The ticklish situation caused when a show or program tries to teach the lesson that you shouldn't believe everything you hear from authority (like a show or program).
Children's media tends to run afoul of this when doing a show about resisting peer pressure, informing children that they don't have to do something just because the "cool kids" tell them to. "It's okay to go against the crowd" is usually used in situations like "Drugs Are Bad, even if the cool kids do them," or "Don't key the unpopular teacher's car because the Jerk Jock or Alpha Bitch wants you to," or "don't wear Age-Inappropriate Dress just because others think it's cool."
The difficulty is that when badly done, these lessons can come across not as "be yourself, even if you stand out" but rather "conform to your authority figures, not your peers," since the message tends to encourage conventional, prosocial behavior, like not doing drugs, not vandalizing vehicles, and not dressing inappropriately.
Can also be a Hard Truth Aesop, if the author's intent was obviously to send the message, "Don't blindly obey anybody — except me." This can especially be the case when the author is trying to convince the audience to take up particular political causes; see the Real Life example of conspiracy theorists below for how that can turn out badly.
It should be noted that it is perfectly possible for a work to have as An Aesop that "being a Rebellious Spirit is a good thing" and thus be a sincere advocate of anti-authoritarianism. This trope is not about sincere advocates of anti-authoritarianism, but rather instances where such a message is undermined by "be a rebel by doing what I want you to do."
- Any commercial touting individuality. The Aesop seems to be "Be Yourself; buy what everyone else is buying."
- Sprite was especially bad with this. "Image is nothing" was their slogan even after they stopped doing ads that used this trope.
- A Time Warner Cable commercial urges consumers to "express your individuality with people just like you."
- Yahoo's "Start Wearing Purple" campaign, with purple touted as representative of innovation and individuality, comes to mind. The Irony being that purple is the traditional color of royalty and divinity, meaning people who wear it demand that others follow their every action... Yahoo's campaign may have been a riff on this poem — though the fact that "Red Hat" clubs with official merchandise sprouted up in the poem's wake is telling.
- Although possibly not as common as anti-drug and anti-bullying campaigns, this is also a rather common subject of public service campaigns aimed at schoolchildren.
- That is until you combine the two. There is an Anti-Drug PSA running where there are various Good and Bad influences on a teen's shoulders, including family, friends, and his basketball team. Of course, the Good influences invariably make better arguments than the bad ones. The last to speak is his father, who asks, "Do you enjoy making your mother cry!?" This is immediately followed by the line: "The only voice that matters is yours." Following this, the teen turns down the blunt offered to him.
- In New York state, there are agendas handed out to high school students that, on the back, have a bunch of "be yourself" messages... along with a "Live above the influence" thing. In fact, the entire "Above The Influence" campaign is guilty of this. Their message? Be yourself, don't do drugs. Ummm... what if drugs are a part of who you are?
- A campaign poster for a student government candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park said "Think Independently: Vote For Me!"
- One particular Scion commercial gave the message "avoid being a sheeple by driving our cars." Considering that Scion is trying to cash in on the car-loving aspect of stereotypical urban culture...
- The store Hot Topic is the perfect example — as it is the vendor of mass-marketed non-conformity. On the bright side, they have had Marvel Zombies and Halo shirts.
- Dr. Pepper had an ad like this, "I'm part of a unique and original crowd."
- An internet commercial used this, showing a batch of unhappy, identical stick figures dropping money into garbage bins. Then one stick figure turns blue and getting a face because he has the idea to switch to this company's internet! But lest people be afraid of being too individual, the end makes sure to show all the other stick figures turning blue as well.
- This Super Bowl commercial for Motorola's Xoom tablet, meant to be a Take That! at Apple's famous "1984" ad. The guy is shown to be fighting the system by using the Xoom, in contrast to the legion of white-hooded apple zombies, but the inadvertent message is "Fight enslavement by this huge corporation by buying the products of this other huge corporation". Instead of a Take That!, it becomes a "Not So Different" Remark instead because it's exactly the same Apple delivers in the original 1984 commercial.
