Sgt. Tony: Stealing biscuits is... wrong?
Friends, there comes a time in everyone's life when they can no longer sit quietly and say nothing. Sometimes, a man's got to take a moral stand, even though it may not be popular and even though it might get him into trouble. Today, my friends, is that day. I won't stay silent any longer.
I believe that cancer is bad.
This is a trope for when characters are treated as brave revolutionaries by the other characters in the work for stating the obvious: that Eyepatch Q. Blackheart is a bad man, that the Nazis were evil, that cancer is bad, etc. Can also apply to situations or things instead of people. The important part of the trope is the reaction of others. This isn't about the work's moral message, it's about a character being treated as brave for making statements that are completely in line with the majority opinion around him.
Obviously there's Truth in Television here. Values Dissonance can sometimes result in this, if the Aesop really was revolutionary and controversial for its time/place. Also, some Aesops are uncontroversial when spoken as a plain statement, but have an implicit, less-widely-agreed-to message, such as "We're not yet doing enough about this." For example, it's easy to say "Bigotry is bad", but programs designed to help disadvantaged minorities, like affirmative action and hate crime legislation, are polarizing political issues with no clear right or wrong answers. "Wars are bad" is an uncontroversial message, but "this particular war is bad and we should stop fighting it" will likely lead to accusations of treason. Not to mention that even the most moral of people can get burnt out on idealism and start resenting the people they're still supposed to help as whiners and nuisances - and therefore, might have to learn to be compassionate all over again, or at least have their initial altruism reinforced. And, of course, Tropes Are Tools; while no one might be arguing in favor of people getting cancer, a story that points out that cancer is bad is still not wrong to do so, and can still be moving if it effectively shows why cancer is bad.
Compare Anvilicious, And That's Terrible!, Stock Aesops, Broken Aesop, and Drugs Are Bad. Contrast Hard Truth Aesop. Also contrast with Lost Aesop, when the story seems forget that it was trying to give a moral. See also Windmill Crusader, where a character takes a stand against a non-existent problem. Can sometimes overlap with Clueless Aesop, where a story attempts to give a moral but misunderstands/misapplies it or simply isn't in a good position to give it anyway.
- A much-mocked 2010s Dutch TV ad for the painkiller Advil famously proclaimed that "migraine is not flu. Because migraine is an unbearable headache".
- Most of the Guinness "Brilliant!" ads were like this:
"Don't drink six beers at the same time? Brilliant!"
- In the episode "Cruise to Hell" of Gegege No Kitaro this trope is played for laughs. Two criminals called Masakishi and Mamezo are sent to Hell without even needing to wait until they die, as a punishment for the evil lives they've led.
Mamezo: I guess doing bad things is, um, bad.
- This article mocks the Grounded Aborted Arc of Superman for this, pointing out that Superman appears to be making the statement that drug dealers and child abuse are bad and treating it as though it's some radical new idea. The more specific statements, on illegal immigration and government investment in corporations, were basically in-line with US government policy at the time, which makes Superman's support of them seem even more limp.
- X-Men often edges into this under bad writers. Did you know that bigotry is a bad thing?!
- My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic:
- One of the many Aesops given out by the Grand Ruler can be summed up as "There are different ways to solve problems."
- Another one deals with how nightmares are frightening.
- In Mock Effect, after the encounter with Dr. Saleon, Garrus learns "that that killing people is wrong".
- The main message of The Emoji Movie is that it's good to Be Yourself because being meh all of the time is not so great. Who would have guessed? This part of the movie is rarely seen as a deep message about emotional repression because it feels too contrived, being handled without subtlety or nuance, leading to many moments of unintentional hilarity with how it assumes that the audience is ignorant of such a blatantly-obvious message. The approach that Inside Out took was much more meaningful because it actually explored the usefulness of the more negative emotions instead of simply preaching to Be Yourself, which wouldn't help people who suffer from conditions like depression.
- Grizzly Man: The most reductive message of the documentary is a rather obvious "Don't hang around grizzly bears, because they will eat you like they did Timothy Treadwell." The director Werner Herzog, however, uses Treadwell's footage to attack his New-Age Retro Hippie outlook on nature as a benevolent force. In fact, Herzog has described the film as an "argument" he's having over their different perspectives on man's place in the natural world. Herzog himself holds the view that Nature Is Not Nice. It just is.
- High School Musical tells us that being yourself is good and cliques and bullying are bad. Thanks HSM, no one's ever thought of that before.
- Holy Man, an Eddie Murphy vehicle, got panned by the critics for having Murphy's supposedly enlightened guru character "G" dispense the "wisdom" of banal platitudes that everyone already knows, such as (and we quote) "Be Careful What You Wish For—you may get it." In particular, Roger Ebert blasted the film for having "G" unironically tell the old parable of the starfish as something that happened to him:
The movie has him tell the story to listeners whose mouths gape open in astonishment at his wisdom. A smart screenplay would have had someone interrupt him: "Yeah, yeah, I know—it makes a difference to THIS starfish! Everybody's heard that story." If "G" has a comeback, then he's a guru and not just another underwritten character.
