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Alternate Aesop Interpretation

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Yeah, you've kinda got a point there, kid.

Bashir: But the point [of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"] is, if you lie all the time, nobody's going to believe you, even when you're telling the truth.
Garak: Are you sure that's the point, Doctor?
Bashir: Of course; what else could it be?
Garak: That you should never tell the same lie twice.

A Sister Trope to Alternative Character Interpretation, this refers to when the entire moral message of a story is subject to a strong kind of Fridge Logic. As in, while the characters may interpret the Aesop a certain specific way and the writer has also intended for the audience to see it as such, the audience may end up scratching their heads and noting that if the characters had followed a different course of action, they could have avoided most of the complications of the story just as easily.

Again, interpretations are not entirely official and/or logical. It also doesn't have to be a Broken or Clueless Aesop if the realization is positive, although it certainly can be.

Sometimes leads to Unfortunate Implications. For the weasel-worded, Accentuate the Negative troper version, see Warp That Aesop. An in-universe version can be a Spoof Aesop. If an Aesop's overt message is subverted by the story, it's a Broken Aesop, which some (but not all) of the examples below may be.

See also Accidental Aesop, for when An Aesop isn't intended, but fans manage to find one anyway. May involve Glurge.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • If it weren't for the "be safe around trains" line at the end, the Aesop of Dumb Ways to Die would be generally interpreted as "doing foolish things can get you killed, use common sense". Also, since a lot of animal-related deaths were included (such as having your head bit off by a bear after poking it), there's the message "have a healthy respect for wildlife".
  • One Canadian PSA features a man who chews on other people's food, then gives it back, and insists he's not hungry as an allegory for smoking. The moral is meant to be that if you claim to only smoke socially, you're in denial. However, it seems more like it's saying that you should buy your own tobacco instead of stealing your friends' packs, or that by smoking you ruin everyone's air.
  • There was a PSA that featured a teenage boy being offered weed by a stoner several times. Each time, the boy makes up a fake excuse, but then eventually he tells the truth and says, "It's just not for me". However, the stoner is fine with that. The intended moral was not to be pressured into doing drugs, but since the stoner wasn't pressuring the boy, the moral seems more like "smoking weed is fine, but not smoking weed is also fine, and people who don't smoke weed and people who do can get along."

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bakuman。, the main characters read "Classroom of Truth," which deconstructs various shonen tropes such as The Power of Friendship by, among other things, suggesting everyone is only looking out for themselves. However, they notice that the selfish characters died first, and wonder if it, in a way, is meant to promote cooperation.
  • Banished from the Hero's Party, which is set in a world where a God-given Blessing determines your status from birth, attempts to teach Screw Destiny by showing the protagonists going against their Blessings to live a peaceful and happy life in the countryside, and teaching others to do the same in turn. However, Blessings are not just a job or a societal role—they are also a fundamental part of each person that determines his or her unique set of powers as well. For example, Ruti is not the legendary Hero fated to defeat Maou the Demon King and his armies because society said so, but because she is the only person blessed with the power to actually do it. As a result, the protagonists leaving the front lines where their unique gifts and skills were needed to fight off the demon crisis in order to pursue their own happiness running a farm or apothecary ends up affecting many people whose lives are now presumably more at risk, and comes off as an incredibly selfish and callous act. In other words, the aesop instead comes across as "ignore your duties if they don't make you happy and follow your dreams no matter what, even if it makes things worse for countless others".
  • Although in Japan Beastars is supposed to be a commentary on shifting sexual dynamics, especially in regards to the relationship between the unassertive, carnivore male wolf Legoshi and the sexually liberated herbivore rabbit girl Haru, in the United States, the series is interpreted to be about race relations - especially since it became popular on the heels of Zootopia, an American animated movie that does use the carnivore/herbivore dichotomy as a metaphor for race relations.
  • In Episode 11 of Cowboy Bebop, "Toys in the Attic," an Alternative Aesop was acknowledged after Jet lost his money (and clothes) in a card game with Faye. The Aesop he learns from it is that people can achieve something only by honesty and hard work. Faye, however, sees it as a proof that everyone is out for themselves and only the smartest and strongest can survive. Throughout the episode, each character offers their own potential moral for the situation. By far the most sensible is Spike's take: "Don't leave things in the fridge." Another interpretation of Jet's situation at the beginning might be "Don't gamble against someone who you know cheats".
  • The moral of the Gundam franchise is supposedly War Is Hell but viewers have often wondered if the real moral is "Causing a war is bad, yes. But fighting a war defensively and against those who caused it, can be flat out heroic."
  • Sayaka's storyline in Madoka Magica contained the specific message that you aren't entitled to the love of others but also the more broad message of "You shouldn't sacrifice so much for the sake of another, especially if you can't be sure that's what they want." Several episodes later we see at least two more clear examples of characters sacrificing a great deal for the sake of one other person who is currently incapable of protesting (Kyouko dying along with Oktavia so Sayaka doesn't die alone and Homura's...well, everything). Both are considered tragic, but also depicted positively by virtue of being selfless. So now the message is "Grand personal sacrifices for others - including, but not limited to, literal suicide - are totally cool as long as you don't want anything in return."
  • Monster Musume:
    • It has the usual 'bigotry is bad' aesop. It also shows, by the establishment of various flourishing extraspecies businesses, that legal immigration is excellent for the economy.
    • The introduction of Black Lily and the Broker shows us how (non-)human trafficking is rarely what the term makes us perceive it as, and same with its "resource gathering" if it is considered analogous to "sex work". It also shows that, in many ways, the problems in both institutions can be chalked up to the government regulating them without understanding them.
  • Naruto:
    • The Pain Invasion arc. Was it supposed to be about The Power of Friendship, or, rather, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall"?
    • Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto's author, explained in an interview with Viz Media's Shonen Jump that the overall message of the series is that using violence to stop conflicts is wrong and that revenge only causes greater revenge. While violence is portrayed in a less than totally glamorous manner in Naruto, and villains commonly use peace as an excuse for their plans, it does seem to go against the impulsive, always-eager-to-fight nature of its protagonist. Given how the outlandish superpowers and elaborate fight sequences are a big part of the draw, it also smacks of Do Not Do This Cool Thing.
  • The dub of Pokémon: The First Movie changes the Aesop to "Fighting is wrong!" This doesn't make sense in a franchise that revolves around battling, but works a lot better when viewed as about the distinction between safe, voluntary, properly regulated fighting and the brutal fights to the death that Mewtwo is forcing on the Pokémon.

    Comic Books 
  • ElfQuest: In Jink, the Neverending have strict class borders, and intermarriage between them is explicitly forbidden. The God-Emperor tells Jink and Kullyn a story of a warrior from a noble clan that "twined" with a woman from a lower class. When they're found out, the warrior suicides, followed by his beloved once she bears their child. Her last words are to beg the father's clan to take the infant in, and they do. The child grows to be a mighty warrior and excellent scholar, far surpassing all others. Kullyn (correctly) interprets the story as ostensibly upholding cultural mores, but in reality invoking an alternate Aesop and undermining those mores, planting the seed that cross-class children are extraordinary -and resulting in a wider gene pool for the Neverending.
  • While ostensibly a Take That! towards Darker and Edgier plots filled with Corrupt Corporate Executives and politicians, Ed Brubaker's Tom Strong story "The Terrible True Life of Tom Strong", where Tom finds himself in a dream world where his usual enemies are goverment agents hiding his existence from the world can also be read as a criticism of conspiracy theorists - Tom breaks out of his coma when he realizes that no world could be so completely controlled by hidden agendas and corrupt cabals.
  • Tricked is a graphic novel in which we find out at the end of the story that the moral the surviving characters took from the plot was "guns are bad". But, the access Steve had to his deceased grandfather's guns was just dumb luck. Steve himself didn't know whether his grandmother had gotten rid of the guns until he was already there. By contrast, Steve's mental illness and erratic behavior was observed and commented upon by several characters in the story, but they all decide it's not their issue and let Steve go on his merry way. In terms of preventing the situation that makes up the climax of the book, better mental health awareness probably would have been a lot more help than gun control advocacy.
  • In Usagi Yojimbo, Usagi's master tells a young Usagi the story of the Honest Axe, and asks him to interpret the moral. Since the villager received the gold axe, young Usagi proclaims the answer to be "honesty will be rewarded". His master points out that a gold axe is useless in cutting wood, and the villager died the next winter. The lesson the master learned is "beware the gifts of those who bear you a grudge", which misses the tale's point entirely. Useless for cutting wood though the axe may be, being of solid gold, it can be melted down for a considerable amount of money.

