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The author has an important Aesop for the audience. There's an urgent course of action they want you to take, and they've decided to show you the tragic consequences of not doing so.
Trouble is, the real consequences, while they may be serious, aren't the sort that can easily be made to fit the Rule of Perception. Maybe they take decades to show up, if they show up at all. Maybe they happen so subtly that it's hard to show why the action should be taken.
Worse, maybe there isn't yet agreement on what the real consequences are. How can we be sure what will happen to the Earth if we drive all the humpback whales extinct?
So the author dreams up some improbable, highly unforeseeable consequence to scare you into complying.
When done right, the improbable consequence will be a close analogy or a sharp metaphor to the probable one - just increased in scale, speed, or concreteness. You know irreparable damage will be done to the earth's ecosystem if the whales go extinct, but not what irreparable damage; and so, you arrange it so that the absence of whales leads to aliens endangering all life on Earth - especially the humans.
When done wrong, it'll defy all logic. Often, how well it comes off depends on how close you're looking and (if the consequences are still unknown) what you believe.
Named for (and derived from) the plot of Star Trek IV, which can best be summed up as "Don't let whales go extinct, or else an alien probe will eradicate the planet."
This trope should not be confused with Fantastic Aesop. The Fantastic Aesop promotes a course of action which can't even be attempted in the real world (e.g. "Never use black magic to resurrect the dead") by showing a reasonably plausible set of consequences ("Poor beloved Tropey Came Back Wrong".) The Space Whale Aesop promotes a course of action which can be attempted in Real Life ("don't perform nuclear tests") by showing consequences that strain credibility ("radiation from the tests will awaken a giant monsterthat destroys Tokyo") instead of a more realistic but not quite as dramatic example ("it can burn whole buildings if someone is careless").
Overlaps with Gaia's Vengeance if the intended message is an environmental one, which it often is. Overlaps with Spoof Aesop when the author is more interested in the space whale than the Aesop.
This is not necessarily an indefensible trope. If your purpose is to both teach the audience a highly applicable lesson and to entertain them with a fantastic scenario, then a Space Whale Aesop is probably the best way to go. Also, sometimes you just can't fit the realistic consequences of an action into a twenty-three-minute episode or a 120-minute film, so you need to speed things up a bit.
Before posting anything think for a second: "Is this supposed to be an Aesop?" If it was not intended as an Aesop then that is an Accidental Aesop.
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"No Pressure": Agree to cut carbon emissions, or someone will press a button and BLOW YOU TO BLOODY BITS! So Anvilicious it's ridiculous. Many of the YouTube commenters (amongst other people) have taken the message to be "do as we say or we'll murder you". Which considering that several activists have proposed trying oil company executives for crimes against humanity ... isn't actually that unreasonable.
"Switch to Dish or you'll get angry, go play raquetball, get your eye injured and get an eyepatch which thugs will use as a reason to beat you up, knock you unconscious and leave you in a ditch." So remember kids, go satellite for your safety!
If you have cable, you'll throw your remote in frustration, which will just barely miss your wife's head, which will make her assume you have anger issues, which will make her leave you, which will leave you all alone, which will make you grow a beard and become an animal hoarder.
If you have cable, you'll get depressed, go to self-help seminars, get motivated enough to go to Vegas, where you lose everything and are forced to sell your hair.
If you have cable, you'll get unhappy, go to Happy Hour, get happy enough to try a Turkish Bath House, where you'll meet Charlie Sheen and start re-enacting scenes from Platoon.
As a defense attorney, if you don't have Direct TV, you'll be distracted, which means your work will suffer, which will cause your innocent client to get convicted, which will cause him to become obsessed with your failure to get him cleared, which will cause him to blow up your house when he gets out.
If you have cable, the massive price of the bill will make you feel powerless. So you'll want to feel empowered, which will lead you to signing up for karate classes, which will lead you to become a superhero known as the "Fist of Justice" which will have you jumping on rooftops. And when you jump on rooftops, you'll crash through a skylight into a dinner party.
If you wait a while for the cable guy, you'll become bored, look out your window and see things you shouldn't see (the disposal of a body, in this case), so you'll need to vanish, fake your death, dye your eyebrows and attend your own funeral under an alias.
Caprisun "Respect the pouch" adds, throw away your punch pouches with reverence or you'll be the victim of a nightmarish Baleful Polymorph.
An insurance ad indicates that if you have the wrong car insurance, not only will your experience with the company be much more annoying than it otherwise would be, but your girlfriend will break up with you in favor of... a pig.
The message of one PSA is right in the title of this article about it: stay in school or else you will die a bloody death, specifically from landmines in a well-marked danger zone. (Could be hyperbolically justified if the implication was that the characters skipped so much school they were actually illiterate.)
In California, there have been some PSAs in designed to discourage texting and driving, the concept being that texting and driving will turn you into a zombie.
In a somewhat similar vein, a road safety PSA promises that wearing your seat belt will protect you from traffic accidents and zombies. Okay...
Anime and Manga
The underlying lesson of Pretty Cure seems to be "it's good to have friends who are different from you, so you can defeat monsters from another dimension." It gets spelled out in the first DX movie, in which the girls are fighting a monster with an Assimilation Plot on its mind and give a rousing speech about how their differences make them stronger because everyone brings something different to the table.
