Everyone knows the Stock Aesops: Be Yourself; appreciate what you have; people are more important than things; follow your dreams. Sometimes, these morals contradict each other, but nobody is surprised to see any of them in a story. However, sometimes a story aims to teach a lesson well outside the pale of accepted wisdom. For example, "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished", "It's okay to Be a Whore to Get Your Man," or "Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer".
"Family-Unfriendly" does not necessarily mean "wrong": the lesson may be both true and well-supported in context, but it frequently jars the audience since they weren't expecting it. After all, most shows, especially ones aimed at children, teach viewers that they should help the less fortunate, be modest, and solve their problems without coming to blows.
When your work promotes a lesson that is seldom taught and/or contradicts general morality, you have a Family-Unfriendly Aesop. Your audience may not be able to argue that you're "wrong", but they'll still walk away feeling a bit uncomfortable.
Note that being "jarring" is not necessarily the same as being pessimistic. Some more optimistic Family-Unfriendly Aesops might be, for instance, "peer pressure is good for you because it convinces you to try new things" (or, conversely, "Rejecting the wisdom of the crowd could end badly,") or, "Having sex reduces stress and makes you happier, so go have some." Note also that how the Aesop is conveyed may be what makes it family-unfriendly: for instance, Good People Have Good Sex almost always gets a far friendlier reception from Moral Guardians than You Need to Get Laid, though both promote sex as a good thing.
A Family-Unfriendly Aesop is not the same as a Clueless Aesop, which is a moral (usually a family-friendly one) presented so ineffectively that the audience either misses the point or doesn't find it at all persuasive. When delivered straight and effectively, the Family-Unfriendly Aesop jolts the audience entirely because the message they figure out is exactly the one the writers wanted them to catch. Nor is it the same as Broken Aesop, wherein a show contradicts or otherwise undermines its own (again, usually family-friendly) moral. An unusual moral also doesn't count if it's played for laughs (Spoof Aesop).
Due to Values Dissonance and Society Marches On, a moral that is family-unfriendly in one time and place may be very family-friendly in another (or vice versa), especially morals about social mores or civil rights (see Fair for Its Day). This list is for morals that were family-unfriendly even for the culture for which they were written. A prime target for dropping anvils.
Note: Understand that not everything needs or has an Aesop. A depiction is not an endorsement; a character behaving in a certain way does not mean the show is saying that behavior as good (let alone telling the audience that they should do the same). If you are drawing absurd conclusions from a story which doesn't have a moral, take it to Warp That Aesop on Darth Wiki.
Works with their own pages:
- The Truth anti-tobacco initiatives
- "Left Swipe Dat" music video tries to get its anti-tobacco message across by having popular YouTubers and Vine-makers sing a song about instantly rejecting people on Tinder if they smoke cigarettes in their profile pics. It's basically two Family-Unfriendly Aesops at once: "If you enjoy a frowned-upon vice, make sure you don't advertise it to potential romantic partners!" and "Don't even consider speaking to someone — or even learning anything else about them — if they have a personal habit that you don't approve of!"
- This ad mentions that smokers earn less money than non-smokers. Ignoring the accuracy or lack thereof, the ad doesn't portray this as a case of wage discrimination, but instead uses this fact to encourage smokers to quit, as if they deserve lower wages because of their habit. It also never even considers the (far more likely) possibility that being in a lower socioeconomic class makes one more likely to smoke, rather than the other way around.
- Two PSAs for the Montana Meth Project has a voice over of two teenagers wishing that something had stopped them from going to their respective parties, trying meth for the first time and ruining their lives by becoming users, which, in theory, would have been great. The only problem there is that they wish that they had suffered horrific injuries instead (implied to become a paraplegic/quadriplegic and having a serious brain injury). While obviously being addicted to drugs is not a desirable lifestyle for anyone, wishing to be injured shouldn't be considered a more acceptable (or as hinted at in the commercial, glamourized) fate, particularly if they could have just said no or at least have a less tragic fate happen instead. Furthermore, you must wonder how anyone who is suffering from such terrible injuries would react upon coming across these commercials...
- In the commercial for the wildly popular "Great Shape Barbie", there are two little girls playing with the doll and helping her "exercise". However, the last sentence stated by one of the girls when the other one asked where she was going after her workout, was "Looking that great, it's gotta be a date!" While fitness and general good health/nutrition is a very important lesson to teach, especially to children, and the doll and commercial came out in 1983, it's rather jarring for modern audiences to hear a message like that.
- Parodied in a T-Mobile commercial, with a helping of Adults Are Useless. The ad shows a family sitting around the table. The teenage daughter lists who of her friends she made her "Fave Five." Then her younger brother says that he picked the exact same five girls as his "Fave Five."
BROTHER: "Your friends are HOT!"DAUGHTER: (To her parents) "Aren't you going to do something about this?"FATHER: "Maybe you should have uglier friends."
- There's an ad for Adobe Creative Cloud going around with a voiceover which says "It's 2019, we don't do the straws no more... I'm doing it for the sea turtles, I'm doing it for the dolphins... But I'm mostly doing it so, y'know, I don't get roasted by my friends." Sure, protect the environment while it's the 'cool' thing to do, but as soon as it drops out of fashion forget about it, because impressing your friends is far more important.
- Made worse by the fact the ad shows a photo of a milkshake and then edits the straw out of the photo, implying that "It's okay to use straws as long as your friends don't find out about it. Use our app to edit the straws out of your photos so your friends will never know."
- Kraft Foods has a series of commercials showing a parent trying and failing to get their young kid to eat vegetables. So the parent just makes them Kraft macaroni and cheese, which the kid happily eats. Yeah, it's tough getting your kid to eat healthy, so you shouldn't bother and just give them processed food that's high in fat, sodium, and carbohydrates instead.
- Black Clover: When Juno and Asta ask the Wizard King about what they must do to achieve his rank, he gives the answer that nothing is more important than producing results, and he came to be the current Wizard King due to producing more and better results than any other of the captains. While the manga makes clear that effort and kindness are important, this is also a very pragmatic way to see the world.
- Bloom Into You has an example in the School Play that the main characters are putting on in-universe. The play stars a girl who's lost her memory, and gets visits from three people close to her who see her three different ways- her schoolmate sees her as The Ace Student Council President, her brother sees her as an Aloof Big Sister, and her lover claims she has a vulnerable side that she only shows when they're together. Facing an identity crisis, the main character chooses to act the way her lover saw her as, thus sending a message that it's better to live the way someone else sees you than to be yourself. Because Touko, who plays the girl, has felt pressured to "become" her seemingly perfect sister after the latter's death in a car accident, Yuu convinces Koyomi to change the ending so that the main character's nurse convinces her to just be herself, resulting in the main character telling the other three that she intends to start over. Most of the student council besides Touko likes the new ending better, partly because they believe this outcome makes more sense.
- Bokurano has a few, which is unsurprising given the nature of the show.
- Kirie, having learned that every time you win, another universe is destroyed, has a talk with Tanaka, believing he cannot fight in light of that information. Tanaka essentially gives him two lessons. 1) People's lives are not equal, and when people are forced into a situation where they must choose one person's life or another's, they will choose the one they value more. 2) People exist because of sacrifice, from the plants and animals they eat every day to continue living, to the ones who died to ensure their standard of life, and even Jesus and the Buddha are no exception.
- The ending of Chizu's arc has her family understandably appalled at her killing innocent people in her quest for vengeance against Hatagai. In response, they decide not to press charges against Hatagai, sending the message that it's better to let the guilty escape than cause innocents to suffer through revenge.
- Daisuki! BuBu ChaCha: Prolonged exposure may result in creepiness when your preschooler somehow ends up believing that one of his toys is the reincarnation of or is possessed by the spirit of the recently deceased family pet.
- Delicious in Dungeon:
- In Chapter 14, Laios is sure to be wrong about Anne the kelpie. Her friendship with Senshi means she would never attack him even though she's a monster, right? Wrong. She tries to eat him as soon as he gets on her back and the reader learns a brutal lesson about trusting wild creatures; just because they seem tame doesn't mean they can't turn on you in an instant. There's a big difference between "has never attacked" and "safe".
- Regarding Namari, most stories would penalize her for leaving Team Touden in Chapter 1 because they couldn't pay her fee. Here however she's treated as being in the right and Chilchuck even scolds Marcille for trying to make her return to the party later when she's on another job. She's not shamed for prioritzing her own career and professional reputation over wanting to help old friends, which might damage her job prospects very badly in the future. It teaches the lesson that looking out for yourself is okay sometimes and you shouldn't bend to others if you know what they want is not right for you.
- At the end of Eden of the East, Akira (the hero) makes a comment to the effect that Japanese have great potential but need someone to rule them to unlock that potential. In the end, though, it actually subverts this Aesop by more or less stating that while it might achieve great results, it would be wrong to do so. Similarly, Akira/the series seems to take the viewpoint that since national tragedies/catastrophes bring a country together, causing one is a great idea so long as you can figure out a way of doing it without killing anyone.
- Digimon Adventure 02 had an episode in which the digidestined are trapped in an underwater rig that is slowly running out of air, with only one escape pod: despite knowing that he's afraid of water, the kids coerce Cody into going, creating the Accidental Aesop of "it's okay to force your friends to have contact with their phobias - it'll help them!" Though, it is possible they just wanted him to go into the pod so he wouldn't have to stay trapped and underwater with them and, thus, be able to avoid his fear. (Note that this is dub-induced; the phobia is nonexistent in the original Japanese version.) Upon reaching the surface, he finds out that to get Joe's help, he would have to lie, something Cody is deeply uncomfortable with, to the point that he later feels that he doesn't deserve the digi-egg of Reliability. This leads to the episode's Aesop: that lying is sometimes perfectly okay, if you have a good reason for doing it. While this isn't necessarily a damaging message (as depending on the context, white lies can be beneficial), it is incredibly odd considering that most children's shows would advocate for honesty.
- Fate/Zero has Kiritsigu Emiya always killing the few to save the many but realizing that even by killing people he deems evil, he'll never create a world free of evil, cruelty, suffering and conflict. So he consults a wish granting device, the Holy Grail, after a long bloody war to get the miracle of world peace. The Holy Grail decides the only way for the world to have peace is for all beings capable of conflict to be dead, so there will be an absence of conflict. Needless to say, Kiritsugu was bothered by the implications that humanity is not capable of ever lasting peace. It should be noted, however, that the Grail had been corrupted such that it would twist any wish it could into a wish for worldwide destruction.
- Higurashi: When They Cry:
- The moral of the Tsumihoroboshi-hen arc appears to be "friends help friends hide the bodies." But in a more directly stated example, it's okay to hide things from your friends if they don't need to know about it. Even though they're your friends, it doesn't require complete disclosure. While Higurashi certainly emphasizes the importance of trusting your friends, at this point it acknowledges that there are some things people just can't tell others and shouldn't have to.
- Saikoroshi-hen (whether you accept it as All Just a Dream or not) seems to advocate a rather ruthless approach to pursuing one's own happiness at the expense of others.
- The moral of Irresponsible Captain Tylor as a series can be taken 2 ways: 1) Being an individual in a conformist society will lead to extreme success, or 2) Rigid military discipline is actively bad for winning wars, and treating it like a joke will make everything better. The former is one for the Japanese, and the latter is one for Americans.
"You now have a chance to get out, and if you don't take it, you're just a puppy who cowers when someone takes the leash off, proving to everyone you really are a meek, obedient house pet. Or maybe, being in a short leash is how you want to live your life."
- The Debt Swapping Game Arc has Yumeko stating that if someone don't do anything to get out of a bad situation, specially when the opportunity to do so presents itself, the person likely deserves to be in that position.
- The Choice Poker Game has the aesop that if you want something big, then you also need to be willing to risk big. If you face nothing but grief and pain after it, then that's the price of trying to achieve what you want.
- The Lost Village: The end of the series has the message that everyone copes with their issues in their own way, and sometimes the way they find is to run away from them, and when that happens, it's just as valid of a way to deal with it as any other. While not uplifting, the message isn't exactly invalid.
- One of the themes at the end of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam seems to be "Peace is a nice ideal, but you have to be willing to fight because the world is full of bad people who delight in tormenting others". Indeed, the Grand Finale basically has Kamille getting over his earlier "Why do we have to keep fighting?!" attitude and killing the Big Bad.
