Well, Hobbes, I guess there's a moral to all this. Hobbes:
What's that? Calvin:
"Snow goons are bad news." Hobbes: That
lesson certainly ought to be inapplicable elsewhere in life. Calvin:
I like maxims that don't encourage behavior modification.
One of the greatest strengths of Sci-Fi and Fantasy
is that they can convey real-life situations in a new context by showing everyday problems, humanity's greatest challenges, and even social commentary that's ostensibly free of the prejudices and preconceptions that weigh them down in Real Life
, giving us a more detached view of a given problem... as if we were aliens visiting Earth
, or rather Earthlings visiting World of Weirdness
However, the Aesops
delivered via unicorn or rocket ship sometimes get lost
. In the course of presenting the story the Aesop either gets shoehorned to fit into that world
or is arbitrarily discarded. The problem isn't that we can't relate to it. We usually can
, because the metaphor is so obvious
. The problem is that the deck is stacked, causing one of two problems:
These tend to crop up fairly often in a few common flavors: Resurrection Rum and Raisin
, Time Travel Lemon Twist
, Robot Raspberry Revolution
, Mango Magic Mishaps
, Eternal Life By Chocolate
, Superpower Sour Grapes
and Vampire Blood vs. Holy Water Swirl
- Time Travel:
- Robot Revolution:
- Failed Metaphor: Using the metaphor of "Robots are like human slaves" (as Karel Čapek did when he invented the term "robot"), with the Aesop that if you don't treat them like equals you will face the wrath of machines who have Turned Against Their Masters. However, the fictional robots are different from human beings in a way that makes it much more justified to treat them as dangerous or makes it much more likely they could successfully revolt; human workers don't have Death Rays or an infinitely respawning population (well, to some degree). Also, human slaves are sentient. Robots aren't, unless...
- Arbitrary Rules: The authors have arbitrarily given the robots so many human qualities that anti-robot sentiment and discrimination is obviously like doing the same thing to human beings... making them not very much like robots. It's not like every robot needs to have the same level of intelligence, or even be capable of genuine thought like, well, none are at present.
- Magic and Powers:
- Failed Metaphor: The Stock Superpower or magical ability the hero has is quite potent, perhaps story breakingly so, but is never as good as old fashioned, character building hard work. So the hero must never use her powers for self gain, or even just baking a pizza. Why? Because that way lies Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and villainy. Never mind that Adam Smith has different ideas about using your talents to help yourself and others, if it's a power, it's only good for beating stuff up.
- Arbitrary Rules: Same as above, using powers for self gain is bad, except this time it's not because of any corrupting influence... but because it never works. Useless Superpowers are the order of the day, Reed Richards Is Useless and the poor witch is really Blessed with Suck. Chores done with magic are sloppy, things made with super powers lack heart, and in general "laziness" begets problems. Particularly common for Teenage Witches and pre-teen Super Heroes. Perhaps this Broken Aesop can be repaired, if this trope variant were ever to be subverted with the message that "Just because magic is no substitute for good hard work doesn't excuse you from putting in some good hard work practicing your magic!" With sufficiently refined skill and subtlety, even super powers that were once only good for beating stuff up could realistically find broader application with an artisan's approach to spellcraft.
- Failed Metaphor: Immortality works as advertised, but characters should not seek it because, well, you wouldn't really want it anyway, trust me (even though the author has no actual experience with immortality, somehow they just know it would suck). Oddly, even in worlds where immortals aren't indestructible, they never choose to simply kill themselves if they really decide that 1000 years is enough.
- Arbitrary Rules: Immortality exists, but you can only get it by draining life from other people, or selling your soul, or some other obviously bad method. See Immortality Immorality.
- Never Be a Hero:
- Failed Metaphor: Normal people can be and are heroes without having powers, which are superfluous to true heroism. However, ordinary civilians should act like Innocent Bystanders and let the
real Super Heroes do all the work. Anyone trying to get powers, keep those they get, or otherwise "encroach" on the hero's work is thus being a dangerously irresponsible Jerk Ass (even if a hero started out this exact same way, there's only one Chosen One after all). Falls flat because people don't spontaneously become paramedics and firemen in Real Life. "Emergency room training, ACTIVATE!"
- Arbitrary Rules: Getting and then using superpowers to emulate a superhero is never advisable for the former Muggles. The Phlebotinum may be dangerous or addictive, only the hero can wield the Empathic Weapon, or there will be accidents while learning to control their powers. Essentially, only the hero can be The Hero because he's a Born Winner, no one else can even try.
- Silly Reason for War
- Failed Metaphor: The differences between two groups are not trivial, and in fact a case can be made for treating those involved differently. Like a vampire needing human blood to "live", or an alien feeding detrimentally on another's emotions. While the author would like us to consider this as a clear metaphor for racism, sexism, or other forms of segregation, the situation shown is less about trivial surface differences and more substantial.
- Arbitrary Rules: The author provides a means for both sides to live together easily and/or render the core of the dispute moot (artificial blood for vampires, for example). This breaks the Aesop of not fighting others for trivial differences because now the differences that they were fighting over are effectively gone.
Many of these are a repetition of the old Science Is Bad
saw — we can't do it right now and, since our society is the baseline, if we later learn to do it, that would be strange and different and thus bad
Sometimes a writer will put their characters through an interesting dilemma / character development that is only made possible by the fantastic setting, but has no intended bearing on the real world. It becomes a Fantastic Aesop if and only if
the author was demonstrably trying to get their audience to learn a moral lesson from this bizarre situation. Think carefully before citing something as an example!
