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Scare 'Em Straight

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"I think this skeleton-pumped PSA perfectly reflects that era's methods of keeping children away from bad things: Exaggerate until they shit themselves straight."

If you've spent any time in a Western (and probably American) public school system, then you've no doubt seen one of the films, cartoons and filmstrips whose purpose is to inform bright-eyed schoolchildren about themselves and the world around them. Judging by the way many of these films turn out, however, one might suspect that there's a special wing in Hell set aside just to produce them.

The origin of this trope lies in the belief that children aren't very receptive to positive reinforcement, and therefore must be informed in the least subtle way possible about all of the negative consequences which may befall them if they do anything evil, stupid, or both. For instance, tell little Johnny that he has a better chance of living a long healthy life if he avoids drugs. There's a pretty good chance that he'll say "Sure" and then promptly forget every single word you just said. But, tell Johnny that he'll wind up drooling in a back alley covered with sores while jamming a dirty 8-inch long needle into his arm and smell like week-old sardine salad for the rest of his short miserable life if he takes a single puff from a joint given to him by The Aggressive Drug Dealer, and he'll listen. He may laugh his disbelieving butt off, but he will listen.

This mentality has formed the basis of all sorts of cautionary tales, many of which employ extreme and terrifying imagery in their attempt to keep children on the straight and narrow path. Yes, yes, irreversible psychological damage might occur, but it is all for their own good, so it's okay. So what if a kid winds up a twitching vegetable afraid of venturing into the outside world? At least he won't get kidnapped by a lollipop-wielding child-molester or hit by a bus while jaywalking and smoking crack.

The theory is that when they grow older and "able to understand," adults will be able to give the "real" reasons for such mores. A common reality is that there's less to stop them from engaging in that behavior once they realize that their face won't "freeze that way." Worse, the realization that they'd been fed a bunch of hooey may make them ignore genuine and honest warnings.

Examples of some of the mind-meltingly scary imagery include: a boy getting run over by a train, vandals poisoning a deer, people in Africa contracting hideous diseases like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis, a choking victim who turns bright blue and nearly dies… Let's not even get into the bloody, windshield-cracking horrors inflicted in Driver's Ed class or what happens when people panic if the school catches on fire.

Of course, not every child who sees these types of films will become traumatized by them. For every kid who pukes at the five-minute mark of Wheels of Tragedy, there will be at least one who will cheer loudly at the sight of karmically-induced gore splashing across the screen or find the whole thing Narmtastic. (A phenomenon excellently spoofed in this Onion article).

Note: Sometimes Scare 'Em Straight campaigns will actually backfire, and the ads that were designed to admonish a certain behavior will actually encourage it and make it look cool. There are those who believe that certain companies might be doing this sort of thing on purpose to lure in new customers. After all, why else would cigarette and alcohol companies be so quick and eager to create ad campaigns that are supposedly against middle-schoolers using their products, when most new users tend to get hooked at that age? It's a debate that will probably rage on for as long as alcohol and tobacco remain available.

Scare 'Em Straight as a whole not only covers instructional shorts, but scary public service announcements as well. God forbid you should settle in to enjoy your Saturday Morning cartoons and your Froot-Loops without being reminded of the Lovecraftian Body Horror which can overtake you if you fail to brush your teeth. Some politicians will use these tactics to try and scare people off voting for their opponent, which is known as a Scare Campaign.

This is the modern equivalent of the (hopefully) Forgotten Trope of children's literature intended to scare kids into good behaviour by depicting a Family-Unfriendly Death and/or the torments of Fire and Brimstone Hell inflicted on "boys and girls like you". This was a common theme in older fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, but modern tellings have become Disneyfied over time by removing the especially nasty bits and adding happy endings. In the present day, fringe Christian sects keep this tradition alive with "hell houses" that usually operate around Halloween and serve as The Moral Substitute for your garden-variety secular haunted house. These are disavowed by the mainstream; however, a hell house graced the cover of Newsweek as recently as 2006.note 

It could be said that the large number of examples on this page are a testimony to there being too much PSA time available to a vast number of specialised interest groups, each one convinced that their anvil needs to be dropped, and unaware that people become desensitized at a young age by the sheer volume of Scare 'Em Straight messages.

This is, arguably, also one of the intentions of older forms of punishment, especially where the criminal (or his/her tortured-to-death corpse) is displayed in public as a warning to others.note 

Can lead to Do Not Do This Cool Thing, if the audience likes looking at gruesome pictures. May be used in a Sex Miseducation Class. Oh, and it doesn't necessarily entail scaring gay people into being straight (though that certainly has happened, though not as commonly anymore). Compare Harm Reduction, which is the usual end goal of these programs. If someone tries to scare someone else straight in-universe, they'll often tell a Scarily Specific Story. If someone tries to scare someone else out of following in their footsteps to a bad end, it's a Jacob Marley Warning.

