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Lost Aesop

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"Hmmm, OK. There may be a lesson to take away here, but we're not sure what it is! [...] If you learned anything in this video let us know what it was."
Kurzgesagt, "What if the World turned to Gold? The Gold Apocalypse"

In An Aesop, the writer has a lesson to teach to the audience. In a Hard Truth Aesop, the writer has a rather unconventional and possibly offensive message to give to the audience. In a Broken Aesop, the writer is aiming for an Aesop without realizing they have undermined that Aesop in the course of the story. In a Clueless Aesop, the Aesop gets mishandled because the writer simply could not handle the issue properly.

In a Lost Aesop, however, it's not entirely clear whether the writer ever knew exactly what kind of Aesop they were aiming for in the first place.

This is when the audience is clearly presented with a lesson, only to have that moral contradicted, then reinstated, then forgotten about, then addressed, then ignored... you get the picture. It gets so messy that it's no longer clear exactly which Aesop has been broken and which one did the breaking. At some point, certain viewers or readers will begin to have doubts about whether the writer knew what they were doing.

The most usual form of this trope is when the audience is whacked over the head with the moral-of-the-story, only for the plot to ignore that moral and set off in pursuit of another, different one. It's as if the writer changed their mind halfway through the narrative. Note that there is no debate about this; no character will state, "Hey, see that lesson we learned half an hour ago? We were wrong." Also, unlike a Broken Aesop, there is nothing subtle about this: one Aesop is explicitly explained only to be undermined equally as clearly. Eventually, the audience will be buried under a number of conflicting messages, stuck going back and forth between them and unable to tell where the writer was originally going with this.

Another common variant is where the Lost Aesop comes about as a result of a writer going deeper into a subject than they could really afford to. Their characters examine all the angles, discuss possible outcomes, argue with each other... but then the writer realizes that they themselves don't know the answer to the question being posed... or they realize that they've run out of time and have to wrap things up in a hurry... or the issue is one that's so polarizing that they can't really pick a side without getting a lot of people mad at them, so they pick a random Aesop and stick with it, Plot Threads be damned. The most successful resolution is usually to opt for a "middle road" between the two conflicting lessons. However, if the logic of the story has become too confused, or several Aesops are vying for the top spot, the author might simply choose the one that makes for the simplest ending. It might work, or it might come off as a half-hearted Ass Pull.

On the other hand, there is a very deliberate employment of this trope, where the writer presents a number of possible lessons or morals to be taken from the events of the story... only to conclude that since they all contradict each other, the answer is that there is no answer. This, however, will probably be spelled out for the viewer rather than quietly ignored.

To identify the Lost Aesop, ask yourself whether watching two different segments of the same show would result in getting two different messages. If you manage to find a Lost Aesop, please return it to the address listed on its collar and inform the rest of us so we can stop pondering over the glaring discrepancies that we only noticed upon turning the television off.

Some would argue that, if the above definition is to be used as a guide, then every Aesop should be a Lost Aesop if it's meant to be gracefully presented. Life is so complex that there's rarely, if ever, a single overriding lesson to learn for any scenario, despite what some people think; besides that, nobody likes a really blatant and intelligence-insulting message. Furthermore, due to the fickle nature of human reasoning, it is possible for two people to glean two equally valid — or even contradictory — lessons from the same presentation. If you tell a friend who holds very left-wing political opinions that a disgruntled person entered a building full of people and opened fire on everyone in sight, you might get the interpretation of "Guns are dangerous"; if you told the same story to an equally right-wing friend, you might then be told something like "If everyone else in that building had been carrying a gun, the shooter wouldn't have dared open fire" (i.e., guns save lives).

While it's obviously a more confused (and less subtle) cousin of the Broken Aesop, the Lost Aesop also claims kinship to the Yo Yo Plot Point, since it's the recurring nature of a relatively small "error" that sets up a whole lot of confusion. The fact that the Lost Aesop seems more likely to occur in works that are produced by a group rather than a single person might also suggest the reason for the mangled moral was that the opinions and viewpoints of the writing team varied greatly. Meanwhile, it is the polar opposite of the Captain Obvious Aesop and Anvilicious. This is not to be confused with Aesop Amnesia, where a moral is set up but suddenly forgotten a few works later.

Has nothing to do with the ABC Live-Action TV show Lost. (We're still trying to figure out what, if any, Aesops that show had.)


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Beastars:
    • The series definitely isn't shy about one of its main Aesops being "racism is bad", but it also goes out of the way to show the differences between herbivores and carnivores that are not just the result of ingrained prejudice but also of fundamental, biological incompatibility. It also shows that many of the problems of the series' society come from clueless politicians making laws to force coexistence without actually understanding the groups' wants, at times even making a fair case that peaceful coexistence between the two groups is actually impossible.
    • It's also pretty wishy-washy on if Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse or not; Legosi attempting to understand Melon's reasons for his crimes is presented as a fool's errand that nearly gets him killed, and Melon himself freely admits that no tragic event in his past could ever make up for what he's done. At the same time, the story does attempt to tug the reader's heartstrings heavily when it goes into Melon's admittedly horrible past, and in the last few chapters when his long-lost father shows up, the series makes him out to be an irredeemable scumbag for his Parental Abandonment and all but outright states he's responsible for Melon's villainy despite his reasoning not being all that nonsensicalnote .
    • A large part of Melon's backstory and Legosi's quest to catch him deals with mixed-species children and the discrimination that they face—it's treated as the fault of an intolerant society, clearly making them an analogy for real-life mixed-race people, until it's revealed that mixed-species live genuinely miserable lives no matter what society thinks of them thanks purely to biologynote . This breaks the metaphor because there is no real-life correlation between mixed-race people and the disabled.
  • Chobits lost its Aesop as it navigated the issue of human-Persocom relationships. Hideki begins the series with the belief that Persocoms are machines, and a relationship with such an object is no substitute for human interaction. We meet Yumi, who suffers from an inferiority complex because she feels that she, as a human girl, can't compete with "perfect" Persocoms, and Takako, who exemplifies Yumi's worst fears: her husband completely forgot her because he was so obsessed with their Persocom. We also meet Minoru, who has built a Persocom as a replacement for his dead older sister. This is presented as understandable... but also unhealthy. So far, so good, since everything lines up with the original message. As the series progresses, however, Hideki falls in love with his own Persocom, Chi, and the "robots can't replace humans" sentiment goes flying out the window. At the end of the story, all the moral and social implications of a society that finds companionship in machines rather than other people are either abandoned or quickly swept under the carpet in favour of the message "it's okay to love an object, because the fact that you love it makes it worthy of love." The fact that all Persocoms become sentient, meaning they're no longer objects at the end only makes it harder to figure out what the ultimate point was.
  • A Centaur's Life has strong themes about how racism is bad. Except that it goes so far that the society depicted is restrictive to the point that accidental racism is a crime that will get someone sent to a reeducation center (accidental racism being things like riding on a centaur's back because she picked you up to carry you to get medical aid after you collapsed due to exhaustion). It could also be argued, however, that that would appear to be the point. It's a social satire of Japanese political correctness — the regime enforcing these standards is clearly depicted as authoritarian and dangerous, with armed guards at police checkpoints, as well as mocking the Five-Token Band trope (Magical Girl shows in this universe are forced by law to include one member of each race and switch the protagonist every season), etc. Part of the issue with this Aesop is how Political Correctness Is Evil is not a major theme of the manga, instead being more of a background element—which, in turn, makes it difficult for the reader to figure out how far the author thinks political correctness should go.
  • The Central arc of Food Wars! starts with the moral that creativity is the most important thing in cooking worth fighting for, as demonstrated by Azami and Central's willingness to utterly stomp out the diversity of cuisines, chefs, and techniques of the restaurant world in the name of "true gourmet", and the protagonists' opposition to him for that very reason. But once the plot shifts to cover Erina standing up to Azami's abuse with the help of the rebels and the rebels fighting Central to rescind the others' expulsions, the moral shifts to saying that fighting for your friends is most important. Ultimately, the protagonists win without addressing whether Azami's totalitarian views on cooking have merit or not.
  • Drifting Dragons seems to be setting up some sort of aesop, but good luck at figuring out what it is. Is it about prejudice being wrong? Sure, the protagonists face prejudice for being dragon hunters that is called out as wrong, but later on it's shown that certain groups, like humans and dragons or drakers and slayers can't coexist. Is it about ethical hunting and respect for nature? The protagonists are horrified upon learning that another ship uses poison to kill dragons, but that is quickly set aside for the more pressing issue of the dragon rampaging through the city, and Brno's complaint that the drakers are brutes destroying nature for profit is presented as valid. Giraud's and Takita's Character Development arcs directly contradict each other- Giraud's is about learning how not to be such an uptight worrywart, while Takita's is about learning to be more serious and determined. In the end, the only moral you're likely to get from this story is that food tastes good.
  • In an example of how making an issue too complex can result in confusion, the second season of Kaleido Star couldn't decide whether ruthless competition was a good or a bad thing. Sora's non-confrontational manner and own self-doubts cost her her position as Kaleido Star, as she was usurped by the ambitious May and the icy Leon. Later, she decides to compete against the two of them to prove her worth, with the help of ex-Bad Boy turned The Atoner Yuri Killian. At the Circus Festival itself, however, Sora realizes that achieving her own dreams in the contest means crushing everyone else, and ends up throwing the competition away rather than winning such a polluted and underhanded event. Yet Layla berates her for her unwillingness to compete, May is genuinely hurt (to the point of tears and a borderline Heroic BSoD) when Sora openly refuses to compete with her as well, and their viewpoint is presented to the audience as correct... when just a short while ago, Sora's decision not to step on other people on her way to the top was seen as a noble sentiment. The series tapers off into the middle road of "competition does encourage everyone to do their best"... but it does leave some of the implications the show itself raised unanswered (Is it all right to trample over people who are polite and gentle? Are merciless tactics acceptable in the pursuit of stardom? Is it noble or weak to try and avoid a fight? If a rival who poses a good challenge has his/her wish rejected, is it valid for him/her to be upset or not?).
  • Re:Zero's main moral is about devoting yourself to others, but it flipflops on whether that is a good or bad thing. Subaru's obsession over Emilia is meant to be cringeworthy and shallow and show that he's a narcissist who is playing hero because he believes it will make her return his feelings, and because of this he constantly makes a fool out of himself and causes himself misery. But his love for Emilia and his feelings for Rem and other characters also lead him to go to insane lengths to save the day, which he eventually accomplishes after much suffering. As well as that, Rem's love for Subaru, which causes her to make just as foolish and irrational decisions, is always portrayed positively and considered one of her best qualities.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX seemed indecisive where to take Jaden between the first two seasons: the first season finale had Zane telling him to rely on his gut instincts rather than his mind, as the former is his strong suit, compared to Zane. Come season two, however, and we have Ed chastising Jaden during a tag team for not thinking his moves through. Then season 3 happened, and things got worse to the point where Jaden snapped. However, this may have been on purpose, since the following seasons have been at the very least read as a deconstruction of that notion and other trends of the franchise.
    • The 4Kids dub parodies this in Chazz's duel with Smug Snake Character of the Day Reginald, a member of the elite Obelisk Blue dorm which Chazz used to belong to.
      You know, I used to be just like you. An elitist snob who looked down on everyone around me. But I've changed. Know how? Now I'm a snob who only looks down on some people. Anyway, there's a lesson in there. I'm just not sure where.

