"I think this skeleton-pumped PSA perfectly reflects that era's methods of keeping children away from bad things: Exaggerate until they shit themselves straight.
If you've spent any time in a Western (and probably American
) public school system, then you've no doubt seen one of the films, cartoons and filmstrips whose purpose is to inform bright-eyed schoolchildren about themselves and the world around them. Judging by the way many of these films turn out, however, one might suspect that there's a special wing in Hell set aside just to produce them.
The origin of this trope lies in the belief that children aren't all that receptive to positive reinforcement, and therefore must be informed in the least subtle way possible
about all of the negative consequences which may befall them
if they do anything evil and/or stupid
. For instance, tell little Johnny that he has a better chance of living a long healthy life if he avoids drugs
. There's a pretty good chance that he'll say "Sure" and then promptly forget every single word you just said. But, tell Johnny that he'll wind up drooling in a back alley covered with sores while jamming a dirty 8-inch long needle into his arm if he takes a single puff from a joint given to him by The Aggressive Drug Dealer
, and he'll listen. He may laugh
his disbelieving butt off, but he will
This mentality has formed the basis of all sorts of cautionary tales, many of which employ extreme and terrifying imagery
in their attempt to keep children on the straight and narrow path. Yes, yes, irreversible psychological damage might occur
, but it is
all for their own good, so it's okay. So what if a kid winds up a twitching vegetable afraid of venturing into the outside world? At least he won't get kidnapped by a lollipop-wielding child-molester
or hit by a bus while jaywalking and smoking crack.
The theory is that when they grow older and "able to understand," adults will be able to give the "real" reasons for such mores
. A common reality is that there's less to stop them from engaging in that behavior once they realize that their face won't "freeze that way."
Examples of some of the mind-meltingly scary imagery include: a boy getting run over by a train, vandals poisoning a deer, people in Africa contracting hideous diseases like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis, a choking victim who turns bright blue and nearly dies... Let's not even get into the bloody, windshield-cracking horrors inflicted in Driver's Ed class or what happens when people panic if the school catches on fire.
Of course, not every child who sees these types of films will become traumatized by them. For every kid who pukes at the five-minute mark of Wheels of Tragedy
, there will be at least one who will cheer loudly at the sight of karmically-induced gore
splashing across the screen. (A phenomenon excellently spoofed in this Onion article
Note: Sometimes Scare 'Em Straight campaigns will actually backfire
, and the ads that were designed to admonish a certain behavior will actually encourage it and make it look cool
. There are those who believe that certain companies might be doing this sort of thing on purpose to lure in new customers.
After all, why else would cigarette
and alcohol companies be so quick and eager to create ad campaigns that are supposedly against
middle-schoolers using their products, when most new users tend to get hooked at that age? It's a debate that will probably rage on for as long as alcohol and tobacco remain
Scare 'Em Straight as a whole not only covers instructional shorts, but scary public service announcements
as well. God forbid you should settle in to enjoy your Saturday Morning cartoons and your Froot-Loops without being reminded of the Lovecraftian Body Horror
which can overtake you if you fail to brush your teeth. Some politicians will use these tactics to try and scare people off voting for their opponent, which is known as a Scare Campaign
This is the modern equivalent of the (hopefully) Forgotten Trope
of children's literature intended to scare the kids into good Christian behavior by depicting the torments of Hell
itself (or at least a painful, horrible, gruesome death
) inflicted on "boys and girls like you."note
Some fringe sects keep this tradition alive with "hell houses," but these are very much disavowed by the mainstream. However, a Hell House graced the cover of Newsweek as recently as 2006. note
It could be said that the large number
of examples on this page are a testimony to there being too much PSA time available to a vast number of specialized interest groups, each one convinced that their anvil needs to be dropped
, and unaware that people become desensitized at a young age by the sheer volume
of Scare 'Em Straight messages.
This is, arguably, also one of the intentions of older forms of punishment, especially where the criminal (or his/her tortured-to-death corpse
) is displayed in public
as a warning to others.note
Can lead to Do Not Do This Cool Thing
, if the audience likes
looking at gruesome pictures. Oh, and no, it has nothing to do with scaring homosexuals into being straights
, at least right now
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Anime & Manga
- Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex does this to a group of med students. Three medical students who are well enough on their own decide to try their hand at stealing organs and selling them on the black market. It doesn't take much to capture the first two, but the leader of the operation runs off into the nearby warehouse. Motoko heads inside to deal with him personally. She pulls out a knife and threatens to kill him and sell his organs herself. He tries to plead and bargain with her, but she keeps advancing. She backs him into a corner, takes the knife and stabs it down at his head. One Gory Discretion Shot later, we see the kid is still alive, though he did wet his pants in fear. Motoko jammed the knife into an oil pipe right above his head. As all three students are being taken away by the police, she tells them that they all have promising educations and futures ahead of them and that they shouldn't get mixed up with illegal activities, especially ones that the Yakuza has a hand in.
