You want to have An Aesop about something that we should avoid at all costs. Trouble is, just by showing or describing it in lavish detail, you end up undermining your message by showing just how damn appealing it is and cause the audience to get the wrong idea.
This trope is especially easy to fall into when a piece of media aims for a realistic portrayal of why people get lured into things like drinking, smoking, being promiscuous, doing drugs, getting into dangerous situations, fighting awesome action sequences, etc., thereby identifying to the audience what others see in it, possibly causing them to view it in a light they hadn't previously seen it in. Conversely, if you gloss over the very real appeal, you end up with a bad habit that it seems no rational person would ever pick up (akin to an ad reading "Stop Punching Kittens"). The trick is finding the balance between getting the audience to understand the appeal and understanding why these things are bad. If the negative aspects don't come across as outweighing the appeal, this trope comes into effect. This makes the vice into Forbidden Fruit and therefore much more appealing when the audience is told not to do it. While authorial (or parental) intent may be to use the tale to discourage something, this trope happens, because they're trying to get the audience to accept that something that was just being depicted as fun, easy, exciting, profitable, advantageous, or whatever, was actually bad; to the audience, this comes across as extremely dishonest and patently false. Many people and PSA's seem to forget that just because somebody was told so, or their "parents raised them right", doesn't mean they won't do something — nobody's parents told them it was a good habit to visit prostitutes, but many people do so and a number of them do it regularly.
If a work attempts to play down the attractive aspects and stick to the unappealing ones, the work itself may become unappealing as a result, which again undermines the goal of spreading its message. It's a tricky artistic balance: If you Show, Don't Tell, you risk showing something bad as cool, but if you just tell, you're left with a boring Author Tract saying "And That's Terrible." This trope was formerly called "Truffaut was right", named for French director François Truffaut who noted that you simply cannot make a truly anti-war movie.
This can be caused by, and often leads to, a Misaimed Fandom. Can also lead to No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, Rooting for the Empire, Sympathy for the Devil, Springtime for Hitler, Strawman Has a Point, or Unfortunate Implications. But Not Too Evil is often invoked to prevent this trope. You Bastard! is another option, whereby the creators let you enjoy the Cool Thing that's being Done, then try to make you feel bad by showing the horrific consequences. Sometimes a Spoof Aesop may attempt to show this trope in-universe.
A Sub-Trope of Broken Aesop. Sometimes the result of an Accidental Aesop or an Alternate Aesop Interpretation or Poe's Law. Can overlap with Clueless Aesop. A poorly done Anti-Escapism Aesop can also cause this to happen as well.
Compare & contrast Stealth Cigarette Commercial for when this is done intentionally. Also compare Do Not Attempt and Don't Try This at Home. If the Cool Thing is recognized as bad In-Universe, the characters may observe, "...And That Would Be Wrong."
See also Evil Is Cool, Evil Is Sexy, Forbidden Fruit, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!, "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc, Streisand Effect, and Television Is Trying to Kill Us.
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- Comic Books
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- Real Life
- Anti-drug ads tend to fall victim to this, especially the ones aimed at kids and teens. In general they have the same problem as Stealth Cigarette Commercials. That is, the ads are considered so stupid and lame and insulting to one's intelligence, that people who watch them will want to go use drugs simply out of spite. This is far from their only problem, however.
- Some ads try to send the message of "Drugs aren't cool" or "Not doing drugs is cool". Except some of them do this by showing a person who does think drugs are cool, and the ad intentionally goes to great lengths to give them the traits typically associated with being cool (sunglasses, leather jacket, hot girlfriend, etc), which usually makes the drug user look a lot cooler than the other person in the ad who chooses not to use drugs.
- Ads like this one that show embarrassing things happening to people who get too drunk or too stoned at parties. Hindered by the problem that getting up to crazy antics while drunk or stoned and telling your friends about them is part of what makes drugs (and, by extension, the people who do them) cool.
