? Reams of text have been written supporting either interpretation.
  • An example so famous it's taught in US History classes is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair was trying to convert Americans to socialism with a story about the horrors of capitalism made manifest in meat processing plants. Unfortunately for his intended message, all anyone noticed was the description of how sickeningly unsanitary the meat processing plants were, leading less to "Oh, the poor oppressed workers!" and more to "Oh, the poor oppressed workers are in my food!" which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Sinclair put it best when he said "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
  • Some people became vegans after reading The War of the Worlds, despite the story being about the morality of British imperialism. The book also makes the point that the Martians treat us the same way we treat animals. Wells, a vegetarian, would likely state that this aesop is a perfectly valid, if secondary, lesson to take from the story. It also showed how having an outside force roll over you would be like at a time when the British Empire was at its height.
  • The stated aesop in Aristophanes' Lysistrata might be interpreted as stating that if Athens and Sparta teamed up instead of fighting each other, they would be unstoppable and have the rest of Greece at their mercy. In modern times, the play is generally considered to have a pacifist and/or feminist message. These are justified in so far as the play does portray the war as hurting both sides and acknowledges (albeit in a humorous way) that war has a toll on female civilians. However, given the Ancient Greek opinions of women, it seems that his message was more like "even women are smart enough to know this war is bad."
  • Fahrenheit 451 is almost universally interpreted to be about government censorship on literature being used to control the population. As late as the 1980s, Bradbury himself stated that the book is about censorship. In his old age, however, Bradbury came out insisting that he'd always intended the book to be about how crappy television is. Critics have wisely chosen to ignore Bradbury's assertions, and a UCLA class drove him from the room by telling him to his face that he was simply wrong about his own book.
  • Anna's Story was a sympathetic account of Australian schoolgirl Anna Wood's death by water intoxication after taking ecstasy. Obviously, the intended aesop was Drugs Are Bad. However, since Anna's friends waffled for way too long about getting her medical attention after it became very obvious that she was deteriorating, the equally important lesson learned could be that if you're going to take drugs with friends, have decent friends.
    • Alternatively (and a bit more generously to Anna's friends, who were mostly guilty of little more than naivety and inexperience), if you're going to take drugs, make sure you and the people you're with know what the potential consequences are and what the best course of action to take in case of something going wrong is.
  • George Orwell's intention behind Nineteen Eighty-Four was to denounce the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and a general denouncement of totalitarianism (not to be confused with authoritarianism). Most of the people who read it, however, come out believing it's about the horrors of censorship, dictatorship, propaganda, and pretty much anything that isn't democracy and libertarianism. Bonus points for quoting "absolute power corrupts, absolutely." (Orwell despised it when people resorted to using other people's words to make a point, or using one-word stock responses.) Orwell himself was a dedicated democratic socialist.
    • To be fair, though, "censorship, dictatorship, propaganda, and pretty much anything that isn't democracy" fits pretty well under the umbrella of "totalitarianism". So the only thing that doesn't fit is if you think the book is libertarian or capitalistic.
  • Harriet the Spy includes a Family-Unfriendly Aesop (sometimes you have to lie to people to help them feel better about themselves so they won't hate you) via the likely unintentional aesop "The things you write in your personal journal should not be an honest representation of your thoughts because someone reading it without permission might be offended."
  • Tom Clancy's novel Rainbow Six features one of these. As Clancy is a political conservative, he intended the story to be about the dangers of environmental extremists. Unfortunately in order to make them a credible threat, he had to have ecoterrorists in charge of a huge megacorporation to make them credible villains, which is hardly credible. The novel can instead be taken as a tract against unchecked corporate power.

