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Accidental Aesop

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"Aesop's beast fables do not teach us to be wise or honest or kind. They simply show us what will happen if we dick around with talking animals."
Peter Chiykowski, Rock, Paper, Cynic

When a writer intends to simply write a piece of fiction without An Aesop but someone reads something into their work that they didn't intend.

This seems to stem from some people always assuming Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory, which leads to them gasping "What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?" when you tell them as such. This also generally requires the Word of God to clear things up — if, indeed, even that helps; don't count on it.

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Like Misaimed Fandom (where readers fail to catch the moral or satire intended by an author), an Accidental Aesop may result from poor authorial communication or, indeed, the Unfortunate Implications that come with poor use of common symbols.

Compare with: Alternate Aesop Interpretation (where a work is intended to have an An Aesop, but people just manage to find a different one), Broken Aesop (where a work's moral is contradicted by its delivery), Clueless Aesop (where a work fails to get its moral across), Hard Truth Aesop (where the moral goes against accepted wisdom), What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic? or Death of the Author. Occasionally these unintended Aesops have Unfortunate Implications. However, tropes are not bad; just because a text wasn't intended to be a commentary doesn't mean it can't work perfectly well as one.

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If you want to assign a work one of these aesops for comedic value, head over to Warp That Aesop.

See also Denied Parody for other unintended elements/interpretations of the work.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Beastars: The Reveal behind Tem's death that kicks off the story can also be read like this: skipping out on your medication only because you feel like you don't need it anymore is not a good reason. (Though the killer's species is mandated by their society to take their prescribed meds, patients in real life have the right to arrange a plan with their doctor to wean off theirs.)
  • At first, Gunslinger Girl's disturbing depiction of the horrors and abuses its innocent little girl protagonists faced and how their lives were completely destroyed was lauded by many fans as a Deconstruction of the lolicon genre and/or a commentary on the use of Child Soldiers. Nope. Turns out it's straight-up Author Appeal. Many of the more subversive elements and Fan Disservice of the early part of the series were apparently to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience and probably weren't even the creator's idea. As time went on and the series' popularity grew, the creator gained Protection from Editors, and it became decidedly more Fanservice-y and disturbing for totally different reasons.
    • And then there's the straight-out porn, drawn by the creator, of the girls being intimate with their handlers, consensual or otherwise.
    • Incidentally, the fact that the first season of the Anime has this Aesop but the second doesn't is likely part of the reason why the latter season was critically panned by comparison.
  • Western viewers of Interviews with Monster Girls often see the demi-humans can be a metaphor for people who are different. As a result, this series can be seen as An Aesop on diversity and labels. While most see that as a valid interpretation, opinion is divided on whether this is Petos' intent, as they are previously known for being drawing Cute Monster Girl doujinshi, which implies they may be writing it completely out of Author Appeal.
  • Princess Sarah was released at the time when bullying was a hot-button issue in Japan. Combined with Lavinia's behavior towards Sarah, this led many fans to believe that the series was covertly dealing with this issue. However, director Fumio Kurokawa says that this was purely unintentional. In the interview, he points out that some fans went overboard with this — one fan even sent the writer a razor blade, with the message "Stop bullying Sarah!"
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! anime's version of the Dungeon Dice Monsters arc is meant to be about the futility of revenge and how friendship is better, but another moral is "be patient and always check your email." If Otogi had waited a day before going out for revenge he'd have seen the contract from Pegasus and never gotten into conflict with Yugi at all.

    Comic Books 
  • Even though The Smurfs's book "The Black Smurfs" was just a fun story about a Zombie Apocalypse (though family-friendly and luckily reversible), some people tend to consider it an allegory of black immigrants. They were made purple rather than black in the Animated Adaptation to avoid those Unfortunate Implications.
  • Galactus from Marvel Comics is a godlike being who eats the life force of entire planets to survive. Obviously, every time he eats, potential billions if not more die. Galactus rationalizes that he's got to eat and the inhabitants of those planets are far below him on the universal pecking order. His entire character might be the greatest Accidental Aesop in favor of vegetarianism ever... or was, until it was revealed that Galactus is required for the universe to properly function.
    • There's also the oft-forgotten fact that Galactus actually only needs to feed on planets that are capable of supporting life; he actually goes out of his way to only eat planets that actually do support life as a last resort. Furthermore, that's one of the reasons he has a herald to forewarn of his coming; so that those species who have the capacity to up sticks and go somewhere else have time to do so.
  • A lot of comics written by Mark Millar seems to have pro-family messages. Several of his characters have issues that can be traced to their family lives. For example, Ultimate Red Skull and Spider-Girl in Old Man Logan are both despicable psychopaths because they had an absentee father, toward whom they hold a grudge. Hit-Girl is completely messed up because of her psychopath father. The Unfunnies' Troy Hick has a Freudian Excuse in the mental breakdown he suffered after his wife left him, and Millar's run on Fantastic Four portrays Reed and Sue Richards as perfect and extremely happy with their lives. However, Millar has said he never intentionally put any sort of message into his works, so all of this is either completely accidental or subconscious on his part.
  • In-Universe example from Archie Comics: One story had Mr. Weatherbee assigning Archie to give a speech to the male students on a subject that interests them. He chooses inflation and has Betty, Veronica and Ethel help him demonstrate its effects. Big Ethel is shown in an early 20th-Century swimsuit that covers her whole body, Betty in a standard one-piece suit, and Veronica in a bikini to symbolize "The Shrinking Dollar." Mr. Weatherbee compliments Archie on his speech, but tells him, "There's only one problem, Archie. You have the entire class looking forward to further devaluation." In other words, there won't be much on the next girl if the dollar shrinks more.