The final arc of Earth Maiden Arjuna features a BrokenGreen Space Whale Aesop. "Save the environment, but don't use advanced human science to save the environment from human-produced garbage, or else giant worm monsters will exploit your invention to send corrupt modern society back to the Stone Ages." If you look more closely, though, you see something different. Using human science isn't the problem. The heroes use human science to aid in their efforts and it works great. The issue is that humans weren't attentive enough and so things have now got to a point where human science is not enough and the earth basically has to go through a cycle of destroy and repair (there's a very strong analogy to the inflammatory response in humans). So really the aesop is "If you don't save the environment while you can, the earth will revolt and take over repairing itself, while humans will be powerless to do anything except watch."
×××HOLiC pretty much runs on these kinds of aesops since it assumes All Myths Are True: don't lie or you'll get so paralyzed by them that you'll be run over by a car, don't cut your toenails at night or a giant insect will chop your head off, don't kill someone or your act of murder will be reenacted on every photograph and video that has you in it…etc.
An episode of the hentaiSex Craft demonstrates that you shouldn't break up with the guy you're dating just because he's too shy to make the first move, because... if you do that, his unquenched desire will escape his body in the form of an evil ghost thing and go on a rape spree.
Parodied in an episode of Cowboy Bebop. "Clean out your fridge or its contents will become sentient and start attacking people."
Trigun: Don't practise slavery, otherwise an alien Human AlienUbermensch will slaughter half of your species with his giant knife arms.
Yu-Gi-Oh!'s fourth season presents one: always trust immature manchildren if they've tried to imprison your soul in a trading card; if you don't, they'll commit hostile corporate takeover to make you listen.
Chick Tracts do this by giving his transgressions explicitly magical consequences, since the real consequences of the behavior he warns against are both intangible and heavily disputed. For instance, "don't let your kids play Dungeons & Dragons, or they might become actual witches, or commit suicide because their character died" is probably the most famous example (who knows what he thinks of World of Warcraft). Another strip seems to suggest that you shouldn't go to parties because the bartender might actually be Satan, and yet another that believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny will turn children into God-hating, terrorist serial killers. Chick's been keeping pace with the times: more recently, his tracts suggest that reading Harry Potter will make you into a full-fledged Satan worshiper with demon-summoning powers. And worse, the author seems to honestly believe these are all perfectly realistic consequences.
There was a Wolverine arc which involved a South American country with a ruler who suffered acute superhero envy backed up by an ex-Nazi cyborg. Either of them sound like an awesome main villain? The final villain was evil crack from the dawn of time which drove its victims insane and, at one point, absorbed Wolvie into its horrifically bloated gooey true form. The message was Drugs Are Bad. It even gave us The Kingpinexpressing distaste for drug dealing, making it not just a Space Whale Aesop, but an Anvilicious Space Whale Aesop.
Brooklyn: Too much TV, too few history books. (points at the reader) You never know when a giant flaming magical time-traveling bird is gonna swallow you whole and spit you out in the tenth century. So hit those books, kids!
Uncanny Avengers gives us "Don't be racist or else giant men from space will appear and blow up the Earth." Odin even gives his son an extended speech about how while the Celestials pulled the trigger, it was ultimately humanity's own inability to stop fighting over petty differences that caused them to deem us a "failed experiment." Though there were a few extenuating circumstances, such as one of those giant men having been murdered by a human mutant was what kicked off the crisis.
In Shadow Snark:
Sometimes you have to tell your friends they suck at everything, otherwise they'll blow up a laundromat.
The lesson of one plot arc in the The Avengers fanfic "Multicolored", which deals with Bruce Banner's (canonical in the comics) Dark and Troubled Past and the psychological aspects of the Hulk, is "be sensitive to other people's PTSD, because if you insist on dredging up traumatizing subjects and trigger them too hard, they could turn into a giant technicolor rage monster."
The Trope Namer: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The intended aesop is "don't assume you can use up Earth's natural resources without consequence, since someday your survival might depend on them," but an early draft involving a plague in the 24th century whose cure was lost in the destruction of the rain forests was considered unworkable, and director Leonard Nimoy found whales to be majestic, so the much more entertaining aesop of "save the whales or else a gigantic Space Whale probe will appear out of nowhere to destroy Earth" was born.
Standard in horror movies with a Death by Sex message, since showing real negative consequences of sex is often non-dramatic (even deadly STDs take years or decades to kill) or, worse, X-rated. These aesops range from from "have sex and Freddy or Jason will kill you" to "the Sealed Evil in a Can can only be opened by two people having sex on top of it (even if they don't know what it is) to "if you have sex, then you will shock and horrify your six-year-old sister whom you didn't know was watching, causing her to becoming depressed and making her vulnerable to Puppeteer Parasite".
Daybreakers makes this work by making it a rather broad Aesop: "Conserve your resources and be nice to the people who produce them for you, or your society will descend into chaos and you'll end up a lot like all these starving vampires." Granted, you won't be starving for blood specifically, and that descent into chaos probably won't involve a Zombie Apocalypse like theirs; in all other respects, however, the point stands.