    Live Action TV 
  • An episode of How I Met Your Mother reveals that Barney Stinson has an Alternate Aesop Interpretation for nearly every movie he's seen which in his mind reverses the accepted role of hero and villain.
    Barney: Hey, The Karate Kid is a great movie. It's the story of a hopeful, young karate enthusiast whose dreams and moxie take him all the way to the All Valley Karate Championship. Of course, sadly he loses in the final round to that nerd kid. But, he learns an important lesson about gracefully accepting defeat.
  • In The Golden Girls episode "Til Death do We Volley," one of Sophia's "Picture It" stories falls into this. Dorothy has a high-school reunion and gets a visit from an old friend named Trudy she was super competitive with. They go play tennis, and Dorothy is so competitive Trudy has a heart attack on the court. At the reunion party at her house, Dorothy is so racked with guilt she refuses to leave her room. Sophia comes in and delivers this Aesop story twisted to fit the situation.
    Sophia: Picture it... Sicily 1852. It was mid century and the disillusioned Italy looked to the House of Savoy for leadership. Giuseppe Garibaldi, our courageous leader and not a bad dresser thought, let's regain some national pride and jump into this whole Crimean War thing... Of course, there was a big kickoff at Giuseppe's beach house and everyone came. Coincidentally, this was also the night his wife Rosa hit her sexual peak.
    Dorothy: Ma, I am in here because of guilt. This is not a story about guilt!
    Sophia: This is a story about being a bad hostess! While Rosa had Giuseppi in the bedroom with his saber around his ankles, 200 hungry guests were strip searching mice for a piece of cheese!!
    Dorothy: Ma, so what's your point!? That Rosa and I throw bad parties??
    Sophia: That's my minor point. My major point is that like Rosa, you're screwin' around in the bedroom when there's more important things to do outside!
    Dorothy: I can't believe it, that makes sense! I mean, you took the long way around, but that actually makes sense.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Garak's interpretation of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", which provides the page quote.
  • Gibbs from NCIS provides one for a story that Ducky tells about a man who doesn't show up for his girlfriend's Christmas party. She bad-mouths him until he's discovered dead in the chimney dressed as Santa Claus with an engagement ring for her. According to Ducky, the lesson is to never judge without knowing all the facts. Gibbs' lesson? "Never a good idea to get married."
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Beer Bad" is supposed to have its Anvilicious moral in the title. But the plot would have gone exactly the same if everyone were drinking soda. The real moral is "Be courteous to bartenders and others in similar roles, because if they snap they can do some serious damage." Not a bad moral, really.
  • The Bones episode "The He in the She" featured a transgender woman killed while swimming by the jealous ex-wife of her lover, with a subplot about her life as a male preacher and her estranged son. Booth took away an Aesop about the transforming love of God and the way it can heal people's souls. Temperance concluded that the aesop was "always swim with a buddy".
  • Doctor Who "The Dominators" was intentionally written with an anti-pacifist message. However, it's also possible to read it as encouraging student activists to fight for justice, rejecting rote learning and irrational laws.

    Music 
  • The Christmas carol "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was originally written by 16-year-old Buck Ram and is about a homesick college student, but has more recently become associated with soldiers away at Christmastime. At least one version of the song even includes soldiers wishing their families a Merry Christmas during the bridge. Touching, yes, but not the original intended message.
    • Adding to the misconception is the fact that the song tends to be associated with the World War II era (as do so many popular Christmas songs), so many listeners assume that the narrator is an American soldier in Europe or the Pacific.
  • The Crash Test Dummies Song, "Mmm mmm mmm mmm," is VERY frequently interpreted as being about child abuse, with the eventual message that brainwashing your child and forcing your child to hold your own beliefs is worse than physical abuse. Word of God says the message is that Kids Are Cruel, and the song is to be taken at face value.

    Musical Theatre 
  • The narrator of Blood Brothers explicitly provides an Alternate Aesop Interpretation that counters what the symbolism and music have been suggesting about the tragic ending: ''Do we blame superstition for what came to pass? Or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class?'