    Fairytales and Folklore 
  • Bluebeard:
    • The intended message of Bluebeard is "being curious is wrong" but it fails when the Bluebeard's wife survives being caught and eventually is rewarded with a better husband. Many argue that "Be curious!" or "Be curious but cautious" (because the lady drops the key in the blood) would be a more appropriate moral. Other alternate interpretations are "don't marry a serial killer" and "don't give your wife/potential victim the key to your red room."
    • In a variation of the Bluebeard tale, "Fitcher's Bird", where the husband is a sorcerer or giant and makes women marry him, the wife is given an egg and a key. The elder sisters drop the egg in the blood, but the third leaves the egg in the kitchen, sees the mess, rescues her sisters, and makes her way home after setting up a trap to kill the giant. Being curious and clever saved the day.
  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf:
    • While the intended moral is "Don't tell lies", the structure of the story itself makes "Never tell the same lie twice" a more easily deduced moral (since the villagers stopped believing the boy after he repeatedly lied that there was a wolf).
    • Also, even liars can tell the truth sometimes and you win nothing by ignoring a call for help. From the pragmatic point of view, the aesop of The Boy Who Cried Wolf is "better safe than sorry." The boy is the inventor of the training alert!
    • "Don't trust known liars—especially children—with important responsibilities, such as watching sheep."
    • Also: "A broken clock is right twice a day" in regards to false positives. From the villagers' point of view, the moment they stopped caring about the boy's cries altogether was the moment they had no security at all for the sheep.
    • Combining the above interpretations: if your lookout keeps acting up, fire that stupid kid and get somebody competent and honest to do the job instead.
  • The Grasshopper and the Ants:
    • In addition to the obvious moral about producing for a living rather than spending all your time playing, one moral could be "If you're going to spend your time doing art, get paid to do it." It wouldn't have killed the grasshopper to find some paying customers for his musical performances. The Disney version, in order to create a happy ending, explicitly has the Queen Ant allow the grasshopper to stay with the ants in exchange for playing music to them. Even though he then sings about how he was wrong before, this ends up completely flipping the Aesop into two bizarre directions: if you see the grasshopper singing and playing previously as his necessary practice, it's the valid (but unusual) moral "just because something doesn't look like work to you, doesn't mean it isn't". If you see the grasshopper as just a natural musician who was just at leisure and not striving to improve at music, it's "some people, by virtue of natural talent, will just never have to do anything like work".
    • This is made doubly ironic by the grasshopper's song having the lyrics "oh, the world owes us a living". After being saved by the ants, he changes it to "oh, I owe the world a living"...even though the ants now actually are effectively paying him his living in exchange for the song.
    • In many versions of the classic fable, they have until winter to build shelter or they will freeze (or starve, interpretations vary). The ant survives and the grasshopper doesn't. The audience is supposed to conclude "Grasshopper bad, work good." But considering the biological reality flips the Aesop almost completely. While a worker ant can live up to 7 years, a grasshopper has only a 1 year lifespan; and both insects are cold-blooded, meaning their activity level is forced to reduce in the cold. So if a grasshopper did spend spring and summer preparing for winter, it would spend the most active period of its life in hard labor (rarely is the length of "winter" or "summer" specified), then hide under a rock unable to move for 3-6 months, and if it didn't get eaten by a predator in that time it would die of old age anyway. "Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" becomes literally true.
  • While some might use Little Red Riding Hood as a cautionary tale about Stranger Danger or obeying your parents, some contemporary readers might see the Aesop as, "Have discretion and be careful of the info you give" or "If you can't tell your grandma from a wolf at first glance, then you're probably too young to go out by yourself". Note 
  • The aesop of "The North Wind and Sun" is supposed to be that benevolence (sunshine) is a better way to get along with people than outright hostility (north wind), but the sunshine doesn't really work as "benevolence" as it still made the man with the coat uncomfortable, it just did it in a more subtle way than the wind by using gentle manipulation over brute force. Hence, the lesson can be interpreted as "indirect and subtle attacks work usually better than all-out assaults" instead.
  • An alternative Aesop for The Pied Piper of Hamelin would be "Always ask for your money up front before doing anything." In the case of Hamelin it could be "Don't make promises you don't intend to keep", or more narrowly "Always pay your contractors".
  • In "The Satyr and the Peasant", the satyr kicks the peasant out of his home for blowing hot and cold in the same breath (hot when he's trying to warm his cold hands, cold when he's trying to cool off his hot soup), therefore proving himself untrustworthy. Some people have noted the peasant's breath is obviously the same temperature both times and the satyr, not being human, has never seen a man blow on his hands or his soup before, making the lesson "The ignorant fear what they don't understand."
  • The moral of The Sorcerer's Apprentice is usually interpreted as a warning against going on a Phlebotinum Joyride, i.e., using something you don't understand, since you might not be able to control it. While this aesop can be applicable in real life, an earlier version of the story, showing up in the classical Greek dialog Lover of Lies, makes it clear from context that the "apprentice" telling the story made the whole thing up, and is invoking Power Incontinence as an excuse to not show his friends the spell. In that case, the aesop is "be skeptical of claims when there's a convenient excuse for the lack of proof".
  • "Stone Soup"/"Nail Soup"
    • The story of "Stone Soup", in which a hungry traveler comes to a village that is unwilling to share any food, but manages to get everyone to pitch in to make "stone soup", simply by putting a stone and some water in a pot. The generally accepted interpretation is that this is a story about the power of cooperation and sharing, but a more cynical interpretation may be that the traveler managed to convince the villagers to give their food in the hopes of getting something out of it, and thus managed to get a meal despite his own contribution being minimal.
    • In some versions from the era of Sacred Hospitality, the traveler only cons one very stingy person, usually a woman. The person is so stingy they refuse to give a scrap of stale bread or a hard floor to sleep on, yet agrees, first begrudgingly and then with increasing enthusiasm, to put in the ingredients the traveler says they need to make their "soup" just that much better. The Aesop might be, don't be overly stingy, or you'll wind up giving or paying more than you expected.
  • The Tortoise and the Hare:
    • The story is normally interpreted as, "Slow and steady wins the race," but depending on the telling, it can be taken as, "Don't succumb to hubris when you have a clear advantage." Many examples, from American political elections to the Console Wars, bear this moral out pretty well.
    • In some versions, the Tortoise outright cheats - there are multiple tortoises or the tortoise rides on the hare. In these cases the moral is "Brains over Brawn", but one can read it as "It's OK to cheat"; although for the latter in turn given the Hare's boastful arrogance, the moral would qualify as "It's fine to cheat if it teaches someone a lesson" or, from the Hare's point of view, “being a rude jerk means no one will listen to you and play by your rules".
  • The Ugly Duckling:
    • It's often considered to have a moral about not discriminating against people based on their appearance, but this is broken by him turning into a beautiful swan in the end. A more useful way to look at it might be an acknowledgment that different times and cultures have different standards of beauty. A person considered ugly as sin in their native culture might be found to be drop-dead-gorgeous in another (the ancient Greeks, for example, were so big on women with freaking UNIBROWS that women would give themselves fake ones using animal hairs and wax!). In other words, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." It helps that baby swans, or cygnets, aren't really that ugly, which lends credence to the idea that the "Ugly Duckling" was only ugly according to duck beauty standards
    • Another moral it's often considered to have is "If you feel like an outsider, you may be in the wrong group."
    • One moral some people get from it is "People change over time" — you might be ugly as a child but grow up to be beautiful.
  • Everyone knows the intended lesson of the expression "The early bird gets the worm," but what does this mean from the worm's point of view? He got up early and he died. So much for being early. Shel Silverstein summarized it thusly: "If you're a bird, be an early bird, but if you're a worm, sleep late."
    • "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." We know what that's supposed to mean, but what about this maxim from the cheese's point of view? Go down fighting, and at least take one of them down with you.
  • The famous American folk ballad of John Henry is traditionally presented as a story about a man nobly clinging to tradition and defending the rights of working people, setting an example for fellow underdogs by being Defiant to the End. Notably, though, some songs about John Henry frame his story as more of a cautionary tale about the perils of overwork, presenting Henry as a man who pointlessly worked himself to death for his exploitative employers out of pride. This interpretation is the source of the "hammer song", a subgenre of folk song (traditionally sung by African-American railway workers or convict laborers) used to gently remind one's fellow workers not to work too hard—lest they end up like John Henry.
    "Oh this old hammer killed John Henry,
    But it won't kill me,
    No it won't kill me!"

    Fan Works 
  • The stated purpose of Friendship is Failure is to prove that friendship can't really solve everything. A lot of readers tend to agree, but for an entirely different reason than the author intended. The protagonists of the series are so unlikable (To the point it was the first fan fic to have its own page for Unintentionally Unsympathetic) that the message is less "There are some problems friendship just doesn't solve" but rather "there are some people so irredeemable and self-absorbed that you shouldn't even bother trying to help them." It doesn’t help that the author repeatedly tries to prove his point by just having his characters refuse to be satisfied unless things go exactly their way and will not accept any attempts to make amends over even the most minor of slights.
  • The author of The Stalking Zuko Series strongly disapproved of how Aang stole Ozai's bending abilities without killing him in the Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and so has many characters criticize Aang's decision and blame him for what happened. Since Aang's near-obsession with upholding Air Nomad values is treated as a character flaw, the intended message seems to be that "You must listen to what others have to say and compromise your ideals for the greater good." Others, however, suggest that in the context of what happened, the Aesop can be read as "It's sometimes easier to kill your enemies than leave them alive to face justice for their crimes."note 