The Day After Tomorrow: Cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions or the Earth will enter a new ice age and New York City will freeze solid—By the end of this week. And deadly sub-zero frost lines that instantly turn anyone into a Human Popsicle will hunt you down! Furthermore, in case that wasn't a tangible enough deterrent, said ice age will also cause wolves to escape from a zoo and come after you and your family. Also (once you've learned your lesson), Earth's entire climate will start being nicer to you again if you'll start being nicer to third world countries.
The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) warns that atomic testing could send the Earth spinning out of orbit towards the Sun. The bad science is somewhat offset by the 'documentary-style' realism of the story.
The Crack In The World warns in the utmost seriousness that atomic testing could literally split the Earth in two.
Invoked in-universe in Watchmen. Adrian's message to earth: stop fighting or Dr. Manhattan will come back from space and make you DIE.
Prophecy teaches us that if you let paper mills pollute nature, it will create killer mutant bears that will hunt you down.
Eli Roth films: stay at home, around people you know, because if you go anywhere on vacation, you will either catch a flesh-eating virus or be dissected alive for sport.
Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life, don't ever look at even the softest of softcore porn or your girlfriend will dump you, you will suddenly suck at whatever you were good at before and the kids you thought were cool will beat the shit out of you.
Birdemic: If you contribute to global warming, birds will develop acidic spit and WWII bomber engines, and attack people at random.
Iron Man 3: Don't be a jerk to awkward, crippled, disheveled nerds, or they will become evil, rich, and work with terrorists in hopes of destroying your life.
Passed over rather quickly in Pacific Rim; Geizler mentions that the Kaiju's creators' initial attempt to take over the planet failed owing to a lack of compatibility with the atmosphere, but now that humans have sufficiently polluted our planet, it's ripe for a batshit insane monster takeover. Go figure.
Waterworld basically shows the potential consequences of global warming by taking the whole "flooded coasts" thing Up to Eleven.
Avatar gets its strong pro-conservation message across by inventing the planet Pandora: a flawless paradise untainted by technology, where deforestation is depicted as evil because it nearly leads to the destruction of a sentient organic mind-linking supercomputer that lets the resident aliens communicate with their dead relatives, and where nearly everything that humans had to develop through technological advances—medicine, transportation, shelter, and even data storage—is naturally provided by the living ecosystem.
The horror anthology film Body Bags does this in the segment "Hair": Having too much vanity and being insecure about your physical appearance to the point of trying out mystery experiments will result in becoming a host for parastic wormlike aliens who will snack on your brain.
Reefer Madness is an interesting example because, while the effects of marijuana were not widely known when the film was made, the guesses the film made are known today to be an exaggeration at the best of times, and often plain wrong.
Gamera Vs Zigra: Pollute the oceans and a Nazi space fish will attack the planet, supported by a Brainwashed Japanese woman in Fanservicey clothes. Also our only hope for surviving this attack is a giant monster. There are, shall we say, certain issues with trying to mix philosophical discussions with Kaiju beating the snot out of each other.
Godzilla (2014). As usual to the franchise's origins as a metaphor. Building up nuclear arsenals results in the awakening of ancient creatures who feed off of radiation, and any attempt to harness or fight back nature is met with a swift fate - and in the end, only the balance of nature itself (Godzilla) saves the world.
Bride of the Monster teaches us that if you toy with nature (Or, as the film puts it, "tamper in God's domain"), you might end up blowing up in a nuclear mushroom cloud.
Harmless is about a sentient Porn Stash that harms its owner's family. Say what you will about the moral itself (elsewhere, please), but it breaks down somewhat since real porn stashes, um, aren't sentient.
Pretty much every moral lesson in the German moral children's book Struwwelpeter works this way.
Thumb-sucking summons up a scissors-wielding tailor who snips off the offending digits; fussy eating habits result in death by starvation; and going out in a rainstorm to play leads to being hurled away to your doom by a sudden gust of wind. There is also a girl who ends up as a pile of ashes after playing with matches despite admonitions from her parents and her two pet cats. And many similar.
Pretty much every punishment in Dante's The Divine Comedy, especially, of course, those featured in Inferno.
AI Is A Crap Shoot: a lot of stories that use this trope as their premise basically end with "AI research is dangerous, since AIs will invariably become homicidal tyrants determined to enslave or destroy the human race." Parodied in John Sladek's Roderick At Random, which is told from the point of view of the world's one artificially intelligent robot. One conversation he has goes (roughly):
Scientist: Well, we of course we can't risk researching AI. We've run simulations, and it could turn out they get so smart that they realize they don't need humans and decide to wipe us out.
Roderick: Or, they could get so smart they realize wiping out other species is pointless.
Scientist: Oh, I didn't say there were no counterarguments.
Adventures of the Rope Warrior tells us you should exercise regularly and eat right...so aliens can't harvest your body for the impurities a sedentary life inflicts to fuel their intergalactic drug trade, and the Space U.N. won't decide the only viable way to stop the drug dealers is to blow up Earth.
Un Lun Dun: Don't pollute, or else the smog will become sapient and take control of people's minds, making them destroy a fantasy world and then ours.
State of Fear: Don't give in to people believing in global warming, or ecologists will destroy the planet with their weather-control machines. And do not blame the civilization for all evil or you will be eaten by Papua-New-Guinean cannibals. Attack a Sci-fi author's book because you disagree with his doubts about global warming, and he'll give you a cameo as a child molester in his next book.
