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Broken Aesop

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"You can't have an anti-gun message when you clearly used guns to solve your problem! IT JUST DOESN'T WORK!"

Most children are familiar with the line "Do as I say, not as I do." A Broken Aesop is this in aesop form.

Basically, a Broken Aesop is a story where a 'moral' presented just doesn't match the original moral that the story actually contained. Sometimes the resulting moral feels tacked on or just plain hypocritical.

Common methods of breaking An Aesop include:

  • Non Sequiturs: Having the resolution rely on a Deus ex Machina, Space Whale Aesop or Karmic Twist Ending as opposed to the logical consequences of the lesson.
  • Not practicing what you preach: The characters tell other characters and/or the audience not to do something, while doing it themselves.
    • Commonly in RPGs and Westerns: a Thou Shalt Not Kill Aesop is followed by the next major battle having the characters kill something.
    • Characters preach an anti-gun or anti-violence message, while using guns and/or violence to solve their problems.
    • Characters learn not to do something, but go back to doing it in later installments.
  • Inconsistently applied morals:
  • Fallacious aesops:
    • Trying to teach Be Careful What You Wish For by using a Literal or Jackass Genie who never actually gave you what you wished for.
    • Saying anyone can do anything they set their mind to by their own resolve, when the character was born into royalty or privilege, born with some sort of superior genetic power, is just plain talented at what they do, has the Powers That Be on their side, or otherwise revealed to be from a powerful, significant bloodline or background explaining their greatness.
    • Learning that you shouldn't be sorry for something that wasn't really your fault, when it was, or learning that you should take responsibilities and accept that it was your fault, when it wasn't.
    • Learning about the folly of Revenge in a story where everyone the character wanted vengeance on gets punished or killed for their actions anyway.
    • Trying to teach a Prejudice Aesop, when the "prejudice" is actually based on a rational fear (e.g. a mouse afraid of cats is seen as prejudiced), when most of the group being discriminated against are obnoxious or scary, just not this one particular one (common in My Species Doth Protest Too Much situations), or when another group (usually the ones being prejudiced) are portrayed as universally reprehensible/bigoted (since the existence of such a group would actually make prejudice logical under certain circumstances).
Not to be confused with a Hard Truth Aesop, where the lesson is supported by the work, but it's something that parents probably wouldn't want their kids to learn. Also not to be confused with a Space Whale Aesop, where the lesson has no application outside of its fictional context (though the two can overlap). Compare Analogy Backfire, which is when an analogy (which may or may not contain an Aesop) makes a point that is the opposite of what it was supposed to. Do Not Do This Cool Thing is when the Aesop of "this thing is bad" fails due to clumsy presentation. See also Values Dissonance. For intentional Broken Aesops Played for Laughs, see Spoof Aesop.

Important Note: as tempting it may be, please do not add meta-fictional examples (while they may be a Clueless Aesop, they constitute an Ad Hominem argument). Only add examples where the aesop is broken within the narrative itself. This means do not add examples such as:

  1. "How many trees got cut down to produce that book warning us about deforestation?"
  2. "How much money did that film with the message against being greedy or about money not being everything or the anti-capitalist message gross at the box office?"
  3. "How great looking were the actors in that work telling us that looks aren't everything or that it's what's on the inside that counts?"
  4. "How much does the creator for that work with that Snicket Warning Label spend on advertising the work?"
  5. "Why is a television show/video game giving An Aesop about how people need to watch less TV/spend less time playing video games?"
  6. "Why is this movie/TV show/song telling us about how the entertainment industry is evil?"
  7. "If this movie/TV show/song/video game is calling me a bastard for enjoying it, then what does that say about the people who are making money off of it?"
  8. "Why is this movie/TV show/video game telling me that Ludd Was Right despite being made using modern technology?"
  9. "Why are these celebrities telling me that Celebrity Is Overrated?"
  10. "Why is this producer who was criticized for not paying their employees enough for even rent telling me I should treat my employees decently?"
  11. "Why is this children's book arguing that political activism shouldn't be targeted towards kids when the book itself has a political message?"

Another thing to note is that an author cannot directly invoke this trope. The whole point is that it's unintentional. The only way to directly invoke this is through other characters criticizing it via Breaking the Fourth Wall or a Show Within a Show format.


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  • A commercial for shows one such cougar, walking around a bar asserting the superiority of older women over younger women. She demonstrates how much more mature and confident she is by bullying and assaulting the younger women in the bar, who are already on dates, so she can take their place. While being condescending to twenty-somethings about their part-time jobs and shoving them out of their chairs might prove that you're confident, it does not make you mature.
  • Dr Pepper made an ad campaign based on individuality and "I gotta be me"... but the commercials had most everyone wearing near-identical red shirts with white text. While all of the text was different, in most crowd scenes everyone looked the same. They sorta fixed this when you could buy your own customized shirt... but then they went around giving people pre-made shirts. I guess I don't gotta be me, I just gotta be my shirt (and drink Dr Pepper).
  • Nintendo isn't immune from this either - in 1995 and early 1996, during the early years of the PlayStation, Nintendo put out commercials about their "arcade-perfect" Killer Instinct ports and closed each commercial with "So who needs a new system?" Later in 1996, when the Nintendo 64 was released, it aired commercials asking consumers to "Change the System." A lot of said consumers did - just not to the system they expected.
  • A PlayStation 3 commercial for the Move tries to say that motion control gaming is not just for children. It then shows a montage of about 6-9 games set to what may or may not be Chariots of Fire, about two of which most parents wouldn't let their child play. Even worse is the fact that a 12-year-old girl is seen playing one of the less child-friendly games. There's also the fact that the Wii made most of its money because motion control was successful for family gaming, which one who is a little more cynical could say is the entire reason Sony made the Move. That's also not getting into the fact that the whole point of the commercial, to say that motion control isn't just for children, is incredibly hypocritical considering the ones who first pushed the idea that motion control gaming is only for kids were Sony themselves.
  • In the 1970s there was a well-meaning anti-smoking PSA starring Yogi Bear and friends, while they had been seen smoking in their cartoons, and sold merchandise featuring smoking.
  • sponsors the "Pass It On" series of PSAs, one of which is about listening. Its last scene shows a woman silently washing the dishes while her husband is on his cell phone. He drops it into the sink and has to fish it out, scrambling to pick his call back up, only to have his wife (still silently) take it out of his hands and smugly drop it back into the sink. Instead of being pissed that his wife just drowned a hundred-dollar smartphone, he smiles contentedly and realizes the error of his ways, and goes on to focus on listening to her. The moral breaks because the story is about listening, and the wife pulls this stunt while her husband was on the phone and saying nothing out loud herself. What was he supposed to be listening to, if not the person with whom he was already speaking? Keep in mind as well, that's not the entirety of the commercial, as there are other scenes wherein the husband does want to talk and it's the wife who won't listen - maybe that's okay somehow?
  • Done deliberately by an Australian PSA about staying in school, made as a joke by a local ad agency. It started with a montage of a group of high school students sneaking out of class to party on a closed-off beach, set to optimistic-sounding music... and ended with a graphic depiction of all but one of them being killed by land mines, as the camera panned out to reveal warning signs about the beach being an explosive testing site. Because the ending is Diabolus ex Machina with no direct connection to the students' decision to cut school, the message instead becomes "don't break into fenced-in beaches"... which is a perfectly valid Aesop, just not the intended one.
  • During the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the anti-independence (No) campaign ran a video called The Woman Who Made Up Her Mind, which featured a woman talking to a camera in her kitchen about how this talk of independence was all very well, but did the pro-independence (Yes) campaign really know what they were talking about? Did they really know what would happen? She comes down against independence because she "just doesn't think" it will work out, but the lesson that the Yes campaign hadn't done the research and didn't know what would happen is lost, because although the No side was trying to present itself as the party of common sense, the woman doesn't have any facts to back herself up; her own doubts are entirely based on gut instinct and knee-jerk distrust of politicians. It was widely perceived as sexist and patronising for its portrayal of women as incapable of doing a basic Google search, and in the wake of it being shown on TV, the Yes campaign briefly overtook the No campaign in the polls.
  • Here's a Broken Aesop that doubles as a Clueless Aesop: In the early '90s, Nickelodeon ran several PSAs about the need to turn off the television and go outside. Around that same time, they ran a network promo depicting a kid being left alone on a baseball field, because all of his friends are in the living room watching Nick.
  • The Meth Project Ads are mainly a horrorshow series about how Drugs Are Bad. For the most part, they do their job admirably, particularly the ones directed by Darren Aronofsky, who's kind of famous for that, but a couple of them fall flat. They feature teenagers who wish they had been horribly injured if it diverted them from going to the place they tried meth for the first time. It fits the tone of the ads in general, but the characters are describing a catastrophic traffic accident and physical violence (implied to be a gay bashing) as being preferable to going to a party and trying meth. Meth is a bad idea, but you're a lot more likely to recover from drug addiction than the kind of complete and isolated helplessness due to crippling injury being described as the preferable outcome the ad suggests.
  • A series of 1990s ads featuring milk would have a situation where the character would have had great fortune if they'd just been able to drink a glass of milk and say something. However, one of them had a man being asked what the name of a new cookie should be, and mumble, "I don't know" through a mouthful of it, which his boss hears as "Oreo", choosing that name and praising him for the idea. So is the message that if we don't have milk we'll do well at work? Or is it that milk will help you do well at work only as long as your work doesn't involve cookies?
  • Believe it or not, Subway Restaurants of all people had this happen on a few occasions:
    • One ad that aired in the Halloween season had a thin and rather beautiful woman trying to convince two average guys who were eating basic fast food to give their food a try. Fair enough, but her objective for getting them to eat better was so that one could look good in female-oriented Halloween costumes. So, not only is the message undermined considerably (i.e., "Don't eat at our restaurant because the food is fresh and healthier; do it so that you can lose weight, look better in skanky outfits and be ogled by strange men"), but the fact she was saying this to men made little sense (and would look a lot worse if she were approaching two women with the same incentive).
    • Another ad featuring a popular character acting as a spokesman for the restaurant. The problem there is that the spokesman in question was Peter Griffin - you know, a morbidly obese borderline sociopath. Even if he did appear in the short-lived ads for purely an ironic sense, both fans and detractors of the show alike voiced their displeasure with the hypocrisy of the ads, with concerns ranging from accusing the show of selling out to confusion over why a fat guy is a spokesman for a restaurant that (supposedly) encourages a healthier lifestyle.
    • A Subway ad featuring soccer player Megan Rapinoe has the message to "choose better; be better" by choosing Subway over other fast food like burritos and burgers. It would be perfectly fine if she tried to persuade them by extolling the virtues of the sandwich, but she instead uses her athletic skills to physically compel them to her desired action. In one case she somehow uses the soccer ball to order a sandwich on the parkgoer's smartphone (including modifications she decided on). In another case she knocks food a guy already had onto the ground, forcing him to replace it, just because she thought her suggestion was better. Thus the takeaway is less "make better choices" and more "you are not allowed to choose what you eat for lunch."
  • Olay's "Make Space for Women" commercial, which premiered during the 2020 Super Bowl. Yes, more women should be involved in STEM fields, except the three women going to outer space are portrayed as ditzy, incompetent, and they even end up blowing themselves up in the end when one of them presses the big, shiny "Olay" button. Not the kind of stereotypes you want to associate with women in STEM, as these are the very outdated stereotypes that prevent women from being taken seriously in actual STEM fields in the first place.
  • A late-90's Domestic Violence PSA featured a father having lunch in a cafe with his two children, and an argument breaks out between a man and a woman a few tables over. The argument escalates throughout the ad, from yelling to threats, and finally the man bodily dragging the woman out of the cafe. During this escalation, the camera focuses on the father listening, and message cards appear rapidly, "When do you get involved? Now? Now? Now?" Then it focuses on his young son, and the card says, "Now." The implication being that a good parent needs to teach his son young to not be an abuser. know, a woman was being abused right in front of him and he didn't do anything. Not Quite the Right Thing, at best.
  • One Protegent ad begins with the message that parents need to be able to trust teachers. The ad itself is about a teacher noticing that someone has been looking at pornography on one of her class's computers, but being unable to find out who it was. Thanks to Protegent's monitoring functions, she finally manages to catch the culprit... and decides that she will not tell his parents about what he's been doing. Because teachers who keep secrets about something as big as this from their students' parents are totally trustworthy.
  • A couple of MADD PSA's against underage drinking cautions that the younger a boy starts drinking alcohol, the more likely he is to abuse it. That is technically true, but the scenarios they use are wholesome bonding moments that are clearly examples of responsible consumption. Okay, sure, if a boy starts drinking habitually at a young age (genetic predisposition to addiction notwithstanding), he'll be more likely to develop alcoholism, but in general, he's a lot less likely to start drinking habitually at all if he develops a healthy relationship with alcohol when he's in his teens. For instance, if his responsible, openly-affectionate father demonstrated moderation by allowing one celebratory beer after a successful fishing trip with his elderly grandfather, or a half-shot of scotch to toast his acceptance to a prestigious university. That second one is especially contradictory because the Mothers Against Drunk Driving don't even have anything to worry about, they're already home, nobody's driving anywhere!