    Comic Books 
  • Because the Marvel Civil War (2006) crossover was written by multiple authors, most of whom didn't agree with the direction Marvel was going, the moral behind the story seems to jump from book to book. One of the reasons for it is that while the entire conflict ostensibly hinged around being for and against a broad Super Registration Act, none of the writers were on board with what said act even entailed (some writers believed it called for mere bureaucratic registration for heroes to tie their identities to the government, but some writers thought it was about conscription and militarization) which isn't exactly conducive to a stable, comprehensive moral direction.
    • It's okay to sacrifice liberty for security, especially when dealing with superpowered individuals — except wait, no it's not. America means freedom and righteousness and all that is good — wait, it means MySpace and YouTube. Allowing the leaders to do their jobs is a perfectly legitimate course of action — wait, you'll get drafted into a superpowered army and made a slave of the state. Iron Man is cool — wait, he's a Nazi!
    • Instead of it being "every side has some good points and some bad", nearly everybody in this comic is legitimately a villain, willing to put innocent people in danger to get what they want. Tony has perfectly valid arguments... but he takes it all too far. Cap has valid arguments against... but resorts to punching his point across. Spidey is in the middle. He sees Tony's side at first, but then he sees the gulag where people are being locked up forever without even getting a trial.
  • In Countdown to Final Crisis Trickster and Piper went on a journey that was intended to lead to Trickster overcoming his homophobia and learning a lesson, but the story developed to the point where Trickster received a bullet to the head due to an attack unrelated to the intended moral; no lesson was ever apparent from this resolution.
  • Crossed is a Zombie Apocalypse story where an easily-transmittable plague turns people into amoral, hedonistic monsters. A small group of survivors are holed up on an island, but even this isn't safe, as the Crossed are intelligent enough to use boats. One night as they prepare for lights out, it turns out the warning bell wasn't muted, which will draw attention when the wind blows. The one responsible for the bell is a bratty teenage boy that most of the survivors don't like. Another survivor, a decorated war hero, volunteers to mute the bell in his place. Unfortunately, the bell has already drawn a group of Crossed, and while the soldier almost makes it back to safety, he ends up potentially infected. The other survivors decide he isn't worth the risk and leave him to die. The group's leader declares that this is why they won't allow volunteers from now on - it just means that the people who are actually worth something die to protect the worthless ones. The story ends with the narrator stating, "There is no moral to this story. No lesson was learned, and it doesn't "just go to show" anything. We've learned nothing."
  • This was a large issue with the rather Anvilicious plot of Friends Forever #14, which depicts a group of dragons being unfairly discriminated against by ponies because of a string of arsons. However, as the arsons matched a dragon's breath perfectly, Strawman Has a Point is in full-effect: a dragon being the culprit is based on hard evidence rather than prejudice since only ponies and dragons live there and ponies are incapable of breathing fire, to the point the comic had to rely on introducing a last-minute Deus ex Machinanote , to exonerate the dragons as potential suspects. The entire aesop and allegory are lost as, unlike in real-life, profiling would be the single most useful crime-investigation tool in a world of Magic A Is Magic A where you could eliminate suspects based on the inherent abilities / limitations of their species.
  • Heroes in Crisis was billed as ultimately being a thematic exploration of heroes dealing with their mental health, with a big conflict surrounding the morally-ambiguous Sanctuary, an AI-run therapy center for superheroes that may or may not provide what they actually need. However, due to a miasma of various plot developments and behind-the-scenes politicking, Sanctuary and the ethical discussion over its form of therapy end up suddenly dropped midway through the series in favor of a murder mystery plot, where it's revealed that Wally West experienced a terrible mental breakdown that resulted in fatal consequences. Writer Tom King asserts that the book is about healing and recovery, which the story does wrap up with — it ends with Wally confessing to the terrible mistake he made and opening up to the trauma that led up to it, with his friends and loved ones coming to his side to help him through his turmoil — but this is in lieu of leaving many initial thematic threads completely unresolved. Several critics have highlighted how answering the discussion over therapy should have thematically cohered along with Wally's fate, but the fact they end up incomplete renders both plot points nakedly moot in moral resolution (and because the primary antagonistic figure — the Sanctuary AI, which was a major catalyst for Wally's breakdown — is never dealt with, harsher critics claim that the story inadvertently sides with its practices, provoking an even messier interpretation of the book's aesop).
  • JLA: Act of God is confusing and written by only one writer. Is the moral of the story that powers leads to arrogance? You're only a real super hero if you don't have super powers? You should work inside the system? Other than "Batman is awesome," it's never really clearly told.
  • During Joss Whedon's run on Runaways, there was a clear effort to say something about relationships and obsessions - the plot involves a lonely old woman trying to change the past in order to get her lost love back, and the subplots all involve the Runaways trying to work through their various relationships. Unfortunately, Schedule Slips led to the run being truncated, creating plot holes that overshadowed the intended message.
  • A very lost Aesop happened during Peter David's first run on X-Factor (when it was a government superteam). A scientist had developed a way to test fetuses for the mutant gene, in the womb... and then would offer to abort the baby if it was a mutant. The X-Factor team was, naturally, horrified by this, especially Wolfsbane, who is both mutant and Catholic. Except... due to Executive Meddling, the "abortion" option was excised, and the doctor instead was offering an in utero cure for the mutant gene. The team's reactions were not changed; they were still horrified, even Wolfsbane, who has often said she would be much happier if she hadn't been born a mutant. The Aesop went from being about abortion to being a vague Fantastic Aesop about it not being okay to de-mutantify unborn babies.

    Fan Works 
  • Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness tries to get across a War Is Hell aesop. The problem is that it spends massive amounts of time playing up the heroes preparing for a suicidal final battle as "the real heroes", contrasting them to the Golden Trio (who, once they show up, are portrayed in an incredibly vindictive light). When Zacharias Smith points out that the DA is starting to sound increasingly like a martyrdom cult instead of an army, he's treated as though he's insane and thrown out of their number. Apparently, war is hell... unless you know you're going to die going into it, then it's awesome and you're awesome for doing it.
  • Eiga Sentai Scanranger was written to give the author an outlet to vent his hatred of Power Rangers and glorify Super Sentai, but he seemed to forget to say what kind of show he wanted if Power Rangers was all wrong. The obvious answer would be he just wanted translated Sentai shows, but with how Scanranger was about an all-original team of wisecracking multi-ethnic heroes protecting America from Laughably Evil space aliens, it seems more like it was based on Power Rangers than anything.

