"Perhaps it hasn't one," Alice ventured to remark.
"Tut, tut, child!" said the Duchess. "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."
The episode ends with a moral à la Aesop's Fables. Either the last line of the episode summarizes the whole point of the episode, or it leaves the viewer with the issue that the writers want them to ponder. 1950s sitcoms often end on the "Gee, I learned my lesson," type of moral, while Law & Order leaves you pondering. Since some shows seem to contractually require one moral per episode, you often end up with a Broken Aesop.
A lot of kids' shows go out of their way for this, especially Disney-animated shows. Writers often call it the "Object Lesson", and write the episode around it. This is particularly noticeable in programs made in The United States during the late 1970s through the early 1990s, as the FCC at the timenote required that all children's television shows have "educational" content, and this was the simplest way to meet its requirements.
For times when a lesson is learned through a moral conflict, see Moral Dilemma.
In some quarters An Aesop delivered to another character, often a child, directly is referred to as a "You See, Timmy" from the frequent use of that line to deliver the Aesop in the television show Lassie. This definition was put forth originally in the movie Speechless.
Ironically, the Greek storyteller Aesop probably doesn't deserve the dubious honor of having this trope named after him. In their original forms these stories likely did not end with heavy-hitting moral anvils. The listeners (for Aesop would have been an oral storyteller) were probably left to sort out the meaning for themselves; the one-liner morals (such as "slow and steady wins the race") were likely tacked on by modern compilers, and were often used as rhetorical devices by later orators to make a point.
Aesops in General
- Alternate Aesop Interpretation: A meta-trope where the viewer finds a different moral to be more apparent than the one the story actually states.
- Anvilicious: The moral lands on the audience's heads with all the subtlety of an anvil.
- Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The importance of the message justifies its Anvilicious presentation.
- Author Filibuster: The plot comes to a screeching halt while Aesop is delivering his moral.
- Author Tract: The story is only there to be a framing device for the Aesop.
- Central Theme: The underlying (moral and/or philosophical) theme that the story is about.
- Moniker As Enticement: Do what the work says and you'll have a special title!
- Script Wank: Having a character come right out and say "The lesson to be learned here is..."
Characters and Devices
- Aesop Amnesia: When characters learn an Aesop in one episode and have apparently forgotten it by the next one.
- Aesop Collateral Damage: When other characters have to suffer to teach Bob his Aesop.
- Aesop Enforcer: When a character takes (sometimes drastic) action to ensure that another character learns their Aesop.
- Aesoptinum: Applied Phlebotinum that exists solely for the moral.
- Compressed Vice: A character gains a flaw they never had before simply to learn the Aesop dealing with it.
- A Lesson Learned Too Well: The character learns an Aesop early but doesn't learn when not to apply it.
- Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: A disposable character introduced for the sake of the Aesop.
- Monster of the Aesop: When the Monster of the Week eerily coincides with the Aesop.
Types of Aesops
- Accidental Aesop: The audience reads an Aesop when one wasn't intended (or a different one was intended).
- Broken Aesop: The events of the story undermine or flat-out contradict the moral.
- Clueless Aesop: A show mishandles a serious life lesson because a full explanation of the topic is too complex or adult for the audience, language, and tone of the show (e.g. a No Hugging, No Kissing cartoon tries to discuss sexual assault).
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: A story meant to demonstrate that X is bad, but unintentionally makes X look really, really cool.
- Lost Aesop: You get the sense you were supposed to learn something, but you're not sure what.
- Captain Obvious Aesop: An Aesop that should be obvious to everyone (e.g. "mass murder is bad") is treated as revolutionary and insightful by other characters.
- Double Aesop: When Alice and Bob learn their lesson in one story.
- Family-Unfriendly Aesop: A moral that is unexpected and defies conventional wisdom (but may be good advice nevertheless).
- Fighting Back Is Wrong: An aesop about bullying isn't about "fighting fire with fire" and should be solved in a better way.
- Fantastic Aesop: A moral which is appropriate for characters in Speculative Fiction (e.g. "Don't raise the dead") but which has no Real Life application except metaphorically.
- Ignored Aesop: When characters discuss the Aesop in a metacontextual way, usually sabotaging whatever flimsy moral may have existed in the first place.
- Karmic Twist Ending: A Twist Ending designed to force a moral.
- Morality Ballad: A moral in song form.
- Philosophical Parable: A piece of moral philosophy in the form of a story.
- Scare 'em Straight: Making sure the lesson sticks by showing the nightmarish consequences of not obeying it.
- Space Whale Aesop: When the moral is shown via bizarre, illogical, or downright impossible consequences.
- Spoof Aesop: The moral is clearly not meant to be taken seriously.
- Very Special Episode: A light-hearted show takes on a more serious tone for this episode, in order to tackle a more serious issue.
- Anti-Escapism Aesop: Reality is better than fiction, so don't get too far lost in an imaginary world (including this story).
- Be Yourself: An Aesop about not trying to be someone you are not.
- Disease-Prevention Aesop: An Aesop about avoiding getting sick or passing your illness to others.
- Gay Aesop: A lesson about acceptance and tolerance for the LGBT Community.
- Green Aesop: Mother Earth needs our help to protect the natural environment from man-made destruction.
- Prejudice Aesop: Don't prejudge people.
- "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: Go pick up a book, because reading literature is fun.
- Safe Driving Aesop: A lesson presented, usually through dictation or fear, about why we should all drive like our grandmas in the passenger seat.
- Sleep Aesop: Remember to get enough sleep!
- Subverted Suspicion Aesop: A subversion of the Stock Aesop "don't judge a book by its cover"; where Alice instinctively dislikes the newcomer Bob, is told to calm down and "give him a chance", but ultimately is vindicated when Bob proves to be a scumbag. This happens often enough that it gets its own trope.
- Trend Aesop: Please don't give into peer pressure and join in on some dumb fad like the rest of the crowd.
- A Weighty Aesop: Junk food is bad for you, so eat something that's more healthy.
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