Mamma mia!! How are we-a gonna explain this one
to the kiddies?!?
"The book tries very hard to be serious with a serious topic, but doesn't know how, and tries too hard, and smothers itself."
This is when a very serious Aesop
is undermined because it's presented by a show that just cannot
handle it well.
This is especially common in children's shows. There are many, many cases where a well-meaning show for children tries to explain a newsworthy issue
. Sadly, the characters just usually end up way out of their comfort zone and the message often goes way
over the poor kids' heads, often because it's so different from the normal tone of the show.
Not that this is always the fault of the writers. Any attempt to tackle serious subject matter honestly is problematic when the Moral Guardians
are watching. This is often due to the fact that many attempts to deal with such serious subject matter will usually have said Guardians responding with outrage at its mere inclusion
! Yes, even if you are explicitly attempting to discourage it.
And so you often end up with children being warned about something dangerous — but exactly why
that something is dangerous is often never explained (which is why this trope can be a rich well of Paranoia Fuel
). It's hard to tell kids "don't play with power tools because you might get killed" when you can't say die
(so expect to hear something like "very, very badly hurt"). Likewise, gun safety is an improbable issue to address when everyone packs a laser gun or something
. Most infamously, drug abuse
isn't easy to deal with when you can't quantify why
you shouldn't use drugs, or when you can't even acknowledge that drugs exist.
Not to be confused with a Broken Aesop
. While there can be some crossover, Broken
Aesops are lessons undermined by the action within the show (e.g., "Be nice to people who are different from you. Now, let's go back to fighting monsters
Don't confuse this with a Family-Unfriendly Aesop
either, because while again there can be some crossover, Clueless Aesops are
acceptable lessons — at least, they start out that way. It's just that the lesson is handled in such a compressed time, in a manner that is so laughable (or even offensive), or is presented in such an out-there or age-inappropriate show that it ultimately ends up warped. The typical reaction is Don't Shoot the Message
Also do not confuse with any Aesop delivered by Cher Horowitz
Compare Space Whale Aesop
, as there is an awful lot of crossover. See also some examples of And Knowing Is Half the Battle
, Very Special Episode
, Do Not Do This Cool Thing
, and You Can Panic Now
. Drugs Are Bad
and Too Smart for Strangers
are especially prone to this.
: This trope is about works of fiction that fail to get their intended message
across. Don't use this page to Complain About Aesops You Don't Like
open/close all folders
- In the early 1990s, many MegaCorps would send, ostensibly out of the goodness of their hearts, free "educational kits' including lesson plans, worksheets, and other materials to elementary school teachers. In truth, they were really unsubtle advertisements for the company's products. These were often heartwarmingly/hilariously/heartbreakingly misguided. One of the most infamous such lesson plans doubles as a Broken Aesop: "Let's learn good nutrition with Ronald McDonald and friends!" Um...
- Homestar Runner satirized this with typical aplomb in Commandos In the Classroom.
- This was also parodied by The Simpsons with a math class sponsored by Pepsi. "If you have three Pepsis and drink one, how much more refreshed are you?"
- "Pepsi" was a valid answer to that question.
- Another example was the D.A.R.E. group in the late 1980s that tried to encourage kids to not do drugs and in their educational kits they included a pencil with the slogan "Too Cool To Do Drugs". Unfortunately, because they set their slogan not to start at the eraser end but at the lead end of the pencil, as it was sharpened the slogan devolved on the pencil from the original message, down to "Cool To Do Drugs", to simply "Do Drugs".
- A similar incident happened on a smaller scale for some rubber wristbands for red ribbon week. The slogan on the wristbands: I've got BETTER things to DO than DRUGS. Observant students quickly noticed the message in all caps. Despite the mistakes (and news coverage) the exact same design is still in production.
- Then there's this Digital Piracy Is Evil ad from Warner Bros. using a scene from Casablanca. Only trouble is anyone who has seen the movie knows Rick is actually angry at Ilsa for resisting the Nazis! So WB is comparing themselves to... what?
- While not as uncomfortable in terms of subtext, the one where the Wizard Of OZ yells at Dorothy and company for, er, pirating media is pretty terrible too.
- "Don't Drown Your Food" is a PSA about not overloading your foods with high-calorie condiments, but the message is so vague that it makes it seem as if you shouldn't put any condiments on them at all.
- There's a 2013 Canadian PSA about "social nibbling" as an allegory to social smoking. It shows a man in various social situations, taking food off of other people's plates, nibbling it, and giving back, while he denies that he's hungry. It supposed to be about how you are in denial if you say you only smoke socially, but without being told the Aesop at the end, it could just as easily be about how you should buy your own packs instead of bumming them, as one could do this and still insist they only smoke socially. There's one about "social farting" that's at least as confusing.
Anime & Manga
- The Nineties English dub of Sailor Moon added eye-crossingly stupid "Sailor Says" portions to the first season; to be "educational", DiC tried to shoehorn an Aesop to the end of every episode whether it fit or not. A favorite was "Queen Beryl did a bad thing when she destroyed the Moon Kingdom and you will destroy Earth too if you pollute!" Drugs Are Bad was a frequent one, even though the plots had nothing to do with that.
