Everyone knows the Stock Aesops. Be happy with what you have, friendship is more important than money, dream of better things. Sometimes these morals contradict each other, but nobody is surprised to see any of them in a story.
But there are also morals that don't appear in fiction very often. Morals like "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished," "Don't show charity because other people are degenerate freeloaders," "You shouldn't be afraid to Be a Whore to Get Your Man," or "Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer." They aren't exactly wrong messages, but it still seems... jarring, somehow, to see figures in media trying to teach them, especially to children.
Do this and you have a Family Unfriendly Aesop. You're presenting a moral lesson that makes your audience a bit uncomfortable, in a way that still makes it hard to argue with.
If it appeared in a kids' television show, the network would get 32,845 angry e-mails from Moral Guardians in the first day after airing. And if it appeared in a show for adults, it would still seem jarring, even if it was actually very good advice. Note that being "jarring" is not necessarily synonymous with being pessimistic. Some more optimistic Family Unfriendly Aesops might be, for instance, "Peer pressurecan be good for you because it convinces you to try new things," or "Having sex is good for your social life, so go have some." Note also that how the Aesop is conveyed may be what makes it family unfriendly: for instance, Good People Have Good Sex almost always gets a far friendlier reception from Moral Guardians than You Need to Get Laid, though both promote sex as a good thing.
Don't mistake a Broken Aesop for one of these. A Family Unfriendly Aesop can be broken if it's presented ineffectively, so that the audience either misses the point of the story or doesn't find it at all persuasive. When delivered straight and effectively, the Family Unfriendly Aesop jolts the audience and makes them think.
Due to Values Dissonance, a moral that is family unfriendly in one culture may be very family friendly in another, especially morals about social mores or civil rights. This list is for morals that were family unfriendly even for the culture that they were written in. A prime target for dropping anvils.
Note: Just because something happens in a story, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a Family Unfriendly Aesop. Before adding an example to this list, think about whether the example is actually preaching a moral, or if it is simply telling a story to entertain (i.e. a Downer Ending does not mean it is trying to teach a lesson that life is pointless). If it's not the point of a story, it's not An Aesop. An unusual moral also doesn't count if it's played for laughs (Spoof Aesop). If it started out as a good moral, but was broken, that falls under Broken Aesop. If most people would've considered it a good moral when the work was made but society's moved on since, it's Values Dissonance. If you are drawing absurd conclusions from a story which doesn't have a moral, take it to Warp That Aesop on Darth Wiki. All in all, try to keep presumptuousness to a minimum in interpreting what the story's message is.
Compare Clueless Aesop and some cases of Unfortunate Implications. See also The Complainer Is Always Wrong.
Note: Understand that not everything needs or has an Aesop. A depiction is not an endorsement.
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Anime & Manga
A recurring theme in the Area 88 manga and OVA is that engaging in combat will transform you into a traumatized basketcase who can never integrate into normal society ever again.
Pet Shop of Horrors is based entirely on this, due to the dubious morality of the Pet Shop owner, Count D. While he maintains that he is only giving humanity what they deserve, a good heart is no guarantee of a good outcome — several of the Count's shadier customers escape unscathed from their deals with the Count, while softer-hearted clients can be "punished" for a minor character flaw. Even if a character undergoes a positive change through being with their pet, such as developing a sense of compassion, they often fall victim to a tragic twist. This may be because he wasn't human - his character reads like one of The Fair Folk, so expect Values Dissonance, because their morality isn't anything like our own.
"When everyone around you is treating you like dirt, if you just be really nice to them and generally act like a dogsbody, they'll come around eventually." While it's nice to see the Genki Girl's sweet personality overcoming all the odds and avoiding the risk of becoming a Purity Sue by having to work for her acceptance, some of the other Kaleido Stage performers could really have used a slap in the face, rather than getting away with some seriously obnoxious behavior (such as Layla's sort-of Girl Posse Julie and Charlotte, before their Heel Face Turn).
And another one, from "Kalos Eido's Guide to Managing a Circus": "When your cast members are trying to kill each other, just leave them to it. It's a learning experience for them. While you're at it, why not try putting even more pressure on someone who's already being bullied?"
While the manga and anime itself has a Family Friendly Aesop, the creepy children's books in Monster were made like this purposefully by one of the characters to instill nihilism in children. They feature such lovely morals as "It doesn't matter whether you make a deal with the devil or not, because you're screwed either way."
The other, much more horrifying story the "God of Peace" gives us, 'no matter how good you are, there will always be darkness inside you, so you should kill yourself'.
The moral of the Tsumihoroboshi-hen arc appears to be "friends help friends hide the bodies." But in a more directly stated example, it's okay to hide things from your friends if they don't need to know about it. Even though they're your friends, it doesn't require complete disclosure. While Higurashi certainly emphasizes the importance of trusting your friends, at this point it acknowledges that there are some things people just can't tell others and shouldn't have to.
Saikoroshi-hen (whether you accept it as All Just a Dream or not) seems to advocate a rather ruthless approach to pursuing one's own happiness at the expense of others.
The moral of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor as a series can be taken 2 ways: 1) Being an individual in a conformist society will lead to extreme success, or 2) Rigid military discipline is actively bad for winning wars, and treating it like a joke will make everything better. The former is a Family Unfriendly Aesop for the Japanese, and the latter is one for Americans.
In-universe example: in Urusei Yatsura, Ataru tells a class of kindergartners a story about the legendary Kintaro, who through ceaseless effort, finally became the assistant to a great man.
Ataru: The moral of the story is, "Even if you work like a dog... you can only rise so far in this lousy world!"
At the end of Eden of the East, Akira (the hero) makes a comment to the effect that Japanese have great potential but need someone to rule them to unlock that potential. In the end, though, it actually subverts this aesop by more or less stating that while it might achieve great results, it would be wrong to do so. Similarly, Akira/the series seems to take the viewpoint that since national tragedies/catastrophes bring a country together, causing one is a great idea so long as you can figure out a way of doing it without killing anyone.
Puella Magi Madoka Magicarevels in this. "Never follow your emotions, you'll end up dead." "Never believe in the power of friendship - you'll also end up dead." "Helping others will royally bite you in the ass." "If you ever become a better person, you'll get killed." "Never sacrifice your individual well-being for the good of the universe." This is later inverted by the end of the anime in the new world created by Madoka.
In a very broad sense, and spelled out by Madoka's mother at one point, the entire show revolves around the concept of maturity...and it defines maturity as the point at which one's suffering is equal to one's happiness. In other words: Growing Up Sucks but at least you get to drink!
An arguable implication of the editorially mandated last arc of the Batgirl series, and an inescapably blatant one in the Robin arc that followed up on it, was that no matter how much you try you cannot find redemption, even for "sins" born of ignorance, so you should give up on escaping your past and embrace it as your destiny. Several months later, this was revealed as a case of Brainwashed and Crazy, in a hasty Author's Saving Throw.
Or, conversely, don't even bother putting on the Batmantle if you're a minority because they'll resurrect a dead character and stick the cowl on her rather than let an Asian girl be a bat protege. African-American vigilante Onyx probably knew this when she, as the only person Batman trusted to watch Gotham in his absence, never once put a cowl on while a white character was created from scratch to serve as Batwoman several months later.
In the Marvel ComicsCrisis CrossoverCivil War, the moral, according to Word Of God, was that sometimes a little liberty must be sacrificed for security, especially when it comes to people who can potentially destroy the world with their powers. But many fans thought the Word Of God was being sarcastic, and didn't realize it was serious. Why? Several reasons:
Marvel Comics has done stories for over twenty years in which treating super-powered mutants differently is the same as racism. In the context of Marvel Comics fandom, this is a very Family Unfriendly Aesop.
Some of the individual writers in the story didn't agree with the Word Of God. Their stories clashed badly with the central theme, and turned it from a Family Unfriendly Aesop into a Broken Aesop.
Most importantly, the entire pro-registration side (which Word Of God essentially pointed to as being "right") consisted of a bunch of complete bastards who actively committed incredibly immoral acts in the name of their goals, freely interacted with villains, and were willing to fight with lethal force. Several of them were written out of character to be more evil, and were led by the most jerktastic version of Tony Stark ever to be written (which is quite a feat). Meanwhile, the anti-registration people were led by one of the most morally upright characters in the Marvel Universe, generally acted in a far more "heroic" manner, had a stance that echoed the "correct" viewpoint of 30+ years worth of Marvel continuity, and acted on beliefs ("government isn't always right," "persecution is wrong," and "sometimes, you have to fight for what you believe in") that would FAR more accurately reflect those of the target reading audience (ie, young males). There's almost nothing within the actual context of the story that would imply the reader was even remotely supposed to see the pro-registration group as being in the right.
The game (Ultimate Alliance 2) didn't help either. If you chose the anti-registration side, the next task is to thrash some Registration Flunky Robots. If you chose pro-registration, you have to beat up a teenage superhero.
This also ties into the Reed Richards Is Useless trope. The U.S. government on Marvel Earth-616 can build giant Sentinel robots, powered-armor suits, and flying Helicarriers. Yet when it comes to stopping super-villains, or alien invasions (as in the following Secret Invasion crossover) they are wholly dependent on super-powered vigilantes. Mainly because they devote 100% of their ultra-tech resources to oppressing genetically-enhanced superheroes, who are usually doing the government's police and national security jobs for it anyway.
There is also an obvious element of racism to this. Although it has been demonstrated countless times in the Marvel Universe that technology can do virtually anything that super powers can, and despite the fact that seemingly anyone with a bachelors in electrical engineering can become a super-villain using stuff from Radio Shack, the focus of government and public concern is almost exclusively on people with biologically-based super powers. This is epitomized by Tony Stark, a Gadgeteer, being placed in charge of the crackdown on metahumans.
Most superhero comics tacitly endorse vigilantism. "With great power comes great responsibility" is a nice message for kids; "so put on a mask and take the law into your own hands" is pretty questionable.
It's no coincidence that this has been the most frequently deconstructed and reconstructed trope in superhero (especially DC) comics, with superhero tropes such as "Thou Shalt Not Kill" changing from a family-friendly mandate to the standard way of making sure that all actual justice is dealt out by law enforcement and the courts, with superheroes being relegated to good Samaritans taken Up to Eleven who only foil super villains and criminals, never punish them. This causes even more complications: like, in case of Batman, what happens when the justice system is ineffective; or, in the case of super powered villains like the Flash's rogues, what happens when human systems can't contain the lawbreakers; or, in the case of Superman's Lex Luthor, what happens when you can't get the evidence to pin the rap for monstrous crimes on a Genre SavvyVillain with Good Publicity (and Plausible Deniability). These and all the other legally murky areas in the relationship between the justice system, superheroes, super villains, and regular criminals gives rise to has been the subject of many, many modern story lines involving characters espousing conflicting Aesops.
In his review of JLA: Act of God, Linkara points out that one message of the story is that everyone should be "on the same level" and "normal", or, as Linkara puts it "don't have anything unique or special about you, it's probably not normal"
This one is actually Truth in Television; revolutions do often end up creating governments as bad as before. This particular tract still goes into unfriendly territory by giving only two options: either support the communists and be killed, or do nothing except pray to Jesus, and let El Supremo kill you. No, having a stable country with comparatively decent leadership is never an option. EVER. Ironically, when Marx called religion an opiate of the masses, he was accusing religion of doing exactly what Chick is doing: telling people to just accept suffering now under the promises of a better afterlife.
"Gunslinger": "Sometimes the villain repents and goes to Heaven while the hero is self-righteous and goes to Hell."
"Lisa": "Viewing pornography and a breakdown in one's marriage leads to child molesting, among other things—or vice-versa."
"Little Bride": "Muslims are pedophiles, and cultural Values Dissonance is no excuse."
The horrifying truth is that these are not Family Unfriendly Aesops by accident, but by choice. Jack Chick really believes these messages. And so do hundreds of thousands of other people. That is why each of these moral lessons is classified as a Family Unfriendly Aesop rather than, say, as any kind of Accidental Aesop, Spoof Aesop, or Broken Aesop. (This is not to say there were not any of these in the tracts, however; see Jack Chick's main page for the details.)
Linkara once reviewed a PSA comic called Future 5, about a group of college graduate "heroes" who speak out in favor of higher education and battle a villain whose goal is to discourage kids from attending college and become the smartest man in the world by default. Though the comic is well-intentioned, it enraged Linkara to a surprising extent, thanks to several ways in which its message comes off as ignorant or outright insulting:
People who don't go to college are portrayed as idiots who are doomed to a lifetime of menial McJobs (which Linkara counters by mentioning people who either dropped out or never attended college and still succeeded in life, like Bill Gates and Patrick Stewart).
Dropping out is portrayed as always being a personal choice, ignoring all the reasons someone might have to get a job early (such as supporting their family in a time of sickness or loss).
People who do have menial jobs like flipping burgers are looked down upon as if they were a lower class of person, especially when compared to those who have "better" jobs.
At the end of the video, Linkara gets his student loan bill, much to his dismay. This pokes at the fact that the comic did not once address the tuition costs of college, which could leave someone paying well after college.
The comic also implied that only four-year colleges were good colleges, not bothering to mention that a community or technical college can give a certificate in six to eighteen months for much less the cost then a four-year, with much more specialized and intense training.
The following famous quote from Captain America sounds inspiring, until you remember that truth is quite often subjective, and that sometimes what someone sees as truth may not be clear-cut. In fact, it might be out-and-out false. Also, how is the world supposed to get to the River of Truth if one is standing in front of it and refusing to get out of the way?
Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — "No,youmove."
This is a bit of a mix of Family Unfriendly Aesop and Broken Aesop, but the moral of Birds Of Prey: The Battle Within, the arc from issues 76 to 85, appears to be the fairly stock aesop of "You should accept your friends for who they are and not try to change them," except that what Oracle was trying to change about Huntress is her tendency to kill people. In the end, Oracle apologizes to Huntress, and, in the Dead of Winter story arc (issues 104-108), actually tells Huntress to use deadly force against the Secret Six if she thinks it appropriate, possibly making this the Family Unfriendly Aesop that sometimes killing people is a good idea.
EC Comics story "Beauty and the Beach!" (Shock SuspenStories #7): Attractive young wives should stay home and look after their children. Those who instead prefer to pursue lucrative careers ("I'm making more money now than you'll ever make") and win public admiration deserve Karmic Deaths at their husbands' hands. Even for the 1950s, this seems rather mean-spirited.
In many old fairy tales and folk tales, the moral is "You have to lie, cheat, and steal to save either yourself or your family. The more you do it, the better you are." Modern versions often Bowdlerise this, eliminating the original moral.
The story's message may be more prudential than moral; specifically, "if you would be successful in life, learn the way of the cat: how to evade your predators, how to catch your prey, and how to curry favor with the powerful." The ever family-unfriendly Machiavelli would no doubt approve this message.
In the original version of "Hop O My Thumb", the kids are saved from certain death by the Ogre's wife. The youngest exploits her for all she's worth, and arranges for the ogre to murder his own children... but he's still the hero of the story, because it saves his family. Obviously, there's also a bit of What Measure Is a Non-Human? in there, even if the ogre is an evil non-human.
In the Russian fairy tale "Prince Ivan and the Firebird", Ivan saves the kingdom by breaking every promise he makes.
Not like any of the characters are particularly heroic, but the "happy ending" goes like this: The heroine got to marry the evil King and keep her child, while the fairy who had used his powers to save her life doesn't get paid for his kindness at all. There's no hint that he'd have done the kid harm... it appears that he deserved to get cheated out of his payment because he's a stranger, and strangers don't deserve to have their bargains honored. In some versions, Rumpelstiltskin has song which includes the lines "To-morrow I brew, to-day I bake/And then the child away I'll take," which implies that he planned to cannibalize the child.
This is also an example of cultural/audience change. In the time when these stories originated, it would have been taken for granted that Rumpelstiltskin had bad intentions for the child. Almost all the stories about interaction with the Fae are cautionary, they were generally seen as evil or at best dangerously amoral and alien. So seeing keeping the child from R wouldn't have been any more questionable than a modern version would at keeping a child out of the hands of a convicted pedophile or child killer.
Also, the heroine made the agreement with Rumpelstiltskin because she would be executed if she did not. An agreement made under those conditions is no agreement at all, and Rumpelstiltskin's attempt to take advantage of her situation in order to steal her child makes him pretty villainous.
The Tinderbox: The plot boils down to this: Hero encounters a poor, desperate witch who begs him for his help in retrieving her precious possession, a tinderbox. Witch tells hero how to safely retrieve the box, and offers him vast wealth in return. Hero retrieves box, after gathering as much gold as he can, and returns to witch. Witch thanks him and politely asks for her box, but hero decides to decapitate her instead. Later, he uses the box to kidnap a princess and murder her family/court. He and said princess are married and live happily ever after.
However some versions also strongly imply that the witch plans to leave him down there to die after he gets her the box, somewhat justifying her murder.
A somewhat more sophisticated justification applies if the soldier was good at thinking on his feet: what exactly was so great about that shabby old tinderbox that the witch valued it more than all the other treasures in the place? She openly disdains taking anything else for herself and refuses to explain her valuation. In retrospect, once we find out what the tinderbox can do, imagining what the witch might have done with it if he'd given it to her also tends to improve our opinion of the soldier.
Still another version has it so that the witch was giving the soldier a Secret Test of Character, and gave him the tinderbox as a gift for passing
Russian fairy tales, in general, tend to be rather cynical. One story in a collection by 19th century folklorist Alexander Afanasyev has the moral "Old favors are soon forgotten."
Jack and the Beanstalk features a boy who, after foolishly selling a cow for a handful of beans, proceeds to manipulate a sympathetic woman to gain food while also robbing her and her husband of their most prized possessions. When discovered, rather than admitting wrong-doing Jack proceeds to kill the husband before living happily after ever with the goods acquired by theft and murder.