     Religion and Mythology 
  • From the pragmatic point of view, the aesop of The Boy Who Cried Wolf is "better safe than sorry". Hell, the boy is basically the inventor of training alert!
    • There's also "Don't trust kids with something important". Or, "Don't trust a liar with anything important." After all, why leave the boy on guard duty if they know he's gonna keep acting up?
    • Another one can be seen from the villager's point of view against distrusting false alarms. After all, if you have a faulty fire alarm that keeps going off on its own, how do you actually know when there's a fire?
    • Even liars can tell the truth sometimes and you win nothing by ignoring a call for help.
    • And of course, the more cynical interpretation is never tell the same lie twice.
  • The Tortoise and the Hare is normally interpreted as, "Slow and steady wins the race," but depending on the telling, it can be taken as, "Don't succumb to hubris when you have a clear advantage." Many recent examples, from American political elections to the Console Wars, bear this moral out pretty well.
    • In some versions the Tortoise outright cheats - there are multiple tortoises or the tortoise rides on the hare. In these cases the moral is, "Brains over Brawn".
  • Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Issac in Genesis 22 has been interpreted in various ways. Most interpretations from Jewish and Christian exegesis focus on Abraham's utter faith in God's commandment and hold up his willingness to make the sacrifice as a virtue. Some Christians interpret the entire passage as a foreshadowing of Jesus' crucifixion. An intriguing minority interpretation, however, is that Abraham failed the test, abandoning God's previous commandments against killing in Genesis 9. Seeing this, God begins the chain of events that would lead to the establishment of the Mosaic covenant and Jewish law.
  • The intented message of Bluebeard is "being curious is wrong" but it fails when the Bluebeard's wife survives being caught and eventually is rewarded with a better husband. Many argue that "Be curious!" or "be curious but not clumsy" (because the lady drops the key in the blood) would be a more apropriate moral.
    • "Don't marry a serial killer."
  • Everyone knows the intended lesson of the expression "The early bird gets the worm," but what does this mean from the worm's point of view? He got up early and he died. So much for being early.
    • Sometimes it doesn't pay to get out of bed? The worm did and his life ended up as bird chow.
  • "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese", I know what it was supposed to mean, but what about it from the cheese's point of view? Go down fighting, and at least take one of them down with you.
  • The Biblical story of Onan was pretty clearly intended to underscore the importance of levirate marriage, a practice where, if a married man died childless, his brother would marry his widow and the first child of that marriage would be considered the dead guy's child. In fact, Onan's reason for spilling his seed is explicitly stated to be the fact that the child wouldn't be his. However, since levirate marriage has completely died out, even among the Jews, the story of Onan has been completely reinterpreted to be about forbidding masturbation, despite that not even being what Onan was doing.

    Video Games 
  • Valkyria Chronicles has way too many aesops, but the most uncomfortable one is the one against racism. The Darcsen are openly hated as a race because of the Darcsen Calamity, and we're told over and over that it's wrong to hate the Darcsen of today just because of something that happened so long ago. Then we find out that it wasn't the Darcsen who did it, it was the Valkyrur, and the Darcsen race is exonerated while the blame is laid at the feet of the Valkyrur where it should have been all along. And this attitude drives Alicia further down into Internalized Categorism as people begin to fear her potential for destruction, and ultimately resolves never to show her Valkyria status again. So "Don't judge people based on what happened long ago, because you'll never know how it really happened" becomes "It's okay to hate an entire race, as long as it's the right entire race".
  • Undertale
    • Due to how surprisingly deep the game is and creator Toby Fox not going into detail about what things in the game mean, many folks have come up with other interpretations as to what the game means. Some feel that how Chara steals your soul at the end of a No Mercy run and how the only way to fix it is to delete your save file gives off the moral, "The only way to move forward is to burn your bridges."
    • People have also said the meaning is either the same or the complete opposite of The Stanley Parable—that the only meaningful choice you can make in a video game is to turn it off and walk away forever. Undertale puts huge emphasis on actions having consequences, but it also points out that it's not meant to have infinite replay value. It doesn't help that the message you receive at the end of the pacifist route rather explicitly aims towards the middle ground of these two - don't stop until you make it to the ending that's happiest for everybody, and then stop playing forever.
    • Some of the routes in the game, between pacifist and No Mercy, have a bit of a brush with Fantastic Aesop: "If you have the power to rewind time, you have no excuse not to do the very absolute best." The likelihood is this is meant to be taken as an elaborate, fictionalized way of saying Comes Great Responsibility.

     Webcomics 
  • Misfile's 12th book tries to have Ash learn a lesson about his responsibility to the Old Road and fellow racers, but throughout the story arc, he points out none of his fellow racers like him, which they admit to his face, they got into this situation because of their own stupidity and he is completely unaffected by the situation, only coming in to stop the pestering and is then guilt tripped into finishing things. As was pointed out on the forums, the lesson is closer to "obey peer pressure" and the responsibility lesson seems tacked on and forced.

    Web Original 
  • If it weren't for the "be safe around trains" line at the end, the Aesop of Dumb Ways To Die would be generally interpreted as "doing foolish things can get you killed, use common sense". Also, since a lot of animal deaths were included, there's the message "have a healthy respect for wildlife".