- Batman is a classic example. The entire point of dressing up as a giant bat and beating the hell out of criminals is to terrify them into not being criminals any more. The intro to The Dark Knight and the mob turning to the Joker for help showed the results, and in the comics, Gotham's crime rate surges on the few occasions Batman is confirmed to be absent from the city.
- Jack Chick's Chick Tracts, which attempt to scare people straight quite literally in many cases, by establishing homosexuals as being ungodly deviants who corrupt the young and, in one memorable instance that people have stumbled across, outright state that the homosexual community was willing to deliberately supply HIV-infected blood to the blood transfusion network in a form of political blackmail. They're so absurdly over-the-top ("AAAHHH... my leg's on fire!") that they're sometimes mistaken for parody, except he is absolutely serious about all of this and expects you to take it seriously as well. One of his more famous tracts is "Dark Dungeons," when he rails against Dungeons & Dragons, claiming that players will become involved in black magic and kill themselves if anything happens to their Player Character.
- That tactic is also used in "Dark Dungeons: The Movie!".
- His goal of scaring you into believing in God occasionally veers in a creepy direction. In one tract, a father sexually abuses his daughter and gives her gonorrhea. He then accepts Jesus and all is forgiven. His daughter magically isn't traumatized, and he suffers no legal consequences for the abuse. There's a reason that tract is no longer in circulation.
- Adventures in Odyssey, which usually doesn't pull this trope into effect heavily, did a similar thing in their "Castles and Cauldrons" episode, with a version of Dungeons & Dragons so exaggerated you had to wonder if they had watched even one or two minutes of people playing it. (And it still failed to live up to the silliness of the above example.)
- A parody of Chick Tracts has Jack Chick meeting his Maker, and God is not impressed:
Jack Chick: But God, I've spent my whole life kissing your ass!
God: If I had meant for you to kiss my ass, I'd have given you lips (spreads hands out fully) this big.
- Judge Dredd once commented that if you gave him a "Juve aged 5," all he'd have to do was stare at him for a bit and it would scare them straight... in theory.
Dredd: "Give me the juve at five and I'll give you the model citizen... or one who thinks long and hard before he steps over the line."
- The EC Comics story ''The Monkey'' suggests that smoking one joint will result in instant addiction, which, within three months, will lead to heroin addiction and then bashing your father's head in with a lamp for drug money.
- The concept is invoked in a Thunderbolts/Avengers Academy crossover called "Scared Straight", in which the Academy students are brought to the Raft to see why they shouldn't become super-criminals. Using Moonstone and the Ghost wasn't quite the right tactic, especially as some of the students tried to kill Norman Osborn shortly thereafter.
- The Powerpuff Girls #62 (DC run): "Brat Trap" has Princess Morbucks holding a rally for materialism at Townsville Mall, giving her money to the kids so they can spend it on bling. The girls intercede, and Bubbles takes the stage:
Bubbles: Kids! Do you want to be slaves to shopping? Always needing buy more...more...more? (now on her knees) You may get lots of toys and clothes but you'll be doomed to a spoiled, lonely life where you'll always be in trouble for bad behavior. (now letting it loose, restrained by Blossom and Buttercup) But we are here to help! We are here to raise your spirits with an almighty game of Duck-Duck-Goose!
Blossom: (two panels later) Where did that come from?
Bubbles: The cable was out this morning so I had to watch televangelists instead of cartoons.
- Needless to say, it was effective. The kids renounce their materialism.
- Kyon Big Damn Hero: Tanaka Taro in chapter 54 begins his short time in the story reflecting to himself that he is going to become an important and powerful person in the crime syndicate by taking out Kyon. After the attempt, he reflects that after he recovers (from the beatdown Kyon just gave him), he will still become an important and powerful person by working at the docks, getting the Japanese equivalent of a GED, and working his way up to management.
- In the Harry Potter AU story Faery Heroes, Slughorn reveals to Lily's "ghost" (actually Harry, Luna, and Hermione using spells to convince him) that he told Tom Riddle about Horcruxes in an attempt to make Tom realize how horrific necromancy in general and Horcruxes in particular were. Slughorn had gotten into necromancy when he was young in hopes of resurrecting his dead mother but burned his notes on dark arts once he realized how evil they were.
- Struwwelpeter is a classic (1845) German children's book that warns the reader against misdemeanors like not trimming their nails or playing with matches with rather gruesome cautionary tales. One of them, for example, features a boy who sucks his thumb, so a tailor (the "Great Red-Legged Scissor-man") comes out of nowhere and cuts his thumbs off with a pair of scissors.
- In the Discworld book Hogfather, Peachy used to suck his thumb as a child. As a grown man (not to mention a violent gangster and thug), he suddenly finds himself in a world based on a child's mind - he is unfazed until the Scissor Man actually appears. He flees in terror and is never seen again.
