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"If it says it on television, It Must Be True!"
People worry about the power of the media. Heck, even the media
worry about the power of the media (it makes for good ratings
), especially if it's a new medium
that's popular among the younger set
. So when Moral Guardians
started to worry that impressionable young viewers might take what they saw on TV at face value and never question the veracity of what they're seeing, many kids' shows started to use this as a Stock Aesop
Usually happens after a particularly anvilicious
episode about either a main character using the school newspaper to print libel to boost circulation (and having it backfire painfully in a Fawlty Towers Plot
) or the Alpha Bitch
using similar means to besmirch the lead, fool her classmates, or even brainwash
the school/town into doing her bidding. After the show proper ends, an epilogue tells the viewers not to believe everything they see on TV. May be Lampshaded
, lampooned, or played for Hypocritical Humor
in comedy shows, after which the main characters tune in to watch their favorite shows uncritically.
Compare This Is Reality
. See also Stock Aesops
, Truth in Television
. Not a rejected title for Tomorrow Never Diesnote
. If this happens in Real Life
it can be because Reality Is Unrealistic
. See also Television Is Trying to Kill Us
, when this attitude becomes outright dangerous in real life.
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- Used in a commercial for State Farm insurance in regards to the Internet, with a woman who believes that everything she reads on the Internet is true. The commercial ends with her meeting her boyfriend, whom she met on the Internet, and whom she believes to be a French model. Cue some middle-aged guy with a goatee and glasses walking up to her and saying "Uh, bonjour?" And she still believes it.
- The setup for Galaxy Quest is a species of aliens who believe that all TV shows are "historical documents". For them, it is inconceivable that TV (or anything, for that matter) lies.
- Harry Potter:
- The Daily Prophet, the British Wizarding World's only "legitimate" newspaper, is a perfect example. Everything in it is taken as gospel truth, especially jarring when it outright contradicts itself: in The Order of the Phoenix, Harry is an insane schizophrenic and Dumbledore is a senile old fool; in Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore is the greatest Wizard EVAH and Harry is a Messianic Archetype; in The Deathly Hallows, Harry is evil and wanted for questioning on Dumbledore's death, and Voldemort is really quite a nice fellow, really, just remember to report any
Mudbloods Muggle-borns to the Ministry.
- There are other, smaller newspapers and periodicals, i.e., Witch Weekly (apparently a "women's magazine") and the Quibbler (a tabloid-type magazine) but these don't have near the circulation nor impact of the Daily Prophet
- It's also a parody of The Daily Mail, which actually does this, yet is still taken seriously by an alarming number of people.
- Inverted in the Discworld book Monstrous Regiment - the Borogravian citizens, living in a country where everything they read is propaganda written by the government, cannot figure out how newspapers (or anything written down, for that matter) can be trusted.
- Don Quixote: This is one of the themes of the novel: a book published at The Cavalier Years, when the press was a relatively recent invention and a lot of people believed that fiction books were real only because they were printed. Juan Palomeque, the Innkeeper, believes that Chivalric Romance stories are real because these are printed in books, making this trope Older Than Steam:
"But consider, brother," said the curate once more, "there never was any Felixmarte of Hircania in the world, nor any Cirongilio of Thrace, or any of the other knights of the same sort, that the books of chivalry talk of; the whole thing is the fabrication and invention of idle wits, devised by them for the purpose you describe of beguiling the time, as your reapers do when they read; for I swear to you in all seriousness there never were any such knights in the world, and no such exploits or nonsense ever happened anywhere."
- An issue of MAD (or a similar comedy magazine) had a study guide for children doing internet research on school projects. One of the first points listed was "not everything on the internet is true", accompanied by a cartoon of a child visiting a neo-Nazi site espousing Holocaust denial.
- Played straight in Dead Rising 2. After a zombie outbreak, the news plays a grainy, low resolution tape of a guy in a biker's outfit releasing the zombies, saying that the one in the tape is Chuck Greene (the Player Character). This is taken as absolute evidence by Every. Single. Survivor. that Chuck is responsible.
- Sticky Dilly Buns: It's discovered that Dillon has been under the impression that lots of straight men secretly have sex with gay men because the first time a supposedly straight man did this with him, the man cited Oprah as a source, and "Oprah never lies!"\
- In Family Guy, when Meg joins the school newspaper to pad out her extra-curricular activities, her father Peter "improves" a story of hers by outright fabricating a story saying "Luke Perry is Gay". This works wonders for Meg at first until Luke Perry reads a copy of the paper. Turns out he was gay. With Mayor Adam West...
- In the Teen Titans Trapped in TV Land episode, "Do Not Adjust Your Set", after defeating Control Freak's scheme, the Titans at the end resolve that watching too much TV is not necessarily a good thing, while at the same time noting that Beast Boy's ridiculously extensive knowledge of TV trivia helped them beat Control Freak. They conclude that there really isn't any moral to the adventure, and then close with an Everybody Laughs Ending.
- Powerpuff Girls had the Wondorous World of Wonderful Whimsical Willy, basically an Aesop episode to teach children not to believe everything they see on TV. Near the end however, they seem to realize that they are encouraging kids against watching THEIR show, and the episode ends with the girls asking the viewers to trust television in a zombie-like manner.