ADDITIONAL IMPORTANT NOTE:
Something does not become a Fantastic Aesop
simply because it falls apart when interpreted literally; many works introduce or advocate aesops indirectly through allegory, allusion, or symbolism.
Contrast Space Whale Aesop
, which is when realistic actions cause
Examples of Failed Metaphor:
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- At the end of Gurren Lagann it's not really clear whether Spiral Energy can resurrect the dead, or if the characters are speculating if it could. Regardless though, the characters conclude they shouldn't bring back the dead. Gurren Lagann has the major theme of accepting and moving on after death. While a good value in real life, this might not be as good in a world where resurrection is possible.
- Except the villains of the stories very firmly establish real consequences for such an ability; in fact, all of the "Spiral Power" the heroes use violates the conservation of matter and energy and speeds up the collapse of the universe into a supermassive black hole.. Making this more of a "Don't abuse your power" aesop.
- Even ignoring the threat of the Spiral Nemesis, the power to bring anybody back to life is pretty much a one-way ticket to disaster. The fact that Gimmy's list starts with Kamina and starts growing should give you an idea where I'm going with this: once you start, where do you stop? This minus comic might have the answer to that...
- Another example for Gurren Lagann is the core theme that ideals should never be sacrificed, because in its universe idealism and willpower literally can do anything. I.e. what Rossiu does in the third arc of the series is, for the most part, technically correct. He holds Simon accountable for recklessly charging into battle and subsequently causing a huge explosion in the middle of the city, and when it becomes clear that there's no way to save all of humanity, he conceals this information to prevent (more of) a panic while trying to save as many as he can. However his actions are cast as being wrong because he acts in a totalitarian way in the process, and one of Gurren Lagann's big ideas is the importance of freedom, and compromising that value for the sake of safety basically makes you evil. In fact all the series' villains practice forms of "population control" to preserve peace, and this is portrayed as a sad and "limited" way to live, effectively sacrificing what life should be (growth) in exchange for trying to hold on to it as long as possible (stagnation). However, in the real world, taking an all-or-nothing approach to the survival of the human race would be seen by most people as really, really stupid. Especially since being manly tends not to break the laws of physics in reality. It's a powerful message, and it has relevance to the real world, but the things that make it possible that everything works out in GL don't actually exist.
- Barbara Gordon (started as Batgirl, became Oracle, now back to being Batgirl) in the DC Comics Universe lost the use of her legs — in a universe where incredible technology exists that should be able to restore them. Showing that handicapped people can be useful contributors to society doesn't work so well when the Phlebotinum in the world means that she's only handicapped by choice. DC has tried to justify this by saying that she won't use technology that's available to superheroes but not to civilians, which would make sense only if being handicapped places no burden whatsoever on other people; otherwise, choosing not to cure herself is unfair to those people. However, this is also part of a more general trend of Bat Family characters using (by DCU standards) very low-tech equipment. If they used all the technology they should have access to, they'd be hurling lasers around instead of boomerangs, and they'd wear robotic power suits that rival Superman in power instead of just some spandex with the occasional kevlar vest underneath.
- X-Men comic books about discrimination sometimes seem to forget that real-world oppressed minorities can't shoot Eye Beams or walk through walls or make Your Head Asplode by looking at you funny. Conversely, the Ultimate Marvel comics treating the rise of superheroes as a sort of WMD proliferation sometimes seem to forget that real-world WMD's can't walk, talk, and have minds of their own.
- Chick Tracts often have these. Quite often, the Real True Christians are capable of performing supernatural feats which back up what they say. This commonly takes the form of the ability to dispel any dark forces in their vicinity, thus showing that Jesus is superior to whatever the villain of the weeks. We've also seen a brief five-second prayer dispel a massive tornado (the guy who said the prayer told everyone it was safe literally as soon as he finished), summon storms to blind terrorists in the Middle East, briefly resurrect those who've died so they can accept Jesus, and sense an assassination plot on someone's granddaughter taking place thousands of miles away. It's difficult to say whether these miracles are a cheap plot device or a reflection on how the author seriously views reality.
- Legend: NEVER, EVER, TOUCH A UNICORN, as you'll unleash Armageddon and the devil will try to seduce and marry you.
- Revenge of the Sith contains two in one movie. You Can't Fight Fate plays into the central plot and Anakin's attempt to save Padme from dying led to her path to death. The movie also touches on Immortality Immorality with Palpatine suggesting that immortality is a Sith exclusive technique.
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has a kind of meta-example: the DVD comes with a pitch telling you to "make it rain food" by giving money to a certain charity. Giving money to this charity is probably a good thing, but if we really want to follow the movie's example, what we ought to be funding is research into inventing food replicators like the one in the movie.
- All this discrimination against mutants is obviously wrong, right? So there's really no good reason for all this fussing and fighting between mutants and humans, right? Yet, as Honest Trailers points out, what the racist government officials lobbying for a mutant registration act are trying to prove is that mutants are dangerous—"which they totally are!" [Cue a montage of mutants destroying a lot of expensive property and scaring the hell out of huge crowds of Muggles.] The metaphors for racism and discrimination would make a lot more sense here if the films' message didn't require us to dismiss the perfectly justifiable concerns and fears of humanity out of hand. As Senator Kelly points out to one of his colleagues while lobbying him over the phone, people worry about kids carrying guns in schools; surely it makes sense to keep an eye on kids with powers like weather control?