- Many of these ads make use of The Aggressive Drug Dealer, a trope which was simply never an accurate reflection of reality even before it was discredited. Kids were being warned constantly to be on the lookout for these shady characters looking to corrupt the morals of today's youth for... uh... but as they were never encountered in real life, it caused these ads to provoke more laughter than fear. Probably the worst was an ad that had an obnoxious kid all but forcing his classmate to take a handful of marijuana cigarettes. Everything about the commercial was wrong, as the kid didn't seem to expect payment for the joints, both kids (especially the victim) looking about ten years too young to be in danger of rampant drug use being a thing among their peers, the pusher kid calling his victim a "chicken" and loudly making fun of him in a school hallway for not taking his drugs, and the kid's utterly wimpy response: "I'm not a chicken! You're a turkey!" The takeaway most kids got from this is that marijuana users might be loudmouthed jerks but they were generous, while those who didn't smoke it were hopeless nerds.
- Many ads either heavily overstate or distort the symptoms of the drugs. Meant to scare people out of taking drugs, this only means the kids will discredit the ad in a single encounter with an actual user or five minutes on Google. A lot of times they depict marijuana users as violent and aggressive, as opposed to lounging on the sofa with a bag of chips, or giggling at nothing, or staring at their hands for minutes at a time.
- There are ads that show the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs. While these are rather honest and may actually discourage people from doing so, the message that viewers get from this is "Just stay home and use drugs" or "If you're going to get high, be sure to take a cab or have a designated driver." Which is still a pretty good message, just a very different one from the one that they wanted to convey.
- The UK government attempted to steer kids off drugs in The '80s with a series of TV advertisements featuring emaciated youths in dingy surroundings. The kids in question are reputed to have thought they looked really cool. It doesn't help this was during the second wave of Goth pop music. If only they had known "heroin chic" was an existing underground fashion trend waiting to break into the mainstream.
- Ads that show an accident happening because someone was using drugs, such as one where a kid picks up a gun and accidentally shoots his friend while high, or one where a little girl is shown getting into a pool unsupervised and a narration says, "Don't feel bad. Just tell her parents you weren't watching her because you were getting stoned. They'll understand." The only message that viewers get from this is "Make sure you're more careful than these people while using drugs".
- An ad from the early 2000s depicts two kids in the bathroom at a concert getting high before a cop comes in and busts them. A caption appears on the screen saying "Marijuana can get you busted. Harmless?" It's telling viewers that the only problem with marijuana is simply that it's illegal, which leads the viewer to realise that there would be no problem if it was legal.
- Another ad from the early 2000s depicts dealing with peer pressure. It shows a kid walking into a room and getting offered some weed by a laid back stoner. The kid makes up an excuse, and the scene repeats several times with the kid walking into the room again, each time offering a different excuse. Finally he tells the stoner, "It's just not for me." to which the stoner simply shrugs and replies, "It's cool." The ad certainly portrayed the stoner as much more relaxed and laid back than the uptight other kid.
- The Gruen Transfer pointed out that most anti-drinking ads look almost exactly like what advertising agencies would do for actual alcohol ads if they could get away with it.
- The famously counter-productive anti-drug ad featuring Rachael Leigh Cook. The ad may not be as bad as some, but it does depict Cook going crazy and wrecking a kitchen to illustrate what a drug user, the user's family, etc., go through thanks to drugs. When she finishes and breathes "Any questions?", one question comes to mind, as The Nostalgia Critic put it: "Yeah. What drugs are you on?"
- An elementary school created and distributed customized pencils for their students to use. The pencils were emblazoned with the words, "Too Cool to Do Drugs." This lasted until a student pointed out that, as the pencils are sharpened, they begin to read "Cool to Do Drugs," and then later, "Do Drugs." and finally, "Drugs."