    Films — Animation 
  • Good luck trying to discern what we were meant to learn in The Emoji Movie. Is being yourself all about standing out in society, not caring what others think, or does it mean conforming to societal expectations and never chancing your identity? This ties into the feminist lesson. Jailbreak is at first meant to be an independent minded female character who rejected the sexism of Textopolis, and forms her identity around this. And then we run into the lesson about not valuing freedom, which apparently means that she should fully embrace those same sexist gender roles.
  • Wizards is often assumed to have An Aesop that technology is bad, even though the good guys have no problem using it (namely, guns). Ralph Bakshi has actually had to state that it's about propaganda.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Lampshaded at the end of Burn After Reading where the CIA director wonders aloud what has been learned from the preceding chain of events, only to conclude that any moral it may have had is entirely lost on him. Being the sort of film it is, it's really anyone's guess.
  • Camp Nowhere seems to have some kind of Aesop at the end, but good luck trying to figure out what the heck it is. It could be that kids shouldn't worry about having potential and growing up, but the film's hero stands up to his father and says that it's "okay to be stupid sometimes." It could also be about how Growing Up Sucks, but the hero does learn some responsibility during the movie and looks forward to dating his love interest when they're older. Maybe the lesson is that it's wrong to fool your parents and start a phony summer camp, but that was a borderline Fantastic Aesop even in 1994, and everyone ends up thanking the hero for the fun summer anyway, so THAT can't be it...
  • Chasing Amy is very confused about what its Aesop even is. It starts out with something like, "it's useless to try to change someone; orientation is fixed and can't be altered to suit your convenience." That gets broken when it turns out she's conveniently bisexual after all. Then it seems to be something like "true love knows no barriers," but of course several characters in the film really are 100% gay, so that doesn't work. After that it's "don't get all worked up because your girlfriend has an adventurous sexual past," which would work, except that she also lied about it every step of the way, so it's at least a little more complicated than that. Then they give Silent Bob an awkward, tangentially-related monologue, blame the straight white guy for everything, and call it a day.
  • Clash of the Titans (2010) and its sequel Wrath of the Titans make a point about "humanity doesn't need any gods" with humans openly defying the gods for their tyrannical treatment. This is seemingly glossed over in the first movie after Hades is stopped from usurping Olympus from Zeus, and the second movie revolves around Tartarus being unleashing monsters and other abominations into the world specifically because of humans losing faith in gods. It doesn't help that the gods are the only thing standing between mankind from such threats.
  • Fly By Night is a film that doesn't know whether to praise hip-hop or condemn it. It tends to flip-flop when it comes to criticizing Hardcore Hip-Hop, but it also seem to chastise Conscious Hip Hop, and Political Rap as well.
  • The multiple possible Aesops of KoyaanisqatsiHumans Are Bastards, The World Is Just Awesome, Green Aesop, etc. etc. etc. — are part of the point. Director Godfrey Reggio contends that whatever message the audience may find in it is completely their own choice.
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space positively revels in this to the point where, while you're sure the creator intends for you to take home some kind of message, it's impossible to work out just what that message is supposed to be. The aliens come to Earth to stop humanity from blowing up the universe, but they do this by, well, animating corpses and having them kill a few people. About the time you think old Ed Wood expects you to side with the aliens (not destroying the universe seems good), their destruction by the humans is presented as a happy ending. It doesn't help that all the characters are as incompetent as their creator. In the end, the only real moral you can take home from this film is that there are some films best watched with friends so you can laugh at them. It's a pretty good moral, but probably not what Wood intended.
  • Star Trek: Insurrection is a bit notorious in the fanbase for this. Is it about how racism is bad? Can't be, because most of the film is dedicated to a near-universally-evil gang of ugly mutants trying to screw over their distant kin. Is it about the return to nature and how Ludd Was Right? Well, no, because the heroes use all kinds of wacky technology to save the day and defeat the bad guys. Is it a metaphor for Indian relocation and the Trail of Tears? Then why are the people being relocated not actually natives, and why are they all white humans? Is it about the folly of greed? Then why is the resource over which people fight for something as universally valuable as a medical advancement?
  • Terminator: Not any individual entry in the series, but the franchise as a whole jumps between Screw Destiny and You Can't Fight Fate with regard to whether or not the heroes can stop Skynet from being built and initiating Judgment Day in which it kills off most of the human race. The first film has Skynet create a Stable Time Loop when Cyberdine uses a recovered piece of the Terminator it sent back to build what will become Skynet. The second film cancels this out, as the heroes have become wise about the Stable Time Loop and do everything they can to destroy all Terminator/Skynet technology that could be used to build Skynet. The 3rd film note  has Skynet activate and start Judgement Day later than originally fated but the message is it will still happen nonetheless. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles fleshes it out even further, showing Skynet using Time Travel to help create itself in the present day and sowing the seeds for Judgment Day to ensure that no matter how many alternate realities/futures are created by the heroes changing things in the present, Skynet is still the Big Bad.