- The previous governess of the novel's two children was apparently a great believer in this trope, making up all manner of monsters to threaten Twyla and Gawain into proper behavior. Susan finds it exasperating to no end, having to beat these prohibitory monsters into submission once she becomes their governess.
- Jenny Green-Teeth, a monster encountered by Tiffany in The Wee Free Men, is identified by Miss Tick as a creation of parents who wanted to scare their kids out of playing too near the water.
- Hilaire Belloc wrote a series which is the English equivalent of Struwwelpeter. It includes Cautionary Tales, A Moral Alphabet, and A Good Child's Book Of Beasts. Things like getting blown up, crushed by falling statuary, and eaten by lions happened to bad children. However, the stories are all in verse and have a kind of ghoulish glee about them, suggesting that they're not necessarily supposed to be taken totally seriously.
- This was also parodied in a cutaway gag on Family Guy.
- This character has gained a sort of tongue-in-cheek fame in Finland. There is a famous children's song named after him that's basically 'stop telling boring stories!'
- The Red-Legged Scissor Man, along with several creatures like him, appear in The Fourth Bear, a novel by Jasper Fforde. There's a village where these monsters actually exist, and the children are downright creepily obedient, in order to avoid the possibility of thumbs being snipped off and suchlike. While definitely both Nightmare Fuel and Paranoia Fuel for the children, the effect this has on them, the Uncanny Valley creepiness, is also Nightmare Fuel in the books (both in-universe, for people who haven't grown up in the village, and for the reader). For decades the parents had decided that Utopia Justifies the Means, but eventually the parents rebel, demanding normal things like teenage arguments and untidy bedrooms (things they never got a chance to experience as children either ...).
- The History of the Fairchild Family, a popular Victorian Sunday school prize, had lots of these, including a child nearly dying of a fever for eating stolen plums, a father taking his quarreling daughters on a walk in the woods to see a dead man hanging on a gibbet, and another girl burning to death while playing with a candle. Later editions either toned down or completely removed the latter two incidents.
- The Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series had the desperate parents of naughty children going to an old lady in a weird house and getting strange concoctions to teach their children the error of their ways. Often involved magical candy.
- An entire discredited subtrope of this are the tales, often presented through allegory, of young women who place unwise trust in male strangers, slip into their abodes, and are never seen alive again. Famous fables of this type include "Little Red Riding Hood" (before the Brothers Grimm version introduced a hunter to save the day) and "The Spider and the Fly."
- In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this seems to be the job of the Ghost of Christmas Future.
- The entire point of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax is to do this. At least it didn't go as far as "No Pressure" above...
- This 1844 pictorial account of how masturbation is apparently fatal.
- German author Gudrun Pausewang does this so well, it makes her the queen of HONF. Most (in)famous example: Die letzten Kinder von Schewenborn (The last kids of Schewenborn), about the life of an ordinary German family during and after global thermonuclear war. Including excessive descriptions of radiation sickness, mutilated people, lots of children dying (incl. all the siblings of the narrator), a baby born eyeless and armless, the mother of the family going mad and forcing the family to return to Frankfurt which she believes wasn't destroyed (of course it was, being one of Germany's most important cities), and also the description of the helplessness of the people. She also wrote books about a nuclear power plant going Chernobyl in Germany, the poorness of people in third-world country, another right-wing populist taking power in Germany, and a biography of young Adolf Hitler. Some of these books even got prizes for being (supposedly) good literature.
- Danish fairytale legend Hans Christian Andersen. Everywhere. Most blatant example: You go to hell for a "C" school note equivalent. No, I'm not making this up, read "Ole Lukøje."
- Charlotte Temple, by Susanna Rowson, is a badly written, overdone, Anvilicious, ham-fisted morality tale laden with hackneyed stereotypes; it was also the bestselling novel in America from its publication in 1794 to when it was finally overturned by Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. Charlotte Temple is the story of a young English girl who, sincerely in love, runs away with a soldier to America, beyond her family's ability to help her. Her soldier then abandons the girl when she's pregnant for a prettier, wealthier model, leaving Charlotte to eventually beg in the streets, and get a "happy" ending in that she dies in her father's arms.
- Arguably deconstructed in Theodore Thomas' short story, "Test," where a man applying for his driver's license experiences a horrific accident through hypnosis. The end of the story hints that no one gets a license — those applicants who still want to drive after experiencing that are presumed insane and dragged away to an asylum.
- "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" was told to scare children who lie all the time. (See Crying Wolf.)
- Jean Valjean attempts this in-universe in Les Misérables. When a young fop of a street thug, Montparnasse, tries to mug him, Valjean asks why, and Montparnasse retorts that he's lazy and honest work is hard. Valjean, who spent nineteen years in prison for the Felony Misdemeanor of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family (and a few escape attempts), is disgusted, and gives him a vivid description of how Montparnasse's criminal laziness could very well land him in prison, where the work is so backbreakingly awful that honest employment looks like a restful paradise in comparison. When this doesn't work on its own, Valjean points to Montparnasse's fine clothes and fancy hair and says he'd be shaved bald and issued a hideous uniform. This part seems to have some effect.