  • A common observation on X-Men's attempts to utilize Fantastic Racism is that they don't actually make a lot of sense—in particular, "why are people prejudiced against mutants but not Daredevil or the Fantastic Four?" Some commentators have observed that, while this is mostly a result of inconsistent writing, it's actually a pretty good message on prejudice: bigots generally don't have a consistent cause-and-effect for why they hate their targets, because bigotry is senseless, petty, and cruel by nature.
  • Asterix: The narrative generally lionizes the simple country life lived by the Gauls as honest and fulfilling while denouncing the metropole-dwelling Romans as greedy, ambitious and decadent and depicting their striving for power, wealth or glory as nerve-wracking, superficial and in the end meaningless. However, in Asterix and the Cauldron, Asterix' and Obelix' ignorance about monetary and economic matters proves almost fatal when they, in spite of their supernatural abilities, continuously fail to earn money when they suddenly have to. While it could be argued that they never would have slipped into that situation to begin with if not for the deceit of a greedy rival chieftain, the message the average reader most likely takes from the story is, especially on rereads, that at least some skill with money and trade is indeed useful, even if you live outside the economic hotspots.

    Fairy Tales 
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    Films — Animated 
  • The Angry Birds Movie: If someone new comes to your land, they're probably thieves who are going to steal your children.
  • WALL•E is often interpreted as having a rather heavy-handed environmentalist or anti-consumerism message, but the director stated that there was not supposed to be any political message, and the setting was created to justify the story of "the last robot on Earth". Fred Willard also ad-libbed the line "Stay the course," causing some people to assume the film was commenting on the Bush administration.
  • Shrek Forever After has Shrek get fed up with his family life and reaches his Rage Breaking Point during his childrens' birthday party where he yells at his wife Fiona saying that he wished his life could return to back from before he rescued her. After Shrek makes a contract with Rumpelstiltskin so that he can have one day like his old life again, the resulting Alternate Universe has none of his friends and family know him, and Shrek realizes what he truly had and lost. So if you need some time for yourself, by all means take it before you snap and say or do something you'll regret.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • George A. Romero always maintained that he did not intend to make any comments about race in Night of the Living Dead (1968). He hired Duane Jones, a black stage actor, to play the hero because "he gave the best audition." Much of the movie's dialogue was improvised by the actors during filming, with only a loose adherence to the script. It was only when the film was released that Romero said he became aware of the implications of Jones's character being black. However, some critics continue to insist that it's highly implausible for someone in the 1960s to cast a black actor as the lead without being aware of the significance. For better or worse, Romero subsequently started adding intentional but far less subtle aesops in all his following zombie films.
  • The Aesop of Seven Pounds is probably not "don't use your cell phone while driving," but that's what at least one critic concluded. It also isn't killing yourself is wrong unless you give your organs away, nor is it likely to be don't commit suicide by POISON if you intend to donate your organs.
  • The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), made at the height of the Red Scare, was praised by people on both sides of the issue who assumed the villainous pod people were meant to be analogous to either Communists or people being swept up by Senator McCarthy's witch hunts. Director Don Siegel was quick to say that he did not intend to portray any kind of message and just thought he was making a simple alien invasion film. Seeing as the film ends with the hero shouting into the camera "They're here already! You're next!", opinions are still divided. The McCarthy/HUAC furor had more or less died down by the time the movie was made, so the director was probably telling the truth.
  • Sleepaway Camp is a Slasher Movie that is mostly well-known for its controversial Twist Ending that contains Unfortunate Implications about transgender people, transwomen in particular, but the ending can also be read in the complete opposite way: being forced to present as the gender you don't identify as (like Peter being forced to pretend he's his dead sister) can cause major psychological problems which might end up ruining your life.
  • The film adaptation of 300 is often interpreted to glorify secular, westernized countries standing against the religious extremism and intolerance of the Middle East. However, some critics pointed out that in the film, Persia is a massive, wealthy and culturally diverse empire bent on expanding its influence throughout the world, while the Spartans are a small group of dedicated, zealous fighters who are willing to break the rules of war and martyr themselves to resist the invaders. Some viewers interpreted Persia as representing the United States and Spartans representing the terrorists.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower — if you're struggling to fit in, hang out with much older kids, drink alcohol and take drugs.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl — When making an agreement, be sure the terms are actually beneficial to you and leave as little to interpretation as possible, otherwise you leave yourself open to Loophole Abuse and Exact Words by a more savvy party. Case in point, Barbossa exploits loopholes overlooked by the other party twice, first when he takes Elizabeth hostage because she neglected to include her own release when exchanging the medallion for their cessation of their raid on Port Royal; and again when he forces Elizabeth to walk the plank after Will exchanges his blood to lift the curse for Jack's crew's safety and Elizabeth's release but failed to specify where or when she was to be set free.
  • While it is hard to tell whether Fifty Shades of Grey the book has any kind of aesop the movie, with added focus on the actual character interactions (plus whatever nuances the actors put in), can be easily interpreted as "BDSM is awesome, but you should get into it gradually and don't rush with contracts and hardcore practices, or it will destroy your relationship."
  • Utøya: July 22, a reenactment of the Breivik Massacre (which happened on the island Utøya on 22. July 2011) from the perspective of the victims, contains lots of very necessary Aesops, but also unintentionally the following: "sometimes, bravery and wit are useless against violence. Then, Violence Really Is the Answer."
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Doctor Strange (2016): Stephen Strange's accident was caused by his use of a smartphone while driving, so the potential Aesop is "Distracted driving can get you out of a good career... and into a great career."
    • Black Panther (2018): "Checks and balances are vital for a stable government." The villain Killmonger's whole plan is to usurp T'Challa as king of Wakanda and wage war against the outside world, serving to both destroy Wakanda and send a message against the mistreatment of African- and African-descended people around the world. If Wakanda had any system of government besides one that rested sole power in the hands of its monarch—such as elected representatives or a high court able to overturn the leader's decisions—Killmonger wouldn't have been able to just waltz in and take over the most technologically-advanced nation on Earth by way of ritual combat and have the nation be forced to go along with his self-destructive crusade.
