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 necessarily 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 Marches On, it's Values Dissonance or Fair for Its Day. 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.
Bokurano has a few, which is unsurprising given the nature of the show.
Kirie, having learned that every time you win, another universe is destroyed, has a talk with Tanaka, believing he cannot fight in light of that information. Tanaka essentially gives him two lessons. 1) People's lives are not equal, and when people are forced into a situation where they must choose one person's life or another's, they will choose the one they value more. 2) People exist because of sacrifice, from the plants and animals they eat every day to continue living, to the ones who died to ensure their standard of life, and even Jesus and the Buddha are no exception.
The ending of Chizu's arc has her family understandably appalled at her killing innocent people in her quest for vengeance against Hatagai. In response, they decide not to press charges against Hatagai, sending the message that it's better to let the guilty escape than cause innocents to suffer through revenge.
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.
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 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 one for the Japanese, and the latter is one for Americans.
One of the themes at the end of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam seems to be "Peace is a nice ideal, but you have to be willing to fight because the world is full of bad people who delight in tormenting others". Indeed, the Grand Finale basically has Kamille getting over his earlier "Why do we have to keep fighting?!" attitude and killing the Big Bad.
While the manga and anime itself has a Family Friendly Aesop that teaches Forgiveness and uses A World Half Full, 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."
Pokémon: The debut episode of Duplica and her Ditto featured one. Her Ditto was unable to change its face when transforming, a shortcoming it couldn't get rid of, no matter how hard Ditto and its caring trainer worked on overcoming it. Then the Team Rocket trio kidnapped Ditto and finally got it to overcome its problem by threatening it. So apparently encouraging someone and helping them work on overcoming their shortcomings isn't enough; you have intimidate and force them to do it.
The moral here: Who cares how the problem is solved, so long as the problem is solved.
Shiki basically has the moral that if things get bad enough, anyone can and will turn into a murderous monster regardless of his or her original personality because most people just care about themselves and their own more than anything else, and that it doesn't matter if you do decide to be selfless and nonviolent because you're screwed either way.
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!"
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.
Oh, the Jack Chick tract, Lisa. A father frequently rapes his daughter, Lisa. He shares her with his neighbor. The mother knows and does nothing about it, and takes out her frustration by beating the girl. When the doctor diagnoses Lisa with herpes and discovers the secret, he ministers to the father, they pray, and the father is spiritually reborn. Dad goes home and ministers to his wife, who is also spiritually reborn. They then tell their daughter the good news that her parents are going to act like semi-decent human beings from now on. The Aesop? You get a free pass on child abuse if you accept Jesus. Bonus Aesop: if you're a pediatrician with proof that a patient has been abused, hold off on calling the cops; you might be able to convert her parents to your religion.
Besides its basic premise that almost all adults are evil, or at least highly corruptible or gullible, Runaways had the rather unfortunate Aesop that one's sexuality or gender identity are subordinate to the greater good - mere minutes after coming out of the closet (and facing a painful rejection from her longtime crush), Karolina is emotionally blackmailed into accepting a marriage proposal from Xavin, a Skrull prince who believes that their marriage might end a war between the Skrulls and Majesdanians. In order for this to work, Karolina pretends to be straight in public, while Xavin takes a female form in private. During Joss Whedon's run, it was heavily implied that both found this arrangement to be demeaning. It was also somewhat more subtly implied that Karolina was starting to view Xavin as an abusive fiancée.
Fairy Tales - General
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.
Russian fairy tales tend to be rather cynical. One story in a collection by 19th century folklorist Alexander Afanasyev has the moral "Old favors are soon forgotten."
Fairy Tales - Specific Stories
While we're at it, "Cinderella" itself. Charles Perrault announced at the end that the moral was — good looks and all sort of other wonderful traits are useless without connections.
While that first example is true to an extent... this one is a bit more damning — Wait around, be passive, and let yourself be a slave to others, and good things will come out of nowhere for you in the end.
Perrault's Riquet with the Tuft provides an even more unfortunate one, as Riquet chooses the beautiful but dumb princess as his wife and flat-out ignores her ugly but intelligent sister. The basic message is that it's more important for a woman to be beautiful than intelligent.
The standard fairy tale plot of a hero overcoming impossible quests to marry a princess 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.
Into the Woods 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 became 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."
"Puss in Boots" (a.k.a. "The Master Cat") is an outstanding example. 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."