Deconstructed in the Sondheim musical Into The Woods: after Jack robs from and kills the giant at the top of the beanstalk, the giant's widow comes to seek revenge for her husband. The show's Aesop is the more family-friendly "Actions have consequences, and if you selfishly back stab people, it'll come around to bite you in the ass."
Modern versions usually try to soften the ending by mentioning that the giant stole the gold, hen and harp from Jack's family to begin with. This, in itself, offers another Aesop: Murder is a viable solution if the victim is a bad guy.
This modern revision isn't actually a Bowdlerization though it may be intended as such, but a restoration. The earliest version of Jack and the Beanstalk had a fairy godmother type give Jack a long and meandering history (much like an Author Filibuster) of how the giant originally worked for his father, but then betrayed him and seized his treasures, which is why Jack and his mother now live alone in a humble cottage and Jack is tasked with retrieving the family treasures. Since they were being told to children with a limited attention span, later versions of the story cut this explanation for the sake of brevity.
Terry Pratchett lampshades this in the Discworld novel Hogfather with the following dialogue from Susan Sto Helit who was "translating" the traditional tale while reading it to the two children in her care
"...and then Jack chopped down the beanstalk, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and tresspass charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you are a hero, becouse no one asks inconvenient questions."
Into the Woods also added "It's probably not a good idea to marry someone you just met" Aesops to the Cinderella and Rapunzel stories. Cinderella's prince is a philanderer, whereas Rapunzel is somewhat crazy. The only original story Aesop it leaves intact is Little Red Riding Hood's Aesop of "Don't talk to strangers," who become a good deal creepier. At the end, we get an Aesop of "Listen to people who know what they're talking about, even if they're witches."
Many fairy tales center around a hero who is poor in some way (an idiot third son, a tailor, a musician, etc.) who wins a princess's hand in a perfectly legitimate way (guessing the number of hairs on her head, offering the best gift for her birthday, guessing her riddle, etc.). And instead of honoring her promise, the princess (or her royal father) adds more conditions to the tests just so that she won't have to marry a peasant. These include sending him to find the Apple of Life, get a ring out of a lake, sort various types of grain, spend the night in a stable with a wild bear, and almost always the tests are on pain of death. And inevitably the prince will overcome these additional conditions and go ahead and marry the princess anyway!
This plot which probably is some sort of trope in its own right gets subverted in Friedrich Schiller's ballad The Diver. A King throws a golden cup into some rough water and declares that whoever can retrieve it can keep it. After the hero manages this the king ups the ante by throwing a ring into the water and telling the hero that he will get the princess if he can do it again. The hero tries and drowns. The new moral here might be "she is probably not worth it" or simply "quit while you are ahead."
Schiller also offers the "Idiotic challenges will win you the heart of a woman" subverting The glove in which a lady throws her glove into an arena full of lions and tigers and challenges (mockingly) her suitor to get it. He retrieves the glove, the lady immediately falls for him - and he throws the glove in her face, saying "Den Dank, Dame, begeher ich nicht" ("Such Gratitude, madame, is not desired by me") - the Aesop is probably not to mock your suitor or he'll run away. Plus that a woman demanding such ridiculous things is not worth it.
Welsh fairy tales often have this. For example, Siôn A'r Pastwn Hud involves a man who, after going to seek his fortune, marrying the girl of his dreams and getting rich, comes home to find his mother has starved to death because she couldn't go out of the house when he was gone. This, sadly, is actually one of the stories with a happy ending. It seems to give the moral of 'If you go to find happiness, the ones you love will suffer'.
One fairy tale involves a man who, in order to win a princess's hand, must find a ring of fantastic magical power. A sorcerer tells him that the owner of the ring is a powerful and beautiful witch and tells the man where she bathes regularly. When the witch catches the man spying on her while bathing, despite being pissed, she believes the story he feeds her about how he was just lost in the woods and entranced by her beauty and kindly lets him live with her for awhile. During this time, she is perfectly lovely to him and does all sorts of nice things for him. Eventually, she asks the man to marry her and before answering, he asks if he can see the powerful ring of hers that he's heard so much about. She willingly shows it to him and lets him try it himself. As soon as he has it, he promptly uses it to fly away, while she pleads for him to return. The prince is married to the princess and, when the witch goes after him for revenge, he's rescued by the soldiers. The story does justify things a little by saying that he'd lose his soul if he married the witch and ends with the sentence "Wouldn't you have rather married the witch?" but he still got a pretty good deal for being a dick.
Witches are traditionally pagan - that is, "anyone who isn't Christian loses their souls."
That's a Broken Aesop as well, because the whole point of the journey was to steal a magic ring. According to Christianity, ALL "Magic" is powered by a deal withThe Devil, and is thus a rejection of God. Aesop: commit the sins of theft and witchcraft and then you still get to go to heaven if you don't marry a witch - who by the way was particularly helpful and friendly to you.
A friendly, kind witch that he never tried to convert to Christianity to save her soul (by the beliefs of those times). Because then he might actually have to pay for his milk.
One story involved a cat and a mouse living together and deciding to store a pot of cream for winter. They hide it in a church until they really need it. Over some time however, the cat is gradually tempted three times into drinking the cream, until it's all gone. When the mouse finds out, she starts yelling at the cat for eating their food supply for the winter. The cat responds by eating the mouse, and the story justifies this by saying that that's just how the world works (that cats and mice just can't co-exist). Never mind the fact that the two got along just fine before the cat was a jerk and the mouse was rightfully annoyed. No, apparently some people are just natural enemies and there is no way for them to get along.
This story has a twist. The cat excuses herself the three times saying that she's the godmother of a new baby, which is why she has to go to the church (where the cream is, we remember). When asked for the name of the kids, she answers (last two cases) something to the effect of "half gone" / "all gone." The mouse comments that these names are pretty unusual, but doesn't make the connection until it's too late.
Taken by itself with no metaphor, the lesson is that a predatory animal (such as the titular scorpion) with enough sapience to communicate with a creature it naturally preys on (the frog) should not attempt to fight its natural instincts and pursue cooperative ventures; Mother Nature made the scorpion to kill prey and trying to be something other than that to the frog will only result in one's predatory instincts rising to the surface at the worst possible time, dooming both to a watery grave. It is better to stick with the natural order of things than to try to evolve past one's Darwinian trappings.
It's also saying that some people are just plain rotten, and shouldn't be trusted, because of who and what they are.
The moral is "Talk does not change the nature of things", i.e. you can discuss something, debate it, argue about it, deconstruct it, reconstruct it, and agree on it. None of that will change its nature.
The problem is that aesop's not remotely obvious from the story. A better tale to fit the moral would be something along the lines of a ant-and-grasshopper thing where one character says "Why buy bread? This stone is the same shape!" and starves. Noone in real life is innately evil so you shouldn't ignore someone saying they're good just because they fit a category with a bad reputation.
Another well know fable: The Grasshopper And The Ants. The moral is quite simple: if you only have fun and don't work, you'll have consequences, but a deeper analysis turns the fable into an anti-art tale. It seems to be that artists, represented by the grasshopper (or cicada in some versions) dedicated to play beautiful music all day, aren't productive members of society and thus, deserve to die of starvation.
Twisted the other way by every medium that Bowlderizes the work to let the grasshopper live, which effectively makes it "don't work, goof off, don't do anything, and the productive members of society will take you in and you won't suffer any consequences".
While we're at it, "Cinderella" itself. The moral is supposed to be, "If you're a good person, good things will happen to you," but instead it can easily come off as "Don't bother being proactive; eventually you'll get your big break."
Most versions have Cinderella take some active role. In the Grimms' version, she directly goes to the doves for help, and it is implied in the Perrault version that she intentionally loses her slipper so that the prince will find her. Many retellings also note that trying to stick up for herself would have only gotten her in more trouble.
Perrault announced at the end that the moral was — good looks and all sort of other wonderful traits are useless without connections.
The only obvious moral of the tale of Hansel and Gretel is: it's perfectly acceptable to break into someone's home and take their stuff (or eat it, if it happens to be made of gingerbread), and when the owner of the house is justifiably angry, she deserves to get murdered. Really, why is the witch the bad guy in this story again? Some tellings of this story make it so that the witch actually states that she deliberately built her house of gingerbread in order to lure children to be eaten, and some imply that the witch and the (unquestionably evil) stepmother are in fact the same person.
The Ugly Duckling has many of these. One seems to be that, if people bully you for being different don't worry. Deep down you are superior to all of them. In addition, it's wrong to bully people for being ugly — not because it's cruel, but because they may actually be Beautiful All Along.
Goldilocks. So the girl breaks into a house, eats (theft) another's meal, then breaks a chair (destruction of personal property), then utilizes an owned bed. And she manages to escape. The moral seems to be 'If you are a minor, and the owner threatens you, your previous crimes are now invalid'. Inverted in the original tale, where Little Red gets the justified punishment of... being stabbed with a church steeple.
In the tale of Sinbad the Sailor, Hinbad the porter goes on a rant about how he has to work from dawn to dusk to make ends meet while the wealthy merchant Sinbad throws lavish parties every night and doesn't work at all in front of one of Sinbad's servants. Sinbad invites Hinbad to his parties for a week and every night tells the story of one of the voyages in which he made his fortune and gives the porter a purse containing more money than he'd normally see in a year. At the end of the seven nights, Hinbad admits that Sinbad had indeed earned his great wealth and Sinbad invites the porter to spend the rest of his life partying with him. So the reward for falsely (even in ignorance) claiming that someone is living an undeserved life of luxury is... an undeserved life of luxury. It makes even less sense when one remembers that the reason Sinbad had to go on several of those voyages was because he squandered his inheritance (And the proceeds from the earlier voyages) on high living, which is what he's still doing with his life, and is inviting Hinbad to help him in doing.
The Prayer Warriors seems to go out of its way to make its lessons as family-unfriendly as possible. For starters, anyone who has sex is immediately a whore and must be killed. Yes, this includes rape victims.
Chapter 5 of the 3rd series teaches that anyone who doesn't like you should be arrested, sent to an insane asylum and brainwashed.
Films — Animation
The Land Before Time II seems to have the moral "If someone is from outside your culture, they're much dumber than you are, and have evil impulses that are almost certainly beyond their control." To be fair, this ended up being addressed again in the 5th movie. In the 2nd movie, Chomper is a baby and really doesn't know any better. In the 5th, when they meet him again, he's grown up a bit and is able to control his impulses. He even says to Littlefoot, "You are what you are, and I am what I am. Nobody can change that. But we still can be friends, can't we?" In the 5th movie once Littlefoot and his friends risk their lives for Chomper, the supposedly bloodthristy, monstrous Sharpteeth parents of Chomper have no trouble accepting prey creatures who just went to bat for their son.
In the sequels to An American Tail, trying repeatedly to start her own career makes Tanya either pushy, too distracted to help out around the house, and/or too blind to see her employer is plotting to kill and eat everyone she knows. In the end though, she did apparently learn her lesson.
The 2007 version of Beowulf diverges from the moral of its source material, essentially making the point that heroic stories are often lies told to cover up questionable or outright shitty behavior, and by the time you realize you shouldn't have told the story in the first place, you'll be too old and full of regret for it to make any difference.
The Incredibles teaches against Tall Poppy Syndrome and false accomplishments - pretending that everyone is equally special is wrong, because some people really are better than others, and trying to bring them down to the level of everyone else will make everyone less for it. While "be who you are, not who others want you to be" sounds like a fairly family friendly Aesop, the rather nasty implication is that people WILL despise you for being better than they are until it is useful to them.
The Polar Express has this. "If you don't blindly believe what others tell you, bad things happen to you (or good things don't happen either)."
The moral of Cars 2 seems to be, "People who complain about you being a jerk and screwing things up for them are just haters. Do what you want to do, and don't let them—or self-control—get in your way. Everyone will come to like you in due time."
Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End: Piracy is synonymous with liberty. Although the film tries to make this palatable with the fact that all the pirates are Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, it still argues by extension that stealing and other immoral behaviors are better than subserviance to an immoral government.
During the conclusion of 102 Dalmatians, a major character explicitly states, as an Aesop, "For people like Cruella, there are no second chances." Okay, sure she's obsessed with making a fur coat out of the pelts of adorable puppies, and she's nowhere near the first Disney villain to be irredeemably evil. But hearing it put so bluntly...
Tyler Perry's Madea character advises a woman with an abusive husband to "throw a pot of hot grits in his face and then hit him with a frying pan." She reins in a young girl's bad behavior by repeatedly hitting her, and frequently suggests brutal methods of solving problems. Even outside of common self-defense, Madea's solutions are always violent.
According to Chungking Express the crazy Manic Pixie Dream Girl who likes to break into your apartment, rearrange your furniture and occasionally flood the place is not a creepy stalker who needs to see a therapist but actually the perfect woman. Well, once she slaps on a stewardess uniform.
In Christmas with The Kranks, the main characters try to avoid traditional Christmas celebrations to save money. The neighborhood, however, insists that they conform with the rest of the neighborhood and participate against their will, since, by the Kranks' own admission, they're not Jewish. We're supposed to side with the neighbors and see the Kranks as selfish curmudgeons. The Aesop boils down to, "Conformity and commercialism are good."
The film Mad Money seems to have the moral that "federal crime pays, a lot; do it, especially if you're entitled because you're used to being rich, spent two weeks as a janitor, and decided it just wasn't for you."
Sugar & Spice has a high school cheerleader get knocked up by her boyfriend, so they decide to get married. The parents were supportive of their decision to get married, but when she added she was also going to have his baby their parents go insane, disown them, and both teens have to drop out. The girl is stressed because babies are expensive, but her husband isn't making enough at his minimum wage job and she has to stay at home to take care of the baby. Solution to financial troubles? Rob a bank!
Taken even further in the movie Catch That Kid. The 12-year old heroine's father is suddenly paralyzed and his only hope is an extremely expensive experimental procedure. Robbing the bank her mother designed the security system for and leading on the boys who like her to get them to be her accomplices are justified in the name of helping him.
In Raise Your Voice, Hilary Duff's dad won't let her go to music school and pursue her destiny, so she sneaks in with the help of a sympathetic aunt, who her dad is made to think she's staying with. This would be fine if the movie didn't go out of its way to justify this and insist that the Hilary Duff character, in her own words, "did what [she] had to do." Put another way, the message seems to be that the end justifies the means. The really weird part is how everyone in the movie acts as though she won't have a future if she doesn't go to music school that particular year. Her character is seventeen in the movie, but apparently it's impossible for her to wait a year until she's a legal adult and can do whatever she wants.
The little seen Walter Matthau-Robin Williams film The Survivors: Do what the professional killer says and everything will turn out all right. If you even think about trying to defend yourself, you will turn into a crazy survivalist.
The Devil Wears Prada begins by suggesting the very audacious Aesop that if you take a job you don't especially care for, occasionally prioritize it over events in your personal life, ignore your friends when they passive-aggressively criticize you about your job, start to sympathize with your coworkers whom you'd previously viewed with scorn, and, horrors, enjoy some of the perks associated with it, life might turn out okay. It even suggests that The Power of Love might not conquer all in the case of a casual relationship! However, it ends up reverting to the Broken Aesop that if you do any of those things, you are a bad bad person who is selling out on her deepest ideals.
Radio Flyer: Under absolutely no circumstances tell the police your stepdad's beating the shit out of your little brother, because they can't do anything. Especially don't tell your mom, because she's lonely and he's the only man she's got, and finding this out will make her sad.
Made even worse by the ending; the little brother leaves, never to see his family again. So it's better for a mother to lose her son than it is for her to lose her husband, because losing her husband would make her sad.
Godzilla's Revenge has an ending moral of "beat up the bully and he'll respect you." But what warps it into the ultimate Family Unfriendly Aesop is the ending minute. Ichiro makes friends with the gang of bullies picking on him and goes around with them making mischief, including knocking a poor old painter off his ladder and spilling paint in his face. He goes off to possibly be a delinquent. However, in a special cut director Ishiro Honda made for the Champion Festival (a collection of short films cut down to 30 minutes for kids), a scene of Ichiro's mother weeping at the sight of these events is inserted at the very end, turning it into somewhat of a Downer Ending.
The Santa Clause series: When children don't get the toys they really really want for Christmas, they cease believing in Santa, become bitter and disillusioned, and have no sense of magic in their adult lives. It also has the Aesop that therapists are full of crap.
Grease features the extremely questionable Aesop of conformity to be cool and/or get the guy you want.
The very premise of Final Destination. You Can't Fight Fate. Even if you see your own death coming a mile away. In fact, if you try to cheat death, it will spite you by torturing you, and then making your ultimate death as painful and violent as possible, or as hilarious as possible, in certain sequels. As the sequels go on it becomes clear that death is giving the visions. So then a new Aesop that comes out is "Death is inevitable and when it's bored just likes to mess with your head first."
While the original Death Wish makes it clear that the main character has become unbalanced due to his trials and vigilante actions, the sequels increasingly support vigilantism as a necessary means to clean up the streets.
Every film with a Cowboy Cop as a protagonist encourages people to sacrifice their rights so that police officers can do whatever they want to do in search of lawbreakers.
F. W. Murnau's classic silent film Sunrise A Song Of Two Humans. If your husband tries to drown you but then backs out at the last second, you should forgive him and not tell the police or anything. In fact, it will even breathe new life into your failing marriage.
The Dark Knight argues through Rachel's letter and the ending that sometimes a deception is better than the truth. Fortunately, in the next movie, Reality Ensues and Gordon and Alfred face the consequences of their decisions to hide the truth.
To a point. Only Blake calls out Gordon, who doesn't suffer any real consequences, and at the end of the film tells him he was right, because he witnessed a policeman doom refugees because of his orders. One cowardly policeman versus several hundred brave ones that fought to save their city that day results in Blake throwing away his badge and leaving the police force.
The Disney Channel's TV MovieBrink!: The hero's friends are rollerblading enthusiasts who scoff at their corporate-sponsored rivals. Andy decides to quit his amateur team and join the sponsored team to help his cash-strapped family. He is ostracized by his friends, even when he tells them why he did it. Even his father scolds him for taking the sponsorship. Everyone pressures Brink to give up his lucrative sponsorship and take a menial job as a dog-washer instead.