  • In his stand-up, Ricky Gervais identifies the Broken Aesop inherent in a version of the children's folk tale 'The Lazy Mouse and the Industrious Mouse' that he was told by his headmaster at a school assembly. In the story, the Industrious Mouse labours long and hard to prepare himself for winter, whilst the Lazy Mouse bunks off and has fun. When winter comes, the Lazy Mouse has nothing, so goes to avail himself of the charity of the Industrious Mouse — who, after beginning a lecture about how the Lazy Mouse should have done his own preparing, suddenly turns around and invites him in to share. Gervais notes with exasperation that the moral is mangled from being "work hard and be prepared for the future" into becoming, in his words, "fuck around, do whatever you want and then scrounge off a do-gooder". He also notes that most of the pupils at that assembly took the latter aesop and "kept it up" for the entirety of their academic careers. He also points out that, thanks to the Rule of Three, the moral of the tale of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is not "never tell a lie", but rather "never tell the same lie twice." He rounds it off by inferring that the moral of "Humpty Dumpty" must be "don't climb walls if you're an egg".

    Comic Strips 
  • The Dick Tracy "Crimestopper's Guide" feature that runs with the Sunday strip provides several generally helpful crime prevention tips. However, they often are, if not broken, then at least hypocritical in the face of the main action: It reminds that "you cannot spot a criminal by their facial features", while the strip is best known for its grotesquely ugly villains. It also has exhortations for people to "get involved" when they see a crime committed, while in the strip helpful bystanders tend to quickly end up dead. And so on.
  • E.C. Segar's Thimble Theater, where Popeye first appeared, sometimes had an And Knowing Is Half the Battle segment in which Popeye would teach morals. In one of them Popeye seriously teaches kids not to be lazy with their language and mispronounce words ("sumpin' for "something", for instance). It was originally used as an occasional gag, but after Segar's untimely demise other writers sometimes forgot that it was supposed to be ironic.
  • The Wizard of Id does an annual Veterans Day strip where it pays tribute to the US military, using the Id army as a metaphor for them. However, the rest of the year, Id's military, and especially their commander-in-chef Sir Rodney, are depicted as incompetent, bumbling cowards, so the compliment comes off as backhanded at best.