Taken by itself with no metaphor, the lesson is that a predatory animal (the 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.
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).
Chapter five of My Brave Pony: Star Fleet Magic III teaches that anyone who doesn't like you should be arrested, sent to an insane asylum, and brainwashed.
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.
Another frequently used one is how women should Stay in the Kitchen. Thankfully, this is also a Broken Aesop, since the women turn out to be critical to the Prayer Warriors' efforts, possibly more so than the author realizes.
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 at certain things than others, and trying to bring them down to the level of everyone else will ultimately only make everyone worse off. While "be who you are, not who others want you to be" sounds like a fairly family friendly aesop, the rather cynical implication is that people in general will always tend to envy you for being better than they are unless your superiority is immediately beneficial to them. It also gets a bit muddy when the same Arc Words ("When everyone is special, no one is") are used by both the protagonists to complain about artificial praise devaluing praise for the genuinely extraordinary, and the antagonist to describe his plan to democratize superpowers through technology, implicitly equating to the two (and framing the latter as villainous).
Well, current-societal-attitudes unfriendly, at least. You can be successful without a university education if you work hard and make your way up through the ranks over time. Not really a negative one at all, since it's not as though it's telling people to slack off; Mike and Sulley's path is harder than that of the graduates, though they make it eventually.
The film also has a more brutally honest message: No matter how hard you try or how much you love and know about the material, there are just things in life you can't do, at least not in the traditional sense, much like the message of Wreck-It Ralph. Accept it, and find where your real talents lie at. This is notably balanced out that it clarifies that you can still work for the thing you love, but with a different task as Mike never becomes an on-field Scarer, but an assistant and is treated like an equal to Scarers
A rather broken message in that the Oozma Kappa monsters do ultimately become successful scarers through a combination of hard work and sheer creativity. Mike is the only member never to do this, sticking with the standard "jump out and say 'rawr' method" and giving up when it fails him miserably. A more accurate, albeit unintentional aesop might go something like "be prepared to revise your approach multiple times."
The film often shows that, yes, cruel people have a point. Jerks like ROR are correct in pointing out Oozma Kappa lack traditional Scaring build (but clearly wrong for belittling them). In a sense, this notion drives Oozma Kappa to look further to prove that traditional build is not all there is to it.
Films — Live Action
Crossing Delancey- some people might see either of the following:
From Izzy's perspective: if you try to be an independent-minded modern woman who can make her own decisions on life and love, maybe you shouldn't- your meddling elders are right after all and you really should be with the nice Jewish guy they pick out, even if he's a lowly, seemingly boring pickle-seller. Kind of like Fiddler on the Roof, but in reverse.
Or, from Sam's (the pickle seller) perspective: if you're a really nice guy who's genuinely interested in the woman you've been introduced to, be prepared to be dragged though the dirt and feel like a complete schmuck before you can finally end up with her. (Amongst the things Izzy does to him: invites him out on a date 'just'' to pawn him off on her best friend; when she finally invites him back to her apartment for some time together, inviting the married neighbour who keeps coming round when he falls out with his wife, and with whom Izzy is heavily implied to be sleeping; third, standing him up on a date because the author guy she's been after tries to woo her...)
The Dark Knight: Sometimes it's better to have people believe in a lie if it serves a greater good and prevents widespread despair. When your society's greatest hero turns evil and then dies, lying to everyone that he met a heroic death can be the lesser evil. In this case giving Gotham hope and keeping dozens of guilty criminals off the streets.
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.
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.
Grease: So the guy you like turns out to be a stupid jerk, who refuses to be with you in front of his "cool" friends? That totally means that you have to start smoking and change your whole appearance, so you can become a "cool girl" and be good enough for him! The message is supposed to be that Sandy needed to stop being so uptight, and that Danny did things for her as well. But seriously!
Early in the movie, Jack Sparrow rescues Elizabeth Swann from drowning when no one else was near or capable enough to do so. The act causes him to be outed as a pirate, wherein the governor immediately orders him to be hanged. When Elizabeth objects on the grounds that he did just save her life, Commodore Norrington insists that "one good deed is not enough to redeem a lifetime of wickedness," to which Jack replies, "Though it seems enough to condemn him." One action does not mitigate past crimes, and a good deed can easily have bad consequences.