  • The Christian movie Second Glance is an It's a Wonderful Plot movie with the main character who wishes he wasn't a believer getting to live one day of his high school life as if he never had been. While this is mostly a vehicle for the Aesop that non-Christians are all horrible shits who'll just ruin their own happiness so your current unsatisfying life as a Christian is still better, there's a couple of whoppers that seem to have snuck in by accident. The worst one is when the main character finds out his parents are now divorced and his little sister was never born because, as an angel explains, the main character wasn't a believer and didn't pray for their marriage. The message to any teenagers in the audience whose parents are already divorced: "This is all your fault. Clearly you weren't right with God or it wouldn't have happened. Now you've essentially murdered your potential younger siblings."
  • The Room is meant to be a senseless tragedy, but it actually works very well as a statement about how a bad relationship can warp your perceptions. Lisa's characterization as a manipulative gold-digging harpy who cuts off her relationship For the Evulz and Johnny's as an Ideal Hero suffering from the senseless betrayals of everyone around him are pretty accurate to how a lot of people feel about their exes and themselves after a bad breakup. That the resulting story is infamously silly and nonsensical therefore shows that this worldview is equally so.
  • Terminator: Dark Fate accidentally inverts the aesop of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. While the latter film preaches that all human life is precious and a machine is only ever as bad as its programming, Dark Fate makes the case that even the most important person is completely expendable and AI will always be bad no matter how or why it was created.
  • Knives Out:
    • Fran the housekeeper was a fan of murder mysteries and attempted to solve the case on their own without notifying the police of the crucial evidence they found. This eventually would lead to her death and almost lets the culprit destroy evidence incriminating them. Don't assume you are competent to do something just because you consume a lot of media about it. And even if you do find useful information, you're probably not qualified to understand or handle the consequences unless you are a trained professional.
    • Harlan's death could have been avoided if he had simply listened to Marta's advice to call an ambulance after his alleged fatal morphine overdose. If there is a trained professional that you trust and they are giving you reasonable advice, you should listen to them.
  • Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life can be interpreted as having one of these (besides the Anvilicious "porn is bad" aesop): Don't forget to lock your bedroom door and store your porn in a secure location to prevent anyone from being accidentally exposed to it.

    Literature 
  • The Heather Wells book Big Boned can easily be interpreted as having the message 'Do not ever date your teacher', even if both parties are well above legal age of consent. There always will be the power-imbalance in the relationship, he might force you into doing exercise or could simply be using you to make it big in the Big Apple.
  • The eighteenth-century critic Thomas Rhymer said that there seemed to be two possible Aesops in Othello: either "Don't elope with blackamoors" or else "Take better care of your laundry." (The latter being a reference to Desdemona's handkerchief, which convinces Othello that his wife is cheating on him.)
  • An in-universe example occurs in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five: the "moral" that the Tralfamordians derive from The Bible is before you kill anyone, make absolutely sure that they're not well-connected.
  • Casabianca, about a loyal cabin boy who stayed on a burning warship until it exploded because he waited for his father to relieve him of duty without knowing he had died, has many times been interpreted as a warning against blindly obeying your parents.
  • The Novel of the Iron Maid, the final story in Arthur Machen's The Three Impostors has the distinct feeling of trying to teach the reader a lesson on the value of always reading the instructions, since it revolves around a collector of antique torture devices who accidentally crushes himself to death with his latest acquisition after very explicitly neglecting to read the enclosed instruction pamphlet.
  • Me Before You has, especially with the release of The Film of the Book, been interpreted as having the Unfortunate Implications of if you're a quadriplegic, your life isn't worth living, so the best thing you can do is commit suicide and have it benefit the (abled) ones you love.
  • The bonus section comic of Cuddly Holocaust shows the author talking to an irate reader who demands to know what the moral of the story was supposed to be.
    Author: [The book is] a metaphor for aging. People are innocent victims of society as children, rebels of society as teenagers, and then come to accept all the fucked up shit of society as adults. That was [the heroine's] arc.
    Reader: You just made that up this second, didn't you?
    Author: (smiling sheepishly) Yeah...
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth, as a work by H. P. Lovecraft, is generally seen as being about 'the dangers of inter-racial relationships' along with his general fondness for mind-bending horrors and terrors. However one can also taken as a point about racism being a two-way street, as the people of Innsmouth are just as hostile, if not more so, than the visitors. Being written by Lovecraft, this was very likely unintentional.
  • The Turner Diaries, by William Luther Pierce, is the story of an Organization of Neo-Nazis whose goal is to "free" society from the tyranny of the Jewish-controlled System that favors non-whites. Pierce pretty clearly wants to show that the white race will triumph over all others, becoming the One True Ethnicity of the planet. In doing so, the protagonists essentially destroy the Earth and doom the rest of the human race to a long, futile struggle against nuclear winter, fallout, and 90% of the entire planet's population being destroyed. As a result, the message of the book comes across more as "white supremacy will literally end the world."
  • The moral of the first Disney Chills book, Part of Your Nightmare, is meant to be about how popularity isn't worth true friendship and it's better to be yourself than changing yourself to fit in. The climax having Ursula turn Shelly into a fish over a technicality creates another lesson—always get contracts in writing, and check them thoroughly for loopholes.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The series finale of Battlestar Galactica (2003) seems to have a heavy-handed anti-technology aesop that comes completely out of nowhere. Ron Moore admits in his podcast on the episode that this was simply a desperate last-minute attempt to explain why none of the fleet's technology was discovered after they arrived on prehistoric Earth, and he didn't put much thought into any message that could be read into it.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Power of the Daleks": Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it—unless the Doctor arrives in time.