Straight Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Parodied in Assassination Classroom. Koro-sensei draws a short comic that is presented as if it were this to Kataoka to warn her that she may grow up to be dangerously codependent if she does not learn to stand up for her own needs more. It's much funnier in the manga than how it is described here.
  • Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex does this to a group of med students. Three medical students who are well enough on their own decide to try their hand at stealing organs and selling them on the black market. It doesn't take much to capture the first two, but the leader of the operation runs off into the nearby warehouse. Motoko heads inside to deal with him personally. She pulls out a knife and threatens to kill him and sell his organs herself. He tries to plead and bargain with her, but she keeps advancing. She backs him into a corner, takes the knife and stabs it down at his head. One Gory Discretion Shot later, we see the kid is still alive, though he did wet his pants in fear. Motoko jammed the knife into an oil pipe right above his head. As all three students are being taken away by the police, she tells them that they all have promising educations and futures ahead of them and that they shouldn't get mixed up with illegal activities, especially ones that the Yakuza has a hand in.
  • GTO: Shonan 14 Days: Onizuka, with the help of Kikuchi, Urumi, and some of the White Swan foster kids, constructs an elaborate illusion to make Miko Sakaki think she's wanted for murder (she'd tried to burn down White Swan, but was stopped; they make it seem like she succeeded), as a way to get her to finally realize that not only do actions have consequences, but that she's not alone and she should care about other people instead of using them. He even gets a yakuza kingpin to play along (though that may have been his wife's decision).
  • In Death Note, Light planned on using the power of the notebook to "cleanse" the world of evil by killing criminals worldwide and scare people to behave under the threat of being killed themselves.
  • Yuzuru from A Silent Voice takes photos of dead creatures and hangs them on the wall to discourage her sister Shoko from killing herself. After Shoko's Attempted Suicide, she takes them all down.
  • In one chapter of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid Life, Carim pretends to use her prophecy powers to read Chantez' future, claiming that she'll die if she doesn't start acting like a proper nun (and her predictions are famous for always being accurate). The next day, Chantez is suddenly much more well behaved.
  • My Hero Academia: Aizawa, a teacher infamous for expelling students at the drop of a hat if they don't measure up to his standards, was really doing this the entire time — he has the authority to expel any student, then re-enroll them, albeit with the black mark of expulsion still on their permanent records, to scare them into applying themselves properly. It never came up because none of the 1A students ever fell behind enough for him to feel it was warranted. Yes, even Mineta.

  • Comedian ShayneSmith describes how this went horribly right at a summer camp he was asked to do it for, bringing along his very intense friend Anton. Due to a miscommunication, Shayne thought they were dealing with gangster kids instead of moderately misbehaved Mormons. Hilarity Ensues.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman is a classic example. The entire point of dressing up as a giant bat and beating the hell out of criminals is to terrify them into not being criminals anymore. The intro to The Dark Knight and the mob turning to the Joker for help showed the results, and in the comics, Gotham's crime rate surges on the few occasions Batman is confirmed to be absent from the city.
  • In What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?, Superman does this to the entire world when a group of Nineties Anti Heroes called The Elite turn the public against his Thou Shalt Not Kill philosophy. He then proceeds to demonstrate exactly why the world should Beware the Superman by seemingly killing off the Elite one by one only to reveal them to be still alive afterwards, to demonstrate how dangerous their line of thinking is and how much worse things would be if he followed it.
  • Jack Chick's Chick Tracts, which attempt to scare people straight quite literally in many cases, by establishing homosexuals as being ungodly deviants who corrupt the young and, in one memorable instance that people have stumbled across, outright state that the homosexual community was willing to deliberately supply HIV-infected blood to the blood transfusion network in a form of political blackmail. They're so absurdly over-the-top ("AAAHHH... my leg's on fire!") that they're sometimes mistaken for parody, except he is absolutely serious about all of this and expects you to take it seriously as well. One of his more famous tracts is "Dark Dungeons," when he rails against Dungeons & Dragons, claiming that players will become involved in black magic and kill themselves if anything happens to their Player Character.
    • That tactic is also used in "Dark Dungeons: The Movie!".
    • His goal of scaring you into believing in God occasionally veers in a creepy direction. In one tract, a father sexually abuses his daughter and gives her gonorrhea. He then accepts Jesus and all is forgiven. His daughter magically isn't traumatized, and he suffers no legal consequences for the abuse. There's a reason that tract is no longer in circulation.
    • Adventures in Odyssey, which usually doesn't pull this trope into effect heavily, did a similar thing in their "Castles and Cauldrons" episode, with a version of Dungeons & Dragons so exaggerated you had to wonder if they had watched even one or two minutes of people playing it. (And it still failed to live up to the silliness of the above example.)
    • A parody of Chick Tracts has Jack Chick meeting his Maker, and God is not impressed:
    Jack Chick: But God, I've spent my whole life kissing your ass!
    God: If I had meant for you to kiss my ass, I'd have given you lips (spreads hands out fully) this big.
  • Judge Dredd once commented that if you gave him a "Juve aged 5," all he'd have to do was stare at him for a bit and it would scare them straight… in theory.
    Dredd: "Give me the juve at five and I'll give you the model citizen… or one who thinks long and hard before he steps over the line."
    • Spikes Harvey Rotten got chosen to do speeches like this for the child cadets at the Academy of Law, but tried to use it as an opportunity to escape, only to run afoul of Dredd again. He ended up recruited as one of the crew members for the journey across The Cursed Earth to Mega-City 2.
  • The EC Comics story ''The Monkey'' suggests that smoking one joint will result in instant addiction, which, within three months, will lead to heroin addiction and then bashing your father's head in with a lamp for drug money.
  • The concept is invoked in a Thunderbolts/Avengers Academy crossover called "Scared Straight", in which the Academy students are brought to the Raft to see why they shouldn't become super-criminals. Using Moonstone and the Ghost wasn't quite the right tactic, especially as some of the students tried to kill Norman Osborn shortly thereafter.
  • The Powerpuff Girls #62 (DC run): "Brat Trap" has Princess Morbucks holding a rally for materialism at Townsville Mall, giving her money to the kids so they can spend it on bling. The girls intercede, and Bubbles takes the stage:
    Bubbles: Kids! Do you want to be slaves to shopping? Always needing buy more...more...more? (now on her knees) You may get lots of toys and clothes but you'll be doomed to a spoiled, lonely life where you'll always be in trouble for bad behavior. (now letting it loose, restrained by Blossom and Buttercup) But we are here to help! We are here to raise your spirits with an almighty game of Duck-Duck-Goose!
    Blossom: (two panels later) Where did that come from?
    Bubbles: The cable was out this morning so I had to watch televangelists instead of cartoons.
    • Needless to say, it was effective. The kids renounce their materialism.
  • Arne Anka: After picking up an STD after a drunken one-night stand, Arne complains that the government should start putting warning labels on the alcohol bottles just like they do on the cigarette packs, except about the dangers of mixing alcohol with the choice of hookups.
  • A charming children picture book "Why Monsters brush their teeth" might be called an in-universe example. A little girl who finds teeth brushing annoying runs into a big monster in the bath room. But it's harmless, and he and his colleagues are very scared of the little caries monsters (no wonder if most of them fall under More Teeth than the Osmond Family).
  • An easily 1990s Spider-Man subplot had Peter becoming concerned over Mary Jane's smoking. He brought her to see former supporting character Nick Katzenberg, now dying of cancer from his longtime smoking. The sight of the man as a weakened figure on oxygen was enough for Mary Jane to toss her pack on the spot.