- While the manga and anime itself has a Family-Friendly Aesop that teaches Forgiveness and uses A World Half Full, the creepy children's books in Monster were made like this purposefully by one of the characters to instill nihilism in children. They feature such lovely morals as "It doesn't matter whether you make a deal with the devil or not, because you're screwed either way."
- Naruto: It's later revealed that Black Zetsu somehow manipulated the Uchiha into evil and they are later forgiven despite their atrocities. The moral here: Because the devil made you do it, your crimes should be ignored.
- The Aesop here is in fact even worse than that, as characters like Naruto, Hashirama, and Minato are endlessly forgiving of the Uchiha clan long before this plot twist is revealed or even hinted at and have always viewed them as fallen friends, and in truth, this twist seemed to have been tacked on just to retroactively excuse their misdeeds. It actually ends up being "If you consider someone your friend, you should forgive anything wrong they do based solely on that."
- Another big one in Naruto is Naruto's willingness to stick his neck out for Sasuke, advocating that he's really a nice guy deep down in a way reminiscent of a platonic version of I Can Change My Beloved, and asking world leaders (including one who believes Sasuke killed his brother, and Naruto has no reason or evidence to believe he hasn't) to put off their plans to kill him, all while Sasuke is merrily skipping around committing every crime he can. Again, this is based solely on the fact that Naruto considers Sasuke his friend, giving a message that reads like "You should place your friendship with someone above the greater good, even if your friend is the one directly threatening the greater good."
- At the end, Sasuke has a child with Sakura, the same girl he mind raped and tried to kill at least once. And according to the Word of God, giving up on him would somehow make her a bad person. More specifically, Word of God stated that it would make her a horrible person if she gave up on him and "suddenly" just "switched over" to Naruto. More plainly put: giving up your feelings for someone, despite being hurt by them both physically and emotionally, makes you a bad person.
- A simpler yet effective one is when Kakashi at one point tells his students that "thinking you get it and actually getting it are two different things." Basically, it's a saying that there's no hard substitute other than experience yourself to teach you in ways a mere lecture can provide for you.
- Pokémon: The debut episode of Duplica and her Ditto featured one. Her Ditto was unable to change its face when transforming, a shortcoming it couldn't get rid of, no matter how hard Ditto and its caring trainer worked on overcoming it. Then the Team Rocket trio kidnapped Ditto and finally got it to overcome its problem by threatening it with violence. So apparently, being nice and supportive and encouraging someone to overcoming their shortcomings just isn't enough; you have to intimidate and force them to do it. The moral here: The ends justify the means. Which is a rather odd moral to have in a franchise that highlights the close and friendly bond trainers can develop with their Pokémon.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica has two of them, which co-exists in universe despite being contradictory: 1. There's no such thing as selflessness; 2. If you somehow become capable of selflessness, you will cease to have a self.
- The Rising of the Shield Hero teaches that sometimes the lesser of two evils is the right thing to do, and that good deeds done half-assedly can cause serious harm. Three of the Four Heroes go about performing good deeds throughout Melromarc, but because they don't stop to consider or mitigate the resulting consequences, said good deeds snowball into utter disaster as soon as they're gone, leaving Naofumi to clean up the mess by being more thorough and putting more thought into his actions. Naofumi is also a slave owner, but because he treats his demi slaves well and because Melromarc is such a racist hellhole towards demis they're actually safer and better off than they'd be free because they're under Naofumi's physical and legal protection. Contrast with Motoyasu, who wants to free Naofumi's slaves by force even though he'd be putting them at risk, simply for the short-term gratification of feeling like a hero (and because he's creepily obsessed with one of them and wants her for himself, believing she'll join his party out of gratitude if he frees her.)
- Shiki basically has the moral that if things get bad enough, anyone can and will turn into a murderous monster regardless of his or her original personality because most people just care about themselves and their own more than anything else, and that it doesn't matter if you do decide to be selfless and nonviolent because you're screwed either way.
- In-universe example: in Urusei Yatsura, Ataru tells a class of kindergartners a story about the legendary Kintaro, who through ceaseless effort, finally became the assistant to a great man.
Ataru: The moral of the story is, "Even if you work like a dog... you can only rise so far in this lousy world!"
- Yu-Gi-Oh! had, in its filler DOMA arc, an Aesop that Valon/Varon teaches Mai: The Power of Friendship won't win her battles for her, and she can't rely on her friends to help her. On the other hand, he may have been saying that to further convince Mai to leave her old life behind and remain in the DOMA cult.
- Simple Samosa: In Makhi Makhi, Samosa, Jalebi, Dhokla, and Vada befriend a talking fly. The fly constantly gets them into trouble and uses Insane Troll Logic to justify his actions. Instead of ditching the fly and allowing him to be punished for what he does, the gang continue hanging out with him and even make an aesop about not ditching your friends, even if said friend provides Toxic Friend Influence and brings you nothing but trouble.
- EC Comics story "Beauty and the Beach!" (Shock SuspenStories #7): Attractive young wives should stay home and look after their children. Those who instead prefer to pursue lucrative careers ("I'm making more money now than you'll ever make") and win public admiration deserve Karmic Deaths at their husbands' hands. Even for the 1950s, this seems rather mean-spirited.
- The moral of Birds of Prey: The Battle Within, the arc from issues 76 to 85, appears to be the fairly stock Aesop of "You should accept your friends for who they are and not try to change them," except that what Oracle was trying to change about Huntress is her tendency to kill people. In the end, Oracle apologizes to Huntress, and, in the Dead of Winter story arc (issues 104-108), actually tells Huntress to use deadly force against the Secret Six if she thinks it appropriate, making the moral that sometimes killing people is a good idea.
- The Chick Tract "Lisa" was heavily freighted with Unfortunate Implications and several rather disturbing Accidental Aesops, which is probably why Jack Chick ceased publishing it long ago. Its intended Aesop by itself, however, remains as edgy and controversial as ever to this day: that while child molesters are indeed terrible sinners, they're just as human and need forgiveness and salvation just as much as any other kind of terrible sinners (e.g. rape merchants, mass murderers, terrorists, and despots). Also, as the doctor who saves the child molester in the comic points out, the Villain Protagonist was already headed to Hell for his "lesser" sins long before he took up raping his little daughter; by implication, we readers shouldn't think ourselves safe from damnation just because we haven't committed any sins as terrible as this guy. (Also, that means rape is not such a special kind of evil after all.)
- One of the Mass Effect Foundation comics, had Kaidan's father offer the advice that even the right decision has terrible consequences.
- Invoked in-universe in the graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills. A policeman incapacitates Rev. Stryker at a rally as Stryker was prepared to shoot and kill Kitty Pryde. When questioned about it, he said "If that's the word of God, then it's sure changed since Sunday School."
- Whenever Rogue considers having her powers removed—a storyline that often comes up in the comics, the cartoons, and the movies—the moral is always "Be proud of the things that make you different." It's often stated or implied that a mutant neutralizing their X-gene would be akin to a black person bleaching their skin. However, the issues here are more than skin-deep: 1. Rogue's involuntary Power Copying creates a burden on her life by not allowing her physical contact without harming the other person. 2. Since she often struggles with the absorbed psyches in her head, her powers are a danger to herself as well. 3. It's her body. She shouldn't be shamed for what's essentially a medical decision. It also ignores the issue of the number of mutants who have such extreme physical changes that they're regarded as monsters and can't integrate with society even if their powers are harmless or at least controllable. It uncomfortably implies that body autonomy must take a backseat to political posturing.
- Beautiful Darkness: By the end of the story, Aurora learns that Fairies Are Bastards, you can't trust anyone, and the only way to survive is to kill them before they can kill you.
- A surprising one from the Mega Man comic comes after half of Dr. Wily's robots from the second and third line decide they'd rather be shut down than be reprogrammed. Rock and Roll are deeply saddened by seeing them commit the robot version of suicide, with Dr. Light sadly telling them that you can't save everybody and not everyone wants to be saved.
- Calvin and Hobbes:
- The trope picture comes from this comic. His mom ends up grudgingly giving him the pie. Calvin is clearly portrayed as a brat, though.
- In one strip, Calvin is debating whether he should spend his time playing outside, or focus on his schoolwork. He decides that playing will make him happier in the short term, studying will make him happier in the long term, but going to play outside would also make better memories. Not every day you see a comic tell kids to not care too much about their homework. In fairness, it isn't necessarily endorsing this. Usually things are portrayed from Calvin's view, and of course it's as a bratty six-year old sees them (obviously different from most adults).
- In Little Orphan Annie, one World War II strip has Annie seeing a man physically attack an obnoxious war-profiteer for declaring that he hopes the war will continue for another twenty years. When a policeman tries to intervene, Annie stops him because "it's better some times to let folks settle some questions by what you might call democratic processes."
- Parodied with Rat's children's stories in Pearls Before Swine.
Goat: You are not putting this in a children's book.
Rat: "So remember, kids, luck and timing are more important than personal effort."
- In many old fairy tales and folk tales (especially the ones featuring a young or powerless protagonist), the moral is "Lie, cheat, and steal to save yourself or your family. If you do it well enough, you could become royalty." Modern versions often Bowdlerise this, eliminating the original moral.
- Russian fairy tales tend to be rather cynical. One story in a collection by 19th century folklorist Alexander Afanasyev has the moral "Old favors are soon forgotten."
- While we're at it, Cinderella itself. Charles Perrault announced at the end that the moral was: Good looks and all sort of other wonderful traits are useless without connections.
- The standard fairy tale plot of a hero overcoming impossible quests to marry a princess gets subverted in Friedrich Schiller's ballad The Diver. A King throws a golden cup into some rough water and declares that whoever can retrieve it can keep it. After the hero manages this the king ups the ante by throwing a ring into the water and telling the hero that he will get the princess if he can do it again. The hero tries and drowns. The new moral here might be "she is probably not worth it" or simply "quit while you are ahead."
- Schiller also subverts the "Idiotic challenges will win you the heart of a woman" plot in The Glove in which a lady throws her glove into an arena full of lions and tigers and challenges (mockingly) her suitor to get it. He retrieves the glove, the lady immediately falls for him — and he throws the glove in her face, saying "Den Dank, Dame, begeher ich nicht" ("Such Gratitude, madame, is not desired by me") — the Aesop is probably "Women, don't mock your suitor if you want to keep him" or "Men, sometimes a woman is more trouble than she's worth."
- Into the Woods added "It's probably not a good idea to marry someone you just met" Aesops to the Cinderella and Rapunzel stories. Cinderella's prince is a philanderer (probably both of them are, it's just that Cinderella's is the only one who explicitly does it on or rather just off stage), whereas Rapunzel is somewhat crazy. The only original story Aesop it leaves intact is Little Red Riding Hood's Aesop of "Don't talk to strangers," who became a good deal creepier (as a bonus, traditionally the wolf is played by the same actor who plays Cinderella's prince). Near the end, we get an Aesop of "Listen to people who know what they're talking about, even if they're witches." And the overarching moral is "don't tell your children stories that feature a Family Unfriendly Aesop, because it will mess them up." "Nice is different than good". And, even more damningly, neither "nice" nor "good" are necessarily the same as "right".
- Puss in Boots (a.k.a. "The Master Cat") is an outstanding example. The story's message may be more prudential than moral; specifically, "if you would be successful in life, learn the way of the cat: how to evade your predators, how to catch your prey, and how to curry favor with the powerful."
- The Scorpion and the Frog fable:
- Taken by itself with no metaphor, the lesson is that a predatory animal (the scorpion) with enough sapience to communicate with a creature it naturally preys on (the frog) should not attempt to fight its natural instincts and pursue cooperative ventures ; Mother Nature made the scorpion to kill prey and trying to be something other than that to the frog will only result in one's predatory instincts rising to the surface at the worst possible time, dooming both to a watery grave. It is better to stick with the natural order of things than to try to evolve past one's Darwinian trappings.
- As a metaphor for evil, it suggests evil is an overriding character trait that outweighs self-interest and survival and one should not trust in an evil person trying to pull a HeelFace Turn.
- It's also saying that some people are just plain rotten, and shouldn't be trusted, because of who and what they are.