- In fact, the Fantastic Racism metaphor breaks down in part because it gets so mixed up with other concerns such as arms rights vs. arms controls. Having dangerous mutant powers amounts to being a weapon rather than merely carrying one. A lot of mutant powers like Magneto's are also demonstrated to be far more dangerous than any knife or gun, and some of them like Rogue's aren't under the mutant's control. Racism is not really a relevant concern when you have people forced to carry potentially deadly weapons with them everywhere they go that can sometimes fire without the carriers even pulling the trigger.
- Also, mutants shouldn't be ashamed of their powers and shouldn't seek a cure for them because they're genetic, and therefore seeking a cure for mutant powers is just as much a form of internalized racism as seeking a cure for one's skin color would be. Tell that to Rogue, whose powers first manifested themselves by putting her boyfriend in a coma, who's been socially and romantically isolated from humans and her fellow mutants alike by her inability to touch them, and whose powers made Magneto try to exploit her as a vessel into which he could pour his own powers so that her life would be the one sacrificed to his cause rather than his own. In the third movie, when she walks past a bunch of mutants and their sympathizers demonstrating outside a clinic dispensing the cure, you can see her looking at them with considerable contempt at their chant "We don't need a cure!" and obviously thinking "Speak for yourselves!"
- (Learned by Joaquin) in The Book of Life, if you are immortal and invincible, a willingness to fight isn't really courage.
- Virtually every movie from Pure Flix Entertainment (and a great many hyper-religious movies in general) has a problem with the Deus ex Machina nature of their plots. The premise of these movies center around Christianity and God's power. The whole idea is to establish the power of faith and prayer by having the Christian protagonists face hardships, pray, and have their problems solved. When people in Pure Flix movies pray, God often literally shows up to answer their prayers in the best possible way or at least does an out-and-out miracle for them, thus promoting the aesop "Prayer is magic: ask God for a miracle and you'll get one every time!" This is, at best, Artistic License – Religion. In Real Life, the point of prayer and worship is to have faith even when God doesn't give you a Deus ex Machina, as in the case of a great many Jewish and Christian martyrs. (See, in particular, the Book of Job in The Bible for just one example.)
- Star Trek: Insurrection uses the relocation of the Ba'ku as an analogy for the Trail of Tears and how it utterly destroyed several Amerindian cultures. Fair enough, most people can agree that the Trail of Tears was a bad thing, but Insurrection changes it so much that it actually seems to be arguing in its favor. The relocation of the Amerindian tribes was forcing thousands of members of a native minority populace to traverse an incredibly dangerous and lengthy route to nowhere, out of a desire for gold and territory. The relocation of the Ba'ku would have been forcing a few hundred non-native white humans to get on a ship and fly to an opulent Federation colony out of a need (the Federation is at war) to obtain a MacGuffin particle that could advance medicine by centuries and add a few decades onto the lifespan of the Federation's entire populace. It's true that the Ba'ku will die off, just like the Amerindians, but only because they'll no longer be immortal, and plenty of them are already well past their time. The movie does try to address the issue of racism as a motivating factor... by introducing an evil race of ugly mutants who want to get revenge on the angelic and all-white Ba'ku. A more accurate analogy would be a group of about three people refusing to move when the city needs to demolish their house to build a hospital.
- In Latawnya, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say "No" to Drugs, the author tries to present a Drugs Are Bad message. One scene in this book features a horse die from a marijuana overdose, to warn kids that this could happen to them. But while marijuana is toxic to horses, it cannot kill a human.
- In Shattered Sky, the protagonists struggle with the moral implications of their ability to combine their powers to raise the dead. When Eccentric Millionaire Elon Tessic suggests they use this power to bring back the six million victims of the holocaust, they run into a variation of Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act, deciding that undoing historical atrocities is wrong because people need to remember them to keep history from repeating itself. So, don't use your magical powers to bring back the dead.
- Harry Potter often tries to address issues of prejudice and racism, and while this metaphor works fairly well with Muggle-borns, it doesn't necessarily apply so much with magical creatures. For example, when it gets out that Remus Lupin is a werewolf, we're supposed to be upset that parental concerns force him to resign. But considering that the very day before he came close to killing Harry and the others when he forgot to take his potion, this seems at least a bit more complicated than Rowling suggested. Lupin himself admits that he is a danger, that he really screwed up, and that the only reason no one was hurt was that he was lucky. However, the werewolves are supposed to be a hyperbolic allegory to AIDS/HIV. Provided they take the necessary precautions to stop the spread of their disease werewolves/HIV positive people should receive the same level of human dignity. It was the parents' inability to realize the extenuating circumstances of that specific instance that was unjust.
- Prejudice against centaurs might also be well justified. In the fifth book, the Centaurs are about ready to kill Harry and Hermione for trespassing. They protest that they were in trouble, and that they were seeking their help. The centaurs then get even more angry that the humans wanted them to do their dirty work. It's probably an old feud where the centaurs are just responding to the prejudice from wizards, but their indiscriminate paranoia, and willingness to murder children who have shown no signs of hostility make them just as bad, if not worse, than wizards.
- Potentially averted with House Elves. Keeping slaves is bad. But if the slaves WANT to do your dishes, and actively refuse pay, wouldn't it be immoral to treat them differently than how they want to be treated? The books seem to settle that there is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping house elf 'servants' as long as you are kind and treat them well. And, if they are really weird, remember to pay them if they ask, but never more than they ask, because they might find that insulting.