    Fan Works 
  • Kyon: Big Damn Hero: Tanaka Taro in chapter 54 begins his short time in the story reflecting to himself that he is going to become an important and powerful person in the crime syndicate by taking out Kyon. After the attempt, he reflects that after he recovers (from the beatdown Kyon just gave him), he will still become an important and powerful person by working at the docks, getting the Japanese equivalent of a GED, and working his way up to management.
  • In the Harry Potter AU story Faery Heroes, Slughorn reveals to Lily's "ghost" (actually Harry, Luna, and Hermione using spells to convince him) that he told Tom Riddle about Horcruxes in an attempt to make Tom realize how horrific necromancy in general and Horcruxes in particular were. Slughorn had gotten into necromancy when he was young in hopes of resurrecting his dead mother but burned his notes on dark arts once he realized how evil they were.
  • Petunia's Boys: After deciding he's better off on Harry's side than on Voldemort's, Lucius Malfoy scares Draco out of wanting to be a Death Eater by showing scenes of the murders they get involved with. It works.
  • In Leftovers, Naruto and Kurenai make Ino think she's been captured by slavers to motivate her to become a real kunoichi rather than a fangirl with a headband. The lesson is driven even further when Ino learns that a former classmate was captured a month ago (far too late for her to be saved even if she's found) and Ino's mother tells her about when she was captured by slavers.
  • This Bites!: In the face of Sakazuki's lava powers and certain death, the Marine T-Bone renounced the betrayal of his flotilla, condemned them all as evil, and swore to be a steadfast, uncrooked pursuer of justice and duty of the World Government. But his men's death and his change in morality slowly ached at him until, in the face of Cross's steadfastness to his ideals, he could not refute his actions any longer.
  • A French Auror in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum scares her sister off from entering the Triwizard Tournament by telling her how dangerous Hogwarts is, using Harry, Ron, and Hermione as examples. Each of the three have notable facial scars and Ron admits to missing the days when his nose was straight. Afterwards, Sophie admits she knows full well their scars are all from learning to fight for the past two months, but thought they'd serve as good visual examples.
  • In the Angel fic "Tacos and Tea Parties", Angel and Darla are initially concerned to realise that Fred- here their seven-year-old adopted daughter- is genuinely scared of the Groosalug, as while Angel doesn't like Groo he doesn't see Groo as the type to hurt a child. Eventually Lorne is able to read Fred while she's singing to Connor and confirm that Fred's Pylean masters just used the Groosalug as a threat to keep her in line rather than him doing anything to her himself, and Fred's just taking time to get over those fears even though she knows Angel in particular would kill anyone who genuinely tried to threaten her.
  • A Diplomatic Visit: Completely unintentional, but it happens - Diamond Tiara is normally rude and condescending to most others who don't have wealth and status, but when the wolf ambassador Swift-Pad enters the classroom, she just sees "big predatory creature" and is too scared of him, despite his being very friendly to everypony there, to cause trouble during class.
  • In Everfree and the Poisoned Flower, Fluttershy tells the Cutie Mark Crusaders a scary story to keep them from going into the Everfree Forest that seems to be based on the Latin American legend of La Llorona. It's about a filly named Oleander and her little sister, Everfree, who lived by the forest. One day, a trickster named Coyote gave Oleander a map that he said would help her get her cutie mark, but said she had to leave Everfree with him. Oleander followed the map and discovered her namesake flower, but when she got back home, she still hadn't gotten her cutie mark. And while she was gone, Everfree had disappeared. Their mother refused to let Oleander come home until she found her sister. Now she roams the Forest eternally, searching and calling for Everfree.
    She never gave up, though. She’s still looking today. Sometimes you can still hear her calling her sister’s name. That’s why they call it the Everfree Forest, you know. Sometimes Oleander catches a little filly who reminds her of her sister, and then… well, maybe I’ll tell you when you’re older.
  • In a Halloween chapter of A Game of Cat and Cat, a group of apprentice Mikado Samurai discuss how the local ghost story comes across as a morality tale, since the ghost seemed to be punishing Samurai for neglecting their duties note . The second half of the story suggests that the ghost was simply trying to kill as many Samurai as possible, and only took advantage of distraction.
    Matilda: He's the anthropomorphic personification of carelessness, and he'll never go away. The only way to 'exorcise' him is to follow those rules and always be careful even in a boring job.