     Western Animation 
  • The aesop of King of the Hill episode "Moving On Up" could be either "Find a way to live with the annoyances in your life" or "passive aggressively ignore the people that you can deal with and bottle the emotions that are natural".
  • In Episode 20 of Beast Wars, a massive explosion blinds most of the Maximals and leaves them wandering about in the wilds, contaminated with energon and slowly dying. When they eventually get back to the base, Rhinox declares that he is now more in touch with his beast form (i.e. his inner nature), when you would expect the aesop to be that he now has a better appreciation of his eyes and other senses. This wouldn't be that strange on its own but the ENTIRE previous episode (Law of the Jungle) was dedicated to the aesop that was tacked onto this episode! Not only was it much better done, but it also ends with a very similar (to the point of being basically identical) comment from Rhinox.
  • ThunderCats (2011) has discernible Aesops in most episodes, some more well-executed than others.
    • "Song of The Petalars" has protagonist Lion-O give a Rousing Speech about The Last Dance and that they should "live Like You Were Dying," leading his team into a battle they cannot win, instead of living to fight another day. (They're saved by a Deus ex Machina) The moral seems more like "Retreat is cowardice."
    • In "The Duelist and the Drifter" the Aesop is meant to be that we cannot rely on pure strength or weaponry alone, but must use flexibility, perception and skill to win battles. But since that amounts to a weaponless Lion-O Power Copying, perfectly replicating evasive maneuvers he's seen only once, the lesson could be "depend on your spontaneously-generated superpowers, not your sword."
  • The Aesop and Son shorts on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show had Aesop telling his son a fable with a moral, followed by his son proposing an alternate moral (which was inevitably a pun).
  • Being a show filled with Aesops once an episode, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is rife with this. A few examples:
    • "Swarm of the Century" has the Aesop that you should listen to your friends, even when they seem to not make sensenote , but most of the fanbase agrees that the message the episode actually demonstrated was "If you know the solution to a problem take the time to explain it rather than just expecting everyone to listen to you for no reason."note 
    • "Suited For Success" has had a large portion of the fanbase interpreting the episode as Take That to Executive Meddling saying "let the real artist work on the design and don't interfere."
    • "Lesson Zero"'s stated Aesop was "Don't belittle your friends' concerns". The much more obvious Aesop is "Keep a level head and don't let minor issues force you to use extreme solutions".
      • In a broader sense, it could be read as "No one is perfect, and it's okay to fail sometimes. It's better to accept failure gracefully than to abuse others to succeed."
    • The infamous "Feeling Pinkie Keen" had the ostensible moral of "just because you don't understand something doesn't make it untrue". Most of the fanbase either interpreted the episode as saying "Science Is Bad", or more charitably, "The purpose of science is to find the truth, not to prove your preconceived notions correct." Others still use it to point out the moral is also applicable to religion, something to rub the Hollywood Atheist's face in.
    • "Hurricane Fluttershy"'s moral is ostensibly "even if you don't feel you can make a difference, you can", but one can also get "School bullying is NOT harmless and can screw you up for life" out of it.
    • "One Bad Apple" tries to deliver the aesop "if you're bullied tell an adult", but almost immediately fails by having Applejack witness some bullying and do nothing other than frown while Babs Seed has to stand up for the CMC to make the bullies back down. This makes the aesop seem like "get a toughguy to defend you if you're bullied" instead.
    • The aesops of "Inspiration Manifestation" are "you need to tell your friends the truth rather than blindly praise them" and "constant praise actually can stifle your artistic integrity and it's alright to take some criticism now and then." It accidentally added in the aesop of "your usual artistic style isn't always what the customer needs" for people in creative industries, told through Rarity having trouble building what a puppeteer wants because she adds her nouveau-riche flair to a puppet show booth. A similar accidental aesop with Rarity in "Suited for Success" was "you can't just assume the artist/contractor knows exactly what you want" after the Mane Six sans Rarity make very unrealistic demands about what they want for their clothes, including Rainbow Dash's now-memetic line "it needs to be about twenty percent cooler".
  • In early My Little Pony show, My Little Pony 'n Friends, the episode "The Fugitive Flowers" has a standard "don't judge a book by its cover" aesop that is rather bungled because the main reason that the ponies don't trust the Crabnasties is because they're wrecking everything in sight, not because they're ugly. The aesop, in this case, is that Poor Communication Kills: the mistrust and problems could have been avoided if the Crabnasties were more willing to explain things.