Will Turner calls out Jack on pulling a gun to win their earlier sword duel. When Will insists that this is cheating and he would easily kill Jack in a fair fight, Jack points out that this is hardly good motivation for him to fight fair. During this, Will has been incensed enough to pull his sword over other things they're talking about, and Jack uses another underhanded, "unfair" tactic to disarm him and prove the point; having honor may make you feel better, but just having it won't magically save your life.
At the end of the film, Commodore Norrington decides to give Jack a head start in escaping Port Royale, with he and other characters acknowledging that Jack is a good man despite being a pirate. This is presented as them learning their lesson and being better people for it. It has dire consequences for them in the second film, where it turns out the law doesn't give a damn; being a good man despite being an outlaw is possible, but breaking the law is still breaking the law. This also reinforces the first scene above where the reward for a good deed is misery.
The movie Rocket Science viciously deconstructs the popular "try your hardest and you can overcome anything" moral. Some obstacles just can't be surmounted no matter how hard you try. And sometimes you just Don't Get The Girl. Oh, and life isn't fair. All in all, it's fairly Anvilicious about the whole thing, but Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped.
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.
When a Man Loves A Woman: "You can be the most unlikeable alcoholic in the world, treat your two children like shit, ruin your marriage to a person who's almost a saint and wholeheartily tries to help you... and you'll get away with it, solely because you're a woman."
You Me And Dupree: "It doesn't matter if you work your ass off to please everyone around you. Since you're a responsible adult and ~not fun anymore~, youre efforts will never be truly appreciated."
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...
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.
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.
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 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 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.
Courtship Rite borders 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.
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.
The Princess Bride has one in-universe-the narrator notes how 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".
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.
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.
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 into lazy, greedy assholes and destroy the economy.
Similarly, the villain in The Law of Nines is said to have garnered support by offering what was essentially medieval welfare to the "lazy."
Although it's never explicitly stated, it could be argued that To Kill a Mockingbird has the following uncomfortable Aesop: "Every human being, no matter how misunderstood, is capable of noble behavior...unless you're feckless white trash, in which case you're beyond help." It's true in the context of the story, admittedly, but...Jesus.
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 skeptic 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 seemingly impossible things.
On the surface, the motivational book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson 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 this Business Fable is partly due to managers distributing it on the eve of a large and unpopular decision by the top brass. Deepak Malhotra wrote I Moved Your Cheese 2011 as a response to this implication that change is out of one's control. This business fable revolves around three mice who transcend the limits of the maze in their own ways.
The lesson in The Wishing Maiden seems to be that magically granted wishes, if allowed to run rampant, will incite wars and create chaos.
Although Friedrich Nietzsche is not explicitly Social Darwinist, his revolt against conventional morality elaborated upon with Beyond Good and Evil, The Antichrist and others engender a rejection of egalitarian altruism and antipathy for the socially disadvantaged.
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.
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.
Literature/Divergent: Smart people are a bunch of evil, enslaving, murdering tyrants who want to enslave and/or murder you because they're evil, and they consider anyone who isn't sufficiently predictable to be a threat of the highest degree.
Live Action TV
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.
The ''The Big Bang Theory" episode "The Table for Polarization" has Sheldon get grumpy over a new kitchen table, when he gets his own way at the end he smugly tells Leonard "Sometimes the baby wins."
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 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.
Friends: "The One With The Cat" where Phoebe thinks a stray cat is her reincarnated mother. After learning the cat belongs to a little girl, Monica, Rachel, Chandler and Joey all wimp out at telling Phoebe, and Ross alone goes through with it. When Phoebe decides to keep the cat because she has to respect her mother's wish to be with her, her friends all wimp out again, and only Ross insists on putting an end to this. For this, Ross gets chewed out for being a bad friend, because he wasn't supportive of Phoebe, like the others were. The problem with that is that Ross was supportive of Phoebe, and only stopped humoring her when he found out about the little girl. The only real difference between Ross and the others was that he was unwilling to let Phoebe keep the cat at the little girl's expense. Apparently, being a good friend means you have to support somebody unconditionally, even when they're totally wrong, when they're being selfish, or when their actions would actually hurt an innocent child.
Growing Pains has one that comes as quite a surprise. Plenty of shows do episodes about not idolizing celebrities, so it comes as no surprise to see an episode in which Ben walks in on his favorite singer having an affair. However, most such episodes end on the note of the celebrity being a Broken Pedestal... instead, this episode continues with Jason explaining to Ben that the morality of a celebrity is not what causes us to enjoy their art, so it should not be a consideration in whether or not we continue to do so. They end up going to the singer's concert anyway.