- The moral is "Talk does not change the nature of things", i.e. you can discuss something, debate it, argue about it, deconstruct it, reconstruct it, and agree on it. None of that will change its nature.
- A more down to earth moral is that you should not trust wild animals because they can not be reasoned with, and they can and will attack you when you get too close to them.
- One story involves a cat and a mouse living together and deciding to store a pot of cream for winter. They hide it in a church until they really need it. Over some time however, the cat is gradually tempted three times into drinking the cream, until it's all gone. When the mouse finds out, she starts yelling at the cat for eating their food supply for the winter. The cat responds by eating the mouse, and the story concludes with the lesson that, well, that's just how the world works (that cats and mice just can't co-exist).
- It also can be interpreted as a just-so story, i.e. "...and that's why cats and mice are such bitter enemies to this day." From this we can also draw the rather jarring conclusion that some acts are truly unforgivable, such that the conflicts arising from them can never be peacefully settled.
- The oldest version of Sleeping Beauty (Sun, Moon, and Talia) features the titular heroine getting raped by the king, which results in a pregnancy that ultimately results in her being awoken. When the king returns and finds her awake, he proceeds to sneak Talia and their twin children into his castle so that his current wife won't find out; but she does, and tries to kill all three but is foiled and executed for the attempted murders, leaving the king free to marry Talia. This is allegedly a happy ending.
To summarize what we learn from this tale: cheating on your wife to rape somebody is fine so long as your victim isn't conscious to experience any of it and you marry her to legitimize her children; if someone who raped and impregnated you while you were in a coma is rich and powerful, his offer to marry you is a good deal and you should accept it; and if you go seeking revenge on your husband for cheating on you, your jealousy will turn you into an Ax-Crazy shrew who'll let Revenge Before Reason overtake her.
- To make matters worse, the original moral is stated to be: "Lucky people, so tis said, Are blessed by Fortune whilst in bed." In other words, getting raped is allegedly fortunate as long as you're not conscious to experience your virginity being taken and your rapist is a rich and powerful ruler willing to remove any social stigmas his subjects might place on you and raise your public standing in his kingdom by marrying you. Values Dissonance much?
- In the original version of The Frog Prince, the princess doesn't change the frog back into a prince by learning how to be courteous to him and kissing him; she does it by getting so fed up with his requests that she throws him against a wall so hard that his frog skin splits open. Remember, kids: if you want to land a handsome prince, refuse to honor your promises, be as bratty as possible, and feel free to inflict violence upon someone who helped you when he didn't have to!
- Turning things around, one odd aspect of this original story is that it mentions getting thrown against the wall like that was the only way to break the spell. In other words, the solution to his problems was to find a princess spoiled and petulant enough that he could provoke her into abusing him. Then, unlike the sanitized later versions in which he promptly gets married to her first, the original just has him hopping into the sack with her that night and then promptly marrying her the next day "so that the christening might not follow the wedding too closely." Early advocacy for masochism and Shotgun Weddings, anyone?
- The original Little Red Hen story is about a hen who wants to make some bread. She repeatedly asks the other farm animals to help her, but they all refuse. The hen then makes the bread herself, and the other animals all volunteer to eat it, but the hen refuses to give them any. This leads to the aesop that you don't get anything out of a project unless you put some effort in. However, some versions of the story change the ending, so the animals apologise for not helping and the hen then shares her bread with all of them. This is meant to convey an aesop about forgiveness, but it comes off more as 'don't do any work yourself because a hard-working person will give you whatever you want'.
- Avatar: The Abridged Series:
Aang: Aw, but Sokka, we could have learned a valuable life lesson!
Sokka: Here's a life lesson for you, Aang. You can't buy things with life lessons.
- The Prayer Warriors seems to go out of its way to make its lessons as family-unfriendly as possible. For starters, anyone who has sex is immediately a whore and must be killed. Yes, this includes rape victims.
- This occurs in-story in Solitude where as a child Light takes away one from his therapy session — that people don't really want others to be happy. They want everyone to appear "normal" at all costs.
- Sonic X: Dark Chaos claims that Muslims are all psychopathic pedophile fundamentalists who enjoy rape and torture because Islam says they should. Both Christianity and Judaism - and their followers - are depicted as stupid and naive at best or complete Religion of Evil at worst. Lampshaded in Episode 68:
Eric: Remember kids, Islam is bad and if you're a Muslim, you should feel bad!
Sonya: That's an... odd lesson.
- The Stalking Zuko Series portrays Aang's decision not to kill Ozai as a selfish act that is primarily motivated by his desire to keep with Air Nomad teachings. His actions result in him getting called out on it by most of the protagonists, except for Arnook, who's happy that Aang destabilized the Fire Nation, and Aang comes to regret what he did. The lesson is supposed to be that essentially, "You must listen to what others have to say and compromise your ideals for the greater good," but it can also be read as "It's sometimes easier to kill your enemies than to leave them alive and have them face justice for their crimes."
- Faery Heroes includes a minor lesson against both Turn the Other Cheek and Comes Great Responsibility. Harry is only willing to tutor a few students in Defense Against the Dark Arts and quickly shuts down the idea that because he's such a great teacher he should tutor everyone. First, he's not getting paid to do so and is using his own free time to help them. Second, most of the people in the school have turned against him at some point which leaves him rather opposed to the idea of helping them with their schoolwork.
- When he finally gets around to telling his history in I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Harry Potter admits that always saving the world because he could was actually a rather poor choice. Fifteen hundred years of every dark wizard being stopped by him meant the world became overly reliant upon him. When an accident with a time turner flings Harry two hundred years into the future, the world's been ravaged for decades by a war between two dark wizards. And when Harry kills them, the people of the world blame him for not stopping them sooner.
- Shattered Reflection: This Fire Emblem Awakening story has a pretty interesting lesson taught to the two main protagonists through experience with the other protagonists. No matter how hard you try to do right by others and support the people you love, there will still be individuals who treat you like shit for completely arbitrary reasons. You should try to do the right thing anyway.
- My Little Pony: Totally Legit Recap: Sometimes children shouldn't blindly listen to their elders, because they may be selfish jerks that are full of crap.
- Ultra Fast Pony has a few of these, as a satirical sendup of the unintentional messages that could be read into the source material.
- In "Fillin' Dem Plot Holes, Bro!":
Twilight: They rely on friendship, but they only work with magic.
Applejack: Well, that's a terrible lesson for the children. What are we supposed to tell them, "No matter how big your problem is, you can only solve it with magic"?
Twilight: That is exactly right!
- In "Everybody Hates Gilda":
Celestia: What is this? Invisible ink? Is this what we're teaching our children these days? Yes, no, I see why they say this has great morals for all the children, oh, that's really great! I mean, what kind of idiotic writer tells children that it's okay to be continuously playing pranks on everyone? We're raising a generation of assholes, that's what we're doing.
- In "The Longest Episode:"
Twilight: We taught children all over the world that it's okay to crash parties, then run away.
- In "Fillin' Dem Plot Holes, Bro!":
- The short Fallout fan video "Friendship!" parodies this, by teaching the viewers an important lesson about friendship is the wasteland: It doesn't exist, and those who naively believe in it make excellent Human Shields, that have plenty of free money on them.
- Professor Arc: The fic is about Jaune becoming a teacher, rather, then a student as he intended, because his forged transcripts are just that good. He manages to become a rather respected teacher, and even ends up headmaster-with Beacon's staff willing to maintain the lie, if only to protect their reputation. The message being, "fraud and lies are forgivable as long as you do a lot of good with them".
- The Angry Birds Movie
- The explorer pigs come to the island, and most of the birds accept them, with the exception of the protagonist Red. It turns out that the pigs just want to steal the bird's eggs. This can easily be interpreted as "if someone who doesn't look like you comes to your country, chances are, they want to take advantage of you".
- The film's Aesop has also been interpreted as "embrace your anger and use it to get revenge".
- Bee Movie: Successfully advocating for a cause may actually make things worse, especially if you don't do the proper research about what you're advocating for or against in the first place.
- How to Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup learns the surprisingly dark Aesop that some people simply cannot be reasoned with and can only be brought down by violence. This drives his entire conflict with his father, as Hiccup believes he can talk sense into the Big Bad Drago while The Good King Stoick knows better than to even try.
- The Incredibles teaches against Tall Poppy Syndrome and false accomplishments - pretending that everyone is equally special is wrong, because some people really are better at certain things than others, and trying to bring them down to the level of everyone else will ultimately only make everyone worse off. While "be who you are, not who others want you to be" sounds like a fairly family-friendly Aesop, the rather cynical implication is that people in general will always tend to envy you for being better than they are unless your superiority is immediately beneficial to them. It also gets a bit muddy when the same Arc Words ("When everyone is special, no one is") are used by both the protagonists to complain about artificial praise devaluing praise for the genuinely extraordinary, and the antagonist to describe his plan to democratize superpowers through technology, implicitly equating the two (and framing the latter as villainous).
- Inside Out teaches that living a life of happiness, wonder and simple pleasures is simply unrealistic beyond early childhood, and that everyone will have some bad experiences that shape them for better or worse. It also teaches that sadness is a necessary part of life and that growing up means losing some parts of childhood and dealing with complex emotions, which will make you a stronger and more rounded person. Even more family-unfriendly: it also teaches you that trying to always live up to your family's expectations of you can drive you crazy, or at any rate destroy your sense of yourself.
- Monsters University:
- Well, current-societal-attitudes unfriendly, at least. You can be successful without a university education if you work hard and make your way up through the ranks over time. Not really a negative one at all, since it's not as though it's telling people to slack off; Mike and Sulley's path is harder than that of the graduates, though they make it eventually.
- The film also has a more brutally honest message: No matter how hard you try or how much you love and know about the material, there are just things in life you can't do, at least not in the traditional sense, much like the message of Wreck-It Ralph. Accept it, and find where your real talents lie at. This is notably balanced out in that it clarifies that you can still work for the thing you love, but with a different task as Mike never becomes an on-field Scarer, but an assistant and is treated like an equal to Scarers.
- A rather broken message in that the Oozma Kappa monsters do ultimately become successful scarers through a combination of hard work and sheer creativity. Mike is the only member never to do this, sticking with the standard "jump out and say 'rawr' method" and giving up when it fails him miserably. A more accurate, albeit unintentional Aesop might go something like "be prepared to revise your approach multiple times."
- The film often shows that, yes, cruel people have a point. Jerks like ROR are correct in pointing out Oozma Kappa lack traditional Scaring build (but are clearly wrong for belittling them). In a sense, this notion drives Oozma Kappa to look further to prove that traditional build is not all there is to it.
- Coco deconstructs the "follow your dreams" Aesop common to children's films. Yes, pursuing something you love is a good thing, but taking it to the point where you'd do anything to achieve it is only going to cause you and your loved ones pain. Also, be careful who you look up to, as some famous people had to do very unscrupulous things to get where they did.
- Considering how Zootopia is a commentary on modern-day prejudices using mammals in place of humans, it was kind of inevitable. The movie demonstrates that intentionally or not, anybody is capable of being a carrier of prejudice (up to and including the main characters themselves), even those who are open-minded and/or suffer the most from it. While it's harsh, and not really a thing anybody wants to admit, it's pretty much how prejudice works in the real world. Fortunately, the blow is softened in a couple of senses; 1), it shows that anybody can overcome their biases if one acknowledges and actively works on moving past them. 2) Some bigoted characters are able to become more open-minded and accepting of other groups when given the time and encouragement, such as Judy's parents and Chief Bogo.
- This was a problem with the 2001 Jennifer Lopez film Angel Eyes. A female cop meets and falls for a man with a Mysterious Past, and upon his real name being unintentionally revealed, she uses her connections without his knowledge or consent to look into his past, which reveals a tragedy; a year ago, he lost his wife and son in a car accident. While the guy was clearly running away from his feelings and needed to deal with his pain, her way of doing it was rather wrong, where instead of bringing it up to him gently, she more or less bluntly asks him about it and after he tries to avoid her due to her manner or doing so, she then has the nerve to bring him to the cemetery where they're buried and tries to order him in. Even though he couldn't go on like that and he eventually learns to cope with the loss, the fact that a relative stranger was basically forcing him to grieve on her timetable was a huge turnoff to fans (and in-universe as well, as the poor guy had a freak out over her actions).