    Film - Animated 
  • In Toy Story, in order to save Buzz from Sid (a kid who loves to mutilate and blow up his toys), Woody decides to reveal to him that all toys are alive, and aware of what happens to them. He does this alongside every single toy that Sid mutilated. As a result, Sid becomes terrified of toys, which his little sister instantly takes advantage of.
  • As seen in Pinocchio, if you drink alcohol, smoke, or play a round of pool (which, as we all know, is every 6-year-old boy's greatest fantasy), you'll turn into a donkey. No, it's true. Made worse when some of the donkeys lose their ability to talk and are sent to the salt mine forever. "Pleasure Island", my foot. Their parents must be worried sick.
    They never come back... as BOYS! (cue Slasher Smile)
    • According to Roger Ebert in his review for the VHS release of the film, this may subconsciously have been the reason why he didn't smoke.
      • And now, Disney repurposed bits of footage from Pinocchio into an anti-smoking PSA, seen before some animated films. Here, at the bottom.
  • Balto II: Wolf Quest has Aleu being cornered by a huge grizzly bear before Balto comes to her rescue. After trying and failing to fight the bear, Aleu realizes that the bear is a spirit guide and discusses the trope with Balto, explaining that the bear was attacking them in order to get them in the right direction of their quest.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • The Trope Namer is the documentary Scared Straight! (1978), which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Film. Several lifers in prison elaborate to a group of juvenile delinquents what prison was like, mainly indulging in lurid tales of Prison Rape. Its effectiveness as a program was pretty hit-or-miss.
  • One Got Fat, a 1963 film on bicycle safety, no doubt scared many a child. Narrated by Edward Everett Horton, it featured kids in creepy paper-mache monkey masks riding their bikes to a picnic, and getting into disturbing slapstick accidents for not obeying such rules of the road as "ride alone," "watch signs", or "use lights." The kid carrying everybody's lunches obeys all the rules and makes it to the picnic grounds in one piece (he's also the only one not wearing a mask, because "he's no monkey"), but seems unconcerned with his friends' plight and eats all their lunches (hence the title of the film, "One Got Fat"). The irony being supplied by the fact that, after generations of ominous warnings about the various dangers Out There, the authorities are now worried about kids... getting, um, fat.
  • Reefer Madness is a 1936 exploitation film revolving around the tragic events that follow when high school students are lured by pushers to try "marihuana": a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, rape, and descent into madness all ensue. This one was so incredibly over-the-top, it was actually adopted by the pro-marijuana community as an indictment of the hysteria that surrounds marijuana (as well as, perhaps ironically, a really fun movie to watch while stoned). This way of looking at the film turned it into a cult classic, and even led to a musical version, which plays the whole thing off with a wink, a nudge, and a whole lot of catchy songs.
    • It gets better. For their 2008 4/20 celebration, the magnificent bastards at G4 debuted the movie Reefie's Madhouse, in which they took the original movie and gave it a Gag Dub. Like the original, it can only truly be appreciated if one is high while watching it.
  • Driver's Ed, of course, has had some classics. Like a video about road rage. Here the innocent driver goes, down the highway... and the other driver pulls over, gets a crossbow out of the trunk, and shoots him for not turning his high beams on. (Surprisingly, Based on a True Story!
    • Or the video about wearing one's seatbelt, and especially the ones about not driving drunk. There are graphic, crash-scene photos of severed limbs, streaks of brains and blood on the pavement leading up to a now-headless body, a body impaled on a tree limb about ten feet in the air, and a partial decapitation — the head had been split horizontally at about nose-level. People have been known to faint halfway through.
    • With the slow and steady rise of actual road rage incidents involving weaponry, this is starting to quality for Truth in Television: 4% of Canadians were victims of road rage violence in 2001.
    • There is plenty of this in Driver's Ed. One might recall, for example, the film titled Red Asphalt III. Just about every video, at least one shown each class for 4 weeks, began with no less than 3-5 minutes (and sometimes up to 10) of gory footage and a deep-voiced narration of the tale of Johnny Everyteen and his friends getting drunk at a Sweet 16 party and driving to their corpse-mangling doom... immediately followed by Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and a cheerful old man ready to teach us how to drive.
    • Oh, just pray you never do defensive driving online. The videos they make you watch on those pages... one of them, an anti-drunk-driving one, featured the tagline... "Matthew wanted to celebrate winning the big game. So he killed his best friend." Less Scared Straight, more Scared Into Laughing My Ass Off.
    • The film "Trashed" dissuades new drivers from drunk driving by showing unedited footage of the emergency room after horrific DUI-related crashes.
    • "X" Marks the Spot, produced by the New Jersey DMV and eventually featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, shows that you will die on your way home if you so much as run a stop sign. note 
    • By the 1970s, there were the Public Service Announcements with crash test dummy footage of the consequences of drivers and passengers not wearing their seatbelts in auto accidents. While they avoided the gruesomeness of the above instructional films, the slow motion imagery of the dummies flying about and smashing into things made its point.
    • Today, most driver's education films shown in class have disclaimers, warning viewers that they could expect to see the grim aftermath of accidents showed photos and live-action film – people lying in pools of blood, mangled beyond recognition, severely burned, and – if not dead – in various states of consciousness. Beforehand, these films did not have these disclaimers, meaning that someone seeing the remains of a high school quarterback and homecoming queen being extricated from a wrecked car and loaded into a hearse – and the events leading up to it (perhaps they were out drinking, or someone else was) – could be shown without warning ... and enough to scare the viewer straight and send an intended message. (Or enough to cause a crippling phobia of motor vehicles.)
