"Don't let Vox do to you what he did to me."
Bob meets George. George represents what will become of Bob if he takes the same path George did. Specifically, he represents a path that leads to corruption and evil and/or to a generally a miserable life. If George is well-meaning, he will try to warn Bob to not make the mistake he did. If George is evil, he may instead encourage Bob to follow in his footsteps
. Either way, Bob will ultimately decide that he does not want to end up like George.
If Time Travel
is involved, it may serve as an Ominous Message from the Future
, and George may be Bob's future self
, possibly a Future Loser
Named for Jacob Marley from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
. In the book, Marley represents what will become of Scrooge if he continues to be such a selfish jerk. Naturally, any story that homages A Christmas Carol
at all (of which there are many
) will require a character in the Marley role as well.
Not to be confused with Jacob Marley Apparel
For when the warning goes opposite way, see Fling a Light into the Future
Anime and Manga
- Doraemon: It's the eponymous robot's raison d'etre to stop Nobita from becoming a Future Loser, but occasionally, Future Nobita himself appears to whip his younger self into studying diligently. These are some of the most unsettling episodes, since Future Nobita knows his past-self's tricks and possess Doraemon's future gadgets.
- In the manga adaptation for Kingdom Hearts II, a derezzing Sark warns Tron to stop believing in the users, since Sora and his friends would one day betray him, much like how Ansem betrayed them both, which lead to Sark's Face-Heel Turn. Tron retains his belief in the users, and Sora, who felt sorry for Sark, reassures him that they will always be friends.
- The plot of the DC Comics' comedy miniseries A. Bizarro. Al Bizarro, duplicated not from Superman, but from a LexCorp employee called Albert Beezer, initially thinks he should try to be like Beezer, but at the end of the first issue, Beezer tells Bizarro that his life sucks and in order to be happy Bizarro should "do the exact opposite of everything I did!" (a Mythology Gag on the pre-Crisis Bizarro Code).
- Lou Martin, The Slacker protagonist of Major Bummer gets one of these from his time-traveling future self, who regrets having wasted his life. By the end of the story, present-day-Lou acts like he's had an epiphany, but the next scene shows him sleeping in and actively avoiding superheroics as usual.
- Sabertooth to Wolverine. During the arc following Wolverine's full recovery of his memory, he has a flashback to one of his earliest encounters with his evil rival. In an uncharacteristically intellectual moment, Sabertooth tells him (in latin) "I am what you you will become". In this case it's not a warning or encouragement, it's a prediction; Sabertooth believes Wolverine will eventually give in to his animal side (instead of fighting it) and become just like him: a savage, remorseless killer who delights in indulging his violent instincts. This is basically one of Wolverine's greatest fears and Sabertooth just loves taunting him with it.
- In the pro wrestling story A New Beginning, Gail Kim has turned heel and recently become WWE Women's Champion. After her title win, Molly Holly shows up to warn her that if she continues her heel ways, it will ruin her. Subverted in that Gail doesn't listen to the warning.
- In the original Star Wars trilogy, Darth Vader represents what would become of Luke if he turned to the Dark Side. This is made most clear when Luke battles an apparition of Vader on Dagobah which turns out to have his face. Later on, Luke nearly kills Vader, but stops himself when he realizes that he is just one step away from becoming the next Vader. The Emperor helpfully points this out just to make sure Luke is absolutely clear on what choice he would be making.
- Even more recently The Force Unleashed's centralman is another representation of what Luke (and potentially Leia) would have been like if raised by Darth Vader.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe comics had an arc where the Emperor Reborn had Luke fall to the Dark Side and join him, apparently to try and limit what he could do, and indeed, the Emperor Reborn dressed Luke like his father, as seen in the pic for In the Blood. And then Leia redeemed him, he tried and failed to kill the Emperor Reborn, and two volumes later finally managed it.
- Done with Neo Nazism in American History X.