- Asterisk War: Main character Ayato encourages a girl named Kirin to break free of her abusive uncle and his ambitions, and do what she wants to do... by pretty much doing what he says. Also, she's in no small part attracted to him and seeks his approval a lot. Although to be fair, you could see this as favoring the carrot over the stick when it comes to whom you associate with.
- This segment from Steve Martin's first comedy album:
Steve: Let's repeat the non-conformists' oath! "I promise to be different!"
Audience: "I promise to be different!"
Steve: "I promise to be unique!"
Audience: "I promise to be unique!"
Steve: "I promise not to repeat things other people say!"
Audience: "I promise..." [confused murmuring and nervous laughter]
- Lampshaded in the Batman Legends of the Dead Earth story "Fables of the Bat-Man". In a dystopian future, Posea tells kids stories about Batman that each has An Aesop designed to make them question their society. The first one is that you shouldn't let anyone force you to think their way. One of the kids asks "Except for you, Posea?" and he replies "Well now, maybe you've got me there, pup, so I'd urge you to question everything, even what I tell you. Find your own truths — and always think for yourselves."
- Lampshaded in one of Maus's self-referential meta-sections.
Therapist: There's no way to explain the story that you're trying to tell. Maybe there just shouldn't be any more stories.
Art: Samuel Beckett once said that any word is an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness. [beat] On the other hand, he SAID it.
- A major theme in The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye is a post-HeelFace Turn Megatron dealing with the fact that he did this with the Decepticons. Down with the Senate and its corrupt, discriminatory ideals... now follow my corrupt, discriminatory ideals or else!
- Also parodied in Monty Python's Life of Brian: When Brian desperately tries to dissuade the people from following him, telling them that they are "all individuals!" and are "all different", they all enthusiastically shout "Yes! We are all individuals!" and "Yes! We are all different!" Except for The Runt at the End — "I'm not!" — who is immediately shushed. It should be noted that this line was a Throw It In, and the guy that did it got a bonus for thinking it up.
- Dead Poets Society: Don't do what grown-ups like me tell you! Let's all be individuals... together! Given who's saying it, though, it should be read as tongue-in-cheek.
- Think for yourself is the main argument of the protagonist in Thank You for Smoking, one he uses to assert that the schoolchildren should challenge authority, in this case, the authorities saying smoking is bad for you and you shouldn't do it (he is a PR man for the tobacco industry).
- Socrates discouraged writing, saying that insight is best gained from debates. People pore over the writings of Plato, trying to find out what Socrates thought.
- Subverted in the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
- Harry, Ron, and Hermione more-or-less teach this lesson to Neville after he's cursed by Draco Malfoy. Later on, this causes Neville to decide to try and stop the trio from sneaking out at night, unaware they need to in order to Save the World:
Neville: You were the one who told me to stand up to people!
Ron: Yes, but not to us.
- His action is rewarded by the end of the story anyway, with the Aesop that, even though not necessarily appropriate in the given situation, his actions were good.
Dumbledore: It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to our enemies — but just as much to stand up to our friends.
- Harry, Ron, and Hermione more-or-less teach this lesson to Neville after he's cursed by Draco Malfoy. Later on, this causes Neville to decide to try and stop the trio from sneaking out at night, unaware they need to in order to Save the World:
- The Illuminatus! trilogy works with this issue quite a bit. Often charismatic, powerful leaders of the anarchist protagonists deliberately lie or spread false rumours of themselves painting them as monstrous villains, in order to make their followers suspicious of their motives and make up their own minds. The problems start when the followers choose to follow despite this; it's implied that the evil Illuminati was born because of a mistake like this.
- One criticism sometimes leveled at some followers of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is that, despite the fact that objectivism encourages thinking for oneself (the virtue of mental independence), some Objectivists are hypocrites that implicitly believe Objectivist conclusions are the only reasonable conclusions that independent thinkers can reach (and any failure to do so consists of intellectual dishonesty). There is a reason that "Randroid" has become one of the more common criticisms leveled at Objectivists, fair or not.
- Michael Shermer wrote an interesting essay "The Unlikeliest Cult in History" about this very phenomenon.