My Teacher Flunked the Planet, a children's book. Stop all war and feed the hungry, or else aliens will destroy Earth. The first two books (My Teacher is an Alien, My Teacher Fried My Brain) were suspense/adventure books with no moral to preach, but the preachy moral showed up in the third book, which has at least one good, long Author Tract about how Humans Are the Real Monsters. Although there was also a hidden one in here - TV rots the mind. Specifically, an alien taught us how to make TV to slow down our technological development, in hopes that we might resolve societal problems before we got to space.
The moral of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is "be compassionate towards all creatures and don't go around murdering innocent seabirds, or else you'll wind up stranded in the middle of the ocean, all your friends will die, their corpses will torment you, and when you eventually make it to land you'll be forced to constantly wander the world telling your story instead of being able to live a normal life." Bruce Dickinson put it best. "And the moral of this story is: This is what not to do if a bird shits on you."
Some of Enid Blyton's stories for younger children. For example, The Magic Lemonade: "Don't torment insects, or you might get shrunk by magic so that insects can torment you". The Ant Bully has this same trope, sans lemonade.
Logans Run: Don't become a libertarian. Libertarians want to get everyone stoned, destroy the family, raise children in creches, revoke age-of-sexual-consent laws, and kill off everyone over twenty-one.
Pretty much any and all Be Careful What You Wish For stories end this way, most notably The Monkeys Paw. Among other examples, wishing to have money resulted in the family having their son die in a terrible industrial accident, followed by them receiving tons of money in compensation from the factory. Wishing you had more money is not wrong or dangerous just because a cursed artifact interpreted the wish to negative results. If anything the real Aesop is "Genies are jerks." In the case of The Monkeys Paw, the Aesop intended by the character who created the paw was "those who defy fate do so to their sorrow." Because apparently fate is a Jerkass.
The book Chocolate Fever by Robert Smith does this. It's about a boy who eats chocolate with everything and then one day he breaks out in a chocolate rash.
Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants: Don't make fun of people's names, or else they'll shrink you to the size of a bug and make you change your name to something absurd to make themselves feel better. Although this could just be a way of saying, "Don't make fun of people, because what goes around comes around." This is lampshaded by the characters at the end as their only time their story had a moral, but the narrator then points out the Fantastic Aesop driving the entire story: never hypnotize your principal or he'll believe he's a superhero every time he hears the sound of someone snapping their fingers.
Babette Cole's Winni Allfours has quite a bad one for parents. The heroine's mother and father won't buy her a pony and make her eat lots of vegetables. Except that Winni works out that by eating all her greens, she'll turn into a pony! Once that's done, she's no longer dependent on her parents. So what kind of moral can we learn from that? "Don't try imposing limits on your kids, because they'll still succeed and it'll be all the worse for you?"
The tale of King Midas has the message "If you desire gold too much, you'll turn your loved ones into statues." Only if you read it very literally, which is not the point of Greek fables. The actual moral is "If all you care about is wealth, then wealth will replace all you care about". It's a mundane Aesop made fantastic.
Some Values Dissonance might be at play here, but most fairy tales (in their original form, that is) might come across as this to modern-day audiences. How often do birds peck peoples' eyes out in the real world?
Quite a few novels for children have the admirable goal of wanting children to appreciate the importance of learning history and/or appreciating their parents. The method they use is to have the juvenile protagonist get stuck in the crapsack past because they dared not to want to learn history or didn't appreciate their parents. So you have books like The Devil's Arithmetic (Nazi death camp) Tune in Yesterday (racism in 1920s) and lots of books about being a slave in the 1800s.
Intentionally used in Edgar Allan Poe's short story "Never Bet The Devil Your Head", as part of the Spoof Aesop. The reason it provides for the eponymous moral is that the devil might one day come to collect.
There's a picture book called You'll Be Sorry by Josh Schneider in which the parents of a girl named Samantha tell her to stop hitting her little brother or she'll be sorry. She ignores them and the little brother cries so much that he floods the entire town.
The Candy Shop War has the rather straightforward don't take candy from strangers as its message. It's even flat out said by one of the characters in the books—who then explains that these strangers might be wizards who are handing out magical candy and can very easily kill you. It also doesn't help that those strangers owned a candy shop and a ice cream truck. Almost makes it into a Space Dentist's Aesop: Don't eat candy or wizards will kill you. Who needs cavities when you have that?
Heartlight. Nothing lasts forever, and you had better accept this or else you could destroy the universe.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Don't be a glutton, a gum chewer, a spoiled brat, or a TV fanatic, or you will get sucked up a pipe, inflated into a blueberry, fall into a trash chute, or get shrunk, respectively.
The Magic Finger: Don't hunt ducks, or you will wake one day as a winged human the size of a duck while the ducks will become humanoid and hunt you for sport.
Matilda: Don't be a mean teacher, or your smartest student will develop psychic powers with which to torment you.
The Twits: Don't be jerks to your pets, or they will trick you into gluing yourself to the floor and then you will shrink into nothing.
Revolting Rhymes: Jack and the Beanstalk: Bathe every day so giants can't smell you. Guess you'll have to deal with those witches.