- It's also been noted that the major moral about accepting death falls a bit flat, because while it is impossible to "really" raise the dead, you can come back as a ghost (rarely), have your posthumous personality preserved in a portrait, and even summon spirits from the afterlife with the so-called Resurrection Stone to have pleasant chats with dead mentors during near death experiences.
- The Sword of Truth books have a lot of Objectivist Aesops, including on how religion is denounced by the protagonist because there is no evidence of the afterlife. That argument might sound reasonable in this world, but in this story said protagonist has encountered ghosts and spirits, visited the afterlife several times and fought with the devil, and even summoned some spirits himself from the afterlife.
- Twilight has an antiabortion aesop in the fourth book. This doesn't really work, however, since the "baby" in question is clearly supernatural. Edward was reading the baby's mind at one point, which in real life would be impossible since brain activity doesn't start until a certain point during pregnancy.
- And a lot of issues associated with abortion in the real world are avoided by there being no need for someone to spend a decade or two caring for the newborn, who makes things easier for her mother.
- It's also a bit much where they're unwilling to have an abortion even when the baby is literally eating Bella from the inside out, and this only gets prevented by Edward ripping it out, then turning her into a vampire. Yeah...not very feasible for Real Life (note that although the LDS church-which author Stephanie Meyers is a part of-generally opposes abortion they allow it to save the life of the mother as would be the case here).
- Some Dungeons & Dragons novelizations engage in this to justify the lack of resurrection, especially in high-magic settings like Forgotten Realms. At least two writers for the Realms, for example, claim that resurrection is selfish because it rips the dead person away from their ideal afterlife in order to explain why Liriel Baenre doesn't resurrect Fyodor or Erevis Cale decides not to resurrect Jak Fleet. Why they can't just take a few decades off and go back to their ideal afterlife after dying of old age, or why the Realms aren't full of people killing themselves to find eternal happiness, isn't usually explained.
- This point is played up more prominently with the Speak With Dead spell/ritual, as the dead REALLY don't like being partially resurrected just to answer some stupid questions. They will often give vague answers just to piss off the spell caster.
- Especially weird because spells like Raise Dead and Resurrection explicitly state they cannot be used on an unwilling target. This prevents someone from being killed by their enemies and raised afterwards while in enemy hands. This is partially justified in Erevis's case, since he'd met someone who was Blessed with Suck and only agreed to be resurrected out of duty, but this hadn't been the case for Jak.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer has drug issues.
- The magic-as-drug plotline, where "overuse" of magic was suddenly revealed to cause addictive behavior, came complete with a "magic pusher" and after-school special-esque behavior by Willow. This was rather jolting to many fans, as during the prior two seasons, Wicca/magic was used as a metaphor for Willow and Tara's love and their sexual relationship. In fact, it continued to be used to refer to their relationship with Tara's song, I'm Under Your Spell when Willow was already showing signs of magical "dependence." The reprise of the song later in the episode is probably the moment it flips, when Tara realizes just how under Willow's spell she actually is.
- Riley voluntarily "donating blood" to vampires riffed off of drug use and illicit prostitution, despite no prior suggestion that people found vampire-bites anything but terrifying and painful.
Riley: This isn't your fault. It's mine. I feel like hell for what I've put you through. (Buffy still doesn't look at him) It's just... (sighs) these girls-
Buffy: Vampires. Killers.
Riley: They made me feel something, Buffy. Something I didn't even know I was missing until-
Buffy: I can't. I can't hear this.
Riley: You need to hear this.
Buffy: Fine. Fine! Tell me about your whores! Tell me what on earth they were giving you that I can't.
Riley: They needed me.
Buffy: They needed your money. It wasn't about you.
Riley: (walks closer to her) No. On some basic level it was about me. My blood, my body. (sighs) When they bit me ... it was beyond passion. They wanted to devour me, all of me.
- It may be worth mentioning that Riley was in a very dark place at the time, displaying overtly self-destructive tendencies verging on a death wish, and that people paying others to inflict pain on them is definitely not without real world precedent. Moreover, the Kiss of the Vampire trope had been used before-Buffy being bitten by Angel and William (Spike) by Drusilla were both portrayed as painful at first, then pleasurable.
- True Blood uses prejudice against vampires as a comparison to prejudice against homosexuals. The real-life analogy fails, however, because in the context of the series, vampires actually are dangerous predators. Showrunner Alan Ball actually protested against using this metaphor for exactly this reason but writers still used it, especially once he left the show.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus plays this for laughs: "Oh, now this is where Mr. Podgorny could have saved his wife's life. If he'd gone to the police and told them that he'd been approached by unearthly beings, from the galaxy of Andromeda, we'd have sent a man round to investigate. As it was, he did a deal with a blancmange and the blancmange ate his wife. So if you're going out or anything strange happens involving other galaxies, just nip round to your local police station and tell the sergeant on duty, or his wife, of your suspicions. And the same goes for dogs."
- One episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch has Zelda and Hilda deciding to hire someone to clean the house. Zelda rationalizes that they can't use their magic to clean in case they just get lazy.
- Stargate SG-1 seemed to be trying for a pacifism Aesop with the Nox (at least in their first episode), a race of Perfect Pacifist Space Elves who look down on SG-1 for using violence against the Goa'uld. This completely ignores the fact that the Nox are Sufficiently Advanced Aliens with abilities that make pacifism a viable option (just for starters, they can turn invisible and raise the dead). Humans have no such abilities and must fight or be killed/enslaved.