    • "The Unquiet Dead" was perceived in some quarters as an attack on immigration (since the episode features aliens who come to Earth on the pretense of finding a new home after their planet was blown up, but are actually attempting to invade), even though the subtext was entirely unintentional.
    • "Kill the Moon": Some viewers reacted angrily to what they saw as a pro-life (as in anti-abortion) message in this one. There's a question of preventing a birth and the Doctor gives the women the "choice" to terminate it. Then, in a democratic method, the whole world together decides to prevent the birth. But finally, Clara just can't bear to "kill the baby", and her decision to save it is proven to be the right one in the end. Alternatively, the message could be seen as that ultimately it is the woman's choice alone whether to terminate the pregnancy, regardless of what others tell her she should do or the outcome — making it a pro-choice message. It mostly depends on if you see Clara as analogous to the mother or as someone overriding the mother's choice.
    • "Hell Bent" features a groundbreaking moment where a Time Lord, previously seen as male, changes gender upon regeneration. This was seen as a watershed moment opening the door for the eventual regeneration of the male Twelfth Doctor into the female Thirteenth Doctor. Which is great except for the fact "Hell Bent" establishes into canon that the gender change is considered an inconvenience and something to be treated as a joke and also something that is temporary. This implication did not sit well with some transgender fans of the show who don't have the option of a) anything being "temporary", and b) treating it like a joke or inconvenience. In addition, the General outright notes that it was the only time she'd ever been male, which also drew controversy from the fandom.
  • The Torchwood episode "Meat" appears to have a pro-vegetarianism Aesop. But episode writer Cath Treganna "enjoys a good fillet steak as much as the next person".
  • Genetic engineering is shown as a viable technology in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the person of Julian Bashir. On the other hand, there's the Jack Pack. Lesson: if you prohibit genetic engineering, people will go to back alley doctors, with possibly disastrous results.
  • The episode "Darkness Falls" of The X-Files, where a logging company accidentally releases a marabunta of man-eating bugs, was praised and even received an award for its never intended ecologist message against deforestation. This is even funnier if you consider that every death in the episode could be blamed on the actions of an Animal Wrongs Group in continuous possession of the Idiot Ball and that the bugs' release was going to happen anyway since they were originally trapped in a very old tree that was going to fall more sooner than later.
  • The original Star Trek episode "This Side of Paradise" is explicitly stated to be a modern take on the Lotus Eaters and the arrested development drugs and complacency can have, but to a modern viewer the Aesop appears to be about date rape when Leila Kalomi knowingly drugs Spock so that he will fall in love with her.
  • This happens in-universe on one episode of The George Lopez Show. When Max takes the computer apart without realizing the value of such things, his father George decides to teach him a lesson; by giving him a job at the factory George manages to show him the kind of hard jobs it can take to afford things like the computer. Unfortunately, Max seems to think that the lesson was that working at the factory is great since he enjoyed and wants to work there instead of going to college. George toys with letting him do that until he has a Flash Forward picturing Max being jobless in the future after the factory is automated. He does show Max the possible downside of that Aesop by showing him how much the factory workers freak out at the slightest possibility of the factory shutting down.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The episode "The Neutral Zone" is about cryogenically frozen humans from the 20th Century coping with being awoken in the 24th. It's full of all sorts of heavy-handed dialogue about how superior humanity has become, and seems to be intended as a Take That! to the audience. One character in particular, a financier, gets the worst of it. However, at the end, he gives Picard some vital insight into what his opponents, the Romulans, are thinking. This has the effect of implying that the 24th-century humans have become complacent and naive (the script was in the midst of revision when a Writer's Guild strike hit, so it's possible that it was going to be rewritten to be more in line with later episodes, where humanity is still quite flawed). The financier went on to join the diplomatic corps in the Expanded Universe, allowing the Federation to better deal with races they're too idealistic to understand, like the Ferengi (he becomes ambassador to their world).
    • "The Masterpiece Society" features a colony that practices strict eugenics to create perfect people free of genetic weaknesses. As a blind man, Geordi bristles several times at the idea that the colony would have aborted him in utero. In the end, it's Geordi's vision prosthesis that provides the technology to save the colony. It's easy to see this as an aesop against abortion, particularly for reasons of genetic defects, but the showrunner Michael Pillar insists that this was not intentional, saying that most people on the production staff would have refused to work on an anti-choice episode.
    • Another episode, "Force of Nature", has a scientist believing the warp drive is damaging subspace and can someday make warp travel impossible. However, an attempt to check the theory fails because the Federation's Science Council rejects it, and he has no other way to obtain funding. He ultimately resorts to desperate measures which do confirm his theory. It was supposed to be a Green Aesop episode, but instead it shows what happens when you permit a monopoly.
  • Seinfeld: Despite the show's explicit aversion of morals ("No hugging, no learning"), the show does deliver Aesops, even if incidentally.
    • The main characters frequently lie, and in pretty much every instance, the lie comes back to bite them in the ass by the episode's end. So the Aesop? Don't lie, it only makes things worse.
    • A great many plots that are not powered by a Snowball Lie are set off by small violations of the unwritten rules of society — laughing in a concert hall, refusing junk mail, and so on. These can each be read in a variety of ways: "accept responsibility for your actions," "let's communicate with one another more," "don't take perceived slights personally," etc. Of course, they're also exaggerated for comedy and wouldn't be as funny if used as learning opportunities.
    • The finale, divisive as it may be, does send the roundabout message of "it's better to be kind than to be a cynical, selfish jerkass because you never know when you'll need help from someone you were a jerk to in the past." Had the four main characters earned a few more friends than countless enemies, they might have saved a little face in court.