Live Action TV
The Twilight Zone episode "Stopover in a Quiet Town" has Rod Serling delivering one of the most hilarious space whale aesops ever, in the smirking, self-aware tone that only he can. The episode deals with a married couple who awaken after a drunken car crash and gradually realize that they've been abducted from Earth and are now being kept as pets inside a giant alien child's model town ...
Rod Serling: The moral of what you've just seen is clear. If you drink, don't drive. And if your wife has had a couple, she shouldn't drive either. You might both just wake up with a whale of a headache in a deserted village ... in the Twilight Zone.
"The Underwater Menace" has a Script Wank where the Atlantean chief decides that religion and superstition was what got them into the state where they were following an Obviously EvilMad Scientist, and decrees the temple should be buried and a new age of enlightenment should follow... "without gods. And without fish-people."
"The Lazarus Experiment": If you don't test your new medical procedure before using it on yourself, you'll turn into a giant human-eating scorpion monster. Also possibly a Family-Unfriendly Aesop because it tries to claim that trying to prevent people from getting old and dying makes you deserve turning into a giant scorpion.
"42": If you accidentally use sentient creatures while mining for fuel you will be possessed by their angry kin so they can stalk your friends and family like a serial killer before falling into the sun.Also, the Doctor will yell at you. Bonus for implying things like the BP oil crisis or rainforest devestation aren't caused by big corporations killing things slowly, but by the equivalent of seven guys in a beat-up truck who didn't know anything was there to begin with.
"The God Complex": Be careful what you believe in, because a monster that feeds on faith may eat you.
"The Bells of Saint John": Don't use strange Wi-Fi accounts or you'll be uploaded onto an alien computer server in the Shard.
Don't structure your life around what you see on television or your face will be sucked off by Maureen Lipman.
It is ironic that the actual episode showing a space whale, containing a full fledged Aesop, cannot be considered an example of this.
The One Step Beyond episode "Forests of the Night" taught us that dabbling in the occult will cause you to turn into a leopard. The Twilight Zone episode "Jess Belle" is similar.
A bizarre inverted example from Summer Heights High: drama-teacher Mr G. performs an energetic dance for his students, dressed in what looks like a giant white pillowcase. He asks his class what the dance represented. The correct answer was: peer pressure.
An in-universe example in Misfits: Simon tries to persuade the others that giving up their powers is a bad idea, but since he cites the example of Superman II, the rest hear "give up your superpowers and General Zod will destroy the Earth." It fails to persuade them.
A sketch on The Whitest Kids U Know features a kid Adolf Hitler being the nicest person in the entire town. In the last ten seconds of the sketch, he takes one bit of marijuana and suddenly wants to kill Jews.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Beer Bad" combined an Anvilicious message about the dangers of alcohol with a plotline about cursed magical beer turning college kids into cavemen. It does lampshade it at the end, though:
Xander: And what have we learned about beer? Buffy: Foamy. Xander: (beat) Good. (cut to credits) I'm glad we had this talk.
Family Guy has a lampshaded version of this in which the ancient Irish race had vastly advanced technology. Then somebody invents whiskey, a few people take a sip, and crapsack island ensues.
There's also this delightful exchange from "Reptile Boy":
Buffy: I told one lie, I had one drink.
Giles: Yes, and you were very nearly devoured by a giant demon snake. The words 'let that be a lesson' are a tad redundant at this juncture.
"As we often learn at the end of an episode of MythBusters, everyday objects can, in fact, be made lethal if Jamie builds a gun to shoot them."
Future!Ted in How I Met Your Mother sometimes gives these out: the reason they're fantastic is because they're ridiculously narrow because they're all about the five main characters ("Don't fight with Uncle Marshall, he's nuts." "If you hang out with Uncle Barney, you'll have great stories to tell.") and will only ever apply to his kids (and perhaps Marshall and Lily's kids).
Power Rangers Wild Force had the initial message that humanity polluting the Earth helped make the Org spirits strong enough to return. It got even more Space Whaley when Animus showed up. "Humanity polluting the Earth will make our Mecha God mad and cause him to leave the world with the Power Animals and put Princess Shayla into a deep sleep forever." Other Power Rangers series often had Space Whale Aesops in filler episodes, like that if you tell lies all the time no one will believe you when an invasion of the body snatchers occurs and that sort of thing.
In-Universe on Frasier — when Frasier challenges his father to give him a reason when perjury could be justified, his first response is "what if a comet was hurtling towards Earth, and the only way you could stop it was by lying under oath?" Subverted, though, as he goes on to give a very personal example from his own experience.
On My Name Is Earl, Joy tells an In-Universe tale to her kids to get them to behave and stop whining about having to do homework in the "Creative Writing" episode. She (a beauty queen) flies the kids to the Crab Shack, and makes Earl fumble through one of those "If a train is going at X mph..." math problems. He gets it wrong, and they witness "Old Daddy" get hit by a train (the Crab Shack turned into a desert with train tracks.) Then they go back to the trailer, and they witness Randy being The Pigpen. Because he doesn't clean up, Randy gets Covered in Gunge on which moss grows, attacked by mice, and then everything from buildings to the Rocky Mountains sticks to him until he gets too heavy and falls off the Earth onto God's desk and gets crushed by God's coffee mug. (And of course God tells Joy how beautiful she is.)