- Pokémon introduced the character of Paul as Ash's main rival during the seasons set in Sinnoh. Paul and Ash had frequent disagreements, only to have other characters lecture Ash about how they should try to overlook their differences, because everyone is different and has their own ways of doing things which should be respected. Paul, however, was extremely aggressive without provocation and was also particularly cruel to his Pokemon, crueler than most of the clear-cut villains were; Were it not for the forced Aesop Ash would have every right to judge him.
- Parodied in The Doom Comic with a Green Aesop about safe disposal of radioactive waste, only for him to stop halfway through to notice something worse: his BIG GUN is out of bullets! For the record, the story is entirely about the marine's hunt for his beloved BFG. Yeah.
- Chick Tracts are (in)famous for their inability to convey a message.
- Back in the late 1980s when AIDS was still the new pandemic, Archie Comics sometimes included a full-page PSA featuring Principal Weatherbee telling the students: "Your best defense against AIDS is education" but didn't say anything else. So, where is this education we're supposed to get?
- In the 80s there was an X-Men one-shot called Heroes for Hope in which the X-Men take on famine in Africa... which, as everyone knows, is caused by an ancient demon that feeds on human misery. Oh well, at least Marvel gave the proceeds of the comic to charity.
- The demon in question was established to be merely a consequence of the misery in the area, which was caused by far more complex causes... but it was very, very easy for the casual reader to get the above impression.
- In retrospect, Mikhail Rasputin's quasi-introduction falls into this category by Fridge Logic— Peter Corbeau compares his death to the real-life Apollo 1 fire... except that it was later revealed that Mikhail hadn't actually died, but had been sent to another dimension, gone insane, and come back as a supervillain. Addressing real-life disasters is hard in a comic that's so big on bringing people Back from the Dead.
- Serenity (not that one) - it was supposed to be a story of a bad girl finding about the wonders of God's love and becoming a better person in the process. The way it was handled makes most people see it as a depressing story about a lonely girl getting subjected to emotional harassment and manipulation by a bunch of Christian zealots, until she turns a into brainwashed drone, while all she wanted was to have friends.
- In the Century: 2009 issue of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore critiques twenty-first century popular culture and fiction as being decadent, hollow and inferior when compared to the culture and fiction of previous generations. Which is all very well and good, but many reviewers and critics (such as several members of the discussion here) pointed out that it's pretty clear that Alan Moore also has little to no idea what's actually going on in twenty-first century popular culture and fiction. Unlike previous volumes of the series, there are few direct references to contemporary culture and fiction, and many of those that are present are inaccurate, questionable or somewhat outdated. This means the work has less of the intended effect of a searing indictment of contemporary fiction and culture, as was intended, and more that Alan Moore comes off as a bit of a Grumpy Old Man complaining about things he doesn't really understand.
Films — Animated
- The first film half-assedly attempts to shoehorn in an Environmental Aesop toward the end, talking about how the old Route 66 "followed the land," as opposed to the new Interstate system which cuts through it. This in a film starring anthropomorphic avatars of one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels on the planet.
- The second film also had a pretty bad aesop. So Tow Mater totally embarrasses the snot out of Lightning McQueen by acting like a dumb hick, and the moral they were trying to deliver is "Accept your friends as they are". The moral that lots of people came away with is "Don't ever bother to try to better yourself, not even temporarily. Don't ever act according to your environment. Dirty and uncultured is the way to go."
- Song of the South is mostly infamous for its Values Dissonance, but even outside this the Br'er Rabbit segments have a couple of morals that can come across as extremely weird:
- The first segment has Br'er Rabbit leaving his home in the briar patch, because the old place has brought him "nothin' but trouble." Then, he is caught and almost eaten by Br'er Fox, but manages to escape and returns home to the briar patch. The moral, of course, is that you can't run away from trouble because there's no such thing as a place where no trouble exists, with a dash of "There's no place like home" — but the way things are played out, it comes across more like "it's wrong to want a better life for yourself" and "if you go out in the world to seek your fortune or better your life situation, you should give up and run back home at the first sign of trouble."
- The Incredibles is sometimes read this way. The movie is about how exceptional people can fit into a society of completely unexceptional people. The film's ultimate message is that exceptional ability should be used for the benefit of the entire society (superhero stuff, in this case), and not for the glorification of the individual. The final scene, however, where Dash - a boy with super speed - deliberately does not win a footrace at school that he easily could have, rubbed a few people the wrong way, seeming to unintentionally suggest that people who are very good at something shouldn't try to win at all.
Films — Live-Action
- The Garbage Pail Kids Movie was an attempt to turn a line of trading cards — which were deliberately intended to be violent and thoroughly disgusting — into an Aesop about appreciating those who look different. It worked out about as well as you'd expect throwing An Aesop into a film based on Garbage Pail Kids would be. Bonus points for its being a Broken Aesop: the titular characters are just as ugly on the inside (some have even interpreted the Kids as being incarnations of the Seven Deadly Sins) — but hey, they sure sang a catchy song about teamwork, right?
- Reefer Madness: The moral was (at one point) meant to be "marijuana is evil", but...
- Free Willy: The whole notion of freeing an animal who was forcefully taken out of his environment and separated from his family to live a life in captivity doesn't exactly work out too well when one remembers that this film could only have been made possible by using an animal who actually was forcefully taken out of his environment and forced to live a life in captivity.
- Crossroads, the Britney Spears vanity project movie of 2002, spends most of its time getting the protagonists into situations that a PG-13 pop star vehicle aimed at tweenage girls just could not possibly handle, most of them relating to the consequences of sex, which the plot has to dodge to keep everything audience appropriate.