- This even pops up among fans of objectivist writers who don't explicitly reference Rand in their works — although the devotion is instead to that writer, not Rand (usually until the writer in question tells them where he got the idea).
- An example would be in the novels of Terry Goodkind, Sword of Truth, where the main character effectively ends up as a benevolent capitalist dictator, the series has explored the weaknesses of all other forms of government. The last chapter of the series features that character ordering his followers, ironically enough, to no longer do the devotion, a ritual that has over time turned the heads of his family into objects of a cult of personality.
- The basic message of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance essay was "Everyone should be a nonconformist".
- This is used as a Logic Bomb (among others) in Thief of Time to combat the Literal-Minded and orderly Auditors of Reality — "Ignore This Sign, By Order".
- Discussed in Sophie's World in the chapter concerning Hegelian philosophy. The example is of an obedient daughter who does everything she is told until her mother has it and asks her daughter to not be so bloody obedient. She begs her daughter to oppose her, only to get this answer: "OK, mom". Alternatively, what if the daughter turned on her mother and opposed her by saying "but I want to obey you!" Logic Bomb?
- In one of Daniel Dennett's nonfiction books (probably Freedom Evolves), Dennett mentions in passingnote that there is no such thing as a good Appeal to Authority. He doesn't give an argument for this, though. So the only reason for believing it would be because of his authority as someone who knows about this kind of stuff, which is perfectly normal in a popular science or philosophy book. But if appealing to authority is always a bad argument, then authority is never a good reason to believe something either.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit perfectly illustrates the problem with this message in the episode "Authority." Robin Williams' character Merrit Rook is constantly telling people to question authority and "don't be a sheep", but you can clearly see that his followers still follow him like mindless sheep... which he clearly enjoys. Elliot "defeats" Rook by repeatedly refusing to bow to him, even when subjected to Mind Rape type psychological games with the plus of his "rival" using Olivia as a hostage. Rook then admits his defeat (and even says Elliot won because he didn't let Rook get to him), lets Olivia go and then pretty much disappears (it's heavily implied he was Driven to Suicide by drowning.
- Subverted again in The Prisoner (1967) episode "Checkmate", the prisoner of the title teaches other prisoners how to tell real prisoners from guardians. They apply this lesson to him and conclude he's a guardian, foiling his escape plan.
- Another parody of the concept comes from Scrubs. The Janitor has spent the episode (which spans about a month) growing sideburns and encouraging others to do likewise because he wants to bring them back into fashion. Then he reveals that he is fake, and hopes everyone has learned an important lesson. Only...
Janitor: You have to think for yourself. Don't be a sheep and follow the fold. Now repeat after me, "I think for myself".
Everyone: "I think for myself".
Janitor: "You can't tell me what to say".
Everyone: "You can't tell me what to say".
Janitor: "I won't say this".
Everyone: "I won't say this".
Janitor: [to himself] Unbelievable.
- Toward the end of Babylon 5, G'Kar gained a large and unwanted following when his writings were published without his permission. He tries to get his followers to think for themselves, and renounces some of the opinions he'd written earlier (such as bitter hatred for the Centauri). At one point, he engages in a practical demonstration for why people shouldn't blindly trust him:
G'Kar: If the book is holy, and I am holy, then I must help you become closer to the thoughts of the universe. Put your face in the book.
[Follower puts his face in the book]
[G'Kar snaps the book shut on his face]
- The old Nickelodeon sketch comedy Roundhouse had an episode lampooning this, including a memorable song.
I want to be a rebel, like everyone else.
Be different as the devil, like everyone else.
And I want to talk like the rebels talk,
And walk the rebel walk,
Think like the rebels think,
And drink the rebel drink,
Got no reality, no personality,
Perhaps I'll find one on TV.
- tool was well known for tricking concert-goers into saying stupid things like the above Scrubs example.
- Throbbing Gristle's "Don't Do As You're Told, Do As You Think" is an intentional version of this. The entire point of the songto which the title serves as the sole lyricis to highlight the absurdity of such statements while, paradoxically, giving the listener exactly that message. "Convincing People" is similarly circular.