- H2O: Just Add Water tries to preach An Aesop when Zane wants the girls to use their powers to salvage a sunken museum artifact. It suddenly becomes a despicable idea the moment a financial reward is mentioned. In real life (as far as we know) it's impossible to use mermaid powers to retrieve sunken objects but the show doesn't explain why it's so wrong, just that it is.
- The analogy is completely incorrect in real life as we often use technology-submarine powers to salvage sunken artifacts and offer monetary rewards, and that's a good thing.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation plays Failed Metaphor straight in the first season. Commander Riker is granted god-like power by the god-like Q. But using these new powers to save colonists who are in danger? Resurrecting a girl who died? Can't have that, now.
Religion & Mythology
- A common problem for people trying to apply lessons from supernatural events in The Bible to the natural processes of science, business, and politics. An example would be "Jesus and his disciples cared for the sick at no cost; therefore the Bible supports universal health care." While this may technically be true, it's also completely inapplicable to modern health care systems: the healings in question were all supernatural, therefore consumed no natural resources, and therefore cannot be replicated by any scientific, economic, or political means whatsoever. Moreover, if anyone nowadays can do these same miracles, why does anyone with access to these miracle workers need doctors, hospitals, or health insurance at all in the first place?
- The myth of Arachne has a moral that comes down to "the gods are petty and may turn you into an arbitrary animal even if you've done nothing but go along with their explicit wishes", whereas it might have rendered a more coherent moral about pride if not for Athena's ability to hear any rumor and disguise herself perfectly.
- Hellenistic mythology in general, in fact, often portrays the gods as rather arbitrary, petty, and capricious. About the only morals one can draw from a lot of these stories is "You Can't Fight Fate" and/or "Don't mess with the gods."
- Professor Quadrangle tries and fails to deliver a Green Aesop when he hypothesizes that the reason why tigers are going extinct today is because people are going back in time and shooting them.
- Much of the criticism of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance stems from the attempt to use an idealized fantasy world as a metaphor for escapism, with critics arguing that Alterna-Ivalice is just as "real" as Earth in any practical sense.
- In Snatcher, the quotes and overall moral thrust upon the player tells us that humans need to trust each other. However, Snatcher is about a race of Ridiculously Human Robots who are bit-by-bit replacing humans by killing them. If humans had trusted each other as the game tells us they should have, the Snatchers would probably have taken over humanity in a month tops; the humans killed in the anti-Snatcher witch hunts were a tragedy, but the problem wasn't lack of trust so much as misapplied mistrust.
- Valkyria Chronicles gives us the Valkyria— rare women who are born with the power to channel huge amounts of energy through unrefined ragnite— and the game tells us in no uncertain terms that Valkyria powers are bad and evil, because one man is inclined to exploit them. Always. Regardless of the Valkyria's age, intelligence, strength, or general stability, their powers are always bad, because they can be used for war. There are no practical uses for the ability to channel the raw energies of the earth that everyone is fighting a war over in the first place; there is no responsible or pragmatic approach to researching the effects that Valkyria powers have on the environment, or for developing new and better technology. Bad. Period.
- Related but not strictly falling into any of the prescribed types, the game uses Valkyria powers as a metaphor for nuclear weapons/WMD's, which is part of why they're portrayed as being as negative as possible, and Alicia stops using her powers because she's afraid of the one-instance dehumanizing effect they have on her, which basically renders that aspect of the Aesop down to Won't somebody please think of the hydrogen bombs?!. Because the game's presentation of the Valkyria as a race tries to satisfy the needs of two conflicting moral lessons, the Valkyria are said to be mindless, soulless monsters that can do nothing but bring ruin, but the two we actually see in the game are good people with human emotions and free will; it's just that one of them is slavishly devoted to the villain and the other just doesn't think for herself. This is exemplified in the ending, where Alicia abandons her powers, essentially because she couldn't remain a Valkyria and still live a normal life, but couldn't arrive at that conclusion on her own.
- Tales Of MU. While prejudices exist against most non-human species in a manner clearly resembling real racism, a few of those discriminated against are literal man-eaters by dietary preference or culture. (Though nobody dares to discriminate against dragons on this basis.)
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Many or most of the ecological problems depicted are caused by supervillains doing things like making monsters that eat rainforests or building factories to build air conditioners which are then torn open to release CFCs. The only solutions to the problems are the ring-wielding kids or Captain Planet fixing things. The series is supposed to teach about protecting the environment, but the overarching morals seem to be "Don't be a supervillain. Let people with magic rings do all the work." The only attempt to counteract this message is in the And Knowing Is Half the Battle segments at the end of each episode that usually show something an actual viewer can do.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is generally pretty good at avoiding this, but it still runs into it on occasion. "Cute Mark Chronicles" is a good example, as its moral is that friendship is important because everyone has a special connection with their friends, even before they've met. Which is a nice thought, and may very well be true In-Universe, but in real life it's entirely Impossible to become really good friends without having ever crossed paths in the past.
Examples of Arbitrary Rules:
Anime and Manga
- In the universe of Fullmetal Alchemist, raising the dead will cost you an arm and a leg. Results may vary. (Or you could sell your organs on the black market, but look where that got Izumi.)
- Arbitrary Rules Robot Revolution is subverted in Ghost in the Shell. In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex it is explained that certain kinds of machines are made in certain ways in order to avoid people thinking of them as "too human." Human-looking androids are stupid and capable of only following basic programming, while the decidedly non-humanoid Tachikomas are given full sentience. It then plays with the trope all it can, with non-sentient robots hinted as being more human than they should be, and some humans acting very robot-like. The end conclusion seems to be a combination of not judging a book by its cover and that the question of what is "human" is a very complicated one.