    Fairy Tales 
  • Beauty and the Beast in its various tellings usually ends up having a Broken Aesop (especially in modern versions) that is naturally an inversion of the complaint about Shrek. It's believed that the story was originally told to girls who were in arranged marriages to men they didn't care for, so Values Dissonance may be involved.
    • The story is supposedly saying that Beauty comes to see beyond the Beast's appearance and accept him for who he is... except that they're only able to live Happily Ever After when the curse is broken and he reverts to a perfect Handsome Prince (and thus comes off as "only beautiful people can love each other" instead... though this sort of neglects the fact that the transformation is the Beast's reward, not Belle's). In the versions where he is clearly some sort of animal or mix of animals, this "broken Aesop" cannot be avoided without getting too close to bestiality for most audience members' comfort, so for the writers this is a case of Morton's Fork.
    • The most well-known versions of this tale by Beaumont and Disney actually cut out the worst of the original Villeneuve story's broken aesop. Villeneuve's backstory for the Prince revealed him to have been cursed by a fairy who's explicitly described as "wicked" and "ugly", whereas the good fairy who helps him break the curse is described as strikingly beautiful. Not only that, but there's a second Broken Aesop that emerges when the Prince's mother refuses to let him marry Beauty because she's a commoner; the Prince and good fairy both argue that Beauty's virtues should make her worthy of his hand on their own, but then the fairy explains that Beauty is actually the daughter of a fairy princess (it makes sense in context... sort of) and hence of royal birth after all, rendering that moral completely moot.
    • There's also the broken aesop that comes from the fact that in a story that is supposed to be about not judging people by their appearances, the most notable aspect of the heroine is her beauty. It can make the story seem a bit less about looking beyond appearances and more beautiful women should be willing to settle for ugly men. Some variants avoid this by making Beauty's name at least partially ironic, but usually she is presented as the epitome of both physical and inner beauty, while her less attractive sisters are just as ugly on the inside. Not to mention how many variants explicitly state that the Prince is not just handsome but the handsomest man Beauty has ever seen or even the handsomest one in the world.
    • Christian novelist Karen Kingsbury's Unlocked inadvertently showed up some of the problems with this story by using it as a metaphor for autism. The novel has a beautiful, popular high school senior named Ella (re)befriending a boy, Holden, who has Hollywood Autism and is completely noncommunicative — a situation triggered when he wants to sit in on rehearsals for a School Play of the Disney adaptation of this story as he's drawn to the music. She's playing Belle, and Holden is a metaphorical Beast figure in that he's "cursed" with autism. The whole story is about how music, friendship, and God "break" this "curse" and get him out of his shell, suggesting that autistic people cannot be appreciated for their inner qualities and have fulfilling lives unless others help them become more "normal". If the intended Aesop were being followed, the other characters would be happy with him as he is — after all, it isn't something that he can help or brought upon himself — if still helping him to have a more-rounded out life. As well, he's as physically attractive as Ella, and while the author tries to couch this as a reflection of his inner beauty, it again suggests that the hero has to be incredibly handsome to be worthy of the beautiful heroine... and especially if he's disabled.
  • Bluebeard by Charles Perrault seems to be going for the moral of "curiosity killed the cat." The heroine disobeys her husband's order to never open a certain door of his house, and discovers his secret: Bluebeard is a Serial Killer, and the forbidden room contains the bodies of his previous wives. Bluebeard learns of her intrusion, and tries to kill her. However, the moral falls apart when one considers that she would never have found out about her husband's dark secret if she had been obedient, and in most versions of the story, she manages to get away from him and ends up marrying a less-murderous guy instead, a much better fate than the other wives'. If she hadn't looked in the forbidden room, she probably would have wound up getting on Bluebeard's bad side when her sister and brothers hadn't been around. The true moral should be please be curious. Or, "Be curious and not clumsy."
  • The fairy tale of Donkey Skin. It's not enough that the prince loves the beautiful mystery girl who is found hiding as a scullery maid; she has to be outed as a runaway princess before the marriage is acceptable. Even though her hard work, intelligence, and bravery note  show her to be an amazing young woman.
  • There are countless legends (as well as other types of works) that feature the story of a young princess who is in love with a commoner but cannot marry him because he is not of noble blood. Different stories end differently, but in the majority of cases, this "commoner" will be revealed to have noble blood by the end of the story. The often spontaneous discovery that the commoner is a prince will suddenly lift all boundaries, put a satisfied smile on the king's previously-angry face, and be followed by the sound of wedding bells. In other words, while the intended Aesop is usually that "true love conquers all", it is in fact social status that conquers all, and must be properly matched before true love can do its magic. Now, this may have been fine in the days when most societies on Earth had a strict class structure - even commoners held the misconception that the nobles were somehow innately more elevated than they were, and thus should look after their bloodlines.
  • One of Aesop's fables, The Satyr and the Peasant, is about a satyr who meets a poor traveler lost in the woods, and invites him to his home. He notices the peasant first blowing on his hands to warm them, then blowing on a bowl of soup to cool it off. The Satyr immediately kicks his guest out, declaring that "a man who blows hot and cold in the same breath can't be trusted", metaphorically meaning that someone who frequently changes his mind to avoid committing to a conclusion or to align himself with both sides of a conflict. The problem is, obviously, that the man isn't blowing hot and cold in the same breath, his breath is the same temperature every time! It's just that his breath is warmer than his cold hands and cooler than his hot soup, meaning he was actually being consistently moderate.
  • Another Aesop's fables, The Tortoise and the Hare, is usually quoted with the moral of "slow and steady wins the race". Except, that's not what happened. The Hare only lost the race because he got overconfident and took a nap during the race. The real moral could have been "don't underestimate your opponent and get cocky." From the point of view of the tortoise, it's more that "slow and steady wins the race if your opponent is fast but unsteady enough in his progress that you can catch up". Or, it's a fable about small sample sizes. Some adaptations do attempt to fix this aesop by either pointing out it was the Hare's fault he lost; or by having the hare pass out from exhaustion because they overexerted themselves which adds another layer to the moral.
  • Aesop's tale of Boreas and Helios is often used to promote the moral that gentleness wins over harshness. Except it doesn't work, because the reasons for Helios' victory and Boreas' loss are inherent to the characters. No matter how gentle wind would blow, you'd still cling on to your cloak, while you wouldn't really have any choice but to take it off if the sun suddenly flared. Also, making someone all hot and sweaty isn't really "gentle".
  • Another fable, "The Cock and the Jewel", is the very short tale of a rooster who goes scratching in the yard to find himself and his hens some food, and turns up a gemstone that someone lost from a piece of jewelry. He says that if its owner had found it, the owner would take it and put it back in its setting because it's obviously a very precious stone, but since he's a rooster and has no use for them, he'd rather have a single piece of corn than all the jewels in the world. The moral is often interpreted as "be content with your own lot", but the rooster clearly understands that a jewel has material worth to others and he can talk. The jewel could have bought him plenty of corn and nothing about his situation would have changed, except he would have succeeded in providing for his family. (Medieval interpretations of this fable tend to make it into a religious allegory and represent the cock as foolish: the jewel, in these versions, represents the word of God and the cock represents people who ignore spiritual matters in favor of material concerns.)
  • An older (or alternate) version of the Honest Axe fable apparently had the moral of "a river does not always bring axes"—that is to say, "people and circumstances aren't static, so don't always expect the same results, and what works for one person might not work for another." While it's a pretty good message, it's fallen by the wayside for the more well-known interpretation, because it doesn't really jibe with the story's events. The second woodcutter doesn't fail where the first woodcutter succeeded because of an outside circumstance or a change in terms or bad luck, he fails because he lied out of greed while his neighbor stayed truthful.
  • "The Dog and the Wolf" has a starving wolf reject a dog's offer to work on his farm, knowing he'll starve to death, because he equates the dog being chained up for safety by a collar to slavery despite the fact that the dog is free enough to talk to a wolf in the woods without fearing for his life. The moral fails because the wolf literally just found a source of food: a farm guarded by a dog stupid enough to approach a starving wolf in the wild and offer him a job. It may be better to choose death over slavery, but the way the story presents the situation, that's not the choice the wolf is making. He's choosing death over slavery and stealing from his foolish enemies, something that most fables present as the mark of a clever person.