Now, granted, Andy's friends were offended that he abandoned them in favor of the sponsored team, and his father was concerned that he was spending too much time skating, but the movie really beats you over the head with the message: "It makes you a sell-out to accept payment for doing something you enjoy."
Also, at one point in the movie, Andy's new teammates decide to sabotage one of his old friends. Andy himself has no idea what's going on until the race, and when he shouts a warning to his friend, she ignores him and gets injured. Andy's old friends proceed to disown him completely, even though he tried to warn her about the sabotage. So we have an additional moral that "if you try to warn someone that they're in danger and they ignore you, you're still responsible if they get hurt".
Mystery Team: Wacky vigilantism is the only way to solve a crime.
A 1930s film, The Big House, forces us to sympathize with hardened criminals. The audience is supposed to look up to Butch (Wallace Beery), a (mostly) unrepentant murderer and an all-around Jerkass, because he has a defiant and disobedient attitude while in prison. We're supposed to view him as "brave", but he rebels not for the sake of the underdog but simply for himself: he causes trouble for the warden (a generally reasonable man) just because he doesn't like the warden's rules. (Oh, and did I mention that the person Butch killed was a woman?) It only gets worse: Butch bullies a smaller inmate, treating him very unjustly; the smaller man is in jail for accidentally killing someone in a vehicular accident. Yet the bullied victim is made out to be the villain because he "rats" on Butch and the other inmates so that the warden will grant him an early release - never mind that the inmates are breaking the law even inside of the prison, secretly plotting an insurrection and planning to kill the guards with machine guns smuggled into the prison yard. Both the "rat" and Butch die in the carnage when the warden squelches the uprising, but Butch is given a heroic death. And then, just to make matters even worse, the warden at the end of the film praises one of the conspirators simply for having a change of heart and saving the guards' lives during the riot - and allows him to walk out of jail a free man! The moral seems to be that you should always adhere to the values of your particular subculture (even if that subculture is unjust), but when the opportunity arises to do something heroic, break your own subcultural code. Confusing.
Jane Elliot's "Bluest Eye" documentaries have skewed rather horribly in this direction. Elliott was the teacher who one day stuck her brown-eyed kids in collars and forbade them recess because blue-eyed kids were smarter — intending to demonstrate how easily racism took hold. One of the films she's done, The Stolen Eye, is set in Australia. Really winning moments include the fun part where she dismisses the idea that blue-eyed Greeks could possibly be treated less well than blue-eyed Northern Europeans, the bit where she congratulates a Holocaust survivor on how lucky she is not to be visibly dark-skinned — and also, more topically, the many moments where she excruciatingly brow-beats people of Aboriginal descent into being cruel to the blue-eyed folk, actually forcing them to enact her disturbing Aesop of "Oh, everyone will be slighting and cruel to those who are degraded by authority figures. You should fear minorities, white people. Because they're waiting for their chance. They want to do this to you."
The Centron educational film "The Snob" might have turned out better if it didn't define "snob" as "student who studies harder than, and has different interests than, the majority." The so-called snob of the film is never seen actually shunning or looking down on her peers. She just doesn't want to participate because her interests are different. If anything, her peers are being snobs to her, saying nasty things about her behind her back and heaping shame on her for not being like them. The only time she shows any dislike for them at all is in response to this treatment. Thus, the message becomes "if your interests are different than the crowd's, then you must be a stuck-up jerk who looks down on them and any abuse they heap on your is justified. The only way not to be a snob is to CONFORM!"
In Other Peoples Money, the moral is that businesses exist to make money, and if a business is worth more shut down than running, someone's going to shut it down, no matter how noble, selfless or idealistic the CEO is.
A lot of critics downed ''Waiting For Forever'’ on the grounds that it glorifies stalking and harassment, or at least implies that it should be excusable or glossed over if the person doing it is cute, completely altruistic, and probably has a social disorder. Let’s not get the poor kid therapy or anything so he can work through his traumatic childhood issues and mental problems; let’s just let him keep stalking the girl he thinks he’s in love with until she decides he’s cute too.…
The theme in Beasts Of The Southern Wild seems to be "put all of your trust in a crazy man who beats children, distrust anyone who lives on land and kidnap other children". They never give any sort of reason for why this is a good thing.
TRON: Legacy: Creating an open and free system that is accessible to everyone isn't always a good thing, because all entities are not created equal, and some entities, when given infinite rights and access, will use them to force their will upon others, and remove their infinite rights and access. Sometimes proprietary is the way to go.
A second, equally disturbing one is that it's only worth it to save your unique, "special" pet projects. Everything and everyone else (including the friend that saved your ass in the first film) isn't worth attempting to redeem or rescue and can be cheerfully thrown under the bus.
Objectivist novels such as Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged teach that altruism is evil. People need to learn to stand on their own two feet, so helping them up will only make them weaker and more dependent on you. It also teaches that the successful elite will be attacked by the untalented masses out of jealousy. Critics argue that all of this encourages wealthy people to be stingy, callous and arrogant. Fans, on the other hand, will argue that it's a celebration of individual achievement.
Philosophers and political thinkers who tend toward elitism and/or Social Darwinist ethos tend toward this in general. Although Friedrich Nietzsche is not explicitly Social Darwinist, his revolt against conventional morality elaborated upon in Beyond Good and Evil, The Antichrist and others engender a rejection of egalitarian altruism and antipathy for the socially disadvantaged that many modern readers find troublesome. Nietzsche's alleged misogyny and somewhat caustic commentary on certain national cultures have also been the subject of controversy among modern thinkers who favor humanist and egalitarian sensibilities.
In the later Sword of Truth novels, the aesops start to draw strongly on Objectivist themes.
The anti-Communist themes are pulled straight from Ayn Rand. People who try to give charity to others and "spread the wealth" ultimately turn poor people in lazy, greedy assholes and destroy the economy.
Richard and the other heroes commit war crimes by the bushel, such as slaughtering unarmed civilians and enthusiastically torturing prisoners of war (sometimes just for the pleasure of it). This is all outright stated as being perfectly moral because they're the good guys. If you're on the right side of the conflict (and who doesn't believe that?), you can break any bond of morality to ensure your success.
Almost every children's fantasy book is about learning to Be Yourself and how special you are. It's a Family Unfriendly Aesop when they don't:
The main character of Panda Ray is a young boy with amazing powers. After escaping from his overbearing mother, who threatens to "scoop him out," he enters a dreamlike parallel dimension, where he has all his secret fantasies made true; this makes him decide that he's "no better than" his mother, which, in turn, makes decide him go home, forsake his powers, and act like he's scooped out for the rest of his life. The moral: being special and different is bad, and the people who are trying to force you to be like everyone else know what's right.
For others, however, the message seems to be, "Don't try to be anything you're not," which seems workable until you realize that this is like telling children Status Quo Really IS God and you shouldn't aspire to be anything better than you are.
Subverted in that John Campbell sent the story back to Tom Godwin three times because Godwin kept saving the girl.
In Harriet the Spy, young writer Harriet learns that sometimes you have to lie to people to help them feel better about themselves so they won't hate you. In another unfriendly lesson, Harriet's private journal is read without her consent, and no one is sympathetic to her trust and autonomy being violated in such a way. Instead, she's emotionally badgered into admitting guilt she doesn't feel for daring to having negative opinions of people and expressing those opinions in a way that, had her privacy been respected, wouldn't have harmed anyone.
A particularly jaw-dropping one appears in a Ray Bradbury story. The narrator's sedate, tranquil, lazy (and Irish) chauffeur picks him up one night and drives like a bat out of hell before revealing that every other enjoyable night, he was driving completely drunk. The narrator forces money on him and demands he get blotto before picking him up next, browbeating him into breaking Lent in the process.
Rainbow Fish teaches kids to share their gifts, though some think that it teaches communism and and the idea that you can buy your friends.
Perelandra, the second book of the Space trilogy by C. S. Lewis. The plot of the book is that the planet Venus is in the "Adam and Eve" phase and the devil has sent his agent — a man named Professor Weston — to corrupt "Eve." The angels send a man named Elwin Ransom to make sure that Tinidril chooses wisely. In the end, good triumphs over evil, but in an unexpected way: Ransom kills Weston and drops his body into a volcano.
This is actually lampshaded by the protagonist, who assumed that the fight would be purely intellectual, that he would win by the sheer force of his argument; and was initially horrified at the idea that he'd have to make the fight a physical one. It was very much a Take That at the pacifists who opposed Great Britain's military opposition to the evils of Nazi Germany and promoted Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy; and against the anti-confrontational passivity that was popular in much of the liberal Christian community.
In book 2 of Beyond The Spiderwick Chronicles, Laurie explains that she lies because "lying works," and nothing in the story contradicts this claim. This, from a book aimed at 6-12 year olds.
How It Was When The Past Went Away begins with a fellow giving Easy Amnesia to a city through a drug in the water supply. A religion forms around the mantra "drink and forget," and life becomes Utopian, as people can erase their memories of all the bad deeds they've done.
Possibly also an example of Values Dissonance in the story. The mermaid could be seen as symbolic of paganism and desires to better herself via converting to Christianity.
The fable stated that mermaids don't have souls, but that she could do good deeds after her death to earn a soul and go on to Heaven, which supports this idea.
The children's book Tootle is about a young (and sentient) locomotive who is learning to become a real train. However, he also enjoys going off of the rails and playing in the meadow, though this is considered taboo in his society. In the end, the townsfolk decide to teach him a lesson by waving red flags everywhere he goes when he leaves the rails. Eventually he stays on the track and never leaves it again. The main message of the book seems to be "It's not okay to do what you enjoy, unless it is approved by authority figures."
Gor, quite infamously, has the moral that "all women secretly want to be sex slaves."
Some people argue that the moral of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law is "people never change, they only delude themselves into thinking they've changed or trick others into thinking they've changed."
On the surface, the motivational book Who Moved My Cheese encourages being adaptive to changing situations in both your job and every day life. In the process, it also encourages employees to fall in line with changes in company policy that might not be in their own best interest. The success of the book is partly due to managers distributing it on the eve of a large and unpopular decision by the top brass.
A Series of Unfortunate Events can be seen as having the Aesop that adults are either useless or evil, and so there's no use trying to tell them when you're in a bad situation.
Much children's fantasy has similar themes, and it makes sense because if the adults could help, the teenaged protagonist wouldn't have a chance to become the hero. As it turns out, in real life the chances are that children can't solve everything on their own.
More likely A Series of Unfortunate Events was meant to satirize the Adults Are Useless themes in most children's literature. Another Aesop seems to be, "There aren't always happy endings." Which is true, but not something you'd expect from a children's book. Plus, the theme of useless adults was mostly a plot element that simply allowed the series (and the villains) to continue, rather than an Aesop. Most of the books, in fact, ended with much friendlier Aesops about how, if you're resourceful, you can make it through any awful situations. The final book, however, did have the fairly disappointing and widely-disliked Aesop of "some mysteries will never be solved."
Bedlam Boyz: Some people deserve to die. Let them. Don't dirty your hands making it fast or painless, either.
Babette Cole's Winni Allfours: Apparently, when your parents won't give you a pony and would rather have you eat your vegetables, not only is it sound to trick them by eating your veggies to turn into a horse (It Makes Sense in Context) but when they actually promise to grant your earlier wishes, you can refuse because you're having too much fun! Never mind the fact you may not live long and certainly won't have much family or social life.
The Chronicles Of Narnia contain the lesson that the real world is a harsh and violent place that sometimes takes a fair amount of violence to survive in. C. S. Lewis was even quoted once as saying that pretending otherwise would do a great disservice to children. Once again, an example of a very true and important Aesop, but one that many parents would rather their children didn't know.
One of the Stock Aesops is that cowardice doesn't pay. In extreme cases, the brave survives where the coward dies (sometimes Driven to Suicide), or alternatively they both both survive/die, but the coward is marked forever. So it comes as a tragic surprise that in Bridge To Terabithia, Leslie, who had no fear from the creek, drowns, whereas Jess, who feared the water (and couldn't swim) survives - and while he does suffer, it's not because of cowardice.
The Roger McGough poem Badgers and Goodgers, in which badgers are portrayed as an Always Chaotic Evil species, while their cousins, the goodgers, are Always Lawful Good. When a series of natural disasters hits the forest (culminating in a 'Great Jazz Revival'), the greedy, selfish baders are able to survive through their scheming and hoarding, while the compassionate goodgers feel compelled to help the other forest denizens and starve themselves to extinction because they're unable to care for themselves. In a Bittersweet Ending, Pan the animal spirit anoints the black fur of the badgers with white, in memory of their cousins, and gets them to renounce their selfish ways.
Another classical Moral is that having imagination is good. So When The Windman Comes by Antonia Michaelis is a HUGE subversion, with the Moral "imagination, when not strictly separated from reality, is potentially very dangerous - it can isolate you and make you live in fear of imaginary horrors - all the while making you more vulnerable to Real Life. Sometimes, being a sceptic is favorable, even for a child." This is particularly jarring since many other books by the same author actually promote imagination and/or openness to seemeingly impossible things.
A lesser "strange" Aesop is "You shouldn't be that afraid of strangers. Even though you are a child, that scary old man actually means you no harm", or perhaps "People are generally not that bad".
Aesop's Fables sometimes encounter this trope. For example, The Fox and The Stork leads you to believe it's fine and dandy to do payback at someone who pulled a fast one on you, because "One bad turn deserves another."
Interestingly, Game Theory says that that's a quite reasonable (and, indeed, quite EFFECTIVE) strategy for some types of situations (the 'Tit-For-Tat' strategy). There is research that indicates humans may even be hard wired to accept this practice.
Squeakers, a leg-crossingly uncomfortable book about a little squirrel with alarmingly fluttery-lashed eyes, teaches little boys the admittedly important lesson that they have to tell their parents about being molested. The (male) squirrel goes through days on end of hiding the shameful and hideous bald patches on his tail where a neighbor is tearing out fistfuls of his fur on the way home from school every day in exchange for, yes, nuts. Ahem. Well:
Firstly, it warps the message into "Every adult male who ever tries to talk to you socially wants to force you to trade your body for meaningless tokens,"
Secondly, that also turns into "By the way, if you find any adult male even vaguely discomfiting or weird, it's probably because you can subconsciously tell he wants your little squirrely ass and is about to do things involving nuts to you,"
Thirdly, it actually makes reporting abuse sound like a terrifying ordeal, partly because the physical evidence is ugly and obvious and muchly-needing-to-be-hidden, and partly because the simple text captures the sickening sense of shame and fear very accurately.
"I don't want to trade today, Mr. Mole ..."
"That's okay, I'm just going to take what I want!"
Even more fun is Morgan Morning, which features a cute little brown foal who disobeys his mother and consequently falls down a cliff. His mother and the rest of the herd can't help him, so they sadly go graze somewhere else — explicitly leaving him there to die alone. The little pony lies weeping at the bottom of the cliff when a disembodied voice tells him that if he'll agree never ever to see his (also brown) mother again, he can live (why does this need to be mentioned? He was already never going to see her again). He makes the bargain and "is reborn/to live — maybe die — a unicorn!" Leaving the reader with three questions:
Verbally eschewing or recanting his brown pony family allows him to pass for a magical white pony as long as he doesn't try to have contact with brown ponies, even though he can go see them now, because he's better than them and they might revert him to his old inferior ways? Are you kidding me?
The Miraculous Journey Of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is pretty obviously intended to be didactic ... somehow. Some people read the titular china bunny rabbit doll as a sort of naively-selfish Fool who learns that he's a Jesus figure whose true value lies in helping people. Other readers can't help but notice that Edward inevitably and uncontrollably leaves everyone he "helps" broken, grieving, more alone than when he arrived, at the mercy of crueler people, with their relationship with Edward Tulane (or Susannah, whatever) having stopped just agonizingly short of being fulfilling, and tending to end in deception or violence or emotional brutality or all three. Don't make friends, kids. The world will take them away and they'll be more hurt because you can't get back to them. Ever. Because life? It's so not under your control. Don't try.
The Princess Bride has one in-universe - the narrator notes how much horrified as a kid he was, because some events of the story just didn't worked out as in usual fairy tales and adventure stories and found relief only when he realized what the aesop was - "life is not fair".
Hush, Hush contains a number of these, along the same lines as the ones in Twilight. The biggest offenders:
Sexual harassment and stalking are appropriate ways to express love.
If someone is making you uncomfortable or worried about your safety, there's no point in going to your teacher, parent, or friend for help. They won't take you seriously or try to take care of the problem.
If someone is concerned that a guy is acting inappropriately towards you, you should be suspicious of this advice because the person is probably just jealous and trying to get the guy for herself. Even if the guy is acting inappropriately towards you.
In Courtship Rite, Donald Kingsbury does this very deliberately, bordering on Spoof Aesop territory. On a Lost Colony where cycles of famine have made cannibalism common and acceptable, he has a preacher teaching that cannibalism is wrong. At first, the reader may expect that cannibalism is being used as a metaphor, and that we're going to learn an ordinary Aesop about violence being wrong, but in the end, the preacher is forced to learn a valuable lesson: cannibalismisn't so bad, really.
"Let's polish Amelia Jane's shoes underneath and make them very, very slippery," said the clown. "Then, if she begins to run after us with soda-water siphons or things like that, down she'll go!" "But she won't like that," said the golden-haired doll, who was rather tender-hearted. "Well, we don't like the tricks she plays on us!" said the golliwog. "We'll do it, Clown!"
Horrid Henry has some pretty bad Aesops too. Henry is really more impish and mischievous than truly horrid, and most young children can relate to him, but unlike Tom and Jerry, most stories end with Henry ultimately being the victor, and sometimes his brother Peter gets all the blame, such as in "Horrid Henry and the Comfy Black Chair". Common themes are the criticism of fruit and veg, revenge, bullying his younger brother, and being rude to his parents and his teacher (who is pretty unpleasant herself, but still—). Rarely are any of these met with consequences.