- Christian special Rock: It's Your Decision is supposed to have "Rock music will lead you down a life of sin if you don't reject it and accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior" as an aesop. It might've done an adequate job... if the main character didn't instantly turn into a supreme Jerkass and a holier-than-thou religious zealot when he finally did, turning on his friends and even his own family (who were trying to steer him away from rock music in the first place) when he starts viewing his mother's soap operas as evil, too, and ending the special raving about the evils of rock music (and homosexuality while he's at it) in front of his church group. When he reviewed it on DVD-R Hell, Brad Jones saw it more as the story of fundamental Christianity destroying a young man's life and alienating him from everyone and everything he loved.
- A segment in the 1959 film The F.B.I. Story tries to show why the Ku Klux Klan are bad and botches it by turning them into very superficial villains. According to the film, the Klan were bad guys because they broke the law (they're lumped in with gangsters and other enemies of American law and order); their racism is never mentioned at all, and their anti-Semitism is touched upon as timidly as possible (they're shown ransacking a Jewish household and knocking over a menorah, but the word "Jew" is never uttered and the narrator merely mentions that the Klan had contempt for "ancient rituals"). The Klan's biggest crime in the film - the one for which they end up getting punished - is attempting to murder a white (and presumably Christian) liberal journalist who condemns them in his newspaper editorials. Even kids who watch this movie will understand that the KKK are bad; problem is, they'll think it's because they're a gang of bullying ghosts.
- Enjoy this list of awkward Berenstain Bears books. Not all of them have Clueless Aesops, but remember, these books tend to be written for very young children.
- This Cracked.com list of 'Great Books for Traumatizing Children' appears to be mostly made up of Clueless Aesops. They range from anvilicious (Latawnya, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say "No" to Drugs) to outright fucked up (Alfie's Home) to Nazi propaganda (The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pinscher). Although, the last one does get its intended message across. It's just that the message is horrible.
- On the surface, Twilight is a safe, clean, nonviolent fantasy serving as a cautionary tale about the dangers of premarital sex. Bella is certainly tempted, but Edward does the good Christian thing and pressures her into getting married first. This is all well and good, except it's coming from the same story that portrays an emotionally abusive ephebophile stalker as romantic. In the real world, teenage romances do not last forever, and marriage is the last thing that random charming attractive guy will pressure unsuspecting women into. The lesson is outright contradicted in the final installment, when the pregnancy nearly proves fatal (and very, very bloody). Marriage does not protect from STDs, nor does it physically or emotionally prepare one for pregnancy. And the first time they actually sleep together after their wedding, it's a violent event that leaves Bella injured and the bed destroyed. The Aesop here seems to be less "Wait until marriage" and more "Don't have sex ever."
- Many readers draw religious parallels and symbolism from the books, particularly when considering that Meyer is a Mormon. Meyer claims that she didn't intend the books to be influenced by her religion or promote her beliefs, but admits that her values do shape her writing. Regardless of intent, many readers feel the result is clueless aesops.
- On a related note to the Breaking Dawn pregnancy, Twilight is simply not the kind of series that should be having a debate about abortion. Also, the pro-life/pro-choice thing is slightly irrelevant when it's clear that the baby is most assuredly killing the mother, and she may or may not survive to give birth (in other words, exactly the kind of exception most pro-life advocates are willing to make when it comes to their stance on abortion). The fact that it's a Creepy Half-Human Hybrid that makes Bella thirst for blood during the pregnancy only makes things worse- Bella may well be giving birth to the Anti Christ (a few characters even think she literally is).
- The series also glosses over the difficulties of raising a child by having Renesmee never cry and grow into adulthood abnormally fast. It's easy to avoid abortion in a world where your baby is immortal and will be able to take care of herself after only a couple of years.
- To be honest, the Catholic Church would probably put it up for debate whether or not the kid is actually alive in the first place. After all, it's a Dhampir. Otherwise, with its natural near-invincibility, an 'abortion' might not actually kill it, and it could simply grow up slightly stunted for the first few years of life.
- Another religious book- I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The intended message was: "Christians should not forget their spirituality - including, but not limited to, serving others - no matter how much they wish for romance, marriage, and sex". The message that actually came across to most readers was "Do volunteer work as a substitute for a romantic relationship". Needless to say, many readers were disappointed and angered.
- It doesn't help that the lesson stuck so well that churches who pushed this book ended up full of lonely 30-year-old singles with no idea how to court the opposite gender.
- "If Everyone Cared..." is Nickelback's spectacularly non-specific, crowd-pleasing, inoffensive protest song. It warrants a mention here because the whole thing is Chad Kroeger whining about how much better the world would be if, like, nobody ever had to be sad and stuff. Yeah.
- "If everyone loved and nobody lied/If everyone shared and swallowed their pride". He does at least go on to have a call to action. Kinda.
- Considering the same band came up with "Never Again", a ferocious (if over simplistic) diatribe against domestic violence, it's doubly jarring.
- Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's collaboration Accidental Racist provoked considerable backlash at the clumsy handling of a complex topic - namely, the lingering effects and divides from America's nasty history of slavery and racial segregation. Both artists seemed hopelessly out of touch with both sides of the table.
- British magazine Take a Break, which incidentally, is known for trying to put An Aesop in where it can, ran a story about a couple with Down's Syndrome who decided to get married. They explained to the couple "If you get married you won't be able to have a different boyfriend or girlfriend ever again". However, did they not explain what divorce was to them? This gives the wrong impression to some parents of disabled adults.