    Films — Animated 
  • The Bad Guys (2022): Along with the Good Feels Good moral, a lot of conflict in the film is caused by Wolf and the other Bad Guys' need for attention and respect, with everything and everyone coming around perfectly for them as soon as they start doing things out of sincere intuition. It could be interpreted as a parable against being a "tryhard" and doing things for the sake of peers or respect as much as simply not being a bad person.
  • Coco: There are two examples that can be interpreted if you read between the 'Family comes first' and the 'let your children follow their dreams' aesops. According to this Cracked article (the 2nd entry), an aesop that can be taken from is the potential damage a Fantasy-Forbidding Father can do to your descendants, especially the latest generation who could have radically different views from the original. The second example is that love is more, if not only sincere, if the parties involved get along despite their differences rather than their lack of. The only reason Miguel getting his guitar smashed is remotely considered a good thing was because it sparked the chain of events that led to him learning the truth in the Land of the Dead. If this is the real world, Miguel would have still attended the festival with the stolen guitar before returning home a shell of his former self and being forced to learn a trade he has no passion in. This is a situation faced by many real children raised in strict traditional and/or religious households who were never given a chance to express themselves unlike Miguel.
    "Because loving someone, supporting someone — sometimes it means loving and supporting things you don't particularly care for or understand. Because it's important to that person, and that person is important to you. Family, as it turns out, matters."
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney) Besides the major ones the movie has such as not judging a person by their appearance, an Aesop can be drawn from the movie about how you won't always end up with the person you like nor can you make them like you. Sometimes you will simply be Just Friends and you should support and respect their choice.
  • The Incredibles's message is railing against Tall Poppy Syndrome. However, many people see Syndrome as a warning about what happens when toxic fandom goes unchecked, as Syndrome felt so slighted by Mr. Incredible's rejection of him that he set out to destroy him and all other superheroes. Honest Trailers would lampshade this interpretation with "He's a nerd who loves something so much, that when it didn't live up to his expectations he declared war on it!"
  • Kung Fu Panda:
    • The obvious moral is to always Be Yourself. However, the story conveys this moral by having Po understand the meaning of the Dragon Scroll when Tai Lung couldn't: The secret to limitless power is within oneself; the scroll isn't blank, it's reflective. Tai Lung's entire life is rendered pointless because even if he'd been given the scroll, there was nothing in it for him to abuse, and when he loses to Po, it's not because Po is a better combatant, it's because Po is an Instant Expert who is naturally immune to his best attacks and learned an instant-death attack after seeing it performed once. Add this to the Arc Words "there are no accidents", and it seemingly boils down to Hard Work Hardly Works. Fate is what determines your success, not your own effort.
    • Considering that Po’s Instant Expert status effectively came about through a combination of his genuine love of the art and Shifu finally taking his training seriously enough to tailor it to Po’s strengths, one could see the moral as “encourage and enable a person’s interests and you may be surprised by how capable they really are” or “not everyone learns the same way, so you need to understand your students to best bring out their potential”.
  • The Lion King moral is: don't run from the pain of your past, face it and grow, except Simba's tragic past never happened, it was all a lie. Until he clears his name, no one stands with him, not even his mother or his childhood friend-turned-lover, who specifically convinced him to return because Pride Rock needed him to return and take his rightful place as king. Compare this to when he first runs off: he meets Timon and Pumbaa and lives a happy (if bug-eating) life in a lush green paradise, utterly free of judgment and blame for something he didn't even do. Given that, the moral seems more like, "Once people think you did something wrong, nobody will forgive you unless you can prove someone else is at fault, so you might as well run away and start a new life".
  • Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure: The scene with the Greedy obviously teaches viewers not to be greedy or gluttonous. However, there are two other morals you can get based on how uncomfortable the heroes are around him:
    • First is your typical "stranger danger" message. Raggedy Ann, Andy, and the Camel see that the Greedy is getting aggressive and clingy, and realize that they have to escape. Strangers often can do terrible things to you, and it's often best to stay away. This comes up again when the heroes meet Sir Leonard Loony, who they are also clearly afraid of.
    • Similarly, the scene teaches that you don't always have to help people. The heroes are usually very polite. They listen to the Greedy's tale of woe, and then the Greedy insists that they have to help them. Raggedy Ann politely explains that they'd like to help him, but they can't. Ann feels bad for the Greedy because she has a good heart, but she realizes that she has to look out for herself and her friends too. Conversely, do not take advantage of nice people. They may want to help you, but they are not obligated to do so, and if you always expect them to do so, you'll most likely end up hurting them. And as Raggedy Ann and Andy show, even nice people can fight back.
  • Wreck-It Ralph:
    • The main message is "Be Yourself"; the main conflict of the story is caused by Ralph, the villain of an arcade game, leaving his game and entering another game where he can become a hero, only to end up letting one of the monstrous Cy-Bugs from this arcade game into a third game, where it lays eggs and quickly becomes a threat to the entire arcade. At the climax of the film, Ralph manages to save the day by luring all of the bestial Cy-Bugs into a bright and massive explosion, using his massive fists to dislodge the giant Mentos used in the explosion. The point of this is to show that Ralph attempting to be someone he is not caused the problem, whereas being the person he is fixed it... but he didn't choose to be the villain of his arcade game, the role was forced upon him. As such, the message can go from "Be Yourself" to "Don't be who you want to be, be the person everyone else wants you to be".
    • An Alternate-alternate Aesop, and one more family-friendly to boot, might be that "sometimes the job you want isn't the one you're best suited for", and/or "even if you really hate your job, you should stick with it if it's a really important one".
    • Another interpretation might be "be appreciative of your co-workers doing their jobs; they are people too and deserve to be treated fairly", since Ralph's problems come from the Nicelanders treating him like dirt just because of his job as the villain.
  • Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue: The special features a heavy-handed Drugs Are Bad message, but with other lessons, one can take away.
    • Some people took away from this special that if you take drugs, all of your favorite cartoon characters will start talking to you.
    • The subplot with Corey seems to have as its moral, "Be more attentive to your younger siblings and cognizant of how your actions can influence them." While the amount of grief Michael gets for pot is insane, his neglecting his younger sister and making her think she needs to get high to get his attention is a genuine fault and he ought to be setting a better example for her.
    • Parental Neglect has consequences. If that father wasn't so damned obsessed with beers, he probably would notice Michael's suspicious behavior.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • What eventually became Act of Valor was always intended to be a recruitment video for the U.S. Navy SEALS. And yet with an outcome of roughly half the team becoming casualties in the film's 1- to 6-week span, including one guy losing his eye, one guy getting shot repeatedly and sustaining major injuries, and one guy dying and leaving behind a widow expecting a child, the long version of the moral seems to pretty clearly be, "These guys are heroes because they get horrible outcomes on a regular basis." Which is arguably pretty good for only attracting the most committed for the SEALS, but might ultimately be counterproductive for Navy recruitment as a whole.
  • Back to the Future Part III: While the main moral of the movie is "don't pick stupid fights out of wounded pride", the main conflict with Buford Tannen isn't exactly resolved through pacifism and being the bigger man. Buford is a temperamental maniac who kills for petty reasons, and Marty has to fight him to save Doc, which he does through underhanded means. The real messages of the movie seem to be "don't seek out conflict, but be prepared to defend yourself against a maniac" and "be smart in a fight because your opponent won't likely play fair."
  • The Breakfast Club.
    • The common interpretation is that the titular teens could overcome their differences by finding common ground and appreciating the uniqueness of each of their characters. The more cynical interpretation is that the characters didn't actually learn anything: At the end of the movie, their narrative function is what you'd expect from their character types. The girl with rich parents hooks up with the bad boy, the jock gets with the loner after she gets a makeover, and the nerd is the only one who puts any actual work into the assignment. Made even worse by the message of the loner and the jock's hookup being "Boys will like you as long as you dress how they want."
    • It's also easy to take away the message, 'It's ok for people from different cliques and walks of life to get along, as long as no-one else knows, and the popular members of the gang will most likely ignore everyone else again the next day, as though nothing happened.'
  • The main moral of The Dark Knight is "A symbol sometimes matters more than the man behind the symbol, no matter what steps you need to take to protect it", as represented by Harvey Dent and how Batman takes the public fall so Joker doesn't succeed in corrupting him. However, especially if you take The Dark Knight Rises into account, one can instead read it as the opposite: Idolatrizing figures is a mistake since even the most apparently perfect will be flawed, and everyone needs to take responsibility to improve their lifes, not depend on the actions of certain individuals.
  • Inglorious Basterds has been subject to criticism over an Ax-Crazy Jewish-American WWII commando who commits war crimes on a regular basis to fight the Third Reich. In the climax of the movie, Nazi high command is locked in a burning room eerily resembling a gas chamber. While to concerned onlookers this might seem as if Quentin Tarantino has gone overboard this time with blind Nazi hate, there might actually be a point to all this. Early on in the movie, the Big Bad Hans Landa compares the Jews to rats, but also claims fear of rats is irrational, since squirrels are rodents and spread the same diseases but share none of the stigma. If this is the intent, then the real message of Inglorious Basterds would be "War crimes are war crimes, regardless of which side commits them."
  • As Honest Trailers noted, the real moral of Gone Girl is "Don't have sex with crazy people!"
  • Fatal Attraction has "Don't have sex with crazy people!", along with "Don't commit adultery with crazy people either; people will be less inclined to help you because you're a jerk."
  • High-Rise: Several argue that The Tower more closely resembles Socialism than Capitalism; as the Architect's vision flies in the face of what any self-respecting Capitalist would do. There's apparently only one supermarket; Royal's cronies only acknowledge competition after things go to shit; the explicit mention of all floors having the same price, as well as not looking worse than each other; the lack of any law enforcement to protect private property, etc. Throw in buzzwords like "idealism" and "change"; one of Royal's crooked cronies saying he "works for the building, not [him]"; the closest thing to a leftist is depicted as a barbaric, egomaniacal, rapist brute; the overt connection of the Tower's failure to "human nature" (whereas Capitalism thrives on it); the Architect's declaration of his failure being putting too much in one basket (a central critique of Socialism); and Jeremy Irons in a central role note ; and the film seems more and more like a Starship Troopers-style parody of its source material.
  • Idiocracy:
  • Jew Süss (1940): As an antisemitic Nazi hate film, its intended message is "Jews are parasites". But the film can also be interpreted as a condemnation of unbridled greed and ambition. The Duke's dream to build Wurttemberg is what allows him to be manipulated by Suss. Suss' inability to control his greed and lust for power is what drives many people against him, with his rabbi warning him that his unbridled avarice will be his downfall.
  • Ostensibly Jurassic Park (1993) (and Michael Crichton's original book) have the moral "Be careful about playing God with nature." A Reddit meme humorously observes that part of the problem at the park was caused by the geneticists not realizing they were giving the cloned dinosaurs the ability to switch sexes, resulting in the Space Whale Aesop "Support trans rights or get eaten by dinosaurs."
    • You could also interpret the moral of the story as "don't skimp on security measures when dealing with dangerous animals".
  • Kamen Rider Zi-O: Over Quartzer: The summer movie for Kamen Rider Zi-O is a celebration of the Heisei Era of the franchise - a Massive Multiplayer Crossover of various iterations of Kamen Rider throughout the years with rather little story beyond "Here is bad guy, go stop him"; Zi-O's time-travel gimmick justifying various cameos, set-pieces and in-jokes. The film's Big Bad is motivated by a desire to replace the Heisei Era with a "more consistent" one, effectively making him an evil parody of a lore-obsessed fanboy. The final battle sees Zi-O summon various non-canon side characters/formsnote  to defend it. While the film's "message" is simply accepting the fact that the Heisei Era should be treasured despite its warts and flaws, The film's final battle (coupled with SOUGO's Cosmic Retcon / Fix Fic motives) can be seen as the franchise lashing out at fans it's tired of, saying "Who cares about canon so much? Just embrace the camp."
  • Labyrinth:
    • Adults don't have to give up fantasy and childish things, we just have to make sure to keep our priorities straight.
    • As an extension of the growing-up Sarah does over the course of the film, part of what she has to realize is that sometimes, it's just not fair. The situation you're in puts you at a disadvantage, and although you may not be able to change your situation, you are able to choose how you handle it. To declare "You have no power over me" is directly rejecting Jareth's manipulations and tyranny, and sets the tone for Sarah's independence from her parents.
    • It can also be interpreted as a direct subversion of the typical coming-of-age moral, because Sarah admits at the end that she still does need her imaginary friends by her side. Growing up doesn't mean rejecting everything you loved as a child just because you were a child when you came to love it, growing up means learning to love those things as an adult.
    • Communication is important. At the beginning, Sarah is upset because her stepmother didn't check if Sarah had any plans that would interfere with babysitting Toby. Throughout the movie, Sarah falls deeper into the Labyrinth because she takes others' comments at face value without asking for critical details.
    • Another Aesop could be interpreted from Sarah's attitude to Toby. At the start, she takes out her frustrations from how her parents are treating her on him. But when the baby is put in danger, she realises he's an innocent and he didn't do anything to deserve how she treated him. In the end, she lets him play with her stolen teddy bear, understanding that the baby isn't responsible for how her parents mistreat her. The Aesop here could be that one has no control over how others treat them, but they can control how they respond and react to that, and shouldn't punish innocent people because of it.
    • Adults (and parents in particular) aren't necessarily any more emotionally mature or responsible than children; if the adults in your life can't or won't guide you when you need it, your imagination and the ideals you pull from the culture around you and from within your own self can guide you in their stead.
  • mother! (2017) is allegedly a massive Green Aesop allegory for Mother Nature and humanity, where humanity runs amok destroying the "house" that is the earth until Mother Nature gets pushed too far, enacts Gaia's Vengeance, and the world is forced to begin anew. A lot of people instead read it as being about Muse Abuse suffered by women in relationships with male artists, who are mistreated by the artist's "fans" as the artist goes through a cycle of exploitation with a new muse after the old one is used up. Supporting this theory is that Mother Nature does not survive the remaking of the "world" and is replaced by a newer, younger model while we realize the character Him has done this all before.
    Richard Brody: Aronofsky has long strained after art of a vast mythopoetic magnitude. In “Mother!,” he achieves it—but not at all in the way that he thinks. This morning, on Twitter, someone asked me, “What was the point of the biblical references if the movie is basically about how much it sucks to be in a relationship with a male artist?,” to which my response was, “Exactly.” In other words, “mother!” isn’t an allegory except by directorial decree.
  • Not Okay: The fact that Danni's story totally unravels once Harper looks at it with any scrutiny (given that Danni got basic details like the weather at the time of the attack and whether or not the tourist attractions she visited were open at the time wrong) could be seen as a commentary on the responsibility of the media to verify claims before spreading them, and how often they fail to uphold that responsibility. Just like Danni, many grifters get a platform because they have a compelling story or seem charming and draw in an audience. While they're responsible for their own actions and how their lies hurt people, the media outlets supporting them also hold some blame for not properly verifying their claims or presenting them critically. (Compare to the case of Belle Gibson, a wellness influencer who infamously faked having cancer and parlayed that into a fitness app and later-cancelled memoir. When the scandal broke, it came out that her publisher had been informed by a whistleblower months prior that Belle was lying, but they did nothing to try and verify her claims and continued forward with the deal anyway.)
  • Red Dawn (1984), which has long been regarded as a Red Scare Cult Classic among American conservatives, has also been called a subversive anti-war movie. It humanises the regular Joe Russian soldiers occupying the country, shows the painful effects war has on civilians and especially on Child Soldiers, and the general desperate futility of it all. After all is said and done, all that heroism and hardship, all but one of the Wolverines are killed and all that remains of them is a set of names carved into a rock, a lonely memorial visited by few.
  • A common interpretation of Woman of the Year (1942) can be summed up as "Tess is punished for being a strong woman, and is made to eat Humble Pie at the end so that Sam can 'win' the Battle of the Sexes." However, a more positive reading is that Tess learns that marriage requires time and attention—more than she has been willing so far to take away from her work—and her Epic Fail attempt to become purely domestic merely shows that she hasn't immediately found the proper balance (which Sam encourages her to find).
  • The VVitch actually has a happy ending in a weird kind of way for its protagonist Thomasin, despite its Downer Ending as a whole. As a young woman living in the fairly oppressive and misogynistic 1630s Puritan society, her prospects in life don't go much beyond "being sold off to another family to become a housewife and mother". On top of that, she's already clearly The Unfavorite of her own family. By joining up with the coven, she's now free to do as she pleases and as Black Phillip puts it, "live deliciously".