- Some anti-tobacco and anti-drinking billboard, TV and radio ads emphasize the percentage of kids locally who don't smoke or drink. Apparently the adults who create these ads have completely forgotten how being "cool" works and think it has something to do with being in the majority, as if the Fonz was cool because everyone else wore leather jackets. If you want to be different, they just told you how.
- One magazine ad is known as "An Unfair Comparison Between the Javelin and the Mustang◊." And boy, is it unfair: anyone can look at the huge, detailed photos of each car and see the Mustang is more attractive and better designed. Which worked out badly for the makers of the Javelin, who placed the ad.
- Although car makers are heavily prohibited from glamorising the performance aspects of their products, most television car advertisements need the disclaimer 'Professional driver on closed course; do not attempt' to try to counter the fact that driving across a frozen lake or a desert or round a racetrack looks pretty damn fun. Oddly, this extends to such crazy actions as driving normal speed down paved roads with leaves on it.
- This upbeat commercial for Gofer Cakes, a fictitious snack cake akin to Ding Dongs. Aimed at children and teens, it is a PSA for The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports; the kids in the ad end up all fat and lazy from eating mountains of gofer cakes washed down with a super-thick smoothie made from blended gofer cakes. Many ads for real junk food work along similar principles — real ones that try to say "this food is so tasty that it's worth getting fat from eating far too much of it!" The comments on the PSA confirm that the satire element went over most kids' heads, and seems to have turned a lot of youngsters on to Gofer Cakes.
- A lot of anti-gun PSA's and arguments. They start out by inflating the power and lethality of weapons currently available on the civilian market. Then they show someone somewhere being victimized by a criminal with that powerful gun. Boy, it sure would be nice to have weapon of your own to use if someone scary like that came at you.
- An ad by the Brady Campaign depicts a man loading what looks like a large magazine into a handgun and firing away seventeen times before reloading. However, this would better be served if the narration wasn't dramatic and saying how you could kill a lot of people quickly.
- The famous "You Wouldn't Download a Car" campaign became joke fodder for this reason - "download" and "steal" are hardly synonymous to most people the ad is actually targeted towards, between the lack of a physical object to steal, the free nature of the object being downloaded, and the many legal avenues of downloading. It doesn't help that in the commercials, they used the most epic sounding music and quick editing when presenting piracy as a "crime", making the target audience believe that piracy and other crimes would make you look awesome. In fact, one might even ponder how convenient it would be to get a car simply by going online and clicking a few links (something which is now possible thanks to Technology Marching On), rather than heading down to Honest John's Dealership and spending the better part of the day haggling with some douchey auto baron trying to buy something for less than several months' worth of savings.
- The Joe And Petunia series of Brit Public Information Films during the early 70s featured the titular couple wreaking havoc because of their stupidity. The tone of the shorts was much lighter and humourous than the infamously scary fare (and the high body counts) PIF would be remembered for, to the point they became the cause for them. The duo was so popular that it was feared people would actually imitate them, so they were apparently Killed Off for Real in Worn Tyres Kill in their unorthodox style. The aforementioned nightmare-ish PSAs that followed were made as a reaction against this.
- Hulu ads go on to say things along the lines of "don't do this, because it'll ruin everything else forever." And then it goes on to say that Hulu is the same way.
- Many religious kick-the-porn-habit self-help books mention being turned on by lingerie ads. These books also have to walk a fine line because self help books usually tell stories so readers know they are not alone... but those stories can also be used for "poor man's erotic fiction", or "suggestions for porn", meaning they have to avoid depicting the act of enjoying Poor Man's Porn in too much detail, or else they run the risk of glorifying it.
- Pretty blatantly stated in Valve's Steam Deck teardown video. They spend one-fifth of the video explaining why taking apart the Steam Deck is a bad idea, then go on to say that "taking things apart and putting them back together is cool, especially powerful handheld gaming computers."