- An Alternate Character Interpretation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that the tour of the factory is Willy Wonka's way of scaring the naughty kids and coddling parents in the Golden Ticket tour group straight by leading them into situations where disobedience has ridiculous, disastrous effects on them. Even if one doesn't go with that interpretation, the novel and adaptations thereof do make for a blackly funny morality play for kids. And in-universe, the Oompa-Loompa song regarding Violet — mostly recounting the sad story of Miss Bigelow, who chewed so much she eventually bit her tongue in two, went insane, and was confined to a Bedlam House — is certainly this trope!
- HP Lovecraft, a teetotaler in real-life, wrote a joking example of an anti-drinking screed in his comedic short story "Old Bugs".
Live Action TV
- The Brady Bunch: "Bobby's Hero," from the fourth season, sees an elderly man, whose father had been killed by outlaw Jesse James during a robbery, set Bobby straight on the legend and the facts about James and his gang.
- My Two Dads: The 1989 episode "Story With a Twist" sees teenager Nicole come home drunk. When her two fathers, Michael and Joey, learn she also drove with someone who was drunk, they decide to teach her a "scared straight" lesson ... by themselves getting very drunk and then announcing they were going for a little drive. Judge Wilbur stops Michael and Joey just in time, before a petrified Nicole says she understands the consequences of drinking and driving; Wilbur then confides that she was in on the lesson all along.
- A&E has a sort of Sequel Series to the film Scared Straight called Beyond Scared Straight, where juvenile delinquents from across the country visit various prisons.
- The HBO series Oz.
- On Saving Grace, Grace's niece and best friend went to a "scavenger" party where they took random drugs, and the best friend died. Her father and Grace dragged the niece down to the morgue and forced her to look at her friend's corpse.
- Also happened on an episode of Crossing Jordan, where Macy took his daughter to the morgue to show her the corpse of a girl who was killed by a mobster after falling into an unsavory life.
- A similar thing happened on an episode of CSI when Catherine dragged Lindsey to the morgue to look at a random corpse after the latter was caught hitchhiking during a particularly rebellious period.
- Also in CSI: Miami - As part of their sentence, convicted drunk drivers would have to show up at the morgue, where Alexx would show them corpses of people who made the same mistake but weren't lucky enough to live through it.
- CSI also featured a more comical example of this when Nick arrested a stoner who was shining a laser pointer at commercial airliners. The kid was dumped in a holding room with a dozen hardened criminals who gleefully played along when Nick mentioned how "popular" the kid would be in jail.
- Threads. Oh God, Threads. You'd go from first-strike proponent to head of the CND after you watch it.
- Parodied in The Colbert Report. To complement The Wørd "Just Don't Do It," Colbert did The Talk in a way it would disencourage sex:
Alright, teens. Sex is as natural as the birds and the bees because if you do it you will be stung to death and have your eyes violently pecked out! (If you do it right) Girls, you could become pregnant. Boys, you could become pregnant too! Sometimes it goes back up and you grow a baby in your ball sack. (How kids get nut allergies) Unbelievably painful, women will never understand. If you don't tamp down your physical desires boys, you could go insane and find yourself copulating with the coin return of a vending machine. (Bright side: Free Kit Kat). And girls, if you give into your lust, you could end up copulating with something even worse. (A teenage boy).
- Pretty much the point of J. Walter Weatherman on Arrested Development, who was a one-armed man that George Bluth hired to help teach his children a lesson. Several lessons. Through graphic traumatizing deceit, fake blood, and a fake arm, he managed to burn into the kids' minds that everything from talking too loud in the car, to leaving the house without putting a note on the fridge will inevitably end in someone's arm being ripped off.
- Although Lindsay came away from the "fridge note" incident thinking he wanted them to avoid dairy somehow.
- George Sr. also hosted a "Scared Straight" presentation at the Church and State Fair. Accidentally walking into the Church one, he ended up telling a bunch of young gay men about a place where you work out and have sex with other men without anyone treating it like a big deal, and was asked if there was a cover charge. Funnily enough, his original plan of talking about the horrors of his house confinement and constant sex with Lucille, along with visual aids, might have been more effective here. Though a Space Whale Aesop.
- In an episode of The Wire, there's a scene of some elementary school kids sitting in on a gangbanger's autopsy while someone lectures them about the dangers of a life of crime. But they don't seem particularly fazed at all. The coroner later jokes that it was more "bored stiff" than "scared straight."
- On Dexter, we see a flashback wherein Harry takes young Dexter to watch an execution, telling him that this is what will happen to him if he doesn't follow the Code.
- Parodied on a regular sketch on Saturday Night Live, which has a group of prison inmates trying to "scare straight" a trio of teens, inevitably by retelling the plot of some film or the like. Usually, the horrible consequences the inmates use are based on story elements that aren't that horrible, actually.