- Anger Management: At the end of the film, it's revealed that Dave's girlfriend Linda had set up his entire fiasco involving Dave getting put up with psychological torture which involves getting framed for public assaults and constantly getting gaslighted by his counselor, just to make him stop being such a pushover. So the film pretty much states that it's okay to put a man's life through living hell as long as he finally learns to become more self-assertive at the end.
- In Avengers: Infinity War, both Loki and Gamora agree to hand over infinity stones to Thanos because they cant stand to watch him torture their siblings. They are both killed not long after they essentially bargain with Thanos to spare their siblings lives. Every other character who tries to keep Thanos from getting the infinity stones falters in some way that is tied to caring for another person, or grief over losing someone who was killed by Thanos. Thanos, on the other hand, is willing to kill the only person he loves for his cause, and gets everything he wants in the end. In sum, their ability to care for others is what allows Thanos to defeat them, whereas his decision to sacrifice the only person he loves to accomplish his goals leads directly to his success.
- Early on in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Martha Kent gives Superman a rousing speech about being a hero, and a symbol, and then abruptly ends it by saying, "Or be none of it. You don't owe this world a thing. You never did." Although it's obvious from the context that what she's saying is "having super powers does not mean you are obligated to be a hero, especially to those who won't appreciate it" and "be a hero because that's what you feel is the right thing to do, not because people demand that you should"; people have had Comes Great Responsibility beaten into their head by superhero media for decades, so it elicits a very strong reaction.
- Case 39. Sometimes, parents are totally justified in abusing their child. (The astonishing number of children in Real Life who suffer physical and mental abuse because their parents think they're possessed by demons may have a bone to pick with this movie. The ones who survive the abuse, anyway.) Some types of exorcisms kill people, and glorifying those ones for the sake of cheap scares isn't exactly socially responsible.
- College: Academic success is for nerds and to win girls you have to be a jock.
- Crossing Delancey — some people might see either of the following:
- From Izzy's perspective: if you try to be an independent-minded modern woman who can make her own decisions on life and love, maybe you shouldn't—your meddling elders are right after all and you really should be with the nice Jewish guy they pick out, even if he's a lowly, seemingly boring pickle-seller. Kind of like Fiddler on the Roof, but in reverse.
- Or, from Sam's (the pickle seller) perspective: if you're a really nice guy who's genuinely interested in the woman you've been introduced to, be prepared to be dragged though the dirt and feel like a complete schmuck before you can finally end up with her. (Amongst the things Izzy does to him: invites him out on a date just to pawn him off on her best friend; when she finally invites him back to her apartment for some time together, letting in the married neighbour who keeps coming round when he falls out with his wife, and with whom Izzy is heavily implied to be sleeping; third, standing him up on a date because the author guy she's been after tries to woo her.)
- The Dark Knight: Sometimes it's better to have people believe in a lie if it serves a greater good and prevents widespread despair. When your society's greatest hero turns evil and then dies, lying to everyone that he met a heroic death can be the lesser evil; in this case, giving Gotham hope and keeping dozens of guilty criminals off the streets. The sequel subverts it, however.
- While the original Death Wish makes it clear that the main character, Paul Kersey, has become unbalanced due to his trials and vigilante actions, the sequels increasingly support vigilantism as a necessary means to clean up the streets. Well, some people think Paul Kersey is unbalanced, apparently on the theory that it's impossible for a sane person to believe that "Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer." Others see Kersey as having woken up to reality.
- The Devil's Advocate argues that lawyers should not competently defend guilty clients; that's literally the Devil's work. Lawyers should only defend the innocent (never mind that even their lawyer doesn't always know that-most don't even want to).
- The Devil Wears Prada begins by suggesting the very audacious Aesop that if you take a job you don't especially care for, occasionally prioritize it over events in your personal life, ignore your friends when they passive-aggressively criticize you about your job, start to sympathize with your coworkers whom you'd previously viewed with scorn, and, horrors, enjoy some of the perks associated with it, life might turn out okay. It even suggests that The Power of Love might not conquer all in the case of a casual relationship! However, it ends up reverting to the Broken Aesop that if you do any of those things, you are a bad bad person who is selling out on her deepest ideals.
- In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, it's okay to lie, cheat and steal if you're living life to its fullest.
- The God's Not Dead series: so, basically, not being a Christian makes you retroactively "evil", while being a Christian gives you the right to belittle/discriminate against non-Christians?
- Grease: So the guy you like turns out to be a stupid jerk, who refuses to be with you in front of his "cool" friends? That totally means that you have to start smoking and change your whole appearance, so you can become a "cool girl" and be good enough for him! The message is supposed to be that Sandy needed to stop being so uptight, and that Danny did things for her as well. But seriously!
- In the third Halloweentown movie, Dylan (a half-human warlock who Does Not Like Magic) bonds with a girl named Natalie, only to have a minor freak-out when he discovers that her real form is a furry pink-skinned troll. Naturally she's offended and points out that from her perspective, he's pretty weird-looking himself. They eventually make up and are going to kiss at the end of the movie...only to agree that they're Better as Friends, because they each find the other too gross. Despite the general theme against Fantastic Racism in these movies, the point seems to be that physical attraction is an important component in a romantic relationship (with most, that's true, unhappy though such an aesop may be).
- Liar Liar:
Woman: Everybody's been real nice.
- As good a quality as honesty is, being brutally honest all the time will piss people off and get you into as much trouble as lying all the time.
- Sometimes lying to someone is better than telling them the truth. As explained by Fletcher when he talks about how a pregnant Audrey asked if she looked fat and he said no, and that if he'd told her she looked like a cow, it'd have hurt her feelings.
- Max then says "My teacher says that real beauty is on the inside". Fletcher responds "That's just something ugly people say". It's pretty much irrefutable that physically attractive people usually fair better in society and are treated more favorably than average-looking or unattractive people, even if their beauty is only external. The (in)famous scene with the woman in the elevator also demonstrates this.
Fletcher: Well, that's because you have big jugs...
- Listen To Me: The message sent, intentional or not, seems to be "win at any cost".
- Maid in Manhattan: In a movie geared toward the very impressionable preteen/young teen set (many of whom idolized star Jennifer Lopez at the time the movie came out), the titular character and her paramour sleep together despite barely knowing each other and believing (at the time) that they're never going to see each other again.
- Mrs. Doubtfire: Sometimes, divorce actually is the best option for a struggling couple, especially if children are involved, and most couples who get divorced don't get back together. Also, people who are way too different from one another cannot function together as a romantic couple, especially in the long run.
- During the conclusion of 102 Dalmatians, a major character explicitly states, as an Aesop, "For people like Cruella, there are no second chances." Okay, sure she's obsessed with making a fur coat out of the pelts of adorable puppies, and she's nowhere near the first Disney villain to be irredeemably evil. But hearing it put so bluntly...
- Paparazzi: The paparazzi are all puppy-kicking monsters who get their jollies out of destroying lives, so what's wrong with a little paparazzi murder spree?
- The Parent Trap: It's completely unrealistic to try to make two people who are obviously unfit for each other get back together again. In real life, making two people who aren't right for each other marry again might only cause pain to both them and the child(ren), as it most likely causes constant arguments that may leave a lot of emotional turmoil on the child constantly having to watch a loveless marriage. The film tried to show an idealized situation instead of showing the healthy way to deal with a divorce. It's worse when you consider that Hailey's father never even told her about her mother and twin sister, not letting Annie have the benefits of dual citizenship.
- Rambo IV: Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer. Naive pacifistic missionaries try to go into Burma and help stem the violence, after being detained Rambo brought in a group of mercenaries and had to massacre dozens of enemy soldiers in order to retrieve them.
- Rocket Science viciously deconstructs the popular "try your hardest and you can overcome anything" moral. Some obstacles just can't be surmounted no matter how hard you try. And sometimes you just Don't Get The Girl. Oh, and life isn't fair. All in all, it's fairly Anvilicious about the whole thing, but Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped.
- The moral of The Screaming Skull, according to the folks of MST3K, is "Don't trust anyone. Ever."
- Serendipity: According to this movie, it is perfectly fine to go searching for the love of your life whilst neglecting the person you are about to marry.
- The classic film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers seems to give off the message, "It's okay to get away with kidnapping anyone you're in love with just as long as you've bonded with them afterwards, and they're okay with it".
- The aesop of SHAZAM! (2019) is "Your real family is the people who care about you," which is family-friendly, but early in the movie, a social worker adds a blunt addendum: If someone's not making an effort to be part of your life, give up on them and move on (even if it's the mother that you love). Sometimes, there is no compromising. There are no misunderstandings that can be cleared up. Sometimes you might not even get closure.
- Soul Food: Ironically, it plays out more like Family-Friendly. Career-focused oldest sister Teri is on her second marriage, which is itself in serious trouble and she's such a bitch that when her husband cheats on her, our sympathies are clearly supposed to be with him. Meanwhile, second sister Maxine is a Happily Married housewife and mother of three kids. It's not hard to assume the writers are implying that career women are bad while stay-at-home moms are good. Also, youngest sister Bird's (admittedly underhanded) efforts to help husband Lem find a job by asking her ex-boyfriend to give him one. Lem is furious when he finds out and the whole situation blows up. . .and everyone makes Bird out to be in the wrong and chews her for not letting Lem "be a man" and find his own job. The idea of a woman helping a man is made out to be something utterly abhorrent.
- In the Star Wars films there are a number of these, mostly involving relationships:
- Owen Lars in the role of Fantasy-Forbidding Father to Luke in A New Hope. He really just wanted to keep Luke out of the galaxy-spanning conflict because Good Parents don't like sending their kids into danger, especially since Luke's father became the Big Bad Darth Vader. Their deaths are actually treated as having liberated Luke to pursue his destiny, and after a very brief period of sorrow he displays an Angst? What Angst? attitude, never mentioning Owen and Beru again, but deeply mourning Obi-Wan when he dies.
- Use of motivational stories told from a certain point of view left a seriously blurry line between trying to spare somebody's feelings and being a Manipulative Bastard when it advanced your goals.
- In the prequels, it is revealed that Jedi are not supposed to form long-term relationships, and especially not marry, as such emotional ties could lead to The Dark Side by way of Love Makes You Evil. When this caused a lot of upset in fans (and Expanded Universe writers) with visions of the Jedi Knights as romantic heroes, George Lucas pulled a Flip-Flop of God to clarify that the Jedi didn't have to actually be Celibate Hero types — they could have casual sexual affairs but their commitment to the Order had to be their priority (comparable to those in law enforcement or military, you don't get out of responsibilities because of a child's birthday). But obviously that one was an even harder Aesop to explain to the kids.
- The revelation that the Republic era Jedi Order recruited Force Sensitive children at very young ages and required them to have no further contact with or knowledge of their families (because that would be an emotional attachment), made some fans view them as brainwashed Child Soldiers. This policy was unfortunately validated by the fact that Anakin, allowed into the Order as a special case, did actually go bad because of his emotional ties. Likewise, Kylo Ren (Ben Solo), Han and Leia's son, turned to the Dark Side at least partly because of conflict with his parents and their subsequent decision to pawn him off on Luke Skywalker in the hopes of corrective discipline. In reality, we might expect a lot of problems with people raised with no attachment by the Order though (what child's not going to want a family, or if denied their birth one, not just latch onto those around them anyway?) For one, babies raised without affection have been shown to have severe emotional problems, and the same is true of older children. While the Jedi aren't completely cold toward each other, it's doubtful what we've seen would be enough for children. A real group like this would probably raise them to view others as brothers or sisters, with their masters as surrogate parents. That would be a lot of attachment however.
- TRON: Legacy: Creating an open and free system that is accessible to everyone isn't always a good thing, because all entities are not created equal, and some entities, when given infinite rights and access, will use them to force their will upon others, and remove their infinite rights and access. Sometimes proprietary is the way to go.
- Utøya: July 22:
- There are no safe places left anymore. Tragedy can strike at any time, at any place. Very terrifying, but sadly true.
- Doing what's right comes at a cost. In the worst case, you die for it (compare A Song of Ice and Fire). That doesn't mean it's wrong to do so, but you must be aware of the cost.