    Literature 
  • George Orwell's intention behind Nineteen Eighty-Four was to denounce the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and a general denouncement of totalitarianism (not to be confused with authoritarianism). Most of the people who read it, however, come out believing it's about the horrors of censorship, dictatorship, propaganda, and anything that isn't democracy and libertarianism. Bonus points for quoting "absolute power corrupts, absolutely." (Orwell despised it when people resorted to using other people's words to make a point, or using one-word stock responses.) Orwell himself was a dedicated democratic socialist.
    • Likewise, Orwell's Animal Farm is often taken as a description of the inevitable collapse of socialism, when it was more intended as a study of how socialism can go wrong if not applied correctly.
  • Anna's Story was a sympathetic account of Australian schoolgirl Anna Wood's death by water intoxication after taking ecstasy. Obviously, the intended aesop was Drugs Are Bad. However, since Anna's friends waffled for way too long about getting her medical attention after it became very obvious that she was deteriorating, the equally important lesson learned could be that if you're going to take drugs with friends, have decent friends. Alternatively (and a bit more generously to Anna's friends, who were mostly guilty of little more than naivete and inexperience), if you're going to take drugs, make sure you and the people you're with know what the potential consequences are and what the best course of action to take in case of something going wrong is.
  • In Candide, what does the final message of "We must cultivate our garden" really mean? Does it promote isolationism, giving up hope for the world at large and focusing only on building a decent life for yourself and your personal group? Or does the "garden" symbolize the entire world, with the message being that we should work to improve it? For that matter, is that final line really meant to be the aesop of the book?
  • In The Cold Equations, the intended aesop is that sometimes there isn't a third option and the best Science Hero sometimes has to Shoot the Dog and take the lesser evil. But the alternative message is that the unexpected is going to happen, and no mission planner worth anything should send a mission out with no margin for error.
  • Are we supposed to sympathize with the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?? Reams of text have been written supporting either interpretation.
  • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel The Knight, the Fool and the Dead has a series of interludes telling the story of "Godfather Death". When someone concludes that the moral of the story is you can't cheat Death, the Doctor insists that of course you can cheat Death (it worked the first time, after all), but you have to keep moving and always have a back-up plan in case he catches up with you.
  • In the Dragon Age novel Last Flight, the intended Aesop (and the one the characters seem to take away) seems to be that the Grey Wardens' "Anything justifies the Blight being defeated" attitude is destructive and self-defeating with the death of the Griffons. The author himself has said that an equally valid aesop is, War Is Hell and "the price of victory is often high and occasionally horrific."
  • Buzzfeed took a second look at various works by Dr. Seuss. Some of these are particularly Green Aesops. Considering the author, it is possible that these are the intended lessons for adult readers, although most of those listed are actually the primary aesop intended for the book. The books were written to work on two levels: the timeless children's morality tale and political commentary on current events (for example, Marvin K. Mooney is Nixon). It's not as surprising when you realize that the first drawings he published were anti-Nazi political cartoons starting in the late 1930s.
    • Green Eggs and Ham is especially odd in the two levels it has. At first glance, it's about why it's a good idea to try new things. Unfortunately, it also has the message "no matter how often someone has told you they don't like something, keep pushing and badgering and harassing them into trying it - they'll like it and thank you in the end." Or, even more so, "freedom doesn't work" - in the sense that offering someone a free choice will often result in them taking the option that's worse for everyone, including themselves.
    • The Lorax is about the importance of nature conservancy, but the problems faced by The Once-Ler result from pure deforestation, when clear cutting and mass reforestation, i.e. planting a new Truffula tree for every tree cut down, or farming Truffula trees in other words, would have prevented everything, including his company closing up and moving elsewhere. The first animated version addresses this by having the Lorax explain that the trees are extremely slow growing; even if they had embraced the practice the forest would be clear cut before the replacements were more than sprouts (a real-world limitation of the practice for many kinds of tree).
      • Even in the other versions of The Lorax (especially the 2012 film, where Truffula trees are actually shown to grow extremely quickly), the Lorax never tries to suggest the idea of sustainable logging practices to the Once-Ler, or even point out that no more trees means no more Thneeds means no more profit. With that in mind, one could interpret them as having a secondary moral of "If you want to make a difference, offer solutions instead of just complaining". Especially considering that all versions have the Once-Ler give his visitor the last remaining Truffula seed and instruct him to replant the forest.
  • The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant:
    • Some new readers have taken away An Aesop about cancer, capitalism, or some other accepted part of life. The rare, reconstructed stance that aging is a genetic disorder we must cure goes over their head.
    • From the dragon's perspective, the story could easily turn into an allegory about resource conservation. The dragon cleverly uses humans as self-renewing livestock instead of quickly gobbling them up, which would leave it with no food.
  • Fahrenheit 451 is almost universally interpreted to be about government censorship on literature being used to control the population. As late as the 1980s, Bradbury himself stated that the book is about censorship. In his old age, however, Bradbury came out insisting that he'd always intended the book to be about how crappy television is. Critics have wisely chosen to ignore Bradbury's assertions, and a UCLA class drove him from the room by telling him to his face that he was simply wrong about his own book.
  • The Giving Tree: Many interpret this picture book as the relationship of unconditional love between a parent and a child, but others see it as more blunt and straightforward: man selfishly takes from nature and never gives back, yet nature has no choice but just to give. Others think it means you shouldn't give too much, which is the opposite of its original moral. This makes and already sad book all the more of a Tearjerker.
  • In-Universe in Gravity Falls: Journal 3: when Fiddleford McGucket sarcastically tells Ford to remember the story of Icarus, Ford immediately retorts "Icarus didn't flap hard enough!"
  • Harriet the Spy includes a Hard Truth Aesop "Sometimes you have to lie to people to help them feel better about themselves so they won't hate you" via the likely unintentional Aesop "The things you write in your personal journal should not be an honest representation of your thoughts because someone reading it without permission might be offended." There's also the Aesop of "if you want to keep something private, don't take it to school."
  • Harry Potter:
    • The obvious moral of the series is love is more powerful than evil. There are probably many possible alternative morals, but one easy one is: If you're putting all your security eggs in one basket (or six horcruxes), keep track of those friggin' baskets. Another is "Don't let your arrogance override your intelligence." This one is even mentioned in-story as Voldemort's greatest weakness; he cannot even conceive someone being as clever as him. Had he even a sliver of humility and made a horcrux out of, say, a random rock and tossed it into a lake, he'd be unstoppable. Then again, the same flaw is also the crux of his motivation and modus operandi in the first place. If he did possess some humility and care, then, as Dumbledore pointed out in book six, he wouldn't have been Lord Voldemort.
    • Yet another one is "Don't keep trying the same thing over and over after it's already failed several times." Seriously, after failing to kill Harry with Avada Kedavra three times, you'd think he'd have tried something else the next time!
    • There's an In-Universe one with the fairy-tale, The Tale of the Three Brothers. The brothers come across death and he gives each of them a magical object for their cleverness. The eldest brother, Antioch, wanted an all-powerful wand (colloquially known as the Elder Wand) so he could beat a man with whom he had a quarrel. The problem is that Antioch went around talking about how he had such a powerful wand that could beat death so someone slit his throat in his sleep for it. Although the intended moral of the story is about accepting death's role in life, Ron says he thinks the message is that if you have an all-powerful magical object, you shouldn't run around blabbing about it like an idiot. Further adding credence to this theory is that a recent master had it stolen from him for blabbing about it as well and that Dumbledore had had it for about fifty years when he died, seemingly the longest holder of it and only Grindelwald (whom he beat for it) and Snape knew.
  • Most readers interpreted the moral of I Kissed Dating Goodbye as "Do volunteer work as a substitute for having a significant other" instead of the intended message of "Do not forget about spirituality (including, but not limited to, serving others) simply because you wish for romantic love".
  • Johnny the Walrus is meant to have an anti-transgender moral: children are too young to understand their identity, and thus shouldn't be allowed to undergo gender transition (or, in this case, species transition) no matter how much peer pressure they or their parents face. This message falls apart, however, because Johnny himself isn't the one who wants to transition (in fact, he complains about how miserable it makes him); rather, it's forced upon him by his mother because she doesn't want to be called "phobic" by her internet peers. Because of this, it's very easy to draw the complete opposite message from the story: parents should listen to their children when they say they do or don't identify a certain way, and not force them to act or dress in a way that doesn't match their identity.
  • An example so famous it's taught in US History classes is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair was trying to convert Americans to socialism with a story about the horrors of capitalism made manifest in meat processing plants. Unfortunately for his intended message, all anyone noticed was the description of how sickeningly unsanitary the meat processing plants were, leading less to "Oh, the poor oppressed workers!" and more to "Oh, the poor oppressed workers are in my food!" which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Sinclair put it best when he said "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
  • The Little Red Hen is known for its aesop that if you want something, you have to work for it. However, you can also get the exact opposite moral from the story; the first thing that happens in the story is the little red hen coming across some wheat seeds - had the hen never found those, no bread would ever have been made. Because finding the seeds didn't require work, you can interpret it as saying that luck is needed to reach success.
  • The stated aesop in Aristophanes' Lysistrata might be interpreted as stating that if Athens and Sparta teamed up instead of fighting each other, they would be unstoppable and have the rest of Greece at their mercy. In modern times, the play is generally considered to have a pacifist and/or feminist message. These are justified in so far as the play does portray the war as hurting both sides and acknowledges (albeit in a humorous way) that war has a toll on female civilians. However, given the Ancient Greek opinions of women, it seems that his message was more like "even women are smart enough to know this war is bad."
  • In Memoirs of a Geisha, Hatsumomo's story could be an interpretation that Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful! is not going to work in the long run. Hatsumomo treats everyone horribly because of her status and never once considered the consequences of alienating everyone around her. But when she starts to age and another younger and prettier geisha comes along, no one has any reason to put up with Hatsumomo. Even Hatsumomo's plan to have her pupil Pumpkin inherit the okiya failed as Mrs Nitta would rather adopt Sayuri, purely so she wouldn't have to put up with Hatsumoto (who would only use Pumpkin as her puppet).
  • The Pendragon Adventure: In Black Water, the world Eelong features a world where the cat people Klees keep the humans, Gars, as pets and slaves. The message is an anti-racist and anti-slavery message, but can be read as being pro-animal rights, because you might not like it if your roles were reversed.
  • Pet Sematary has the characters making use of/being compelled to use an ancient burial ground to resurrect beloved animals and family members...with fatal consequences. Although the message of the story is probably about the need to accept mortality, a lot of audience takeaway has looked more like "install a fence around your garden if you live near a busy road, let alone if you have small children" or "don't have an outdoor cat."
  • The message of The Poisonwood Bible is ostensibly that colonialism is bad. However, since the book focuses on an American family of Baptist missionaries in the Congo in the 1950s rather than Europeans or Africans at colonialism’s peak half a century earlier, it can be seen as more anti-fundamentalism rather than anti-colonialism. Nathan, the patriarch of the family, doesn’t become a crazy hobo who dies for his cause because of colonialism, he becomes a crazy hobo because he refuses to sway from his literal interpretation of the Bible, has no desire to actually learn about the cultures of of either the Bible's authors or the people he's preaching to, and never considers that maybe a different audience would require a differently-tailored message.
  • Tom Clancy's novel Rainbow Six features one of these. As Clancy is a political conservative, he intended the story to be about the dangers of environmental extremists. Unfortunately in order to make them a credible threat, he had to have ecoterrorists in charge of a huge megacorporation. The novel can instead be taken as a tract against unchecked corporate power.
  • In The Riddle by Alison Croggon, Owan tells Maerad and Cadvan a story about how the sea once loved the mountains, however the mountains slighted the sea and the sea had been angry ever since. Cadvan interpreted it to mean that you should never refuse the love of a powerful woman, but Maerad interpreted it to mean that you should never love at all because it only causes trouble.
  • RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant: While each story has an intended Aesop, the commentaries by Professor Ozpin often provide alternative lessons he's heard, and he encourages the reader not to take any of them at face value but instead to find their own lessons in the stories.
  • Sixth of the Dusk: In-Universe. Vathi notes that every culture has exactly one traditional story of a woman who excelled in a traditionally male occupation, with the official moral being that "women can do these things too." However, her own cynical take on it is that they exist to show that women can do these things too if they are truly exceptional, with the implication being that any girl (like herself) who doesn't want to Stay in the Kitchen is arrogantly claiming to be one in a million.
  • In Slaughterhouse-Five:
    • Kilgore Trout argues that the real Aesop of The Bible is "Make sure people don't have connections before you kill them." For example, he claims that it would have been more meaningful if God had "adopted" Jesus as he was dying on the cross rather than say he was God's son all along.
    • Superficially, in the novel, Vonnegut seems to be saying that You Can't Fight Fate and that free will is an illusion. However, there are a number of subtextual clues suggesting that this isn't really what he meant. For starters, the Tralfamadorians, the biggest purveyors of the You Can't Fight Fate message, are depicted as destroying the universe through negligence - not a sympathetic position. There's also the way that Billy Pilgrim does everything possible to ensure he dies at his death. (Pilgrim himself is susceptible to Alternate Character Interpretation - there's a common theory that everything he sees after the war is a PTSD flashback or hallucination. See the trope page for details). Finally, there's the comment in the first chapter of the novel that writing an anti-war novel is like writing an anti-glacier novel (there will always be wars, just like there will always be glaciers) - but Vonnegut wrote one anyway.
  • Spinning Silver begins with Miryem giving "the real story" of Rumplestilzkin, in which a miller's daughter takes out a loan to buy some jewelry, attracts the local lord's son, and is left pregnant while he goes off to his previously-arranged marriage. The girl's solution is to accuse the moneylender of "being in league with the Devil" so he gets run out of town and she keeps her jewels to bribe a local boy into a marriage before she gives birth. Miryem concludes that no matter how it's told (and she has heard it many times from the local villagers, who make sure she understands that Rumplestiltzkin is supposed to be Jewish), Rumplestiltzkin is a story about squirming your way out of paying what you owe.
  • The intended moral of Ugly Love is that love can sometimes be painful and messy, but you should stick it out and accept the not-so-good parts because the good bits more than make up for it. Due to how it's presented by the narrative, some readers instead interpret the moral as "You should put up with your partner being emotionally unavailable, dumping their unresolved issues onto you and ignoring your needs and feelings because they'll eventually get over it and reward your sacrifice with long-term romantic commitment...even if they insist they only want sex from you".
  • In the Venus and Mars self-help books, there was a parable about a knight who rescued a princess from a dragon and married her, only for her to be attacked again. This time, she advised him on how to rescue her, instead of letting him figure it out for himself. He feels bad at the celebratory feast because he feels like he didn't really do anything to earn it. Then the same thing happens, and he feels even more depressed. Finally, he hears the familiar screams of a princess being attacked by a dragon, only it's not his wife, it's another princess in another castle. He rescues this princess, sends a message to his wife to tell her it's over, and lives Happily Ever After with this new princess who doesn't tell him what to do. What the reader was supposed to take from this was that it's important for a man to be able to solve his own problems without any outside help, and feel like a hero. What it ended up implying was that it's important for a woman to be passive and delicate so as not to hurt her boyfriend or husband's ego, or that if her partner cheats, it's her fault for being too outspoken and/or not passive enough. It also implies that a woman, no matter how knowledgeable about how to "slay the dragon" she may be, needs a man to solve all her problems for her.
  • Some people became vegans after reading The War of the Worlds, despite the story being about the morality of British imperialism. The book also makes the point that the Martians treat us the same way we treat animals. Wells, a vegetarian, would likely state that this aesop is a perfectly valid, if secondary, lesson to take from the story. The intended message was to show what a nationalistic outside force rolling over you would be like at a time when the British Empire was at its height.
  • Hungarian novel The Paul Street Boys, telling a story of two groups of boys fighting over a desirable hangout spot, is a required reading in primary schools throughout Central Europe and beyond, for its themes of friendship, loyalty, and camaraderie. There's no obvious reason to assume this wasn't the intended message. However, many, from the book's early critics to the occasional inquisitive kid each year, have pointed out the protagonist risks his health (ie. he literally dies when his pneumonia is inflamed by sneaking out of bed to take part in the fight) for what essentially is a tribalistic conflict for a made-up cause over a random spot of land that brings no benefit to any of them. Read that way, it's as biting a criticism of nationalism as you will ever get.