    • "The Deal" is probably the only one that plays this (mostly) straight, in that it sends the message that you can't just turn your emotions on and off. As civil and reasonable as their agreement for casual sex was, Jerry and Elaine's differing feeling about it were going to make it awkward no matter what.
  • One Lifetime Movie of the Week was The Remake of a mid-'90s NBC movie Mother May I Sleep With Danger. It was a typical "woman in peril" story, except for the Setting Update of making the heroine's obsessed ex a Psycho Lesbian vampire instead of a man. This resulted in the much-needed message that same-sex relationships are just as prone to Domestic Abuse as their heterosexual counterparts.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, due to its popularity and long run, often ran into this trope:
    • Schulz said he only created the Great Pumpkin as a fun idea: "What if someone believed in a Halloween Santa Claus?" Many saw Linus's efforts as a mockery of the foolishness of religious people, but Schulz himself was quite religious, at least in the early years.note  Linus's statement that you should never discuss "religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin" was intended to show that he doesn't view the Great Pumpkin as his religion per se (Linus quotes the Bible in other strips, which he seems to believe in, so he's presumably a Christian-the Great Pumpkin appears to be unrelated).
    • There's a strip where Linus asks Lucy about what would happen if a baby was in heaven waiting to be born but its parents decided that they didn't want any more children. Lucy decries his theological and medical ignorance. It was meant to be a parody of people who ask really weird hypothetical questions, but people on both sides of the abortion debate seized on it as proof that Schulz supported them and asked him if they could have permission to reprint it in their literature. He said no. It may or may not be coincidence that Rerun, younger brother to Lucy and Linus, was born a few years later.
    • In an anthology, 1960s letters written to Schulz about his new African-American character Franklin are reprinted; because he was introduced during the Civil Rights Movement, people assumed Schulz was trying to make some sort of statement. No, he said, Franklin's just black by coincidence. However, when some Southern newspaper editors told him to stop showing Franklin in the same classroom as white students, he consciously chose to use Franklin even more.
  • Calvin and Hobbes had one strip where Calvin asks for the last piece of dessert, and his mother tells him not to be greedy. He asks if this means he should be dishonest - and she reluctantly gives him the last piece.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney
    • Don't judge people by who their relatives are. There can be black sheep and white sheep in every family.
    • Don't Bowdlerise the world to children and hide truths from them. They need to know how the world works to make good decisions and understand the consequences of their actions. In the case of Regina Berry, their actions led to someone in a coma and another being permanently crippled and they were completely unapologetic, not out of malice, but because they couldn't understand the severity of their Deadly Prank. In the case of Pearl Fey, because they were never told about Morgan's previous attempt to frame Maya, they went along with the plan to murder Maya because they genuinely thought Morgan was a good person and it was for Maya's benefit.
    • The series can come off as anti-death penalty. There's a very real possibility that more than a few innocent people were falsely convicted and executed due to the system favoring the prosecution, especially in the kingdom of Khurain, where the Defense Culpability Act causes lawyers to share their clients' punishment(for example, in the first case of Spirit of Justice, Phoenix and Ahlbi, a young boy, would have been executed if the latter had been convicted). There's also the case of Dahlia Hawthorne, who was executed for murder, resulting in her mother Morgan manipulating Pearl into channeling Dahlia's spirit. Godot manages to thwart the plot, but at the cost of Mia and Maya's mother Misty's life, and the tragedy would have never happened if Dahlia had not been executed.
    • The series, especially Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, seems to warn against using your daughter as a pawn in your criminal schemes. In the original trilogy, Morgan tries to manipulate her daughter Pearl into channeling Morgan's other daughter Dahlia in order to kill Maya and enable Pearl to become head of the family. In Apollo Justice, Magnifi Gramarye blackmailed his disciples Zak and Valant over their role in an accident that had seemingly killed his daughter Thalassa. In the case resulting from Magnifi's death, Phoenix gets disbarred after unwittingly accepting forged evidence from Zak's daughter Trucy (made by a young girl on her father's behalf), and Trucy ends up enabling her father's escape from the courtroom. Years later, Phoenix has Trucy deliver Apollo forged evidence to convict the man responsible for disbarring him, and Apollo is furious when he discovers how Phoenix used him. Given the large number of cases of this, especially in the course of a single game, one has to wonder whether this is intentional.
  • Among Us:
    • The voting process to remove Imposters shows the dangers of condemning people on flimsy or incomplete evidence. There is rarely an open and close case in real life but it's easy to doom people based on accusations, rumors and happenstance.
    • It is also a cold fact that life is not always fair. You could be the most diligent Crewmember in the game and still wind up being framed by an Imposter and voted out and you can only watch as the Imposter wins the match because no one trusted you despite your hard work.
    • While there are exceptions and times this doesn't work, generally not being an asshole is a viable strategy to last longer. If you do your tasks, are polite to others, refuse to vote on flimsy evidence and do your tasks, you are far less likely to be targeted by others and they will most likely take your word if you accuse someone. If you establish yourself as a reasonable, decently friendly person, earning people's trust becomes a lot easier.
  • BioShock 2: has a 'forgiveness' aesop by making three enemy NPCs who don't directly hurt you, but do inconvenience you (in addition to doing something bad in your past) and can be killed or spared. The game expects you to spare them, which would be acceptable were it not for the facts that: 1) Only the first of them is truly innocent. 2) Even if you forgive the second NPC for stalling you and being partly responsible for your character becoming a Big Daddy, he also kidnapped a child and murdered an entire district full of sophisticated people because they knew too much. 3) To make things worse, the most common reason for killing the third of these NPCs was not because he was responsible for turning you into a Big Daddy - it was either because he had mutated into a giant, evil, squid-thing due to a failed experiment, or because there is a series of Audio Diaries by his former self, who knew what was going to happen to him and requests that someone euthanize him, taking very great steps to make it easier for you to do so. 4) All of the above only affects the outcome of the Big Bad, who some would consider irredeemable and thus would consider the "violent" outcome to be better, as the fate of the Little Sisters once more determines whether or not the story ends on a high note overall. The aesop goes from teaching forgiveness to teaching that you don't get to punish someone for their crimes, or commit a Mercy Kill. All the while, the player is forced to kill magnitudes of mooks anyway.