- Lampshaded in Hot Fuzz, as quoted above. Skinner argues that a teenager caught stealing a biscuit will learn a valuable lesson from his arrest, only for Sgt. Tony to point out that the lesson would be "stealing is bad and you'll get arrested for it" which anybody over the age of five knows. Although it turns out that Skinner does have a reason to let Cocker go; he's a member of the NWA and thus arranges for Cocker to be murdered for nicking the biscuits and threatening Sandford's chances of winning the Village of the Year award.
- The moral of The Purge is that making all crime legal for one day a year is not a good idea.
- The Rise of Skywalker: The most reductive message of Rey's arc in this movie is "being related to an evil person doesn't guarantee you'll be evil". It's not a bad Aesop exactly but given the context, most viewers hardly expected Rey to turn to the Dark Side just because she discovered her long-lost grandpa is the Dark Lord of the Sith. The worst things she's done are accidentally blowing up a transport she thought contained her friend and angrily stabbing an unarmed Kylo Ren (who had nearly killed her and whom she immediately heals), almost everyone believes her to be a good person and tells her so (including those that know her family history), her father was depicted as a good person so the latent evil of her ancestor apparently didn't survive one generation, the one person who insists the Dark Side is "in [her] nature" is a villain who is heavily projecting, plus she only learned she was related to Palpatine a few hours ago.
- The Room: Tommy Wiseau claims the message of the film is "If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live", which his character Johnny in fact baldly states at one point in the film. Doubles as a Broken Aesop; Wiseau claims this lesson is presented through Denny's secret love for Lisa, something that is depicted as bad in the film since both characters are in committed relationships.
- Super Size Me is often accused of having the obvious aesop that eating excessive amounts of fast food isn't healthy. Within the film, Spurlock lampshades this reading and stresses that the point is to show just how bad it is for you, which is depicted as surprising even to his doctors. In addition, the larger message of the film is about how fast food has become such an ingrained aspect of American culture, not just about a guy going on a fast food binge.
- Spoofed in the Tanya Huff novel The Better Part of Valor when the main character explains how she wound up with a terrible assignment and says the lesson to be learned is, "never call your commanding officer a bastard to his face."
- Discussed by George Orwell in his essay Looking Back on the Spanish War:
We have become too civilized to grasp the obvious. For the truth is very simple. To survive you often have to fight, and to fight you have to dirty yourself. War is evil, and it is often the lesser evil. Those who take the sword perish by the sword, and those who don't take the sword perish by smelly diseases. The fact that such a platitude is worth writing down shows what the years of rentier capitalism have done to us.
To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
- On the other hand, Orwell also wrote:
- Lampshaded on Community at one point when Britta and Annie are staging a demonstration to raise awareness about the environmental effects of the oil spill in the gulf. Britta is angry and yelling about how horrible it is to people passing by when someone mockingly points out that she doesn't need to yell at them; nobody is on the other side of this issue.
- Happens on Dr. Phil often. Usually he ends up telling people something that they should already know, like that it's not okay to cheat on your wife, or it's bad to abuse your family, or that child molestation is horrible. But the people on the show will act like he's telling them something radical that they've never considered and will be belligerent to the end.
- Referred to in an introduction to the Father Ted scripts by Graham Linehan. Commenting on the Mistaken for Racist episode 'Are You Right There Ted?', Linehan says that it seems to be the only story that has a moral... but if it does it's only 'Don't be racist' which he sarcastically says is 'pretty strong stuff'
- Played with in Horrible Histories involving the Trope Namer himself: Aesop is sent to distribute alms to a Greek city... unfortunately his idea of crowd control involves increasingly patronising reminders of his "moral tales". The crowd's (hilariously matter-of-fact) response: "Have you ever heard the story about the fable writer and the cliff? It's a story about a highly annoying fable writer who gets thrown off a cliff by an angry mob." "Yeah, it's a moral tale about not annoying an angry mob."
- Joked with occasionally on Mythbusters, when they warn against an obviously dangerous act due to a lesser-known risk associated with it that they had spent the episode proving was possible:
- "Don't leave loaded guns in exploding rooms" - The myth was about a certain make of gun reputed to fire on its own if vibrated in a certain way. The original myth was about this happening via a car stereo system, but they had to eventually set off an explosion near the gun to make it happen.
- "Don't stand near a car fire" - Because it's possible for the fire to make the car's bumper launch off at dangerous speeds. The Mythbusters couldn't make this happen themselves, but proved it was possible by finding a firewoman who had her legs broken as a result of this happening.