    Live-Action TV 
  • American Gods (2017):
    • Shadow's cellmate Low Key tells the story of Johnny Larch, an inmate who tried to fly away after getting paroled, but since he refused to allow an airport worker to "disrespect" him by not accepting his expired drivers licence as an ID, he ended up thrown out of the airport, and soon back in prison. In prison, "not taking disrespect" is a survival mechanism, but it can get you into lots of trouble on the outside. Shadow comments that perhaps the lesson is that behaviors that work in a specialized environment like prison can be detrimental when used outside of it, but Low Key insists that the moral of the story is "don't screw with those bitches at the airport."
    • In the first season finale, Mr. Nancy tells Shadow and Mr. Wednesday the story of the fall of Bilquis, from Queen of Sheba and goddess of love to a broken bag lady living on the streets. Shadow thinks the aesop is "never compromise". Both Nancy and Wednesday find that a ridiculous interpretation. No one would get anywhere in the world without compromise. The intended aesop is "you need a queen". This foreshadows Wednesday recruiting Easter, the oldest goddess still alive, for his cause.
  • The Bones episode "The He in the She" featured a transgender woman killed while swimming by the jealous ex-wife of her lover, with a subplot about her life as a male preacher and her estranged son. Booth took away an Aesop about the transforming love of and the way it can heal people's souls. Temperance concluded that the aesop was "always swim with a buddy".
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Beer Bad" is supposed to have its heavy-handed moral in the title - but the episode is actually about beer that was cursed by a bartender who was sick of snobby college students, and the episode could've had the same plot even if the characters were drinking soda. The real moral is "Be courteous to people who prepare your food and drink, because if they snap they can do some serious damage." Not a bad moral, really.
  • Doctor Who "The Dominators" was intentionally written with an anti-pacifist message. However, it's also possible to read it as encouraging student meddlers to fight for justice, rejecting rote learning and irrational laws.
  • An episode of How I Met Your Mother reveals that Barney Stinson has an Alternate Aesop Interpretation for nearly every movie he's seen which in his mind reverses the accepted role of hero and villain.
    Barney: Hey, The Karate Kid is a great movie. It's the story of a hopeful, young karate enthusiast whose dreams and moxie take him all the way to the All Valley Karate Championship. Of course, sadly he loses in the final round to that nerd kid. But he learns an important lesson about gracefully accepting defeat.
  • In The Golden Girls episode "Til Death do We Volley," one of Sophia's "Picture It" stories falls into this. Dorothy has a high-school reunion and gets a visit from an old friend named Trudy she was super competitive with. They go play tennis, and Dorothy is so competitive Trudy has a heart attack on the court. At the reunion party at her house, Dorothy is so racked with guilt she refuses to leave her room. Sophia comes in and delivers this Aesop story twisted to fit the situation.
    Sophia: Picture it. Sicily, 1852. It was mid-century and the disillusioned Italy looked to the House of Savoy for leadership. Giuseppe Garibaldi, our courageous leader and not a bad dresser thought, let's regain some national pride and jump into this whole Crimean War thing...of course, there was a big kickoff at Giuseppe's beach house and everyone came. Coincidentally, this was also the night his wife Rosa hit her sexual peak.
    Dorothy: Ma, I am in here because of guilt. This is not a story about guilt!
    Sophia: This is a story about being a bad hostess! While Rosa had Giuseppi in the bedroom with his saber around his ankles, 200 hungry guests were strip-searching mice for a piece of cheese!!
    Dorothy: Ma, so what's your point!? That Rosa and I throw bad parties??
    Sophia: That's my minor point. My major point is that like Rosa, you're screwin' around in the bedroom when there's more important things to do outside!
    Dorothy: I can't believe it, that makes sense! I mean, you took the long way around, but that actually makes sense.
  • Gibbs from NCIS provides one for a story that Ducky tells about a man who doesn't show up for his girlfriend's Christmas party. She bad-mouths him until he's discovered dead in the chimney dressed as Santa Claus with an engagement ring for her. According to Ducky, the lesson is to never judge without knowing all the facts. Gibbs' lesson? "Never a good idea to get married."
  • Police, Camera, Action!:
    • The 1998 episode "Rust Buckets" had the aesop of "Never drive around in an unroadworthy vehicle or unless you've checked your vehicle over with a mechanic's help", but due to the episode's nature, people took the episode's aesop as "Be more tolerant of foreign drivers on British roads" and "A traffic jam isn't worth fighting for just to get to your flight, there are other life-and-death matters". The title of the episode as a Non-Indicative Name as only the first part of the episode features the titular rust bucket (British expression for The Alleged Car).
    • The 2000 episode "Rogue's Roadshow" had the aesop of "Stealing cars for fun can have fatal consequences" but some of the audience interpreted it as "There are no winners or losers on our roads. Excess speed kills."
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Garak's interpretation of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", "never tell the same lie twice". That episode's lesson proves to be "Telling a different lie each time doesn't work either." Garak ends up having to go to rather extreme measures to get anyone to pay attention to his complaints that someone is trying to kill him, due to his being such a Consummate Liar.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Outcast" was intended as an aesop about what was in the 1990s known as the "gay rights" debate. It did this via the androgynous J'naii, who stigmatize those among them who secretly take up a binary gender identity. The gender identity issue was supposed to be a science-fiction stand-in for sexual orientation, but trans issues have become a hot-button issue since the episode aired, making the episode accidentally wander into a different aesop that is especially relevant today.