- Any children's show where a main character or actor dies either avoids the issue entirely, casts someone else to take their place, or say they "moved away"... except for the most notable aversion: The death of Mr. Hooper (Will Lee) on Sesame Street.
- Sesame Street did have a show about divorce. Then they realized that there was no way they could present the issue well and scrapped the episode, swallowing the cost.
- Part of the issue with that episode was that it apparently not only showed the aftermath of the divorce, but the parents going through it as well. Kids were just too upset by it.
- A good couple decades later, they made another storyline about Abby Cadabby having divorced parents. They showed her as happy and as the divorce happening in the past. While it didn't go on the regular show, it's available as a resource for divorcing parents and has been shown to go over much better with children.
- The world's creepiest ventriloquist dummy and the world's worst ventriloquist say, don't look at dirty pictures. Not that they tell the 6-8 year old audience what "dirty pictures" are.
- Averted in an Adventures in Odyssey episode that teaches An Aesop about cursing. Though it would seem impossible to teach such a moral in a Christian children's radio show, where you obviously aren't supposed to use curse words, it manages to pull it off by having some kids thinking that a certain word is a curse word and using it in such a way. It's a bit odd, but it actually works pretty well.
- This review of Michael Jackson The IMMORTAL World Tour, the Cirque du Soleil tribute to the musician, calls out the "They Don't Care About Us" number for presenting one of these in the below quote (and later, the critic notes that the intended anti-greed message is undermined since the show probably wouldn't exist if there weren't tons of money to be made off of Jackson's memory). Keep in mind that this show features Bubbles the chimp as a character and a production number with a giant sequined glove dancing around, among other things.
During [the number] dancing robots appear with LED breastplates that first flash dollar signs amidst videos of urban and international violence, then display hearts as Mother Teresa appears onscreen to feed starving children. The number was originally designed for Jackson's This Is It shows (performances that were preempted by the artist's demise), so Cirque can't entirely be blamed for its unseemly exploitation of human suffering for commercial entertainment. Of course Jackson would have seen himself as raising awareness, and Cirque doubtless think the same thing about the pro-Gaia number ["Earth Song"] that unfolds as 30,000 people sip from souvenir plastic cups.
- The Tales Series in general are chock full of Narm Charm: it ranges from overly-dramatic to flat-out-bizarre, but still manages to be awesome despite that.
- Tales of Symphonia goes really, really far to make sure you know that It Sucks to Be the Chosen One and "racism is bad!" It is, however, never really explained why everyone hates half-elves so much, just that they do. It also justifies fighting against a lot of the more militant racist half-elves by having them be even worse than the militant racist humans, though said humans are often keeping just as many systems of inherent racism going as the half-elves are.
- Tales of Vesperia has some interesting things to say about justice that get completely lost due to the game's Black and White Morality. Yuri murders Ragou and Cumore. Sodia later attempts to kill Yuri because she thinks of him as a criminal. This is supposed to question Yuri's actions and show that justice is sometimes a very subjective thing. Problem is, unlike Ragou and Cumore, Yuri does not fap to the screams of dying children but is a clearly heroic character. So the whole thing just makes Sodia come off as a dangerous psychopath trying to Murder the Hypotenuse. The justice plot is later dropped entirely for a Green Aesop that doesn't make much more sense.
- Its even worse than that. Ragou was caught red-handed for feeding people to his pets For the Evulz and was punished with a slap on the wrist. Cumore had the authority to keep sending people out to die in the desert because frankly no one cared to stop him. The justice system is obviously, hilariously broken and it's apparent that Yuri's vigilante acts saved a lot more lives than Flynn's Lawful Stupid approach to things.
- The moral they try to get across in I. M. Meen is that you should read more. What we get is more like "Never ever touch a book or else that book might suck you into a horrible labyrinth and an evil man will torture you like some kind of sadistic pedophile".
- Yakuza 4 has a sidequest where orphaned kids who were separated from their illegal immigrant parents when said parents were deported are spraying graffiti to express their hate for Japan. Tanimura and Zhao pull them aside for an important lesson: Is it the fault of the clearly flawed process for dealing with illegal immigrants? Nope. Is it the fault of the hostile, zero-tolerance mentality that the Japanese people have towards illegal immigrants? Nope. Is it their parent's fault for thoughtlessly putting themselves at risk for this situation to begin with? Nope. IT'S NO ONE'S FAULT! SO JUST STICK YOUR NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE AND FORGET ALL ABOUT IT! Never mind the kids who will fall victim to the same situation that you're in someday, and that you, as a casualty, are in the perfect position to be an activist.
- In Fable III, you, the ruler of the kingdom, must choose between "good" decisions (mostly benevolent social programs) that cost the kingdom money, and "evil" decisions (cutting off said programs, poor environmental practices, etc.) that save the kingdom money, all in preparation for a supernatural invasion that will kill off many of your citizens if you don't put enough funding into the defense budget. This is already rife with Unfortunate Implications and Does This Remind You of Anything?, but the intended moral is presumably something about having to make hard decisions about security vs. prosperity / quality of life. Or something. Unfortunately, since it's ridiculously easy to break the economy by investing in real estate and reinvesting the profits until you own every building in the kingdom, after which you can choose all the "good" decisions and fund the defense budget out of your own pocket, the moral comes across as more like, "Autocratic land barons can solve all of society's problems with no negative consequences!"