- The Capri-Sun Respect the Pouch campaign shows various kids destroying their Capri-Sun pouches in creative ways (hitting it with a baseball bat, poking multiple holes in it with their straw, inflating it to use as a Whoopee Cushion, etc.), then undergoing a Karmic Transformation related to what they did to the pouch. The campaign insists that playing with the Capri-Sun pouch is a bad idea, but they just draw more attention to how fun it is to inflate and play with the pouch — which, indeed, was the intention.
Narrator: We told kids not to do something, and, of course, they did it. 400 copycat YouTube videos later, we knew we were onto something.
- Caravan by Kalash93 may actually avert this trope. It depicts the situation for the fighting men in Afghanistan rather accurately through the prism of an MLP fic. As a military veteran remarked, "I especially like the message towards the end: nothing has changed, despite the "victory". There will be more caravans, more insurgents, and more blood on the sand." This is exactly what the author intended.
- Poké Wars depicts the gritty, brutal, gory and just nasty side of war and there is a fairly obvious War Is Hell message. Unfortunately, few of the reviewers notice this, instead choosing to focus on the dazzling fight scenes.
- Tiberium Wars tends to depict intense, action-packed battles that nonetheless also contains a rather deep-down moral that War Is Hell. Some reviewers picked up on this, while others simply read it for the visceral combat.
- Parodied in MAD magazine's July 1994 Super Special issue, which had a sheet of fake magazine subscription stamps (for such periodicals as U.S. Nudes and Weird Retorts and Modern Insanity) that looked exactly like the genuine ones used by such outfits as the Publisher's Clearing House for their sweepstakes entries. On the page facing them, Mad printed this warning:
AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING MAD'S SILLY SWEEPSTAKES STAMPS: Please DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE affix these bogus MAD stickers onto AN ACTUAL SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY FORM, despite the deep-rooted urge in the very core of your being which inspires and calls upon you to do so! You must resist the temptation, even though it would be a truly wonderful prank that would surely cause chaos and havoc for the Magazine Sweepstakes Company(s) who have been badgering you mercilessly for years (and who have recently been sued for making false and misleading claims about their cheesy contests). Yes, it will take every ounce of your willpower, but you must NOT remove a bogus MAD stamp by carefully tearing it along the perforated lines, licking it, and then affixing it onto a REAL MAGAZINE SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY FORM in place of one of THEIR stamps. You must ABSOLUTELY NOT think of your own PERSONAL PLEASURE and the TREMENDOUS SATISFACTION you would get from pulling such a deviously ingenious stunt. The bottom line is that it would be wrong — morally, ethically, uncategorically, deliciously wrong. We trust that we can count on you, our loyal readers, to do the right thing.
- In the 18th March 2022 episode of The Now Show, Ken Cheng claims to have discovered a useful lifehack to beat inflation: Crime! He then immediately clarifies that he's kidding.
- Ricky Gervais. In one of his routines, he 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."
- Norm Macdonald pointed out the problem many anti-smoking ads have with showing the effect of smoking on organs.
MacDonald: My doctor tried to scare me out of smoking. He showed me a picture of a smoker's lung. Oh! It was gross and disgusting. Then he showed me a picture of a healthy person's lung. Oh! It was gross and disgusting!
- Parodied in Magic: The Gathering with Fat Ass.
"Our lawyers say no matter how funny it would be, we can't encourage players to eat the cards. Hear that? Whatever you do, don't eat the delicious cards."