    Fan Works 
  • Calvin & Hobbes: The Series: "RIP Calvin", according to Word of God, was supposed to teach that "no one is immortal." However, the cast in said episode are revived via time travel.
  • Child of the Storm:
    • From the start, it says that Pure-blood extremists and HYDRA are wrong and that heritage doesn't matter and anyone can be great if they try. But the story does not follow that format at all, with apparently everyone significant having special heritage, including Lily, brilliant muggleborn witch, who's related to Jean Grey (Harry's second cousin). Also, Hermione, other brilliant muggleborn witch? No, she's actually the daughter of the Scarlet Witch, daughter of Magneto and potential Sorceress Supreme, and John Constantine. Same with Carol Danvers - courageous Badass Normal (pre-powers - though as of 2019, in the comics she was always part Kree) who succeeded through wit and skill? Actually related to Captain America.
    • Then there's the explanation that most Kryptonians have only the Golden Age power-set under a yellow sun, and only a 'Child of the Thirteen' (Krypton's ruling oligarchy) has the full set. However, this is regarded as suspicious In-Universe - why only those thirteen families? It's eventually explained in chapter 59 of the sequel as being a complete accident: all Kryptonians had/have that potential, but it was artificially limited for whatever reason. The only reason the Thirteen unlocked it was because their ancestors made diplomatic marriages with those few non-Kryptonian species they felt were worthy allies and could breed true with, and the hybrids essentially replaced the genes that limited their potential. Exactly why this was done in the first place is unclear.
    • It is also made clear that all those power-sets/inheritances were engineered by the series' Magnificent Bastard in chief, Doctor Strange, as part of his plan to stop Thanos. He explains that it isn't so much power that counts, but personality, how the possessor chooses to use it. He explicitly says that he could have given anyone powers and all, but it takes a special person to be The Hero, and like Dr Erskine with Steve, he picked Harry because he was a hero in spite of all he had/could do, not because of it.
  • Fantasia Times has three major themes running through it that get brought up repeatedly; all of them are subjected to this.
    • "Don't judge others based on who they are at first glance." A decent message, except the protagonists constantly belittle both Purebloods and Royals for nothing more than being...well, Purebloods and Royals. Not to mention that main character Andi engages in Fantastic Racism against some other species (anthro tigers and vampires) that was caused by a single member of each species, and she refuses to see other members of those species as anything but the same as her tormentors.
    • Another Aesop constantly espoused by Andi is that bullying is wrong and should be prevented at every opportunity...except she herself is guilty of constantly bullying the Royals as well as anyone else who so much as disagrees with her.
    • Andi also believes wholeheartedly in rejecting destiny and following one's own path, and often berates those who think otherwise. This is heavily contradicted by two things: 1) the Red String of Fate is alive and well in this series, as several characters are fated to be together; and 2) a major story arc involves her preparing her friends for their destinies, and they apparently have no way out of this. "The Sword of Ghostinya!" is a good example of how bad this gets; Danny repeatedly says he doesn't want to rule a kingdom, but is given no say in the matter when he's chosen as the next ruler of the titular kingdom.
  • Forged Destiny:
    • The very core of the story about ‘Jaune forging his own destiny’ is this, as the actual events see he’s constantly being involved in events due to the urging and machinations of other people (particularly Ozpin), and that his very ability to become a Hero was due to conveniently having a wish granted by Salem, despite never actually meeting her, as part of her intent to kill him by throwing Jaune into danger she believed he couldn’t survive. Thus despite the core theme or various statements by the author, the story sees Jaune mostly being thrown into things by others with him just going along.
      • Gets especially egregious in the final arc where both Jaune and Ruby are guilted and politically arm twisted to become King and Queen of Vale to discourage another war with Mistral, with their only act of self-determination being taking the positions but not being actually married.
    • When Ruby finally reveals the details of her Class to the rest of the guild and is then easily accepted by them, Jaune ruminates that the rest of the guild might have been just as accepting of him had he not "chose not to take the plunge Ruby had" and instead trusted his friends with his secret. The problems with this assessment are numerous. For one, Ruby was only revealing the details of her Class because the situation necessitated that she do so to effectively face Raven and would have preferred never explaining them to the rest of the Hunters at all. Secondly, Jaune's secret was of entirely greater severity than Ruby's as the revelation of his true Class could have led to his permanent incarceration or execution while Ruby's had been sanctioned by the King himself. Additionally, Pyrrha even admitted that had Jaune revealed the truth of his Class at any point before the quest to Mistral, then she would have turned him over to the authorities, and that she would have still distrusted him had he done so at a later time. Lastly, Ruby reveals the details of her Class not only with the support of Jaune and Yang, but also after the rest of the Hunters have already had time to learn from the atrocious actions they performed when Jaune's true nature was revealed. And this doesn't even address the issue that being a Reaper is an entirely new and unknown Class, and thus the whole point is to see whether or not it's appropriate for the Hero Caste, negating many of the similarities to Jaune's situation, which has a more obvious niche in society.
    • Another one comes at Salem and Jaune's confrontation in Book 8. After Raven wishes to bring Salem down from an Eldritch Abomination and into an immensely powerful but now kill-able RPG being, Salem gives a rather long-winded diatribe about the inherent pettiness of humanity and how despite constantly summoning her to grant their desires, no one who makes a wish either expects to sacrifice anything nor shows any gratitude for having their dreams come true; effectively trying to give The Reason You Suck speech. This is of course a pretty nonsensical argument when one remembers that the entire story showcases how to get Salem to appear, one has to commit horrific acts deserving of death (with the few exceptions being ones the author pointedly never elaborates how they came about), and that Salem usually goes about making the wish in a way that harms more people than just the wish maker. Worse is the fact Word of God has constantly explained that Salem MUST grant a wish, and it MUST be in a way that results in death, thus removing any agency in Salem's actions, and indeed making her inner-character entirely irrelevant. Thus she's not only undeserving of any gratitude, one can say Salem is less of the Big Bad that the characters fight, than the author's system of how her wish granting plays out as being the true evil in the story.
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is principally about how great "rationality" is and how it makes you a better person. But far more often, Harry's successes are found less through intelligent and logical reasoning or research, and more through pure emotional appeals, the narrative bending the rules of magic in his favor, or blind luck.
  • The Ever After High fic Knights of the Otherworld supposedly supports the original show's general message of "girls, you don't have to wait around for Prince Charming, you can take control of your own destiny." Unfortunately, it does this while making the fic about a bunch of (mostly male) superheroes who are the only ones who can do anything about monsters invading the kingdom. So the fic encourages the subjects of the fairytale kingdom to be free to choose their own futures, while making them completely dependent on the author's much more powerful characters. This makes the story into exactly the kind of standard plot about male heroes and damsels in distress that Ever After High was subverting. The attempted reboot has gotten even worse about this, making the people of the fairytale kingdom unable to understand the danger the invading monsters pose to them, requiring teens from Earth to come and look after them.
  • My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic has its own page.
  • Discussed in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Fan Fic Twilight Switch. After witnessing Applejack losing a large harvest of apples, Twilight feels guilty about not being able to help and tries to figure out a spell to fix it. Applejack eventually explains that she'd lost the apples due to her own hard-headedness; if Twilight just magicked up a solution, it'd be like a "get out of stubbornness free" card and she wouldn't have to deal with the consequences of her actions, effectively ruining a hard-learned lesson.
  • The Prayer Warriors keeps emphasizing that women are weak and should be subservient to men. However, in Battle with the Witches, it's Ebony who does most of the work in gathering the keys to bring down Dumbledore; in Threat of Satanic Commonism, it's Mary who kills "John Lennon"; and in Evil Gods Part Two, it's Ebony (again) who can capture Socrates. These examples, as well as several other cases of female Prayer Warriors fighting multiple enemies at once, makes one have to wonder just how weak and useless the women are.
  • The Elfen Lied fanfic Robo Bando goes on and on about how pedophiles are complete scum and need to die, yet one of the later main 'heroes' is the Pedobear.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos emphasizes with the Angels that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are bad. Really, really bad. However, compared with the Demons, they were portrayed as the more honorable and nicer faction overall. The rewrite fixes this somewhat by making the Angels far more morally gray than the original, even with some of more sympathetic Angel characters like Jesus. It also makes the Demons more gray too, to emphasize the fact that both sides are flawed and similar.

  • Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" tries to have a "Kiss the Frog" moral about turning a man down who becomes a pop star, but the final chorus "I'll be at a studio, singing a song I wrote.." implies that the song is not from the point of view of a random other woman, but Avril Lavigne herself. This means that it completely ignores the extremely strong possibility that she ended up in a relationship with a pop star because she is one too.
  • BarlowGirl's "She Walked Away" begins with a girl leaving her home and makes it sound like she was being abused and finally had the courage to leave after a Break the Cutie moment (If there were tears she laughed, it's time to kiss the past goodbye) but then suddenly has her family singing about how God should tell her to please come home, making the song's apparent aesop "Home is where the heart is, even if you're being abused." Alternately, she was just a plain ol' runaway. The lyrics are ambiguous.
  • "'Right!', Said Fred" by Bernard Cribbins is about three men trying to move something into another room but they end up taking the things off the "so-and-so" and removing the door, wall, and ceiling of the house. Its apparent moral is "don't be hasty", but it falls apart when you realise that none of the things they did were hasty per se— Charlie is usually the one to suggest them (while it's the titular Fred who's called out for being "hasty"), and he always "thinks" before suggesting something. If anything, the moral should be "taking things off is sometimes a bad idea".
  • The Double Take song "Hot Problems" is about two girls "singing" that even though they're hot, they're still imperfect and have their fair share of struggles. At the very end, they laugh and say, "Just kidding; we're perfect!"
  • Parodied by the Flight of the Conchords song "Think About It", which takes a swipe at well-meaning but ultimately fatuous protest songs. The song raises moral issues but completely misses the point of them:
    They're turning kids into slaves
    Just to make cheaper sneakers
    But what's the real cost?
    'Cause the sneakers don't seem that much cheaper...
    Why're we still paying so much for sneakers when you've got them made by little slave kids?
    What is your overhead?
  • Kat McSnatch has "Don't Be a Racist", Played for Laughs, which starts with Kat advising about the song title, only for her (and her rapping partner) to burst into full-blown racism.
  • Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us" has an anti-bigotry/injustice message, even name-dropping Martin Luther King, Jr. at one point. But thanks to poor context, the lines "Jew me, sue me" and "Kick me, K*ke me", which were supposed to be refer to Jews being treated badly rather than Jews treating others badly, were misinterpreted as anti-Semitic (the "sue me" rhyme didn't help Jackson's case). These two lines were changed for the single release and later pressings of the album as a result.
  • Some of Taylor Swift's songs fall victim of this:
    • "Mean" is one example. First she states that she won't let the "mean" girl who insults and bullies her draw her into a Cycle of Revenge... and then she spends the rest of the song mocking her for how "pathetic" and "alone in life" she is and how she'll never been anything other than "mean". Worse, the song was reportedly a Take That! aimed towards a music critic who slammed Swift's singing. The lesson seems less like "Don't bully other people" than "Don't bully Taylor Swift."
    • Then you have "You Belong With Me", where she plays a high school girl who steals another girl's boyfriend but only after she dresses and acts exactly like her, despite the music video implying that the original girlfriend was unsavory by dressing the way she did. The boyfriend seems content in choosing the hotter girl, as looks appear to be top priority.
  • "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire (ft. Krayzie Bone) has a message about being racially profiled, but then brags about smoking weed and driving drunk, making it look like the cops are actually justified in wanting to catch them "ridin' dirty".
  • Meghan Trainor:
    • "All About That Bass" by promotes the Aesop that you are beautiful and your body is fine the way it is, but then refers to "skinny bitches", which naturally generated a lot of criticism for undermining its message and stereotyping women based on their weight. This generally ignores the second half of the verse, which acknowledges that thin women can also be insecure about their bodies and that they are perfect from the bottom to the top too. Some other lines also imply that beauty is based on others' opinions. It's also worth noting that the heavyset male dancer in the music video is portrayed as effeminate, campy, and humorous, while the actor playing Meghan's boyfriend is slender. Plenty of men/boys have issues with Body Image, and presenting such a Double Standard doesn't help. It becomes Harsher in Hindsight after she told People magazine that she tried to go "anorexic" (she really just tried dieting), which was pretty insensitive towards people who actually have eating disorders. Plus, despite promoting "girl power", she claims that she's not a feminist because she thinks it carries a negative connotation, which makes most of her songs seem like Broken Aesops. There's a Bowdlerized version of "All About That Bass" which changes the line "boys like a little more booty to hold at night" to "boys like their girls for the beauty they hold inside"... which completely contradicts the intended message about body positivity.
  • The Finnish song "Albatrossi" ("Albatross") by Juha Vainio tells the story of two childhood friends who went their different ways; the narrator wishes he had been like the other, who took charge of his own life and became a sailor. The central explicit metaphor is that the sailor is like a tireless (and free) albatross, while the narrator has been like a gull, "the man who doesn't finish his work and who builds everything on mere dreams." But the actual story before this was that the sailor ran off to the sea when fifteen, while the narrator stayed behind studying and working as he was expected to do — and regretted not following his dreams. The sailor may have been more determined to seize the day, but the difference between the characters was hardly that he worked harder instead of building his life on a dream.
    • The song is based on one of Juha Vainio's childhood friends, who indeed did become a sailor. But given to the fact Juha Vainio had quite hollow legs, the flip side of the maritime life would most likely have proven him disastrous.
  • "The Christmas Shoes" by NewSong gets a lot of criticism for the less sentimental interpretation of its message , but the message itself is broken just by the events of the song. The opening lines paint the narrator's obligate gift-buying as being against the spirit of Christmas, but the whole point of the story is that the little boy is spending Christmas Eve trying to buy a material gift for his dying mother so she can look beautiful when she meets Jesus... instead of actually spending time with her.
  • Coven's "One Tin Soldier" is an illustration of the perils of using a moral ideal to justify mistreating others, sarcastically encouraging the audience to go ahead and be an asshole "in the name of Heaven" because you'll always be able to say you did the right thing (and there won't be anyone to call out the winner if they make sure all the losers are dead). Unfortunately, the actual story being told to the children is a fable about the Valley People sacking the Mountain People's castle to steal their treasure, only to find that the treasure is just the idea of peace. The moral fails because the Valley People demand literal gold, and rather than just saying that there isn't any, the Mountain People offer to share their treasure and just never send anything back. Sure, the Valley People are greedy dicks, but the conflict was a matter of Poor Communication Kills, not a moral issue. It also fails because the Valley People never actually try to justify their actions and their motives are nakedly "take their stuff because we can".
  • Harry Chapin's iconic "Cat's in the Cradle" is about a neglectful father who is always working too hard to spend time with his son, whose son nevertheless grows up idolising him and swearing to become just like him. At the end of the song when the son has grown up and the father retired, the father tries to connect with his son now that he has time to spend, only to be brushed off by the son who's too busy with his own work now, leading to the father realising "He'd grown up just like me". Except rather than growing up to neglect his own kids the way his father neglected him, one of the reasons the son actually cites for having no time for his father is "the kids have the flu", so it ends up being less about a cycle of mistakes being perpetuated, and more about the father being treated the same way he treated his son, who grew up to be the opposite of his father, despite the repeated line "I'm gonna be like you, Dad, you know I'm gonna be like you".