- Alternatively: no matter how clever and brave you are, if you are caught in a shooting, and don't have skills useful against attackers, you run or hide ASAP - trying to play a hero will get you uselessly killed.
- You, Me and Dupree: It doesn't matter if you work your ass off to please everyone around you. Since you're a responsible adult and not fun anymore, your efforts will never be truly appreciated.
- Many of the original Aesop's Fables have this trope - in fact, family friendly modern selections of Aesop's Fables have to tactically omit many of the original ones. Some examples include:
- The Bat and the Weasels: it's sometimes wise to change or lie about your affiliation in order to save your own skin.
- The Fox and the Goat: don't trust anyone who's in trouble, because they're likely to be using you to get out of it.
- The Farmer and the Nightingale: never believe a captive's promise and never give up what you have.
- The Ass and the Lap Dog (and The Eagle and the Crow): just because someone else achieves something good doesn't mean that you can.
- The Porcupine and the Snakes: be careful who you take as a guest, because they might be an asshole.
- The Fox without a Tail: avoid miserable people because they'll try to make you miserable too.
- The Lark and her Young Ones: if something is worth doing, the only one you can trust to do it is yourself.
- The Wolf and the Lamb: arguing rationally with the powerful is useless, they'll just overwhelm you.
- The Wolf and the Crane: the higher your hopes, the more likely you are to be disappointed. If you put yourself in danger to help someone, they won't always be grateful and it will be nothing more than a waste of time.
- The Two Pots: don't hang around powerful people, if there's any mutual trouble you'll get the worst of it.
- The Man and the Lion: never believe what anyone says in their own defense.
- The Lion's Share or The Lion and Other Beasts Go Hunting: just because someone wants you to co-operate with them in work does not mean they will give you a share of the reward.
- The Farmer and the Snake: some people are just plain evil and no amount of building trust will change that.
- The Ass and his Driver: if someone is determined to destroy themselves, step back and let them, or they'll destroy you too.
- The Man, the Boy, and the Ass: No matter what you do, someone will dislike it, and trying to change what you do to please everyone will literally make you lose your ass.
- The final book of A Series of Unfortunate Events had the widely-disliked Aesop of "some mysteries will never be solved."
- Objectivist novels such as Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged teach that altruism is evil. People need to learn to stand on their own two feet, so helping them up will only make them weaker and more dependent on you. It also teaches that the successful elite will be attacked by the untalented masses out of jealousy.
- In The Berenstain Bears:
- The Bully: Getting targeted by a bully at school? Don't bother to contact adults - Adults Are Useless. Instead, fight back! ONLY the bully will get in trouble... even though in real life, most schools have a "Zero tolerance" policy that would result in Sister being in just as much trouble as Tuffy (though it was written before such policies became as common). Oh, and all bullies have bad home lives, too. Some will argue that sometimes Adults are Useless, and physically self-defense can be necessary against a bully, but keep in mind that no other options were explored for dealing with said antagonist, and Violence Is the Only Option seems very out of place in a book aimed at preschoolers.
- Though, the above example does have at least one mitigating factor. After Brother Bear gives Sister Bear lessons in self-defense, he reminds her emphatically that the first tactic is to simply avoid Tuffy, in accordance with what their parents decided would be best. Sister does manage this for two days before she intervenes because of Tuffy being cruel againnote . And even then, she only hits back when the Bully tries attacking her first. So a more charitable interpretation of it is, "it pays to know how to defend yourself so people don't just hurt you or others without consequences."
- Similarly in Too Much Teasing. How do you deal with teasing? Easy - get a kid to humiliate them in public.
- Bad Habit: Develop a bad habit and your parents will bribe you to break it.
- Messy Room: Clean your room or your parents will throw all your toys away!
- Mama Bear is clearly shown as losing her temper and acting irrationally. Once Papa calms everyone down the ultimate Aesop is clearly much more a normal "Everyone will be happier if you keep things neat."
- The Bully: Getting targeted by a bully at school? Don't bother to contact adults - Adults Are Useless. Instead, fight back! ONLY the bully will get in trouble... even though in real life, most schools have a "Zero tolerance" policy that would result in Sister being in just as much trouble as Tuffy (though it was written before such policies became as common). Oh, and all bullies have bad home lives, too. Some will argue that sometimes Adults are Useless, and physically self-defense can be necessary against a bully, but keep in mind that no other options were explored for dealing with said antagonist, and Violence Is the Only Option seems very out of place in a book aimed at preschoolers.
- In book 2 of Beyond The Spiderwick Chronicles, Laurie explains that she lies because "lying works," and nothing in the story contradicts this claim. This, from a book aimed at 6-12 year olds.
- One of the Stock Aesops is that cowardice doesn't pay. In extreme cases, the brave survives where the coward dies (sometimes Driven to Suicide), or alternatively they both survive/die, but the coward is marked forever. So it comes as a tragic surprise that in Bridge to Terabithia, Leslie, who had no fear from the creek, drowns, whereas Jess, who feared the water (and couldn't swim) survives—and while he does suffer, it's not because of cowardice. Although one could interpret Leslie's behavior not as courage but as recklessness. In the book, there is some indication of weather which is affecting the creek, making conditions more unfavorable for crossing. Moreover, Leslie attempted to swing across the creek despite being alone. Thus, she acted without proper awareness of or respect for her environment and circumstances. The real Aesop could be about having courage but tempering it with caution, as Jesse does by resuming the game, building a sturdy bridge so he can safely cross the creek.
- Ironically, the Stock Aesop about courage being favorable is itself a Family-Unfriendly Aesop. As the nonfiction book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking was quick to point out, much of "courage" or extroverted risk-taking behavior is actually closely linked with gambling, which is often why stock markets and the like fail spectacularly in the hands of those brave individuals unable to assess risk and pause before acting. That is, the person who talks loudest may not actually be brave but be filled with Suicidal Overconfidence. Yeah, that's what kids are being taught. To gamble their futures.
- One story from the Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness edition has the aunt of a teenaged girl urging her to forgive her stepmother because the woman lost her family at a young age and spent time in an orphanage. However, what should be a great lesson in forgiveness is undermined by the woman's Wicked Stepmother tendencies of driving a wedge between her and her father, criticizing everything she did, verbal abuse and even slapping the girl for being understandably outraged at her reading her diary.
- The Chronicles of Narnia contain the lesson that the real world is a harsh and violent place that sometimes takes a fair amount of violence to survive in. C. S. Lewis was even quoted once as saying that pretending otherwise would do a great disservice to children. Once again, an example of a very true and important Aesop, but one that many parents would rather their children didn't know.
- In the famous science fiction short story The Cold Equations, the moral is "life is fundamentally unfair." This serves as a deconstruction of stories where the day is always saved somehow, all too often by Contrived Coincidences or Applied Phlebotinum. However, some people were not impressed, feeling that the writer created a very contrived situation riddled with logical holes to justify the Aesop. Enforced in that John Campbell sent the story back to Tom Godwin three times because Godwin kept saving the girl without resorting to either plot device.
- Courtship Rite borders on Spoof Aesop territory. On a Lost Colony where cycles of famine have made cannibalism common and acceptable, he has a preacher teaching that cannibalism is wrong. At first, the reader may expect that cannibalism is being used as a metaphor, and that we're going to learn an ordinary Aesop about violence being wrong, but in the end, the preacher is forced to learn a valuable lesson: cannibalism isn't so bad, really.
- The lesson of Drugstore Cowboy by James Fogle appears to be 'being a notorious dope fiend is great fun and going straight will ruin your life'. That, or 'placing a hat on a bed will doom you and your friends'.
- Roald Dahl's Esio Trot teaches children that it's perfectly acceptable to deceive the people you love in order to get your way. The End Justifies the Means, after all.
- Although Friedrich Nietzsche is not explicitly Social Darwinist, his revolt against conventional morality elaborated upon with Beyond Good and Evil, The Antichrist and others engender a rejection of egalitarian altruism and antipathy for the socially disadvantaged.
- Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Goldfinger contains its fair bit of casual racism and sexism, but what qualifies it here is an extended anti-homosexuality message. Being a lesbian is bad, as the tragic fate of Tilly Masterton demonstrates. And to make sure the reader gets the point, there is also a Character Filibuster by Bond, musing on how our decadent society produces damaged and unhappy people like her through its permissiveness and political correctness:
Bond came to the conclusion that Tilly Masterton was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and 'sex equality'. As a result of fifty years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or being transferred to the males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied. He was sorry for them, but had no time for them.
- In Harriet the Spy, young writer Harriet learns that sometimes you have to lie to people to help them feel better about themselves so they won't hate you.
- How It Was When The Past Went Away begins with a fellow giving Easy Amnesia to a city through a drug in the water supply. A religion forms around the mantra "drink and forget," and life becomes Utopian as people can erase their memories of all the bad deeds they've done
- * The works of H. P. Lovecraft teach you that the universe is not just a Crapsack World, but in fact a fundamentally indifferent and horrifying place and only our ignorance of its true nature keeps us all sane.
- Jackie and Craig: Yep kids, life is vicious, miserable and totally indifferent to your suffering, so be sure to cling to those precious few bright spots for the brief time that they last!
- Marquis de Sade's novels all had messages like these. All of them involve breaking speeches and Hannibal lectures from the libertines toward their victims, or would-be libertines who have cold feet about their acts. Crime is a virtue, the strong naturally prey on the weak, God, objective morality, free will and kindness are just illusions etc.
- Perelandra, the second book of the The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis. The plot of the book is that the planet Venus is in the "Adam and Eve" phase and the devil has sent his agent-a man named Professor Weston-to corrupt "Eve." The angels send a man named Elwin Ransom to make sure that Tinidril chooses wisely. In the end, good triumphs over evil, but in an unexpected way: Ransom kills Weston and drops his body into a volcano. This is actually lampshaded by the protagonist, who assumed that the fight would be purely intellectual, that he would win by the sheer force of his argument, and was initially horrified at the idea that he'd have to make the fight a physical one. It was very much a Take That! at the pacifists who opposed Great Britain's military opposition to the evils of Nazi Germany and promoted Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy, and against the anti-confrontational passivity that was popular in much of the liberal Christian community.
- The Princess Bride has one in-universe: the narrator notes how horrified as a kid he was, because some events of the story just didn't work out as as they did in traditional fairy tales and adventure stories, and found relief only when he realized that the Aesop was "life is not fair".
- A particularly jaw-dropping one appears in a Ray Bradbury story. The narrator's sedate, tranquil, lazy (and Irish) chauffeur picks him up one night and drives like a bat out of hell before revealing that every other enjoyable night, he was driving completely drunk. The narrator forces money on him and demands he get blotto before picking him up next, browbeating him into breaking Lent in the process.
- A character in Slaughterhouse-Five suggests that The Bible's Aesop is that you should make sure someone doesn't have connections before you kill them.
- Squeakers, a leg-crossingly uncomfortable book about a little squirrel with alarmingly fluttery-lashed eyes, teaches little boys the admittedly important lesson that they have to tell their parents about being molested. The (male) squirrel goes through days on end of hiding the shameful and hideous bald patches on his tail where a neighbor is tearing out fistfuls of his fur on the way home from school every day in exchange for, yes, nuts. Ahem.
- A lot of Hans Christian Andersen stories:
"This final message is more frightening than any other presented in the tale. The story descends into the Victorian moral tales written for children to scare them into good behavior.... a year taken off when a child behaves and a tear shed and a day added whenever a child is naughty? Andersen, this is blackmail. And the children know it and say nothing."
- Probably the best is The Steadfast Tin Soldier, the moral of which is essentially, "Life Isn't Fair, and sometimes just when you've worked your hardest to get something right, something will come out of nowhere and screw it up for no reason."
- The Little Mermaid ends in the Little Mermaid dying, however she can gain an eternal soul and go to heaven if she does good deeds to children for 300 years. This is supposed to be a happy, hopeful ending but even many Christians don't like its message. As a result, many retellngs just end with the title character dying. The story's ending has been critiqued as one of these for decades. P. L. Travers (writer of Mary Poppins) is quoted as saying:
- Third Year At Malory Towers has the subplot with Zerelda, a new student who is obsessed with acting and wants to become a famous actress. After getting the chance to play Juliet in class and completely blowing it, the teacher flat-out tells her that she just doesn't have the skill to become one of the greats, and Zerelda learns that when a teacher tells you that your dream will never come true, the best thing to do is give it up for good, instead of improving your skills and continuing to try to achieve your dream.