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.
"Murtaugh" endorses modern America's culture of losing, by telling us that even if you put in zero effort and have no talent whatsoever, you deserve a trophy just for participating. Marshall tries to point out how insane that system is, but the ending of the episode thoroughly agrees with Lily.
Not to mention that because of that system, Lily's kindergarten basketball team does not even know how to play and loses their game by more than 100 points without even making one basket.
In "Bad Crazy" it's said that if a woman is acting crazy, the fault lies with the man that she's dating. This is one of the show's only examples of The Unfair Sex. Specifically, Robin accuses Ted of being responsible for Jeannette's insane behavior because he's been sending mixed signals to her... despite the fact that Jeannette stalked Ted for over a year and even started a fire so that she could meet him. The woman was obviously crazy long before she and Ted ever started dating.
A recurring theme is that the perfect person is out there, and settling for anything less is a mistake. While seemingly benign at first, this quickly becomes family-unfriendly as Ted refuses to even give a relationship a try because relationships are easy, and you should love everything about your partner. The idea of having issues you need to work through is proof things will not work out... even though that's how real relationships work.
Demetri 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 lunge 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).
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. (It is worth noting that they in fact want him to become president so that he can make life better for all lower class people, not just his family, and also that his family assumed he knew. They chose him for this because they thought he was the only one smart enough and trust-worthy enough to get it done.) Apparently, the moral behind Malcolm in the Middle is either that a truly great parent will be willing to make their children's childhoods miserable or, (less intentional but more true) that blindly obeying your family when they are clearly wrong will lead only to a lifetime of misery.
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.
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. Dewey: Yeah. If you do something bad, don't tell!
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 Mortal Kombat: Conquest, Kung Lao 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 and cures them, leading to the Family-Unfriendly Aesop that your close friends are more important than the entirety of humanity. And then Raiden shows up, in his full godly fury, to tell him quite emphatically that yes, his friends were right, and Kung Lao really is more important than them. Raiden's aesop was that the safety of the entire world is more important than one person's circle of friends.
OnceUponATime has frequently pushed the messages that "Being the good guy means you'll always lose," "Being a nasty bastard will get you everything you want" and "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished." We have a town full of fairy tale characters stranded in small-town Maine because the evil stepmother queen successfully cursed the entire land. But even she was groomed since birth to be a mess because of her social-climbing bitch of a mother (who was a classic From Nobody to Nightmare wanting the entire universe bowing to her in a twisted form of revenge) and Magnificent Bastard Rumplestitskin wanting someone else to cast his curse for him. Regina has lied, cheated, raped, burned entire villages to the ground, sent dozens of children to their deaths, murdered a man to try and take his little boy for herself...and regrets absolutely none of it because she got what she wanted in the end.
Rumplestitskin was a poor sheep farmer and weaver branded as a coward and facing the prospect of having his teenaged son die in a pointless war until he embraced evil magic and began running circles around everyone. He now owns the town everyone's stuck in, living in wealth and comfort while still effortlessly playing Xanatos Speed Chess with everyone that comes along.
When Regina's mother showed up and started a reign of terror, trying to negotiate or deal with her through honorable means failed. What did work? Snow White of all people manipulating Regina into killing her own mother with a spell!
In Season 3, we get the Wicked Witch of the West holding a marginally redemmed Rumple as her toy and captive, driving him into madness. She effortlessly manipulated Snow White, and killed off one of the most moral characters on the show, Rumple's son, just to tighten her grip on Rumple Of course, when they did manage defeat the Witch, the rest of the cast were willing to let her stay in jail and have a chance to repent. Rumple decided revenge was the better option, lied to his girlfriend about not going out to seek it, and stabbed the Witch to death after altering the security tapes so none would be the wiser. The morals being "If you're sneaky about it, you can get away with anything" and "some people are just too dangerous to live, even de-powered and imprisoned."
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.
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when compulsive liar Garak hears the tale of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" he immediately interprets the moral to be "Never tell the same lie twice."
