Someone is trapped, or forced to work against his will, in some kind of facility that produces publicly available goods (such as fortune cookie fortunes, or candybar wrappings). He proceeds to use them as a means of communicating with the outside world and asking for help.
In comedic versions, it's usually just a throwaway gag, and the fate of the mysterious victim isn't ever alluded to.
By the way, I'm trapped here, and they are forcing me to type up trope entries! Send help!
- The earliest use that has been found for "I'm being held prisoner at [a Chinese food preparation place] is from 1955 (listed here) but some suspect that it's been around for longer than that.
- A message in Hogfather is in a Christmas Cracker and says "Help help help Ive fallen in the crakker machine I cant keep runin on this roller please get me ou-". Someone says it's the same old mottos as when they were kids.
- In Goldfinger (the original novel) James Bond leaves a note on the underside of the toilet on a plane, telling of Goldfinger's plot and saying that delivery of the note to Felix Leiter of the CIA will result in a reward, hoping that the cleaning crew will find it; but doesn't know whether or not it got found & delivered, or thrown out, or found by the bad guys.
- In The Tightrope Walker by Dorothy Gilman, the plot starts when the owner of a second-hand store finds a "Please help" message hidden in one of the objects in her store.
- The rare "Buggre all this" edition of the Bible that Aziraphelle had in Good Omens.
And bye the border of Afhter, fromme the east side even untoe the west side, a portion for Naphtali./
And bye the border of Naphtali, from the east side untoe the west side, a portion for Manaffeh./
Buggre all this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye hart of typesettinge. Master Biltonn is no Gentelmann, and Master Scagges noe more than a tighte fisted Southwarke Knobbesticke. I telle you, onne a daye laike this ennywone with half an oz. of sense should bee oute in the sunneshain, ane nott stucke here alle the liuelong daie inn thif mowldey olde By-Our-Lady workeshoppe. @*"AE@;!*/
And bye the border of Ephraim, from the east fide even untoe the west fide, a portion for Reuben.
- Fairy Godmother Tycoon has a story part where someone finds a wig — there's a little note attached. "Please help. Kidnapped. Forced to make wigs. Rapunzel." Not to mention the tip "Help, I'm trapped in a tip-writing factory."
- Looney Tunes: The Daffy Duck short "China Jones" parodies the "being held in a Chinese bakery" one. Daffy himself ends up being held in a Chinese laundry.
- The episode titles the first part of Robot Chicken's fourth season form the message "Help me. I'm trapped in a DVD factory. They took my thumbs. Two weeks without food. Tell my mom I love her, but not in that way. Love, Maurice PS: Yes, in that way." In a twist to this trope, the second half's episodes titles make up the factory's response: "Dear Consumer, we are a humble factory. Maurice was caught unionizing our labor. President Hu forbids it! Due to constraints of time and budget, the ramblings of Maurice cannot be erased, so sorry. Please do not notify our contractors. Especially the animal Keith Crofford!"
- There was a Madeline animated movie where Madeline ended up in a sweatshop making lace, and she and the other girls attempted to knot lace patterns that spelled out a message for help.
- In an episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Bloo becomes a celebrity, but his agent won't let him go. So on his variety show, Bloo tap dances a Morse code message saying "Help me, Mac!" so Mac and the rest of the friends wo are watching can so to the studio and save him.