- My Name Is Earl When Earl ends up in prison, he directs one of these. Hilarity Ensues.
- In one episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Don shows a Driver's Ed class one of these. Amusingly, Sally comes in later so that the two of them can watch it together... backwards, so that it has a happy ending.
Sally: Her head came back on!
- One episode of Police, Camera, Action! had a group of self-confessed speeding drivers who were taken to a mock-up of an accident scene where a motorist was doing at least 60 miles in a 30 mile zone. The car he hit was of a married couple and their three-month old daughter who was reported as not breathing when the ambulance arrived. The daughter survived — they brought her out in a wheelchair and the mother explained that she needed round the clock care (two carers during the day, one during the night) and that if they removed a device around her neck, she would die. A few of the group were horrified and promised never to speed again; one stated that they would only speed "if it was safe to do so."
- On Party Down, after catching Henry and Constance smoking marijuana, Ron produces a photo he uses whenever he's tempted to use to scare them straight. He had a friend who smoked pot, and one time he got drunk and crashed the company van and got his foot amputated. The photo is of "a leg made footless by pot."
- The IT Crowd features a parody anti-music piracy ad which states that pirating music is equivalent to stealing a policeman's helmet, murdering him, shitting in his helmet, presenting his shit-filled helmet to his grieving widow, and then stealing it again. And it implies that the punishment if you're caught pirating is summary execution.
- Sometimes Maury's guests would be victims of domestic abuse. Their abusive partners would be talked to onstage, then a big, buff man (usually a prison-guard, or a former abuser, or a cop) would take them out for a day or so. First they went to a prison to see where they would be if they kept hurting their partners and then they were taken to a coroner, to see the dead body of an abuse victim. The guy in charge would then force the abusers to take a good, long look at her and basically tell them "This could be your partner." A "Where are they now?" segment would be brought up at the end, mentioning that some of those couples were currently getting help.
- They also do this with the "delinquent teenager" episodes. Usually the girls (most of whom will admit to sleeping with any man that agrees because they want a baby) will be lectured by women who were teen moms, and usually the older girls will let them take care of the baby for a day. Often, at the same time, they'll be taken to this inside of a prison and screamed at by female inmates.
- One episode of Drake & Josh had an episode called "Steered Straight". The boys are taken into a cop car, and on the way to the station, the officer who picked them up stops at a gas station robbery. Unfortunately, the robber steals the cop car and the boys are forced to pretend to be criminals so the robber won't know they're innocent. Of course, hilarity ensues.
- Parodied in The Office episode "The Convict". Michael attempts to seriously warn the office of how horrible and frightening prison is by using this technique as he pretends to be a rebellious ex-convict, with ridiculous reasons of why to avoid prison... like the Dementors.
- The Young Ones has a parody of a road safety PSA in which a cricket bat with a brick tied to it represents a car, and various squishy foodstuffs represent vulnerable pedestrians. This was a parody of a real road safety campaign that had aired a few years previously, using the image of a hammer smashing a peach to represent people being run over.
- Played with in an episode of Hill Street Blues. The Captain (a sort of costumed public relations guy for the precinct) tries bringing in a young juvenile offender to show him around and try to put a scare into him about crime. It not only doesn't work, when Mick lays into The Captain with a tirade that includes "people don't scare him, he scares people" the kid in turns lays into the officer with a death threat. The Captain STILL thinks he's getting somewhere.
- A number of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes have featured shorts that supposed to invoke this, but their over-the-topness leads them to being mocked. Besides the X Marks The Spot short, others have included:
- Parodied in an episode of Mad TV with a commercial for "Scared Straight Anywhere".
- An episode of Orange Is The New Black has a group of prisoners excited to take part in a scared straight program, where they have to yell at delinquent teenage girls. The prisoners even practice for the role.
- Classic Doctor Who in the 60s and 70s indulges in this from time to time, because the show was originally concieved as Edutainment, because Nightmare Fuel Public Service Broadcasts aimed at children were omnipresent in the UK in the Seventies and because the reason Doctor Who exists is to scare the Krotons out of children. A few examples:
- "The Web of Fear" contains a non-plot-important sequence when Jamie hops down onto the Underground train tracks and the Doctor launches into a lecture complete with panicking and impassioned hand gestures:
Jamie, no! Don't move! Don't touch the rails. Whatever you do, stand still! Stand still. Don't move. Keep quite still, Jamie. ...Oh, it's all right. You can relax. The electricity is off. If there had been a current running through these rails, you'd have been fried! Electrified! Brunched! Burnt up! Now, come along. It's safe now, I think, but we'd better be careful. Follow me.
- After the Nightmare Fuel sequence where Jo gets a piece of plastic sprayed over her airway by a killer fake daffodil, the Doctor gives a lecture about the dangers of suffocation from plastic sheets, mentioning that you only need four inches square of plastic to suffocate and you will be unconscious in two minutes and dead in ten. This was a hot topic at the time, as plastic bags were a new development.