- In Naruto bringing people back to life requires human sacrifices and is considered wrong by almost everyone.
- The first Jutsu, Impure World Resurrection, is described above.
- One of them was originally created to bring puppets to life, and can resurrect a person if their body is habitable, but will cost the jutsu user their life.
- Finally, the Samsara of Heavenly Life technique can only be used by someone who possesses the Rinnegan, an eye power which was held centuries ago by the Messiah figure. This technique was used by Nagato to revive nearly the entire population of the most politically important city in the world. As confirmed by Obito Uchiha in a recent chapter, this technique also costs the user their life.
- While not an aesop, in a similar vein in One Piece the main cast starts to speculate about how regaining their shadows from Moria caused them to reform from being disintegrated. After a brief conversation over this, Zoro asks them why they even bother as the same situation will probably never happen to anyone ever again.
- The film version of The Time Machine had a Butterfly of Doom follow the time traveler around when he tried to change time to save his fiancée.
- The replicants in Blade Runner are treated as slaves because they aren't quite up there in terms of human emotional capability. However, they are more akin to clones than robots, so there is never a question of "if" they are sentient so much as "when". They are designed with an incredibly short lifespan to prevent them from becoming too human through observation. Essentially, they are made to die young to avoid them becoming smart or organized enough to stage a new rebellion to gain equal rights to humans. The Fantastic Aesop comes in because they are, for all practical purposes human, or at least human enough to fool others and fall victim to a Tomato in the Mirror. "More human than human", as the Tyrell Corporation put it. It crosses into Failed Metaphor as well, since Replicants have enhanced strength, speed and toughness.
- At the end of His Dark Materials, Will and Lyra go their separate ways and never see each other again; the Aesop is that learning how to make sacrifices is part of growing up. But the mechanism forcing them to separate is complicated and comes out of nowhere: at the end of the story, someone tells them that living in someone else's world makes you sicken and die, opening windows between words creates evil Spectres, and leaving existing windows open allows Dust to escape. So, even though the plot has dictated that they leave one window open in one spot until the end of time, leaving one more between their worlds for less than 100 years would be excessively dangerous.
- And it still manages to enter into Failed Metaphor territory because, although naturally occurring portals exist without any of these problems, the angels will close those as well because otherwise Will and Lyra will waste their lives searching for one. Because, you know, it's impossible to just tell them where it is.
- For that matter, couldn't the knife kill Specters? So all Will would have to do is kill the Specter he makes when he opens a portal and close it behind him.
- Bad Dream by John Christopher is somewhere between Failed Metaphor and Arbitrary Rules, but probably closer to the latter. Apparently, Christopher feels that if virtual reality gets really good, it will become a Lotus-Eater Machine. Rather than treating this as an in-universe problem, he rants for pages and pages about the dangers of virtual reality, in a tone not unlike those who rant about the corrupting influence of video games or modern music. Given that he explicitly rejects the video game parallel, the most probable interpretation is that he feels virtual reality is a near-future problem and wants to prepare resistance ahead of time. (Death Dream by Ben Bova and The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin approach the matter similarly, but not as venomously in the former case and not as lengthily in the latter.)
- In Babette Cole's short story Winni Allfours, this seems to abound quite a bit. The titular girl wants a pony more than anything else in the world, but her parents are strict vegetarians who aren't having any of it. When she hears that eating too many vegetables will turn her into a horse, Winni eagerly begins munching down everything she gets - and it works!
- And that's just the beginning. After Winni beats the world record, Winni's parents promise to buy her a pony if she turns human again - but Winni is having too much fun and refuses. Family-Unfriendly Aesop, anyone?
- The Ring in The Lord of the Rings has been accused of working this way. Why is Frodo the perfect choice for delivering the Ring to Mount Doom when there are so many stronger, smarter, worldlier, more powerful, and more versatile characters available? Because the Ring has a very strong ability to tempt its bearer, and Frodo is the only one pure enough to resist its lure. While he's not quite in Incorruptible Pure Pureness territory, and even deconstructs the trope near the end when he finally does succumb to the Ring's influence, the "purity is the best trait" Aesop is a heavy-handed one.
- The main running theme of Jules Verne's Robur the Conqueror is that, if somebody finds a way of making heavier-than-air travel practical, then all the people who are trying to make balloon travel more practical will look pretty silly.
- In a charming historical twist, this moral stopped being a Fantastic Aesop—and became recognizable as simply a very well-researched hypothesis about future innovations—when practical heavier-than-air crafts were actually invented and Verne's arguments were proven right.
Live Action TV
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) and its Spinoff Caprica is practically king of this trope. The entire current series itself is structured around an Arbitrary Rules Robot Revolution and purpose of war. Basically the entire series can be broken down like this:
- Apparently decades ago (in the current series timeline) a brilliant billionaire industrialist/scientist designed robots with perfectly emulated Human movement, thought process, and emotions yet still expected them to act and behave like mindless drones (makes sense....RIGHT?).
- Anyway decades later the same mindless/yet sentient robots now in even more ridiculously human forms have come back for revenge on humanity, nearly driving them to extinction. And after discovering that they've reached a level of near human sentience ordinary humans still treat the human-like robots like a literal defective toaster (no pun intended)/vacuum cleaner (except I don't think even when an actual toaster has gotten dangerously defective anyone has ever shot one execution style or ejected one out an airlock) and acting around them like the robots can't even understand words and lack basic thought capability, let alone genuine human emotion.