The Trumpet of the Swan has at least two scenes where Louis the swan uses violence to reclaim his trumpet from a duck and to protect his love Serena from men who want to clip her wing. The latter is understandable, but regardless Louis gets away with them both. Violence Really Is the Answer.
Live Action TV
Degrassi, despite its heavy-handedness, frequently has morals that are widely believed by teenagers but are unusual for adults. This may be a huge part of the show's appeal to teens.
Emma is still hurting after being dumped by her boyfriend Sean, so she starts purposely getting him in trouble — from ratting him and his friends out when they steal from a diner, to ratting to the principal that he stole her dad's laptop (an accusation later proved to be correct). Later, Emma learns that she should just move on and leave Sean alone, despite his misdeeds so the moral is "no matter how horrible somebody is to you, tattling on them is worse."
Or maybe it's just "revenge is a dish best served never"
Bitter Goth girl Ellie has to learn to trust people again after her boyfriend abandons her and sticks her with the rent. Specifically, she learns to trust both her new roommate — a recently reformed schoolyard bully who wants to gamble with their rent money — and her mother, a recovering alcoholic who once burned their house down in a drunken stupor. Both of them turn out to be completely trustworthy. This is on the extreme idealistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, so idealistic that it can feel like "take candy from strangers."
Paige has a completely horrendous experience at Banting University. The next season, she's dropped out and despite working a high intensity fashion industry job, she's a lot happier. In season 9, Emma drops out of Smithdale due to the same issues Paige was facing. Spinner never goes to college and works a standard 9 to 5 restaurant job and couldn't be more content. The lesson of "College isn't for everyone/you can be successful and happy without going to college" flies in the face of almost every show aimed towards young audiences.
This is likely due to the difference between American and Canadian attitudes towards college. In Canada, high school is more comprehensive and involves (optional) job training; it's much easier to be middle class in Canada with a high school diploma than in the US.
Alli is constantly being rebuked by her boyfriend Johnny for not respecting their relationship boundaries - he wants to keep his reputation as a tough guy. So in order to get him to open up and show affection, she starts "sexting" him nude pics. However, whenever she embarrasses him in front of the whole school by showing off a lovey-dovey cute photograph of him, he sends her nude pics to his friend. At the end of the episode, the lesson presented appears to be that Alli was in the wrong, and it didn't matter that he sent those nude pics because she broke her promise in regards to their relationship rules and that was worse. Wow.
Jane is being harassed by the new Degrassi football team since she's the only female player. The coach (who is also the principal) is turning a blind eye. She does the "right thing" - she tells another adult about the harassment but bullying worsens and she's actually assaulted in the hallway. It isn't until she makes a stand for herself (along with a handful of teammates behind her) that bullying goes away. This episode actually makes the case it's better to stand up against bullies yourself and that telling about an adult could make the bullying intensify.
This is unfortunately often true, as the response of school authorities is to try and stop the complaining student since it is easier to oppress a student until they stop reporting the problems than it is to deal with the issue of students bullying, which usually involves parents, ironically complaining that the complainer is "overly sensitive" or "has issues," which leads to intensified bullying because the bullies know that they will not be punished. This is just the general rule of thumb that it is easier to ignore a problem than deal with it.
Some people might think episode 3 of season 10 had the message that rape isn't actually rape if the victim experiences physical pleasure: Declan is trying to reunite with Holly J (they're on a break after disagreement on money issues) and he pulls off all the stops trying to get her alone. They end up having sex — but Holly J at first verbally says "No" and "No, we shouldn't be doing this" but then later ends up kissing him and they initiate sex. At the end of the episode, Holly J clearly says to Declan (who is utterly disgusted with himself and nearly flees Toronto after finding out Holly J felt pressured to have sex) "I don't think you raped me." There is already a Broken Base on how the show handled this topic, some saying it Degrassi excused rape and others sayings they accurately portrayed the blurred lines in between date rape and regretted sex. Degrassi always tried to look at controversial topics in a realistic way. Compare this with the Paige storyline, wherein she's date-raped at a party, presses charges, and the guy is acquitted due to "lack of evidence," despite the judge's commendation of Paige's bravery in taking the case to trial. It's supposed to be open for debate and dialogue.
Similarly, almost every episode of Radio Free Roscoe has the moral that Adults Are Useless, so teens should defy and disobey them whenever possible. What makes it even more interesting is that it's always played as an idealistic moral — not "adults will always screw you over," but "disobey adults and everything will turn out happy." An example: In "The Boxer," the jerkass principal is serving as a substitute history teacher on the Boxer Rebellion, which he knows nothing about. So his lectures are biased, inaccurate, and a bit racist... and in response, one of his students corrects every one of his errors, out loud, in front of the class. By the end of the episode, the principal and the student are teaming up to teach a better lesson. In a less idealistic show, the principal would have arbitrarily slapped the kid down with his authority.
On Barney & Friends, there are some instances which may give the false impression that cheating is okay. In "A Splash Party, Please," when Barney and the kids are having a tug o' war, Min helps the other kids win by tickling Barney. Later, in "Falling In Autumn," Shawn participates in a relay race with a peanut stuck to his spoon with peanut butter. Proponents states that it's safe to assume that these "cheating" ways were just thrown in as jokes, while opponents state that children of the target demographic pick up from mimicking and may copy the action because they do not understand that it's supposed to be a joke.
An episode of Touched by an Angel had the moral that, no matter how nice they are, atheists are fundamentally bad people with whom believers should not associate. The episode is also a sequel episode to a season finale that dealt with accepting the death of a child. The death episode is much better in its message, though it borders on Family Unfriendly for the crowd who do not believe in an afterlife. What that vast crowd of non-afterlife-believing people is doing watching a show about angels? Don't ask us.
Like how people who don't believe in elves would never watch Lord of the Rings?
The message was not that one should not associate with atheists, it was that one should not be willing to compromise one's faith and convictions out of desperation to find love and marriage. In this episode, the atheist in question was insisting that his intended give up her faith, and accept a definition of marriage that went against her convictions (As long as we both shall love, rather than as long as we both shall live.) Although, this portrayal of atheists could have Unfortunate Implications.
Boston Public has characters acting erratically fairly often but they are saved because their intentions are good. In the pilot episode alone, Harry Senate fires a gun and Assistant Principal Guber slams a kid against a locker.
The season one Veronica Mars episode Drinking the Kool-Aid seemed to preach the moral that freaky cults are actually filled with nice people. It might be family unfriendly to say so, but it's absolutely and without question Truth in Television, and an anvil that needs to be dropped on a regular basis. Too many young people think that niceness equals goodness or trustworthiness. But anyone can be nice; all niceness requires is outward inoffensiveness. What's more, cults go out of their way to recruit nice people (or to teach their members how to be nice) for the sole purpose of recruiting new members who are too innocent to see beyond the superficial inoffensiveness.
The whole underlying theme of this series seems to be to not trust law enforcement and take justice into your own hands — especially in Season Two. The biggest examples of this are when Veronica helps Duncan kidnap his illegitimate daughter to avoid any chance of her ultra-fundamentalist and abusive grandparents gaining custody of her, then when Duncan has his family's security chief Clarence Wiedman kill Aaron Echols because he killed his sister Lily but was acquitted. It was a noir show.
Both those examples were also treated with a lot of emphasis on the fact that what was happening was illegal, and the guilty parties were often treated with great disappointment by authority figures after it happened. As for the rest of the show...
A number of times, taking the law into your own hands actually has real consequences, like when Weevil arranges for his cousin's murderer to be killed by his drug dealers, and is then arrested and sent to prison for connection to his disappearance on the day of his graduation. That this happens to the poorest, most disenfranchised character rather than any of the richer, more connected ones like Veronica or Duncan makes it even more Truthin Television.
One episode of the short-lived anthology series Night Visions told the story of a Town with a Dark Secret where music is banned and anyone who breaks the rules is swiftly and brutally dealt with. A drifter comes into town, realizes something is wrong and starts investigating: it turns out that the townspeople are all convinced that they're under a curse, and playing or creating any kind of music within the town will summon some sort of monster to kill them all. The drifter thinks they're all nuts, and in the inevitable climactic confrontation he delivers a heroic speech about how they have no proof that the monster actually exists, and they've been committing horrific acts in the name of blind superstition. The townspeople realize he's right, and he leads them all in a rousing rendition of "Amazing Grace." ... And then the monster comes to kill them all. Moral of the story: committing horrific acts in the name of blind superstition is a really good idea! For the record, Night Visions was chock full of family unfriendly or outright broken aesops. It's the sort of show you watch expecting a story about an abused wife to end with her being beaten to death by her husband, followed by hostHenry Rollins delivering An Aesop along the lines of "Next time your husband tells you to shut up, you should do it."
The fact that they unquestionably accepted it for at least a hundred years despite no indication or evidence of it makes it a superstition. That the townspeople seem incapable of moving makes it even more ridiculous. And that headphones are forbidden. But what puts icing on the cake is that the monster isn't coherent: music disturbs it but yelling your head off won't; it doesn't attack only the source of the music; it has slept for hundreds of years on nothing but birds; and that's just the overt problems. Until the person was eaten the acceptance was blind superstition. There's a vast difference between believing in Santa Claus when a kid and still believing in Santa Claus when you grow up.
Alternately, if we're to accept the "respect the beliefs of others" bit Henry Rollins says at the end, the episode's Family Unfriendly Aesop simply becomes the following: "Even if a person's beliefs are patently ridiculous by any rational standards whatsoever, even if those beliefs prompt that person to murder her child to uphold them, you should respect those beliefs — because they're beliefs, and sometimes those can be true whether the believer knows it or not." Yeah, Night Visions doesn't allow itself much wiggle room on the unfriendliness factor of its aesops.
There's also another interpretation: If you choose to test a belief, consider and plan for the the possibility of it being true. In this case, put out a battery powered radio tuned to a music station on the edge of town. Watch what happens.
For a show that could get outright Anvilicious at times, Full House tended to fall into this trope frequently in plots involving Michelle getting away with anything, especially in the later seasons.
The Disney episode was particularly egregious; after half an episode of being a horrible brat and getting everything she wants, Michelle deliberately runs off in Disney World after overhearing her sisters (rightfully) complain about how she always gets her way. Then, she's found and the older girls apologize for being mean to her! Never mind that she's old enough to know better, still runs off on a tantrum, and gets to ride in the parade (and is in no way punished) in the end regardless. She is reprimanded for running off, however.
Also, the scriptwriters may have wanted us to understand that, in Michelle's mind, her sisters' disdain for her is her punishment. And Michelle might have believed that she was doing the right thing in leaving her family, since it would make DJ and Stephanie happy if she were gone. (Yes, that's an incredibly naive attitude, but for a child it counts.) Interestingly, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen also played characters who followed this line of reasoning in the TV movie To Grandmother's House We Go: they run away to Grandma's house not because they hate their mother, but because they felt that they have made their mother frustrated and want her to be happy again.
An earlier episode involved DJ and Stephanie going unpunished. They had gone into Danny's closet against his wishes and accidentally put a hole in the wall of his bedroom. The episode ends with the sisters making nice after their previous fight, but as the credits roll, we're left to believe Danny will never discover the damage.
Anytime a police procedural uses wanting a lawyer as evidence of guilt. No matter how innocent you are, always get a lawyer.
Subverted, surprisingly, by the show Dexter, where an innocent man is suspected of murder, and when he realizes that it looks like he's going to be arrested for it (there was some very compelling evidence that linked him to the murder scene), he asks to speak with his lawyer before answering any questions. Many of the other characters take this as a sign of guilt, but he ends up proving his innocence, and everyone else wrong. Kind of odd for a show with a serial killer as a protagonist.
Two and a Half Men owes its very existence to this trope. A man can only adopt one of two possible approaches to women, Butt Monkey (Alan) or Casanova (Charlie).
iCarly is stock full of these Aesops. The show seems not to care about the victimization on Freddie, sometimes even seeming to encourage it i.e. iMeet Fred, with an aesop that boils down to "Unpopular opinions are bad" and "It's your own fault if you get beaten up for sticking by your own opinion."
Also the countless psuedo feminist aesops...
"Violence IS the answer to bully problems as long as it means being yourself." Good point.
If a boy likes you, don't bother putting him out of his misery by either dating him or breaking his heart, use his affection for your own purposes even if it conflicts with his. Also, get angry with him every single time he so much as looks at another girl. Laugh as your best friend repeatedly physically assaults him because he won't leave the pair of you alone due to being in love with you.
If you have to break up but both mutually agree to revisit that relationship in the future, don't bother telling him if your feelings have changed. Just keep dating random guys who cheat on you, leaving you crying on the original person's shoulder.
If you are physically violent, emotionally abusive, show zero respect and hurt someone so often that they eventually tell themselves that it would be 'weird' if you weren't doing things, they will turn around and give you a shot at dating them because you were only 'hiding your feelings' for them.
The whole Carrie/Big premise from Sex and the City. "It doesn't matter how many times a guy breaks your heart (or even marries someone else); if he's good-looking and the sex is great, keep going back to him." The same Aesop is applied with Grace/Leo on Will and Grace.
LOST has a rather unfriendly Aesop when Jack yells at Kate that she has no right to say that she shouldn't want Jack around Aaron while he's popping pills while home alone with him because she's "not even related to him." Despite having raised him for almost his whole life she's not his real family. Jack is, so he knows better than her. And Kate still ends up with Jack in the end.
It helps that Jack has been tremendously humbled from his experiences, wants to repent for his actions, and they only get back together in the Purgatory-esque afterlife specifically created for them for their help in protecting the Island.
Another unfortunate Aesop involving Jack and Kate occurs when Jack refuses to let Kate join an expedition into the jungle, when Kate has proven very good at tracking and useful in many situations. He cites no good reasons for not letting her come, but he allows Sawyer, who is recovering from being seriously wounded, to come instead. Kate follows them by herself. Looks like Kate's going to save the day and show Jack he's not the boss of her, right? Wrong - she gets captured and held hostage by the Others, ruining Jack's expedition. Jack blames Kate for it, no one calls Jack out, and the general implication is that when Jack told Kate to stay behind just because, she should have taken it.
Demitri Martin does this on a first season episode of Important Things With Demetri Martin. He mentions traditional "things your parents told you," like don't run with scissors, don't talk to strangers, or don't play with matches, then amends them (Don't run with scissors unless your house is being broken into while you are cutting something, in which case run and stab with scissors, don't play with matches unless you actually want to have fun, and don't talk to strangers unless you want to meet anyone ever).
Malcolm in the Middle. In "Malcolm's Job," Malcolm is written-up by his mother for not following a silly rule at his new job (the Lucky Aide grocery store where his mom Lois also works). He later discovers Lois smoking on a break (after supposedly quitting) and he's furious with her hypocrisy and yet promises to keep the secret from the family. Later, an accident (regarding the same silly rule) happens to Malcolm and Lois writes him up again, despite her asking him to keep her smoking a secret (the write-up is later revoked). He's again furious and confronts her and threatens to spill the smoking secret. Lois calmly tells him that he won't because she is his mother. She also tells him while the treatment is unfair, she is his mother and will always be no matter how old he gets and he doesn't get to ever challenge her authority. This also runs concurrent with the mindless Lucky Aide job and Lois and Malcolm's superiors plot so the moral is "No matter how right you are, no matter how unfair something is, if someone holds authority over you, you will not be able to do anything about it." Growing Up Sucks.
"Life is unfair" is the theme of the show, and it holds true to the finale. It is revealed that Lois and Hal have planned out Malcolm's life for him for him to become president of the United States and they never meant for him to be happy. The other kids knew about this and Lois even screws Malcolm out of a cushy job in order to make their plans come true. This seems infuriating, and yet it's one of the biggest heartwarming moments in the series' history because Malcolm in the end accepts their vision for him and goes off to Harvard getting through school as the janitor. His valedictorian speech addresses just how families make up your identity; and the big lesson is that sometimes you have to put aside your own happiness in order to please them. Though that can be quite disturbing, because Malcolm is sacrificing himself for a family that makes no bones telling him how they are willing to screw him over to make their lives better, even though the majority of their hardship is self-inflicted.
Everyone is a jerk, no matter how nice they look.
Spoofed in the episode "Lois Strikes Back" where four girls play a mean prank on Reese and the school does nothing to punish them for it, so Lois takes matters into her own hands and gets revenge on the girls. Malcolm attempts to deliver the Aesop that two wrongs don't make a right and Lois seems to accept this, only for her to sneak out the window to get revenge on the last girl. Interestingly enough, attempting to play the Aesop straight with Lois abandoning her revenge could have resulted in a Family Unfriendly Aesop as well since then it could have been "if a group of mean girls hurt a family member, standing up for them is wrong even if the girls get away with it."
In "Lois vs. Evil" Dewey steals a $150 bottle of cognac from the store Lois works at. When she makes him return it, her boss fires her.
Lois: You know, I hope you are at least learning something from all this.
A big and often used is if you are a genius who other people have to depend on, you can be a dick to everyone without many consequences. Though this is more of a Truth in Television variety because often those who don't have to deal with you constantly will let you get away with being an ass if you are good for the bottom line.
This particular trope is often subverted too though; House will often intentionally behave like even more of a complete and utter dick than his own natural personality would be, simply because he can. While often it's played for laughs, his cavalier/antisocial/sociopathic tendencies have more than once lead to a patient ending up with lifelong injuries that wouldn't have happened if everyone had just done their job right the first time, at which points he usually feels legitimate remorse and sometimes contemplates (however briefly) if he should really keep doing things that way.
Being a complete and unrepentant jerk can provide valuable and otherwise unobtainable insight into a patient's illness.
Also, a nod to realism early on, when Cuddy mentions that she got him for a steal, salary-wise, because his rampant Jerk Ass tendencies meant that no one else would even hire him.