- Done in The Muppet Christmas Carol, of course. Worth mentioning because A) they give Jacob a brother, Robert, so they can give the role of Marley to both Statler and Waldorf, which allows them to B) sing a cool little song about it all. And C) you get "Bob Marley". (Groan)
- Disney's The Kid is a rather weird take on this trope...starting with the fact that it's told from the Jacob Marley's perspective. He gets chewed out by his younger self by giving up on their dreams.
- The 1972 film version of Tales From The Crypt has a rather grim subversion of this. The Crypt-Keeper shows a group of strangers visions of the hideous fates awaiting each of them as a result of various wicked actions; at the end of the film, he reveals that these visions are not warnings of what might happen, but records of what has already happened; they're already dead, and destined for Hell.
- Repo! The Genetic Opera: Blind Mag is a more tragic variant on this- she's a completely noble, compassionate person whose only mistakes were trusting entirely the wrong people. She warns her similarly trapped goddaughter Shilo to bolt for her freedom and think for herself.
- Charles Dickens must have liked this one. Another example in addition to the Trope Namer: In Great Expectations, Pip can become either Jaggers (the bad choice) or Herbert (the good choice).
- Henry James' story The Jolly Corner is a ghost story where a man is haunted by the man he might have become. It's not obvious whether the ghost represents bad choices, though another character remarks that he seems to have suffered more than the protagonist.
- In Frankenstein, Victor serves as a warning to Walton, who is in danger of becoming as obsessed with his exploration as Victor was with the science that led to the creation of his monster.
- Though inverted in that he blasts Walton's crew for not having the balls to carry on on Walton's journey. Victor might represent what Walton could become, but unlike other examples he doesn't realize this, or regard it as a bad thing. He blames the Creature for all his ills but doesn't take responsibility for the hell he put the Creature through For Science!.
- Stargate SG-1
- In the early episode "The Torment of Tantalus", Dr. Ernest Littlefield represents what would become of Daniel if he stayed on the planet and tried to figure out the Meaning Of Life Stuff.
- In the season ten episode "The Road Not Taken," Cameron tells Sam that she'll share her fate if she doesn't follow Landry's demands. Subverted, as Sam speaks out against Landry anyway.
- In 30 Rock episode "Rosemary's Baby", Rosemary Howard represents what would become of Liz if she left TGS and wrote films based on the premise that art should be offensive.
- An episode of That '70s Show featured Eric meeting a 35-year-old who had no job and was as big a nerd as he was. He eventually decided to avoid that fate after he found out the man still lived with his mother.
- The title character of Malcolm in the Middle met a 30-something loser who couldn't hold a job, was badly in debt to unsavory types and spent all day trying to get people to play chess with him at the park. He acted in exactly the same way as Malcolm.
- Foreman is afraid of becoming like the titular character of House. Despite trying to avoid this, he eventually does become what Cuddy describes as "House Lite", going even as far as acquiring House's habit of not wearing a lab coat.
- The Law & Order: SVU episode "Redemption" features an older detective who represents Stabler if he follows his current path.
- Similar to the above The Shield, Vic meets up with his former mentor (played by Carl "Action Jackson" Weathers), who's a walking cautionary tale of Vic's current path (with gangbanger subbing for Armenian mobsters)
- For the record, that's in the first or second season. The show lasts for seven.
- In the Friends episode "The One Where Heckles Dies", Chandler discovers that cranky old Mr. Heckles was once a fun guy, and becomes obsessed with the notion that he may become just like Heckles when he gets older.
- In an episode of Will and Grace, the titular characters meet an author who Will admires. They discover he's a miserable jerk who spends all day in his house arguing with his female best friend and roommate who's just as big of a jerk as he is. Guess who they remind the main characters of?
- Done in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Xander meets his future self who tells him he will be unhappy marrying Anya. Subverted when it turns out future Xander is actually one of Anya's victims pretending to be Xander.