  • One of Aesop's Fables themselves, namely "The Frogs Who Desired a King", is a grey area between this and Alternate Aesop Interpretation. Some frogs are bored and they decide that a king would provide entertainment, so they pray for one and get a log. They are unsatisfied so they pray for a new king and get a stork, who eats them. The moral could be taken as "kings are bad, don't look for authority" but it could also be "don't assign authority to someone you don't know the intentions of", "don't be demanding in your prayers/be satisfied with what you're given" or even "kings are superfluous—find something better to do." "Better the Devil You Know" is also a strong contender, as it is a recurring theme in other fables.
  • In the sixth book of Chronicles Of The Cheysuli, Keely — who is somewhat of an Indecisive Parody of a Rebellious Princess Action Girl to start with - is kidnapped, raped and impregnated by the Big Bad. After escaping, she is determined to have an abortion, but a lot of sympathetic characters — including the lir, who usually serve as the voice of wisdom in the series — tell her that Good Girls Avoid Abortion, giving the impression that the narrative wants us to agree. But then when Keely ignores them and goes to purchase an abortifacient, the herbalist refuses to sell it to her and acts like such a smug, sexist, slut-shaming Jerkass that it's hard to imagine we're not supposed to want to be on whichever side of the argument he's not on. And then, following some gratuitous Mind Rape by another villain, she has a Convenient Miscarriage anyway. So... was that a pro-life message? A pro-choice message? Just what was the point of any of it?
  • In the picture book The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, a girl named Beatrice is famous for never making any mistakes until one day she trips and drops some eggs but doesn't count that as her first mistake because she didn't break them (never mind that she didn't mean to trip), but it still worries her and when she makes a mistake at a talent show, she stops being concerned and joins in her brother Carl at making what the author calls "mistakes" but it's more like intentional wackiness. Is the moral to just accept that nobody's perfect? But don't you have a right to worry if you truly didn't make mistakes up until then because making mistakes isn't normal for you? And besides, she seemed perfectly happy until the egg incident. It could be not to pressure kids by telling them they don't make mistakes...but not many people actually do that and they weren't pressuring; they were observing. Perhaps it doesn't have a moral, but it still somehow feels like it's meant to have one.
  • The Giving Tree is about a boy who likes a tree but then takes its branches and eventually cuts it down as he grows up. At the end, he uses the stump to sit on because he is tired. It gives off a preachy vibe, but it's unclear what the moral is. Is it "don't take nature for granted"? It could also be "this boy/man didn't enjoy life" but that's not an Aesop. Then there's the author's claims that the tree was based on his mom, which just confuses things further. Maybe it isn't meant to have an aesop at all, and is just a heartwarming story about a person who gives and gives until they have nothing left to give?
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore's backstory reveals that he once wanted to oppress Muggles "for the greater good," which actually became the rallying cry of the previous Dark Lord. However, when Aberforth tries to argue that they shouldn't follow Dumbledore's instructions for these very reasons, Harry objects, saying that sometimes you really do have to do things for the greater good—and indeed, Harry later takes his faith so far that he lets Voldemort kill him (sort of). So... does "the greater good" work as a justification for one's actions or not?
  • In the children's book Not Quite Narwhal, a unicorn named Kelp is raised by narwhals and thinks he is one. He then meets some unicorns and realises he's a unicorn and when he tells the narwhals, they already know. He has trouble deciding whether to live with the unicorns or the narwhals, but then eventually they all decide to live on/near the beach. Taken at face value, this could mean "You can live in two places at once", but obviously you can't, so maybe it's an allegory— but for what? It could be adoption but he's stated to be born underwater and dislike narwhal food. It could be being LGBT+, but he doesn't like unicorns (equivalent to being gay or bi) or feel like he's trapped in the body of another species (equivalent to being trans) and the narwhals knew he was a unicorn from day one, so the real meaning of the story is a mystery.
  • In his book On Writing, Stephen King said one of the characters in The Stand was going to make an observation about the purpose of the events in one part of the book... only for King to realize he didn't have a convincing message handy. The character eventually ends up saying that he simply doesn't know.
  • In his novel Podkayne of Mars, Robert A. Heinlein was trying for an Aesop about the dangers of Hands-Off Parenting. However, until the Character Filibuster at the end, there's really nothing in the novel that suggests that the characters' parents lack of involvement was to blame for their problems — or even that, by today's standards, the parents were uninvolved to begin with.
  • In the children's book Potty, Poo-Poo, Wee-Wee, a young dinosaur named Littlesaurus is learning how to use his potty-chair but uses it for anything but pooping and peeing, poops on the floor and won't stop shouting the book's title in public despite the grown-ups (and his school friend) telling him that it is rude. Then, when his granny tells him that his dad was just the same at Littlesaurus's age, Littlesaurus starts using the potty and accepting that shouting out potty words is rude, but the adults all randomly shout out the book's title. So, is the moral not to tell children what to do because eventually, they'll learn better? But the adults proved otherwise by shouting the potty words. Is it that it's OK to shout potty words? But they do have a point about it being rude, and Littlesaurus eventually agrees it is. Is it to use the potty? Then there was no point in Granny Dinosaur saying that Dad was just the same. And if it's not to shout potty words, then the adults shouldn't have shouted the potty words at the end.
  • Ready Player One: Most of the events take place in an MMO Virtual Reality called the OASIS and focuses on a world-wide treasure hunt associated with '80s trivia. The main character spends most of his life in the OASIS, largely to avoid the Crapsack World he lives in (Post-Peak Oil world is not a nice place to live for most people). At the end, he seemingly figures out that Real Life is much better than the OASIS, but, if you're a reader, most of what you're read so far describes how beautiful and vibrant an environment the OASIS is, where things that divide us like race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation don't matter.
  • Parodied in A Series of Unfortunate Events. The series starts off meandering fairly aimlessly through satires of various unfortunate literary settings, with Book the Third Lampshade Hanging its lack of a meaningful aesop, but the later books begin to diverge wildly with mixed messages about what is justifiable in conflict; Book the Tenth resolves this, then Book the Twelfth forgets it was resolved, and Book the Thirteenth (and Last) concerns the impossibility of finding answers to the big questions in life, while ignoring most of the big questions in the series.
  • The Sands of Time. Setting aside the absolute failure that it is at depicting Spanish culture, history and politics (claims of research notwithstanding), it is clear that Sidney Sheldon wanted this to be more epic and meaningful than his other novels (e.g. the prologue expands the title to a statement about "leaving our prints in the sands of time", a.k.a. having a personal impact in History). Unfortunately the plot makes no sense, and the constant clueless references to John Donne and Ernest Hemingway don't help.
    • The execution of "heroic" Jaime Miró is supposed to be tragic, but it falls flat because he is guilty of dozens (or hundreds) of murders, including several innocent civilians killed in car bombings and the ridiculously over the top weaponization of the Running of the Bulls that opens the book. They try to excuse him by showing that he is shocked to see that there were civilian casualties in his indiscriminate attacks, but this just makes him dangerously dumb. And contrary to the prologue's message, his life has no impact, because the population is always 100% with the terrorists, would be even if he was never born, and his actions have no political consequences at all. Only character to change his mind is the Big Bad's aide who was somehow on board with killing and raping countless innocents but who thinks that executing a mass murderer is beyond the pale, and his only retribution is leaving the Big Bad's service. Then after 400 pages cheering for the terrorists, the epilogue references a (then recent) demonstration against terrorism in the Basque Country and ponders if the population doesn't actually like terrorists.
    • After experiencing life and romance outside the convent for the first time in decades, the nuns willingly return to the same life of reclusion, absolute silence and isolation that made them a target of the villains in the first place, for the rest of their lives. Besides misunderstanding what votes of silence actually are, this is supposed to be a happy ending. Or brave. Or meaningful. Or something.
  • Sheila Rae, the Brave: There isn't consensus as to what the moral is. Some people interpret it as "Don't be cocky", while others interpret it as "Even the bravest of people get scared sometimes".
  • The aesop of Tender is the Flesh is almost incomprehensible. The core conceit of the book is that when people are unable to consume animal meat, everyone turns to cannibalism, to the point where they raid funerals and autopsy tables just to get some kind of meat. So is it about the dangers of addiction, then? But then it can't be because there's farms that turn women into human cows and billionaires that brag about hunting indebted people for meat and for fun. But then all of the cows in the farms are female, so maybe it's a metaphor about how misogyny makes people see women as only objects, thus the livestock comparison? That'd make sense with the ending where the protagonist kills one of the cows after it's given a child to him and his wife, but that doesn't explain the amount of males that are also killed for meat or the scene where a group of teenagers murder puppies for no reason other than sadism. Or is it just a giant angry rant about how eating meat makes you an evil monster that loves hurting people for no reason?