- Warhammer 40,000, especially the older versions of it, is rather clear in its "fascist totalitarianism is bad" message with the Imperium of Man serving as an example of a dysfunctional fascist regime. But this aesop is watered down by how 1) the Imperium is the POV faction for an overwhelming amount of material (Easily 90% of the various books, codices, videogames and the likes are either from a pure Imperium P.O.V. or feature them as one of the protagonists, even getting a hundred books long series about their backstory) to the detriment of other factions who aren't given as much Sympathetic P.O.V. stories, 2) The Imperium's enemies are almost never presented as being better than it (at most they will be just as bad but will often be shown as worse than it, and some of them have been outright retconned to be worse because they seemed more moral than the Imperium), and 3) the Imperium just plain looks cool and draws a lot of its imagery from Crusades-era Europe and 20th-century dictatorships. As a result, it's no surprise that a fair amount of 40k fans are Rooting for the Empire (and some even have a Misaimed Fandom towards it). It got to the point that Games Workshop had to make an official statement in November 2021 that they are not to be admired.
- In Wicked, the song "Dancing Through Life" is meant to paint the singer as having the wrong idea about life in general; but it also seems to go out of its way to make his philosophy sound appealing. Then again, when he chooses to follow the heroine instead of keeping to that attitude, where does it get them? Dancing through Life might have been the better option - YMMV on this one.
- This is true of Ben Jonson's plays. Both Volpone and The Alchemist make fraud look fun, although in the former play, harsh punishments are dished out to all the "villains" right at the end.
- The musical Catch Me If You Can runs into this — it's supposed to be ultimately condemning Frank Abegnale, Jr.'s, fraudulent and lawless life, except that the songs involving Frank's wild con artist life are much more enjoyable than the ones preaching strict Lawful Goodness. It's a common problem — you're trying to send the message "Stay within the law, don't be outrageous and dashing" — in a musical? That said, Hanratty's opposing viewpoint song "Don't Break the Rules" is pretty good.
- West Side Story does a fair job of showing there are consequences to the gang life... but then it has "Jet Song" and "Cool" and "Officer Krupke", all of which are a lot more fun than the more serious songs.
When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dyin' day
When you're a Jet, let 'em do what they can, you got brothers around, you're a family man
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Gleefully used. Just look at those efficiently designed, finely crafted, aesthetically appealing savage tools of destruction... Tea in her fencing suit and wide smile objects to your unhealthy fascination with swords! Though it doubles as foreshadowing, as later "enjoy, but don't forget what it's about" became a good plot point.
- Quitting Time presents: Pure Evil.
- Invoked in this strip with Davan's response to a gang of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fans protesting a stage-play adaptation of Shock Treatment. "Think of every movie or video game someone else protested that you immediately went to check out. Now you're doing that for us."
- The only reason God declared homosexuality a sin was to Batman Gambit lesbians into having more sex out of spite, which He of course gets to watch.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
- Discussed by General Tarquin in The Order of the Stick, who points out that most stories about heroes overthrowing the Evil Overlord tend to assume that said Overlord has been ruling for years if not decades or even centuries and having a few minutes of violence and death isn't bad karma for ruling an empire or living "like a god" for all that time.
- In-universe in Questionable Content: Dont play with fireworks, or youll end up with sweet robot body parts.
- In Schlock Mercenary, Strohl makes up a plasma-cannon safety colouring book, which Fez Bojo describes as a marketing scheme.
- Hazbin Hotel/Helluva Boss: Hell is almost exactly like Earth, has all the sex, drugs and booze you could want, you'll get a cool demon body with awesome powers, you're restored to perfect health, you'll get to see your loved ones again if they end up in Hell but most of all, there's no sign of any kind of eternal punishment. Aside from the yearly extermination, there doesn't seem to be much reason why people should avoid going there, much less be redeemed.
- The RiffTrax short 'Safety with Animals' has a scene telling the proper way to handle snakes, by way of showing a young child picking a wild snake from the ground, only to go back and say that you should never go near wild animals. Mike quickly mocks this.
Mike: Here's a kid doing cool stuff! (beat) Don't do that stuff.
- Any time you see a viral clip headed "SHOCKING VIDEO", it's odds on that it will be an example of this.