  • Mission 3 of Command & Conquer: Generals: Zero Hour's Chinese campaign is regarded as one of the toughest missions in the game. A huge reason why is because you are on a time limit, and the units available to build are restricted to the lower tier tech levels, with no aircraft or support powers available (other than calling in minefield airdrops). The mission briefing explains this as China agreeing to exercise restraint to appease international opinion while liberating the city of Coburg from GLA occupation, due to the fact that China had already used a nuclear missile to wipe out the GLA presence in Stuttgart. But the GLA have no such restrictions, and will absolutely hammer you with everything they have, including powerful weapons like SCUD launchers and Rocket Buggies (which no Chinese unit is fast enough to catch up with outside of aircraft). The lesson that can be taken away from this is that following restrictive rules of engagement against an enemy that has no morals will only cause massive casualties on your side that could have been avoided in the first place.
  • Crusader Kings III:
    • The Stress mechanic means that characters consistently acting in ways they struggle with start suffering psychological breaks, beginning with 'coping mechanisms' and can end with them basically coming apart at the seams. So it turns out, it's important to look after your mental health. You can go against the natural grain, but don't expect to keep it up for long periods without also finding ways to let steam off.
    • Yes, it's annoying to have your succession rules mean that on your character's death, your new character only controls a third of the territory you used to. But let it be a message that power is fleeting and even historic achievements won't last forever.
  • Deadly Premonition: Smoking literally shaves hours of York's life off. The smoking-to-pass-time mechanic does allow the player to by-pass time for plot or sidequest purposes, but the fact remains that one minute of smoking passes easily an entire day!
    • This same aesop pops up in Metal Gear Solid V as in that game you can smoke an (electric) cigar to advance time, and Venom is even seen doing it in cutscenes with the same effect. The previous Metal Gear games have the intentional aesop of "smoking kills" as using the cigarettes/cigar will cause your health to decrease quickly and can actually kill you, but not so here.
  • The original Japanese script of Final Fantasy Legend II involved a smuggling ring of illegal opium in Edo. The 1991 official English localization could not mention such drugs, so changed opium to "bananas". An NPC lampshades this by asking why bananas have to be illegal in the first place. It's obvious to most players that criminalizing bananas is silly, and the sheer organized crime involved might not exist without a legal ban on bananas. In the real world, this is an increasingly vocal argument against the War on Drugs, especially after a 2011 United Nations commission declared the international War on Drugs to be a costly, violent failure — drug crime and drug violence are usually caused by drug bans, not vice versa.
  • In Five Nights at Freddy's, everything that you can do to protect yourself from the animatronics costs power. Use too much and you'll run out of power before the night is over. What does this mean? Conserving energy is good, and if you don't do it, you'll be murdered.
  • Aqua of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep ended up a victim of this trope. She's told at one point that a greater light may cause a greater shadow to emerge; thus to make her consider the balance between light and darkness. Then, she's up against Xehanort who uses the darkness that takes away her two best friends and leaves her imprisoned in the Realm of Darkness for 10+ years; which breaks her and causes her to fall to darkness in the process. Aqua laments it all in the end, stating that darkness "is really nothing but hate and rage". The aesop the audience seemed to take was that "While yes, sometimes issues are gray and should have more consideration, sometimes the issues are as simple as right and wrong."
  • Empty Bottles in The Legend of Zelda are (almost) always incredibly versatile and useful items, showing the value of reusing and recycling.
  • Thanks to Capcom's inability to make new main characters the Mega Man (Classic) series argues in favor of capital punishment, and possibly the dangers of racism. Because Dr. Wily was not executed after he was captured by the Blue Bomber in 6 (the intended end point of the series), he built Zero, causing a chain of events that, as of the Mega Man Zero series, has killed more than half the population of earth, and has left the planet itself almost scorched beyond recovery, which oddly enough involved another human villain that also wasn't executed once captured by our robotic heroes, which only made things worse when said villain came back. Also, because Capcom hasn't continued the Mega Man ZX series, it's implied that in the Mega Man Legends series, humanity has ultimately gone extinct because the legal system in this world couldn't put down a Mad Scientist who had certainly caused enough chaos to warrant such a punishment.
    • Mega Man 7 also has an accidental aesop found only in the English version. In both versions, the blue bomber prepares to shoot Wily and Wily reminds him that robots can't hurt humans due to being Three Laws-Compliant. In the Japanese version, Mega Man puts his blaster down with no argument, while in the English version we get "I am more than a robot!! Die Wily!!" but still hesitates long enough for Wily to escape. This not only supports the above message about capital punishment but can also be seen as condemning pacifism or that there are exceptions to principles like do not kill.
    • What seems to be a running theme in the series is that all of the problems stem from people charged with protecting the innocent not doing their jobs properly. The government neither executed Dr. Wily when he was caught nor stepped in and ordered Dr. Light to take lethal measures at an earlier time. Also, a cut-scene in Mega Man X4 shows Sigma fought a Maverick Zero when he was still a Hunter. He lost because he didn't take Zero out immediately with his sword, even though his job was to kill Mavericks as quickly as possible, and decided to screw around. If he had done this, the events of the X and subsequent series wouldn't have happened.