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo is an old story about a Chinese boy with an Overly Long Name falling into a well and nearly drowning because it took a long time for his brother to say his name correctly. Some people see it as a porquoi story about why Chinese people have short names, but there's no historical evidence towards the Chinese ever having traditions about length of names. Some people think the moral is "Don't give your kid a long name", but that's a rather odd sort of moral. Others have interpreted the moral as "The superfluous makes for more trouble than it's worth" or "Don't make fun of others" (since Tikki made fun of Chang before falling into the well).
  • The Ugly Duckling: A bird spends its life thinking it's an ugly duckling but then it turns out to be a beautiful swan. Is the moral "Don't worry about your appearance since you may turn out beautiful when you're older" or is it "If you think you don't belong, maybe you're just in the wrong group"? Some have also taken it to mean "Don't judge based on appearances", but that would be undermined by him turning into a beautiful swan.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The show continuously flip-flops on its stance on the new way vs. the old way. On one hand, we have Buffy herself, who acts like no other Slayer before her, having family and friends. On the other hand, modern weaponry (that is, anything newer than bladed weaponry) is continuously said to be useless even though it would be quite useful (shotgun blast to the head of a vampire should at least lobotomize it, if not dust it and most guns could work wonders on demons). It gets even worse after they use a Rocket Launcher to destroy a demon that was unable to be destroyed by "any weapon forged".
    • It gets even worse with the introduction of "The Initiative". It is an effective anti-vampire unit, showing that ordinary humans can pull their weight in the fight against evil, except that it's a front for evil experiments, except that its founders were unaware of this, except they decide to scrap it anyway. Was there ever a point to it all except "Muggles will inevitably fuck everything up anyway, so they shouldn't even bother"?
    • "The Witch" starts off seeming to be about parental pressure, presenting us with a shy, sympathetic girl who has been bullied by her mother into joining the cheerleading squad and is so desperate not to fail she has been using witchcraft to injure and disfigure the other candidates. Then, it seems that the girl is just psychotic and her mother is actually living in fear of her. Then, it turns out that the mother has actually swapped bodies with her daughter and she's the one who's been off cheerleading and disfiguring while the daughter has been left trapped in her body. Which takes the initial theme of parents reliving their teenage years vicariously through their children to extremes but completely loses the theme of teenagers going to extreme lengths to satisfy overbearing parents.
    • Several times while exploring Willow and Tara's budding relationship, magic is used as a metaphor for sex, and witchcraft as lesbian sex specifically. Then suddenly Willow gets addicted to it and it's used as a metaphor for drug abuse. So... lesbian sex is drug abuse?
  • Doctor Who: "The Rebel Flesh" really feels like it should have a moral. Good luck figuring out what it is, though; bigotry prevents peace? You shouldn't kill a new lifeform unless you're the Doctor? You're dispensable if there's an identical copy of you around? Don't worry about being different because there's a cure for everything?
  • The Power Rangers Ninja Storm episode "All About Beevil" mostly acts as a warning against trusting people, seeing Dustin first lose his bike to a scammer (the guy promised to improve it, but when Dustin went to pick it up, all he found was an empty lot), then get backstabbed when he tried to help Marah through a Heel–Face Turn. But at the end as he's reeling from Marah's betrayal, the other Rangers remind him of decisions to trust that worked out, and the "scammer" returns the bike saying that the printers must have mixed up his address on his business card. Dustin sums up, "Sometimes you just gotta trust people!"
  • The Central Theme of Kamen Rider Zero-One is supposedly one against malice and revenge, but the story itself is spotty on how it portrays it. It features an arc revolving around a character the show encourages you to hate wherein the main characters get revenge on him for the wrongs he's inflicted on them over the course of the show, all while the viewer is encouraged to take joy in his misery. The final arc then switches to trying to do a moral about the Cycle of Revenge, but the problems the show portrays don't come from the revenge itself so much as Aruto using an Obviously Evil driver that actively corrupts its user to get his revenge, for no reason, when his Zero-Two Driver would have already been more than enough. The post-series Zero-One Others films then flip this theme on its head completely, and show the Cycle of Revenge the Big Bad starts as leading to the mutual destruction of opposing antagonistic factions, and laying the groundwork for peace.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Enterprise: "Hatchery" involves Archer stumbling upon a nest of Xindi eggs and trying to help them. Nobody else wants to help and at first, it's because they're prejudiced against Xindi, but then it turns into because he's neglecting his work...and then T'Pol and Malcolm try to take over the ship...and then it's revealed that Archer only wanted to help the Xindi eggs because he was affected by some sap that made him think he was their dad. So is the Aesop....Do be prejudiced against aliens? No, that's not like Star Trek. Helping baby animals makes you and everyone else go crazy? No, that doesn't even make sense. We only help animals because we think we're their parents? Who knows.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • Throughout "The Best of Both Worlds", Riker learns he has to be his own man if he wants to become a captain, which he does, succeeding in both saving Picard and beating the Borg, but after this episode, he goes back to being a Commander and second-in-command of the Enterprise, not having his own command again until Star Trek: Nemesis. And it's even worse when you consider the Expanded Universe which had Commander Shelby becoming a captain before him. Particularly egregious given that Riker had been formally promoted, not merely made an "Acting Captain"... and it had already been established that there's no rule against a ship's captain and first officer simultaneously holding the rank of Captain. Then again, it's stated many times that Riker can have his choice of command, but he only wants one ship. It's not until Nemesis that he finally decides that he's never going to get the Enterprise and should stick with the Titan instead.
      • The premise of "Ethics" is about Worf getting paralyzed from an accident in the cargo bay (something falling on him). He wants to be euthanized since culturally, Klingons (his species) euthanize people with serious injuries since they consider being crippled a dishonor. Picard, somewhat unusually, supports this, but Dr. Crusher doesn't; she believes that she can eventually get him to accept life with a disability (Picard explains to her that getting someone like Worf to let go of deeply held beliefs is WAY harder than she seems to think, but she apparently doesn't listen). A visiting doctor suggests an experimental procedure which could fully cure Worf, but Crusher finds it too risky (the other doctor freely admits to it having a very low success rate in trials on holographic patients). However, the other doctor does the procedure and Worf recovers. It feels like there should be an Aesop (or several) in there somewhere because most Star Trek episodes that focus on ethical concerns and/or serious topics like euthanasia tend to have them, however, it's unclear who you're meant to side with, or even if none or all of them are right. After all, the viewers clearly don't want Worf to die, but Star Trek typically does not go by the "ends justify the means" philosophy. It's also possible that there was never meant to be an Aesop as such - that the intent for the episode wasn't to take a side, but simply to make people think.
    • The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Obsession" is a monster-hunt story that revolves, for the most part, around Kirk's titular obsession with the monster. When the creature first attacked him and the ship he was serving on, 11 years earlier, he hesitated to fire at it and the creature killed half the ship's crew. In the episode itself, a young security officer on the Enterprise also hesitates when faced with the same creature, and the creature ends up killing several men. Both Kirk and the young officer blame themselves for their crewmates' deaths, and there is plenty of angst over the matter. How is this solved? Turns out that the creature is immune to phasers, and neither of the two men could've stopped it when they had the chance. The Aesop that was being set up is that "humans hesitate by nature, sometimes it can't be helped, and you can't spend your life blaming yourself for it". This is even outright explained by Spock. However it ends up being something like "failure is sometimes okay in hindsight" — which is no Aesop at all. Needless to say, once the creature is revealed to be nigh-invulnerable, the episode proceeds with the monster-hunt and never touches on any of this in any way.
  • During Stargate SG-1's Early-Installment Weirdness period, the episode "The First Commandment" had the commander of another SG team go nuts offworld and make himself the God-Emperor of the local human tribe. The aesop for this episode, according to Jack O'Neill, is "Thou Shalt Not Kill",note  arguing that every time you do, you get a little closer to being the aforementioned Monster of the Week. In and of itself this is already a Broken Aesop considering the villain was killed by his worshipers when they turned against him, but this message is placed in a Military Science Fiction series where the protagonists are literally US Air Force personnel and are in combat roughly every other episode. The series rarely attempted an outright "message episode" ever again.
  • In The West Wing, Josh meets with a gay Republican congressman who's there to convince him that the president should sign rather than veto a bill defining marriage at the federal level as being between a man and a woman. The way this is framed at first is with the congressman confirming that yes, he supports this bill, and yes, he's gay. They debate both the ideology and the politics of the situation in a series of scenes, and in the end Josh asks him how he can be a Republican. He explains that he agrees with most Republican positions and considers them to outweigh the one position he doesn't, and implies that he's hoping to change the party's attitude toward gays from the inside. This is treated as some kind of revelation for Josh... but his question and the congressman's answer don't really reflect the conflict brought up in that initial exchange, which is of a gay man supporting this particular bill. He's supposed to be a sympathetic character, but the overall impression given is that he doesn't agree with the bill at all and was just lying out of party allegiance, which is generally frowned on by this show, and letting himself be used by his fellow Republicans.