    • But with computer-aided special effects, driver's education movies and Public Service Announcement films pitching driver safety have often gone back to being stunningly graphic. An example that comes to mind is Only Stwpd Cowz Txt N Drive, a British PSA that warns of the dangers of texting while driving. note  The centerpiece of that film was a four-minute scene depicting the crash (which lasts 30 seconds, and shows three teen-aged girls suffering violent whiplash as they are thrown about the car) and the bloody aftermath. Later in the film, one of the deceased victims is shown in the morgue as her parents are asked to confirm the identify of her body.
  • Used in-universe in the comedy Moving Violations, in which the traffic-school class has to watch a gory PSA called "Blood On The Highway." Subverted in that one of the attendees is a die-hard gorn addict and thoroughly enjoys the showing.
  • The Pedestrian has an In-Universe example of the drivers' ed video. The protagonist, who's had his license suspended after an accident in which his son was killed, has to attend a traffic class and watch the typical gory drivers' ed video, with shattered bodies strewn all over the highway. This is ironic as the film eventually reveals that the reason the man had the accident was that his son grabbed the wheel and yanked them into the back of a truck on purpose.
  • Starting with Safety, a chemistry lab safety video that aims to impart a thorough understanding of the importance of laboratory rules. It was made in 1991, but is still a popular choice for beginner labs for preteen students all the way through college labs. Highlights include the "glassware to the palm," the "camera bath," rampant mannequin abuse, and a demonstration of the safety shower complete with uncomfortably attentive classmate. It combines late 80's-brand cheesiness with laughably cheap special effects and somehow manages some genuinely wince-inducing moments.
    • The film has actually gained a modicum of infamy due to how weird it is. There's even a Facebook group for it.
  • Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle has an early scene where the two are watching TV and a (fake) PSA shows a guy getting high and claiming he's invulnerable, putting a shotgun to his mouth. That was actually a parody of several drug PSA's that were out at the time where people who were high were too unaware of what they were doing. The PSA it's parodying in particular has a high kid playing around with a gun and shooting himself. It's this one. To be fair, the friend did make a pass at the other's sister first.
  • Apaches is a British public information film that shows the dangers of playing on farmyards, such as drowning in cow shit. Either that or the dangers of negligent farmers, it’s not quite clear. The entire film and a riff by Larry Bundy Jr. can be seen here.
  • Played for laughs in Mean Girls when the health teacher tries to scare the teens out of having sex. He doesn't do a very good job.
    Teacher: Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant, and die... Now everybody take some rubbers.
  • One Last Shot, a hunter education film. In it, two kids go hunting (without permission, no less). One kid pretty much forgets every rule of hunting (he wasn't paying attention during the class). Then, the same kid finishes shooting and runs downhill to get the targets, his friend warning him that he's got one last shot. He trips and drops his gun, which fires and shoots his friend; the friend dies in surgery, the kid gets legal action against him, and that's the film. Much less graphic than many of the things on this page, with the only truly graphic part being the surgery — just brief shots of blood pools. Still scary, though.
  • In Little Shop of Horrors, this is parodied when the sadistic dentist shows Seymour a picture of what a neglected set of teeth look like. It's a parody, because it's clearly a close-up of a horse's teeth.
  • Older than You Think: World War II training films on VD such as USS VD: Ship of Shame cross this with Nausea Fuel by showing graphic cases of advanced syphilis and gonorrhea.
    • While the films aren't used, a nauseating slide show about VD in horrifyingly graphic detail is still a common part of regular US military training. It still does the job of serving as a warning against soliciting prostitutes. And yes, syphillis and gonorrhea are among the "classics" amongst the slides. They also like to show these right after everyone's eaten.
  • Inverted in the Nora Ephron film This Is My Life. A teenage girl is caught having sex with her boyfriend. Instead of scolding them, the boyfriend's mother, who happens to be a doctor, gives them a calm and informative lesson in human reproduction complete with anatomically correct models. They don't feel too eager to experiment afterwards.
  • In John Krish's 1977 The Finishing Line, another British PIF, almost all of the children along with some innocent train passengers and even the train's conductor get killed during the "games". This film was considered so graphic and controversial that it was quickly replaced with 1979 Robbie, a PSA about a boy who loses his legs and can no longer play football. "Robbie" itself was eventually replaced with another PSA, Killing Time in 1992, which depicts a fictional teenager being killed on the rails, a constable picking up pieces of his body after the fact, and actual post-mortem photography of people killed by railway trespass.
  • There's this VHS called "The Dangers of Smoking" that shows this smoking cessation class watching an old video that shows graphic cancer surgery and then shows this cancer patient with a huge chin speaking in a deep voice. It then shows a montage of photos of his chin getting bigger and the last photo showed his dead corpse. VERY grotesque!
  • The animated Sam the Safety Duck discusses school bus safety in a 1977 film produced for Ontario's Ministry of Transportation and Communications, Sam on the Buses, circa 1970s. It has graphic scenes of what happens when you stick your head out of a window and vice versa. The worst scene in that film shows a mischievous student scaring the bus driver, which cuts to several scenes of school bus crash tests showing huge buses crashing into brick walls with the child dummies inside them being tossed around like leaves in a salad while scary xylophone music plays. Other films were produced with Sam, including Sam on Winter Safety and Sam the Safety Duck Learns to Drive a Bicycle.
  • The Lost Weekend, though not explicitly an educational film, depicts the protagonist's descent into alcoholism very much this way.
  • Riot on Sunset Strip has an in-universe example. A woman asks the police to lock her two hippie daughters up for the night so they won't break curfew again, but the station is full.