    Music Videos 
  • The Lemon Demon song "Geeks in Love" has a fairly good (if tired-out) message by itself, that it is better to be unique and spend time with the rare person who shares your own interests than to be hip and hang with the crowd. However, its music video by Albino Black Sheep functions largely as a tribute to every other annoying Internet fad in the world, and aligning them with the interests of the eponymous couple. It's not really individualism when you swap one dull set of pop-culture icons out for another just like it.
  • Michael Jackson examples:
    • Michael Jackson's Ghosts, according to Word of God, is a story of how True Beauty Is on the Inside, and how just because a person is "different" from others doesn't make them bad. Unfortunately, the two characters Jackson plays both break the aesop. The bigoted Mayor — a fat, middle-aged white guy — is mocked throughout, with no redeeming qualities. The ostensibly good Maestro — effectively Jackson himself — magically imprisons the angry mob confronting them and tortures the helpless Mayor, proving he really was the dangerous "freaky boy" the Mayor accused him of being! Even if you ignore the Mayor and the mob of paranoid parents, the Maestro is still a necromancer who regularly summons a bunch of undead to do his bidding. That's a legitimate concern for an otherwise normal suburban neighborhood.
    • The music video of "Bad" has Michael being bullied by gang members for being a pussy because he refused to "rob" people and doesn't hang down with them a lot. Michael confronts them by — suddenly appearing in a leather outfit and doing an impressive sing-and-dance routine where he boasts about how "bad" he is. In the end the others who doubted him do respect him. So... what was the message exactly? Give in to peer pressure? It's good to be "bad", because you would rather be called that than being called a coward? Being "bad" equals being a good singer and dancer? It seems that Michael was Comically Missing the Point the gang member was trying to make.
    • "Black or White" has the "panther dance" near the end of the video, where Michael smashes up a car and windows and then transforms into a black panther. It confused a lot of people, especially because the violence is such a contrast with the rest of the video. And the black panther also brings up associations with the Afro-American Black Panther movement, whose members weren't always that peaceful or tolerant to non-blacks either. In later broadcasts the panther dance was cut from the video, which makes it work a whole lot better on its own. When it was finally reinstated racist messages were digitally added to the things Michael smashes in the video, giving it a more understandable context.
  • Notorious B.I.G and Puff Daddy's video for Mo' Money, Mo' Problems stars Puff as a golf champion who laments over his recent acquisition of wealth in lieu with the song's title. For some reason, that doesn't seem to stop him from rapping for about three minutes about how awesome it is to be rich.
  • Queen's song "Radio Ga Ga" is all about how music video is ruining music and we should all just listen to the radio instead. The accompanying music video features lavish sets and costumes, footage from the film Metropolis (the restoration of which it was made to promote) and a montage of clips of music videos from earlier Queen songs.
  • The animated music video for Teddyloid's ME!ME!ME! is pretty intense and is subject to a few varying interpretations, but the message is laid out fairly clearly no matter which one you go with: mass-produced, consumer-driven sexuality is damaging and unsatisfying compared to real relationships. For all the otherwise well-done and disturbingly powerful imagery, it contrasts the mass-produced Moe sex kittens with the "real" girl by... having the real girl look more or less exactly like them, except she dresses modestly and is crying helplessly and in danger. It's really not helping the message to design your bad-girl villains according to the emotionally-manipulative design tropes of the Moe type, and then use those same emotionally-manipulative design tropes to make your good-girl damsel more sympathetic to the audience.
  • The music video for Disturbed's The Vengeful One, a song about blaming the media for mass shooters, has the band's mascot/avatar... going on a shooting spree against the media, breaking into the news building and gunning down as many of them as he can. It even includes phrases straight out of a psychotic active shooter's manifesto, like "I'm the hand of God, I'm the dark messiah". It turns the aesop from "Stop giving mass shooters attention, it just creates more of them" to "Mass shootings are okay and actually very cool as long as you pick the right target".

    Print Media 

    Pro Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the fluff of Warhammer 40,000, a beloved minor character was Ollanius Pius, the name given to an unknown guardsman who sacrificed himself by heroically charging at Horus in protection of his Emperor and defiance of the Dark Powers. Though Pius was immediately vaporized, he was held up as a shining example of a Badass Normal and what makes the Imperial Guard what it is (and the sight of Horus deliberately destroying a man who was objectively no threat to him is what finally convinced the Emperor that Horus could not be saved). Until he was retconned as being a superhuman Space Marine, and then a member of the Adeptus Custodes (who are to the Space Marines what a Space Marine is to a human). When he was eventually brought back into canon, he was turned into a Perpetual, a sort of Super-immortal who can regenerate From a Single Cell that had been alive since ancient earth. Needless to say, this kinda undermines the idea of him being a normal man who bravely spat in the face of Chaos.