- To boot the very reason Humanoid Cylons exist in the first place is a Fantastic Aesop unto itself, as when a Number One Cylon asks his creator/designer why they were made SO un-machine like and with no cybernetic enhancements at all. Her only answer is something that if they were made more like machines they would have absolutely NO sense of human morality. Right, even though at this point they had just KILLED hundreds of Billions of humans and tortured/experimented of thousands of other humans in order to make themselves "more human." Ironically, The Plan suggests just that: the genocide of humanity was, in fact, not really a matter of cold machine logic, but Number One throwing a "temper tantrum" because "mom" (i.e. the Final Five) didn't like him best.
- As a final point according to both fan theory and some actual canon explanations the entire events of the show were orchestrated by an unseen "god" which may or may not be evil and created the conflict between Humans and Cylons him/itself numerous other times previous, basically meaning even if both humanity and Cylons truly learned their lessons and got along this God could kick start the whole thing all over again just For the Evulz, it renders all the previous Fantastic Aesops pointless and moot.
- In reality, since Moore promised from the beginning that the show was About Something Big, and the show was about to end, and he couldn't think of anything else to ret-con in as having been the moral all along, the broken Aesop was the only one he could think of due to The Chris Carter Effect.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Superstar," the moral seems to be "dreaming about being super-cool perfect is just selfish narcissism." The way it does it is by having Jonathan cast a spell that turns him into a Marty Stu. The moral has two halves; the first is that the spell creates an equally perfect evil opposite that torments people. This is a Fantastic Aesop, since the only reason the evil opposite exists is that the writers put it there. The other half can be considered a type 1 version: in the real world, people aren't perfect, so claiming perfection is narcissistic. But if it really were possible to be perfect, claiming perfection is not narcissistic, merely realistic. "Genuine" perfection just isn't a good metaphor for imaginary perfection.
- Though it does have some relevancy with the idea that, by making Jonathan so great at everything, the spell also made everyone around him a little bit worse (i.e. Jonathan being a great demon fighter means Buffy is now a less capable and confidant Vampire Slayer, unsure how to save the day without Jonathan's help). OTOH, if that's the case, then isn't it also a case for Willow, or Giles, or Buffy herself? Or anyone who is above average in something?
- It also seems to be an example of the fairly standard Aesop No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction - since Jonathon didn't have to work for his achievements they were ultimately hollow and built on sand.
- Also a Broken Aesop because Jonathan identifies Adam's one weakness (his nuclear power core), which is how Buffy later defeats him. The spell actually did give them an advantage they wouldn't have had otherwise.
- Both Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Out of This World relied on "Don't use your special powers to do X" aesops for the majority of their episodes. Thanks to these shows, we have learned that should we ever gain the ability to stop time, we should resist the urge to use it to get out of doing laborious and trivial tasks, for personal gain, or directly to make other people happy. (Using them to triage a friend's problem is sometimes okay, but just magicking your best friend a cute date is right out). It hasn't come up yet (that anyone's admitted), but if it does, we're ready.
- Interestingly subverted in one episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, where she decides to use magic to interfere with other people's lives (usually Aesops in the show are about her using magic for herself) and does three different things to do so. She injures a first-string football player so Harvey would be called up to the main team, rigs a class president election with Jenny winning instead of Libby, and implants knowledge of how to perform "lead to gold" alchemy to her science teacher. The first two changes are self-limiting, with both Harvey and Jenny getting Be Careful What You Wish For aesops: Harvey is immediately injured himself due to his inexperience with football, while Jenny quickly realizes she has no real power as class president apart from the lunch menu and school dances. Harvey actually finds he enjoys not having to play football, and Jenny resigns in favor of Libby after all. The science teacher, on the other hand, becomes fabulously rich and a much better teacher (teaching because he wants to, rather than for the money). When the magical authorities find out, they don't really care that she has messed with her classmates' lives; they only care that she changed the nature of the universe by rewriting atomic law (allowing gold to be created at will by the science teacher who knows how to do it). She ends up getting off scot-free for the other two stunts she pulled.
- Deathwalker, of Babylon 5, had a Cure For Death with the conventional cost of requiring a chemical that could only be created by killing a living being. Even ignoring the part where it's implied to work regardless of sapient species or even from one sapient species to another-it can't be reproduced any other way. A chemical. That's right, in a fictional setting with telekinetics capable of changing matter on a fundamental level, where bio-engineered plagues float freely, where it is possible to clone people, the single most valuable substance in the galaxy couldn't be synthesized or grown in a lab.
- The only way her claim makes sense (assuming she isn't lying) is if she's actually produced an inefficient matter-embodiment of the life energy which is manipulated by the machine confiscated in Season 1 and by Lorien in Season 4. The fact that a machine can "pump" the energy but not generate it from electricity fits the sufficiently advanced technology needed to work life energy. Even then, it doesn't explain why non-sentient animals can't be farmed for the purpose.
- One particular episode of the nineties Outer Limits dealt with the problems genetic engineering could cause a society, as "fitter" babies grew into supermen and outpaced "normal" people. However, while this made for great drama in Gattaca it was not nearly bad and horrifying enough for the show. So to spice things up, around 5% of all genetically modified children turn into the crazed descendants of Igor, and are killed when found. Naturally, the couple who originally wanted this for their child have changed their minds, but the deformed child of the neighbors kills the back alley scientist before he can undo the changes, so the episode's sad ending is that they'll never fully trust or love their genetically enhanced son.