  • Eminem's "Square Dance" contains a direct passage encouraging his young fans not to get drawn into the War on Terror... buried in the middle of references to Eminem's beef with Canibus ("Canibitch"), death and rape threats directed to nobody in particular, ridiculous boasting about his wealth, Eminem rhyming things with disc scratching noises and singing in various silly accents, and several passages of gibberish. This is a huge part of the song's charm, as it ends up feeling less like he was trying to make a political statement and more like he's just reeling off whatever thoughts he has in his extremely strange brain.

    Video Games 
  • PETA's Dark Parody of Cooking Mama, Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals, comes off as an attempt to show the evils of eating meat; however, the game itself really only gives the aesop "Turkey meat comes from turkeys, And That's Terrible." The game was so hilariously bad, Majesco had the Cooking Mama character issue a response, knowing there was no way anybody was going to take it seriously.
  • Borderlands 3 suffers from this due to cut story beats, with the two most prominent (supposed) themes of the game being "the Passing of the Torch" and "Always run towards the fire (i.e. danger)". However, these two themes are barely touched upon with the story not being clear in what the audience should take away, both because most of the new characters barely play an important role in the story, and if the audience should believe that Lilith decision to step away from the fighting after losing her Siren powers was correct or not since most of the cast supports her decision or at least can see why she did it while Tagalong Kid Ava condemns her for leaving the fight (which she blames for her teacher and fellow Siren Maya's death even though it was her fault for disobeying her orders), with the game seemingly proving Ava right in her condemnation of Lilith as she leaves the Crimson Raiders under Ava's leadership and does a Heroic Sacrifice to prevent the destruction of Pandora, something that was barely foreshadowed in the story. This problem came due to the developers cutting crucial character development for both Ava and Lilith due to the length of the cutscene and not wanting to slow the pacing of the game.
  • Fate/Grand Order: The Tunguska Sanctuary event tries to have some kind of Aesop about nature and humanity, but what the message is gets lost by the end. It initially seems to be saying Humans Are Flawed and cause destruction, and should be more caring to nature, complete with overt allegorical monsters that are basically walking and living guns, but the Big Bad of the chapter is revealed to have actually been born from all the animals that died during the Tunguska incident, which is something even in the Fate universe that had nothing to do with humans, and was a freak accident caused seemingly by a meteor entering the atmosphere near the area. Due to this, and the Big Bad being a cruel and harsh threat to humanity while acknowledging that humans weren't responsible for the Tunguska incident, the intended message goes from Humans Are Flawed to some kind of confused and unclear attempt at saying "Humans Are Flawed but are part of nature" message, before getting lost in the attempt to resolve the conflict.
  • Injustice 2 tries to have it both ways with its examination of the Regime and the Insurgency. The game makes it clear that first, the villains of the DCU need to be stopped, that Arkham Asylum, the Phantom Zone and other cardboard institutions aren't stopping them, and that the Regime's brutal methods have been effective in putting the Joker and other villains down for keeps. By the same token, this willingness to kill has desensitized the heroes of the Regime to violence, turning them into murderous tyrants who are just as willing to kill heroes who get in their way. In the end, the game ends up with an inversion of Both Sides Have a Point: the Regime are bad guys, but the Insurgency has no answer to the question "so what do we do instead?" Accordingly, the actual message of the game is a muddle.
  • Thief. They are definitely trying to make some kind of point involving paganism, science and Christianity, but it's a bit hard to work out exactly what simply because of the way it all comes together. The most you can really pull from it is that there are no real bad guys, just people who are ruled by fanaticism. You can't really say that the message is that the Hammers (the Christian analog faction) are bad, since they're temperamental overzealous good guys that help you beat the first game. You can't say the Pagans are bad, despite them being the villains of the first game, since they are shown to be sympathetic people (the massacre of Pagan women and children by Mechanists, and a certain book in a rotting house being good examples) who help you beat the second game in much the same way as the Hammers did in the first. We can't even say that the game is pro- or anti-science, since the Mechanists are villains obsessed with technology, but the Hammers are pretty obsessed by it too. It's not even clear if the Mechanists are an analog for communist fanatics, atheist fanatics, scientific fanatics, or religious ones. So, in the end the message is probably 'beware of getting ideological about stuff'. Or something.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • "Don't Hug Me I'm Scared 3" parodies this with a fake parable, that's supposedly about how everyone has a special person to love. However...
    This is the story of Michael, the ugliest boy in town
    Ugly and weak, they called him a freak
    So he lived on his own underground
    He lived on his own underground
    Shrignold: You see? Everyone has a special one.
    Rabbit: Even Michael!
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
    • Played for laughs in the Christmas Special "You're a Rotten Dirty Bastard", in which Santa Christ tells a story that turns out to be a bizarre parody of It's a Wonderful Life, culminating in the Nostalgia Critic being betrayed by and subsequently murdering his own Guardian Angel, then becoming even more selfish than ever. The special ends with Santa Christ staring off into space in confusion over just what the moral was.
    • In the actual series itself, the Critic was supposed to grow and evolve to be more understanding (more like the real Doug in other words) while in the plot hole. Ultimately, he came out even more of a Jerkass than when he went in. We don't see much of that evolution with the possible exception of his review of Timothy Green (which took place right after "The Review Must Go On") where he does express understanding of the hard work of the writers and actors at the end (but then again, he does the same thing in his earlier reviews like of Casper), he's actually much harsher in a lot of his reviews and more of a Jerkass to his friends than before. Given that Demo Reel was cancelled because people really wanted the Critic back, this might be more Doug taking his frustration out in his show than anything else.
  • Jon Bois lampshades this in his video "The Search for the Saddest Punt in the World", a listing of various times in football where a team should clearly have tried to advance the ball or gone for a field goal rather than punting. He spends most of the video explaining these instances as a cautionary tale, where players were so cowardly that they Gave Up Too Soon and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, proclaiming that "this is what losing teams do"... then, at the end, he reveals that, of the ten instances listed, six ended in victory for the punters, one was a tie, and of the three that lost, one followed up that game with a ten-game winning streak, made it to the Super Bowl, and won. He concludes that he has no idea what he's trying to say.
  • Parodied by A Trailer for Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever, where one inspiring aesop after the other is thrown at the audience until you can't really tell anymore what the message actually is.
  • Discussed in Atop the Fourth Wall: Linkara's primary criticisms of JLA: Act of God was its inability to hold on to a single message. At some points, the comic seemed to be anti-vigilante, critiquing superheroes for their "arrogance," but at other points in the stories, it seems to imply that it is the responsibility of any socially conscious individual to take matters into their own hands. Sometimes it explains the importance of working within the system and at other times people who do so are only too scared to break out of it. At no point does it give a consistent, clear message to its readers.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time is full of these; intentionally, as often as not, especially one episode where Jake explicitly declares that there was a lesson to be learned and he avoided it.
    • The episode "My Two Favorite People" lampshaded the hell out of this trope at the end, first by having Jake put forth the Aesop that he was wrong to be jealous of his best friend Finn establishing a platonic relationship with Lady Rainicorn, Jake's girlfriend. Jake admits he was stupid, and then...
      Jake: Let's never be stupid again.
      Finn: No, let's always be stupid, forever!
    • "Another Way" also deserves special mention for how hard it decides to zig-zag its Aesop in the last few minutes. Throughout the episode, Finn is repeatedly told that "it's the only way" when confronted with an unpleasant necessity or a choice between unpleasant options. Every time, he shouts, "No! MY WAY!" and Takes a Third Option. The moral seems to be something about believing in one's own judgment or persevering in the face of discouragement or maybe rejecting false dilemmas... at least until Finn's way results in the death of an innocent bystander and he sings a sad song about how he was wrong. So the moral is about humility and avoiding rash actions that could hurt others... maybe? Nope. Finn goes on "his way" again and finds a cure-all that revives the dead bystander and everyone else who was hurt early in the episode. So we're back to the first moral, until Jake rejects Finn's miracle cure for absolutely no reason and prefers to stick to the one Finn found so objectionable at the beginning of the episode, which now Finn decides to accept. Whew.
  • Arthur:
    • "Buster's Dino Dilemma" sees Buster taking an interest in dinosaurs. When the class goes to a dig site to look for fossils, they are told that they can't take anything with them. Buster is offended and smuggles the fossil under his hat. This bothers Buster, as he feels guilty about stealing, which makes it seem like the moral is not to steal. When he caves in and gives it back, however, he gets rewarded with the park ranger calling him a "genius" and displaying his fossil with a nameplate saying he discovered it. As such, it's hard to tell if it was a broken anti-stealing Aesop, an Aesop about how telling the truth doesn't always affect you negatively, or if there wasn't even any Aesop.
    • In-universe in "D.W., Queen of the Comeback". Mrs. MacGrady uses an Indian fable telling about the dangers of seeking revenge, that needing to get the last word in can only harm you. Since the story gets cut off before the lesson can be explained, D.W. interprets it at its most literal: "keep the stick in your mouth when you're flying with geese". She then meets the characters from the fable in a dream that night and realizes what the true moral is.
  • Parodied in The Amazing World of Gumball episode The Gripes, where Gumball and Darwin's petty griping leads to a crowd of people thinking they're living in a desperately poor and broken home, and pull together a large amount of money to help them, but threaten to turn into an angry mob on the two for "lying" to them about their situation, despite them trying to clear up the misunderstanding from the beginning. Leading to the duo having to trash their home to point that they actually do need the money to fix things. After all is said and done, Gumball tries to find the moral he learned from this to help appease the mob: First, he says to never complain about what you have, but realizes that's unreasonable. Second, he says to watch what you say, but no one could have reasonably expected his and Darwin's petty complaints to land them in this situation. Third try is to not make assumptions, but that's not the lesson he had to learn here. Finally he tries to pull a Be Yourself aesop out of nowhere before just giving up, thanking the crowd for the money needed to fix his family's home as he swipes it, before joining the rest of his family inside.
    Gumball: Uh, I don't know, maybe the lesson is sometimes, when people do stuff, things happen and it kind of goes nowhere.
  • An episode of The Boondocks animated series comes to mind, first presenting the Aesop of "You can't engage in racial profiling, it's just wrong in multiple senses of the word" when an innocent, intelligent, and very moral black prosecutor gets arrested and psychologically coerced and tricked into confessing to the "Xbox murder" that he never committed, because he was black... only to just minutes later reveal that a bunch of random middle-eastern men who seem to be innocent store owners are actually a terrorist front... oh wait, they're not really terrorists, just stereotypical Middle Easterners packing heavy firepower for self-defense but everyone believes they're terrorists because Ed Wuncler is the son of a rich white man and therefore could never have been committing armed robbery against the store owners. We never truly find out if they're terrorists or just overly-cautious store owners and the Xbox killer is caught offscreen after he killed another victim, which makes it unclear if the message is that racial bias is right or wrong. The episode was a Lost Aesop on purpose: it was meant to be a satire of the Iraq War in which the Middle Eastern shopkeeper represented Saddam Hussein, so the idea with him was "He's a rotten person and the world's probably better without him in power, but he wasn't remotely involved in the crime we thought he was and we broke the law by going after him." Which is a valid message, but the way it was pulled off was still at odds with the other "racial profiling" plot and it was so incredibly dense that most viewers didn't get the message.
