This is when a very seriousAesop 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.
Note: 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.
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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...
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 thisDigital 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.
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.
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 (notthat 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.
Films — Animated
Cars 2 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 seems to be 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. These people seem to have missed the point that Dash has a ridiculously unfair advantage unless all the other contestants were closet super-speedsters - a better way to handle the issue would be to have Dash been able to temporarily "turn off" his powers and compete as a normal human.
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, Brad "The Cinema Snob" 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.
Enjoy this list of awkwardBerenstain Bears books. Not all of them have Clueless Aesops, but remember, these books tend to be written for very young children.
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 CreepyHalf-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.
Perhaps the best example: The barely remembered (or perhaps nicely repressed) Disney ChannelSpecial Presentation, Winnie the Pooh: Too Smart for Strangers. Seeing the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood dole out advice to the kiddies on how to avoid being kidnapped and molested is stunningly fucked up in itself. If there is a list of characters who should never explain — nor even be aware of — child abuse, Pooh is easily at the top. But apparently, that wasn't bizarre enough for The Disney Channel; instead of using the animated characters, they chose to use the unspeakably terrifying costumed characters from the show Welcome To Pooh Corner. The whole thing seems coldly designed to scar a child's mind.
The Hannah Montana episode about Oliver having diabetes is a re-edited version. The original episode portrayed diabetes in a downright dangerous and inaccurate way. Bonus points for jokes about fainting diabetics! Whee!
A Canadian children's program once tried to tackle the serious subject of alcoholism and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. That show was Today's Special... And for maximum childhood destroying effect, the IED-prone alcoholic was played by Gerry Parkes, better known as none other than kindly old Doc from Fraggle Rock!
Kids Incorporated had an anti-drugs episode, an episode about homelessness, an episode about child abuse, and a surprisingly poignant episode about Kid's estranged older brother. Oh, and they each contained the usual happy covers of popular songs andImagine Spots and were each aired in the middle of a week's worth of otherwise completely off-the-wall fantasy episodes with magic robots and such.
The Mork and Mindy episode with Mr. Bickley's blind son seems to have multiple Aesops: accept handicapped people, learn to see life in a new way, don't abandon your son... But it's not well-handled because this is a show about a cloudcuckoolander alien who says the darnedest things. Just to give an example of how poorly executed this episode was, they used the "Does your guide dog get scared when you're skydiving?" joke.
"Hold That Mork"'s Aesop was about gender equality. Nothing wrong with that, but it was delivered through the plot of Mork joining The Denver Broncos cheerleaders. Even if the message is good, let's face it, the whole point of the episode was really about providing fanservice for both the male viewers and, apparently, Robin Williamsfangirls with a cross-dressing fetish.
The only episode that tops that one in the "Fanservice with tacked-on Aesop" category is the two-part "Mork vs. The Necrotons". In a nutshell, Mork gets captured by the titular aliens, whose leader is played by Raquel Welch. Innuendo, both visual and spoken abounds, so much that even Mr. Get-shit-past-the-radar himself later on said that it made him uncomfortable. And the message at the end was... The Power of Friendship. Yeah.
Many Public Service Announcements with an anti-drug message were so poorly executed that they practically made a joke of their own message. The point is especially lost because most of them do not seem to portray any other consequences of doing drugs.
An alternate version was a little more reasonable. A bunch of teenage yahoos get baked and decide to prank a fast food restaurant by repeatedly rolling through the drive-thru and placing ridiculous orders. On the last time through, a little girl is riding her bicycle across the lane just as the driver hits the gas...
There was another odd set of anti-drug ads where a girl high on weed is shown (through icky special effects) to have melted into the couch. Doug Benson has a terrific deconstruction of how clueless this ad was in Super High Me: if your reaction to an anti-drug PSA is "Whatever they were smoking, I want some", it has failed.
The Saved by the Bell episode about Jessie's caffeine pill addiction, legendary for its narm. Indeed, "I'm so excited... I'm so scared!" became a huge Memetic Mutation.