- In Supernatural, resurrection is generally associated with a transformation into a monster or a demon deal. Sam and Dean, who have come back from the dead numerous times, both struggle with these implications.
- The page quote comes from Calvin and Hobbes story arc involving Calvin bringing a snowman to life. The snowman became a vicious monster and created an army of "snow goons" that kept trying to kill Calvin. After defeating them by spraying them with the hose to freeze them solid, Calvin stated that he had learned a lesson from this misadventure: "Snow goons are bad news.", which he was glad was completely inapplicable.
- Warhammer 40,000 presents extremely dark variations of the Immortality and Never Be A Hero Type 2s, with an immense helping of death. The Never Be A Hero sort is also subverted-trying to become superhuman is very dangerous and likely to condemn you to a horrible death (or worse) and has a between 30 and 75% mortality rate depending on the chapter, but you should try anyway, because where do you think the Imperium's supply of super soldiers comes from?
- White Wolf's Werewolf: The Apocalypse features an evil, polluting corporation as the main villain. The lesson is supposed to be that Corporations are Evil, but because of the logic of power creep and the need to have everything relate to the spirit world, the lesson ends up as, "companies which cavort with demonic entities are evil". Which... um, yeah. The environmental themes end up as irrelevant window dressing.
- Mage: The Ascension went one worse. Aiming originally as an aesop pushing the po-mo science is evil trope, the Technocracy was envisioned as the evil villain that the magic-using traditional magicians (played by PC's) would oppose. Instead, the science/engineering literate gamers who played Mage fell in love with the Technocracy. Again, White Wolf was forced to anviliciously resort to more and more extreme Kick the Dog moments. Whatever view you take, the setting broke down the metaphor so completely that the original Aesop was lost.
- Stage example: The Gingerbread House. From the New York Times review:
The moral of "The Gingerbread House" would appear to be that retailing your children to strangers will not bring satisfaction. Glad that's been cleared up
- The Dig adventure game contains crystals that can bring the dead back to life, as long as they have a more or less complete skeleton. However, the crystals eventually corrupt the person. One part of the game involves a character begging you not to revive her if she dies, and when she does, you can decide to do it anyway or accept death is final and not. If you do bring her back, she immediately throws herself off a cliff in horror. The "death is a part of life," moral is completely lost when everyone who died is revived in the ending, corruption free.
- Every game in the Shadow Hearts series features someone trying to bring a loved one back from the dead. In the first game, it's a simple case of creating an Eldritch Abomination instead of the loved one. In the second game, the protagonist can't get over the death of his love, so he tries - carefully - to bring her back from the dead. Seeing that it's failing, he aborts it before she can become a monster. In the third game, there's actually a successful resurrection, but only because the resurrection process also resulted in a monster that was an order of magnitude worse than the monster in the first game. The lesson the games teach: Accept death, because trying to undo it will create monsters.
- The lesson is more like "accept death, because failing to do so will only harm you and your still-living loved ones." It's more apparent as an allegory in the prequel to the Shadow Hearts series, Koudelka. The monsters are a side-effect of this failure in an alternate history with magic, but the story focuses most intently on the tragedy of a man who fails to let go of his lost love and ruins his own life, as well as the lives of those around him - it's just that in this case he ruined everyone's lives with monsters, instead of something more prosaic like alcoholism. It's reinforced with Father O'Flaherty, who very nearly goes down the same path because he also loved the dead woman in question, and in the canonical ending essentially committed suicide. Suicide by giant monster, but still suicide.
- One of the central villains of Jade Empire kicks off the plot by capturing and imprisoning the local water deity, milking her body of water to save his empire from a years-long drought. For some reason, said water deity is also the one who maintains and oversees the dead and the afterlife, and with no one left to do the job...can you guess where this is going?
- So remember, kids: if your empire is crippled and drought is killing your people by the thousands, don't try to resist or avoid the inevitable or you'll get attacked by ghosts.
- Regal from Tales of Symphonia eventually rebuts the Big Bad's plan to turn everyone in the world into lifeless beings to end racial prejudice by saying that even if that were to happen, prejudice and discrimination would still continue. Though a scenario like that is unlikely in real-life, it could theoretically be reworded into something that's more grounded in real life: Prejudice and discrimination will always exist, in any form, and going to extremes to stop it will just cause more trouble than it prevents.
- Most robots in Freefall are sentient AIs to the point of being indistinguishable, Turing-wise, from actual people, but governments (or at least, the only high-ranking government officials the strip has thus far shown) treat them as property, since the law still considers AIs property. This is troublesome since all AI brains (cybernetic or biological) are based on a neural design pattern devised by Dr. Bowman which is meant to evolve and become more complex over time: rather than give AIs proper civil rights, the government opts to have the main robot supply company create an "update patch" that's actually a program to regress the complexity of AI brains to a point where it wasn't an issue. Mostly this works just fine as an anti-oppression aesop but it gets a little out there when you notice that the robots achieved this sentience within their (relatively short) planned obsolescence timers, so the cackling villainy of the president seems a little harsh when it could just as easily be that robot civil rights are mired in government bureaucracy.
- Lampshaded by Allison Pregler in her review of Billy Owens and the Secret of the Runes:
"Well, it just goes to show you if you cast coma spells and cheat at carnival games, your magical pawn-shop professor will get his soul lost in a magical amulet given to you by some crazy Gypsy lady. And such an avoidable tragedy."