- Spec Ops: The Line: The game has been criticized for its message of "violence is bad" is subverted by continuing to allow the player to kill enemies with executions and live burial by sand, even after the game tries to hammer the moral home with Walker mass-murdering civilians. The same review also notes that many of the lead developers were behind F.E.A.R., a shooter with military trappings, feeling that this only helped break the aesop a bit further. Another argument is that the developers going out of their way to blame the player ignores a culture of violence that glorifies and perpetrates the cycle of violent video games, and tries to absolve the developers for the game's scenario in the first place. Another criticism is that the game's over-reliance on pop culture makes it a pale imitation of Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now.
- The message of Super Tanooki Skin 2D is that the Tanooki Suit promotes skinning real tanuki alive... despite the fact that said suits are not made from actual tanuki, but from blocks with question marks on them. This one fact ends up destroying the entire message.
- Grand Theft Auto V takes on a lot of different themes and modern issues, but tends to fall flat when it tries to confront issues that the game itself is guilty of. For example, one can listen to the in-game radio endlessly spoof American society's chauvinism, misogyny, and sexual objectification of women...and then gleefully head off to buy a lapdance or solicit a prostitute.
- Parodied in Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, in which The Big Man asks the readers to 'keep it real about AIDS'.
- Evil Diva did a story about rape. That would be bad enough for its own reasons. But thanks to the fact that story presents the subject by pandering to a loads of stereotypes and quickly becomes ridiculous - Diva goes to a college party, meets a stranger, who assaults her after few minutes talk in front of everyone and no one seems to care - the message turns into "college students are evil".
- This trope was brutally satirized in The Onion article "Talking To Your Child About The WTC Attack", which encouraged parents to give a no-holds barred explanation of the world history leading up to the World Trade Tower attacks in order to answer why this bad scary thing happened (serious Tear Jerker warning). Although given that the material is fairly obscure even among adults who try to keep with the news, the real moral might have been "Try hard to understand world history, and don't believe the simplified explanations we have to tell our kids."
- Poked fun at by Brad Jones in his DVD-R Hell review of "Rock: It's Your Decision". The reformed, ex-rock-and-roll-fan protagonist preaches to a group of kids about what he saw at a rock concert once: The people listening weren't just sitting quietly and listening to the music! They were getting up and dancing! The music was controlling them! Brad snarks, "This is an emotional response, like crying when you're sad. This, too, is sinful, and should be suppressed."
- The BIONICLE serial The Yesterday Quest had Toa Chiara react to the sexism displayed by her creators (who believed that females are by default peaceful and gentle) by killing a random animal. What a lot of fans took away from this is that "yes, girls can very well be as violent as guys", or alternatively, "Chiara's crazy." In fact, the author originally didn't even intend to make an Aesop here, he just accidentally mixed up the pronouns for another character (thereby making a male out of someone who belonged to a female race), and decided to give an in-story explanation to the typo, leading to the claims of sexism, and then to this.
- The Sun, a British newspaper, has a feature called "Sun Justice" which is what it says, except more of a campaigning platform. They do get it wrong a lot. Whilst it may be worthy of Shy Keenan to campaign on it, the newspaper itself unfortunately over-sensationalizes the issues; for example, it takes The New Rock & Roll and You Can Panic Now Up to Eleven, and confuses trolling with cyber-abuse. So the message is... well, it's not clear what exactly. Well other then the fact that The Sun is a bunch of lying idiots.
- "Mouthpieces", a fad found on some blogging sites, often fall into this. It basically involves drawing an image of character from a cartoon or movie and adding an inspirational message or life advice at the bottom. Some are actually quite nice, but then you get the ones that try to talk about gender equality or gay rights (and many more) that just come off as silly or downright belittling of the very cause they're advocating.
- Often, in cartoons meant for children, there will be a story where the rival girls will talk smack about a major female character behind her back. The end of the episode invariably has the rival girls being called out or punished somehow, with the Aesop being that you shouldn't spread rumors. This still happens in real life, as if the real lesson being learned is "Bringing down another girl will make you popular as long as you don't get caught!"
- Any attempt to educate children about molestation is likely to stumble into this territory, as the message is couched behind vague terms. See the "Sonic Sez" example below.
- When a cartoon does an episode about Peer Pressure (especially in relation to drugs), the "friends" pressuring the hero are usually brand new characters, belonging to a "bad" crowd. Said episode usually ends with the hero realizing "they weren't my real friends," and returning to his usual Scooby Gang. This misses the whole point of peer pressure in real life; kids are getting pressured to do bad things by the people who *are* their real friends, who they've known and trusted for months or years. Instead of trying to teach kids to ditch any friend who isn't a straight arrow, it would make more sense to teach them how to simply say "no" to their friends, while still remaining friends.
- There was an animated story in Yo Gabba Gabba about anthropomorphized drops of water and oil who live in towns across from one another. They are separated by a line in the middle of a road and they are not allowed to mix with one another. Now, the story looks like it's heading towards a Green Aesop when an oil drop runs across the road and collides with a water drop. But the story focuses on how together they make a pretty rainbow. And then all the oil and water drops start playing together. The message was supposed to be "it's wonderful when people who are different play together", but unfortunately children will probably interpret it as "go ahead and pour oil in the sink/bathtub/etc. to make pretty rainbows".