- "YOLO" by The Lonely Island spoofs the "you only live once" meme and the backlash against its risk-promoting nature by being the diametric opposite: a song telling the listener to avoid doing anything risky, to the point of not going outside, boarding up your windows, wearing a straitjacket for protection, and pulling out all your teeth so you don't accidentally bite your tongue. At the end of the song, it is pointed out that YOLO also stands for "you oughta look out".
- A multitude of Urban Legends try to scare teens out of sex, with stories of horrible fates that can befall them when they drive off into the wilderness. Usually it ends with one or both of them being murdered by some maniac, but one story has two teens having sex on top of a mountain during a thunderstorm and getting struck by lightning, killing the girl and fusing their bodies together, leaving the terrified boy trying to call 911 with his tongue fused to hers.
- Another version involves only the genitals being fused together, and the boy is so traumatized that he throws up in the girl's mouth. The smell of the vomit attracted a bear, which proceeded to eat the girl's face. Oh, and the boy didn't even have a phone, so he had to drag himself and the girl's half-eaten corpse to the highway, traumatizing some Girl Scouts along the way. When he was finally taken to the hospital, the doctors managed to separate the couple, though the boy's penis was destroyed in the process.
- This Urban Legend is a bit pointless, as a more appropriate Aesop would be "don't be on mountains during thunderstorms" rather than "don't have sex".
- There are also anti-drug Urban Legends, like the story of the baby sitter who took LSD and "Baked a turkey"? It wasn't a turkey... It was a bay-hay-beee!
- Though not the origin of the mythos, vampire legends became popular in 1500s England to discourage teenagers from having sex before marriage (as well as being a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases). This was during a time when religion and salvation as a whole were significantly more important, so losing your soul to vampirism greatly outweighed the benefits you would get.
- In a similar vein, most legends of Horny Devils and Vagina Dentata were initially warnings against sex with strangers.
- The Christian play Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames. It's a series of vignettes where people die and stand before the gates of Heaven. If they accepted Christ beforehand, they're allowed in. If not, cue the creepy music as Satan comes out and drags the "heathen" off to Hell, whose only crime in many cases was skipping church. The play is based on the Evangelist belief that only those who worship Jesus—and do it the correct way—are allowed into Heaven, regardless of how good or bad they were in life; everyone else goes to Hell. Indeed, most of the people condemned weren't bad people at all. This is the point; to an Evangelist, simply being a decent person isn't enough.
- An Older Than Steam version of this is The Reckoning Of Everyman.
- Hairspray parodies 1960's drunk driving Public Service Announcements with the perky, up-tempo curtain closer "Blood On The Pavement."
- Parodied in the "Scared Straight to the Altar" segment of the musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. A group of adults with defined standards in what they're looking for in a spouse are forced to listen to a convict's story about how he grew so bitter over being single for so long that he eventually snapped and murdered all of the couples at a New Year's party. This terrifies his audience into abandoning their standards, grabbing the nearest member of the opposite sex, and running off to get married on the spot.
- A Half-Life Modification called Afraid Of Monsters is a complete videogame version of this. The main character is David, a drug addict who seeks help for his obsession with painkillers. But before he gets treatment for it, he takes more of them in a hospital's bathroom, and everything goes awry after that. After a nightmare sequence, David encounters Dogs with Shaved Human Heads, Gibberish-spouting nonsensical Zombies, Giant Flickering Faces that laugh like children, Levitating aliens, abominations made of human limbs, Random Ghosts appearing, Even more random noises without sources, and a world that is Dark and changes form. After all that, all the endings in the game are unhappy but one, and all show the consequences of what an addiction to drugs can lead to.
- It is made more elaborate, by the fact that to see the happy ending, you have to get the others first. That requires 3 playthroughts, which goes to show that, yes, Drugs are bad.
- Anders' personal quest in the second chapter of Dragon Age II ends with him losing control and menacing a young female escaped mage while glowing blue. If Hawke stops him from killing her, you run into her again outside, where she asks you what happened; Silly!Hawke's response is that it was all a demonstration to scare her away from the idea of ever summoning a demon.
- In BioShock 2 we get to visit Ryan Amusements, the centerpiece attraction of which is the "Journey to the Surface" ride. Since Andrew Ryan has an almost obsessive need to keep his underwater city secret, the exhibit was designed to discourage Rapture's youth from wanting to visit the surface. As such, visitors get to ride faux-bathyspheres down streets labeled "Curfew Alley" and "War Road," and watch creepy animatronics of families, artists, and scientists be menaced by Wallmaster-esque figures representing The Government. Apparently, it was quite effective.
- Benzaie got hired to make a PSA about seat belts. He made a Flipnote animation of Yarn Kirby turning into a car and crashing into a rock, causing his face to fly off and splatter against a boulder. Watch it here.
- A Moral Tale by Joe Bethancourt — "There is No Cure. Even Banjos Anonymous cannot help this one."
- Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The episode "Busted" is one of the best animated Scare 'Em Straight episodes. Series' host Bill Cosby warns at the beginning of the episode that some graphic language is used, and indeed it is: When Albert and his buddies are given the prison tour by a police officer, they hear lots of hooting and lurid comments from the inmates. Even without the use of strong profanity, the remarks that various inmates make about wanting the kids to join them in their cell (so they can have sex with them) – not to mention the strong commentary from two of the other inmates about not having any rights or freedoms, and the strong probability of lost opportunities once released – is enough to convince the gang to stay out of trouble and the hell away from people like Rudy's buddy, who got them in trouble in the first place.
- The massive, multi-series crossover special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue featured just about every major Saturday morning cartoon character of the early '90's inflicting massive amounts of psychological torture on a teenage addict to try and scare him off of drugs. (They'll be lucky if their efforts haven't driven the kid to drink.)
- Made even better when you consider that the real purpose of this special wasn't revealed until it aired! Instead, all the ads displayed it as a fun adventure starring all the big cartoon stars of the day. Cue deer-in-headlights look on parents' faces when their seven year old son turned to them and asked what marijuana was.
- Too bad nobody showed the producers of the PSA about how publishing companies can't always give you the rights to use characters from their publications, and that you may actually need the original author's permission. They used Garfield, but only got permission from the publishers of the comic, who legally could not give permission for the use of the character without Jim Davis's approval, which got them into a bit of trouble (and spared the world from re-airings).
- The Space Whale Aesoptastic Grizzly Tales For Gruesome Kids was based around the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer tactic of linking some kind of negative behaviour (e.g. being lazy and arrogant, being a couch potato, playing knock-down-ginger) with a spectacularly Disproportionate Retribution, such as being reduced to a drooling vegetable, turned into a potato chip, or hollowed out by termites, all with the intent of terrifying small children into being good little zombies.
- There is some question whether the series was a straight attempt at this Trope, or a prime example of Poe's Law.
- One episode of Home Movies had a schoolteacher who was a former prison guard locking the kids in a cell for a few hours in order to scare them straight. They used the time to brainstorm about their next film project.
- And it was a white-collar prison — the kids thought the whole setup was pretty sweet. Coach McGuirk even commented that the cells were better than his apartment.
- Another episode had Brendon filming a cautionary warning about putting marbles in your nose, which led to a rash of kids (and one teacher) putting marbles in their noses — of course, it had a metal song in it with the lyrics "Don't put marbles in your nose/Put them in there/Do not put them in there!"
- The Finnish primary childrens' TV show had a segment in the '80s and '90s that seems to have been out to intentionally traumatize toddlers about thin ice. Featured were panic, Uncanny Valley animation, and music that was just plain wrong. Good thing, too — the way Finland is crammed full of nature means that each winter fills the country with open, inviting death traps. Falling through lake ice doesn't dick around but kills you in a hurry.
- The clip also does a good job by showing kids what to do in case someone does fall into an icy lake.
- The bear's voice is plain horror. If you're curious, he says "Beware of weak ice." In a creepily low tone.
- The cartoon Play Safe delves deep into the well of horror to convey a somewhat dubious message about train safety. Complete with jerky rotoscoping, Deranged Animation, a horrifying soundtrack, and a Space Whale Aesop to boot (playing in train yards results in... hijacking a sentient streamliner and crashing it into another train?). You too can view the madness here.
- Beavis and Butt-Head go to prison on a school-sponsored 'Scared Straight' program — you can guess how they absorb the message. The episode ends with B&B promising to return to the joint so they and their new jailbird friends can "party again".
- The dumb duo also take in a 50's drivers-ed video, starring two meatheads with a suspicious resemblance to our protagonists. They then proceed to replicate the accident during their own driving test.
- As seen in Pinocchio, if you drink beer, smoke cigars, or play a round of pool (which, as we all know, is every 6-year-old boy's greatest fantasy), you'll turn into a donkey. No, it's true.
- According to Roger Ebert in his review for the VHS release of the film, this may subconsciously be the reason why he doesn't smoke.
- And now, Disney repurposed bits of footage from Pinocchio into an anti-smoking PSA, seen before some animated films. Here, at the bottom
- The "Deathrace" episode of Metalocalypse has Toki and Skwisgaar forced to go to driving school after a DWI arrest. The school forces them to watch a film about drunk driving, with accident scenes so graphic that they become afraid to drive a car, and fail the test as a result.
- In the 90s British primary school children were treated to a rather well-done fire safety animation called 'Frances the Firefly'. The aforementioned Frances lives in an insect village, but she can't fly very well nor glow as brightly as the other fireflies. So, a bratty cockroach persuades her to use a large match instead, which results in her burning off her wings, dropping the match in pain and burning most of the village down.
- An episode of Rugrats had the dentist suggest weaning Tommy at age one. And he showed how bad it would be if they did not wean him at Age one, showing a chart with two kids - one kid had a trophy saying "Best teeth," while the other had huge blanks in between each of his deformed teeth, and apparently, he wasn't weaned.