    Music 
  • The Christmas carol "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was originally written by 16-year-old Buck Ram and is about a homesick college student, but has more recently become associated with soldiers away at Christmastime. At least one version of the song even includes soldiers wishing their families a Merry Christmas during the bridge. Touching, yes, but not the original intended message. Adding to the misconception is how the song tends to be associated with the World War II era (as do so many popular Christmas songs), so many listeners assume that the narrator is an American soldier in Europe or the Pacific.
  • The Crash Test Dummies Song, "Mmm mmm mmm mmm," is VERY frequently interpreted as being about child abuse, with the eventual message that brainwashing your child and forcing your child to hold your own beliefs is worse than physical abuse. Word of God says the message is that Kids Are Cruel, and the song is to be taken at face value.
  • In the Barry Louis Polisar song "I am very Sad to say that Cindy Won't Be Out to Play", the eponymous Cindy dies after eating things that she shouldn't, and the song concludes that the moral of the story is "if you are hungry and are all alone, wait until your folks to come home". An alternative message would be to not leave your child at home alone in the first place.
  • Eminem:
    • Eminem has stated that the moral of "Stan", in which Slim Shady's Loony Fan murders his girlfriend due to being ignored by his idol (who doesn't even really exist) is a cautionary tale about avoiding Actor/Role Confusion. However, many interpret the song as being about the duty of care artists have towards their fans, or an attempt to highlight the plight of struggling, alienated angry young men with nothing good in their lives except consumer products.
    • The moral of "Darkness", as stated by Stephen in the song, is that Stephen is not insane, there is no real reason why people become mass shooters - Stephen admits he doesn't have a motive or any idea why he did it either - and that therefore there will continue to be mass shooters so long as nobody does anything about it. However, some critics noted that the song spends more time focusing on Stephen's loneliness and abuse of drugs, and therefore that the song suggests he became a mass shooter due to an untreated and undiagnosed mental illness.

    Mythology 
  • Classical Mythology: The myth of Daedalus and Icarus is about Pride, symbolized by Icarus' flying too close to the sun.
    • A joke goes, "From an engineer's perspective, the story is about a test pilot ignoring basic safety instructions. from a test pilot's perspective, it's a warning about testing prototypes that can't handle basic maneuvers."
    • Randall Munroe of the web comic xkcd offered another interpretation, one common to engineers and scientifically-minded folks: the story is about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.

    Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells the story of a master who, while away from his home on business, leaves varying sums of the titular currencynote  in the hands of his servants, telling them only to take care of them. Upon his return, he finds that two of them have invested the money and earned an appreciable return; he lets them keep some of it and rewards them with more talents to invest. One, however, who received the smallest amount, simply buried it and returns it to his master, which gets him fired. It is interpreted in various ways, usually to implore Christians to use their abilities to serve God and bring more to salvation, for which they will eventually be rewarded.

      However, liberation theologians have pointed out that the "lazy" servant may be the one who really has the point Jesus was making. The master did not specifically direct his servants to invest the money he left them; they took that decision themselves. Yet upon his return, the master claimed most of the money they made for himself, made from a decision he took no part in, his claim on the return being solely that he is the master — thus exploiting the servants' labor for his personal gain. The servant who simply kept the money and returned it to his master upon the master's return was aware of this, and by doing so called the master out through his refusal to take part.
    • Jesus's metaphors of "turning the other cheek" and the like are traditionally interpreted as a call to stay humble and accept your lot in this life, because what you really want to go for is a reward in Heaven. But they also have long been argued to be a veritable hand-book of civil disobedience. The argument goes, if you're slapped with the right hand, and then you turn the other cheek, the slapper would have to punch instead of slap, because to do otherwise in the other direction would require them to twist their right arm too much for it to be any practical — and by punching instead of slapping, the slapper kinda-sorta acknowledges you as an equal. And so on for other metaphors of this kind.
    • The Biblical story of Onan was pretty clearly intended to underscore the importance of levirate marriage, a practice by which, if a married man died childless, his brother would marry his widow and the first child of that marriage would be considered the dead guy's child. In fact, Onan's reason for spilling his seed is explicitly stated to be that the child wouldn't legally be his. However, since levirate marriage has effectively been discontinued indefinitely even among the Jews, some have reinterpreted the story to be about forbidding masturbation or contraception (especially the withdrawal method).
    • Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Issac in Genesis 22 has been interpreted in various ways. Most interpretations from Jewish exegesis focus on Abraham's utter faith in God's commandment and hold up his willingness to make the sacrifice as a virtue. Traditionally, Christians interpret the entire passage as a foreshadowing of Our Lord & Savior' crucifixion. A minority interpretation, however, is that Abraham failed the test, abandoning God's previous commandments against killing in Genesis 9. Seeing this, begins the chain of events that would lead to the establishment of the Mosaic covenant and Jewish law.
    • An infamous biblical example is the Book of Job, in which God is challenged by Satan to prove that Job, a good man, would still have faith in God if he was not blessed with a good life. While it is often cited to prove the importance of retaining faith in God even through dire circumstances, it is easily interpreted to mean "don't trust God because He'll sell you out to Satan to prove a point".
    • There's also the question of Elihu, who speaks just before God shows up. He's often lumped in with Job's "friends" as being in the wrong about Job's suffering, but God conspicuously doesn't mention him when telling off Job's friends. And Elihu claims to be presenting a different argument to the one Job's friends made. And when God shows up, His speech follow the same themes Elihu had just been using. It's possible that Elihu's speech is meant to be interpreted as the correct answer, with God showing up to emphasize Elihu's point and back him up with literal Word of God. (The fact that some of Elihu's speech seems to foreshadow the crucifixion helps.)
    • The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and particularly the crowd out to rape Lot's guests, is traditionally interpreted as a diatribe against homosexuality or whatever else may be too far from vanilla for the resident Moral Guardians. But those in a less homophobic mood tend to question exactly what kind of people see a newcomer arrive in town and immediately decide "Gee, I'm gonna rape 'em"? That, they say, is a special kind of depravity that has nothing to do with sexuality, but a lot to do with lack of hospitality and plain basic decency.

    Theatre 
  • The narrator of Blood Brothers explicitly provides an Alternate Aesop Interpretation that counters what the symbolism and music have been suggesting about the tragic ending: ''Do we blame superstition for what came to pass? Or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class?'
  • Little Shop of Horrors: The story and the final musical are pretty clear about the aesop the movie wants to give you: "Don't give in to temptation, because money and fame come at a price." That being said, some people interpret the aesop in another way: Seymour is so broken by the poor, end-of-the-line life he leads in Skid Row that he has no option to realize his dream of moving away than rely on Audrey II; this leaves the Capitalism Is Bad moral that the poor will eventually resort to desperate, dangerous measures to improve their lives because it is otherwise impossible to get out of the bottom of the barrel in such a system.
  • My Fair Lady: When Eliza doesn't show any improvement, Higgins responds by mocking and demeaning her even further, also resorting to punishments like denying her food and rest until she gets it right. But it's not until he says anything remotely positive - reassuring her she can do it - that she actually begins to improve. So the lesson here could be that students finding it difficult to learn often respond better to positive reinforcement than excessive punishment.