Also the episode that dealt with the dangers of drinking-and-driving. Now, this subject unfortunately isn't that far removed from real-life high schools (not that Bayside could be considered entirely realisitc), but the presentation is questionable. Bottom line, Zack and friends get found out because they keep telling different cover stories and get left with a lot of holes to plug. It's as if the intended lesson was "If you're going to lie, keep your story straight so you don't get caught."
There was a Public Service Announcement at a local TV station which used its puppet mascot and tried to explain the difference between "good touching" and "bad touching". The trouble is, they used footage from Looney Tunes cartoons while they were talking about "good touching"... including Bugs Bunny's crossdressing smooches on Elmer Fudd, and multiple shots of Pepe Le Pew. Someone clearly wasn't paying enough attention when that PSA was made....
Punky Brewster's anti-drug episode featuring the "Chicklets". The final scenes with P(SA)unky & friends in the middle of an anti-drug protest are anviliciously hilarious. The thing can be seen in all its glory here.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a tendency to identify (and mock) these in The Fifties educational shorts it aired, which had titles like "A Date With Your Family". The lessons in said shorts ran the gamut from Clueless, to looking very Warped thanks to Values Dissonance, to being straight-up Warped regardless of the time they were made. Hence, such gemlike riffs as "Emotions are for 'ethnic' people", and "Expressing individualism is just plain wrong".
"Dad, I had a feeling today." "Well don't, son."
RiffTrax has continued MST3K's tradition on that score, like with their commentary on the short Drugs Are Like That, a parade of dubious and contradictory metaphors for drugs. At different points in the short, for example, habitual behavior (such as hair twirling) and spontaneity (represented by making a minor change to a Lego-block machine) both become drug-use analogues.
The Truth's line of anti-tobacco PSAs are often well written, but one is an egregious case of research failure, where they try to prove tobacco companies were aiming their products at kids because cigarettes were shown in The Muppet Movie — because clearly a movie featuring Muppets can only be for kids. The Muppet Movie was released in 1979, when Jim Henson was out to prove puppets could appeal to older audiences and a film didn't need an R rating to be made for adults.
"The Outcast", a well-intentioned episode in which a member of a race of asexual aliens and Riker fall in love. Though the episode was intended as a defense of LGBT people, Riker's love interest was played by a woman. In fact, all the 'asexual' aliens were played by women, because you know it wouldn't do for Riker's Love Interest to look like a man. (Okay, it isscientifically accurate because the only vertebrates we know of who can reproduce asexually are all female). This actually annoyed Jonathan "Riker" Frakes a bit, but the producers didn't have the balls to have the hot babe androgynous alien played by a guy. As Cracked.com put it: "The episode's message ends up completely garbled. Intended as a condemnation of homophobia, the episode instead comes off as the story of one woman's brave quest for cock in the face of lesbian tyranny." What's worse is that at one point, the Love Interest decides she identifies as female solely based on the fact that she finds a male attractive...
"Symbiosis", the anti-drug episode. The Enterprise rescues the crew and cargo of a damaged space vessel and over the course of the episode they discover that the two planets represented by the rescued crew are involved in an interplanetary drug trade. What follows is a cavalcade of clueless nonsense about narcotics that even a five year old should be able to see through, like that a long-term drug addict can drop his addiction cold turkey with no negative side-effects beyond a little discomfort and pain, and that narcotics-exporting nations always have illegal drugs as their sole industry. By the end of the episode even the writers have given up on trying to make sense of it all and the central conflict abruptly changes to be about the Prime Directive instead.