Deep Space Nine has a lot of rather family-unfriendly deconstructions of Gene Roddenberry's Mary Suetopia, in fact, often spotlighting cases where the Strawman Has a Point and even the Villain Has a Point. Quark, the conniving and greedy Ferengi bartender, often makes a good case for unbridled capitalism nevertheless. Odo, shining beacon of justice that he is, nevertheless has often learned the value of letting Quark get away with some of his shady deals in order to apprehend the truly dangerous criminals with whom he does business. For his part, Garak is basically the Token Evil Teammate, yet is most effective at Cutting the Knot right when everyone else needs some dirty business done and yet can't bring themselves to do it.
The one which Kira gives near the end of "The Darkness and the Light": it's perfectly okay to kill civilians to get Occupiers Outof Our Country, as she thinks they're just as guilty and shouldn't have been there.
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 Wally Amos (playing himself) descending into his living room to give an unorthodox inspirational 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.
In the episode "Crime and Punishment": when Louie is caught stealing parts from the cab company to sell, he frames his assistant Jeff, convincing him to accept the blame with the promise that Louie will get him his job back. When Jeff is arrested for the crime, Louie is forced by Alex to tell the truth but his boss, Mr. Ratledge, doesn't believe his confession and thinks he's just covering for Jeff. Mr. Ratledge then agrees to rehire Jeff, dropping all charges against him and then also invites Louie to his golf game. At the end of the episode, Louie sits musing to Alex that he stole, lied and betrayed a friend but not only does he face no consequences, his boss now thinks more highly of him than ever. He can only come to the conclusion: "Let's face it, Rieger, crime pays."
When most of the lessons on Ultraman Mebius rely on the power of friendship and teamwork, their execution is noticeably rather generic. However in an episode featuring Ultraman Leo as a special guest, the lesson teaches rather harshly that "unless you yourself possess the right skills to get a job done that could endanger your life, and the life of your friends, then you're not right for a job at all," as well as "Don't be a crybaby, and tough out your hardship." However at the same time, the lesson sort of gets lost when Leo decides to help Mebius after his friends are endangered again by the Alien that caused Mebius so much trouble in the first place.
Veronica Mars: The season one 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.
You Cant 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 - though the complete and total absence of any decent adults on the series might've been taking it too far.
Any time a police procedural uses wanting a lawyer as evidence of guilt. This message is prevalent enough to have earned a trope of its own, "Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers." This is subverted, surprisingly, by 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.
The Cher Lloyd song "Want U Back" teaches us that it's a-okay to dump a boy for petty reasons, then demand that he break up with his new girlfriend and start dating you again because you can't stand to see him being happy with somebody else. After all, you "had [him] first!"
"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 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.
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 day job. 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."
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.
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")
The New Kingston Trio's "Jug Town" is surprisingly pro-alcohol: 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".
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).
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.
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.
In Little Orphan Annie, one World War II strip has Annie seeing a man physically attack an obnoxious war-profiteer for declaring that he hopes the war will continue for another twenty years. When a policeman tries to intervene, Annie stops him because "it's better some times to let folks settle some questions by what you might call democratic processes."
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."
Jack Bradley's drama Marital AIDS: Judi works as an adviser on the cases of HIV infected employees dealing with prejudice. One case of hers turns out to be Brian, long time friend of her husband Ryk. Hell breaks loose in their marriage when it turns out that Ryk had (and still has) a long-term romance with Brian, so Ryk himself and even Judi is threatened with HIV infection. Judi storms out of their home, but a while later we can see them back together, feeding ducks in the park. Ryk never shows repentance for his cheating, and argues that Judi should embrace that as part of the personality she fell in love with, while explaining that he, as a bisexual, feels the need for a male friendship and her to be fulfilled, and Judi accepts all of these in the end. The play therefore has the aesop that we should condone our partners cheating on us because it's part of accepting our beloved as they are, with an underlying message that bisexuals are polyamorous by their very nature and cannot stay in a committed monogamous relationship (not to mention that it's acceptable to expose your partners to potentially deadly infections, and in general, keeping the partner in the dark about aspects greatly concerning their life, and thus trapping them into a deal with terms they couldn't consent).
Rent: "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').
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.
Beyond: Two Souls Has a simmilar one to the Loneliness example below where one of the antagonists who's primary motivation is to just see his dead family again shoots himself... and instantly becomes a spirit reunited with his family who happily welcome him despite the years of unwitting torture. The extremely dark aseop being off yourself and you'll immediately be reunited with your loved ones with no consequences.