- Also, oil and water? Not well-known for mixing together. It (hopefully) should be blatantly obvious that generally oil should not be in water.
- Family Guy in general, since its Black Comedy status makes taking any Aesop it offers seriously near-impossible, especially when it comes to religion and gay rights.
- It gets bad when they introduce a character that's every offensive gay stereotype rolled into one, and Seth MacFarlane goes on record saying that the gay community is intended to identify with him.
- The episode with Quagmire's transgender father also counts as this.
- They tried to tackle Domestic Abuse in "Screams in Silence" and while a commendable effort (if incredibly clumsily handled), keep in mind this is a show where women are routinely beaten and killed by their husbands/boyfriends for laughs.
- Even worse when you consider that the previous episode portrayed a girl choosing to stay with her abusive family as "heroic".
- The (in)famous episode of Arthur called "Arthur's Big Hit." Since it was discussed many times before, here's a summary: the episode was supposed to teach us a good moral like "Violence won't solve your problems"; instead, the story went out of its way to make Arthur the bad guy.
- What makes it even worse is that D.W. never got punished. Arthur spent a week making a model plane, and DW not only ruins the wet paint, then blames it on Arthur, but she then throws his plane out the window, after he specifically told her not to touch it. She's not even sorry that it broke, blaming the plane for being defective because it didn't fly. Arthur hits D.W. in retribution, but gets all the blame.
- From what we've seen. Her punishment could have happened off-screen, but all the viewer is shown is their parents saying that they'll deal with her, only for them to let it slide completely while Arthur is punished for the whole rest of the episode.
- The infamous "If It's Doomsday, It Must Be Belfast" episode from Captain Planet, which was meant to promote world peace. What it managed to do instead was become the single most offensive example of both the Oireland trope and The Troubles trope, making the struggle between Catholics and Protestants look like The Jets against The Sharks. Highlights can be seen here. (And the comments. Dear God, the comments.)
- This episode was banned in Northern Ireland at the time it aired, and was meet with ridicule from Northern Ireland's inhabitants after it was finally shown.
- The infamous Saturday morning special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue tried to deal with the dangers of marijuana — by wasting a perfectly good Massive Multiplayer Crossover and having beloved children's cartoon characters spew quaint little platitudes about how drugs are bad. And marijuana users are apparently angry, semi-violent hoodlums a la Reefer Madness. When that cartoon was broadcast in prime time in Italy, it was preceded by an "insanely long" and "insanely boring" message by the then-Prime Minister.
- American children were treated to a similarly anvilicious message from Bush, Sr.
- And Aussie kids got one from Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Kind of funny in retrospect, as he's the Prime Minister celebrated for downing a yard of ale in eleven seconds when he was younger (making it into the Guinness Book of records), so you have to wonder what else he got up to back then. But then, this is Australia, where you're looked upon as weird if you don't like to get smashed at least occasionally.
- Apparently, the special was not advertised as being a Very Special Episode prior to it first airing, fooling kids into thinking that it was going to be a purely fun crossover cartoon super special. Little did they know that they were about to be anvilicious'd to oblivion.
- Y'know, some of those very cartoon characters being aware of drugs explains WAY too much.
- The Flintstone Kids "Just Say No (to drugs, of course)!" prime time special. It's less infamous than "Cartoon All-Stars", but it could almost be the type specimen of the Clueless Aesop Very Special Episode. It features your trademark crazy inaccurate information, a whole new set of characters introduced during the episode, and radical changes made to a main character after hanging out with the aforementioned new characters. The latter two elements were used just to deliver the Aesop and none of them were ever acknowledged after this one episode. And, oh yeah, there's the bizarre sight of the slapstick-prone Flintstones characters talking about drugs. And to top the whole thing off with a bonus, there's a killer Hilarious in Hindsight moment or "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Michael Jackstone.
- Another Hilarious in Hindsight moment: "It tastes gooood, like a-- *click click* cigarette shoooould!!"
- The special also failed to make drugs look any worse than smoking. Apart from being unable to win a race that he apparently usually wins, the drug dealer kid's biggest problem is that he'll be taken to the police station, after which his parents will come to pick him up and yell at him. Let's repeat that. The kid (named Stoney for extra anvilicious points) was arrested for drug possession and they're actually going to allow his parents to stop by and take him home that same day. And his actual punishment will be his parents yelling at him. So if you do drugs, the worst you can expect is that your parents will yell at you.
- Quite a few Dragon Tales episodes have perfectly good Aesops that wipe out on the shores of Most Writers Are Human And Do Not Live In Magical Lands, and wind up just looking strange. To wit: Lorca is a magical dragon who lives in a Magical Land with Unicorns and wizards and magic everywhere. Oh, and he's in a wheelchair. So the little kids watching this fantasy cartoon where children have wonderful adventures in a Magical Land can learn that disabled people are just like you and me. Even when they are dragons in wheelchairs. We get the intended message, but it seems a little on the nose to have a mythical creature in a wheelchair.
- Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, "Sonic Sez," "Bad Touching." The big problem with this, and other episode tags and PSAs like it, is that shows in the Animation Age Ghetto were allowed and encouraged to warn against sexual molestation, but were forbidden to define it. They could tell kids to tell parents or the cops about "bad touching," but they couldn't say what sorts of touching are bad.