- Another episode features Didi encouraging Lou to eat healthy in which he downright refuses, but when a video depicting the importance of heart healthiness that he is suggested to watch gets accidentally played in front of him, it convinces him well enough to change his eating habits, which starts out with Lou deciding to chow down on a dish of soybean casserole that Didi cooked for him.
- "Proper Condom Use" of South Park had Ms. Choksondik showing the 4th-grade girls all the STDs they could contract if they had sex without the boy wearing a condom, complete with graphic pictures.
- But she fails to mention that the danger is only while having sex. Hilarity Ensues.
- South Park also did a particularly vicious and (ironically) anvilicious takedown of these tactics in "My Future Self 'N Me." Town parents hire actors to fake being "future" drug addict versions of the kids, scaring them away from ever trying drugs.
- Let's not forget the crew in Butt Out that tried to get the kids to not smoke. However, with their actions and their final statement "If you don't smoke, you can be just like us", immediately causes the boys to start smoking.
- In the episode Faith Hilling, a teacher forces Butters to put a gun inside his mouth and shows the class a violent PSA on "Long Johnsoning", both intended to scare the children away from using memes.
- A dentist in The Simpsons scares Ralph into brushing his teeth by showing him "The Big Book of British Smiles."
- In "Duffless," Homer is shown one of the gruesome driver's ed videos after receiving a DUI. He's laughing his butt off. "It's funny 'cause I don't know him!"
- Really, it's not like it's totally Homer's fault. The makers of the film apparently thought its subject matter was too scary, so they softened it with "zany" circus music and the narrator (who happens to be Troy McClure) making some puns. ("Here's an appealing fellow. In fact, they're 'a-peeling' him off the sidewalk!")
- In the episode where Marge gets issues with road rage, part of her community service is watching a film documenting the dangers of angry drivers, wth such gems as a judge, wearing robes and all, sentencing passing cars to "kiss his ass", and an astronaut going berserk in the middle of the road with a golf club.
- The "Ghost Car" film shown to Kim Possible's Driver's Ed class is presumably rather gory (even in scratchy black and white), judging from the reactions we see.
- Parodied in an episode of The Venture Bros.. The boys visit a prison "Scare 'em Straight" program... a supervillain program, even. The Monarch, as per usual, shows quite a bit of genuine concern over the boys being there, while other supervillains lament that they've made the wrong choices in life that led to them having horrible facial deformities and so on.
- In the Treegasm episode of Ugly Americans, Mark has Randall convince a tree to stay with its girlfriend by giving it a very long and very detailed account of his sexual history, culminating with "Oh, and also, my dick recently fell off. I don't know how I forgot that little chestnut."
- In one episode of The Boondocks, Huey and Riley are sent to a Scare 'em Straight type of program where they go to a prison and see how bad it is. Another episode parodies anti-piracy PSAs, comparing stealing movies to beating up the elderly and MURDER.
- Mr. Krabs did this twice on SpongeBob SquarePants. First concerning the hooks, then about the main drain. Squidward also did this about the Slasher.
- The mash bringing... the slash singing... the rash slinging... the flash ringing... the ash pinging... thethethe HASH SLINGING SLASHER!!!!!
- SpongeBob himself does it when he is made hall monitor. Seeing a couple's window open, he decides to scare them into leaving it closed by dressing in a balacava, jumping through it and shouting "I'm the Open Window Maniac!", sending them running out the door. Soon, the police are looking for the Maniac... as is SpongeBob, not knowing that he's actually looking for himself.
- Toy Story used this to epic effect. In order to beat Sid (a kid who loves to mutilate and blow up his toys), Woody decides to reveal to him that all toys are alive. As a result, Sid is terrified of toys. The whole scene can be seen here.
- Played for laughs in American Dad! where it shows a younger Hayley refusing to eat her vegetables until Stan tells her she needs to eat them in order to get strong and fend off sexual predator Bill Clinton. Stan then knocks under the table and say "Oh! I think he's here right now!", which causes Hayley to quickly finish her food out of fear.
- In the Family Guy episode "Prick Up Your Ears", the school brings in a PSA group advocating for abstinence in the most hyperbolic terms possible. Such claims include "Sex turns straight people gay and gays into Mexicans", "If you have sex, your penis will fall off, and land in another dimension, populated entirely by dogs, who will eat it", and "If you have sex, you're automatically in Al-Qaeda".
- Parodied in an episode of Duckman, as Duckmans father had once attempted to scare him straight after he stole some candy from the store, by having the chief of police lock him up for an hour, similarly to the real life experience of Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunatly, 15 minutes after putting young Duckman in a cell, the chief tipped over his chair and hit his head on a radiator, putting him in a coma for 18 months. No one else knew why he was in there, and his father never came back for him, so Duckman ended up staying in prison until the chief woke up and let him out. All this resulted in was giving Duckman a crippling fear of enclosed spaces.