  • Struwwelpeter is a classic (1845) German children's book that warns the reader against misdemeanors like not trimming their nails or playing with matches with rather gruesome cautionary tales. One of them, for example, features a boy who sucks his thumb, so a tailor (the "Great Red-Legged Scissor-man") comes out of nowhere and cuts his thumbs off with a pair of scissors.
    • This was also parodied in a cutaway gag on Family Guy.
    • This character has gained a sort of tongue-in-cheek fame in Finland. There is a famous children's song named after him that's basically 'stop telling boring stories!'
    • The Red-Legged Scissor Man, along with several creatures like him, appear in The Fourth Bear, a novel by Jasper Fforde. There's a village where these monsters actually exist, and the children are downright creepily obedient, in order to avoid the possibility of thumbs being snipped off and suchlike. While definitely both Nightmare Fuel and Paranoia Fuel for the children, the effect this has on them, the Uncanny Valley creepiness, is also Nightmare Fuel in the books (both in-universe, for people who haven't grown up in the village, and for the reader). For decades the parents had decided that Utopia Justifies the Means, but eventually the parents rebel, demanding normal things like teenage arguments and untidy bedrooms (things they never got a chance to experience as children either ...).
  • The Gashlycrumb Tinies, one of Edward Gorey’s most famous poems, features children experiencing a themed death scenario in alphabetical order, such as drowning or being hit by a train. While it seems like a children’s book, it’s more of a cautionary tale. The skeletal man and the Burtonesque drawings don’t help. CollegeHumor parodied the poem in their video “The A-Z of Things That Will Kill You”, narrated by the skeletal man. For a comedic YouTube channel, this particular video is rather nihilistic, although thankfully nowhere near as gruesome as the poem it was based on.
  • In the Discworld book Hogfather, Peachy used to suck his thumb as a child. As a grown man (not to mention a violent gangster and thug), he suddenly finds himself in a world based on a child's mind - he is unfazed until the Scissor Man actually appears. He flees in terror and is never seen again.
    • The previous governess of the novel's two children was apparently a great believer in this trope, making up all manner of monsters to threaten Twyla and Gawain into proper behavior. Susan finds it exasperating to no end, having to beat these prohibitory monsters into submission once she becomes their governess.
    • Jenny Green-Teeth, a monster encountered by Tiffany in The Wee Free Men, is identified by Miss Tick as a creation of parents who wanted to scare their kids out of playing too near the water.
    • In some of the watch books Detritus runs a Scare Em Straight campaign aimed at the drug dealers putting up posters with "Slab: Just say AarrghaarrghpleasennononoUGH". Actual drug dealers that Detritus catches with Slab will be nailed to the wall, so it's a fair warning.
  • Hilaire Belloc wrote a series which is the English equivalent of Struwwelpeter. It includes Cautionary Tales, A Moral Alphabet, and A Good Child's Book Of Beasts. Things like getting blown up, crushed by falling statuary, and eaten by lions happened to bad children. However, the stories are all in verse and have a kind of ghoulish glee about them, suggesting that they're not necessarily supposed to be taken totally seriously.
  • The History of the Fairchild Family, a popular Victorian Sunday school prize, had lots of these, including a child nearly dying of a fever for eating stolen plums, a father taking his quarreling daughters on a walk in the woods to see a dead man hanging on a gibbet, and another girl burning to death while playing with a candle. Later editions either toned down or completely removed the latter two incidents.
  • The Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series had the desperate parents of naughty children going to an old lady in a weird house and getting strange concoctions to teach their children the error of their ways. Often involved magical candy.
  • An entire discredited subtrope of this are the tales, often presented through allegory, of young women who place unwise trust in male strangers, slip into their abodes, and are never seen alive again. Famous fables of this type include "Little Red Riding Hood" (before the Brothers Grimm version introduced a hunter to save the day) and "The Spider and the Fly."
  • In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the job of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come seems to scare people into changing by showing them a dark future should they continue with their corrupt ways. The Ghost succeeds with Ebeneezer Scrooge by showing him a future where Tiny Tim is dead, the Cratchits are in mourning, and practically everyone is glad Scrooge is dead.
  • The entire point of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is to show the ravages of unchecked industry on the environment.
  • This 1844 pictorial account of how masturbation is apparently fatal.
  • German author Gudrun Pausewang does this so well, it makes her the queen of HONF. Most (in)famous example: Die letzten Kinder von Schewenborn (The last kids of Schewenborn), about the life of an ordinary German family during and after global thermonuclear war. Including excessive descriptions of radiation sickness, mutilated people, lots of children dying (incl. all the siblings of the narrator), a baby born eyeless and armless, the mother of the family going mad and forcing the family to return to Frankfurt, which she believes wasn't destroyed (of course it was, being one of Germany's most important cities), and also the description of the helplessness of the people. She also wrote books about a nuclear power plant going Chernobyl in Germany, the poorness of people in third-world country, another right-wing populist taking power in Germany, and a biography of young Adolf Hitler. Some of these books even got prizes for being (supposedly) good literature.
  • Danish fairytale legend Hans Christian Andersen. Everywhere. Most blatant example: You go to hell for a "C" school note equivalent. No, I'm not making this up, read "Ole Lukøje."
  • Charlotte Temple, by Susanna Rowson, is a badly-written, overdone, Anvilicious, ham-fisted morality tale laden with hackneyed stereotypes; it was also the bestselling novel in America from its publication in 1794 to when it was finally overturned by Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. Charlotte Temple is the story of a young English girl who, sincerely in love, runs away with a soldier to America, beyond her family's ability to help her. Her soldier then abandons the girl when she's pregnant for a prettier, wealthier model, leaving Charlotte to eventually beg in the streets, and get a "happy" ending in that she dies in her father's arms.
  • Arguably deconstructed in Theodore Thomas' short story, "Test," where a man applying for his driver's license experiences a horrific accident through hypnosis. The end of the story hints that no one gets a license — those applicants who still want to drive after experiencing that are presumed insane and dragged away to an asylum.