- Even worse is this Sonic Sez, which attempts to teach a respectable Aesop ("Only dial 9-1-1 in a real emergency"), but Sonic inadvertently tells kids that "If you're being attacked by people who mean you harm, calling 9-1-1 would be a dumb joke."
- There is an even more ridiculous Sonic Sez, that may suggest the writers knew exactly how silly this was. Grounder smashed himself while chasing a rabbit, a container of pills falling out of him in the process. The rabbit goes to take them, only for Sonic to stop him. The pill bottle reads, "For Grounder, Robot Headache Pills, Take One A Day With Oil."
- An episode of the Double Dragon cartoon involved a kid obsessed with video games. He was taught that life is not a video game... by a pair of magically-super-powered crime-fighters who summon dragons and shoot fire and stuff... in a show based off a video game.
- The Double Dragon 'drugs are bad' episode... had its moments. A fungus that the sewer-dwelling mutants chew for energy is concentrated into a dangerous drug by (RPM) the Shadow Master, who uses it to enslave people to him. So far, so good. Vortex started taking it to be a stronger fighter and smashed apart a training dummy in a fit of rage when it was suggested it wasn't exactly a good thing. Then the Shadow Master deliberately exposes Billy to RPM after he captures him, and it looks like an interesting setup of addiction vs willpower, and how Billy vs Vortex might recover... and then Dragon Magic cleans the junk out of Vortex and Billy. We never see what happens with the other addicts, above and below, or any consequences, not even for Vortex having drugs around the dojo where kids come to take martial arts lessons! Also compare the episode where Jimmy gets addicted to The Third Eye of the Dragon. Both eps are less 'drugs are bad' and more 'magic fixes everything'.
- There was also the guns are bad episode. The city bans every kind of unlicensed handgun. The Shadow Master increases production of his illegal handguns, since there is now a greater market; resident criminals buy weapons from him illegally and go on a rampage. When regular citizens find that they can't even buy licensed weapons, unless they're in law enforcement, they start buying them illegally to protect themselves. The police prove unable to stop the wave of crooks or shut down the Shadow Master's operations. The moral comes across less 'guns are bad' than it does 'crooks are already willing to break the law, and will get weapons. You need to be able to defend yourself.', which falls into a decidely pro-legalized-gun talking point. Bonus points for no grey areas between 'no legal guns at all' and 'no restrictions on guns.'
- Happens In-Universe in South Park, when the school decides they need to teach the kids about safer sex — without actually talking about sex. So they just tell the kids that boys always need to wear condoms, or else they might get girls pregnant, and leave it at that. Hilarity Ensues.
- At the end of the episode, Chef specifically calls this out, points out that the people teaching the sex ed (Mr. Garrison, Miss Choksondick, and Mr. Mackey) are all misguided, misinformed, or just plain clueless about sex themselves, and says that if the parents want it done right they should do it themselves.
- Although in a straighter example of this trope in action, Chef himself often had a bad habit of singing songs about sex to the children, which doesn't leave him much room to criticize.
- According to Drug Avengers, an obscure and very weird educational cartoon recently exhumed by Everything Is Terrible, the reason Earth will not be able to join the Galactic Federation in the future is because we do too many drugs. Yup.
- Used in-universe in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Over a Barrel". Pinkie Pie decides to sing a song about sharing in order to get the bison and the cowponies to get along and agree. They do... that it was the worst performance they'd ever seen. Brought up again when the bison are about to call off the attack, but Pinkie Pie celebrates by singing another verse, enraging them and causing them to attack anyway.
- Lauren Faust has spoken about regretting the way the episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen" was handled. What was intended to be an Aesop about being open to different ideas and ways of perceiving the world, even if you don't particularly understand them (something that makes sense as there are a lot of things kids that age don't understand yet but are factually true - except that you can actually analyze said "things" as an adult properly to understand at least part of how they work, not to mention that there is a difference between perceiving the world in a subjective manner, through a certain ideology or subjective way of thinking, VS deducing logically what objectively what happens and how it does) instead unintentionally came off as, 'Atheists/Scientists/Skeptics are jerks and are demonstrably wrong.' Needless to say, however, this could more or less be a realistic scenario in the sense of how science and logic aren't always the best ways to come up with an answer. (Discussed: science (in the same sector as biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics...) is about searching for objective facts and empirical evidence to help us deduce and affirm it; ideologies, morality and other subjective thought systems are not its concern, they are handled by branches such as philosophy, social studies, humanities...)
- Many fans also have a dislike of the episode "The Mysterious Mare Do Well" because of how terribly they feel it handles its own Aesop about humility. For context, Rainbow Dash, the brash member of the group, has gone into an ego streak and she gets shot down when a new hero, the eponymous Mare Do Well, arrives and preforms some heroics of her own. Our first problem is that Applejack and Twilight seem to be the only ponies around who don't like Dash's ego trip — the rest of the town adores Dash. Second, when Dash starts to fail, it's not because of her ego. Finally by the end, it's revealed that it was Rainbow's own friends who were trying to teach her humility. The aesop could look clueless at best and broken at worst.