  • In Dreamgirls, Lorrell's plotline involves her affair with the married Jimmy "Thunder" Early, the singer who gave the girls their big break by hiring them as his backup singers. It's a continued source of frustration for Lorrell that Jimmy won't commit to her because he's married, and eventually she breaks up with him when she's sick of his crap. This is supposed to be a crowning moment of awesome for Lorrell, showing that she is finally standing up for herself. However, as much as Jimmy is cast in a negative light for engaging in a years-long affair, Lorrell is never called out for willingly taking part in it. She only breaks up with him because she's not getting what she wants, not due to the immorality of the situation.
  • The Team StarKid show Firebringer had an entire subplot that claims religion is deluded and evil (the tribe shaman's belief in an all-powerful duck that made the world in seven "quacks" feels awfully specific). It feels very awkward, however, when the big message that "there is no God" is delivered by one of the Ancient Astronauts from the species that created life on earth.
  • The Gingerbread House In The Forest has Johann chastising Gretel for assuming Nada is a witch just because she is ugly. Of course, Nada is a witch.
  • Moličre often has stories involving young people in love, wanting to marry despite being rich/poor, or noble/commoner, and most time at least one has his parents planning an Arranged Marriage for him. Stories always end with the poor revealed to be actually rich, the commoner a noble. In Les Fourberies de Scapin, he also makes two pairs of people revealed to be actually brother and sister. Remember Molière was playing for the king, so the twist endings mean the stories can be interpreted as being about refusing the parental Arranged Marriage, then the last five minutes have the parents agree with the true love marriage.
  • In a case of a perfectly decent moral being killed by a followup, the ending of the original The Phantom of the Opera was the Phantom letting Christine go because he recognized that she wouldn't be happy with him, because he's a psychotic murderer and she isn't. Moral - "If you really love a person, recognize their right to turn you down." There's also the fact that the Phantom is a pariah because of his appearance, and the main reason he is the way he is owes to this unfair ostracism. Moral - "Bad people are, often, only victims of their environment and could change if they were ever shown kindness." But in Love Never Dies, the distant sequel, it's proclaimed that Christine actually was pining for the Phantom, they have an illegitimate kid, and her life with her actual love interest Raul is shown to be unhappy. Meanwhile, the Phantom has become incredibly wealthy and is surrounded by an entourage and admirers, but he's just as much of a violent possessive weirdo as ever. This pretty handily breaks both morals; turns out that the Phantom was right to try to keep Christine to himself forever, and he'd be an asshole no matter what.
  • RENT:
    • We are told we should all live our lives to the fullest because we could die tomorrow, and there is no day like today. But if you do happen to die, you can come back to life through The Power of Rock.
    • The concept of there being "no day but today," which is sung about a lot, is subverted in the second act through the use of passage of time: the first act, in which the mantra occurs extremely frequently, takes place in one day while the second takes place over the course of a year (in which the mantra is shown to be faulty at best).
    • For people who spend the whole time talking about love and loving life, the circle of friends seems to have a lot of cheating, poor communication, and emotional sniping at each other - no one is enjoying themselves very much, or following Angel's lauded example. And, for that matter, Collins, who spends his time loving Angel and loving life with Angel ends up pretty much broken because of Angel's death.
  • In The Scarlet Sails, the intended aesop of not letting go of your dreams falls somewhat flat.
    • The musical aims at praising hope, dreaminess and the power of imagination, like the original book did. However, the book's dreamy heroine who manages to have a fulfilling life despite the ostracism she faces is turned into a borderline lunatic whose entire life is centred on her dream of the scarlet sails. The bullying she faces is depicted in grim detail, her relationship with her own father is dysfunctional, and the one time she is shown to be cheerful is when she decides to lay her dreaming aside and attend the local tavern.
    • Likewise, the original book's hopeful message of dreams coming true is preserved in the musical but severely undermined by the changes made to the book's plot. Assol's imaginary Prince Charming really turns out to be a charismatic, kind-hearted Rebel Prince (well, nobleman) in the book, while here, he is Demoted to Extra and first appears as just a random sailor having fun at a brothel.
  • Starlight Express:
    • According to the finale, electricity and diesel fuel will eventually run out, but somehow steam power is sustainable. What exactly are we burning to get this magical steam? Also wood/coal burning steam engines are better than environmentally friendly options like solar and nuclear power. This last one may be because it was written in the 1980s.
    • In the closing number "Light At The End Of The Tunnel," the characters do briefly consider solar and nuclear energy, but then dismiss them because 1) How is one supposed to make use of solar power at night? and 2) People would get poisoned by nuclear fallout. Legitimate complaints, oversimplified, to be sure - but, then, this is a children's story.
    • Richard Stilgoe, the show's lyricist, knew full well that steam engines polluted the environment; he claimed that it was far easier for audiences to sympathize with a steam locomotive than a diesel or electric one, since steamers had more of a historical precedent. But the finale, according to him, is meant to symbolize the triumph of "old-fashioned craftsmanship" over new technology. Take a moment to consider why a steam locomotive is not a suitable representative of "old-fashioned craftsmanship."
  • Wicked:
    • Wicked's primary question, 'what makes one wicked?,' and all the messages that go with it, end up mildly broken due to the Lighter and Softer adaptation. For all of Elphaba's problems, in the musical, she is never truly wicked, so the musings seem kind of pointless. Also, the (admittedly depressing) aesop of 'No good deed going unpunished' is broken by Elphaba getting a happy ending in contrast to the extreme Downer Ending of the book.
  • We Will Rock You depicts a future where people have become mindless consumers who all consume the same band fashions, music and lifestyles. Our heroes are the Bohemians, underground rebels who oppose the mainstream and wish to reclaim the old ways. At the end of the show our heroes realize that to defeat the villains they have to perform an awesome song, mainly Queen's "We Will Rock You". They decide to also broadcast the performance so that the whole world will see and then become Bohemians too. So, mindlessly following trends was bad when it was pop music and bright colors, but it's okay when the stuff you like is what is being consumed. Nice.

  • Glasnost The Game is a Risk clone that requires you to disarm all your territories to win the game in an anti-war aesop. Of course, you need to first build arms so you can conquer territories.
  • The Crash Test Dummies were part of a series of public service announcements to teach kids about seat belt safety and the importance of buckling up. This was popular enough to get a line of toy vehicles and dummy figures where the entire point was crashing the cars and watching the dolls fly out of the wreckage, and the villain wanted to... stop them from crashing so much, because horrific traffic accidents are just the best thing ever. So buckle up, kids! Then drive into a wall and scatter car parts all over the highway! Safety first!
  • Chutes and Ladders is a children's board game (with very ancient roots) which purports to teach the consequences of good and evil deeds. But the game is entirely driven by the random spinner, and the players have no opportunity to make any strategic or moral choices at allnote .

    Web Animation 
  • Helluva Boss: In the episode "Seeing Stars" Loona's speech to Octavia about parents not getting everything right when they try to be good parents rings hollow considering the show had never really shown Blitzo's failures as a father, always showing him as a over-doting and loving parent that gets a little too affectionate sometimes. On the flip side, Loona was the one who is always acting abrasive, having beaten the crap out of him for telling her to adjust her attitude with their clients at the beginning of the episode and even after the speech, she proceeded to kick Blitzo in the groins when he tried to apologize and hug Loona for threatening to replace her. Even acknowledging her backstory revealed in this episode, Loona comes off as hypocritical telling Octavia to cut her dad some slack when she herself refuses to. It's also hard to say why Loona would extend this empathy towards Stolas, given they have never had a conversation and from her perspective it would be easy to conclude Stolas is sexually exploiting Blitzo in exchange for the book, but she can't extend the same understanding to Blitzo who she does know and he does care for her.

    Web Comics 
  • The Achewood story arc where Philippe finally gets to live with his mom again ends with the moral that nothing lasts forever and everyone has to grow up sometime. But as readers have emphatically stated, Philippe will always be five!
  • A few Alex Law comics discuss this trope in various pieces of media.
    • One examines the tendency for adventure franchises to learn that a villain has broke bad because they were mistreated by various societal structures, and while they do take down the villain and plan to make a better future, they often just topple the villain the same way that villain suffered and never address the structures that drove the villain to lash out in the first place.
    • Another looks at a tendency for girl empowerment franchises to still be gender restrictive. The protagonist of the comic is a courageous and powerful young woman who despises various oppressive gender roles, but she's only allowed to be mad about ones that were already outdated by the time of release, still upholds contemporary expectations of femininity, and almost exclusively faces opponents that are gender nonconforming in some way.
  • In Ctrl+Alt+Del, the comic makes it clear it's wrong to be a "console fanboy," in one strip even having God personally squash one. However, there are issues with this, since the fanboys are always Gamecube fans, the evil Gamer King in an early strip used a staff with a golden Gamecube controller on top (versus Ethan's Xbox one), Ethan playing a Gamecube is referred to as a "sin against the gaming gods"; he mentions that turning the Gamecube into a robot would result in a girl robot, and doing the same to a Playstation would produce a gay one while the Xbox appears to be perfect and sinless.
  • In Dragon Ball Multiverse, when Vegito says his daughter, U16 Bra is too unstable to be kept alive, the heroes dismiss his concerns and say he should attempt to redeem his target, not kill them. Word of God later seconded this point. The problem is love does not prevent Bra from going berserk in Super Saiyan 2 (it didn't the first time, before Vegito's death threat), nor does love shake her out of her berserk moments—only physical force or regret. What really makes this a Broken Aesop is how U16 Bra's control issues get solved before this by Babidi taking over her mind and somehow making her able to control Super Saiyan 2 without going berserk. If anything, the answer wasn't using more love, but more force.
  • In El Goonish Shive, while doing their review show, Elliot and Susan discuss a movie that undermines its own moral.
  • The heavy "racism is bad" morals in Goblins don't really work for a few reasons, but the biggest one is that the comic attempts to attack the idea of the Guilt-Free Extermination War by having it be treated as wrong for the humans to slaughter goblins. This is fine in a vacuum, but the eponymous goblins also carry out wholesale slaughter of humans regularly, which is dismissed with a Hand Wave of "all those humans we killed were evil" - a common justification for the guilt-free extermination war that the comic tries to attack. In general, the story also pushes Humans Are the Real Monsters (there are only two sympathetic "civilized" characters and only one evil goblin, who is motivated by something humans did to her) to such a degree that, were one to turn the goblins into humans and the humans into goblins, the narrative would likely come across as a completely standard paean to goblin genocide.
    • The series reconstructs the moral by showing that the goblins are just as diverse and disunified as humans; the tribe that regularly slaughters the most humans and enslaves other goblins is explicitly shown to be goblin-supremacist, and the other goblins act in appropriate revulsion. Later on, Minmax makes peace with the goblins he vowed to kill earlier in the face of a real threat, the Big Bad - who is revealed to have discovered an exploit that makes him immune to anything that would normally react to his regularly evil ways, proving there is no hand wave strong enough to justify Black-and-White Morality.
  • Homestuck:
    • The trolls have different-colored blood ranked on a spectrum; the closer your blood is to purple, the more power you have in society, while the closer it is to red, the less authority you hold, the rationale being that highbloods are superior due to the fact they're viewed as stronger. The author stated that he made the opposite ends of the spectrum so close to show how meaningless the whole thing was, and true to form, the audience is clearly intended to view the practice as wrong and side with the trolls opposed to it... except trolls do not differ only in blood color; it is shown that highbloods actually are stronger, more psychically resilient, and longer-lived, albeit more violent (which the trolls would probably consider a good thing anyway) but compensate by having less powerful psychic abilities than lowbloods. The metaphor for racism fails because blood color actually does matter in several ways.