"Eye of the Beholder" is a bizarre and curiously awkward attempt at an Anti-Suicide PSA, but they botch it by trying to have it both ways. The first act treats the suicide of a Red Shirt completely seriously, exploring it from all angles, explaining how those that commit suicide often show no obvious signs of distress. It's fairly effective, sort of a forerunner of the subject's similar treatment on an episode of House, M.D.. And then they completely botch it by Hand-Waving the uncharacteristic suicide as being the result of Psychic Powers gone awry, using it as another pitstop in the Worf/Troi Ship Tease. One wonders if the writers held the opinion that no one would seriously want to commit suicide in the Mary Sue Topia that is the 24th Century. This carries some potential Unfortunate Implications when you think about the prevalence of suicide in the present day...
Diff'rent Strokes decided to tackle sexual predators in the two-parter "The Bicycle Man". In the story, Arnold wants a bicycle. After becoming friends with Mr. Horton, the owner of the bicycle shop, over part one, he, and his friend Dudley (Diff'rent Strokes' recurring Very Special Episode scapegoat), start spending time with Horton in the back room where he lives. After riding on Mr. Horton's back and playing "Neptune, God of the Sea," Horton offers them some alcohol (which only makes Arnold worried that he might be caught with it on his breath) and sits them down to watch some cartoons. "That mouse just lost his drawers! [audience laughter]" Yeah, so after enjoying a nice X-rated cartoon, Arnold is uncomfortable enough to leave. Dudley wants to stay, and Arnold goes home. After letting slip what happened, Mr. Drummond calls the police. They arrive right as Horton is about to... uh... begin. Dudley appears on screen drugged with tranquilizers and shirtless. Then they have a couch conversation about how important it is to tell an adult about such things. While this is admittedly far more direct and open than the "bad touch" PSas of the 90s, there is laughter throughout the episodes right up to when Mr. Drummond calls the police. Yes, even during the set-up to the molestation. That must have been the most awkward studio audience ever.
Harsher in Hindsight considering Shavar Ross (Dudley) came out later saying he was repeatedly molested by a family friend during the show's run.
The 1998 episode Rust Buckets is a possible example of this, and just could not handle the episode's issue (unroadworthy vehicles) well. In fact, in Part 2 after the commercial break, it went off-topic!
The episode Unfit to Drive from the 1996 series, Enough's Enough from the 1997 series, and (to a slightly lesser extent) the 1997 episode Don't Look Back In Anger tend to sometimes forget what the aesop they're dealing with is.
Parodied by The Goodies with their Mary Whitehouse expy-approved sex education film, which avoids any mention of anything related to sex:
Narrator: This is a man. And this isn't.
Also parodied by The Sooty Show (even though the episode itself was a straight attempt at trying to get across at least some basic sex education) when Matthew tries inexpertly to give The Talk to Sweep, hampered by his use of Dissimile and Metaphorgotten.
The children's show The Big Comfy Couch suffered from clueless Aesops at times... including the downright bizarre lesson "Don't fall down with your hands in your pockets."
There was a brief flare-up of PSAs that instructed children to go and get an adult if they saw or read anything on the Internet that made them uncomfortable, without quantifying what such things might be. Given thenumber of things one can find online that can make grown adults uncomfortable, and medical images of a graphic nature, this seems a little ill-thought-out. (But at least parent and child can sit and stare at the walls for a while together.)
The pedophilia awareness PSA Tricky People made an admirable attempt to be serious and would have actually been pretty effective... had the creators not decided to include the ridiculously cartoony Barney-esque character of Yello Dyno.
And if that wasn't enough, they give the evil pedophile a wacky, bumbling sidekick, who provides Plucky Comic Relief.
In the The Secrets Of Isis TV show, one episode, "Spots of the Leopard," has a girl named Jenny suspecting her father of being a diamond thief. Throughout the episode, despite all the evidence pointing at Jenny's father, both Isis and her alter-ego Andrea keep reassuring Jenny that she should just have faith in her father. Meanwhile, everything he does makes him look like he's the diamond thief, inclding lying about his whereabouts and double-crossing the police. In the end, Andrea/Isis was right, but she had no way of knowing that until the real criminal confesses.