The freeware RPG The Crooked Man follows the main character as he retraces the steps of the previous tenant of his apartment, which align creepily with his own. Each of the people he meets is facing the dilemma of struggling bravely forward, or giving up, on whatever conflict they're dealing with. Invariably, the answer is to accept one's own limitations. There are some things in life that, no matter how badly you want them and no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to achieve; if you don't fit a certain mold, there's no honor in ruining yourself to force it.
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 overarching 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.
This even applies to Paragon Aeducan, one of the most venerated individuals in Dwarven history. His decision to ignore the Assembly and lead the Warrior Caste in the defense of the city, prevented the Darkspawn from breaching Orzammar and saved their race from being wiped out. In other words, democracy is all good an well, but when you're too busy arguing to see the enemy about to kill you, a military coup is the only solution.
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.
The player may not realize that that would happen in the first place, so this could also function as an Aesop about how even noble acts can bring unforeseen and unpleasant consequences.
Lost in Blue is about two people shipwrecked on an island and having to work together to survive, which ends up being sort of a gender-role/marriage simulator. The thing is, the AI isn't all that bright, and your "spouse" is likely to die of stupidity no matter who you're playing. It's set up as being very much the traditional idea of what a married couple will be to each other, but the complications caused by the faulty AI generally turn this message into "Partnership and teamwork is necessary, but it sucks to be married to a useless moron."
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.
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.
One of the major aesops in Tales of Symphonia (besides the obvious "racism is bad" one) is about knowing when the quit, and that sticking to your beliefs isn't always a good thing. Lloyd and the Big Bad act as basically a Deconstruction of the Determinator trope, with Lloyd eventually learning that he needs to change his outlook on the world and becoming a better person as a result, while the Big Bad stubbornly refuses to change to the bitter end, even when his own sister, who he was enacting his schemes for to begin with tells him that what he's doing is wrong and he needs to stop.
Boy Meets Boy ends with the lesson that people change, friendships don't last, and you'll probably have to settle for second best, because the love of your life simply isn't interested.
El Goonish Shive had one at the end of "Death Sentence": When confronted with a bad situation, one shouldn't simply decide that the worst outcome is inevitable and plan for that. People should, by all means, try to make better plans so that things might end peacefully and without anyone getting hurt. However, what they need to remember is that sometimes that isn't going to work at all, and in fact their plan might be doomed from the beginning, and so if their plan goes to hell, they should be prepared for the bad ending- but that doesn't mean that they should stop making plans where Everybody Lives. It's a pretty depressing message, though the rather idealistic character to whom it gets delivered does accept it (but not happily).
And while on the subject of Sandra K. Fuhr, one of the possible endings to Friendly Hostility teaches us that even with the best intentions, you can't force a relationship to last.
Jack has a few overarching themes in its stories, mostly centering on the nature of sin, punishment, repentance and redemption, understandable for a comic about Heaven and Hell. One of these is that almost no one is good enough to get into Heaven, and almost everyone who goes Hell will never get out... not because of anything they do or don't do personally, but because Hell itself can screw them out of their chance at redemption.
except the non-linear nature of time in the afterlife means that eventually, everyone who is personally capable of redemption will be redeemed. when you have literally infinite time to work with, all possible events will eventually happen. even lucy himself is just in "time out".
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.
Discussed at length in The Nostalgia Critic's "Top 11 The Simpsons Episodes", where he names "Bart Gets an F" his favorite episode of the show, in large part, because it's the rare piece of pop culture that's brave enough to teach the Family Unfriendly Aesop "Failure is an unavoidable part of life—and we all fail sometimes, even when we try our very hardest." He argues that this is one of the most important lessons that anyone can learn, but admits that it's rarely used as An Aesop in pop culture because it's so much more uplifting to show a protagonist succeeding through hard work.
In the same episode, Critic discusses this trope when naming "Homer's Enemy" one of the 11 best episodes of the show. He sums up the episode's moral as "Sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason, and sometimes dumb people are rewarded more than smart people", but argues that the episode is brilliant because it faces such a grim message so unapologetically, and manages to make it surprisingly funny.
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.
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."
Aside from being YouTube Poop fodder, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog has a couple of real winners when it comes to its attempt at giving kids helpful advice. One segment advises kids against running away from home by having Coconuts try it, and Sonic remind him of all the good things Robotnik does to take care of him, and how no one will be there to do those things if he runs away, to convince him to go back home. The thing is, Coconuts is The Unfavourite among Robotnik's creations, and spends most of his time taking abuse and doing chores to clean up after the rest of the "family", so basically the message comes down to "Even if your family is abusive, it's better than risking it going alone".