- In Supernatural, Dean gets this warning from the post-apocalyptic version of himself, who implores him not to resist the angels' plan for him. Essentially, he's given the choice of either becoming Michael's vessel or killing Sam before Sam becomes Lucifer's vessel. Predictably, he tries taking the third option of patching things up with his brother so that Sam'll be able to resist Lucifer.
- Max Ryan from the Criminal Minds episode "Unfinished Business" represents what could happen to any of the main characters if they allow their work at the BAU to dominate their lives: he's divorced, rarely sees his children and went as far as to move house in order to be closer to one of the crime scenes in a serial killer case that he never solved. Later in the show, Agent Rossi serves a similar purpose, having been divorced three times, being obsessed with an unsolved double murder, having been too focused on fame and having let his whole life pass him by while he worked at the BAU.
- Concentrated to its essence on Dollhouse: Topher's final advice to his apprentice before his Heroic Sacrifice is "Don't become me!"
- Zig-Zagged a bit in Scrubs with Dr. Cox. Cox is a brilliant and compassionate doctor, but his unwillingness to compromise and "play the game", as well as his open insubordination, have led to his career not advancing at nearly the rate it should have. JD completely respects and looks up to him, but fears that he will go down the same path if he doesn't become more flexible, and tells Cox as much. Cox takes the lesson to heart, and by the end of the series he has gone from an attending doctor to the chief of Medicine at Sacred Heart.
Religion & Mythology
- The Irish folk song "Paddy's Lamentation"
Here's you boys, now take my advice
To America I'll have ye's not be going
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin' cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin
- The song is even more poignant once the Fridge Horror sinks in: Paddy is dead and is giving his warning as a ghost.
- "House of the rising sun" has (in one of the various versions) the verse
Go tell my baby sister
Never do like I have done
To shun that house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun.
- "Ghost Riders in the Sky" concludes with one of the ghost riders delivering a warning:
As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name,
If you want to save your soul from hell a-ridin' on our range,
Then cowboy change your ways today, or with us you will ride.
Trying to catch the devil's herd across this endless sky.
- In The Little Foxes, Birdie warns her niece-in-law Alexandra: "Don't love me. Because in twenty years you'll just be like me. They'll do all the same things to you."
- Used once in Narbonic, using a combination of Time Travel and Projected Man.
- Parodied in Brawl in the Family during their A Christmas Carol parody arc. Wario takes the role of Marley, who sees nothing wrong with the path Mario is taking, but is sent to warn Mario anyways.
- Played with in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. Molly's clone, Galatea, was raised under much worse circumstances than Molly, and turned out mean, paranoid, and borderline villainous. When Galatea finally starts to get herself in order and become less of a jerk, Molly's family offers to let her live with them. Galatea makes it clear that she appreciates the offer, but refuses because she's afraid of losing her own identity if she were to start living exactly as Molly does. A subversion, since Molly's life was far nicer and more stable than Galatea's at that point.
- xkcd: Apparently, there is one just for Single Issue Wonks.
- Parodied in the "My Future Self 'n' Me" episode of South Park, where an organization hires actors to play kids future' selves to keep them from using drugs. It's also played straight at the end of the episode with Cartman.
- Not quite straight; the Future Cartman is a handsome and successful businessman who says that this is the big turning point in his life, and encourages his younger self to stay on the straight and narrow. Cartman, convinced that the guy is just another actor, resolves to be even more of a selfish jerk than he normally is. After he walks off, the Future Cartman changes into a fat slob.
- So basically future-Cartman screwed himself over because he absolutely had to tell his younger self where he'd end up, even though it was presumably unnecessary in the first place? ... What an Idiot.
- The reason that Luna helps Sweetie Belle in the fourth season My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Tolls". As Luna's envy towards her own sister led to banishment for a thousand years, she doesn't want Sweetie Belle to make the same mistake with her own sister, Rarity.