- Zig-zagged throughout the dan le sac VS Scroobius Pip song "Thou Shalt Always Kill", including overtly in the penultimate lyric "thou shalt think for yourselves".
- Gorillaz featured a version of Steve Martin's "The Non-Conformist Oath" (see Stand Up Comedy) as an interlude on the album "Humanz". The audience breaks down in laughter with the third question.
- Played straight in Team America: World Police, where the Aesop is "Don't listen to celebrities for political advice, unless they're Trey Parker and Matt Stone."
- GURPS Illuminati: "Never believe in conspiracy theories - they are all a plot from the intelligentsia, to stop you from finding the truth!"
- Played with in the works of Bertolt Brecht. Most of his earlier stuff was a critique on a then up-and-coming Adolf Hitler and his emotionally charged rhetoric, but Brecht was quite aware of the irony of using one form of demagoguery to attack another. Therefore his plays, rather than telling the audience what to think, only told them to think. Thus, Brecht came up with the theory of the verfremdungseffekt (roughly, the "estrangement effect"), a refusal to manipulate the audience's sympathies through emotional grandstanding, and instead to frequently remind them that they were watching a play and that they should draw their own conclusions from it.
- This is the entire point of several video games, namely Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, BioShock, and Portal. Tragically, taking such advice to heart when you start playing results in a woefully incomplete gaming session.
- Especially interesting in BioShock where you can only advance the game by obeying orders, only to learn that your character has been mind-controlled into obedience without realizing it. What commentary this makes on the nature of video games is left to our interpretation.
- Spec Ops: The Line takes this trope into its metafiction. It's a military-themed shooter that delivers a horrific Take That! to the plethora of military shooters out there while depicting some of the worst atrocities ever captured in a video game. It outright insults the player for continuing to play and tells the player as well as the protagonist that the horrifying atrocities on screen are all their fault. The devs give a Word of God interpretation that there was an option to prevent all those horrible things; the player could have just walked away. By the end, the player and protagonist hear the damning line, "We're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not: a hero." A loading screen sarcastically reads, "To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless." But the player presumably paid for the game and would like to get what they paid for, not just shut it off after two hours, and if the player does what he or she should have (shut it off), he wouldn't have seen the whole message and condemnation of the hero fantasy present in so many games.
- The Path also plays this for metafiction. It gives you only two instructions: "Go to Grandmother's House. And Stay on the Path!" You can obey the order, but that results in a failure. To succeed, each girl must disobey and wander into the woods to learn a valuable lesson. It helps that this is a Coming-of-Age Story in a World of Symbolism.
- The Stanley Parable uses this in spades. You can listen to the Narrator, and doing so will result in a completed (if short) game. On the other hand, disobeying the Narrator will lead to a much longer and more interesting playthrough (with results depending on at what point in the game you disobey him).
- Depict1 combines this with Mission Control Is Off Its Meds. If he says you need to collect gems, you die the moment you touch them. If he says the spikes will kill you, you can pick them up and use them as throwing weapons. If you fail to "press Esc to end the game" at what he says is the ending, he leaves you in a huff.
- In BIT.TRIP FLUX, this would be the message to the player, from the player character in the ending. His journey is over, but yours isn't. Put down the controller and live your life. Instead, this trope is played with, as it is required for the ending to the series.
- Conspiracy theorist and radio host Floyd Tesseract tries his best to get the message across to his listeners in XCOM: Chimera Squad that a voice on the radio is not an automatically trustworthy source, including him. This is later justified when it's revealed that he truly thinks that the only way to prevent another species subjugation (which he is a part of in Ethereals' invasion of Earth and immensely regrets his role in it) is to make people anti-authority.
- Drowtales: Baliir sets up a 'DISOBEY' rally telling everyone to stop blindly following the Vals, even him. Kiel's response is a snarky "I guess he's gonna be president, then."
- Goblin Hollow: "You laugh at me because I'm different. I laugh at you because you're all the same" — on, as Ben points out, a mass-produced T-shirt. The same T-shirt appeared in a Charby the Vampirate page involving Victor's younger brother.