Patient rights are hindrances that prevent doctors from doing their jobs correctly. Every time a patient is shown refusing treatment, the team finds some way to either bully, trick, or otherwise manipulate them into conceding. In nearly every episode, the team is shown breaking into the patient's home in order to find out what the patient is hiding from them; these searches are usually invaluable to solving the case. Patients who object when they learn of the break-in are paranoid or ungrateful, and their doctors are saints for putting up with these objections.
The crowning example of this has to be in "Last Temptation": Martha Masters puts a girl with bone cancer into false cardiac arrest with a chemical in order to manipulate her parents into agreeing to let the doctors amputate the girl's arm because she wanted to postpone the surgery and Masters felt that was unreasonably life-threatening. The girl wakes up without her arm and is understandably horrified, but the audience is meant to agree with Masters' actions, judging by the way she leaves content with herself to the strains of "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Wow.
However, the family unfriendly aesops are "don't drink and drive, unless it's a soft drink" or suchlike.
Almost every episode of Profit ended with the main character delivering a monologue on the life lesson the viewer should take from the preceding events. Given that the character in question was a Villain Protagonist, these were all Warped Aesops from most people's perspectives.
Said powers were ultimately useless in preventing the Butterfly of Doom from taking her brothers away.
Star Trek turned the Prime Directive from the moral of "don't mess with cultures far less advanced than you" to "don't save less advanced people about to die even though we can." Whether this is unintentional or a second family-unfriendly aesop about even well-meaning traditions becoming dangerous over successive generations as they turn to dogma is an exercise left to the reader.
Star Trek: The Next Generation started this with "Homeward," where Worf's brother was treated as in the wrong for saving a tribe of people whose home planet lost its atmosphere, and that he would only do such a thing because he knocked one of the natives up, not for simply humanitarian reasons.
They did a similar plot even earlier in "Pen Pals", when Data communicates with a pre-warp society whose planet is dying and Picard agrees to help her family survive against the guidance of the Prime Directive.
It's really a complete reversal from the TOS where they nearly crippled the ship trying to stop an asteroid from destroying a planet and it's American Indian-like inhabitants. It could be an exception since they stated the planet had to have some sort of asteroid deflector given it's location. It did, but the guy who knew how to operate it died before passing on the knowledge to his successor.
From TNG's two-part episode "Birthright", "Children should learn about their heritage, and if it includes hatred/animosity towards others, then they should accept that as part of their heritage".
In "Hide and Q", Picard actually says that Riker was right for choosing not to use the power of the Q to save a little girl who'd been killed in a mine-collapse. We already knew that Picard hated children, but damn?!
SF Debris would later do a 15 minute video tearing apart the Prime Directive and comes to the conclusion it's been warped into a pseudo-dogmatic justification for the Federation to act like complete assholes towards alien cultures they believe to be inferior.
Star Trek: Voyager: Janeway embraces the Prime Directive almost as though it were an infallible diety that choses those who can and cannot be saved. In "Time And Again", after being thrown back in time, when Paris suggests warning the people they will be destroyed in less than a day, Janeway states they cannot since they don't know what the consequences would be. When Paris points out that the consequences have to be better than destruction, her response... is to pull rank and simply order him not to interfere!
"Improbable Cause": Garak complains that no-one believes him even when he's telling the truth. Bashir tells him the story of The Boy who Cried Wolf to convey the moral that it's because Garak lies all the time. Garak promptly points out that's not the moral of the tale at all: it's actually teaching the lesson "never tell the same lie twice".
"For the Uniform": Use terrorist tactics against terrorists if you want to beat them.
"In the Pale Moonlight": Sisko describes how sometimes the end justifies the means, and how political assassinations, lies, and guilt are all a small price to pay to win a war. Although his delivery show's that he's trying to convince himself they were the right thing to do, not that he's OK with what he did.
An episode of Family Matters (a pretty ironic title, at least where this trope is concerned) that was apparently supposed to be pro-gun control. It implies that guns (and all other personal weapons, for that matter) are inherently evil: even if the only reason you purchase a gun is for self-defense, you'll end up abusing your privilege and getting shot anyway. This is especially egregious in that the father of Laura Winslow (the character who learns this lesson) is a police lieutenant!
Anytime any of the Winslows got fed up with Steve and screamed at him. Never mind that even on his best day, Steve could be incredibly annoying and did many destructive things that would test anyone's patience. Steve never once had to learn to control his behavior, it was always up to the Winslows to put up with his crap. Laura in particular, was frequently made out to be a heartless bitch everytime she told Steve to leave her alone.
Leading into yet another example, which is the fact that in Real Life, Steve's behavior—constantly pursuing Laura, interfering in her dates, taking even the most minor nice thing she said or did as a sign that she returned his feelings, disregarding her repeatedly telling him that she was not interested—was equivalent to stalking. But what happens in the end? He gets Laura after all. Is it any wonder that so many people genuinely believe that constantly pursuing someone will win them over eventually?
One storyline in Coronation Street had mild-mannered cafe owner Roy Cropper bullied and intimidated by a builder who took a dislike to him because of the rules his customers had to follow. The climax saw one of the bullying sessions interrupted by the bully's boss, Charlie Stubbs, who threw him out of the cafe, punched him and fired him. This rather awkward The Answer Is Violence ending was made even worse by the fact Charlie Stubbs, at the time, was psychologically torturing his girlfriend. So... the moral is "The only way to deal with a bully is to get an even bigger bully to beat him up."
Lampshaded and inverted in the episode "What Fresh Hell" of Criminal Minds. Reid, Gideon and a cop are investigating a child abduction case and en route to a lead, and Gideon asks the cop if she knew what the most damaging public service announcement was for these kind of cases. The answer was "Stranger Danger" because, statistically speaking, a child is more likely to be abducted or abused by someone they know- family, friends, teachers, neighbours- with strangers making up just 1% of such cases. The effect therefore was merely to make parents more paranoid and police and social services to focus on the wrong people.
The Wire: All systems are corrupt. From law enforcement to schools to the docks to politics to the drug trade, everyone involved is looking out for themselves rather than the greater good. Even if you try to change the system from the inside, you'll either be ground into paste or twisted into yet another cog in the machine.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Gift": the world needs good and pure heroes, but it also needs things done that aren't good and pure, so non-heroes should follow heroes around and shoot dogs for them.
The season premier of Bones has the moral that Status Quo Is God and that moving on with your life and doing something you really want is selfish and wrong.
While Babylon 5 ended up more idealistic than cynical, it still had a few sprinkled here and there. Stated outright at the end of "Believers," for example:
Sinclair: "Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't change anything."
An episode of Doc Martin involves a teacher telling one of her students that he has to let his classmates tease him, when he's hiding inside the hallway from gym class, and sooner or later, he might just fit in. As soon as he's about to take it, it's not just teasing anymore. Another boy grabs his ankle just before he's about to jump off a ladder during an obstacle race, and this causes him to fall and injure himself. At the end of the episode, the teacher admits to the titular doctor that she might have been wrong, and says that he'll probably never fit in, and maybe that's for the better. Err, what!?! Better for him, or better for everyone else? Yeah, it's no surprise to see that a lot of bullying doesn't get taken seriously like it should, just like in real life, but would you be saying something like that if he killed himself because he couldn't fit in anywhere? Or are you saying that that the world's better off with one less loser, and that castration is a good thing? You should be helping kids like Peter to get along with other students and making rules against castration, and that boy who grabbed his ankle should be punished for nearly getting him killed.
The central question of Dexter is whether or not it's okay for Dexter to kill people who he knows are murderers, and the police can't prove. Part of his code is ensuring that these people are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, guilty, before he kills them. However, he has slipped up a few times and killed innocent people. It's also asking the question of just what Dexter is. Is he a good man doing good things for a bad reason? Is he a good man doing bad things for a good reason? A bad man doing good things for a bad reason? Or is he just a monster who has found a way to control himself as best he can? The view that Dexter himself holds is the last one. He believes himself to be an irredeemable monster without a shred of humanity, and that the only difference between himself and the people he kills is that he's found a way to control himself, and they haven't. And we're supposed to root for him, although the reasons are more to do with the character himself than what he does and why.
This issue is further complicated by the fact that, occasionally, Dexter will destroy or misrepresent evidence so that the police can't catch a criminal, solely so that he can kill them personally. This is often the case if the killer in question has hurt someone in Dexter's family (Deb or Rita and the kids) or if they have offended his delicate sensibilities somehow (crimes that traumatize children). Since blood spatter is such a specialized skill, he usually has no trouble faking the results of the blood spatter evidence the department finds.
The obfuscation of evidence has been taken to new heights in season six, where Dexter is trying to single-handedly catch the Doomsday Killer, even though his sister has recently become the youngest lieutenant ever and really needs to crack this (extremely high-profile) case or risk looking incompetent. He has ignored her pleas for his help at least four times, so far.
There's an old story about Sesame Street back when Snuffleupagus was portrayed as just Big Bird's imaginary friend that nobody ever believed him about. Apparently, there was some sort of Real Life scandal with a group of kids at a pre-school who tried to come forward about being abused (possibly sexually, IIRC) but weren't believed at first. When the Sesame Street writer's heard about the ordeal these kids had gone through trying to get someone to listen, they took a look at the potential Family Unfriendly Aesop they had going with nobody ever believing Big Bird ("Don't bother trying to convince adults, they won't believe you") and decided to make Snuffy real and had the other characters meet him and apologize to Big Bird for doubting earlier.
Technically, Snuffy was always real, but every time Big Bird tried to introduce him to the others he would get scared and run away. What the writers decided to do was to prove to the adults that Snuffy was real.
The George Lopez Show One episode has George and Angie discovering that Carmen is on birth control. Carmen reveals she's not having sex but has it in case she starts, which they're reasonably concerned about. They're concerned that she's not emotionally ready for it, and there's the risk of her getting pregnant. Nothing wrong with that. However, first, they take away the birth control, which is kind of a bad thing to do if you're concerned about your kid getting pregnant. Second, it gets kind of ridiculous when they get so desperate to keep her from having sex that they bribe her with a new car, which they tell her she can only keep if she doesn't have sex before 18. They seem to be blind to the fact that not all sex is planned and think there's no risk of Carmen having spontaneous sex, as teenagers often do, as well as what will happen if she does it without birth control.
This is particularly frustrating because as Benny pointed out to them earlier, if Carmen starts having sex it will either be planned and protected or spontaneous and unprotected, and George, of all people, should be aware of this, seeing as Benny got pregnant with him as a teenager. Yet, the episode portrays George and Angie as being right.
This is even weirder because if Carmen has protected sex, they would probably never find out about it anyway, unless something goes wrong with it.
And that it will often happen for the first time in a car. Which they just gave her.
In many episodes, George often teases Carmen, makes fun of her, doesn't take her seriously and just picks on her (in one episode, he outright calls her dumb). He almost never does this to Max. Yes, because it's okay to treat one of your kids better than the other. One episode does have him called out for this by Angie and Benny, but it doesn't last.
Lizzie McGuire: There was an episode where our titular character discovers a natural talent for gymnastics despite her natural clumsiness and their imposing gym teacher encourages them to pursue further training in this field; of all the people you'd expect to give her support in this, her friend Miranda provides only scorn. This is made increasingly offputting when you consider this same friend accuses our titular character of not supporting her in return in other circumstances including a shoplifting accusation that Lizzie couldn't disprove and a poorly made attempt at acting in the drama program. By episode's end however, Lizzie learns the error of her way and chooses not to pursue her natural talents because they are sneared at by a friend. "Remember kids, always pass up a chance to fulfill your potential in order to avoid feeling the scorn of your fellow students."
Actually, when Kate tries to sabotage Lizzie's gymnastics competition at the end of the episode, Miranda and Gordo stop her and Lizzie quits the gymnastics because she hates doing it. And Lizzie didn't want to do the gymnastics at first but her friends talked her into it.
The infamous Sweethearts Day episode of My Wife and Kids, effectively says "Your wife is always right even when she's being selfish, bratty, and ungrateful."
My Wife And Kids is Your Wife Is Always Right Even When She's Being Selfish, Bratty, And Ungrateful: The Series.
If your wife thinks you're an idiot, she's probably right and you should just take it.
If you try to set ground rules with your wife, and she breaks said rule, you are wrong for enforcing it.
With shows like What Not to Wear, "If you don't dress the way we tell you, you'll look terrible, nobody will like you, you'll never get a good job, and we'll have to throw out all of your bought possessions."
There's an episode on The Bernie Mac Show where every member of the Mac family was guilty of some kind of dishonesty. Bernie fessed up to making Jordan fake an asthma attack, so they could go to an L.A. Clippers game one night. Jordan used that original lie as leverage against Bernie, and cut down a willow tree Wanda was trying to grow for no reason other than the plant being an eyesore. Vanessa lied about not going to an R-rated movie, but was exposed when she recited an iconic line from the movie, which Bernie recognized. And Wanda, despite chastising those three, was also exposed to lying about attending Brianna's play, because a salon appointment kept her away. Brianna was seen by the other four as the moral center of the situation, because of her incorruptible sweetness, but even that was subverted, because her sneaky bed jumping kept Bernie and Wanda from suspecting her at all of foul play (with a yellow arrow lampshading "best liar of them all"). The moral seems to be: honesty is the best policy, but only when lying doesn't benefit you anymore.
Penn & Teller are often prone to opposing mainstream aesops in Bullshit! Perhaps an especially memorable case is Holier Than Thou, wherein they had some memorably harsh criticisms of such popularly revered figures as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama, but especially Mother Teresa. They've also argued that polyamorous couples can successfully raise children and that teen sex isn't that big a deal.
You Can't Do That on Television, the show that popularized the Adults Are Useless trope in children's television, was conceived when Roger Price realized that damn near every family-friendly show on at the time depicted situations where there were always kind, reliable adults for kids to fall back on for help and advice. He wanted to teach kids that adults can be unreliable or even downright cruel and you need to be able to get along on your own in the world. Not an inherently bad message, but the complete and total absence of any decent adults on the series might've been taking it too far.
The narrator from How I Met Your Mother sometimes gives these out, but usually for laughs, e.g. "I won't bother telling you not to fight, because that's pointless, but don't fight Uncle Marshall." "And that's how we learned to forget what we had learned five seconds earlier." "Don't try to make your wife/husband jealous or he/she might beat the snot out of someone." etc etc.
In the Mortal Kombat series, Liu Kang is the fated champion of the Earth Realm in the next tournament, and so must survive for our world to have any chance. In one episode, he sets off into an obvious trap to get the antidote his poisoned friends need to survive, despite their telling him not to do it. He succeeds, cures them, and then Raiden shows up, in his full godly fury, to tell him quite emphatically that yes, his friends were right, and Liu Kang really is more important than them.
This could also be a case of Harsher in Hindsight if the viewers are familiar with the Arthurian mythos (granted Merlin isn't always authentic in that regard) and the role Guinevere plays in the doom of Camelot. They would expect that her eventual affair with Lancelot would not only deprive Arthur of his best knight but also contribute to the shattering of the Round Table. Arthur did not give up the perfect girl for his One True Love, he did it for the girl who would eventually bring ruin to him and his kingdom. At the time, they could not have known that the show would ultimately subvert this by having Gunievere remain faithful in contravention of the legends.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had a rather bad one in the episode that introduced Dani Beck. The plot centered around the disappearance of a young woman who, due to a degenerative genetic disease, looked like a ten-year-old girl. It is mentioned that said disease will likely kill her before she turns thirty. It turns out she wasn't actually missing, she was trying to run off with her boyfriend, an older man who looked his age. Stabler arrests the boyfriend for... possibly being a pedophile? Unsurprisingly, the judge throws out the case immediately, but the way it's scripted makes it clear that we're meant to view this as a bad thing. So, the fun message of today's episode is "people who don't have long to live shouldn't try to find happiness in that time, and people with potentially-destructive urges should not try to find harmless outlets for them." That's not even getting into the whole "eccentric sexual practices, no matter how consensual, are evil" thing both this show and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation have been repeatedly guilty of.
The end of The Mentalist episode "Red Carpet Treatment" takes pains to show that revenge really is sweet and worth it, even if you have to invest years of your life, spend lots of money, and risk life in prison to get it.
In an episode of Amazing Stories, a young boy who enjoys daydreaming and eschews work, runs across a troll, who encourages him to not work, keep dreaming, and to keep all the things that he loves and cherishes, with the promise that if he does this, he will always be surrounded by treasures. Well, he does this, much to the chagrin of his parents, who eventually kick him out. Fast forward to midway through this boy's life, and he is now a man, broke, destitute, and living from day to day. He runs across the troll again, and curses him for lying to him and being a Jerkass Genie. The troll actually doesn't deny this, and leads the viewer to believe that the statements were only Metaphorically True. In the final act, the man has come to nearly the end of his life, and is about to commit suicide when a passer by asks him for a trinket that he is in posession of, that happens to be worth thousands. Turns out the troll was being 100% honest: the worthless things that the man had kept, wound up becoming worth a fortune over his lifetime. So in the end, the troll was right. However, given how long it took for the payoff, and all the stuff the man went through to get there, you kind of have to wonder if it was worth it. In the end, the aesop seems to be "don't do any future planning at all: your life will suck, but in the end you'll have a kick ass retirement, and 4 or 5 years of extreme wealth before you die".
Snog Marry Avoid? essentially tells girls (and really boys as well) that you must dress to exactly what the public says. Conformity and being accepted are your main priorities in life. It also has a bucketload of Unfortunate Implications that the aim is to get the public to say "Marry" meaning that women should make themselves into marriage material.
Season 2 of Once Upon a Time seems to be devoted to showing that, as Blackadder once put it, "bad guys have all the fun." The show keeps trying to portray the moral compromises of the heroes as a bad thing that weighs on them, but it's hard to ignore that those compromises are always a last resort after more acceptable means fail, and they always work.