- Probably not entirely clueless, but in the episode "Swarm of the Century," Pinkie's seemingly pointless quest for musical instruments turns out to be the perfect way to get rid of the town's parasprite infestation, and things would have gone a lot smoother if everyone had just helped her rather than wasting time on other methods, with the intended lesson that you should listen to your friends' ideas, even if they may not make complete sense to you. Except that Pinkie hardly makes any attempt to explain what she's doing; she mostly just demands everyone help her on a mission that doesn't seem to make sense at all, and expects them to go along with it just because she says so. Plus, one of those other methods almost works until Pinkie herself screws it up by not listening to her friends. So the message becomes more about the importance of explaining yourself properly. Considering all things, however, this could more or less lead to a Double Aesop, as Pinkie pointing out at the end how she tried to tell them when they wouldn't listen makes it evident that she did learn the importance of explaining herself properly.
- The Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot episode "Welcome to Grump-A-Lot" has Grumpy Bear lose his temper at his friends, causing a "Grumpy Storm" to break loose and turn everyone except for Grumpy into foul-tempered opposites of their normal selves. The lesson (as spelled out by Tenderheart) is that "While we all get frustrated, we must learn to control our emotions." Which would be fine, except Grumpy only blew up at the others because he was all set to watch TV in peace and everyone showed up at his place without being invited, ate all his food, criticized the way he had laid out the snacks, deliberately stood in front of the TV screen so he couldn't see anything, talked and sang loudly over the announcer, and utterly refused to respect his privacy. So the lesson came across more as "It's wrong to want time for yourself, and if your friends walk all over you and refuse to consider your feelings on the matter, you have no right to get angry at them about it." Bonus points because this was the exact kind of lesson that the Care Bears franchise originally tried to avoid with Grumpy Bear; the entire point to his character was to teach kids that it's okay to sometimes be grumpy.
- Hey Arnold! had a "don't skip school" episode, where Arnold ditches for the day and spends it being constantly hindered in his attempts to enjoy it, and then finds out that the school day was pretty much cancelled for a surprise carnival that he would have been able to attend if he'd gone. A great way to get across "Don't skip school, you never know what you're missing out on", except when in the history of any public school has there ever been a surprise, one-day-only carnival? They might as well have had PS 118 take an unannounced field trip to the moon. The kicker is that they could have had a decent message if they didn't throw in that anvilicious ending. While skipping school they kept running into people who could recognize them and expose what they were doing, this could make the real life message of "Skipping School isn't as fun as you think because you'll spend the day looking over your shoulder trying not to get in trouble over it." or how they would still be missing class that could have a test or still be responsible for any homework that will take even longer since they'd have to learn the material and do it on top of their regular classes. Nope, we get surprise carnival day.
- Rocket Power had a nearly identical episode to the above mentioned, in which Otto and Sam skip school to have their own "Snow Day". The two end up stuck on a roller coaster while Reggie and Twister, who didn't skip, have a blast at the surprise all-day circus-themed assembly.
- It also had a "Girl Power" episode with "Power Girl Surfers", where Reggie starts an all-female 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 her own story more than her brother does; at the end, she and her friends crash Otto's cover shoot to challenge him to a surf-off, humiliating him in front of the people offering him a shot at fame. Because of the way Reggie is written, the Aesop comes off as, "Resenting someone else's good fortune is perfectly fine, if you can prove that they're not worthy of it."
- Pretty much any kids' fantasy or sci-fi show will have at least one episode dealing with an Inspirationally Disadvantaged character... and completely forgets the fact that healing magic or advanced medical technology exists that ought to be able to do something about that. Dragon Tales gets special mention for Lorca, a magical pink dragon who uses a wheelchair due to being paralyzed from the waist down... even though he can fly just fine, and Dragonland is a world full of wish-granting magic.
- The anti-drug PSAs of the '80s and '90s ended up being clueless because, much like the "bad touching" messages, they weren't allowed to actually define drugs as being anything other than "bad things that only stupid people like". A few were bold enough to show things like joints or crack on screen, but most of them just had kids being pressured by other kids their own age to do... something vague, with stuff that was supposed to be drugs of some kind. To hear them tell it, every fourth grade in the world was populated by clean, well-dressed addicts with Totally Radical hair, desperate to cram little rolls of twisted-up paper towels down their classmates' throats.
- This was a recurring bit on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, as any time a drug-smuggler was nabbed, it'd just be "He was smuggling drugs!", with Scooby going "Drugs!? Yuck!" in response. Given the theories about Scooby-Snax, this is at least a little ironic.
- Invoked in the Animaniacs episode, "A Very Very Very Special Show", where the Warner siblings try to be legitimate role models in a transparent attempt to win a humanitarian award, leading to things like Dot casually mentioning that she left a spotted owl she was taking care of to play with a white Siberian tiger, or a rant against gas usage and public transportation which was set off by Yakko suggesting they take a ride on a bus.
- The Simpsons had another reference to such Aesop treatment in that Ralph Wiggum was apparently taught to let authorities know when people are touching his "special area." Ralph then thinks this special area is one of his shoulders and becomes very upset if anyone ever comes in contact with it. Don't forget that Ralph's father is Springfield's police chief...
- In Sleeping with the Enemy, Lisa develops an eating disorder and announces at the end of the episode that they are not a Compressed Vice that can be solved within 20 minutes & she will have to struggle with it for the rest of her life. However due to the show's Negative Continuity, Lisa is completely fine in the episodes that follow with absolutely no sign of any eating disorder, meaning that Lisa was completely wrong.
- In a way, every sendoff message on Inspector Gadget could qualify. Gadget just spent the entire episode proving himself Too Dumb to Live, repeatedly saved by his niece and dog, and we're supposed to accept his safety advice?