  • One episode of Craig of the Creek focuses on Craig being the only healthy kid left when a germ starts going around. He is led to believe that it was a Be Careful What You Wish For type curse after wishing that he wasn't surrounded by kids who eat gross things. It's framed as an I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham routine, but it doesn't take a detective to figure out that being a picky eater was what protected him from the sickness.
  • In Family Guy episode "Stew-Roids", the Alpha Bitch Connie D'Amico starts dating Chris as part of a Pygmalion Plot bet, but when he treats her kindly and with respect she abandons the bet and starts dating him for real. Chris gets spillover popularity from dating Connie, which results in him becoming an asshole and breaking her heart. Rather than exploring this idea (that pretty people aren't always jerks and that popularity can go to anyone's head), the rest of the plot focuses on Connie trying to win back her popularity (and shitting on Meg after she helps her reset the status quo, because the status quo involves shitting on Meg for being Meg) purely for comedic purposes.
    • The episode "And Then There's Fraud" has Peter and Chris selling fake sports memorabilia. During the episode they sell a fake hat they claims belonged to Chesley Burnett Sullenberger or "Sully", and Quagmire buys it as he idolizes Sully. Peter and Chris try to intercept Quagmire before he gets it autographed because they know Sully will expose its a fake, but they're surprised when Sully lies about its authenticity, admitting to Peter and Chris that it was clear the hat meant a lot to Quagmire so he felt no need to dash his happiness. At the episode wrapup, Peter admits he learned it's wrong to sell fake memorabilia, but Chris points out they never got caught, made bank, and there's nothing stopping them from doing it some more. Ultimately Peter realizes he didn't actually learn a lesson, and agrees as they begin making more fake stuff.
  • Futurama:
    • "Amazon Women in the Mood" seems to attempt some kind of Aesop about the futility of the battle of the sexes... which is slightly deflated by leaning on a lot of sexist humor (the men are suddenly played as universally Straw Misogynist, and the Space Amazon society is every lazy female stereotype put into an alien context) and Double Standard Rape: Female on Male. There's a bit of mitigation in that Kif is legitimately horrified by the idea of "Death by Snu-Snu", but only because he's effeminate, cementing the idea that A Man Is Always Eager even when it will kill him.
    • "Neutopia" seems to set up an anti-misogyny message in the first act as the Planet Express women are subjected to unfair workplace policies, being obligated to pose for a Charity Workplace Calendar to raise cash for the company. However, this gets lost as the episode takes a sharp turn for stereotypical gender humor about men and women, and after some alien shenanigans involving genital erasure and gender-bending, the only real lesson seems to be that these gender stereotypes are real, but worth it because men and women enjoy having sex. The workplace sexualization angle does come back as the gender-bent men are forced into the same degrading scenario as the women... but it's played exclusively for laughs and the men-as-women seem to actually enjoy it, undermining the intended karmic impact.
  • An episode of the short-lived 2007 George of the Jungle series has George contract a rash called "Itchy Swell-itis". The only cures are to down a bitter-tasting medicine or refrain from scratching it. Since George lacks the self-control to do either, his friends step in via a Cone of Shame. This causes George to think that being "supportive" means not letting someone do what they want, and flees, discovering a hidden utopia full of animals in the same boat as he, and happily spend their lives perpetually scratching themselves. Thus, George rouses them all to band together and teach their friends the error of their supportive ways. Now you're probably thinking the Aesop will be something along the lines of "sometimes it is necessary to endure unpleasant things," or "what you want and what you need are often two different things, and those who care about you have to put what's needed first." However, never once is there shown a downside to scratching at a jungle rash the rest of one's life, and George's friends pretend to be swayed by their performance, only to trick them into taking the medicine.
  • Hello Kitty: The episode "Replying Properly" begins with a rather obvious Aesop about "always answer when someone calls your name", but then it turns into "slang is bad" (i.e. Mama Cat saying "shouldn't you say 'yes' instead of 'uh-huh'?"), which escalates when a monster appears who gets bigger when he hears 'yeah, what?', but smaller when he hears 'yes'. Then, they all play hide-and-seek and Kitty answers upon being called, giving herself away, so...don't call someone's name when they're playing hide-and-seek.
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002) probably sets the record for aesop being lost 5 seconds after being presented. One episode involves Orko being assigned to make the palace garden bloom again. After several catastrophic failures, he heads out to find help, and in doing so unwittingly unleashes the Sealed Evil in a Can Monster of the Week. Once the crisis is averted (with help from a newly arriving hero), Orko admits in the final scene that tending a garden is too much for him, and Man-At-Arms turns this into An Aesop: knowing what you can and can't do is a sign of maturity. One line of dialogue later, He-Man adds that if you try your hardest, you can accomplish anything—a Stock Aesop that effortlessly contradicts the entirety of the episode's plot up to that point, including the already-delivered moral.
  • In the episode "Invasion from Below" from the Hero Factory animated specials, monsters are attacking the city after a drilling team has disturbed their nest. The Heroes are dispatched to defeat them, but Breez discovers that they only want to be left alone, and convinces her partners to put down the weapons because violence is not a solution. Sure enough, the monsters turn peaceful and return to their nest. Just then, one of the monsters accidentally steps on a gun, firing it off and making the queen beast think the Heroes have fooled them. So the Heroes beat them, the queen, the monsters, their eggs and the entire nest fall into acid, and... celebration, the end.
  • Justice League:
    • "A Better World" averted this in the finished product, but lost its Aesop when they were writing it. Batman and an overly enthusiastic version of Batman from a parallel world are engaged in a freedom vs. safety debate. When writing the exchange, the writers intended to have the "real" Batman win with his freedom argument; however, when they gave the "evil" Batman a line about how things like the murder of the Wayne family will never happen again in the "evil" Batman's world, the writers could not think of any retort for the "good" Batman to make. They had meant for him to win the argument, but ended up convincing themselves that the "evil" argument was the right one (at least from the perspective of the two Batmen). Thankfully, they developed a retort for a later scene which featured one of the downsides of the totalitarian regime (someone getting carted away by the police simply for contesting a restaurant bill), and the final episode maintained its "Safety at all costs is not worth the price" message.
      Lord!Batman: Just drive.
    • Unlimited Seasons One and Two: Even the writers admit that they had written themselves into a corner concerning whether or not superheroes were a good or a bad thing, which was the driving question of the two-season long Myth Arc. Then the space alien computer showed up and few cared until they reached the fridge. According to DVD commentary, the creators eventually decided that they believed a super powered vigilante organization like the Justice League would be bad in the real world, but good to have around in a world with supervillains.
  • The Loud House episode "One Flu Over the Loud House" is about the Loud family getting the flu one by one, while Lincoln treats it as a zombie apocalypse and Leni claims that they should take care of them instead. Lincoln is usually the voice of reason while Leni is dumb, but on the other hand, Leni is also known for being the kindest Loud and at the end, Lincoln puts himself in front of Luna's snot to (unsuccessfully) protect Leni because he believes he was being mean and she deserves to be healthy more than him and at the end Clyde says that "just because the Louds are infected [with the flu virus] doesn't mean they're not human". However, the Louds really were acting like zombies while sick and at the end, the whole family got sick anyway. So it's hard to tell if we were meant to side with Lincoln, with Leni, or if there was no moral.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, it's part of the premise that each story has an Aesop stated outright at the end. The writers can usually handle this pretty well, even though the episodes can be about anything, but they can't all be gems. Sometimes, perhaps, the story would work better without the obligatory Aesop, and it shows. ("Lesson Zero" even has a plot revolving around Twilight Sparkle going crazy over not having found any Aesop to report to her mentor like she's supposed to.)
    • In "Feeling Pinkie Keen", Twilight Sparkle is repeatedly skeptical and surprised at correlations between Pinkie Pie's physiology and imminent future events; depending on the series of nerve sensations and muscle spasms, seemingly unconnected events can be predicted. After trying and failing to get concrete data on Pinkie's predictions, Twilight defaults to being an Agent Scully for most of the episode, until at the end she's forced to accept the phenomenon she's actually been seeing all the time with her own eyes "on faith". The point is actually stated as being that you can accept some things even if you don't understand them, but Twilight wasn't even trying to understand anything for most of the time, just to deny it. After people noted the apparent message that science can't explain everything and therefore you should believe in some paranormal things or something similar, Word of God admitted that the Aesop had gotten lost along the way. Then again, the comment by Lauren Faust about what it was really supposed to be aboutnote  still sounded like a lost Aesop and hardly made the matter much clearer. Perhaps more to the point was her saying that it was supposed to be a funny episode about the characters' personalities interacting.
    • "Over a Barrel" is about a conflict between settler ponies and Native American themed buffalo. The historical treatment of Native Americans certainly can't be discussed in it, so the conflict is one of misunderstanding and conflict of interest between equally powerful parties. But really it just seems like an excuse to put the ponies in a Wild West setting for some reason. Pinkie Pie tries to solve the situation by singing an extremely naïve song about how "You gotta share, you gotta care" that only escalates the conflict. However, the parties are actually quite willing to compromise as soon as they figure out how. The conflict is solved mainly because it wasn't that bad to begin with. The official Aesop at the end, then, is pretty vacuous, and ends with "You've got to share; you've got to care." (Pinkie Pie: "Hey! That's what I said!") If it's not a stealth Spoof Aesop, it's kind of confusing as to whether or not it's good to assume that everyone can just be nice and get along. The Aesop could be taken as "Everyone can be nice and get along, but only if they actually work out the details of whatever they're arguing about. Vapid slogans alone won't do the trick."
    • "A Friend in Deed" spends 90% of its runtime setting the morals that "you can't force someone to be your friend" and "some people just need their personal space, and that's okay", as shown by Pinkie stopping at nothing to get Cranky to be her friend and refusing to leave him alone until he does. Then in the last five minutes she succeeds in becoming his friend through sheer force of will by realizing that another character introduced only in this episode was Cranky's long lost love. It takes the previous moral and tacks a sort of "except when you do something really nice for them!" onto it, muddling the intent somewhat. Perhaps the moral is actually "Sometimes making a friend takes longer than you'd expect", or "Just because someone is cranky doesn't mean they're all bad".
    • "Princess Spike" can't seem to make up its mind at all which aesop it wants to teach. It begins with Spike going to ludicrous lengths, including making questionable decisions on her behalf to preserve the silence so Twilight Sparkle can sleep, then abruptly leaps to him forgetting all about keeping it quiet and instead abusing his relationship with her to solicit freebies from others, then all hell breaks loose when the things he tried to do to keep things quiet (the selfish stuff goes without consequence) causes a huge mess, and then out of nowhere ends on the moral "when we all do our part everything works out in the end" which really had nothing to do with anything and actually conflicts with what was presented in the episode.
    • "The Washouts" offers a two-for-one deal on Lost Aesops:
      • When Scootaloo accepts an offer to join the titular stunt team, Rainbow Dash's objection is portrayed as largely selfish (with her mostly objecting to Scootaloo idolizing someone other than herself). At the same time, she expresses legitimate safety concerns with Scootaloo performing the kinds of stunts they do, and the Washouts openly scoffing at the very idea of safety rules. At first, the episode takes a more or less balanced approach, with Rainbow Dash being advised to set a good example and let Scootaloo make her own decisions. Yet right after Rainbow Dash reluctantly respects her choice, all that goes out the window when Lightning Dust forces Scootaloo to perform a stunt she had no hope of surviving (if not for Rainbow rescuing her). All of the nuance they had going on was abandoned in favor of reducing the Washouts to generic cartoon villains.