Despite its deranged flavor, Adventure Time still works in serious messages from time to time. The show being what it is, it occasionally leads to this.
"Tree Trunks": Encouraging people to pursue their dreams if they don't have a talent for it will lead to disappointment at best and at worst get them killed.
The 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.
The moral of "All Your Fault" is that having more kids than you can feed will create hardship for your family.
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" (which, sadly, is Truth in Television). It could also be a much more blunt version of “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind". Maybe not very comforting or "family friendly" when it involves a loved one acting unreasonable or callous, but it's still arguably true.
Avatar: The Last Airbender : Subverted in the case where 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." Ultimately Aang chose to go with Kuruk's advice and was given a way to stop Ozai for good without having to kill him.
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… For that matter, in the second season Hank has a complete personality shift and becomes almost a caricature of the kind of action-oriented hero the rest of the Avengers are. And he stays that way for the rest of the show, as if confirming that he was indeed just being unrealistically optimistic before.
The Berenstain Bears series from the 1980s had one episode called "The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Mansion" which was about a old woman that Mama Bear knew as a cub that 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 an 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."
An episode of Bobby's World had a message that was mildly family-unfriendly, mainly because it portrayed respect for adult authority as something that should be limited. While other shows might portray being a tattle-tale as a somewhat annoying trait, this episode portrayed it as something that can be socially damaging as hell. The message, itself, however was fairly positive, if a bit unusual. "Don't be a tattle-tell. Assess the situation, determine if there's any potential real harm, and base your decision to go to an authority figure on that."
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.
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.
In the episode "Numbers Game", Wheeler dreams he and Linka have 8 kids and another on the way, as the planet is being destroyed by overpopulation. Kwame and the others chew him out, explicitly telling him it's irresponsible to have more than 2 children. In the end, Wheeler indeed learns it's wrong to have more than two kids. Now, imagine watching that if you're the third child in your family...
The "lesson" given in the episode "Wheeler's Ark" is even worse. 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, tells them this is impractical and orders them to take them all back; however, they just pick up more at every location, all while Wheeler tries to tell them this is a bad idea. The other kids and the episode portray Wheeler as heartless and cruel for this and him bonding with the baby wolf that started the whole thing and being unable to part with it, either, as a good, admirable thing. The episode ends with Gaia simply smiling in amusement at the new load of critters they bring home and nonchalantly planning to return them herself, without bothering to remind her sidekicks that what they've done is wrong and can have devastating consequences for the environment. Instead of teaching 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." This might be dismissed as unexplored implications on any other show, but one would expect a show that centers around protecting the environment not to portray its heroes doing something so environmentally unfriendly with no consequences.
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.
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." What's even more telling is that the interviewer already had his mind made up to give Daria the scholarship out of the three, but changed his mind after he saw her anti-social behavior.
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 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.
There's also "Vicky Gets Fired", in which Timmy's parents find out Vicky's secret, and Vicky precedes to take over the world, leaving viewers with the message of "If someone is bullying you, up to and including torture and attempted murder, don't tell anyone, especially not authority figures".
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.
"Prick Up Your Ears" endorses premarital 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 rape Peter.
"Seahorse Seashell Party" ends with the aesop that the definition of maturity is taking physical, verbal, and emotional abuse from everyone around you, no matter what kind of damage it does to you personally, because your abusers can't handle what horrible, horrible people they are.
"Brian's Play" shows us that some people can't handle being outshined, and it's up to the young and talented to limit themselves and forsake their opportunities to protect those people's egos because, being older and mediocre, it's a lot harder for them to have any success at all before they die.
Of course since Stewie is good at so many things (an infant who built his own time machine!), not outshining Brian in the one area Brian cares about could just as easy be seen as basic friendship.
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.
Gravity Falls: Per the photo montage in "Legend of the Gobblewonker," Grunkle Stan's idea of spending quality time with his progeny includes stealing fish from small children and fleeing the authorities.
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. Still...
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."
Spongebob Squarepants had a similar aesop in in the episode "Squirrel Jokes."
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 sympathize with, while the obstructive British police officers come off like they're preventing the Inspector from hurting any innocent bystanders.