      The aesop is broken again when another alien race is introduced that has its blood color as an indicator of their alignment. Green-blooded members of that species are benevolent and red-blooded members are malevolent, and from the four examples of them givenSpoilers  none of them challenge this at all. They do not have a caste system based on blood color, but their blood color still does matter more so than trolls since it either gives or indicates whether they're "good" or "evil".
    • After watching the B2 players fall victim to Trickster Mode, subsequently using it as a shortcut to progress in their quest, and then dealing with Caliborn demanding they do it again, Hussie tells him that the characters can't just wave a magic lollipop juju around and solve all their problems. He compares it to Mario grabbing a starman and plowing through the level with no challenge, making the argument that it's terrible for his personal development. True enough, the players are worse off afterward, but at least they're still on the road towards their Character Development. The aesop falls apart when the biggest Wham Episode in the comic is simply written out of existence by using another juju to bring Vriska back to life, and have her bully the other characters out of their personal problems and into action, all while simultaneously inflating her own ego. The biggest offense is that Vriska being alive was completely unnecessary, John simply needed to use the juju to keep the ring of life out of Aranea's hands. Fans who were waiting for the other shoe to drop (i.e. the biggest Break the Haughty session for Vriska, followed by John and Roxy returning to the old timeline and fixing things there) were disappointed; the comic ends with only John and Roxy completing their character quests, Vriska avoiding karma, and the other characters followed throughout the story dead, while alternate versions who had an easier way out finish the story for them.
    • The Trickster portion also depicts Trickster Mode, where the characters become colorful, more-superpowered, "happier" versions of themselves with No Sense of Personal Space caused by juju-magic, as a cheap, artificial, creepy thing that does not solve problems. The problem is that the story breaks this when alternate versions of Rose and Davesprite respectively become Jasprosprite^2 and Davepetasprite^2. Colorful, more-superpowered, "happier" versions of themselves caused by mystical sprite fusion with the former having no sense of personal space. This time, however, readers are just supposed to take these sudden transformations as them being happier and a resolution for their personal issues at face value.
  • Inverloch dealt with racism through interspecies prejudice. None of the sentient races like each other, with the civilized but animalistic-looking da'kor suffering most due to humans pushing into their territory and abducting young males for arena battles, and the elves carelessly reneged on a promise to help. Acheron is the exemplar for da'kor not being violent barbarians except that the character everyone thinks is Acheron is really an elf's soul transposed into his body, while the real Acheron is in an elf so he can seek revenge for his murdered father. And ultimately, the solution found to protect the da'kor from being whittled to nothing is for them all to uproot from their home to live segregated on a faraway island.
  • Jack:
    • Hell Is That Noise is the story of Todd, a soldier who obeys an order to kill children, commits suicide, and ends up in Hell. He argues that he had no choice and Fate had already decided what would happen in his life. The story and everyone in it judges Todd for refusing to take responsibility for his actions, but that order came from Satan disguised as a general, meaning that Todd was a Cosmic Plaything after all.
    • The non-linear nature of time in Hell tends to screw around wildly with the concept of free will and personal choice; the Devil often resorts to directly manipulating the circumstances of the past and future to compel his victims to act, and then blame them for it all. This is most notable with Drip: It's his own fault that his parents are dead because the Devil has him in a Stable Time Loop: he's sent to live with his grandmother after his parents die, his grandmother abuses him until he becomes a violent rapist, and when he dies, the Devil trades him a memento of his dead mother for a favor: the murder of his own parents.
    • This has the added bonus of making the angels complicit in pretty much everything Drip does, since they only refrain from saving any of his victims because "it has to be his choice". Central is later shown to have murdered Bob and Lisa specifically to prevent them from turning away from their life of sin, meaning that actually, choice doesn't matter at all. The correct course of action is the one that generates the most rape scenes.
    • And then there's the part where furries have replaced humanity, but for some reason, are repeating human history exactly, so we still have events like the Vietnam War re-enacted by furries. This means that we still get furry Charles Manson and furry Jeffrey Dahmer, too. And that would be fine, except that God is deliberately enforcing the re-enactment and is sending billions of furries to Hell for their part in it. This means that God not only deprived every living furry of free will, she also had full and absolute knowledge of what she was forcing them into doing to themselves and each other and what Satan would do in response, but did absolutely nothing to stop it. In other words, she condemned countless innocent people to eternal suffering to punish them for something she forced them to do. The entire comic is about choice and personal responsibility, but the only character who has unquestionable free will is God herself, and there are no consequences for anything she does, ever, because she's in charge of the entire universe while everyone else can literally just go to Hell.
    • The general lesson being taught to all those sent to Hell is to realize their own sin and allow them to atone for it, and that Hell exists to force them to confront their misdeeds in life, but they're too busy being tortured to contemplate the philosophical implications of the torture itself. Even the ones who do realize their sin and repent never make it out of Hell, and it's impossible for them to successfully do that unless agents of Heaven intercede on their behalf and the agents of Hell don't prevent it.
    • One of the afterlife's options is Purgatory, an idealized Earth that lacks the oneness with the divine that Heaven boasts, and also doesn't house the kind of sanctimonious goody-two-shoes types that go to Heaven or the assholes that go to Hell. People who go there are offered a chance at reincarnation, a chance to "try again" at life in the hopes that they'll earn entry into Heaven next time. Like all things in Heaven and Hell, it has to be a matter of personal choice to be meaningful, and so to give the choice meaning, returning to Earth after Purgatory means God will intentionally force a second life to be harder than the first and ban all further entry into Purgatory. This all but guarantees that a reincarnated soul who's been to Purgatory is going to Hell, but the choice is there. And then that moral gets shattered into pieces because God is happy to send angels to Purgatory on a mission to "remind" them what kind of awesome sex they're missing out on, by offering sex and not taking no for an answer. The comic loves to remind the reader of how important personal choice is, but only if the personal choice is the correct one.
  • Lovely People: The comic and its afterword both criticize the Social Credit system depicted in the story for suppressing freedom of religion and expression in the name nominal ideals of "equality" and "correctness". However, both also come across as telling the reader that the brand of Christianity that the author adheres to is the only correct alternative to the system.
  • A Princess Pi comic had Princess Pi learn to believe in herself and not let bullies' insults bring her down. The Aesop breaks when she starts believing her most mediocre attempts at fulfilling her royal duties suffice, and doesn't let her subjects' complaints bring her down until they tar and feather her.
  • Questionable Content: in-universe. As a child, Clinton was careless with some fireworks and lost his hand as a result. However, Clinton is such an AI fanboy that he's psyched to get a robotic prosthetic as a replacement and cheerfully tells people he's glad he did it.
  • Sabrina Online had a series of strips in December 2010 which were a reference to the sequence in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back where the two heroes go on the road and beat up everyone who ever criticized them on the Internet. It works in the film because it's entirely in-character. In the comic, however, it's a series of Take That!s against the strip's critics. One notable strip involves Zig Zag, the viewpoint character for this sequence, beating up a guy who said mean things about her because he thinks he can say anything on the Internet without consequences. This isn't exactly true, but that's not the Broken Aesop. What's broken is the fact that Zig is the owner and star of her own porno company. You know, the industry that has historically relied on First Amendment rights to stay in business? And the "consequences" bit doesn't work either, because legally, Zig Zag committed real-world, premeditated, first-degree assault against a guy who knows her name, her face, and could easily press charges. The implication in the comic is that she'll suffer no repercussions at all. When Sabrina brings this up later, Zig Zag admits that it cost her a small fortune to settle all the legal issues. (But it was "worth it.") Although the incident does get mentioned during her trial for assaulting Sabrina's mugger. And we eventually learn that Zig was convicted, paid a fine and entered court-ordered anger management counseling.
  • Early on in Selkie, the titular character offers Todd her favourite food, fish eyes. Todd refuses on account of being a vegetarian, but later Todd's dad says that "part of being a dad is knowing when to suck it up and eat the eyeballs". This is meant to convey a moral about putting your child's happiness before your own, which on the face of it is a sound moral, but the problem is that it only really makes sense when the happiness the child gets is greater than the unhappiness experienced by the parent. This is not the case with the fish eyes because seeing Todd eat the eyes would have only given Selkie a small amount of pleasure (she seems disappointed when he refuses, but only very slightly) while it could have upset Todd a lot more due to conflicting with his moral views.
    • This Aesop is further broken by the webcomic's overarching moral "accept people who are different to you, even if you don't understand them or their culture". According to that, Todd should be accepted for who he is, not forced to eat foods which make him uncomfortable based on the whims of an eight-year-old.
  • Shortpacked! constantly complains about fandoms (particularly the Transformers fandom), as do author David Willis' newsposts. Willis is not only a prominent part of said fandom, but also embodies many of the issues he complains about. This is often Played for Laughs.
  • Sonichu is ripe for the picking of Broken Aesops. One of the most well known is when Sonichu and Rosechu preach forgiveness... shortly before Rosechu viciously maims Jason Kendric Howell. For throwing a pickle at her.
  • Sly Cooper: Thief of Virtue tried to introduce an objectivist Aesop on how everything was a matter of choice, and that the characters made their choices and brought the results on themselves, but both the fact that the crystals influenced the judgement of anyone who was using them as demonstrated through how Torus' behavior was altered by the crystal he was carrying in the chapter "Wrath of the Wolf King" and key details in the later-released side stories about what lead to the insanity of Ice and Snow undermine the entire point the author was trying to make.
  • Vegan Artbook has many examples:
    • The series continually denounces killing animals for meat is violent, but the protagonists often have been shown willing to hurt (in Sterk's case, kill) people who disagree with them.
    • It has frequently talked about how animals tend to practice pretty horrific actions, then goes back to its typical message about being compassionate towards animals and scornful of humans.
    • Brie Plausibell is supposed to live by the motto of "Live and Let Live", however, every time her brother Shawn allows her to tolerate each other's lifestyles she rejects his offer and refuses to see eye to eye with him or any other non-vegan, due to believing that respecting the right to eat meat is equal to supporting victimizing animals. The narrative treats this hypocrisy as adhering to her views, and frames Shawn as being "anti-vegan."
    • The author continually advocates against bodyshaming, and often depicts Shawn engaging in making fun of those who are thin or fat. However, she portrays pre-redesign Cuntons and Tommy—two of the three recurring characters who are overweight—as grotesque, and implies that their girth is due to eating meat. Even her positively-portrayed vegan, fat girl character, Mike, is a junk-food junkie (which can be seen as enforcing stereotypes about fat people being obsessed with food) whose weight is attributed to what her mother fed her before she went vegan.
    • The characters and narrative speak out against the evils of bigotry, while displaying disgust for anyone who isn't vegan, objectifying women to spread an anti-meat messagenote , and using sexual orientation as an insultnote .
    • Killing and eating animals is decried as preying on the weak and defenseless, however, this doesn't stop stronger vegans like Rohit from beating up on weaker non-vegans in order to take out their anger on them.
    • One of the main messages of the series is how animal agriculture or hunting is inherently cruel and abusive. But support forcing inherently carnivorous species (such as a fennec fox in one strip) to go vegan, which can actually be seen as an abusive practice due to how dangerous it can be to them. In addition, it also contradicts the message about how people shouldn't force their wills on animals. In this case, the vegans are forcing animals to comply with their lifestyle, even if it can harm them.
    • When called out on the vegans' many assaults and murders, Yerdian excuses them as being fictional, and therefore no big deal. Yet when a non-vegan does something harmful, it's treated exactly as heinous as it would be in real life despite also being fictional.
    • Her "Evolution of Man" comic blows its anti-violence aesop by showing the human in the "Good" version of evolution wielding a spear.
    • The comic seems to say that being an Animal Lover is the way to go, while Bad People Abuse Animals— yet one of the main villains, Cuntons, is portrayed as loving cats, Elise is meant to be a Hypocrite for giving the burger to Tommy but not a cat (telling the cat the burger is unhealthy), and Sterk has killed a cat in one strip, which turns the message into "animals are great... except for cats (and the aforementioned humans)".
  • xkcd, "I Could Care Less": The author dislikes Grammar Nazis. In this strip, one character corrects the form of what the other just said. The other goes on a long explanation about ambiguity and language and human connection and ends with: "I assume you're giving me tips on how to interpret words because you want me to feel less alone. If so, then thank you. That means a lot. But if you're just running my sentences past some mental checklist so you can show off how well you know it, then I could care less." So basically the moral is that you shouldn't criticize the way others say things, because of all these things that are more important about communication — but the character who talked about this was really only invoking these deep issues to make the first character feel bad about what she saidnote . (It is, of course, also a False Dichotomy, but that's another issue.)
  • Sinfest has a weird history of going from a gag-a-day comic to a sequential art comic with hardcore extreme feminist narrative and themes. Some of these narratives do not mesh well with what the comic is attempting to preach as constantly showing problems that the female characters deal with being solved by accident or with no actual input from them. Case in point: one story arc features a brothel in which the braindead males go to for kicks, and the women don't want to be there. One of the characters attempts to try and leave, and the pimp who owns the brothel refuses... only for him to get unexpectedly run over by a passing car. The women are shocked and happy at their freedom, and the men who frequent the brothel simply lament at their loss. The confusing this about the narrative is that female empowerment is important, but the problem got solved by pure accident. The women were incapable of solving this problem themselves, and rather had to wait for the problem to be solved on its own. It cuts the female empowerment message the comic shoves down your throat by undermining the abilities of the very group it portrays and giving them victory by pure accident.