      • Scootaloo's motivation for joining the Washouts introduces the issue of finding something worthwhile to do with one's life in spite of a disability - she had accepted that there was no chance of her following Rainbow Dash into the Wonderbolts (on account of her being unable to fly), and found the Washouts to be a satisfying second choice. This issue gets utterly abandoned when Lightning Dust nearly gets her killed. The show never answers what exactly Scootaloo is supposed to do with her life if the Wonderbolts are a no-go and what she thought to be a worthy alternative is also bad. There's also the fact that this is an unusually heavy issue for something as lighthearted as My Little Pony. That sort of thing that tends to grab the audience's attention, making it especially bad form to just throw it away.
  • The Patrick Star Show: Lampshaded in "Enemies a la Mode". The episode is about Patrick getting revenge on the ice cream truck guy, while Squidina talks to her family members and learns about their rivalries. When Squidina closes off the episode, she says that she hopes the audience learned a lot about enemies... or ice cream... or toaster repair, effectively admitting that there was no moral to the story.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998) "Imaginary Fiend." The episode was about a boy who made an imaginary friend, only the imaginary friend turned out to be real. He was still imaginary, but he could move things without being seen. In the end, the Powerpuff Girls invented their own imaginary friend to fight him. In the beginning, the moral appeared to be "Don't invent an imaginary friend to blame on your actions," but even Bubbles said it "Wasn't (Mike's) fault, he was evil to begin with." In the end, the message seemed to be when you can't battle an imaginary-realistic friend, invent your own.
    Buttercup: But from now on, um, uh... from now on, um, uh, I can't think of anything.
  • Recess had quite a few of these in its time:
    • One episode had the children stuck inside for recess because it was raining outside. Miss Finster is delighted about this, hoping that keeping the children off the playground will turn them into mindless zombies as it did with a previous class of hers. TJ eventually gives an impassioned speech about how it's just water and can't hurt them before veering off into how adults are using the rain as an excuse to tell them what to do. He and the gang go outside to play in the rain and the sun comes out, and at the end of the episode, they are implied to have gotten sick from playing in the rain. So was the lesson "don't be afraid of water", "don't let adults tell you what to do", "staying indoors for too long will turn you into a zombie", "playing in the rain will make the sun come out", "playing in the rain will make you sick"... you'll get a headache if you try to figure it out.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Blood Feud" deliberately invoked a Lost Aesop, when the family considered various morals to the story, and then realized that no, something happened that didn't fit, before eventually concluding "It was just a bunch of stuff that happened."
    • Another deliberate example in "Itchy and Scratchy The Movie":
      Homer: You know, when I was a boy I really wanted a catcher's mitt, but my dad wouldn't get it for me. So I held my breath until I passed out and banged my head on the coffee table. The doctor thought I might have brain damage.
      Bart: Dad, what's the point of this story?
      Homer: I like stories.
    • In "Homer and Apu", after losing the one chance for Apu to get his job at the Kwik-E-Mart back, Homer attempts to cheer Apu up by telling him his life philosophy, "Life is just one crushing defeat after another until you just wish Flanders was dead."
    • Parodied yet again in "Homer Goes to College". Homer announces he learned the values of diligence and study, while the nerds learned to enjoy the outside world. The nerds point out that they hated the outside world, and Lisa reminds Homer that he cheated to get a passing grade, so nobody learned anything. Marge then demands Homer take the course again, so he can actually get something out of it this time. (Funnily, the actual moral of the episode is a lot simpler: "don't assume College Is "High School, Part 2".")
    • In "Homer Simpson in: 'Kidney Trouble'", Grampa Simpson's kidneys explode, so Homer has to donate a kidney but wusses out, so they perform the surgery against his will. Is the moral about empathy? Well, no, because Homer runs away and leaves his father to die (twice, and never feels remorse about doing so). Is it about the comeuppance of an Asshole Victim? Well, not really, since nonconsensual surgery is hardly better than what Homer did. Is it a serious exploration of declining health? Probably not, because the entire impetus for Grampa's kidney failure is Homer wouldn't let him go to the bathroomnote . So is it just absurd Black Comedy in a World of Jerkass? Most likely, but the episode treats the fact that Grampa is suffering and probably going to die in a 100% serious fashion. It seems like the only purpose of the episode is to establish Homer as a terrible person.
  • South Park:
    • Played for laughs in "Cartmanland": when Kyle loses his faith in God, his parents read him the story of Job to change his mind. However, they forget to mention the part where Job's faith is rewarded after all his hardship, so Kyle is left thinking that the story is about God allowing a good man to suffer just to prove a point to the Devil.
    • The whole of Season 20 was very muddled because of Donald Trump's unexpected victory that caused the episodes' scripts to be rewritten on the fly, so whatever they wanted to say about cyberbullying ended up becoming very confusing. Gerald as an internet troll causes a lot of mayhem including suicide, but ultimately saves everyone by defeating a bigger troll who wanted to cause World War III and suffers no repercussions whatsoever for what he's done. Said troll after the reveal has no personality or motivation outside of doing things For the Evulz and as such is just a caricature. Meanwhile, the other cyberbullies that are portrayed in a more sympathetic way, i.e. lashing out at the world that always treated them as outcasts to hide their pain, are completely forgotten about once they are imprisoned in the TrollTrace headquarters and their motivations are never explored. In the end it's not clear what the show's stance on trolling and cyberbullying is, other than its usual point that Humans Are Bastards.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: "A Place for Pets" isn't sure what message it wants to communicate. Mr. Krabs allows pets to dine in at the Krusty Krab so he can earn more money. Legitimate concerns are brought up with the health inspector, who points out how unsanitary this is, and Squidward, who suffers allergic reactions from the pets. Due to this, Krabs bans people from buying food there, making it exclusively a pet restaurant. The customers are forced to eat at the Chum Bucket (why they can't just go to any other restaurant or buy food from the grocery store is unexplained). Eventually, the health inspector turns out to be a hypocrite who snuck in disguised as a pet to eat there. Everyone calls him out for this, to which he wins them over with a song called "Pets Are People Too"; the lyrics describe that pets should be treated as equal to humans, and many of the customers adopt pets during the song due to their common interests. This fails to address any of the initial problems that were brought up, and it's clear that Krabs only did it for money rather than genuinely caring about pets.
  • The episode "Defenders of Peace" of Star Wars: The Clone Wars seemed to be all over the place with its moral. Half the time, the moral seems to be that it is wrong to try and force pacifists into a war, but the other half of the time, it seems to be saying pacifists are cowardly pussies and if war comes your way, you should pick a side, like it or not. The episode really had two protagonist groups who each learned a different lesson ("Don't drag other people into your problems" for the Jedi and "Once you've been dragged into a problem, ignoring it won't make it go away" for the pacifists). It's a problem shared by most non-propaganda war stories where the good guys need to look like heroes without glorifying war: ultimately, the moral comes down to "Fighting is bad; losing is worse."
  • Parodied in one episode of Teen Titans, where Robin argues that the moral is that too much TV is bad for you since the villain of the week used television to attack them. However Starfire points out that this can't be correct since Beast Boy's knowledge of TV conventions was the only thing that allowed the Titans to defeat said villain. This causes the other Titans to decide that there wasn't a moral, with Cyborg cheerfully declaring, "It was all completely meaningless." Ironically, the episode has a valid aesop about properly expressing one's love for their hobby: Both Control Freak and Beast Boy are knowledgeable in pop culture from watching TV, but BB uses his knowledge to help and save the day from the threat CF posed with his knowledge.
  • The Thomas & Friends special Misty Island Rescue. The film is supposedly about making good decisions... only the writers themselves can't seem to decide whether or not Thomas should make decisions and think for himself, and the other characters never seem to object to Thomas's stupid choices, making the whole thing quite vague. The nearest to an accurate evaluation is when the Locos suggest to Thomas to simply accept you'll make bad choices every once in a while (though since this was in reaction to a feat that almost got them lost in the middle of nowhere forever even that might not be the best evaluation).
  • A The Weekenders episode opens with Tish distraught that her report card has a negative comment about her being too much of a perfectionist. Later, the other guys ask her to paint a seaweed statue for an auction. She paints the statue, saying, "It's not perfect, but it's good enough..." but then she decides that a different kind of seaweed would work better for the statue, and she ends up returning the statue unpainted because she didn't have time to paint the rebuilt statue. After the auction, Tish is disappointed at her perfectionism streak screwing up the job... and then one of the teachers buys up the statue. The ep ends with her straightening up the shot before the usual "Later days!" It could be taken as saying not to get too hung up on being perfect, because the finished product is still good, which would be a better message to send than just "don't try too hard to be perfect," because some perfectionists try so hard because they think they'll outright fail otherwise. If Tish's statue hadn't sold, it would have confirmed that not being perfect made it a failure, but as it is, it shows that Tish still succeeded while managing to let it go.
  • In the Willa's Wild Life episode "Feathered Friends", the penguins Inky, Blinky, and Bob invite three penguin friends over for a party at their new place, a winter wonderland they created in the attic of Willa's house. These "friends" not only treat Willa and the other animals like non-entities, they invite over a large number of penguins that Inky, Blink, and Bob don't recognize and proceed to have a large party, excluding Inky, Blink, and Bob's other animal friends. It's not clear whether this was supposed to be an Aesop about being careful that some who call you friends may just be using you. There were additional elements of the Aesop about impressing others that are more interested in what you have than who you are (a phenomenon that continues to be prevalent in many society circles, and the guest penguins did have stereotypical Hollywood New England names like Smitty, Henry, and Boomton). Curiously, enough, Smitty, Henry, and Boomton remained silent during their time onscreen as did all of the other guest penguins. Inky, at least felt that because those so called "friends" were also penguins, they'd be cool with Willa and the rest of the gang. This suggests a not often taken approach on the issue of racism, where you find out that your old group of friends may not like your other group of friends because your new group of friends includes individuals of the wrong race. However, the guest penguins behavior towards Willa and the other animals wasn't so much hostile, but just snobbish and distant (at one point, a guest penguin treats Willa as if she were a servant giving her a fishbone to throw away without so much as acknowledging her). Inky's description of them as friends seems as an Informed Attribute. This is a case where dialogue and character background from the guest penguins would have probably cleared things up.
  • The X-Men: Evolution episode "Walk on the Wild Side" seems to start out with a "girl power" message, as the female mutants form a crime-fighting team after they get fed up of not being appreciated after Scott's Chronic Hero Syndrome causes him to act like a shining knight and unthinkingly ruins the Aesop Jean was trying to teach Amara. Towards the ending, Cyclops and Nightcrawler decide to spy on the girls as they track down and confront a gang. The girls finally call it quits when a female police officer tells them that what they're doing is wrong... But after they leave, the policewoman turns out to be Mystique in disguise.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Lost Moral, Forgotten Aesop


Homer likes stories

Bart has been banned from seeing the Itchy & Scratchy movie, so Homer tries to get him to feel better by sharing the story of when he didn't get a catcher's mitt as a child. Unfortunately, there was no moral for Bart to learn.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / LostAesop

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