On Taxi:, Latka's dreams of becoming a wealthy cookie baron like his hero Famous Amos are crushed when he learns that the secret ingredient in his grandmother's extremely popular recipe is coca leaves. While undergoing cookie withdraw, he hallucinates the real Famous Amos (playing himself) descending into his living room to give this heartwarming speech:
Famous Amos: I came by because I wanted to say that success, fame, fortune... all that stuff. It's truly over-rated. I wanted to tell you that the really important things in life are the simple things: the sunset, the smelling of a flower. I'd like to tell you all of those things, Latka, but I can't. 'Cause it's a crock... Hey, man, success is wonderful. Cash is out of sight. Do whatever you can to be successful, because it's great. And if it happens overnight, it's even better! Hey, you're cookies went down the tubes? Big deal. Try cupcakes... jelly rolls... aluminum siding... What's the difference, man? Just get rich.
"Better the Devil You Know" by Kylie Minogue is about going back to the guy who treated you badly because "better the devil you know." This was probably meant to creep the listener out. Nick Cave called it the most disturbing song he had heard, in part because of Kylie's innocent image.
Kylie and Nick went on to sing a duet, "Where the Wild Roses Grow," about a girl falling for a man who then bashes her head in with a rock so no one else can have her. Kylie Minogue is a very creepy soul in a very cute body.
Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" is a really-very sarcastic song that, taken unironically, would have one of the most family unfriendly aesops ever. "If you're a girl who follows the Rule Of Cooland likes a taken boy, it's okay to throw yourself at the guy and steal him away because you know he likes you back, and his girlfriend is 'like, so whatever.' And the video points out it's okay to humiliate said girlfriend because she's a nerdy girl with glasses." Lavigne's Word Of God points out how it's criticizing shallow boy-crazy girls who act like that, but tell that to the song's Misaimed Fandom.
And to everyone who thinks she's dead serious and hates that song accordingly.
The song "One of Those Girls" from the same album seems to confront the subject from the other girl's perspective. It almost makes it a Chekhov's song.
Another song on the same album features the lyrics 'I hate it when a guy/doesn't get the tab/I have to get my money out/and that looks bad'.
Kingdom Hearts' opening theme song, "Simple and Clean," suggests some very dubious morals. For example, "Don't get me wrong I love you, But does that mean I have to meet your father?" suggests that the narrator's lover doesn't want to put out the effort to get acquainted with her family, and that, although the lover "wishes he could prove he loves her, he doesn't want to have to walk on water; when she's older she'll understand that it's enough when he says so." Apparently, "Hikari," the Japanese version of the song, makes much more sense, and is almost the complete opposite: "I'll introduce my family, You'll surely get along well."
As far as relating the two - "Simple and Clean" and "Hikari" - they are not even translations of each other. At best, they tend to be vaguely similar.
The "wish I could prove I love you" line may be him saying, when he says 'I love you' to her, it's because he actually loves her, and she shouldn't always force him to prove this (Or at least, to go to ridiculous lengths to do so). Plus, looking at the 'when you are older' line in context within the game, then it could be seen as, rather than a romance between two adults, a romance between two teenagers who don't entirely understand romantic love. Hence, it's more of a 'I love you, I really do, believe me when I say so'. Given the last bridge, 'whatever lies beyond this morning is a little later on', and 'regardless of heartaches, the future doesn't scare me at all; nothing's like before', you could almost interpret "Simple and Clean" as being about a young couple having sex for the first time; he did so because genuinely loves her, she loves him too, and she's worried that he's only with her for the sex, but by the end of the song, she's clued in that he really does care about her, meaning we could also possibly interpret it as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, rather than a Family Unfriendly Aesop.
I still wouldn't consider that a CMOH. Many kids go through that age and believe they love the other. And many go through believing the other loves them. Unfortunate many go through the motions simply for sex, rather than love. A young boy can almost become a slave to his penis (figuratively speaking). So you say they are having sex and she is still trying to figure out if he loves her. He doesn't want to meet her father. And he says she will understand when she is older. Going by this I would say he is planning to dump her and she will realize when she is older that all he cared about was sex. Or maybe he is hoping that she would grow up to realize that a lot of men are also like that and just let it slide and accept it. To me that isn't heartwarming at all. He shouldn't even be having sex with her if she isn't sure he really loves her. He wants her to accept his word without really proving it and she accepts his word and gets in bed with him. And it's supposed to be heartwarming that she gets deceived by it part way through.
The Script's popular ballad The Man Who Can't Be Moved is about a guy who was left by his ex, and is willing to stand on the corner of the street until she comes back. Though it's certainly a desperate romantic gesture (which a lot of people go mushy about) others really wish that he'd get on with his life. There's absolutely no way she's coming back, he's probably going to make himself ill, the chances of the news picking him up are absurd and it's probably not his fault that she went away anyway.
These come up a fair few times in Lily Allen's music, prominent among them her singles "Fuck You" ("Promoting seething hatred is fine, as long as it's against George W. Bush") and "Not Fair" ("If your boyfriend is bad in bed, it more or less negates any positive traits he may have").
Similar to Avril Lavigne, she also gets criticism for a couple of songs that are intended as ironic but would have Family Unfriendly messages if taken straight, particularly "22" ("Women are no longer important to society when they reach 30") and "The Fear," about vacuous materialism and celebrity worship: "I wanna be rich and I want lots of money. I don't care about clever, I don't care about funny ..."
To be absolutely fair, the overall message of "Not Fair" is supposed to be that "physical intimacy is partly an expression of emotional intimacy in a healthy relationship," which isn't quite as Family Unfriendly; the boyfriend is suggested to be less an inherently bad lover and more just a bit too thoughtless and selfish to actually take the trouble to find out how to go about satisfying the narrator, being more concerned with his own gratification ("All you do is take!"), particularly in light of the fact that the narrator apparently puts herself out to pleasure him ("I spent ages giving head!"); the narrator in turn is clearly torn about the issue (i.e. she clearly digs her boyfriend and his positive traits, but just can't get over this whole bedroom thing).
The punk rock band NOFX's song "Drug Free America" is actually promoting an America where drugs are free of cost. Their song "Don't drink and drive" warns about the danger of spilling your drink while driving, and argues that drunk people are better drivers (NOFX use a lot of satire and believe that it should be offensive).
Dolly Parton's song "What Is It, My Love?" has the moral, "occasional moments of happiness in a bad relationship justify being in said relationship." Cue my forehead in great pain.
"A Boy Named Sue" could be this trope's theme tune. The heartwarming reveal at the end is that the father gave his son an embarrassing girl's name, not as a stupid joke, but so that a lifetime of bullying would teach him to fight and make him strong. The aesop may be more along the lines of "sometimes people are just trying to help, and holding misdeeds against them in pursuit of revenge is wrong." After all, in the end, while the singer admits finally understanding his father's actions, he also points out that there's no way he was going do the same to his own son.
The Crystals' "He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)" was controversial due to its seeming Family Unfriendly Aesop that Domestic Abuse is okay when the woman deserves it for cheating, and in fact is a man's way of showing that he cares. It was based on a true story about the songwriters' young babysitter, and was apparently meant to document that victims of abuse sometimes feel that way, not to actually support that view, but still carries Unfortunate Implications. Even at the time of release (the early sixties) it was quickly pulled due to negative public reaction. Surprisingly it's gotten a lot of modern covers or lyrical shout outs, seemingly specifically because the lyrics are fairly ripe for The Cover Changes The Meaning.
Cerrone's 1977 song "Supernature" is a lovely danceable disco tune that insists that science is so inherently bad that using it to feed the hungry will make angry monsters rise up from the bowels of the earth to eat everyone. Really.
O.C. Smith's song "The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp" has a very, very clear message that being a prostitute doesn't make a woman evil or contemptible. Not family unfriendly, per se, but very unusual.
Bad delivery, sure, but not really a bad message. If you don't have any money, you probably should go home instead of shopping, partying, spending money you don't have.
Within the context of the lyrics, it sounds more like her father is telling her not to come home if she doesn't become a success in show business.
Or, more likely, the "my daddy told me so" was in response to the previous "the industry is cold" line, but the "if you ain't got no money, take your broke ass home" line's repetition is distracting and gets in the way.
The Aesop of Lemon Demon's "Geeks in Love" seems to be that geeks are naturally better people with better relationships, and everyone else is just jealous of their perfect lives.
The music video for Drake's Find Your Love. The song is a positive message about putting everything on the line for love which Drake does in the video to a woman...who's also connected to a gang leader. He crosses the line and attempts to woo her...and he's eventually caught by the gang, beaten and (presumably) shot in the back of the head by the same girl he was putting his heart on the line for. The video ends in a Bolivian Army Ending (the girl could have shot the gang leader) but there is a clear message about not even love is worth crossing a line over.
Or, arguably, don't throw your life away for a romantic fantasy? Or 'don't let fantasy blind you to reality'?
P!nk's "Perfect" takes a good aesop ("Be proud of who you are and don't let the nay-sayers get to you") and turns it Up to Eleven with the line "Don't you ever ever feel like you're less than perfect" and you get the aesop "You are absolutely perfect the way you are right now. Don't try to change anything and don't accept any form of criticism, even constructive ones."
The video for "Stupid Girls" mangles the song's message by equating stupidity with makeup, fashion and anything pink while presenting playing football and being physically strong as being smart. Playing football all the time will not make you any smarter than putting makeup on. While the smart side of the table does have a book, a keyboard, microscope and dance shoes the message is undermined by having the little girl choose the football at the end. The point of the song is that girls should be smart, not physically strong.
Indica's song "In Passing" is about a the dead singer telling her sister that her pain will go away and everything passes. Not quite unfriendly until the last few lines where she tells her sister that she also will pass. Extremely true and not something most children are equipped with or taught.
Jim Croce's "You Don't Mess Around With Jim." Big Jim Walker hustled Slim McCoy in a pool game, taking all Slim's money, so Slim followed him to Chicago, murdered him, and is highly respected for this. At no point does the song say Jim cheated — he was just a more skilled pool player than he at first pretended to be. In other words, the moral is: being a sore loser and stealing back the money that was fairly won from you is cool if you get away with it.
Alternatively, could be the perfectly solid Aesop of not being dishonest because it can come back to bite you in the ass, especially with psychotic murderers. But then that makes the title rather ironic.
Taylor Swift's song "The Way I Loved You". All in all, the Aesop here is "Nice guys that respect you are boring, the best relationships are the ones that keep you up all night crying and cursing the other person." That's just a terrible message in general, but it's even worse when you consider that her biggest fans are teen girls.
YMMV on that one. A different Aesop could be taken from it—that just because the guy could be a Prince Charming clone doesn't mean he's the right guy for you. It sounds as though for all his perfection, Mr. Perfect is boring. She misses the passion she had with her ex, which is lacking from Mr. Perfect. It doesn't sound as though the previous relationship was bad per se or that she's crying over him. She's awake at two in the morning and cursing him for being on her mind, not for anything he did. There is no "spark" with Mr. Perfect; the bridge mentions that she's "not feeling anything at all" and that she likes the imperfection of her ex—he was crazy, frustrating, and intoxicating. And the chorus makes it sound as though the break-up was something that happened in the heat of an argument and not because of anything substantial; they were "so in love" that they "acted insane."
"Speak Now" has "if a girl has bad taste in wedding gowns and yells at a bridesmaid on her wedding day, it's okay to crash her wedding and run off with the groom, because he obviously loves you more anyway."
"You Belong With Me" has a similar theme, but the music video saves it from becoming this trope, depicting the girlfriend of the guy Taylor likes as clearly shallow and abusive.
"Better Than Revenge" can either be interpreted as the family friendly "acting like you're better than everyone will get you nowhere" or "if your boyfriend dumps you for another girl, the girl is obviously the one at fault, and you should seek revenge on her."
The New Kingston Trio's "Jug Town" is surprisingly pro-alcoholism: The moral amounts to "if you're a family man with a menial low-paying job, alcohol will provide a release from your miserable life".
Nelly's "Ride Wit Me" starts off with the classic rap Aesop "Materialism is good" ("Oh why must I feel this good ... Hey, must be the money!"). Luckily though it sorts itself out and ends up with the rather more palatable, if still questionable, message "Materialism is perfectly fine, as long as you worked for your money" ("It feel strange now, makin' a livin' off my brain instead of 'caine now")
Carly Simon's "Jesse" begins with the speaker declaring that she's through with the title character after he "cut out her heart like a paper doll" and "set me up/just to see me fall" (which would seemingly making it clear that Jesse is a Jerk Ass). Within a couple stanzas, the basic moral seems to be, "Go ahead and ignore your better judgement, and that of your friends, and your own mother, and hook up with the guy again so you can wait on him hand and foot." "I'll always cut fresh flowers for you...I will make the wine cold for you...I will change the sheets for you..."
Globus has a song called "Europa", it lists wars, atrocities and horrific battles and heavily implies that humanity never learns from it's history. At the end of the song the vocalist screams "Never Again!", but here it could be taken as ironic when that is something commonly said after such conflicts and yet they still happen anyway.
And the line just before that is "Drop the bomb, end this fight!". Now read the rest of the lyrics again. It suddenly appears to advocate nuking the Middle East.
Carrie Underwood's song "Before he Cheats" has he Aesop "It's OK to destroy your boyfriend's property if you suspect him of cheating."
"Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer": There's no point in trying to get people to stop harassing you for being a freak just because doing such things are wrong. However, they may stop on their own if A: The boss likes you, or B: You're a useful freak.
"Black Tie White Noise" by David Bowie has one of these Aesops, the result of it being written in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles: Racial harmony is possible but don't imagine it's going to be easy to achieve, or that there won't be violence along the way ("There'll be some blood, no doubt about it"). Not a comfortable Aesop, but if history's taught us anything...
The meta-Aesop of "Art of Life" is that if you are a talented enough and beautiful enough musician, capable of expressing your pain with beautiful words and a rocking song, PTSD, untreated/poorly-treated mental illness written off as "neurocirculatory asthenia," and a suicide attempt is just what you need to experience to create your magnum opus. And the song itself has a conflicted aesop reflected by this - namely that life is painful, difficult, confusing, and suicide is an option but living anyway is a better one, though It's Up to You to decide. Which, depending on the audience, could be a solid, life-affirming aesop, or one denying the need to seek out help from others...
Harry Chapin's song Mr. Tanner is about a man who runs a dry cleaner and loves to sing, and is an amateur performer in his spare time. His friends convince him to try to become a professional singer, so he throws all his money into a concert performance that... bombs. Critics are terse and dismissive with him, suggesting he'd be better off keeping his dayjob. Mr. Tanner returns to his home and his job and stops performing publicly. The moral here is "Sometimes chasing your dream fails". If you want to be more blunt, you could phrase it "Loving to do something doesn't make you good at it."
Little Orphan Annie had a World War II strip where Annie sees a man physically attack an obnoxious war-profiteer simply for expressing an opinion and stops a cop from intervening saying "It's better some times to let folks settle some questions by what you might call democratic processes."
The trope picture comes from Calvin And Hobbes, and the mom ends up grudgingly giving him the pie. Calvin is clearly portrayed as a brat, though.
Rat: "So remember, kids, luck and timing are more important than personal effort."
Warhammer 40000 gives us these: "Being nice to someone else only gets you stomped and killed.", "Blind religious devotion is the only thing that can make your life just a bit longer and less sucky." and "There is no problem that cannot be solved by applying great enough amounts of violence and firepower."
Avenue Q contains many such unconventional Aesops, though some are tongue-in-cheek. Examples include "The Internet Is for Porn" and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." Another Aesop in the show is "there's nothing wrong with being gay," which on one occasion is humorously expanded to "it's perfectly fine if you're gay, unless you're a Republican."
The biggest Aesop in the play can be summed up in Lucy the Slut's line: "Everyone only has one revelation in life: they find out they aren't special."
Amanda Palmer did a cover of the song "What's the Use of Wondrin" as a creepy domestic abuse ballad...and didn't have to change a word.
Grease has the moral that you should be willing to change yourself completely for a guy. To be fair, it seemed like the writers were trying to show Danny changing himself for Sandy as well, through participating in wholesome sports and going out for a letter jacket, but this hardly shows up in the final version.
It also has the wonderful moral that girls who don't smoke, drink, or have sex are laughed at behind their backs and will only find acceptance when they give in to peer pressure.
"You're the One that I Want" mollifies this a little, but only a little. Significantly, this number didn't appear in the original stage show. What does appear (at least in the 1994 revival) is "Since I Don't Have You," which is comparable to "Unworthy of Your Love" from Assassins in it's theme of "If I'm not in a relationship with this person, I'm a worthless individual," except only in the latter are we supposed to think of the character singing as mentally disturbed.
Let's be honest though, if Sandy had remained The Ingenue, we'd be complaining that the message was "The only acceptable thing for a woman to be is pure, innocent, and virginal." Saying the film promotes conformity isn't all that accurate. Sandy becoming a "bad girl" was conforming to the Pink Ladies, but in the context of when the film is set, she is being extremely nonconformist to society's mores. If anything, keeping Sandy a "good girl" would send a much more pro-conformity message.
For that matter, the idea that the only choice girls have is to be a Purity Sue or a chain-smoking bad-girl is pretty family unfriendly.
Our House has the moral 'If you don't give yourself up after committing a minor, non-violent and non-malicious crime, a Corrupt Corporate Executive will burn your mother.
In The Wild Duck, the entire cast turns out to be one giant Dysfunction Junction that is only keeping itself together by repressing every one of their hidden sins and weaknesses through willful delusion. When the resident Wide-Eyed Idealist attempts to unravel some of these lies and bring about truth, the result is the suicide of the family's young daughter. As the man who attempted to keep all this under wraps at one point muses:
Doctor Relling:Deprive the average human being of his life-lie, and you rob him of his happiness.
The kid's play The Magic In Me says that if you can't do something right off the bat, you'll never learn to do it.
Rent: "True artists are too good for day jobs." Even when your friend's good graces are all that stand between you and the shelter.