- Gargoyles did one of these in one of their first post-pilot episodes, where they met the Pack, who were heroes on TV but mercenaries in real life. Blatant advantage was taken of the fact the gargoyles were from the Middle Ages and still adjusting to the twentieth century and its media.
Hudson: Maybe we shouldn't always believe what we see on TV.
- In The Simpsons episode "Homer Badman" The sensationalist news media turns the whole town against Homer, convincing everyone that he sexually harassed his kids' babysitter.
Homer: Maybe TV's right, TV's always right.
Godfrey Jones: (after admitting his show has made some mistakes) Tomorrow, on "Rock Bottom": he's a foreigner who takes perverted videos of you when you least expect it. He's "Rowdy Roddy Peeper"...
Homer: Oh, that man is sick!
Marge: Groundskeeper Willy saved you, Homer.
Homer: But listen to the music! He's evil!
Marge: Hasn't this experience taught you you can't believe everything you hear?
Homer: Marge, my friend, I haven't learned a thing.
- The Garfield and Friends episode "It Must Be True!" has a TV show which shows absurd facts (such as "There's no such thing as Wyoming" and "Raisins are shrunk bowling balls") because of this trope. But when Garfield says "Dogs have no brains", an all-dog audience beats him up.
- Of course Mr. Krabs has to learn things the hard way on Sponge Bob Square Pants. After printing several scandalous issues of the Krusty Krab's own Krusty Khronicle, which features nothing but wild rumors, he incurs the wrath of everyone in town but refuses to stop the presses. Then SpongeBob prints another issue focusing solely on Mr. Krabs himself.
- In an episode of Ned's Newt, Ned's parents called off a trip to New York after watching a programme about dangerous alligators living in the NY sewers. When Ned tried to persuade them that it's just an urban legend, and pointed out that the programme was called "This Program Is Hogwash" (or something), his parents replied with this trope. "Son, if they said so on TV, it must be true."
- Truth in Television: The CSI Effect, which many lawyers say have spoiled many potential jury pools with unrealistic expectations of forensic science..
- An advertisement for some kind of weight-loss pill, while explaining its effects, explicitly said "We couldn't say it on TV if it wasn't true!" That would be the point of advertising laws, of course.
- The Mythbusters are occasionally wrong, rarely censored, and routinely facetious, but they've never out-and-out lied to the viewer (lying to Adam and Tory is okay though, because it's funny when they injure themselves).
- British knockoff Brainiac: Science Abuse, by contrast, has been known to fudge results in the name of Rule of Funny (and, on one occasion, to collect on a rather sizable golf bet when an experiment in probability fails to obey the law of averages).
- The inverse to this is explored by Dave Barry in a column, who says that Russians (today it would probably be North Koreans or Chinese) always know what's going on by reading their newspapers and assuming that the exact opposite is true. They thus have an advantage over Americans, who can't tell which parts of the newspapers are true and which are complete lies.
That was actually true in the USSR. Everyone with half a brain "read between the lines" - searched for hidden meaning behind the official version printed in the newspapers and broadcast on TV. It was generally assumed that TV and Other Media Always Lie In Some Way. Even inverted, this trope managed to backfire though: the collapsing USSR took the Propaganda Machine with itself, and the assorted media has since become identical to that of any other developed country; this gives those who haven't dropped their habits some great times trying to guess what the hell is going on, as different channels/newspapers/etc tend to have different points of view. Then there's the Internet... Good thing Putin is working so hard to restore media order then.
- One of the most famous cases is the 1991 hoax where two people tried to prove Lenin was a Mushroom. The number of people who took it seriously was well beyond the expectations.
- Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, a chilling parable of senseless brutality set in wholesome small-town America, prompted a flood of letters from confused and angry readers asking if the barbaric ritual described in the story was real, and if so, where they could go to watch it. The story was published in The New Yorker, which at the time did not clearly label its fiction and non-fiction pieces, but the flood of "wide-eyed, shocked innocence" (as she put it) still prompted Jackson to do some major facepalming.
- And proving that the stupidity of some humans knows no bounds, when Gilligan's Island first aired, the TV stations were flooded with angry letters demanding to know why the camera crew wasn't helping the castaways get off the island. Of course, nowadays they would probably assume it was a reality show.
- The infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which adapted H.G. Wells seminal science-fiction novel in the form of fictional news reports. Some people took it for non-fiction and panicked.
- Robert Zemeckis once jokingly told interviewers that the hoverboards in Back to the Future Part II were real prototypes created by Mattel but kept off the market because of pressure from parental watchdog groups who felt they were unsafe. Zemeckis then took it to Trolling Creator levels by shooting phony "behind the scenes" footage of the hoverboards using the special effects in the film proper. Naturally, a bunch of people fell for it, and Mattel was inundated with letters and phone calls begging them to sell the hoverboards. Sometimes they'd tell the truth; other times they would tell the would-be hoverboarders to "wait until 2015". That date drawing near, Funny Or Die produced a fake commercial for them in 2014 featuring Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd.
- When reading an online discussion of the legality/morality of torture, you might find someone making a reference to the five classes of torture: blunt,sharp,hot,cold and loud. This came from an episode of Angel and was made up on the spot by the writers; it has no basis whatsoever in reality.