If you've ever been in an American school or office environment, you've seen them: Posters encouraging the viewers to Reach For The Stars and to Never Give Up. Invariably, these lessons are accompanied by a cute picture or a vaguely inspirational stock photo. Are you feeling motivated yet?
One would have to be the most cynical misanthrope in the world to disagree with concepts like "Leadership" or "Teamwork", but one would also have to be the most optimistic Pollyanna in the world to deny that the presentation varies between painfully corny and unintentionally hilarious.
Thus, the Fauxtivational Poster was born in response. It takes diverse forms, all united in their use of the poster medium to play with the Motivational Poster. Some posters present a straightforward lesson, but exaggerate the Glurge to nonsensical levels. Others preach a patently ridiculous (or just particularly cynical) lesson. Still others use the Motivational Poster format to make a humorous statement about a completely different subject.
Successories is probably the most popular brand of Motivational Posters (inspiring many imitators); consequently most parodies follow the same layout that Successories popularized: A stock photo on a black background, with a one-word title in large text below, with a pithy saying or quote beneath that.
An Undead Horse Trope: Straight motivational posters are still in use in schools, offices, and some gyms (and prisons), but the parodies and subversions far outweigh straight uses everywhere else. Therefore, it's a classic example of the Weird Al Effect. Even when media does use straight Motivational Posters, it's almost always as an ironic counterpoint to some soul-crushing environment where the poster is hanging.
Parodies are often called "Demotivators" or "Demotivational Posters", regardless of their content; the name is taken from a series of posters by Despair Inc with genuinely demotivational themes. You have been warned.
Not surprisingly, there are various websites that let you make these poster patterns very easily. Which is why there are a ton of them floating around the internet. For the most part, they have migrated from satire to mere pastiche, aping the "SUBJECT MATTER: Some pithy comment on it" caption format simply because it's handy for mocking things plainly and succinctly.
Compare Faux To Guide. A specific type of Détournement.
Note: Adding fauxtivational posters as page images is frowned upon because the border rarely adds anything, but the wiki system imposes size limits, thus reducing the resolution. And we can do captions already.
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In PS238, the walls of the titular school are adorned with such posters as "Super Strength: If you don't have the power to move mountains, make friends with someone who can."
Films — Animated
In Megamind, upon taking over the city the titular supervillain has posters made of him in the style of the famous "Hope" poster of Barack Obama, except with the caption changed to read "No, You Can't" instead (referring to Obama's famous "Yes, We Can" message).
On Monsters vs. Aliens, the "Hang in there" poster is hung on Susan's cell in a pathethic attempt to make her imprisonment more tolerable. It doesn't work. "I want a real kitten, hanging from a real tree!"
In Igor, Dr. Glickenstein's girlfriend gets him an inspirational poster of a kitten hanging from a tree, but since the movie is set in a Bad Is Good And Good Is Bad world, the kitten is hanging from a noose. "To remind you to always take time in your day for a little torture."
In Who Moved My Cheese, Haw has a habit of drawing (straight) motivational graffiti on the walls, both to motivate Hem and to act as a landmark when searching the maze for New Cheese.
Barney from How I Met Your Mother has a wall full of actual motivational posters, including a tailor made one for Awesomeness, but one seems decidedly fauxtivational which he showcased for Marshall (who questioned its motivational ability). It was an image of a group of Penguins, with the the text being the uplifting "Conformity: It's the one that's different that gets left out in the cold".
The Sarah Connor Chronicles has two: In Gnothi Seauton five bad ass resistance fighters have a cute kitten "hang in there baby" in their hideout, which conceals a safe. In Dungeons And Dragons the future resistance have a badass mural of the same theme, except it's a lion jumping out of fire, a Terminator skull in its jaws.
The Doublemeat Palace in season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has these in its employee break room, and manager's office. It is duly lampshaded:
Tara: I have this sudden urge to dedicate my productive cooperation...
G.O.B.: And I'm not afraid to make mistakes. Or have you forgotten to read this little... Damn it! My legs are so powerful.
The IT Crowd: The basement has several memetastic posters hanging up.