Though this probably wasn't intentional, the first episode of Justice League can fairly easily be seen as having a pro-nuclear weapons slant.
Metalocalypse doesn't exactly go out of its way to teach anyone anything because it's a show about a death metal band comprised of monumentally stupid people, but some of the episodes have this trope at the core of their themes, often with a heavy dose of Take That aimed at various things. One story has the Tribunal wanting to stop Nathan from getting his GED because it would cause people to realize that a person's social class and education level don't define their intelligence; another had Pickles having to face the fact that nothing he does, no matter how rich or successful he is, will ever earn his mother's love and respect, and the only solution is to stop valuing her opinion of him (by telling her to go fuck herself).
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: While it doesn't necessarily make the intended moral of "Ponyville Confidential" about gossip being bad any less relevant, the scene where the Cutie Mark Crusaders get shunned by the entire town after word gets out about them being Gabby Gums seems to suggest "If you go far enough in humiliating others, you will be greatly hated where you live, even if you are just a kid."
An earlier episode, "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well", also came under a lot of fire because of its concept of humbling someone being interpreted as "If you're friend is being an obnoxious braggart, rather than talking to them, you should disguise yourself as a mysterious do-gooder, and try to take them down a peg". It wasn't helped by the fact that the Ponies who were involved proceeded to brag about themselves out of the costume.
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.
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?"
Regular Show episode "Think Positive" gives us "sometimes yelling at people is the best way to solve your problems".
"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.
"Bart Gets an F" ends with the ultimate moral that failure is an inherent part of life, and that we can all fail sometimes, even when we try our very hardest (sure, by the end of the episode Bart has improved-but only marginally, and clearly not enough to deserve the pride and respect of his family). Some fans have actually praised the episode for not being afraid to broach this topic (see "Web Original" above), and for unapologetically breaking with the standard happy ending where perseverance and dedication always results in success.
According to South Park, male to female transsexual individuals are nothing more than guys with mangled genitals.
In the uncensored version of "201" the characters learn that the only true way to stop being mocked is through intimidation and violence.
The 2009 Strawberry Shortcake has a lot of these. In particular, Plum Pudding is upset over losing a musical instrument that she's going to play in a talent show. Lemon Meringue not only doesn't help her find it, she invites Plum Pudding to be a hairstyle-model for her talent show act; the keyboard is never found and Plum doesn't enter the talent show at all. Remember kids, if you see a chance to eliminate your competition, take it.
A lot of the lessons Berry Bitty Adventures teaches are typical Aesops, but the characters tend to apply them in the most misdirecting, dishonest, and outright manipulative ways possible, specifically to avoid hurting anyone's feelings in any way, even when they're being self-destructive. In general, most episodes revolve around the idea that if people don't do what you want when you tell them, it's better to trick them into doing it than give them an opportunity to cause strife by resisting.
Master Splinter gets off several of these "unPC but true" aesops in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) series. 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. In one episode, he admonishes Leonardo for seeking a fair fight, and demonstrates that he should "seek victory, not fairness". In a later episode, Leonardo asks Splinter if at least getting some gratitude for his efforts as leader is too much to expect. Splinter's response is to tell him that yes, it is too much to expect, to stop whining, and to get back to work. Leadership is often a thankless job in real life, but it's still jarring to hear on a television show, especially when a character is in need of some sympathy. Splinter also provides this wonderful gem: "The first rule of ninjutsu is do no harm. Unless you mean to do harm. Then do LOTS of harm!"
So, basically, Splinter's lessons were "Make your desires known instead of expecting people to intuit them," "Don't let sentimentality cloud your judgment when your life is on the line," "Don't do something good just because you might be rewarded for it," and "Don't be a hypocrite." All perfectly reasonable morals, even if Splinter didn't put them so tactfully.
Ultimate Spider-Man had an episode where Spider-Man finds out that, since he joined SHIELD, Fury has been placing cameras all over his house for security measures. Understandably pissed off, he goes to complain to Nick Fury and leaves SHIELD. The episode portrays his whole attitude as immature (even his own teammates reveal they got cameras as well and agreed to it), he ends up being attacked by Octopus because of it, and to add insult to the injury, when he agrees to come back in exchange for a compromise, Fury decides to show the tape of all his humiliating moments to his teammates as a punishment for his immaturity. The way it appears, the episode seems to be about him accepting to have no personal space left for the sake of his security.
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?!
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.
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." Also, material possessions buy love.