- Another classical moral is that having imagination is good. So When The Windman Comes by Antonia Michaelis is a huge subversion, with the moral "imagination, when not strictly separated from reality, is potentially very dangerous—it can isolate you and make you live in fear of imaginary horrors—all the while making you more vulnerable to Real Life. Sometimes, being a skeptic is favorable, even for a child." This is particularly jarring since many other books by the same author actually promote imagination and/or openness to seemingly impossible things.
- On the surface, the motivational book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson encourages being adaptive to changing situations in both your job and everyday life. In the process, it also encourages employees to fall in line with changes in company policy that might not be in their own best interest. The success of this Business Fable is partly due to managers distributing it on the eve of a large and unpopular decision by the top brass.
- Redwall: The series has the repeated message that some people have no good in them. Anyone who thinks otherwise will only be harmed. It's most stark in Outcast of Redwall, where it is feared an infant is born bad... and they turn out to be right. To the point that it turns out they gave him a name which is an anagram for "evil" and "vile". Even after he dies saving someone, this attitude doesn't change. It's portrayed as the nature of certain species (with a few exceptions), an obvious case of severe unfortunate implications.
- Oracle of Tao has loads of these, and they aren't always consistent (since the message is largely a Taoist-Christian-other religion hybrid).
- For example, Ambrosia learns from one Oracle that evolution (specifically, survival of the fittest) is bad, and we need to work together and help one another, almost to the point of communism. Elsewhere, the book reads almost like an Objectivist book, strongly condemning globalism, being largely indifferent to saving the world, and essentially about self-interest.
- In another segment, the group meets Jesus. He basically lets people bite him and suck his blood to become immortals. While this is nice to know about Jesus's blood being shed for you, I do not think that's what they meant.
- The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign: The needs of the many take priority over the needs of the one, even if that 'one' is trying to free himself from enslavement by an Eldritch Abomination.
- In the later Sword of Truth novels, the Aesops start to draw strongly on Objectivist themes. The anti-communist themes are pulled straight from Ayn Rand. People who try to give charity to others and "spread the wealth" ultimately turn poor people into lazy, greedy assholes and destroy the economy.
- The Dr. Seuss book Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose completely inverts the Stock Aesop about generosity. For more information, please see this article. But watch out for spoilers.
- Daniel Mallory Ortberg's The Merry Spinster is a collection of re-told fairy tales given some...interesting endings. Some are fairly decent morals, like "You don't owe anything to someone who abuses and manipulates you" ("The Merry Spinster", based on "Beauty and the Beast") and "Using your power to force someone with no ability to resist you into a relationship is actually rape" ("Six Coffins", based on "The Six Swans") - it's just that, in the fine tradition of the Brothers Grimm, it's enforced by having the bad guys die gruesome deaths and the good guys be, at best, moderately sympathetic.
- "The Daughter Cells" (based on The Little Mermaid) suggests that merfolk would be more like Starfish Aliens with Blue and Orange Morality; thus, their version of "sharing is caring" is more like "it is very selfish not to let other people eat your corpse when you die, and it's terribly rude of you to have a soul you won't give me when I don't have one of my own".
- Tuck Everlasting: You'll eventually have to die at some point, young or old. Living forever is unambiguously a terrible idea.
- In general, music, the lives of musicians, and the scene around music has a ton of these. A few of them are as follows, and unfortunately, almost all of them have multiple examples of where they've actually succeeded at least in some way.
- Some of the very best music is made under the influence of various legal and illegal substances and about their effects, sometimes at the same time. Similarly, attaining a clean, sober, mentally healthy, and normal life has correlated with a drop in musical creativity and quality enough times that that is possibly its own trope.
- The amount of musicians who live a true lifestyle of sexual ethics (asexuality/celibacy, marriage or long term relationship to one partner with no affairs or divorce, negotiated and mutually agreed upon polyamory, or promiscuity that is consensual, safe, sane, and with others who are accepting of it/aren't seeking more exclusive relationships) is fairly limited, and the amount of songs that promote safe, responsible sex are few and far between.
- The Insufferable Genius and Cloud Cuckoolander and Bunny-Ears Lawyer populate music to the point that it can be argued mental illness is sometimes a Disability Superpower. In some corners, this exaltation of The Madness Place and There Are No Therapists producing something good reaches the point of people being proudly ill or untreated, or actively refusing therapy.
- As music is one of the few places in the world that one can succeed self-taught or by imitating others or on talent or luck (or some combination of all of the above), many professional musicians have not gone on to formal post-secondary and graduate education, and some are/were even high school dropouts. Meanwhile, musicians who are university educated usually won't have this hyped up as part of their image. This often conveys the idea that one can easily attain wealth or fame without a proper education and without a life specifically planned for a given career, and overlooks just how difficult it is for a failed musician who bypassed proper education and work experience in a specific field (and especially who has an altered appearance such as body modifications/altered behavior patterns such as the louder or damaged voice and body language of a once-vocalist, or who has a documented social media past) to ever be trusted with a job.
- The Cher Lloyd song "Want U Back" teaches us that it's a-okay to dump a boy for petty reasons, then demand that he break up with his new girlfriend and start dating you again because you can't stand to see him being happy with somebody else. After all, you "had [him] first!"
- "Black Tie White Noise" by David Bowie has one of these Aesops, the result of it being written in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles: Racial harmony is possible but don't imagine it's going to be easy to achieve, or that there won't be violence along the way ("There'll be some blood, no doubt about it"). Not a comfortable Aesop, but if history's taught us anything...
- The music video for Drake's Find Your Love. The song is a positive message about putting everything on the line for love which Drake does in the video to a woman...who's also connected to a gang leader. He crosses the line and attempts to woo her...and he's eventually caught by the gang, beaten and (presumably) shot in the back of the head by the same girl he was putting his heart on the line for. The video ends in a Bolivian Army Ending (the girl could have shot the gang leader) but there is a clear message about how not even love is worth crossing a line over.
- Harry Chapin's song Mr. Tanner is about a man who runs a dry cleaner and loves to sing, and is an amateur performer in his spare time. His friends convince him to try to become a professional singer, so he throws all his money into a concert performance that... bombs. Critics are terse and dismissive with him, suggesting he'd be better off keeping his day job. Mr. Tanner returns to his home and his job and stops performing publicly. The moral here is "Sometimes chasing your dream fails". If you want to be more blunt, you could phrase it "Loving to do something doesn't make you good at it."
- Carrie Underwood
- The song "Church Bells" describes a girl marrying a physically abusive partner who repeatedly abused her. That is, until she reaches her breaking point and dishes out some, err, lethal justice. This self-enforced death sentence would prevent him from abusing any other woman and you could possibly call it self-defensive, yes, but she's legally a murderer, a lot worse then anything he did to her. The other message being taught here? Don't trust the police, if you want justice served then best do it yourself and in an unlawful fashion. Depending on the society which the listener is in, this could be quite possibly a painful reality, especially in difficult to prove cases including rape.
- "Before He Cheats", meanwhile, has a woman trashing her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend's truck because he's "probably" cheating on her. Even assuming she's right, at no point does she provide evidence to support her claim, just could-bes and what-ifs. The message here is "If you think your man is cheating on you, don't try to work things out; immediately destroy his property". Incidentally, there's also the other message of "It's perfectly justified for a woman to commit violent acts against a man because he probably deserves it for some reason".
- Rihanna's "Man Down", or at least the music video, which has the same message as Church Bells, but with a different genre and artist.
- Indica's song "In Passing" is about a the dead singer telling her sister that her pain will go away and everything passes. Not quite unfriendly until the last few lines where she tells her sister that she also will pass. Extremely true and not something most children are equipped with or taught.
- The Kenny Rogers song Coward of the County. The song's message implies that for some things, the only course of action is violence, and being a pacifist will only get the ones you love murdered or hurt. The song also implies that filial piety is futile, and you cannot obey your parents' wishes all the time.
- Nelly's "Ride Wit Me" starts off with the classic rap Aesop "Materialism is good" ("Oh why must I feel this good ... Hey, must be the money!"). Luckily though it sorts itself out and ends up with the rather more palatable, if still questionable, message "Materialism is perfectly fine, as long as you worked for your money" ("It feel strange now, makin' a livin' off my brain instead of 'caine now").
- While too sad to be a straightforward Ode to Intoxication, The New Kingston Trio's "Jug Town" is surprisingly pro-alcoholism. The song describes a child whose father is constantly going to a bar to drink cheap jugs of wine; it makes his wife sad and has made the family a social laughingstock, but the narrator figures that at least his dad is less depressed. The moral amounts to "if you're a family man with a menial low-paying job, alcohol will provide a release from your miserable life". Neil Hamburger did a Cover Version, which fit his stage persona as a bitter, alcoholic sad sack.
- "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" seems to be saying that freaks will only be accepted if someone in authority finds that their difference can be exploited to the authority's benefit. The song glosses over bullying, suggests that society is very shallow and opportunistic and that perhaps even Santa is indifferent to your suffering.
- The punk rock band NOFX's song "Drug Free America" is actually promoting an America where drugs are free of cost. Their song "Don't drink and drive" warns about the danger of spilling your drink while driving, and argues that drunk people are better drivers (NOFX use a lot of satire and believe that it should be offensive).
- O.C. Smith's song "The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp" has a very, very clear message that being a prostitute doesn't make a woman evil or contemptible.
- The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" is the namer for a trope of this nature which translates to "revolution is futile because the person in charge is always going to make it tough for everyone else". Occasionally, Pete Townshend has put a more positive twist on this as "Don't listen to the boss in the first place. Think for yourself."
- The Greek version of the song "The Smurf School", which is aimed at kids, has a moral that might very well mean "You should be disrespectful, boorish Jerkasses at school because school means prison", which is not helped by the fact that they clearly say the "school is prison" part. A music video of this song created in the early 2000's makes it worse by casting Papa Smurf as the Designated Villain teacher. While it might be that Smurfs see school differently than human children, it still isn't a good message to get across to children.
- Marilyn Manson dedicated three concept albums to the same one, that humanity doesnt deserve to be saved, they only deserve to be entertained before theyre all destroyed. Two of the three are about saviors that absolutely fail in their goal, and all three are connected in a story told backwards. The chronologically first attempts to save people from a tyrannical society that worships violence and entertainment. Instead, the establishment absorbs him into it and uses him as another tool to keep people under control, selling mindless anthems of rebellion to the dissidents in order to entertain them and keep them from ever actually rebelling against them. He is Driven to Suicide by this. The second chronologically is about the tool used to replace him, a new musician and band selling the same types of mindless anthems of rebellion extolling the virtues of drug abuse and partying to the people. Rather than breaking free of this, he chooses to just pursue love for his own happiness, never even considering the idea of trying to save everyone. He gets the happiest ending in the album. The third protagonist (whom may be the son of the first, the albums are never transparent with everything) actually succeeds... only for them to be ungrateful bastards that drive him insane with their constant demands and worship. In his madness, he ends up becoming the Antichrist and destroying the entire universe. Ultimately, the moral is just as Manson said in that quote. Humanity doesnt deserve to be saved because theyre greedy, ungrateful, all consuming and see their heroes as their property to demand from. Of course, the albums are all semi-autobiographical, based on his feelings towards his own fame, how he was treated by his label and how he felt. Very tellingly, after four albums about social issues, society and major political footballs like abortion and school shootings, the next album opens with a song about how since nobody cares about the message anyways, just about the entertainment, hes here to entertain (even ending on the lyric so let us entertain you, and that album mostly is centered around drug abuse and sex.
- Dan Savage of the sex advice column Savage Love has been known to suggest that in some circumstances (such as if one partner has unilaterally put an end to the sexual component of the relationship), cheating is an acceptable option to keep a marriage from ending in divorce. Admittedly, he does suggest discussing an open marriage first, and if the spouse doesn't want sex and refuses to allow the other person to seek it elsewhere, that could very well be grounds for divorce. But if divorce isn't a viable option for whatever reason, then do what you gotta do.
- An exhaustingly-common lesson that pops up in all media is that if you're working a 9-5 desk job with a comfortable middle-class income, your life must be boring and unfulfilling and you're just itching for the chance to ditch it all and be an artist or performer and/or run away with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It never seems to occur to writers that plenty of people enjoy "boring" jobs, find fulfillment in other aspects of their lives (family, hobbies, side projects, sports, etc.), and/or that the stable work hours and guaranteed paycheck of an office drone could very well be a dream for someone living in abject poverty. This one can be chalked up to Most Writers Are Writers.
- Death of a Salesman says that "it's okay to stop pursuing a dream if your talents and passions lie elsewhere." In addition to their obsession with popularity, Willy and Biff do not realize the amount of effort needed to achieve their dreams. To illustrate, Charlie's son Bernard works hard to become a successful lawyer and Uncle Ben goes into the jungle for four years to find diamonds and come out rich. On the other hand, Willy and Biff are always looking for an easy way out and hate what they do, and that's why they ultimately fail in life. Or, perhaps more cynically, its message can be read as "life sucks, and then you die."
- Avenue Q contains many such unconventional Aesops, though some are tongue-in-cheek. Examples include "The Internet Is for Porn" and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." Another Aesop in the show is "there's nothing wrong with being gay," which on one occasion is humorously expanded to "it's perfectly fine if you're gay, unless you're a Republican." The biggest Aesop in the play can be summed up in Lucy the Slut's line: "Everyone only has one revelation in life: they find out they aren't special."
- The musical Carousel and the play Liliom on which it is based contains one of these, personified in the immortal line: "It's possible for a man to hit you, hit you real hard, and have it feel like a kiss." Amanda Palmer did a cover of the song "What's the Use of Wondrin" as a creepy domestic abuse ballad...and didn't have to change a word.
- Jack Bradley's drama Marital AIDS: Judi works as an adviser on the cases of HIV infected employees dealing with prejudice. One case of hers turns out to be Brian, long time friend of her husband Ryk. Hell breaks loose in their marriage when it turns out that Ryk had (and still has) a long-term romance with Brian, so Ryk himself and even Judi is threatened with HIV infection. Judi storms out of their home, but a while later we can see them back together, feeding ducks in the park. Ryk never shows repentance for his cheating, and argues that Judi should embrace that as part of the personality she fell in love with, while explaining that he, as a bisexual, feels the need for a male friendship and her to be fulfilled, and Judi accepts all of these in the end. The play therefore has the Aesop that we should condone our partners cheating on us because it's part of accepting our beloved as they are, with an underlying message that bisexuals are polyamorous by their very nature and cannot stay in a committed monogamous relationship (not to mention that it's acceptable to expose your partners to potentially deadly infections, and in general, keeping the partner in the dark about aspects greatly concerning their life, and thus trapping them into a deal with terms they couldn't consent).
- RENT: "You can have a day job or be an artist. One or the other." Aside from Mimi, none of the characters have ostensibly paying jobs that they actually like (except for Benny and Joanne, and their jobs are more mainstream than the others'), and the play actively looks down on Mark for taking a paid job instead of working on his film without ever considering the option that he could do both at the same time.
- Off the back of that first moral: "It's fine to avoid paying rent, mooch off local cafes, and even steal from ATMs, as long as you're an artist or bohemian."
- "Driving a dog to commit suicide for money is an acceptable activity that should be Played for Laughs".
- Parodied in Team StarKid's Twisted. The opening number "Dream A Little Harder" pokes fun at the family unfriendly morals offered up by some Disney animated fairy-tales: "If you're good and you're attractive, / No need to be proactive: / Good things will just happen to you!", and "If you're sure of your intention, / Some magic intervention / Will give you the edge that you need!"
- Wicked: The message of "Popular", Glinda's "I Am" Song, is that being liked by others will get your farther than merely being a good person. You may think this is only to show what a shallow and pretentious character Glinda starts out as... Except she's ultimately proven right. Elphaba's actions, no matter how heroic and selfless, all fail to change anything as Madame Morrible launches a smear campaign against her and makes everyone too afraid of her to listen to the problems she's trying to fix. In the end it's Glinda who gets the power to dispose of the villains and change Oz for the better, but does she do it by speaking out against their crimes or trying to help their victims? No, she does it by sucking up to them and endearing herself to the dim-witted people of Oz until she has enough power and influence of her own to launch a non-violent coup d'état.
- In The Wild Duck, the entire cast turns out to be one giant Dysfunction Junction that is only keeping itself together by repressing every one of their hidden sins and weaknesses through willful delusion. When the resident Wide-Eyed Idealist attempts to unravel some of these lies and bring about truth, the result is the suicide of the family's young daughter. As the man who attempted to keep all this under wraps at one point muses:
Doctor Relling: Deprive the average human being of his life-lie, and you rob him of his happiness.
- Beyond: Two Souls Has a similar one to the Loneliness example below where one of the antagonists whose primary motivation is to just see his dead family again shoots himself... and instantly becomes a spirit reunited with his family who happily welcome him despite the years of unwitting torture. The extremely dark Aesop being off yourself and you'll immediately be reunited with your loved ones with no consequences.
- Galloway's arc in Bully focuses on the issues between two teachers: Galloway is friendly and well-liked, but an alcoholic, and Hattrick is a Jerkass who abuses everyone around him and actively exploits students, but calls Galloway on drinking during school. The students, however, don't mind at all (and are shown not to follow his example), because Galloway is a decent guy whose belligerent co-worker makes his life difficult, and Jimmy ends up helping him get into recovery because he needs help, not because he needs to be punished. And all this is on top of the actual authority figures doing nothing to solve the real problems because they think it builds character. Overall, the message is that some adults are too corrupt or too ignorant to understand what is and isn't Harmful to Minors, and bullying isn't just a childhood problem.
- The freeware RPG The Crooked Man follows the main character as he retraces the steps of the previous tenant of his apartment, which align creepily with his own. Each of the people he meets is facing the dilemma of struggling bravely forward, or giving up, on whatever conflict they're dealing with. Invariably, the answer is to accept one's own limitations. There are some things in life that, no matter how badly you want them and no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to achieve; if you don't fit a certain mold, there's no honor in ruining yourself to force it.
- Another one is that, sometimes, helping the victim can and will seriously backfire, despite any good intentions. Attempting to console the woman will have her instead think that she should bottle it all in yet again, instead of seeking closure and move on. Encouraging the student will make him angry, thinking you're mocking him, which is a huge Berserk Button for said guy. And finally, attempting to negotiate with the suicidal man will get both him and you killed, mainly because it's not exactly his finger pulling on the trigger...!
- The message of Cuphead seems to be this at the end of the game: you welch on a deal, beat your creditor into submission, and then set all his debtors, who all tried to kill you, free. And everyone loves you. Of course, they owed a debt to the Devil, who won their souls and everyone else's in a rigged game, so the message is "You have to cheat when the game is rigged from the start."
- Dragon Age: Origins is full of those and sometimes lampshades them.
- At the mage starting quest you get several of them, the most prominent being that guile and trickery are sometimes preferable to trust and altruism.
- The overarching story in Orzammar delivers the message that a progressive-minded individual who is personally a manipulative, sleazy jerk sometimes makes a better leader than a kindly, democratic individual bound by stagnant social traditions.
- This even applies to Paragon Aeducan, one of the most venerated individuals in Dwarven history. His decision to ignore the Assembly and lead the Warrior Caste in the defense of the city, prevented the Darkspawn from breaching Orzammar and saved their race from being wiped out. In other words, democracy is all good an well, but when you're too busy arguing to see the enemy about to kill you, a military coup is the only solution.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In order to join the Dark Brotherhood, you have to complete a quest from a little boy who wants you to kill the cruel headmistress at the orphanage he was being held in. If you do, he'll proudly proclaim that he now wants to be an assassin when he grows up and decides that you can solve a lot of problems by offing the right person.
- Fallout 3. There is a quest called Tenpenny Tower, about a luxurious hotel inhabited by prejudiced humans and a nearby gang of civilized ghouls (a form of monstrously mutated human) who want to live in it. There are three ways to solve this quest — Two of them involve killing either party and being rewarded by the other for it. The final option is, through a lot of tedious diplomacy, to convince the humans to let the ghouls live alongside them, and it ends with the two species coexisting peacefully and happy-happy. Except, a few days later, all the human inhabitants have been slaughtered by the ghouls. Sometimes the oppressed, when presented with the opportunity, can be just as inhuman as the oppressors.
- The player may not realize that that would happen in the first place, so this could also function as an Aesop about how even noble acts can bring unforeseen and unpleasant consequences.
- On a more meta level, this could have been an attempt at cementing the setting's Black and Gray Morality (in this particular case, it's more like Black And Black Morality) and teaching the player not to assume that the seemingly peaceful option provides the best rewards. There's also a hefty serving of Strawman Has a Point with respect to the "prejudiced" tower inhabitants that don't want to let the ghouls in.
- Fallout 4: The best outcome involves obliterating your own son's legacy by inducing a full-scale war in the most isolated and peaceful community in Boston (albeit arrogant and ruthless), and forcing the surviving scientists to work for various extremist factions. Remember kids, isolationism is bad, because it leaves you oblivious to how your agents on the field torture and murder innocent people. But if you work for a group of extremists then they'll give you major funding for your wacky and dangerous science and hit you whenever you do something horribly wrong and everything will be okay!
- Alternatively, another (and possibly even darker, yet arguably timelier) message can be read from the Minutemen/Railroad/Brotherhood of Steel brutally wiping out the Institute in all endings aside from the Institute's own, where the Sole Survivor joins the cabal of Mad Scientists and becomes their Evil Overlord as they oppress the surface world in the name of "progress" (read: profiting off the surface world's suffering for their own benefit): Namely, that corrupt systems of power, no matter how many genuinely innocent or nice people are a part of them, deserve to be crushed no matter what. Furthermore, those aforementioned "good people" are complicit in the suffering brought about by those aforementioned systems and deserve to be punished all the same.
- Discussed in Final Fantasy XV. After completing a quest involving the hunter Dave's aunt Kimya, Kimya tells the party to pass along a message to her nephew- that he should believe in himself and make his own decisions. After finishing the quest, the party discusses Kimya's advice, as well as the fact that she'd had a falling out with her own sister (the former leader of the Hunters) over using methods to fight demons that her sister didn't approve of.
Ignis: "Do not follow. Trust yourself." Sound advice.
Gladio: Reasonable enough, if a bit obvious.
Prompto: Though you could say that's what led Kimya to start a family feud.
Noctis: How can you trust yourself to always be right?
Ignis: Not as sound as I thought, perhaps.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep: Forgiveness can backfire (just ask Eraqus note and Ansem the Wise note ), The Power of Friendship can fail (the main trio get a Bittersweet Ending/Downer Ending despite giving it their all), and The Power of Hate can be your best friend (it's what lets Terra create the Lingering Will, the ultimate Spanner in the Works against Big Bad Xehanort).
- Legend of Mana: In-Universe, the prevailing opinion is Be Yourself (even if said self is a Jerkass Omnicidal Maniac) and that the ends justify the means (even if your ultimate goal is The End of the World as We Know It). Reality Ensues—the world is a mess as a result and It's Up to You to solve everyone's problems.
- Lost in Blue is about two people shipwrecked on an island and having to work together to survive, which ends up being sort of a gender-role/marriage simulator. The thing is, the AI isn't all that bright, and your "spouse" is likely to die of stupidity no matter who you're playing. It's set up as being very much the traditional idea of what a married couple will be to each other, but the complications caused by the faulty AI generally turn this message into "Partnership and teamwork is necessary, but it sucks to be married to a useless moron."
- Mega Man Legends has a terrific one that comes from the villains. After their Last Villain Stand (Or so you think) against The Flutter when they're shot down, Tron apologizes for failing and Tiesel says "Don't worry your pretty little head over it, Tron. We tried our best, but sometimes your best isn't good enough. We lost fair and square. That's life." While it's jarring and not as optimistic as "you can achieve anything", it's also sound advice that not only teaches "you will fail sometimes, get used to it" but also that there's no shame in trying your best and failing.
- NieR: Automata has a existentialist theme of "The world is cruel, unforgiving and meaningless, and just the act of being alive in such a world is terrifying, but it's still possible to find purpose in a purposeless world, or find new purpose if your purpose is lost."
- Papo & Yo has an intentional one, as the game is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the author's relationship with his alcoholic, abusive father.
Caballero: I heard these beautiful words from [my] therapist: "When someone wants to hit bottom, there's nothing you can do to stop them." When someone is self-destructive or destructive of others and you want to stop them, there's nothing you can do. They're looking for something there. They're getting something out of that destruction, and if you stay with them, you're gonna get destroyed. So the only thing you can do is let them go, and it is the most painful thing you can do in your life.
- Phantasy Star IV has a Secret Test of Character that ends with the lesson that negative emotions like hatred and rage aren't evil, they're a necessary aspect what it means to be human.
- The postgame Eevee sidequest in Pokémon Sun and Moon provides some stunningly harsh and sober lessons about getting older that the game makes very little attempt to sugarcoat. In summation: you will get old someday, and as you do you'll likely have to give up on your interests and dreams from when you were younger and settle for a boring, mundane career as your priorities change to adult things like getting the bills paid (especially if you have a family) as shown by about half of the old trainers involved. There's a good chance your mind (the Jolteon trainer) and body (the Umbreon and Leafeon trainers) will simply start giving out on you as you age, and even if you manage to stave off aging on the outside with cosmetics, your body will continue to age on the inside (as shown by the Leafeon trainer). And finally, you will die someday (the Sylveon trainer already died and the one you battle instead is her granddaughter). The whole sidequest carries the somber implication that as the times go by and new generations take over, it's most likely that your accomplishments from when you were younger will be forgotten and will end up meaning nothing in the long run.
- While Red Dead Redemption has a few over-arching Aesops, the side quests mostly promote a philosophy of "Be careful doing nice things for people, because it may not end well for all involved". While there are some examples of a good deed having a genuinely good outcome, most do not follow this line of reasoning. Give an inventive aviator the means to create his flying machine? Congratulations, you just gave him the means to fly off of a cliff to his doom. Rescue a seemingly love-struck Chinese immigrant from cruel indentured servitude? Good job, you find out later his "love" is an addiction to heroin. Decide to rescue a mountaineer from rampaging Sasquatch? Nice work, you just single-handedly reduced a peaceful species to a single suicidal survivor. This even applies to minor side-activities, where stopping to help someone on the side of the road can get you either killed or left horseless. While mostly played for the sake of dark humor, the general message is the same; people will manipulate your sense of justice, honor or altruism to deceive you and sometimes the worst thing you can do for a person is giving them the help they seek.
- Remember Me tells us that painful memories, particularly painful, traumatic ones, are still valuable to us as people because they make us who we are. Memory remixes drastically change people's personalities and perceptions of their situation because of this. Of course, the actual events of the game contradict it pretty thoroughly, but that's the lesson it's trying to put forth anyway.
- Zap Dramatic's anti-bullying game, Sir Basil Pike Public School, has... problems... with the lessons it tries to teach. One of the few that manages to stay more or less consistent (if you don't count the premise) is, "Adults Are Useless. You can try to talk to them if you want, but they don't have the time or the patience to put up with your bullshit. Handle it yourself."
- In Sonic and the Black Knight, Sonic stops Merlina's plan because he doesn't like the idea of a world that won't end. It's this because of how unclear it is. Though he could actually mean he doesn't like the idea of a world unable to change, the dialog makes it murky.
- Star Ocean: The Last Hope ends with everyone agreeing — and signing into law — that everyone should just stick with their own kind instead of cooperating with other races.
- One of the major Aesops in Tales of Symphonia (besides the obvious "racism is bad" one) is about knowing when to quit, and that sticking to your beliefs isn't always a good thing. Lloyd and the Big Bad act as basically a Deconstruction of the Determinator trope, with Lloyd eventually learning that he needs to change his outlook on the world and becoming a better person as a result, while the Big Bad stubbornly refuses to change to the bitter end, even when his own sister, who he was enacting his schemes for to begin with tells him that what he's doing is wrong and he needs to stop.
- Another aesop is that when the oppressed rise up against their oppressors, they risk becoming oppressors themselves.
- Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World expounds on Regal's refutation of Mithos' plan to eliminate all racism by making everyone the same by having the human citizens of both Sylvarant and Te'thealla quickly develop a deep-seated hatred of each other, showing that bigotry will always exist in some form or another - it doesn't have to just be about race.
- Some people believe that Tales of Vesperia glorifies vigilantism and murder. Summary Vigilante Execution of powerful government officials by Yuri Lowell is shown to save more lives in the here and now than the more methodical approach by Flynn Scifo who seeks to change the law from within the system. One of these government officials had been exposed as feeding innocent children to his pet monsters but he was simply too powerful for the law to touch. Another was pretty much the person in charge of law enforcement in the area and kept sending people off to die. The game seems to imply that Murder Is the Best Solution for dealing with people like that.
- Valkyria Chronicles: Being different is bad. It's better to completely cut yourself off from everything that makes you different or special than to stand out too much and risk attracting people's attention.
- Zero Escape:
- In one ending of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, one piece of evidence for Ace being the murderer is that he has prosopagnosia. When this is mentioned, he says it's prejudice to say that prosopagnosia makes him a bad person... except it ultimately turns out his prosopagnosia was the whole motive for him starting the original Nonary Game experiment, which also led to the deaths, meaning it literally did make him a bad person. Score one for prejudice!
- In Virtue's Last Reward, Tenmyouji raised the orphan Quark not because he wanted to be a father but because, post-apocalypse, all human lives are precious. This causes a lot of friction between the two.
- Junpei's subplot in Zero Time Dilemma basically goes 'Trusting people might fatally backfire on you, but trusting nobody will definitely kill you'. Even when the group he's in starts to actually work together, they do so not out of trust (or even mutual respect) but because they'll die if they don't and nobody has the time to think up a better plan.
- Boy Meets Boy ends with the lesson that people change, friendships don't last, and you'll probably have to settle for second best, because the love of your life simply isn't interested.
- El Goonish Shive had one at the end of "Death Sentence": When confronted with a bad situation, one shouldn't simply decide that the worst outcome is inevitable and plan for that. People should, by all means, try to make better plans so that things might end peacefully and without anyone getting hurt. However, what they need to remember is that sometimes that isn't going to work at all, and in fact their plan might be doomed from the beginning, and so if their plan goes to hell, they should be prepared for the bad ending- but that doesn't mean that they should stop making plans where Everybody Lives. It's a pretty depressing message, though the rather idealistic character to whom it gets delivered does accept it (but not happily).
- Fans! had this strip involving Rikk, Aly and Rumi eating pot-laced brownies. "Don't do drugs, kids, or they might impair your ability to enjoy drugs later in life!"
- And while on the subject of Sandra K. Fuhr, one of the possible endings to Friendly Hostility teaches us that even with the best intentions, you can't force a relationship to last.
- Jack has a few overarching themes in its stories, mostly centering on the nature of sin, punishment, repentance and redemption, understandable for a comic about Heaven and Hell. One of these is that almost no one is good enough to get into Heaven, and almost everyone who goes Hell will never get out... not because of anything they do or don't do personally, but because Hell itself can screw them out of their chance at redemption.
- Misfile tried to give An Aesop about accepting responsibility when the old road was being taken over, but Ash repeatedly points out that his title grants him no obligation to help anyone else and the other racers freely admit that they aren't friends, they just need someone to fight their battles for them. It becomes less about responsibility and more about giving in to peer pressure.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal features in-universe humorous examples. For example, the hare put in far less effort than the tortoise, but still got second place, which is, you know pretty freaking good.
- Sluggy Freelance ends the "Aylee" Story Arc with An Aesop that you should always stand by and trust your friends, even if there's a very real chance they might destroy all life on Earth.
- Penny Arcade has one that combines an Imaginary Friend with a Precision F-Strike.
- Walkyverse has "Morals mean diddly squat without experiences to back them up... which is a license to screw around and do stupid things".
- In Dragon Ball Z Abridged's rendition of Android 16's pep talk to Gohan before he goes Super Saiyan 2, it goes from an understanding speech about how it's not wrong to fight for what you love, to 16 viciously ripping Gohan apart for acting like he's the only one of the cast who suffers, and for rigidly sticking to his pacifist principles instead of doing the right thing.
Android 16: Cell was right, you think you're better than everyone else. But there you stand, the good man doing nothing. And while evil triumphs, and your rigid pacifism crumbles into bloodstained dust, the only victory afforded to you is that you stuck true to your guns. You were a coward to your last whimper.
- Taken to very dark extremes with the flash story Loneliness, giving a message that if a loved one dies, you should kill yourself to be with that person in the afterlife.
- Honest Trailers discusses this trope whenever they make a video of a children's movie. Notably with The Little Mermaid, as mentioned above.
- The cyber-legend of Marine Todd. Summary: a Marine comes back from "the war", enrolls in a college course, and sits through a lecture where an atheist professor invites God to knock him down from the speaking platform. Marine Todd gets up and punches the professor, saying that God had sent him to do the task on His behalf (often adding that "[God] was too busy protecting the troops who are dying to protect your right to say stupid shit"). Take your pick of horrible lessons that this implies - that believers are justified in committing the criminal act of assault to justify their beliefs to non-believers; that civilians are a fair target for trained military personnel; that freedom of speech is only for people who agree with you; that might makes right...
- Alternatively, flip perspectives for an equally unfriendly Aesop. Don't mock and belittle the beliefs of others or otherwise intentionally try to piss people off even if you don't care about them; societal expectation isn't always enough to prevent violent retaliation.
- Another alternate Aesop that could be applied to this story is: if you fight or otherwise work for the freedom of others, you need to realize and accept that there will always be people who exercise that freedom in a way that you won't necessarily like or agree with, but to lash out at them in an abusive way would be the same as denying them their freedom, and that would be just as wrong.
- Alternatively, flip perspectives for an equally unfriendly Aesop. Don't mock and belittle the beliefs of others or otherwise intentionally try to piss people off even if you don't care about them; societal expectation isn't always enough to prevent violent retaliation.
- The aesop of "Why Lying is OK!" by Matthew Santoro is that some lies are necessary for society to function, and that always telling the truth is a bad thing.
- A recurring aesop in Mister Metokur videos is that sometimes the people who make fun of you do legitimately have a point when they mock you, especially if you engage in behaviors that are self-destructive in nature or ones that incur harm in others (such as pedophilia or zoophilia).
- Discussed at length in The Nostalgia Critic's "Top 11 The Simpsons Episodes", where he names "Bart Gets an F" his favorite episode of the show, in large part, because it's the rare piece of pop culture that's brave enough to teach the Family-Unfriendly Aesop "Failure is an unavoidable part of life — and we all fail sometimes, even when we try our very hardest." He argues that this is one of the most important lessons that anyone can learn, but admits that it's rarely used as An Aesop in pop culture because it's so much more uplifting to show a protagonist succeeding through hard work. In the same episode, Critic discusses this trope when naming "Homer's Enemy" one of the 11 best episodes of the show. He sums up the episode's moral as "Sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason, and sometimes dumb people are rewarded more than smart people", but argues that the episode is brilliant because it faces such a grim message so unapologetically, and manages to make it surprisingly funny.
- Red vs. Blue: After all of the shenanigans of The Blood Gulch Chronicles, Church takes a moment to reflect on how he's learned that it's wrong to hate people based on arbitrary political or military delineations. Instead, you should strive to "despise people on a personal level." Obviously, it's not necessarily a great moral, but it still rings true to an extent in that one should not mindlessly hate just because they were told to.
Church: You should hate someone because they're an asshole, or a pervert, or snob, or they're lazy, or arrogant or an idiot or a know-it-all. Those are reasons to dislike somebody. You don't hate a person because someone told you to. You have to learn to despise people on a personal level. Not because they're Red, or because they're Blue, but because you know them, and you see them every single day, and you can't stand them because they're a complete and total fucking douchebag.
- In the live recordings of What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?, whenever they cover a news story involving inept criminals, Tara has a habit of pointing out everything they did wrong and what they could've done better, to the point that Nash jokingly calls those segments "How To Be A Better Criminal."
- Yes & No: A Dyseducational Road Movie. The message is that obediently following rules of the road will screw you over (it's all comedically exaggerated).