Invoked in-universe in Arrested Development, as part of Michael Bluth's Hilariously Abusive Childhood. George Bluth, Sr. apparently thought that the best way to teach his children important life lessons was to hire an amputee to pretend to lose an arm whenever they screwed up, teaching them that every mistake would lead to a man having his arm ripped off. Yelling too much while on the boat? A man will lose his arm. Forgetting to leave a note when you run out of milk? A man will lose his arm. Leaving the door open with the air conditioning on? A man willdie.
Big Tent Revival's arguably most popular song, Two Sets of Joneses: No matter how hard you work or how much your wife's father likes you, your marriage will fall apart very quickly if you don't have Jesus.
Adam and the Ants' best known song, Antmusic features a moral possibly inspired by the Enid Blyton example above:
Don't tread on ant, he's done nothing to you -
There might come a day when he's treading on you!
Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer reminds us not to trust "a man who flies a sleigh and plays with elves." Okay, then.
Voltaire's "The Mechanical Girl" leaves us with this very special message: "Never take a child away from a loving parent. Especially not ones who make children who shoot rockets from their eyes."
The children's song "Little Rabbit Foo-Foo," whose Aesop is if you hit field mice on the head, you'll be turned into a "goon." You've been warned.
The Aquabats' song "Cat With Two Heads!" tells the very important Aesop that if you use your scientific knowledge to create a two-headed cat in an effort to make the world a better place (you can pet one kitty's head... and pet the other kitty's head!), you'll wind up with a two-headed man-eating monster.
Parents sometimes use these to scare their kids straight. "Don't misbehave or the bogeyman will get you," and "Don't make that face or it'll stick like that," are famous ones. The residents of "Cautionary Valley" (under literature above) come from these scare-tales. Fforde's interpretation of the Scissor Man is fairly tame; he's a pussycat compared to the one that appears in Hogfather, who is an emu-like being composed entirely of scissors.
According to some corners of the Internet, every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten. According to certain Native American mythologies, women who masturbate give birth to monsters. But it's totally fine for men to do it.
According to the Internet, every time you try to apply physics to a fantasy setting, God kills a catgirl.
Garrison Keillor plays with this in one of his Lake Wobegon speeches on A Prairie Home Companion. The "moral" is: spare the ant in your yard, or else radiation might mutate all of the ants into giant mutants that will trample your house.
Parodied in one episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: be careful what you say, because your words might travel down a freak wormhole, get misheard by alien leaders at a conference as something insulting about one of them's mother, they'll end up going to war, eventually deciding the source of the problem is Earth which they team up to invade, and due to bizarre miscalculations of size, end up getting swallowed by a small dog. And all because Arthur Dent is having terrible trouble with his lifestyle.
And this is the series where a real whale appears in space as one of the unintended consequences of pushing a button.
Monsterpocalypse, drawing from B-movie sources, is built on this trope. The most obvious examples are the Radical factions, the Terrasaurs and Empire of the Apes. Respect the environment and live in harmony with nature, or a giant monster (supported by hippies with rocket launchers and apes with jetpacks) will eat you.
BIONICLE has a message to politicians: if you're governors, then please do your job instead of appointing others to do it for you while you dedicate your life to something else, otherwise those appointed leaders may start a war, and your planet will explode. That actuallysounds pretty logical.
While it's not a use of Scare 'Em Straight, Mega Man Star Force offers fantastically positive consequences of following the Aesop. Why are friends important? Because they give you Hit Point increases and special abilities! Also, if you're lost in space on a dead satellite, they can direct you back home with electromagnetic friendship laser beams. Not that the franchise doesn't have more traditional examples. Mega Man Battle Network 4, for instance, explained that you should be good, because if you're bad, an asteroid controlled by a sentient computer program will destroy the planet.
"Always remember to brush your teeth!" Said straight after cleaning the teeth of a giant eel boss with a water filled jetpack because it was polluting an entire bay with purple poison.
"Remember, always be kind to your pets." If you're not, they'll turn into fireballs and cover the village in flaming goop. (Although those particular pets were treated kindly, they were just sick with fevers; their owner was clearly upset over how sick they were, which is why she forces you to help out.)
Majin And The Forsaken Kingdom reminds us not to pollute, and not to become greedy and power-hungry. Because if you do that, an Eldritch Abomination will cause all your pollution to become sentient and corrupt everyone in the country into violent indestructible tar-monsters driven by their basest desires.
Snatcher - Trust other people and be open to them, or a mad Russian scientist responsible for wiping out most of Asia may take advantage of the culture of suspicion around you to trial a new plan to replace people with killer robots indistinguishable from them except for a tendency to get skin cancer and they'll start killing everyone and then the government will want to nuke your island to get rid of them before they spread and then you'll be sorry.
According to the grand finale of the Riddle School series, you should always stay in school— because if you don't, you'll set off a time-stop mine and inadvertently almost doom the entire planet to annihilation by an alien race.
Asura's Wrath: Hey, don't overpopulate or pollute the planet or else a magma monster representing the will of the planet will mutate all of the planet's animals to kill all of us! Ultimately averted though. Turns out the Gohma were created by Chakravartin, the creator God of the universe, to train the deities, and specifically Asura, to become the new God of Gaia. Pollution had nothing to do with it.