  • "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" was told to scare children who lie all the time. (See Crying Wolf.)
  • Jean Valjean attempts this in-universe in Les Misérables. When a young fop of a street thug, Montparnasse, tries to mug him, Valjean asks why, and Montparnasse retorts that he's lazy and honest work is hard. Valjean, who spent nineteen years in prison for the Felony Misdemeanor of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family (and a few escape attempts), is disgusted, and gives him a vivid description of how Montparnasse's criminal laziness could very well land him in prison, where the work is so backbreakingly awful that honest employment looks like a restful paradise in comparison. When this doesn't work on its own, Valjean points to Montparnasse's fine clothes and fancy hair and says he'd be shaved bald and issued a hideous uniform. This part seems to have some effect.
  • An Alternative Character Interpretation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that the tour of the factory is Willy Wonka's way of scaring the naughty kids and coddling parents in the Golden Ticket tour group straight by leading them into situations where disobedience has ridiculous, disastrous effects on them. Even if one doesn't go with that interpretation, the novel and adaptations thereof do make for a blackly funny morality play for kids. And in-universe, the Oompa-Loompa song regarding Violet — mostly recounting the sad story of Miss Bigelow, who chewed so much she eventually bit her tongue in two, went insane, and was confined to a Bedlam House — is certainly this trope!
  • H. P. Lovecraft, a teetotaler in real-life, wrote a joking example of an anti-drinking screed in his comedic short story "Old Bugs".
  • This was the point of most of Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. In the typical story, a small child would do something naughty (or fail to give themselves over to the Lord) and end up suffering horrible consequences, no matter how mundane their misbehavior was. Kids, do the dishes when your mother asks you to or else you will asphyxiate in the resulting housefire.
  • Harry Dresden, the eponymous character of The Dresden Files, is a Pop-Cultured Badass extraordinaire. It's therefore a very notable moment the one time he fails to enjoy a reference. When his apprentice Molly refuses to obey his instructions to stay behind during a dangerous part in White Night, he's angry. But what gets him really pissed off is when she complains that even Yoda didn't give Luke a task like the one Harry gave her:
    I. Am not. Yoda.
    • He then proceeds to float a ball of fire near her face, as a demonstration of just how serious he is — this isn't a joke, or a game, but a matter of life and death where, if she doesn't do exactly as he says when he says it, she'll get killed. Or worse.
  • Help I Am Being Held Prisoner: The stressful thought of having the prisoners connect his practical jokes inside the prison to the jokes he uses to delay the robbery eventually helps Harry give up on his habitat joking.
  • The Shining: In the backstory Jack and his friend had a bad habit of drinking and driving. One night as they were heading home in the friend's car, they ran into a child's bike that was on the middle of the street. When they stopped to see if anyone was hurt, they found nothing. No child, no body, nothing. By all accounts, that bike was just left there. Nonetheless, the horror they felt over possibly killing a kid convinced both of them to give up drinking. Sadly for Jack and his family, the Overlook Hotel manages to get him Off the Wagon.
  • Goblins in the Castle: Both humans and goblins have stories of creepy elderly women that are used for this purpose.
    • According to Karl, Granny Pinchbottom is just a fictional character whom the old ladies in the area use to scare children into behaving, with threats that she'll "come tweak your cheeks while you sleep" or bite off part of a finger that they stuck where it didn't belong too many times. William later learns that she's Real After All.
    • In Goblins on the Prowl, according to Herky, the gobliness Flegmire has a reputation for eating bad little goblins, and he was always warned about her by his mother. Wongo the troll, however, reassures the group that Flegmire is harmless, and the goblin mothers just use her to scare their children into behaving.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Brady Bunch: "Bobby's Hero," from the fourth season, sees an elderly man, whose father had been killed by outlaw Jesse James during a robbery, set Bobby straight on the legend and the facts about James and his gang.
  • My Two Dads: The 1989 episode "Story With a Twist" sees teenager Nicole come home drunk. When her two fathers, Michael and Joey, learn she also drove with someone who was drunk, they decide to teach her a "scared straight" lesson... by themselves getting very drunk and then announcing they were going for a little drive. Judge Wilbur stops Michael and Joey just in time, before a petrified Nicole says she understands the consequences of drinking and driving; Wilbur then confides that she was in on the lesson all along.
  • A&E has a sort of Sequel Series to the film Scared Straight called Beyond Scared Straight, where juvenile delinquents from across the country visit various prisons.
  • On Saving Grace, Grace's niece and best friend went to a "scavenger" party where they took random drugs, and the best friend died. Her father and Grace dragged the niece down to the morgue and forced her to look at her friend's corpse.
  • In an episode of Crossing Jordan, Macy took his daughter to the morgue to show her the corpse of a girl who was killed by a mobster after falling into an unsavory life.
  • CSI: Miami: As part of their sentence, convicted drunk drivers would have to show up at the morgue, where Alexx would show them corpses of people who made the same mistake but weren't lucky enough to live through it.
  • CSI also featured a more comical example of this when Nick arrested a stoner who was shining a laser pointer at commercial airliners. The kid was dumped in a holding room with a dozen hardened criminals who gleefully played along when Nick mentioned how "popular" the kid would be in jail.
    • In an earlier episode, Catherine became worried her daughter would end up in trouble due to her rebellious streak, including hitchhiking across Las Vegas to see her grandfather, a thoroughly amoral casino tycoon. She dragged her down to the morgue and showed her a dead woman, pointing out she was killed despite being bigger and stronger than a young girl.
  • Parodied in The Colbert Report. To complement The Wørd "Just Don't Do It," Colbert did The Talk in a way it would disencourage sex:
    Alright, teens. Sex is as natural as the birds and the bees because if you do it you will be stung to death and have your eyes violently pecked out! (If you do it right) Girls, you could become pregnant. Boys, you could become pregnant too! Sometimes it goes back up and you grow a baby in your ball sack. (How kids get nut allergies) Unbelievably painful, women will never understand. If you don't tamp down your physical desires boys, you could go insane and find yourself copulating with the coin return of a vending machine. (Bright side: Free Kit Kat.) And girls, if you give into your lust, you could end up copulating with something even worse. (A teenage boy.)