    Video Games 
  • Living Books: "The Tortoise and the Hare" features an In-Universe example. Simon says that the moral is "Slow and steady wins the race", but the other animals think it's "Don't act like such a big shot", "The journey is the reward", or "Always eat a good breakfast".
  • Several of the social links in Persona 4 appear to have the message that it's important to branch out and try different things before deciding a path in life. Characters whose paths or futures have been decided for them eventually rebel and yearn to be free, and that's perfectly normal. In some cases (Yukiko and Rise) this leads to the character deciding to return to their set path, but with actual understanding and meaning instead of Because Destiny Says So, and this is also normal and far healthier. Having this happen more than once in the game, however, leads to the alternate meaning of "always conform".
  • Undertale:
    • Due to how surprisingly deep the game is and creator Toby Fox not going into detail about what things in the game mean, many folks have come up with other interpretations as to what the game means. Some feel that how Chara steals your soul at the end of a Genocide run and how the only way to fix it is to delete your save file gives off the moral, "The only way to move forward is to burn your bridges."
    • People have also said the meaning is either the same or the complete opposite of The Stanley Parable—that the only meaningful choice you can make in a video game is to turn it off and walk away forever. Undertale puts huge emphasis on actions having consequences, but it also points out that it's not meant to have infinite replay value. It doesn't help that the message you receive at the end of the pacifist route rather explicitly aims towards the middle ground of these two - don't stop until you make it to the ending that's happiest for everybody, and then stop playing forever.
    • Some of the routes in the game, between pacifist and Genocide, have a bit of a brush with Fantastic Aesop: "If you have the power to rewind time, you have no excuse not to do the very absolute best." The likelihood is this is meant to be taken as an elaborate, fictionalized way of saying With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
    • One of the major aspects of the game requires learning about the lives of the bosses who gain thorough character development. The point here is to humanize the monsters you fight and make the player realize that they have loved ones, lives, hobbies, and everyday interactions like anyone else. However, the bosses attack you first, and the option of fleeing combat is often not an option except for one boss in particular who you have to flee multiple times, so you're placed into a situation where the game expects you to befriend the people who have tried to murder you and to spare their lives. It ties in with the Great Responsibility point made above with a sprinkle of Turn the Other Cheek which can either be heartwarming or frustrating depending on how you view the lesson which can be summed up as "You have to be the bigger person no matter what others do to you". That said, the best possible ending requires you sparing every boss and enemy regardless of the encounter, so the game is certainly implying it's your duty to let everything they do slide, but berates the player for not expecting the game narrative to do the same back.
  • Valkyria Chronicles has way too many aesops, but the most uncomfortable one is the one against racism. The Darcsen are openly hated as a race because of the Darcsen Calamity, and we're told over and over that it's wrong to hate the Darcsen of today just because of something that happened so long ago. Then we find out that it wasn't the Darcsen who did it, it was the Valkyrur, and the Darcsen race is exonerated while the blame is laid at the feet of the Valkyrur where it should have been all along. And this attitude drives Alicia further down into Internalized Categorism as people begin to fear her potential for destruction, and ultimately resolves never to show her Valkyria status again. So "Don't judge people based on what happened long ago, because you'll never know how it really happened" becomes "It's okay to hate a race, as long as it's the right race".

    Webcomics 
  • Misfile's 12th book tries to have Ash learn a lesson about his responsibility to the Old Road and fellow racers, but throughout the story arc, he points out none of his fellow racers like him, which they admit to his face, they got into this situation because of their own stupidity and he is completely unaffected by the situation, only coming in to stop the pestering and is then guilt-tripped into finishing things. As was pointed out on the forums, the lesson is closer to "obey peer pressure" and the responsibility lesson seems tacked on and forced.
  • And then there's this reaction to the story of Rudolph.

    Web Original 
  • The Cilvanis video "Finding out an Anime Character is privileged" has the protagonist of a fictional anime accomplishing his goal of becoming the Blood King, and in his acceptance speech claims that he's The Everyman, meaning that anyone could accomplish what he did. However, a journalist points out that he's actually a Born Winner who's inherited the powers of many of the most powerful beings in the universe, tearing down his claims of being a normal human who succeeded entirely through hard work. In the end, the "hero" snaps and starts slaughtering everyone, and no one can stop him because of how powerful his gifts make him. If you read through the video's comment section, you'll find three different interpretations of what message it's trying to send:
    • One camp interprets it as a message about how some social privileges (being white, male, straight, financially stable, etc.) are so ingrained into our culture that those who hold them don't even realize it and can't accept being told that those in those categories have advantages over those who don't. In this interpretation, the hero is in the wrong for not realizing how privileged he is.
    • Another side believes that the journalist is in the wrong, as he downplays the hero's great achievements by claiming that they were accomplished entirely thanks to his privilege. The message becomes one about how privilege doesn't automatically make one succeed in life, and that a privileged person's great achievements shouldn't be disregarded just because of the privilege.
    • A third interpretation of the video is that it's simply meant to be a parody of Naruto, and specifically its Broken Aesop where it starts off touting that hard work is more important than the talent one is born with, only to reveal that its main characters have inherited many extremely powerful abilities and only win because of this.
  • The Something Awful political cartoons thread \ the community around it, refer to these as A Good Cartoon. While the thread routinely highlights the perceived incompetence of political cartoonists, featuring many an Accidental Aesop or outright Broken Aesop, some of the interpretations work too hard to warp a straightforward message.
  • In My Little Pony: Totally Legit Recap:
    • Many of the morals of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic are shifted to relate more to the adult male fanbase of the show than the children who watch the real thing. It may be under a huge helping of Self-Deprecation and Black Comedy, but the messages are certainly there.
    • In general, the videos reflect the idea that cynicism solves nothing, and a cartoon for little girls is not meant to be examined so closely, and it's certainly nothing to get angry about.invoked
    • "P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View)" dispenses with the explanation for why the boat sank, saying it's not important why it sank. The real message is that friends aren't people who never make you angry; they're people you love despite sometimes making you angry.
    • "To Where and Back Again – Part 2" has Luna tell Starlight Glimmer that "the only one who doubted you was yourself, so fucking stop that shit."
    • "Rock Solid Friendship" says We All Die Someday, so we might as well enjoy the time we have.
    • "Honest Apple" is more about not ruining someone else's good time than it is about what you choose to do with yourself.
    • "Discordant Harmony" says that there is no such thing as normal. In fact, being quirky and weird can often be the coolest thing about a person. The key is that you can't be a jerk about it.
    • "The Maud Couple" is about how you don't get any say in who your siblings like for their significant others. Even if you don't like them, you aren't getting the whole story, so suck it up and take it for the sake of your family.
    • DWK applies this to Equestria Girls by saying the moral is "age and maturity are two different things."
  • Jontron likes to spoof the aesops in some of the shows and movies he has reviewed:
  • The Nostalgia Critic, naturally, finds a much more messed up moral from Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue:
    So what are kids supposed to learn from this special? That if they do drugs all their favorite cartoon characters will appear?
  • The intended lesson of the Dungeon Master episode of A Crap Guide to D&D is that players are as important to D&D as the dungeon masters and shouldn't be Railroaded at the expense of the player's fun, but the fact that JoCrap was clearly overwhelmed by trying to run D&D with around twenty players at once, one could also see the lesson being that one should limit the number of players in one game down to a manageable level for the DM.
  • Squid School's Very Special Episode "Our Community Must Welcome and Protect Trans People" is intended to teach that people have a chance to get involved in politics, and that such is often necessary to improve the modern world. However, since the "political" is sometimes defined as things about the world that people disagree on, a relatively cynical wording of the lesson is that there are bad people in the world who cause social darwinism, imbalances of power, and scientifically disproven beliefs to remain legitimate threats today; and they must be actively opposed.
  • More cynical interpretations of Gillette's We Believe: The Best Men Can Be, especially in the final bits of the short film, seem to assert that men should protect women by inserting themselves in situations where women are distressed (such as when a woman is being catcalled). This seems to run against the film's messages about toxic masculinity and male vulnerability, as that would no doubt involve men needlessly endangering themselves on the behalf of women they likely don't know, against other men who may or may not be violent (as opposed to sensible solutions such as calling the police).