Alternately, "You can have a day job or be an artist. One or the other." Aside from Mimi, none of the characters have ostensibly paying jobs that they actually like. (Except for Benny and Joanne, and their jobs are more mainstream than the others'.)
Although a slightly less Family Friendly Aesop is "don't let your dreams blind you to your actual circumstances"; Willy's problem isn't necessarily that he's a dreamer, but that he's so fixated on his dreams that he ignores real life when he shouldn't.
Willy is a good carpenter, his wife could forgive his infidelity if he confess, and his sons are so angry with him because he never wanted to acknoledge reality. Willy's situation could be really improved if he only could muster the valor to change his ways. A lot of people confuses his stupid and petty delusions with dreams.
Several of the less family friendly aesops in Wicked are mentioned here.
Seussical has several, surprisingly, the most prominent being "If you get lost, go ahead and follow your hunch, and who knows, it might take you home!" Some others:
If you like someone a lot, it's ok to obsessively stalk them, even when it causes yourself bodily harm. If you manage to get them what they want, both of you will definitely end up happy.
If you imagine enough to make you space out randomly enough to flood your basement while taking a bath and get your parents worried enough to send you to the military academy, it's ok, you'll end up saving the world!
It's okay to give up your egg. Make no effort to change your own frivolous lifestyle for your child and dump it off with some guy who may or may not have agreed to care for it.
Yep, people have used this show (and the book it's based on) as an argument against abortion (which Seuss himself supported).
Sure, Barbie may present an unrealistic standard of beauty that no human being could ever hope to live up to, but she's a lot better than the Bratz. She's been a doctor, an astronaut, a teacher, a vet, President, a painter, a musician, a student. She even has a movie where she tells the prince at the end that she can't marry him yet because she still has things she wants to do before she settles down. And she's well-read in political theory. Barbie is actually quite a good role model. She caught big flak for lamenting the difficulty of math; it's doubtful that anyone would be surprised at a Bratz doll having the same complaint.
The Purr-tenders were cats masquerading as other animals becuase they thought they weren't special enough to get attention otherwise. This deception was encouraged; instead of being yourself, it was better to hide who you really were at all costs and hope people accepted the mask you wore for them... and if they found out the deception, that they'd already grown attached enough to you not to mind that you'd been lying all this time.
Dragon Age: Origins is full of those and sometimes lampshades them. For example, at the mage starting quest you get several of them, the most prominent being that guile and trickery are sometimes preferable to trust and altruism.
The overarcing story in Orzammar delivers the message that a progressive-minded individual who is personally a manipulative, sleazy jerk sometimes makes a better leader than a kindly, democratic individual bound by stagnant social traditions. Another aesop, perhaps more family-friendly, might be that every person is a mix of good and bad, and shouldn't be judged on first impressions alone.
Indeed, that's one of the recurring themes of the series - first impressions of people or situations are often deceiving, and hasty judgments lead to tragic consequences. Don't trust the surface; dig deeper before making a decision.
The hero is called a Grey Warden for a reason. Your only goal is stopping the Blight, and the order is famed for doing whatever it takes to do so. Getting the happiest result for each quest is always the hardest route, and almost never offers any material benefit. There isn't even an alignment system. The player's choices can change the story so much that anything from "the ends justify the means" to "goodness is it's own reward" could be taken from the same scenes.
Parodied with an in-universe example in The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim. In order to join the Dark Brotherhood, you have to complete a quest from a little boy who wants you to kill the cruel headmistress at the orphanage he was being held in. If you do, he'll proudly proclaim that he now wants to be an assassin when he grows up and decides that you can solve anything by getting a person you don't like killed.
Fallout 3. There is a quest called Tenpenny Tower, about a luxurious hotel inhabited by prejudiced humans and a nearby gang of civilized ghouls (a form of monstrously mutated human) who want to live in it. There are three ways to solve this quest — Two of them involve killing either party and being rewarded by the other for it. The final option is, through a lot of tedious diplomacy, to convince the humans to let the ghouls live alongside them, and it ends with the two species coexisting peacefully and happy-happy. Except, a few days later, all the human inhabitants have been slaughtered by the ghouls. Sometimes the oppressed, when presented with the opportunity, can be just as inhuman as the oppressors.
By the way, if you want to do so without gaining negative karma ( because you killed Roy Phillips and his followers), goad all three of them — Michael Masters, Roy Phillips, and his wife — into attacking you via dialogue. You do not get negative karma for this, which raises a few questions in itself. For more moral dissonance, check out the game's own page.
Deliberately invoked in Knights of the Old Republic II: Kreia is full of these. Think you've done a good deed by giving that beggar some spare change? Think again! Kreia promptly shows you a vision of the poor sap getting mugged by another beggar- his newfound money stolen, and himself being left to bleed in the street. The moral of this story? Keep your misguided "charity" to yourself, lest you cause even more suffering by extending your generosity!
Although Kreia is a Sith so she gives a 'bad' advice. Not much dissonance in that. Furthermore, possibility of playing bad guy is for some actually a whole point of the game.
Good in theory, except Kreia goes out of her way to criticise EVERYTHING you do. Was ultimately making a point that both the light and dark sides of the Force are ultimately damaging, and justifies her cause of destroying the Force, but still massively irritating during play.
The game's Aesop is the very family-friendly, "good actions breed good from others, while evil does the same." The game not only reveals Kreia is the Big Bad, but also then shows how the evil, selfish actions of a dark side character lead to destructive, evil ends for all involved while a light side character's selfless, noble actions lead to a heroic, bittersweet ending. Additionally, the player character is handed an Idiot Ball every time Kreia attempts to teach a lesson. In the above example, anyone with half a brain should be able to point out that while well-meaning actions do sometimes go awry, all choices must be made in uncertainty and she's cherry-picking a bad outcome from a kind act - and laying the blame on the kind act, rather than the later decision of the muggers. Within the narrative of the game, Kreia is fundamentally wrong, regardless of whether the player plays a light or dark side Jedi. With the sole exception of the case with the mugger, all of a player's good actions yield good consequences, and all their evil actions yield suffering and woe for others. All of the Sith Lords, including Kreia, are destroyed by the evil drive they chose to embrace.
With respect to Kreia the game has a lesson to teach about her, that sometimes your friends, elders, teachers or authority figures may try to abuse, trick, manipulate and betray you.
Legend of Mana, especially in the Faeries story arc, repeats the message: "freedom is the highest ideal, therefore be true to yourself even at the cost of everything else". Great, except Irwin the Demon Lord is an Omnicidal Maniac, and the one person who could talk him out of it absolutely refuses to do so because she claims that she loves him too much.
While Red Dead Redemption has a few over-arching Aesops, the side quests mostly promote a philosophy of "Be careful doing nice things for people, because it may not end well for all involved". While there are some examples of a good deed having a genuinely good outcome, most do not follow this line of reasoning. Give an inventive aviator the means to create his flying machine? Congratulations, you just gave him the means to fly off of a cliff to his doom. Rescue a seemingly love-struck Chinese immigrant from cruel indentured servitude? Good job, you find out later his "love" is an addiction to heroin. Decide to rescue a mountaineer from rampaging Sasquatch? Nice work, you just single-handedly reduced a peaceful species to a single suicidal survivor. This even applies to minor side-activities, where stopping to help someone on the side of the road can get you either killed or left horseless. While mostly played for the sake of dark humor, the general message is the same; people will manipulate your sense of justice, honor or altruism to deceive you and sometimes the worst thing you can do for a person is giving them the help they seek.
That one actually shows up twice. Alicia freaks out and tries to kill herself (and her friends) with her Valkyria flame, Captain Varrot almost murders a captured enemy officer because she's in a good position to do so; they both have to be talked out of it by their future husbands.
Valkyria Chronicles III: Violence is the Only Option. That's a given in any war stories, but people will only listen to you if you're the baddest mofo in the land and aren't afraid to use your trump card either a Valkyria, or a Valkyriac superweapon. Other choice aesops includes: killing your countrymen is fine and dandy, killing oppressed people is fine and dandy, and friendship is thinner than blood so don't feel sorry about the ex-buddy S.O.B. you had to kill. It's that kind of game.
Star Ocean The Last Hope ends with everyone agreeing — and signing into law — that everyone should just stick with their own kind instead of cooperating with other races.
Players of Endless Ocean Blue World can be left with the impression that salvaging stuff from bodies of water is only good as long it gets you money or counts toward 100% Completion, and salvaging any object that even might not assist you toward this goal is probably counterproductive; leave it there. Explanation
When you use the Multisensor, it can detect if an object is or is not wood, metal, stone, or high-density. When you pick up an object, it tells you what cateogory of object it is, but not exactly what it is, though you can narrow it down with the information provided. To get money from it, you have to pay Nancy to appraise it, and the fee depends on its category. For some objects, like Old Magazines, you pay more to appraise it than you get for it, for a net loss. This means that once you get, for example, all the kinds of books for which only wood is detected, you'll likely just leave it there to avoid losing money, even though it might have been profitable this time.
Misfile tried to give An Aesop about accepting responsibility when the old road was being taken over, but Ash repeatedly points out that his title grants him no obligation to help anyone else and the other racers freely admit that they aren't friends, they just need someone to fight their battles for them. It becomes less about responsibility and more about giving in to peer pressure.
Twilight: They rely on friendship, but they only work with magic. Applejack:Well, that's a terrible lesson for the children. What are we supposed to tell them, "No matter how big your problem is, you can only solve it with magic"? Twilight: That is exactly right!
In "Everybody Hates Gilda":
Celestia: What is this? Invisible ink? Is this what we're teaching our children these days? Yes, no, I see why they say this has great morals for all the children, oh, that's really great! I mean, what kind of idiotic writer tells children that it's okay to be continuously playing pranks on everyone? We're raising a generation of assholes, that's what we're doing.
In "The Longest Episode:"
Twilight: We taught children all over the world that it's okay to crash parties, then run away.
Invoked in the live recordings of What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?. Whenever they cover a news story involving inept criminals, Tara has a habit of pointing out everything they did wrong and what they could've done better, to the point that Nash jokingly calls those segments "How To Be A Better Criminal."
Spongebob Squarepants has the episode "The Abrasive Side", in which the aesop is that Spongebob should just let himself be pushed around.
In the episode "Stuck in the Wringer", Spongebob tells us that "crying can solve our problems."
When Patrick accidentally replaces the top of his skull with brain coral, he becomes a smart, stuck up Jerk Ass. The lesson/aesop revealed is that its better to be an idiot than it is to be smart. Since smart people can't understand other people feelings.
That, or "it's better to be nice and dumb than a stuck up Jerk Ass.
"Family unfriendly" aesops on The Simpsons are usually just parodical; and the aesops they actually mean are typically more family-friendly than the show itself; but over the long span of the show various episodes have had some rather controversial messages. Many of these are connected to the reputed liberal tone of the show, which yields messages that from time to time offend viewers of more conservative persuasions.
Played for laughs on one Treehouse of Horror segment of The Simpsons parodying E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. When Bart befriends Kodos, he tries to defend his alien friend from government agents who think he's evil, oblivious to the fact that he actually wants to conquer Earth. In the end, as the heroes triumph over the alien and prepare to dissect him alive, they reflect that Kodos was just as evil as he looked, and conclude that sometimes it's perfectly fine to judge a book by its cover. As Homer points out, the inside cover of a book does tell you an awful lot about what it's about...
The moral of "Lisa the Drama Queen" came across as "The real world is supposed to suck, deal with it, and any form of escapism or fantasy is wrong".
Also, "Your grades are more important than your friend's mental health".
In "Pranks and Greens", Marge is harshly criticized by other Springfield mothers for serving unhealthy snacks at their "Midday Mommies" meeting, leading her to burn the family's junk food and purchase organic food (much to everyone chagrin). However this is still not enough to satisfy the mothers, since they then criticize using non-stick bakeware (which contains PFO As) and plastic drinking bottles marked with number 7 (which has the potential to leak BPA). After this, Marge begins to miss eating junk food and both her and Homer secretly indulge in junk food together, while agreeing to only make the kids eat healthy. Based on this resolve, a couple can apparently have a happy marriage if they make their kids miserable, leading to another moral "put up with your parents' bias while you're a kid, because you will be able to one day pass it on to your own kids", or better yet "revenge is okay, as long as you pass it on to someone else and continue the cycle".
American Dad: S4 Ep 19 has Terry's dad coming to visit him, then discovering he's gay and disowning him. After the characters scramble to convince him to accept homosexuals, he says "I know it's not dangerous. I know it isn't something that can be changed. I just don't like it." The moral is, "Bigots will be bigots no matter what you say to them, and sometimes they're people you love."
Family Guy: one that just happens to be rather "politically incorrect," occurs in the controversial "Down's Syndrome" episode, which is supposed to remind people that being disabled doesn't prevent you from being an arrogant sack of shit. While sadly true, it was far too Anvilicious and awkward to be even remotely effective. The constant "retards are funny" jokes probably didn't help.
The episode "Holy Crap" has Peter continually try to make his hard-working and religious father, Francis, accept him, even going so far as to have the Pope vouch for him. The moral is that Francis never will accept how Peter lives, but that doesn't mean he doesn't love Peter. After a moment's reflection, Peter realizes that's the same way he feels about Francis too.
The episode "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven" has the aesop "Discrimination against atheists is bad..." Okay, fair enough. "...and Christianity makes you a book-burning fundie!"
It has a secondary Family Unfriendly Aesop from Brian's argument against Meg's religious beliefs, which can be summarized as such, "A woman's worth isn't determined by her strength of character, but by how attractive she is."
"Prick Up Your Ears" endorses pre-marital sex, asserts that vaginal sex is "just tops," pushes for schools to teach about contraceptives, and, most controversially, says that abstinence (not abstinence-only education but actual abstinence) is "just wrong." They demonstrate this by having Lois perform marital rape on her non-consenting husband.
"Seahorse Seashell Party" ends with the aesop that it's okay to be an abused (mentally and physically), depressed sack of shit living with a horrible family and taking all the blame just because if you don't, they're going to rip each other apart.
Bucky O Hare #2: in an early episode, a guy named Al Negator tries to get a job on the Righteous Indignation. As he's a shifty-looking reptile, the crew is generally suspicious. But Captain Bucky O'Hare hires him on anyway, making a big point of mentioning how he trusted the gunner Deadeye Duck, despite him being a pirate with somewhat questionable morals. So it looks like a "beauty is on the inside" or "different doesn't mean bad" kind of Aesop... until Al betrays them, steals classified info, and sabotages the ship, and it becomes "if they look evil, they are evil." On the other hand, Deadeye never did a Face Heel Turn, so Bucky was right about him...
This could also be an Aesop for Bucky about trusting his crew and taking the advice of subordinates seriously, which may or may not qualify as a case of The Complainer Is Always Wrong.
Children's cartoons in the Eighties such as The Get Along Gang instilled a message that children should always go along with what the rest of their circle of friends thinks; if they disagree, there's obviously something wrong with them. Years later, the creators of the Dungeons And Dragons cartoon would bitch about how they had to constantly portray one of their characters as a whiner due to pressure from parents' groups. Arguably, the real lesson to be gained from The Get-Along Gang is "never associate yourself with a compulsive gambler."
The movie was one big anti-competition message, stating that it's not possible to engage in competition against your friends and that anyone you compete against must be your enemy.
One of the most ridiculous examples is the Captain Planet episode "Wheeler's Ark": The Planeteers have developed a habit of picking up injured and endangered animals on their missions and bringing them back to Hope Island. Gaia, naturally, finally tells them this is impractical and orders them to take them all back. Fat chance — they just pick up more at every location, all while Wheeler tries to tell them this is bad idea. Instead of the others learning what could have been a perfectly valid Green Aesop about how you shouldn't take exotic species out of their natural habitat, Wheeler just learns "If you don't want to take a wild wolf pup home with you, you're a heartless jerk."
The episode "The Numbers Game" is perplexing already (Wheeler learns a lesson that he already knew, while his friends disagree with him and learn nothing), but even that aside, it's an episode about how it's wrong to have more than two kids. Aimed at little kids. Now, imagine watching that if you're the third child in your family...
Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! has the occasional moral that is a bit off. For example, the Aesop of The Grass is Always Plaider is supposed to be something akin to "there's no place like home," but plays out more like "places other than your hometown may seem interesting, but are actually boring once you get there."
In the episode "A Tale of Tails," the moral appears to be the standard "it's okay to be different" moral, right up until the end, in which the title character uses his "kooky" tail to prove himself better at all the games the other kids play, at which point they all change their minds and love him. This seems to change the message to "it's okay to be different if that difference gives you an advantage" or "if you're different you have to prove yourself better than everyone else to be accepted." Then the closing song changes the moral yet again, this time implying that if you're not different in some way, you're not cool at all. "Don't conform ever" isn't necessarily a bad aesop, but it is a little unusual.
Daria has a lot of these. Notable is the fifth season episode "Prize Fighters," in which Daria has to be interviewed in order to gain a scholarship. However, she learns the company offering the prize has a rather sexist and racist history, so she feels uncertain about dealing with these people. Furthermore, she doesn't want to obtain the money by acting in a false manner: acting friendly, attentive, and interesting. When she is finally interviewed, she behaves as she always does: honest, sarcastic, and clipped. One might expect her to win the scholarship based on an Aesop of being true to oneself and not putting on false pretenses. But no, the interviewer is shocked by her crass behaviour and she is refused the money after all, but so are the two friends she was competing against: the intelligent but obnoxious, irritating butt-kisser, and the scripted-response-spouting black, female valedictorian. The real Aesop runs along the lines that in the real world, which is often unethical and imperfect, you cannot always expect to win out even if you stick to your principles... and sometimes, even if you don't.
The entire show had a basic principle of "Everyone sucks in their own way, and adulthood is not a cure for immaturity."