  • The Metroid series is the last place you'd expect to find a Green Aesop about how massacring a species can catastrophically restructure a natural ecosystem. In Metroid II: Return of Samus, Samus kills off the titular species except for a newly-hatched Metroid larva; by the time Metroid Fusion rolls around, the planet is overrun by X parasites, which were only discovered postmortem to not have been so rampant in the past because of the very Metroids Samus exterminated being their sole predator. It's telling that, due to how badly the X have overrun the BSL station after Samus' infected suit parts are shipped there, Samus ultimately has to annihilate both the station and the planet to keep the X from destroying the galaxy. The hideous restructuring part is only emphasized in the remake, Metroid: Samus Returns, where many lifeforms exist on the planet that live around the Metroids despite the creatures being artificial in origin, which meant that nature can adapt around anything that doesn't result in immediate catastrophe, a catastrophe that the stinger demonstrates is still fated to happen.
  • Minecraft has a stunningly powerful Green Aesop as the player discovers grand sweeping vistas and slowly corrupts and ruins them, looking back only to find the landscape perverted by their own desires, a shell of its former self. Many players try and keep the landscape as pristine as possible just to avoid this, or replant religiously. According to Notch, this was completely accidental and people probably shouldn't read so much into it. Another easy one could be that Creepers are taken as a representation that all work is transitory, here one point and gone the next, or that some people just can't accept what you have built (or, in light of the Green Aesop approach, they represent Gaia's Vengeance). Because the game is so open-ended, it's very possible that quite a few accidental Aesops may just pop up at any time.
  • While Monster Loves You! could be called a morality tale, the way the game's morality system works can create results implying that being evil is better than being nothing at all. This may be part of the reason some versions of the game changed the name of one ending from "Dissolve into Mediocrity" to "Modest Legacy."
  • Persona 4 has a running theme of "seek the truth, even when said truth is uncomfortable". However, possibly unintentionally it also seems to have a running theme of "be/do exactly what society expects of you". Yukiko isn't fully comfortable with the idea of taking over her family's inn. In the end she realizes that she wanted to all along(which is a significant step for her, since she's no longer merely going with the flow, but doing what she wants to). Yumi wants to reject her dying father who abandoned her and her mother for years only to come back wanting to reconcile. She's convinced that she is being selfish and ultimately forgives him. Kanji and Naoto both struggle with how they are expected to act in society, but in the epilogue for the Golden edition, both have much more traditional looks (Kanji stops bleaching his hair/loses his piercings and Naoto grows her hair out), albeit not giving up on their respective passion for handicrafts or detective work. And Rise struggles with what her identity is and whether she has one beyond her famous idol persona, but ultimately decides that yes, she really does just want to be an idol for the foreseeable future, having realized how she can use her role as one to help others. Possibly in response to this feeling, Persona 5 has a much clearer stance on the various characters' feelings of not fitting in to the society around them (specifically that they should be true to themselves regardless what the people around them think), which is certainly a more radical aesop for a Japanese game.
  • The early Pokémon games used to have playable slot machines in the Game Corners, until they were removed around Generation IV due to being gambling in a kid's game. Some players have said that the Game Corner slot machines taught them at an early age that it's impossible to win at gambling, and as such you shouldn't bother.
  • In Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, the Cooper Gang recruits a few new members that specialize in things they don't to help them pull off a big heist. Among them is Penelope, a Gadgeteer Genius mouse who works making RC vehicles, who Bentley comes into contact with on his laptop. Later, in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, she ends up backstabbing the team, which leads to the moral of "don't trust people you meet on the Internet."
  • Writer Walt Williams is not terribly keen on Spec Ops: The Line being described as an "anti-war" video game: he has stated that his primary intention was to create a narrative which asked players to question why they play shooters in the first place, and the War Is Hell aspect of the game came about largely as a necessary consequence of this rather than out of any particular desire to attack war in its own right. The game grapples with how such a life and state of being would be one of constant fear, endless violence, and bloodshed, which would take a toll on any individual's sanity.
    Antagonist: "The truth, Walker, is that you're here because you wanted to be something you're not - a hero."
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Throughout all of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Mario and company are attempting to rebuild the Star Road, the medium in which wishes come true, after it was destroyed by the Smithy Gang. During their journey, however, they inadvertently end up fulfilling several unrealized dreams through their actions, most notably reuniting Mallow with his true family, well before the Star Road was even close to being fixed, suggesting that it's better to put in hard work and effort in trying to fulfill your dreams, rather than relying on magic and prayers for them to come true someday.
    • In Mario & Luigi: Dream Team two of the most powerful items in the game are the Dark Boots and the Dark Hammer, but you get hurt each time you use them. The accidental moral is that evil deeds may give you more power but end up hurting you in the process.
  • Total War: Warhammer: A particularly hilarious (and unintended) one is the phenomenon known as the Ordertide, where the "good" factions (Empire, Bretonnia, High Elves, Dwarves etc.) ally with each others, and free from the perpetual skirmishing with each other can now turn on the evil factions as a singe unified blob that vastly outnumbers all their enemies (and attacking one of them brings in units from all of the allies). Essentially The Horde but coming from the good guys, when pretty much the exact opposite (Chaos unites under a single leader against the disparate and isolationist good factions) happens in Warhammer canon.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • From a Nezumi Man review "GAH! See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Smoke, and all your skin falls off".
  • If the way reincarnation works in the Reincarny webgame series is to be believed, the safest way to prevent criminals from committing crimes again for a long time is to give them life imprisonment without parole, since executing them will just allow them to escape from Hell and be reincarnated as adults who immediately start doing the same things they did before. (The game series is at least 90% of the way toward the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism)
  • Twitch Plays Pokémon Red became an almost debate of democracy vs. anarchy as well after democracy was implemented.
  • The Nostalgia Critic's episode of Princess Diaries II came off like "fake geek girls are real and they're bad" (because Hyper was using boy toys that she didn't like and pretending she did to get Critic to sleep with her). Later episodes focused on the kidnapping and whatever else she did bad to him to maybe dilute this.