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: One episode has 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.
  • Baby Looney Tunes: The episode "I Strain" seems to feature the message of "Don't spend all day watching TV, sometimes it's good to go outside", as Granny says. But when the power went out, the other babies put on a show for Petunia, pretending to be the characters. Petunia even says "It's more fun to play TV than to watch TV", which could make the message "Even if your playtime is based around existing characters, as long as you're having fun, it's still valid playtime." Daffy also learns a lesson about not adhering too much to the source material, as when he attempts to play as "Stu" on "Mint's Hints", Melissa (as Mint) starts to talk over Daffy, despite Mint being unable to speak, then she just barks as he's talking when it's "not her turn", but they all still seem to have fun with it.
  • The Backyardigans: The moral intended in "The Two Musketeers" is "Don't judge a book by its cover", since the two Musketeers don't believe that the third is worthy just by looking at her. However, it's often interpreted as "Don't hate people for petty reasons", since the Musketeers dislikes Empress Tasha just because she has a hot-air balloon and they don't, but they end up becoming good friends with her once they actually get to know her. Then again, aesops were never their strongest point...
  • Bluey: The moral of "The Sleepover" was meant to be that you need to consider what's best for others — Bluey and Bingo want to stay up late to play with their cousin Muffin, but they can't because Muffin is sleep deprived. However, considering Muffin acted so crazy when she'd skipped her nap that she resembled a drunk person, some viewers took it as an allegory with the moral "If your friend is drunk, it's time to end the party".
  • Centaurworld: In "Ride the Whaletaur Shaman!", the main moral seems to be that it's okay to feel sad, but you can find hope in the people that love and support you. However, the events argubly only occurred because Horse's friends didn't do that. Horse only got to the point of being Driven to Suicide because while the Centaurs treated her becoming forcefully transformed as a good thing, Horse herself is horrified once the Toon Transformation is complete, which combined with her existing stress and grief over being unable to return home, beginning to forget what Rider even looks like, and wondering if either of them will recognize the other if she does manage to return home, leading to her jumping off a cliff and willingly being eaten. As such, it's hard not to think the other takeaway from the episode should be that, if a friend is distressed about the changes in their life, don't downplay or dismiss their pain, even if you personally think the changes are good ones.
  • Dream Come True (A Mule Mom's Story) is a short animation made to showcase "Mule Moms" (female mules fertilized In Vitro to both boost breeding efforts and give the infertile mules a chance to be mothers) and the Gypsy Vanner breed of horses. The intended lesson is to never give up on your dreams, but the one that gets across is, "If you have no friends, get pregnant with the resident popular guy's kid and everyone will love you." This is because of a combination of an All of the Other Reindeer plot and a main character who does absolutely nothing aside from get pregnant.
  • Gargoyles: An in-universe example occurs when the Manhattan clan discusses what lessons can be learned from Lexington and Goliath's encounter with the Pack. Lexington at first declares they should never trust anyone else but Goliath counters that some endeavors requires taking some risks because never leaving the comforts of their confines will leave them (in Goliath's words) "forever alone". Brooklyn and Broadway add to the discussion that they shouldn't give too much trust to people they've just met. Hudson says maybe they shouldn't believe everything they see on TV — a point, since that was why they thought the Pack were heroes in the first place.
  • Kaeloo: Parodied using an in-universe example. Kaeloo spends a whole episode teaching Stumpy and Quack Quack how difficult the life of a parent is in an attempt to get them to respect their parents more and be grateful for all their hard work. When she asks what they learned from the whole thing, Stumpy responds that he learned that you shouldn't have kids.
  • King of the Hill: The aesop of "Movin' On Up" can be either "Find a way to live with the annoyances in your life" or "passive aggressively ignore the people that you can deal with and bottle the emotions that are natural".
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends: "Fugitive Flowers" has a standard "don't judge a book by its cover" aesop that is rather bungled because the main reason that the ponies don't trust the Crabnasties is because they introduce themselves by wrecking a trail of destruction through Dream Valley in their search for the Flories and pointedly refuse to explain what they're doing, not because they're ugly. The aesop, in this case, is that Poor Communication Kills: the mistrust and problems could have been avoided if the Crabnasties were more willing to explain things.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: As every episode ends on a moral lesson, the show is rife with this. A few examples:
    • "Swarm of the Century" has the Aesop that you should listen to your friends, even when they seem not to make sensenote , but most of the fanbase agrees that the message the episode actually demonstrated was "If you know the solution to a problem take the time to explain it rather than just expecting everyone to listen to you for no reason."note 
    • "Suited for Success" has had a large portion of the fanbase interpreting the episode as Take That! to Executive Meddling saying "let the real artist work on the design and don't interfere."
    • "Feeling Pinkie Keen" has the ostensible moral of "just because you don't understand something doesn't make it untrue". Most of the fanbase either interpreted the episode as saying "Science Is Bad", or, more charitably, "The purpose of science is to find the truth, not to prove your preconceived notions correct."
    • "Lesson Zero"'s stated Aesop is "Don't belittle your friends' concerns". The much more obvious Aesop is "Keep a level head and don't let minor issues force you to use extreme solutions". In a broader sense, it can be read as "No one is perfect, and it's okay to fail sometimes. It's better to accept failure gracefully than to abuse others to succeed." In addition, there's the part where Twilight announces that if she can't find a friendship problem to solve, then she'll just have to make one. You could say another moral of the story is "Doing the right thing doesn't mean you go looking for trouble."
    • "Hurricane Fluttershy"'s moral is ostensibly "even if you don't feel you can make a difference, you can", but one can also get "School bullying is NOT harmless and can screw you up for life" out of it.
    • "A Canterlot Wedding"'s moral, to trust your instincts, glosses over the mistakes that made things as bad as they got (Twilight's instinct that Cadance was evil was Right for the Wrong Reasons and made her discredit herself, while everyone else's instinct to trust "Cadance" over Twilight was horribly wrong). Fans instead viewed the moral as "you need to be tactful and have evidence even if you're right, but a claim without tact or evidence should still be heard out as it might have some truth".
    • "Magical Mystery Cure" has "A True, True Friend" deliver the intended Aesop about helping friends find their true selves in musical. However, the prominence and fantastic nature of the cutie marks/destinies swap caused many to see it as "don't blindly follow perceived destiny, especially if you're bad at it/it makes you and others miserable" and/or "you can Screw Destiny and be who you choose/want to be" despite more-or-less contradicting the happenings of the episode.Explanation 
    • "Inspiration Manifestation": The intended aesops are "you need to tell your friends the truth rather than blindly praise them" and "constant praise actually can stifle your artistic integrity and it's all right to take some criticism now and then." It accidentally adds in the aesop of "your usual artistic style isn't always what the customer needs" for people in creative industries, told through Rarity having trouble building what a puppeteer wants because she adds her nouveau-riche flair to a puppet show booth. A similar accidental aesop with Rarity in "Suited for Success" is "you can't just assume the artist/contractor knows exactly what you want" after the Mane Six sans Rarity make very unrealistic demands about what they want for their clothes, including Rainbow Dash's now-memetic line "it needs to be about twenty percent cooler".
    • "Princess Spike": Spike is shown using his connection to Twilight to make himself feel important and by abusing the authority to enjoy indulgent perks, and the episode tries to teach that this is wrong by having things result in a chain reaction that ruins a major diplomatic event. However, since the only things that cause any problems are the events Spike arranged on specific orders not to let anything disturb her rest, while the abuse of his authority causes no problems whatsoever, the illustrated morals become "don't attempt a job you're not qualified to do", "don't give a job to someone who isn't qualified".
    • "The Cart Before the Ponies" delivers the moral "Adults aren't always right". Considering specifically how the adult characters in this episode managed to screw things up, it could just as easily be interpreted that there was another moral for the adults in the audience — "Don't try to live vicariously through your children or child siblings".
  • Recess: One episode has the moral of "You can't please everyone". The episode features TJ realising that a kid on the playground (Gordy) doesn't like him. He proceeds to absolutely suck up to Gordy and, after a series of misadventures, Gordy still says he just doesn't like TJ. While "You can't please everyone" is a good message, Gordy has several reasons to dislike TJ by that point (TJ got him in trouble, TJ accidentally almost poisoned him with walnuts, TJ sucked up to him and chased him down to find out why Gordy didn't like him) and they can't give any reason for disliking one another. This could easily be a great aesop in which Gordy could mention that TJ's behaviour is why he doesn't like TJ, or that things TJ and his friends consider virtues are seen as annoying or overbearing to someone else.
  • Rocket Power: "Power Girl Surfers" attempts to do An Aesop about female empowerment, where Reggie starts an all-girl surfing group to show the world that girls can excel at extreme sports. She decides to do this after Otto is unexpectedly offered a cover story in his favorite surfing magazine, and she's unable to convince the Jerk magazine editor that she deserves it more than he does; at the end, she even crashes Otto's photo-shoot with her friends to challenge him to a surf contest, humiliating him in front of the people offering him a shot at fame. Because of Reggie's actions, the message unfortunately comes across as being less about female empowerment than about jealousy, and punishing other people for their undeserved good fortune.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: The Aesop and Son shorts have Aesop telling his son a fable with a moral, followed by his son proposing an alternate moral (which is inevitably a pun).
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: "The Price of Freedom" is about freedom, the absence of it via slavery, escaping slavery to be free, that dying free is undesirable for the "dying" part but better than being enslaved, and how every effort should be made to gain freedom from enslavers and oppressors. Come the end of the episode, Loo-kee's going on about... the dangers of fire. The Aesop seems to be that kids can be shown repeated illustrations about a complex subject and how it works, but it's not worth actually talking directly to them about it — let's go with something short, simple, and that avoids troublesome questions for adults.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Homer's Enemy":
      • The episode is meant to show that a normal person would not be able to survive in the show's universe. But Frank Grimes' Sanity Slippage and eventual death come about from his own obsessive hostility towards Homer. Homer's attempts at making it up to Grimes after getting him in trouble only fuel the Green-Eyed Monster in Grimes, which lead to him concocting a scheme to humiliate the former in front of everyone. He finally snaps when his own attempt at spiting someone he doesn't like, itself a rather childish act, doesn't go as planned. This spawns its own alternate aesop interpretation; "never try to expose the rules of an insane system that rewards stupidity and punishes the wrong people. It won't work, you'll just go crazy, and everyone will focus on your craziness and not the point you were trying to make in the first place. If you have the misfortune to be born in an insane universe, your best bet is to never struggle or strive for anything in your life, since you'll only be disliked for it; conversely, if you behave in a lazy and foolish fashion, everyone will like you better." Compounding this is Grimes' frustration that, from his perspective, Homer is living an idyllic life without putting in an ounce of effort, but he bases this presumption on a single evening (without realizing that Homer had been hyper-focused on making a good impression), as the Simpson household is not normally like that, nor do they have lobster for dinner on a routine basis.
      • Renegade Cut makes the case for an anti-capitalism message; instead of Grimes realizing that his problems are Inherent in the System and then working towards changing the system, he directs all his ire at Homer for things he has absolutely no control over, because he's an easier target than Mr. Burns.
      • There can also be a Aesop that can be drawn from it that amounts to "Spending all your time hating or grudging on someone is very unhealthy". Frank spends so much time harping on his hatred of Homer that it of course leads to his death. All the while Homer doesn't even think about Frank, the way Frank does about him which makes this all extremely one-sided. Spending so much time focusing your energy on someone you dislike is a waste of time and Frank's death is ultimately all because he became obsessed with getting back at Homer instead of just simply letting it go. All the while Homer sincerely wanted to befriend Frank no less.
    • Equally tying in with the above, don't spend all you time and energy focusing on others success. Instead of being bitter at what others have and you don't, focus instead on what you can do to improve you own life or at the least accept that some people for better or worse may achieve more even if it is not fair. Feeling sorry for your self doesn't solve anything except making you more bitter.
      • Another Aesop can also be made about not judging people. While Frank is not wrong about in his issues with Homer, he also doesn't seem to get that Homer has also truly earned some of the things he has gotten in life. Even still it's not like Homer hasn't had his own struggles as we have seen through out the series.
    • "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 lesson 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 lesson on its own: don't touch them, don't insult them, and pay them fairly.
      • Another lesson is "Don't take pictures of people without their consent", since it was Bart's photo that started the whole mess in the first place.
      • Although, Marge may also have been angry because she saw Homer's actions with the stripper as cheating on her. So, there's also "don't cheat on your spouse or do something that may be interpreted as cheating" (such as going to a strip club, fooling around with a stripper, etc).
    • "Bart Gets an 'F'" famously features the Hard Truth Aesop that "Even if you try your hardest, you can still fail". However, the episode can come across as a criticism of how society views learning disabilities, the American education system, or both. Bart not only needs help with his studies but actively seeks it for most of the episode, so the conclusion that forcing him to try with no one to help and then declaring all his progress to be worthless based on an arbitrary metric makes the adults look far worse than Bart ever could.
    • "Summer Of 4 Ft 2":
      • In his review, TheRealJims suggests that the actual Aesop isn't Be Yourself, but "Be confident in yourself." The same review also suggests that you can be true to your own self while still being open minded and taking new steps to socialise.
      • Sometimes, being a little fake at first instead of going straight for your own interests is a good way to make friends. The beach kids might not have embraced Lisa's nerdy self right out of the gate, since they wouldn't have seen her as having anything in common with them. Lisa's mistake was in believing that hiding everything about who she was was the only way to keep her new friends when, in fact, they'd already gotten to know the real her by spending time with her, and they liked that person.
      • To fit in, you do have to change certain things about yourself.
  • Thunder Cats 2011 has discernible Aesops in most episodes, some more well-executed than others.
    • "Song of the Petalars" has protagonist Lion-O give a Rousing Speech about The Last Dance and that they should "live Like You Were Dying," leading his team into a battle they cannot win, instead of living to fight another day. (They're saved by a Deus ex Machina.) The moral seems more like "Retreat is cowardice."
    • "The Duelist and the Drifter": The Aesop is meant to be that we cannot rely on pure strength or weaponry alone, but must use flexibility, perception and skill to win battles. But since that amounts to a weaponless Lion-O Power Copying, perfectly replicating evasive maneuvers he's seen only once, the lesson could be "depend on your spontaneously-generated superpowers, not your sword."
  • U.S. Acres: One episode has Roy constantly lying about the wolf stealing the chickens, so Orson tells Booker and Sheldon the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf (only with a wolf crying boy instead) to both illustrate why being known as a liar is bad and explain why he's ignoring Roy. When doing so, he suddenly has an epiphany and re-interprets the Aesop as "Even liars sometimes tell the truth". You can punish someone for lying, but no one gains anything by ignoring a cry for help.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Alternate Moral Interpretation

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Never Tell the Same Lie Twice

Dr. Bashir tells Garak the story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," telling him that the moral of the story is that if you keep lying eventually nobody will believe you even when you're telling the truth. Garak ask if he's really sure if that's the lesson and Dr. Bashir asks what else it could possibly be. "That you should never tell the same lie twice," Garak tells him and walks off, leaving him shaking his head.

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