- Parodied in an episode of Scrubs. J.D. fantasises about doing a PSA on Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy in which he simply tells the audience: "Don't smother your kids."
J.D.: That problem would be gone forever.
- Star Trek can be prone to this sometimes.
- The original series had the Nazi planet episode, which involved a well-intentioned historian converting an alien planet into a recreation of Nazi Germany because, from what he knew of history, it seemed to him like a good way to introduce order to the people. Kirk has to explain to him the Aesop of "What Hitler did was wrong. Don't do that." Also doubles as a Broken Aesop with a touch of Dated History, as it turned out later on that Nazi Germany was not the model of efficiency people assumed it was. And perhaps a bit of Values Dissonance, because when The Twilight Zone (1959) attempted to address Nazi atrocities in a more sophisticated way they got rather a lot of letters of complaint from supporters of segregation.
- The moral of the first episode Supergirl (2015) is basically "girls can be superheroes too!". A noble sentiment sure, but female superheroes have been a thing since the '40s and the title character has been a decently well-known fixture of pop culture since the '60s, so there isn't really anybody notable on the other side of this issue. Thankfully it was toned down significantly after the pilot.
- Michael Jackson gets some of this from the Vocal Minority of his fanbase:
- Joe Vogel's book-length essay Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson's Magnum Opus argues that (to quote its back cover) the 1995 number "defied the cynicism and apathy of Generation X... it demanded accountability in an era of corporate greed, globalization and environmental indifference", which was a major reason why the song and video didn't catch on in the U.S. But the "challenging" message is that... pollution, environmental destruction, the killing of wild animals (especially endangered ones), and war are bad things. Those "cynical" Generation Xers, and most everyone else in the U.S., knew that already by The '90s, a decade rife with green Aesops. As well, Jackson never gave concrete solutions to such problems in his work, apparently thinking that these things are only done For the Evulz and/or by greedy people who could stop whenever they wanted to with no consequences.
- "Black or White" also gets praised for saying that racism, war, and the Ku Klux Klan are bad — in 1991. Even if the infamous "panther dance" coda is interpreted as Jackson showing solidarity with groups like the Black Panthers, he was rather late to the party on that one.
- Tom Lehrer's song "The Folk Song Army", on the album That Was the Year That Was, takes aim at protest songs that perpetrate these:
- Though there are more profound aesops to be found in the game, one of the major ones of Tales of Symphonia boils down to "racism is bad." It does go into detail about just how monstrous this can end up becoming, especially when the victims of racism go on to commit atrocities against the people who oppressed them, but it also hammers this point in as if it's never been said before.
- Downplayed in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, which also beats the "Racism is bad" drum, but similarly goes into more nuance about how most racists are simply ignorant or ill-informed rather than willfully malicious. Even protagonist Ike accidentally offends the first Laguz he meets by calling them "sub-human" simply because that's what they were called his whole life and he never knew any better, while former Daein soldier Jill grew up constantly exposed to anti-laguz propaganda teaching her to believe that they're the enemy of mankind.
- In The Crystal Gems Say be Anti-Racist, each short opens with a childishly simple anti-racism PSA being shot in-universe, but when the camera stops rolling the PSA continues with a more deep-dive into the specifics of how society is racist. For example, Pearl's PSA about how black inventor Lewis Latimer was the real father of the light-bulb ends with her going on a rant about how figures of Black history like Latimer are ignored and unknown in the first place because of systemic racism in America's education system.
- Brought up in this strip of So... You're a Cartoonist? Andrew says he's thinking of making a comic addressing terrorism or gun control. His friend argues that criticizing something everyone already hates takes no real effort. Andrew thus decides to give himself a challenge and deliberately unleash a flame war... about Mario.
- In this strip of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a salesman tries to advertise "moderate social views repackaged as radical statements, then sold to you as designer merchandise"; specifically, a T-shirt that reads "Unplug". He painstakingly describes what the shirt means, talking about how real experiences are more important than money, and how it challenges an uncontroversial idea. The guy agrees to buy the shirt, if only the salesman is less honest about his business model.
- If you are on Facebook, you've seen your "friends" asking everyone to put in their status that they support things like "Don't abuse animals". After a while, it gets more annoying than thought-provoking.
- There are also countless pictures going around with this message. The ones of a soldier or a soldier's funeral will say something like "1 LIKE = 1 PRAYER TO THE FAMILY", and the pictures of sick children (usually bald due to cancer, but for some reason children with progeria are also common) saying "Like if you think this kid is the most beautiful child ever!" It gets kind of weird because very few people would say that a soldier deserves to die or that children with terminal illnesses are ugly.
- In short, think of them as Glurge-tastic new forms of chain letters.
- Usually tagged with something like "LIKE and SHARE if you think kitten-burning is a terrible thing!", as if to imply that if you don't immediately hit the "like" and "share" buttons you must necessarily think kitten-burning (bullying, child abuse, name it) is a WONDERFUL thing that everyone should try.
- This trope is actually exploited by the controversial political group Britain First. Their pages have their political views in between such things as infographics decrying animal cruelty, anti-paedophilia memes, support our troops/football team memes, don't leave dogs in hot cars memes, etc, so that many will like/share those and then get sucked in to the political views.
- The Slacktivist refers to this as the "Anti Kitten-Burning Coalition", who use it as a means to justify their Tautological Templar tendencies.
... the weird part: Most of the commenters and letter-writers didn't seem to notice that they were expressing a unanimous and noncontroversial sentiment. Their comments and letters were contentious and sort of aggressively defensive. Or maybe defensively aggressive.
- The Onion has parodied this a few times.
- One article shows an advocacy group dedicated to upholding the Third Amendment (that's the "no quartering troops in civilian housing" one, for the record) despite the fact that the Third Amendment has only been challenged in one minor case during its entire history. The group interprets this as less due to the fact that nobody really wants to do it to begin with, and more due to them being very successful.
- The Onion's spinoff site Clickhole, in a video simply titled "This Video Seems Silly, But It Makes A Good Point." The video in question is just a simple looping animation of a dancing dinosaur with "RACISM IS BAD" floating over it, followed shortly by "NELSON MANDELA WAS A GOOD PERSON."
- After the untimely deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, StarWipe, an Onion spinoff dedicated to parodying celebrity tabloids, published a bold op-ed column entitled "We Like Celebrities And They Should Stop Dying". The article goes so far as to call on President Obama to stop celebrities from dying, and includes a link to a petition to the White House to end all celebrity deaths.
- In 20 Socially Unacceptable Things by Matt Santoro, Matt tells the audience that it's bad to pick your nose.
- The Nostalgia Critic tends to rip into movies for this. In his review of The Cell, he's rather baffled at what the audience is supposed to take out of the scenes which show that the serial killer was beaten as a child, by his father. The Critic seems to find it a given that most everyone already knows that child abuse is bad, and the people who still do it aren't exactly gonna be swayed by some movie.
- Lindsay Ellis' video on "Woke Disney" argues that most of modern Disney's pretensions towards cultural liberalism ultimately amount to this. Instead of seriously grappling with issues of racial, gender, and economic inequality in ways that might risk framing major corporations (like Disney) and the economic system as a whole as fundamentally unjust and needing to be heavily reformed, they present only the most cartoonishly obvious manifestations of societal problems in order to boil the solutions down to simple slogans that most people probably already agreed with and which won't actually challenge the status quo.
- Leon Thomas of Renegade Cut has argued something similar with regards to Downton Abbey. In that case, the show is more up-front about its conservative politics and nostalgia for the aristocracy and The British Empire (the Show Runner is a Conservative peer in the House of Lords), and he feels that this extends to its moments of liberalism, which apply mainly to issues like women's rights and gay rights where, in 2010s Britain, the debates were largely settled.
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Everyone knows that dumping an oil tanker in the ocean is a bad idea, yet everyone keeps going on about it. The writers reportedly did this on purpose, since more nuanced villains might have been too close to home — i.e., companies their young viewers' parents worked for, or they might fall squarely into Strawman Has a Point if they allowed a realistic portrayal of an oil executive being upset at what his employees were doing.
- Parodied in Donkey Kong Country. King K. Rool conjures up a plan to steal the Crystal Coconut, at which point Krusha remarks "Stealing is baaaaaaad".
K. Rool: Of course it's bad! We're bad!
- Family Guy:
Congressman: Smoking is a horrible vice! It shortens life expectancy and pollutes our air. And according to recent polls, air is good!
- Parodied when Congressmen finally realize smoking is bad.
- And in the same episode: "Hey. We had a lot of fun today. But you know what's not funny? Killing strippers."
- In "A Fresh Heir", Peter's rich father-in-law decides to leave all of his money to Chris, meaning Peter won't be able to get to it like he had been planning to do with Lois. Peter decides to marry Chris (just roll with it), but decides not to at the end of the episode.
Peter: And I guess I learned it's wrong to take your son to Vermont under false pretenses to try to marry him for his inheritance.
Stewie: You...you should have known that.
- And when Lois is running for Mayor:
Reporter: What are your thoughts on world hunger?
Lois: 9/11 was bad.
[the crowd loudly cheers]
Reporter: What are your thoughts on gun control?
Lois: 9... 11.
[the crowds cheers again]
- Sabrina's Secret Life has an episode where Sabrina "learns" that rumours are bad and the only way to stop them is to out them as a pack of lies.
- Parodied on a famous episode of South Park:
- The Tick loved to mock this trope as it occurs in superhero comics. "Eating kittens is just plain wrong, and no-one should do it! Ever!"