- Parodied (in an inversion of the usual parody) in this strip from The Order of the Stick strip: Tsukiko claims paladins are only happy when they're forcing people to be exactly like them. When the Monster in the Darkness says O-Chul told him he should make his own decisions, she replies "Right, exactly like he does! He's doing it already!"
- Lampshaded in Daria, "The Pinch Sitter", in which Daria and Jane un-brainwash two "kids" and teach them to think for themselves. Near the end of the episode, the children turn to Daria and ask how they can trust what she said to be true, to which Daria replies: "You can't, and that's the greatest lesson of all."
- Futurama: Invoked in "The Cyber House Rules": Leela, frustrated at being labeled a freak for having one huge eye, meets a surgeon who offers to implant a cosmetic second eye. Most of her co-workers support the idea, except for Fry who uses the Be Yourself principle to argue against it. Leela brushes him off, turning his own message against him:
Fry: If you ask me, you shouldn't care what other people think.
Leela: You're right! I'll start by not caring what you think! I'm getting the surgery!
- Subverted in The Replacements. Riley becomes a celebrity and everyone starts imitating her. After spending the whole episode trying to get them to stop, she realizes it's their right to act like whomever they want.
- Parodied in an episode of The Simpsons, where a teacher tells his entire class to think for themselves. They all immediately repeat him in monotone: "Think for yourself..." The same exact joke was used in The Critic, a sister show.
- South Park:
- The show gives this one a Lampshade Hanging. In one episode, some Japanese men plot to conquer the United States by brainwashing kids using a Pokémon-like TV show and video game. All the kids like "Chinpokomon" and go along with the evil plan to bomb Pearl Harbor primarily because it's what everyone else is doing. Eventually, the South Park adults catch on and come up with a counter-plan: the surest way to get their children to stop liking something is to like it themselves. It works. Stan then goes into his "I've learned something today" speech and praises individuality, and all the kids decide that no, they shouldn't bomb Pearl Harbor. Kyle, however, reasons that if going along with the group is bad, then now that everyone else has decided not to bomb Pearl Harbor, he should show his individuality by bombing Pearl Harbor by himself. Stan then tries again, beginning with "A group mentality is helpful sometimes." Kyle gets confused, gives up, and goes home. A better Aesop is, "Do what is right, even if it is popular."
- In another episode the Goth Kids performed a song in the school talent show entitled "Talent Shows are for Fags". The Goth kids are this trope in the flesh. In one episode, they temporarily take Stan into their ranks. In order for him not to be a "conformist," he has to dress just like the Goth kids, act just like the Goth kids, write his poetry just like the Goth kids, and so on.
Tall Goth: I'm such a non-conformist, I'm not going to conform with the rest of you. I'll do it. [join Stan's dance troupe]
Henrietta: Wow. I think we just got put in our place.
Red Goth: Yeah. We just got goth-served.
- Joked about in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, with a battle droid commander mocking the clones for not being free thinkers, like us, right boys?. Cue his troops all saying roger roger in perfect, mindless unison.
- The whole concept of mass-produced Banksy paraphernalia fits this trope perfectly, especially considering the artist's vehement anti-commercial stance.
- Almost every conspiracy theorist peppers his theory with requests to "think for yourself" and "form your own opinion". Obviously enough, if your own opinion does not match his own, you are either a governmental agent or just too dumb to see the Truth. This leads some to the logical conclusion that conspiracy theorists are part of a Viral Marketing government conspiracy to cause this effect on people. As expressed on the cover of GURPS Illuminati: "Never believe in conspiracy theories — they are all a plot from the intelligentsia, to stop you from finding the truth!"
- Anti-vaccine advocates commonly encourage their audience to "do their own research" — obviously hoping that said research will lead people to other anti-vaccine advocates like them, as opposed to reputable doctors and scientists.
- A famous quote, attributed to The Buddha himself, encapsulates this trope pretty well: "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
- Karl Marx's personal motto was "De omnibus dubitandum" which is Latin for "Doubt everything".