    Web Original 
  • Coming from The Angry Video Game Nerd, a character who is synonymous with Rolling Rock Beer, this line paraphrased from American Movie is actually pretty darned funny:
    "... but I guess it's better than using drugs or alcohol, because with drugs and alcohol, especially drugs, you always lose, lose, lose."
  • That Guy with the Glasses:
    • Because of a Creator Breakdown and Real Life Writes the Plot, "The Review Must Go On" had Doug's past consume what was meant to be his masterpiece, the direct opposite of what Demo Reel's Earn Your Happy Ending episode said. ("Don't let your past consume you and be happy for the future".) This seems to be intentional, and the commentary for it says that it's not supposed to be a happy ending.
    • Doug Walker once made a plea in an editorial, "Is Parody Dead?", that parodies should not just be references and that they all need to be a clear understanding of what you are spoofing. A good message, yet in most of his own videos, including Nostalgia Critic, Demo Reel and his anniversary specials, he makes countless random pop culture references and spoofs that often don't even tie in with the plot of that episode. He and his actors often just dress up as well-known franchise characters, sometimes to avoid copyright issues, but more commonly for no real reason. To Boldly Flee in particular comes uncomfortably close to films like Disaster Movie at points, randomly tossing in characters, scenes, and ideas from various sci-fi properties for no real reason.
    • Discussed in the Walker Brothers' "Honest Thoughts" review of the Care Bears movies: Rob notes that while lots of shows talk about The Power of Friendship, they still end their conflict by defeating the villain with violence. He credits the first two movies for not going that route, but actually befriending the villains and thus prompting a Heel–Face Turn. note 
  • Parodied in Act III of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. While Designated Hero Captain Hammer is notionally singing a rousing, inspirational anthem to the homeless in "Everyone's A Hero", every verse manages, through either Metaphorgotten or just plain dickishness, to insult its audience and demonstrate how Hammer thinks of himself as superior.
    "It may not feel too classy / Begging just to eat / But you know who does that? Lassie / And she always gets a treat"
    "Everyone's a hero in their own way / You and you and mostly me and you"
  • Every episode of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared has an In-Universe example. The "lessons" taught are misinformed and incorrect, which the puppets begin to pick up on by the fourth episode. For instance, the episode on how great it is to be creative has almost no actual creative activities being taught, while actual creativity is generally squashed. The episode on the Power of Love defines love in a bizarre, conditional, and inconsistent fashion. And the episode on eating healthy ends up providing terrible dieting advice while labeling seemingly every food on the planet to be bad for you.
  • In 20 Socially Unacceptable Things by Matt Santoro, Matt says that it's bad to pick your nose and flick the booger onto the carpet. At the end, he does this.
  • As seen on, in this PSA "The Kool-Aid man tells kids to buckle up, and then proceeds to walk right into the path of a moving car." And here's another one, about the War On Drugs:
    Captain America: Remember, kids! Stay away from drugs, and you can grow up to be a superhero just like me!
    Kids: But Cap, didn't you get your powers from drugs?
  • The Quintessential Mary-Sue has the message that such characters are bad, and turn every story in which they appear into a Crapsack World. Unfortunately, there is the slight problem that the Villain Protagonist's amnesiac good half, once she reclaims her memories, is just as unrealistically talented, but is a genuine hero whom the audience is rooting for. It's then further broken by the fact that the Sue is only able to win and create a Villain World by blatant Diabolus ex Machina, breaking the previously established rules of the setting, and somehow usurping God, even after she was explicitly defeated and killed. That said, the author does recognize this, and includes a disclaimer at the end of Part 2 suggesting that readers disregard the third part if they want the story to have a happy ending.
  • Not Always Working has several stories where the affluent submitter of the story goes into a classy and expensive shop, only to get treated like dirt by the employees because they think the person cannot afford anything, based on appearance. The submitter always believes this to have a "Don't judge a book by its cover" aesop. The thing is that the submitters always walk into these stores in extremely dirty clothes, often covered in mud, manure, or even oil, and smelling extremely badly. They completely ignore the fact that their dirty clothes, and skin, can lead to them damaging the merchandise, and end up coming across as just as bad as the employees.
  • Dhar Mann has it's own page.
  • The Scott The Woz episode "You're Not an RPG Guy" ends with Scott accepting that there is nothing wrong with disliking another game genre (in his case, RPGs) as long as you are respectful of those who like them and aren't afraid to occasionally dip your toes in. This, despite a previous scene where Scott meets God, the latter decrying the existence of RPGs and proclaiming that he had created humanity with an innate instinct to hate RPGs.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Broken Moral, Hypocritical Aesop


What friendship?

As pointed out by SFDebris at the end of his review of the Star Trek Voyager episode "Scorpion part 2", Janeway's friendship message is contradicted by the Voyager crew being prejudice towards Seven of Nine for being a Borg.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / BrokenAesop

Media sources: