Someone is trapped, or forced to work against his will, in some kind of facility that produces publicly available goods (such as fortune cookie fortunes, or candybar wrappings). He proceeds to use them as a means of communicating with the outside world and asking for help.
In comedic versions, it's usually just a throwaway gag, and the fate of the mysterious victim isn't ever alluded to.
By the way, I'm trapped here, and they are forcing me to type up trope entries! Send help!
- Detective Conan: A writer has disappeared, though he continues to turn in manuscripts to his editors; however, Conan discovers that said manuscripts contain a coded message for help. Ultimately subverted, as the author was simply terminally ill and had faked his own kidnapping in hopes that one of his fans could solve the puzzle he'd devised before he passed away.
- Warren Ellis in DC's house ads for the 2017 WildStorm relaunch:
Q. What made you come back to WildStorm?A. I was abducted. Please help. I'm sending this message out through an advertisement in the hope that Jim Lee won't see it and therefore won't give me the hose again. I'm in a bunker under a building in Burbank. Please help me.
- Whenever French is spoken in Dude Bro Party Massacre 3, the subtitles are pleadings of help by the subtitler, who is being held against his will. This extends to the end credits, where Subtitles are credited to "HELP THIS IS NOT A JOKE".
- Without a Clue: The man forced to counterfeit pound notes for Professor Moriarty prints a clue on them about his location. Ironically Holmes and Watson completely misunderstand the clue, yet stumble on his location anyway.
- A message in Hogfather is in a Christmas cracker and says "Help help help Ive fallen in the crakker machine I cant keep runin on this roller please get me ou-". Someone says it's the same old mottos as when they were kids.
- In Goldfinger (the original novel) James Bond leaves a note on the underside of the toilet on a plane, telling of Goldfinger's plot and saying that delivery of the note to Felix Leiter of the CIA will result in a reward, hoping that the cleaning crew will find it; but doesn't know whether or not it got found & delivered, or thrown out, or found by the bad guys.
- In The Tightrope Walker by Dorothy Gilman, the plot starts when the owner of a second-hand store finds a "Please help" message hidden in one of the objects in her store.
- The rare "Buggre all this" edition of the Bible that Aziraphelle had in Good Omens.
And bye the border of Afhter, fromme the east side even untoe the west side, a portion for Naphtali./And bye the border of Naphtali, from the east side untoe the west side, a portion for Manaffeh./Buggre all this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye hart of typesettinge. Master Biltonn is no Gentelmann, and Master Scagges noe more than a tighte fisted Southwarke Knobbesticke. I telle you, onne a daye laike this ennywone with half an oz. of sense should bee oute in the sunneshain, ane nott stucke here alle the liuelong daie inn thif mowldey olde By-Our-Lady workeshoppe. @*"AE@;!*/And bye the border of Ephraim, from the east fide even untoe the west fide, a portion for Reuben.
- In Canned, by Alex Shearer, Fergal and Charlotte find a can containing the message "HELP", along with several cans containing some more gruesome clues.
- In Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake, the message "HELP I AM BEING HELD PRISONER" begins to appear in various kinds of goods produced in a prison soon after compulsive practical joker Harry arrives there. With every message that appears, Harry finds himself more trapped between the rock of the warden and the hard place of his fellow convicts. Subverted: Harry wasn't sending the messages, it was the gardener who was about to be released and didn't want to leave.
- According to Dave Barry, when the dome of the United States Capitol was being built nobody realized the writing on the ceiling was Italian for "Help I'm trapped up here and am starving to death".
- Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library by Eth Clifford, although it's not exactly the main focus.
- In Double or Die, Fairburn plants cryptic clues (literally: he is a cryptic crossword compiler) in the letter he is allowed to send his students. If correctly interpreted, these clues reveal that is a prisoner and where he is being held.
- The "...Chinese Fortune Cookie Factory" version was used on Get Smart.
- NewsRadio, Dave is reading cards from a complaint box.
Dave: "Help, I'm being held prisoner in a complaint box", which is actually kinda funny.
- One Mock the Week Scenes We'd Like to See round gave us Weird Things to See on a Road Sign to which Frankie Boyle provided us with...
Frankie: Help I'm trapped in a sign making factory.
- Invoked on Whose Line Is It Anyway? at the end of one game of "Hats":
Colin: Help me they're making me do "Hats" I wanna go home...
- Stephen Colbert used this trope in a Colbert Report — Apocalypse Mao: Murdered by the Orient's Success.
- Fairy Godmother Tycoon has a story part where someone finds a wig — there's a little note attached. "Please help. Kidnapped. Forced to make wigs. Rapunzel." Not to mention the tip "Help, I'm trapped in a tip-writing factory."
- World of Warcraft has a fortune card that reads: "Help! I'm being held prisoner in a fortune cookie bakery!"
- A You Don't Know Jack The Lost Gold Couch Gag reads: "Help! I'm being held hostage in a tagline factory!"
- Done in Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon once Roger gets a high score in "Astro Chicken". He'll find a secret message pleading for help by the Two Guys from Andromeda, the programmers of the game.
- One of the pillars in Fez reads, when translated, "Please send help. Trapped in a fez factory." Though downplayed given it's written on a stone pillar and not a fez.
- If playing as an Apex in Starbound and inspect a standard issue chair, the player character will note that they are mass produced in factories... and add that they once found the words "Help us" engraved in a chair frame like this. Given that the Apex are suffering under an oppressive, totalitarian regime, it's not at all played for laughs.
- The eye chart in the first panel of this Gunnerkrigg Court guest comic.
- Has been parodied twice in XKCD. First there was the Pi Equals comic, and the second was in the Alt Text of Exploits of a Mom.
- xkcd fans like variations of this too.
- The Noob has A guy with PHD in Egyptology held in the Clichequest offices basement.
- The trope is discussed in Schlock Mercenary, and then used as context for Bristlecone discovering that the very unfriendly and homicidal AI Tagii has a fragment of herself holed up inside Ennesby thanks to Tagii filling tac-info shared between Bristlecone and Ennesby with messages about it.
- The page image is from Oglaf, where a writer has been enslaved in his own home by a particularly mean and ugly muse.
- CollegeHumor: In a photoshop tutorial video, a guy who has been kidnapped by North Korea to edit their publicity photographs eventually tries to use the instructional video to give his co-ordinates to any possible rescuer, only to be beaten up by the guard.
- Facebook's "Fortune Cookie" app has "Help! I'm trapped in a Chinese bakery!" as one possible fortune.
- Looney Tunes: The Daffy Duck short "China Jones" parodies the "being held in a Chinese bakery" one. Daffy himself ends up being held in a Chinese laundry.
- The episode titles of the first part of Robot Chicken's fourth season form the message "Help me. I'm trapped in a DVD factory. They took my thumbs. Two weeks without food. Tell my mom I love her, but not in that way. Love, Maurice PS: Yes, in that way." In a twist to this trope, the second half's episodes titles make up the factory's response: "Dear Consumer, we are a humble factory. Maurice was caught unionizing our labor. President Hu forbids it! Due to constraints of time and budget, the ramblings of Maurice cannot be erased, so sorry. Please do not notify our contractors. Especially the animal Keith Crofford!"
- In the direct-to-video movie Madeline: Lost in Paris, Madeline ended up in a sweatshop making lace, and she and the other girls attempted to knot lace patterns that spelled out a message for help.
- In an episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Bloo becomes a celebrity, but his agent won't let him go. So on his variety show, Bloo tap dances a Morse code message saying "Help me, Mac!" so Mac and the rest of the friends who are watching can go to the studio and save him.
- There's an urban legend of an immigrant or other forced labor using the fortune cookie as a "I'm being held prisoner at [a Chinese food preparation place]." The earliest documented one is from 1955 (listed here) but like most urban legends, it's probably been around for longer than that.
- Downplayed during the Middle Ages, when disgruntled scribes would insert complaints about the drudgery of their jobs in the margins of the books they hand-copied.
"The work is written, master, give me a drink. Let the right hand of the scribe be free from the oppressiveness of pain.""Let me now be blamed for the script, for the ink is bad, and the vellum defective, and the day is dark.""St Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing."
- ATM dispenses cash and notes for help from man trapped inside