From an Exit 57 sketch about a do-gooder lecturing a slacker in the break room at a supermarket:
Troy: I know you're pointing at a sign. Why don't you just read it? You're pointing at it. Laughton: "There's no I in TEAM." Troy: There's no U in TEAM.
Monty Python's Flying Circus sometimes had weird signs visible in sketches, like in the one where Michael Palin plays a businessman who admits to embezzling one penny from the company. Graham Chapman declares, "There's no place for sentiment in big business," goes over to a sign on the wall that says the same thing, and flips it over. The other side says, "He's right, you know."
Counter-Strike Source has a level set in an office building, with these posters on the walls. The topics are all related to Counterstrike itself, in-jokes for the established community that had played the previous version obsessively for several years. For instance, a picture of a tent, and the slogan "Camping".
Dead Space features motivational posters in certain areas; it would presumably be played straight, except the bright, happy posters with slogans like "Better Living through Science" etc are often seen next to scenes of Body Horror.
From the F.E.A.R. factory level: "Remember it's Quantity, Quality, Safety, in that order."
In office level of Bloodrayne 2 there are several posters including
a sinking boat - caption "this is your life"
a marble with the caption "You are this sharp"
stick men - caption "Just remember you are an individual, just like everybody else"
Starslip Crisis had a Story Arc (beginning here) in which curator-snob Vanderbeam sees the "Hang In There" cat poster on Jovia's wall, and becomes obsessed with finding out what a fellow lover of True Art could possibly see in such a piece of obvious shlock.
This appears to be a literacy poster showing Kestrel from Queen Of Wands sitting in a beanbag chair with a book to illustrate the slogan "READ". On closer inspection, the book she's reading turns out to be titled "Porn".
There's a somewhat sillier take on the "Hang In There Baby" poster in this strip.
Torg's cousin sends him the Christmas present of an "inspirational calendar" with a picture like a motivational poster for each month, illustrating various captions such as "Inspiration" and "Success" with inspirational pictures... all of which are the same picture of an alligator eating a guy.
Riff: "Hey, 'Relationships'! That one works!"
An early Bizarre Uprising comic had a poster saying "Reading is KITTY!" in a classroom background.
The Simpsons featured the "Hang in there!" cat poster. Marge notices that, since the copyright on the poster dates back to the 1968, the cat must be long dead, which she thinks makes the poster actually "kind of a downer".
It also had, in "And Maggie Makes Three", Homer's demotivational plaque: "Don't forget, you're here forever." Homer used pictures of Maggie to turn it into "Do it for her," in a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
The "Hang in there!" poster also appears in Dr. Katz.
In the episode "Cryonic Woman", Leela reapplies for her old job at the cryonics center:
"Oh, I was hoping you would come back. I even saved your poster of a chimp expressing your distaste for Mondays!"
"Monday monkey lives for the weekend, sir!"
There was another one from the first episode which refers to the policy of people being assigned careers instead of choosing their own, which features a man in a hard-hat with a rather dubious look on his face giving a thumbs-up, with the caption "You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do".
Paying attention to the background nets a few more of these as well. In one episode, a poster outside an army recruitment office reads:
"Join The Army Today!!
What are you, Chicken?
Bwak Buk Buk Bawk!"
A Freeze-Frame Bonus inside the recruitment office features an "Employee of the Month" poster with a picture of a casket.
Played straight but subtle in Transformers Animated. When we see Prowl's room as he meditates, there's a poster of a cute little puppy on a branch reading "Chin up!" Made hilarious as one wonders where Prowl found the poster (that size) in the first place, and what prompted the Deadpan Snarker to hang it in his zen spot.
This is made interesting by the fact that it appears every time that room is shown. Possibly one of the writers has it in their office.
Family Guy. When Peter took over his father-in-law's company, Brian had a poster of a ball in his office that said "Go Get It. Go Get It, Boy".
A painful example of wildly inappropriate (and probably sadistically ironic) Straight Lesson in the wrong environment would be the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes [you] free) at the entrance of Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.
Another painful example is the use of so-called inspirational posters in a classroom whose teacher is so utterly repressive as to recite the occasional Dystopian Edict to the students.