Kid Icarus: Uprising: Try talking things out first, or you might end up freeing the most evil creature in existence, who will turn you into a ring for three years, possess a god, and start trying to wipe out humanity solely because it lives to spread destruction and chaos.
Tales of Vesperia: If you don't use environmentally friendly technology, a technicolor interdimensional ghost squid will come down from space and eat everybody.
"You smoke, Shepard? Don't. That stuff'll kill you. Knew a kid once, half your age. Smoked too close to a cache of explosives. Tossed a butt, blew himself sky-high."
Ironically, Zaeed will make a similar mistake if you don't sacrifice an entire factory of innocents to put his backstabbing partner in a puddle of oil. The moral of THAT story is, don't blindly fire in rage at an enemy who is too far away to shoot (even if you accidentally shoot the guy next to him, freaking him out), or the thermal clip you ejected will reach a puddle of oil and blow up in your face.
One story in Jack teaches the following moral: don't get consumed by anger against people who express bigoted views about you, or your partner might die from a demonic brain tumor that feeds on your anger. (Yes, the person in immediate danger is an innocent third party, not the one who did something bad.) Those familiar with the Old Testament can tell you that that notion is surprisingly accurate.
An in-universe example happens in Questionable Content, when it's revealed Clinton got his robotic hand after an childhood accident involving fireworks. As his sister notes, since he prefers his new limb to his original and doesn't regret losing it in the slightest, the moral of the story being "Don't play with fireworks!" has been warped into "Playing with fireworks can give you cool robot limbs!"
"The Impact Of Your Words": If you're polite and understanding to a person who's expressing their thoughts to you, the two of you will relate and become a couple who together fend off an alien invasion. If you're rude and demanding to your partner instead, Earth will be taken over by aliens.
Perfect Sympathy by "J.B. Burro" has the aesop "Don't mistreat your horse" or you will suddenly wake up one day in your horse's place and your horse will be the abusive owner.
The website Kids-in-Mind doesn't do actual reviews but only a full list of material parents might find objectionable in a film, including violence, sex, profanity et cetera. Because one category for each write-up explains a movie's overall message, the site tends to offer up Space Whale Aesops when forced to find the "message" in explosive action movies, gory slasher flicks, and other genres famous for not really having many teachable moments. For instance, the message of the 2013 Evil Dead remake is "consult a professional before staging an intervention." Because if you don't, you'll unwittingly unleash an ancient evil and all your friends will die horribly and messily, you see.
On Vampire Reviews,Maven notes that she first saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a church camp. The point was to open up a discussion about priorities in a person's life, but she interprets it as "If you're a shallow bitch vampires will slaughter everyone you care about. Be nice!"
Bob's shorts on Weebl & Bob tend to veer into this. According to "Penguins", you should "never leave your penguin unattended" in case it spontaneously combusts, and according to "Doods", the principle of "safety in numbers" will prevent you and your friends from being mauled by lions.
"Free Willzyx" has a literal Space Whale Aesop: "If you mess with kids' minds, they will shoot a whale into space." A more typical example: In "It Hits the Fan," "Don't abuse swear words or an Eldritch Abomination will awaken!" And from "Fun with Veal": "Eating veal is wrong because it is made from mistreated baby cows, but if you don't eat meat at all, you become a pussy." (yes, quite literally).
"Funnybot" had perhaps the weirdest one of all. "Don't have comedy awards or a robot will destroy the world".
In the Stargate Infinity episode "The Illustrated Stacey," the team goads Stacey into getting an alien tattoo by insisting that she's too boring to do such a spontaneous thing. (It should be noted here that Stacey has multiple piercings, blue lipstick, and a pink mohawk.) The Aesop is something like "don't do things just to prove yourself" or "think before you act"; but the reason for this moral is that the tattoo ink is made up of microbes that start multiplying, threatening to cover Stacey's body and kill her within the day. Fortunately, most real life tattoos do not contain deadly diseases. (And the ones that do take much longer to kill.)
A sketch featured a mother telling her son that you shouldn't give a mouse a cookie, or he'll turn into a vampire that will infect the country causing a nuclear war. That's why she killed her husband. He was giving a mouse a cookie.
On King of the Hill, in one of the Halloween episodes, the resident Moral Guardian gets a group of children to go on a tour in her "Hallelujah House," showing various scenes of how she views atheists and "the Druids." One of them has a pair of actors talking about wanting to have pre-marital sex. The lady suddenly rotates the scene, now showing morgue cabinets with two pairs of legs marked HIM and HER.
"I guess the old saying is true: Sex kills."
These are real, believe it or not.
In Ozzy and Drix, the average boy that the characters live inside of puts on a few pounds in one episode. Apparently, this is enough to have his otherwise healthy body nearly go into cardiac arrest.
Trollz once had Ruby encounter a Space Whale Broken Aesop: It's always good to act nice and set a good example to your friends... unless a magical spell has turned them evil anyway.
Referenced in The Simpsons: Rod and Todd Flanders are watching a religious-themed educational show, but since the star characters are sheep, they don't see how their problems and solutions apply to humans.
Dear Princess Celestia, no matter how strong and smart you may be, there are some things you just can't do alone. Friends have a special bond that has more meaning than you can find in any book. So cherish your friends, nurture your relationships with them, and always hold them near and dear to your heart, because together you can smite evil with a badass rainbow Wave Motion Gun. Because friendship... is magic.