Perhaps the most infamous and obvious example was in the season 3 episode "I Kissed A Girl," which was supposed to be about LGBT acceptance after a lesbian character was rudely outed against her will in the previous episode. For starters, despite the title, there were no girls kissing. Rather than focusing on the actual lesbian character, the episode was made all about the atonement of the guy who outed her, which consisted entirely of suggesting the glee club do a "Lady Music" theme. Seriously.
Another example would be 4x18 "Shooting Star" where they had a school shooting... but the gun going off was all accidental and didn't hurt anyone, and a teacher covered for the student at fault. So there were no actual consequences for the student who brought a gun to school and caused gunshots and terrified the entire student body and faculty. Many reviews of the episode claimed the message was lost by the end, or it was a failure, or it could've been much better, etc.
There's also Glee's harmful portrayal of eating disorders in season 4. As Catherine Weingarten says, "Marley was convinced to become bulimic to avoid becoming like her [morbidly obsese] mother. The mean girl Kitty easily convinces Marley that in order to play the part of “Sandy” in Grease she has to look a certain way. Marley does not even seem to understand that Kitty is getting her to experiment with dangerous eating disorder behavior. So Marley becomes fully bulimic and later even passes out during sectionals, which prompts everyone in Glee club to hate her. There is so much misinformation here about how one gets an eating disorder and the seriousness of eating disorders. It is common for people to not fully understand what an eating disorder is and only know about them through sensationalist tabloids or TV shows. Now Glee is adding itself to the list of shows spreading harmful and untrue information about eating disorders. Glee makes eating disorders seem campy and not very serious. We are supposed to be annoyed by Marley and not even care when she passes out at sectionals." There is also Liana Rosenman who wrote, "It is really dangerous [for Glee] not to include a public service announcement of the dangers of eating disorders." and "Marley has an eating disorder for two days and then magically recovers. That is far from the truth. I struggled with anorexia for five years." Other people have published similar sentiments: "One topic Glee has failed horribly at covering is eating disorders. Eating disorders are often life threatening and last night's episode of Glee made it nothing short of a joke."
Parodied in Arrested Development when Gob sings a tone-deaf (in every sense of the word) duet with a black puppet named Franklin about racism. Even more Hilarious in Hindsight if you've heard "Accidental Racist" (see the entry under Music below), a song with a similar concept which doesn't handle the issue much more gracefully but is played entirely straight.
An episode of Xena: Warrior Princess has an episode about beauty pageants being degrading. That may be a common criticism of beauty pageants today, but that criticism comes from beauty pageants being seen as a means for young women to spend excessive amounts of money and effort in competition for vanity prizes like crowns and titles. The pageant in the show is taking place in an ancient Greco-Roman fantasy setting, and the prize for the winner is a winter's supply of food for her village's children. We're still supposed to root for the contestant who quits in order to preserve her pride and dignity, even though that means damning the children of her poor village to starve for the winter and competing for their sake is already pretty noble.
"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.
Somewhat justified, as when people decide to get married, they at least intend for it to be permanent. Or rather, things don't quite work that way...
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 Kadabby 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.
Not just child porn. He had conspired to kidnap, rape, murder and eat a child.
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. (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, and Tales of Symphonia specifically, 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 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!"
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.
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 of The Cinema Snob in his 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! The Snob 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.
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.
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.
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.
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' then 'crooks are already willing to break the law, and will get weapons. You need to be able to defend yourself.' 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.
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) 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.
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.
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.
The Gargoyles episode "Deadly Force" winds up being one of these, the premise (per Greg Weisman, the series creator) being that guns are objects that should be treated with respect, and cause serious damage when people don't. It is somewhat undercut by Eliza having to catch the Idiot Ball with both hands with respect to safe storage of guns (Broadway's fooling around could be justified as his still being something of a Man Child and having only seen examples of television's approach to gun usage). What's more, later episodes of the series are still free with the Artistic License - Gun Safety.