  • H.Bomberguy, in his review of The Room, explains how he believes that the film is a close impression of how Wiseau saw an actual breakup. This means it (unintentionally) works very well as a statement about how bad relationships warp your perceptions, with the nonsense characterization, rampant misogyny, and Random Events Plot being a symptom of the fact that Wiseau's viewpoint wasn't healthy or accurate.
  • Maggie Mae Fish, when talking about Cats (both the play and the movie), she mentions how, in a weird way, the two work as a parody of fascism. T. S. Eliot, the man behind the source material, was a royalist whose fascist beliefs bled into his work, and elevating his original poems into this weird, fever dream-like works, while keeping the stuff that made it fascist-like, like the death cult, make it seems like an ode to how his beliefs were flawed and crazy to begin with.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of The Amazing World of Gumball had an In-Universe example when the kids’ parents and Principal Brown pretend to be criminals holding the bus hostage as part of an idiotic plan to teach the kids not to play hooky. This plan goes majorly Off the Rails, leading to them being given a million dollars by the police who have mistaken it for a real hostage situation.
    Gumball: Congratulations, gentlemen, you've taught us that crime does pay. Good job.
  • The Backyardigans: The moral intended in "The Two Musketeers" was "Don't judge a book by its cover". However, it's often interpreted as "Don't hate people for petty reasons". Then again, aesops were never their strongest point...
  • The Bob's Burgers episode "The Hormone-iums" can be seen as a PG-rated way to criticize abstinence-based sex education. Mr. Frond tries to make a play to teach the kids to not kiss, or else they will get mononucleosis and will die, accidentally tanking Tina's chances to be invited to a spin the bottle party. Tina then changes the play during the presentation, showing information that mononucleosis isn't lethal in most cases, and that you can avoid mono by just kissing people without it.
    Tina: We don't have to not kiss, we just have to smart kiss.
  • Zigzagged in the Futurama episode "Godfellas". The episode did indeed touch a little on the ideas of predestination, prayer, and the nature of salvation, and "God's" quote at the end "When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all" did have some deep meaning to it (as in, people tend to remember the bad things people do more than the good things), but fans tended to look into the episode a little too deeply. So much so that writer Mark Pinsky remarked that the episode might cause the viewer to need "to be reminded that this is a cartoon and not a divinity school class."
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has a memetic one: "deviation from the norm will be punished unless it is exploitable". Rudolph is a pariah for his shiny red nose and treated like a freak, but the people who mistreated him change their tune as soon as they realize his red nose can save the day.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Saddlesore Galactica" had Lisa taking part in a competition wherein the other team cheated (by using glow sticks, expressly against the rules) and won. She spends the rest of the episode appealing to progressively higher authorities until finally then-President Bill Clinton himself overturns the results. The aesop in this case is pretty explicitly spelled out: if things don't go your way, you can always whine to someone until they do. Thing is, it was clearly meant to be a Spoof Aesop; Marge points out that a pretty lousy moral to take away from this, and Clinton simply replies that he's a pretty lousy president. Be that as it may, "Calmly and logically appeal to authority figures when faced with an injustice, and escalate to higher authority if you need to" isn't really that bad a moral.
    • Word of God says the Green Aesop of "Trash of the Titans", which arises after Homer, upon becoming Springfield's sanitation commissioner and messing up Springfield so badly that the town is moved 5 miles away, was entirely unintentional.
    • "The Cartridge Family", in which Homer buys a gun and joins the NRA, satirized American gun culture, but Word of God was surprised that viewers saw a strong aesop about the importance of gun safety (they did try to give both sides reasonable arguments), saying that the only message they intended was that irresponsible idiots like Homer should be forbidden from owning guns.
    • The first episode, "Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire" had many animal advocacy groups praising it for bringing attention to the plight of abandoned racing dogs. The writers had no idea at the time that it was such a big issue but were glad to raise awareness of it.
    • "Bart the Murderer", in which Bart is framed for murdering Principal Skinner and only exonerated when Skinner enters the courtroom alive and explains he was trapped in his basement when a stack of newspapers fell on him, has Skinner state "Let this be a lesson to recycle", intended as a Spoof Aesop. With greater awareness of hoarding, this isn't a bad message.
    • In "Homer's Night Out," Marge is angry with Homer after finding a picture of him dancing with a stripper at a work party. The intended moral is "Don't objectify women," but the truth is, Homer and the other men at the party demonstrated perfect etiquette towards exotic dancers which would make a fine moral on its own: don't touch them, don't insult them, and pay them fairly. Another unintended moral is "Don't take a picture of people in a compromised position without their consent," since it was Bart's photo that started the whole mess in the first place.
  • Parodied in-story in South Park episode "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs," the kids decide to write the most offensive book ever written, which to their surprise becomes an instant bestseller, even though people can't stop throwing up when they read it. Almost immediately, people start reading numerous and drastically conflicting political messages in the story. The kids, who only wanted to be offensive, find this all very annoying.
  • As Told by Ginger shows that you might be friends with someone just because you live nearby and/or it's convenient. Why else would Ginger or Macy be friends with Dodie?
  • Much like above, some episodes of The Proud Family show that Penny is only friends with Dijonay and a frienemy with LaCineaga because of inertia (Dijonay was Penny's friend for years) and proximity (They both live nearby Penny). Zoey and Sticky are just about the only one of Penny's friends who actually act like decent people, their only real crimes being that they followed Dijonay and LaCienaga when they were being a Jerkass.
  • Justice League: The first episode, "Secret Origins part 1" likely did not have an intended message, but it demonstrates what many could interpret as a pro nuclear stance, as a general inadvertently gives Batman the idea to fund the Justice League, pointing out that humanity needs powerful weapons and forces to protect themselves. This actually inspires the league to build their own weapon to stop an alien invasion.

Alternative Title(s): Accidental Moral

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