- Deliberately invoked in this video, showing different driving situations with a "Yes" or "No" signs supposedly indicating how things should be done. Since this is intentional, the "No" examples usually lead to better results than "Yes", frequently because the other drivers are not following the rules. For example, one "No" situation shows a car racing down the middle of a road with a divided line. The "Yes" version then shows a car properly driving on the right side... and killing a little girl's dog that has wandered onto the road.
- This trope is discussed by Lindsay Ellis, who describes this as "the satire paradox", claiming that people tend to only take the intended message if they already hold the view, while people who hold the opposite view tend to take the opposite message. After all, even if they notice the critical elements of the work, they can easily dismiss them as the story simply being self-aware that its side isn't perfect. She specifically discusses American History X - in her view, in trying to show horrifying fascists, the film ended up also making them look like physically impressive badass alpha males who proudly uphold their beliefs and drip with the imagery that made the Nazis march to war. The Producers, on the other hand, is praised for averting this trope, as the Nazi imagery in the film has the piss firmly taken out of it, and the only actual Nazi character is portrayed as a pathetic buffoon.
- Binging with Babish will often tell the viewer not to try making the more Nutritional Nightmare-style dishes featured in the series, only to then grudgingly admit that most of the dishes in question are actually really tasty.
- This video shows an elephant standing in the road expecting travelers to give her food, and getting some. The video description says you shouldn't feed a wild elephant but doesn't explain the consequence. While it's true getting close to wild elephants is dangerous and the elephant is putting herself and others in danger by standing in the road, the video doesn't show anybody suffering for it. All the vehicles slow down enough to safely pass the elephant, and nobody who feeds the elephant gets hurt; one person even touches her on the nose. The result is that a number of people don't understand the dangers the video is warning about and want to feed the elephant. It comes off as a rare chance to get close to a magnificent wild animal who looks so cute when begging for food.
- Jon Bois, in his history of the career of baseball player Lonnie Smith, notes that baseball in the 80s had something of a cocaine epidemic (explaining that baseball in general is known for substance abuse, due to its slow pace providing lots of room for breaks). He notes that it was an Open Secret that at least three of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals were snorting cocaine practically daily: Lonnie Smith, Keith Hernandez, and Joaquin Andujar. Curious, he decides to look up the stats of the players at the time... and realizes that Smith and Hernandez were the best batters on the Cardinals, and Andujar was their best pitcher. And then he recalls that the 1982 Cardinals won the World Series. He then has to go into a lengthy aside to explain that Drugs Are Bad, snorting cocaine does not make you better at baseball, and he refuses to take responsibility if someone assumes that it does. Fortunately, he manages to recover, explaining that Lonnie went on repeated benders that made him violent and reckless and that he eventually went into rehab after he came within a hair's breadth of an overdose.
- SsethTzeentach's review of Space Station 13 starts with him noting that it's a spectacular game that he would rate 10 out of 10, then in the same breath says not to play it for several reasons (the engine is probably older than whoever's watching his review, the controls and UI are insanely convoluted, it takes a long time to learn even a single role, and the servers would melt under any significant number of new players). He then spends the rest of the review detailing several sessions he himself had played, every one of which ended in a ludicrous and/or hilarious fashion,Examples: which predictably resulted in a huge deluge of new players picking up the game and causing the servers to melt down under the "Ssethtide".
- Parodied in a theater warning featuring director John Waters. He's supposed to tell the audience that smoking is restricted in the theater but he does so by intentionally sending out mixed signals, like happily puffing on a cigarette himself and questioning the validity of the rule.
John: (smoking) Hello, I'm John Waters, and I'm supposed to remind you that there's no smoking in this theater. Which I think is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard in my life. How can anyone sit through the length of a film, especially a European film, and not have a cigarette? But, don't you wish you had one right now? (inhales) Mmm-mmm-mmm. And I'm telling you to smoke anyway. It gives ushers jobs, and if people didn't smoke, there'd be no employment for the youth of today. So, once again, no smoking in this theater. (inhales again) Mmmm!