"Hearth's Warming Eve": You'd better get along with people different from you or evil ice elementals will freeze your land in an ice age.
You should trust your instincts, because if somebody seems to be acting unlike themselves, they're being impersonated by a shapeshifting monster.
"Bats": Be understanding of those whose needs conflict with yours, and also don't let your friends force you into something you feel uncomfortable about, or else someone is going to turn into a half vampire fruit bat and you're going to have to sacrifice your human-sized apple to turn them back.
Looking for a good bonding experience with your best friend? Spend the day together trying to nurse an ill Mad God back to health, then drag him to the boarders of your country and get yourselves nearly eaten by a Sand Worm. Because any experience can be fun when you're with friends.
Lampshaded in the episode "The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz."
Leela: Oh, if only we hadn't flown penguins to Pluto and dumped oil on them, this might never have happened!
Further parodied in "A Big Piece of Garbage", with its Space Whale Green Aesop: If you just shoot your trash into space instead of recycling, it will eventually come back and destroy you. Further parodied with a Spoof Aesop at the end, "It's perfectly all right to use half-assed solutions to your problems, and let people in the future deal with the long-term consequences."
"Decision 3012" gives us "voting Republican will cause robots to rise up and destroy humanity."
The original Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius movie: "Don't talk to strangers or aliens will kidnap every adult in town, including your parents." Or "appreciate all that your parents do for you (or they'll be abducted by aliens)."
Mundane pranks turning into supernatural problems is a pillar of Regular Show's plotlines.
Benson: I hope you've learned something from all this!
Rigby: Yeah. Make sure we do our chores so you don't narc on us to a giant eyeball.
Spongebob Squarepants taught us not to bring wild animals home because if you do, those animals will apparently invite their buddies over to party.
"Wild animals throw very wild parties."
Danny Phantom tells us not to cheat on a test, otherwise all of your friends and family will die and the future world will be completely destroyed by you.
One of Garfield and Friends' U.S. Acres cartoons featured Roy leaving the farm to go into showbiz, and joining the annoyingly edutaining Buddy Bears show to teach kids proper manners and hygiene habits. He played the Goofus to the female Buddy Bear's Gallant, and not only were the consequences ridiculous, but one of the Bears literally warned them as cause-and-effect relationships along the lines of "If you don't [do polite/clean/encouraged-by-parents'-groups behavior], a [random large heavy object] will fall on your head."
Dino Squad generally treats global warming as a bad thing, but in one episode tried to tell us part of the reason we should work to prevent it is because otherwise some prehistoric danger that was frozen in ice will be defrosted, mutated by a supervillain, and destroy us all.
For example, "Crash" had a Digital Piracy Is Evil Aesop delivered by way of Beast Boy downloading a new video game and trying to play it on Cyborg's system recharger, which in turn infects Cyborg, giving him food-based hallucinations and then nearly destroys the city.
"Employee of the Month" is either an anti-meat Aesop or an anti-Tofu Aesop, depending on how one interprets the text. Namely, Beast Boy takes a job at a disgusting restaurant that specializes in gelled meat - except the "meat" is sentient Space Tofu seeking to steal cows for fuel and destroy the earth because "It is our way."
Played humorously in The Angry Beavers episode "The Loogie Hawk": if you remove a species from its natural habitat, the forest will fall apart. No, really, it will literally and immediately fall apart.
Lampshaded in "Roots": "I promise I'll never be lazy enough to turn into a tree again!"
"Cleaning Up": "Have good hygiene or your dirt will take on a life of its own and try to replace you"
"Stompabout" has two in-universe examples from Wingus about getting angry. Firstly that if he doesn't learn to control his anger, he'll become a cyborg and sink the island with his robot legs. The second that if he is too determined not to get angry, Fuzzy will become a Super Soldier and take over the island (the latter became a Chekhov's Gun in "Sgt. Snuggums", which itself was an example: "Don't play pranks on your friends or they'll turn into insane Super Soldiers who see everyone as evil robots that need to be destroyed")
"Amazon": "Take proper care of your pets or they'll form their own civilization where you're a wanted criminal"
"Juice": "Don't be too determined to be popular or all your friends will turn into juice-obsessed zombies"
"Promises, Promises": "Fulfill your promises or your best friend will have his brain stolen by a Mad Scientist in order to power a toaster"
"Taste of Friendship": "Don't be jealous of your friends or your mind will be taken over by an evil squid"
"Sugar Low": "Don't eat too much sugar or time will stop"
"The Mutants Who Cried Monster": "Admit to your mistakes or a giant robot will destroy your hometown"
"Livin' La Vida Lava": "Don't use too much power or you'll trigger an ice age in which yetis become the dominant species"
"Mo' Mayo, Mo' Problems": "Don't eat too much junk food or the junk food will eat you"
"Walkie-Talkie-Spinesuckie": "Think for yourself or a mad scientist will make you suck out all your friends' spines to feed a baby robot and then throw them in the volcano"
"Whirrel Call": "Don't be cruel to animals or you'll swap brains with them"
"Stomach on Strike": "Live a healthy lifestyle or your organs will become sentient and jump out of your body"
"Bite, Shuffle and Moan": "Stay in bed when you're sick or you'll cause a Zombie Apocalypse"