Thomas the Tank Engine has some pretty bad Aesops too, such as in the episode "Daisy," where the title character makes up a lie to get out of doing work, and gets away with it. Many episodes also feature lessons like "It's okay to get revenge on somebody if they annoy you" like in "Percy and the Signal." And in the episode "Escape," Douglas steals another engine from a different railway by deliberately fooling a signalman, and nobody seems to question the morality of it, not even the Fat Controller.
"Daisy" comes as a two-parter...in the first story, she gets away with lying, but then in the very next one she gets called out on her bullsh*t and warned that she can either shape up or ship out. "Escape" is technically kinda dodgy, morals-wise...but Oliver *was* going to be scrapped if he didn't escape.
In their backstory, the Scottish Twins had resorted to the same kind of trickery to keep themselves from being scrapped. "Escape" is more about the situation with Oliver pressing their Berserk Button trigger than actual mischief-making.
Older Thomas stories do require historical context. At the time the book was written, British Railways (Britain's rail system was nationalized in 1948) was having to scrap engines they couldn't use and move to lower-maintenance diesel locomotives. Sodor's main railway, the fictional North Western region of BR, maintained operating independence and continues to use steam traction. It would have been the work of a phone call to arrange for Oliver to be officially transferred to the region. British Railways was glad of circumstances like this. They didn't want to scrap so much of their massive steam engine fleet, it was a Shoot the Dog situation.
Plus, given the "revenge on the annoying one" aesop used in "Percy and the Signal", it's pointed out toward the end that Percy thought the big engines were being silly on the subject of signals, quite possibly implying that Percy could somehow tell that they were teaching him a lesson the wrong way. Furthermore, though the same kind of aesop was used in the very first episode of the series, the US version of the episode more or less makes Gordon's motives for getting even with Thomas even less justifiable by having Thomas say "Maybe I don't have to tease Gordon to feel important", which may imply that he didn't even know that Gordon was trying to teach him a lesson and probably wasn't even listening when Gordon said "Now you know what hard work means, don't you?"
"Breakvan." The Scottish Twins confronted and then (accidentally) destroyed a piece of rolling stock that kept mouthing off. The other engines thanked them. The Breakvan really was a Jerkass, but the moral of this story appeared to be: "If someone's bullying you, just beat the crap out of them!"
"Calling All Engines": People will force you to cooperate with those who are different from you, just remember that they're evil and would kill you at the first chance they had.
Bob the Builder had a scarecrow trickster as a main character, which is fine on its own, but he is always "forgiven" and never even has to say he's sorry. Not a great character for a show for young children.
The Thunder Cats episode "Pumm-Ra" ends with the arguably true but surprisingly cynical moral "If someone says they want to be your friend, you shouldn't automatically trust them." Especially if their name is only one letter different from your arch-enemy.
The actual Aesop as presented in the episode is "Trust must be earned."
King of the Hill has a JARRING Family Unfriendly Aesop in season 2's "Husky Bobby." Bobby becomes a male model for a husky boys' clothing store and loves it. Hank is horrified at his son's newfound hobby and wants to him quit so he wouldn't be humiliated. Hank and Bobby actually get into a argument right before Bobby takes the runway to a husky boy fashion show, with Bobby finally confronted his dad about him not being supportive to which Hank simply dismisses. In the end, Hank succeeds in pulling Bobby out the show... right before hooligans start pelting the husky boy male models with donuts. And Bobby thanks his father for pulling him out the show and keeping him from being embarrassed. The moral? "It's not worth doing what you like or being different if you're subject to humiliation." This is especially jarring considering all the difficulties Hank and Bobby have building a relationship and Hank's disapproval of almost all of Bobby's activities.
The episode where Bobby becomes the school mascot certainly applies. In the episode, Bobby becomes terrified and wishes to quit when he finds out that it's a tradition for the mascot to be beaten up by the other team. So, how do the other characters react? They verbally harass him and call him a coward, up to and including the teachers at his school. So the moral is "Tradition and commitment are more important than the physical and mental well-being of a child."
Tellingly the next time we see Bobby as the school mascot getting 'beaten' it's all just a bunch of kids PRETENDING to beat him! Yet the idea of it still scares the crap out of him! Even the show's own staff refuse to recognize the episode as canon!
Another one that should have taught Hank religious tolerance: "Won't You Pimai Neighbor?" Hank, who continually says he's not a redneck, refuses to allow any religious freedom in his house when Bobby is thought to be the reincarnation of lama Sanglug, and tries to force the Buddhists to stop making him a religious figure. This is made all the more upsetting by the revelation that Bobby may actually have been the re-incarnation of the lama.
It was actually BOBBY who forced them to stop treating him as a religious figure, essentially by cheating on their final test. The senior monk clearly saw through it (and was even questioned on it by one of his subordinates who did as well) and simply passed it off with "It was my call, and I made it."
In "Business Is Picking Up," Bobby is late to sign up to job-shadow program, and ends up being left with the one local business person no other kid signed up to work with: a man named Peter Sterling (played by guest star Johnny Knoxville) who owns his own waste removal service, cleaning up dog droppings and similar. Hank is horrified when Bobby takes to the apparently very profitable work and has plans to start his own business based around vomit removal that seems to have promise. He convinces Sterling to help dissuade Bobby because he doesn't have Sterling's charisma and might be ridiculed for it.
In yet another episode Bobby starts reading tarot cards and hanging around some people who did the same. Hank is horrified and tries to get Bobby to stop because he thinks people will laugh at him for having such an unusual interest. So the moral is "If other people disapprove of something you do, you MUST give it up no matter how much you enjoy it."
It also provides the family-unfriendly aesop of "If someone likes something unusual, it means they're freaky cultists that engage in creepy activities". Gets worse in that the little deviants drink dog blood, like... everyone... who reads tarot cards...
In one episode, Hank is upset that Bobby and his teammates leave the football team which has a blantantly abusive coach to join the soccer team. By the end of the episode, Bobby realizes how wimpy soccer is and says, "C'mon guys, let's play some football!" The only apparent moral is that football is better than soccer.
According to the episode, soccer players don't get hurt or bruised while playing, their practices consist of walking a little ball around cones at two miles per hour, soccer moms are all alpha bitches, and in soccer a tie means everybody wins! The episode also shows some things which are meant to make soccer look bad and football great which, even if taken seriously, have the opposite effect. Football players make awesome graffitti on public property trash-talking their opponents? Soccer wimps clean it up. And That's Terrible.
It also seems to say that while having an abusive coach is bad, having a milquetoast coach is even worse. So always go for the lesser of two evils.
To be honest, somewhere between one and three quarters of all the Aesops shown in Kot H fall somewhere between Broken, Family Unfriendly and Spoof. In fact, a lot of the time that it would seem to be actually promoting something, it's laden with the subtext of "This is the way a well-meaning but somewhat ignorant person thinks." Thus perfectly in synch with the "everyday average person" schtick of the entire show...
As a counterpoint, most of the ones based on Hank can be chalked up to Values Dissonance. If you are a strongly Christian man, then your son converting to Buddhism and saying that he's a reincarnation of Buddha is as dangerous to his soul as playing with dynamite is to his body. Same goes for tarot cards.
The show occasionally acknowledges Hank's values dissonance by having him assert whatever value as a joke. It only becomes offensive in the many times where the plot gets involved, and Hank becomes a Black Hole Sue.
In the series finale, Hank and Bobby finally bond when Bobby finds out he has a knack for testing meat for flaws to near perfection, despite it all, the only thing Hank openly felt proud about his son doing was something he thinks is perfection, the fact that Bobby enjoyed it is a sweet bonus footnote, but still doesn't mesh well with all the other stuff he shot down.
The 1934 Disney short film The Flying Mouse has a plot similar to The Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings above plus an extra dose of What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: the birds fly away from him (one baby bird who sticks around is quickly dragged off by its mother), his family runs terrified into their house and barricade it against him... only the creepy-looking bats call the bat-winged mouse "Brother" and he whimpers, "I'm not your brother!" (the insulted bats mock him with the song "You're Nothing But a Nothing")— further, when he looks in a puddle, he sees his reflection change to that of a bat, causing him to try to pull the wings off, and telling the fairy who granted his wish that he wants to die!
The Critic has a hot actress (with an upcoming movie) crushing on Jay which he and the rest of the cast see as blatant pandering for a good review...at first. She ignores Jeremy (a Mel Gibson Expy) and seems to genuinely endear herself to everyone, steering the episode to being "Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover" while Jay procrastinates about seeing her movie. He finally does, realizes she's god-awful and puts his integrity as a critic above romance...and she immediately turns nasty. Ironically, if she put that much effort into her movies, she'd have more Oscars than Tom Hanks.
The Adventure Time episode "His Hero" applies. Finn and Jake are convinced to practice nonviolence by their hero Billy. After a while they realize that violence is necessary sometimes and use force to rescue an old lady that's in peril. They go back and explain that to Billy and we all learn a valuable lesson.
In "Crystals Have Power", Finn gets hurt roughhousing and Jake is afraid to use violence, remembering his greatest failure when he knocked out his brother Jermaine and their dad congratulated him for it. After getting knocked out trying to save Finn with nonviolence, Jake's dad appears as a Spirit Advisor, saying Jermaine is fine and if Jake had let him finish talking that day, he said Jake would only hurt everyone who's bad.Jake promptly snaps out of it.
At the end of the genderbent episode, Fionna learns that she doesn't need a man to make her happy, unless that man is the Ice King.
In "Conquest of Cuteness", Finn and Jake teach the Cute King that he'd be better off manipulating others with his cuteness instead of making blatant threats ("Just be righteous about it.")
In "Card Wars", Finn is forced to purposely lose a card game in order to placate Jake's raging ego and obsessive need to win. This results in... the two of them remaining friends, and sharing a drink from the loser's cup.
In "Donny", Finn tries to find the hidden nice side of an obnoxious grass-ogre, only for it to turn out that the ogre being a jerk is the only thing preventing the village from being destroyed by whywolves. The moral being, "Jerks are necessary to ward off bigger jerks."
The Waterbending Scroll: It's okay to steal, as long as it's from pirates. Lampshaded in the episode.
The Great Divide: Lying through your teeth is an acceptable and effective way to resolve deeply ingrained disputes.
The Waterbending Master: It's acceptable to attack someone if they are mean to you, and nepotism trumps tradition.
The series as a whole, but the finale in particular, looked for awhile to be building up to a very Family Unfriendly Aesop: that sometimes, Violence Really Is the Answer. Aang spoke with all of his past lives and was told by Roku, indirectly, about how many lives they could have saved if they had "acted decisively," and by Kyoshi and Yangchen how they were willing to do "anything" to save the lives of millions of people, and that as Avatar his duty was to put the well-being of the people of the world over his own path to enlightenment. Kuruk was the only one who provided a clear opposition to the idea, advising Aang to "actively shape your own destiny." But at the last minute the show pulled a way for Aang to save the day without killing out of its ass.
The Inspector short "London Derierre" was written around the idea that British policemen are a bunch of idiotic fools for not carrying weapons and that real police officers carry guns at all times and use them whenever the opportunity presents itself. While you can make arguments for and against British police officers being unarmed, the way the cartoon depicts things rather undermines its own argument, because the Inspector opens fire at a burglar who has done nothing to directly threaten the Inspector himself, and does it in the middle of a crowded building. This has the effect of making the Inspector look like a trigger-happy maniac, even though he's the one we're supposed to sympathise with, while the obstructive British police officers come off like they're preventing the Inspector from hurting any innocent bystanders.
Hey Arnold! episodes featuring Helga's mom tend to teach that parents are sometimes idiots. This is not the kind of message that parents usually want their kids to be exposed to.
Another episode was about Helga performing a stand-up comedy act in which she made insulting jokes about her friends. This upset them, so she stopped, but then her act wasn't funny. Arnold encouraged her to go back to doing the insult routine, and the audience loved it. The moral: It's OK to insult people if you're funny enough.
When going back to the insult routine, she added a bit of Self-Deprecation humor to warm her audience up to the idea. The moral could therefore be "it's okay to insult people as long as you insult yourself first."
A Christmas special based on For Better or for Worse taught us that people will only appreciate what you do for them if they think you've died.
The Proud Family had a fairly standard episode where Penny got bullied, right up to the last minute. She eventually got the bullies to leave her alone by becoming their money manager and ends the episode happily waving her cut of the stolen money. "If you can't beat them, join them" is a fairly standard Aesop, but usually isn't applied to criminal behavior.
Though this probably wasn't intentional, the first episode of Justice League can fairly easily be seen as having a pro-nuclear weapons slant.
The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well came under a lot of fire because its aesop seemed to be, "If your friend lets their ego get the upper hand, you should go behind their back to show them up and humiliate them." The message snaps in half when you realize that the rest of the Mane Six were bragging about their contributions to Mare-Do-Well's list of heroic deeds just to rub Rainbow Dash's nose in it.
In an episode of Yogi Bear Yogi and another bear begin fighting over Cindy, and she tells them that whoever brings her the best present gets to be with her. Yogi and the other bear proceed to steal not only food but TV's and radios, Yogi eventually wins by bringing her a freaking car. Ranger Smith finds out but sees he stole it for Cindy, and decides not to turn him in because "it's spring." So the moral? "Stealing is okay if it could get you laid."
After Bloom finds out the truth, she decides that she doesn't want to be a fairy anymore and leaves Alfea. Let me restate that: She decides to give up all her dreams just because she got her heart broken! Yeah, because your dreams are worth giving up over a broken heart. And when her friends attempt to talk her out of it, she barely even considers what they're saying. Really, Bloom? That's how you treat the people who have been your friends since day 1?!
Many fans also feel that Bloom calling Mike and Vanessa by their first names instead of "Dad" and "Mom" gave the message that adoptive parents will never replace biological ones, regardless of how much they love you.
Redakai seems to be showing up on several of these lists. While flinging fire around in a forest is more of a Broken Aesop in context, there are family unfriendly ones, as well. In one episode, both the good guys and bad guys are betrayed by a Paleontologist who is trying to get his hands on a resurrected Pterodactyl. In the end, the heroes catch up to him, then attach him to a rope tied to the pterodactyl so he is dragged through the air like someone being dragged by a truck while the heroes laugh. So..."Lynching is an acceptable form of retribution to someone who betrays you?"
Parents frequently bash Caillou for teaching that whining to get your way is good.
One infamous episode had Caillou being afraid of a man he didn't know. What does his mother do? Why, leave him alone with said man! While one could argue that it's supposed to be a subversion of the whole Stranger Danger specials of the 1980s-1990s, it doesn't change the fact that Caillou's mother leaving a frightened child alone with a complete stranger is a very irresponsible thing to do.
The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes episode "Ultron-5" begins with Ant-Man annoyed with his teammates' constantly fighting criminals in order to resolve conflicts. While he prepares for quitting the Avengers, he talks to his robot, Ultron, about how there must be "a better way" to reduce crime. What does Ultron do afterward? Since Ant-Man deemed humanity responsible for all the violence, Ultron decides to Kill All Humans! to rid the world of fighting! Feeling responsible for nearly causing the extinction of everything, Ant-Man never seems to find a better way by the time the first season ends, which could leave some viewers wondering if violence really is the answer...
It probably doesn't help that Ant-Man decides to quit after his suggestions for the Avengers and the Serpent Society to talk things out instead results in the battle escalating, and the other heroes' blaming him for the Serpent Society ultimately fleeing the scene of the crime.
In the second season, The Wasp tries to urge Hank (Ant-Man only goes by his civilian name now.) not to give up trying to help the Avengers find a better way to resolve conflicts, though she might just do this because she doesn't want Hank's depression to interfere with their love.
The Nightmare Before Christmas had the intended Aesop of "we all have our own talents, which we should be proud of." It can also, however, be fairly easily read as "never try anything new; you'll just fail miserably."
The Berenstain Bears series from the 1980s had one episode called "The Berenstein Bears and the Spooky Old Mansion" which was about a old woman that Mama Bear knew as a cub just died (they never go out and say it because mentioning death on a kids' show was forbidden at the time) but lo and behold, she's leaving them inheritance! The catch? They must trudge through her old, dilapidated mansion in the middle of the night to claim it (did I mention there are frogs and owls and bats and spiders that now live there?). So they do that, and what is the inheritance? Is it a pile of money? Keys to a new car? An all-expenses-paid vacation? Actually... it's a note that says by making them do this, she's granting them the gift of courage. A normal person would curse the old bag out and leave, and probably order the mansion demolished the next day. But not here; the family is very happy with all this moral goodness. It seems like the moral here is "It's okay if you make people waste time and energy, get scared, and risk getting hurt all for a hypocritical display of virtue (did she plant it there?), or worse: "It's okay if someone is treating you like crap."
Master Splinter gets off several of these "unPC but true" aesops in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. In one episode, he admonishes Leonardo for seeking a fair fight, and demonstrates that he should "seek victory, not fairness". In the pilot, he makes Leonardo the leader, not because he is the most even tempered, wisest, or skilled fighter in the group (in this series, the latter would go to Raphael), but because he showed the initiative to ask for the position of leader before any of the other turtles.
Similar to the Sponge Bob Square Pants example above, in Fairly OddParents Timmy wishes his dad wasn't as much of an idiot he was before, inadvertently turning him into a genius. Said genius dad is a near Sociopath who thinks nothing about taking his wife's contact lenses, turning all of his son's toys into a lab, and nearly experimenting on his 'fish' (when they're Fairy God Parents). So...idiot equals good and nice but smart equals sociopath? Since none of the scientists can comprehend thinking about others when Timmy's Dad tries to show off his new discovery and stops to not hurt his son?
Even much worse is the episode where Timmy is taught not to even want a 'thanks' from the good deeds he does when his bastard best friend, teacher, and parents all freak out and say or want the opposite without even telling him. And being showed that life for EVERYONE would in actuality be better for everyone without him.
It's especially egregious when you remember that Jorgen once punished Timmy for being ungrateful to Cosmo and Wanda. Does he have a Double Standard thing when it comes to Timmy?
According to South Park, male to female transgendered individuals are nothing more than guys with mangled genitals.