  • The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy" was meant to show how a normal person would not be able to survive in that universe. But Frank Grimes' Sanity Slippage and eventual death came about from his own obsessive hostility towards Homer. Homer's attempts at making it up to Grimes after getting him in trouble only fuel the Green-Eyed Monster in Grimes, which lead to him concocting a scheme to humiliate the former in front of everyone. He finally snaps when his own attempt at spiting someone he doesn't like, itself a rather childish act, doesn't go as planned.
    • Which spawns its own alternate aesop interpretation, with some unfortunate implications thrown in as well; "never try to expose the rules of an insane system that rewards stupidity and punishes the wrong people. It won't work, you'll just go crazy, and everyone will focus on your craziness and not the point you were trying to make in the first place. If you have the misfortune to be born in an insane universe, your best bet is to never struggle or strive for anything in your life, since you'll only be disliked for it; conversely, if you behave in a lazy and foolish fashion, everyone will like you better."
      • When in Rome, do as the yella, four-fingered psychopathic losers do. By the way, who says there is no struggle? Sure, Homer has had many things handed to him on a plate for being a buffoon, but he also has had many different hardships as well. To note, in "Homer's Enemy", Grimes was particularly upset and jealous that Homer went to space, referencing "Deep Space Homer". However, in that episode, Homer nearly killed himself and the other astronauts by: a) smuggling a bag of potato chips into the shuttle and opening them up, clogging up a few instruments in the cockpit, b) smashing open the ant farm onboard with his head trying to eat all those chips, taking out a few systems that they needed to get home, c) rendering an airlock unable to be shut after bending a few mechanisms within in a bid not to blown out into space, and d) Homer getting space dementia and trying to kill the other astronauts with a carbon rod (with hilarious results). While Grimes may have been envious that Homer went into space, the fantastic event, as cool as it was, had very fantastic peril that Homer and company had deal with or die.
  • One U.S. Acres episode tackles The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with Orson telling the tale to illustrate why being known as a liar is bad and explain why he's ignoring Roy, only to have an epiphany and re-interpret the Aesop as "Even liars sometimes tell the truth". You can punish someone for lying, but no one gains anything by ignoring a cry for help.
  • Dream Come True: A Mule Mom's Story is a short animation made to showcase "Mule Moms" (female mules fertilized In Vitro to both boost breeding efforts and give the infertile mules a chance to be mothers) and the Gypsy Vanner breed of horses. The intended lesson is to never give up on your dreams, but the one that gets across is, "If you have no friends, get pregnant with the resident popular guy's kid and everyone will love you." This is because of a combination of an All of the Other Reindeer plot and a main character who does absolutely nothing aside from get pregnant.
    • On the side, despite assertions by the folks behind the film that Gypsy Vanners are a wonderful breed of horse, the ones shown in the short mostly act stuck-up and kind of jerk-ish.
  • Rocket Power attempted to do an Aesop about female empowerment in the episode "Power Girl Surfers", where Reggie starts an all-girl surfing group to show the world that girls can excel at extreme sports. She decides to do this after Otto is unexpectedly offered a cover story in his favorite surfing magazine, and she's unable to convince the Jerkass magazine editor that she deserves it more than he does; at the end, she even crashes Otto's photo-shoot with her friends to challenge him to a surf contest, humiliating him in front of the people offering him a shot at fame. Because of Reggie's actions, the message unfortunately comes across as being less about female empowerment than about jealousy, and punishing other people for their undeserved good fortune.

     Real Life 
  • Plastered to a school wall facing a busy street in Vienna, Austria, there are meter-high letters proclaiming: "Don't try to be an apple if you are a banana. You will always be a second-rate apple." According to the artist it's intended to be some kind of Be Yourself message, but if you ask the kids going to school there, most are disturbed by the apparent message of "don't even bother trying to change/to rise above your social standing" or something similar.
  • A well-known anecdote told on the subject of tax cuts refers to a number of men who go to dine at a restaurant together, dividing the cost between themselves based on how wealthy each is. When the price of the meal is reduced, the wealthiest get the largest discount; the less wealthy men then either assault or kill (depending on the telling) the wealthier men, only to find they alone can no longer afford the meal. The intended meaning is to explain the arithmetic resulting in higher cuts for the rich: the unintended meaning is after you kill someone, take their stuff.


Alternative Title(s): Alternate Moral Interpretation

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