  • Pretty much the point of J. Walter Weatherman on Arrested Development, who was a one-armed man that George Bluth hired to help teach his children a lesson. Several lessons. Through graphic traumatizing deceit, fake blood, and a fake arm, he managed to burn into the kids' minds that everything from talking too loud in the car, to leaving the house without putting a note on the fridge will inevitably end in someone's arm being ripped off.
    • Although Lindsay came away from the "fridge note" incident thinking he wanted them to avoid dairy somehow.
    • George Sr. also hosted a "Scared Straight" presentation at the Church and State Fair. Accidentally walking into the Church one, he ended up telling a bunch of young gay men about a place where you work out and have sex with other men without anyone treating it like a big deal, and was asked if there was a cover charge. Funnily enough, his original plan of talking about the horrors of his house confinement and constant sex with Lucille, along with visual aids, might have been more effective here (though a Space Whale Aesop).
  • On Strong Medicine, Andy is rocked when boyfriend Milo is killed by a drunk driver at an accident. The teen comes to Andy to ask for forgiveness with her naturally cold to him. He does get to talking to Jesse. At the prom, Jesse and the guy appear to be massively drunk and are kicked out. A loud crash is heard and the students race out to see the duo inside a crashed car, blood all over them and Andy sobbing. It turns out the whole thing was staged as the trio (especially the young man) want to show these kids the consequences of driving drunk and thinking it's no big deal.
  • In an episode of The Wire, there's a scene of some elementary school kids sitting in on a gangbanger's autopsy while someone lectures them about the dangers of a life of crime. But they don't seem particularly fazed at all. The coroner later jokes that it was more "bored stiff" than "scared straight."
  • On Dexter, we see a flashback wherein Harry takes young Dexter to watch an execution, telling him that this is what will happen to him if he doesn't follow the Code.
  • Played for laughs on Married... with Children as Kelly is now working at a low-rent diner. A teacher from her school comes by with a pack of vapid, flighty girls who are basically Kelly wannabes. When they see the former highly popular Queen Bee of the school at a dead-on job, the girls are soon racing to get to the library and start studying.
  • Saturday Night Live:
    • Parodied on a regular sketch which has a group of prison inmates trying to "scare straight" a trio of teens, inevitably by retelling the plot of some film or the like. Usually, the horrible consequences the inmates use are based on story elements that aren't that horrible, actually. A notable installment has Lindsay Lohan playing "herself" and her "horrible crimes" are quickly recognized as just the plots of her various movies.
    • There's also "motivational speaker" Matt Foley, who's thrice-divorced, strongly implied to be alcoholic, and lives in a van down by the river. His tactic is the reverse of most motivational speakers, trying to motivate young people to not turn out like him.
  • My Name Is Earl: When Earl ends up in prison, he directs one of these. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In one episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Don shows a Driver's Ed class one of these. Amusingly, Sally comes in later so that the two of them can watch it together... backwards, so that it has a happy ending.
    Sally: Her head came back on!
  • One episode of Police, Camera, Action! had a group of self-confessed speeding drivers who were taken to a mock-up of an accident scene where a motorist was doing at least 60 miles in a 30-mile zone. The car he hit was of a married couple and their three-month old daughter who was reported as not breathing when the ambulance arrived. The daughter survived — they brought her out in a wheelchair and the mother explained that she needed round-the-clock care (two carers during the day, one during the night) and that if they removed a device around her neck, she would die. A few of the group were horrified and promised never to speed again; one stated that they would only speed "if it was safe to do so."
  • On Party Down, after catching Henry and Constance smoking marijuana, Ron produces a photo he uses whenever he's tempted to use to scare them straight. He had a friend who smoked pot, and one time he got drunk and crashed the company van and got his foot amputated. The photo is of "a leg made footless by pot."
  • The IT Crowd features a parody anti-music piracy ad which states that pirating music is equivalent to stealing a policeman's helmet, murdering him, shitting in his helmet, presenting his shit-filled helmet to his grieving widow, and then stealing it again. And it implies that the punishment if you're caught pirating is summary execution.
  • Sometimes Maury's guests would be victims of domestic abuse. Their abusive partners would be talked to onstage, then a big, buff man (usually a prison-guard, or a former abuser, or a cop) would take them out for a day or so. First they went to a prison to see where they would be if they kept hurting their partners and then they were taken to a coroner, to see the dead body of an abuse victim. The guy in charge would then force the abusers to take a good, long look at her and basically tell them "This could be your partner." A "Where are they now?" segment would be brought up at the end, mentioning that some of those couples were currently getting help.
    • They also do this with the "delinquent teenager" episodes. Usually the girls (most of whom will admit to sleeping with any man that agrees because they want a baby) will be lectured by women who were teen moms, and usually the older girls will let them take care of the baby for a day. Often, at the same time, they'll be taken to this inside of a prison and screamed at by female inmates.
  • One episode of Drake & Josh had an episode called "Steered Straight". The boys are taken into a cop car, and on the way to the station, the officer who picked them up stops at a gas station robbery. Unfortunately, the robber steals the cop car and the boys are forced to pretend to be criminals so the robber won't know they're innocent. Of course, hilarity ensues.
  • Parodied in The Office episode "The Convict". Michael attempts to seriously warn the office of how horrible and frightening prison is by using this technique as he pretends to be a rebellious ex-convict, with ridiculous reasons of why to avoid prison... like the Dementors.
    Prison Mike: "Been a lot of fun talk about prison today, but I am here to scare you straight. I AM HERE TO SCARE YOU STRAAAAIIIGHT!!"
  • The Young Ones has a parody of a road safety PSA in which a cricket bat with a brick tied to it represents a car, and various squishy foodstuffs represent vulnerable pedestrians. This was a parody of a real road safety campaign that had aired a few years previously, using the image of a hammer smashing a peach to represent people being run over.
  • Played with in an episode of Hill Street Blues. The Captain (a sort of costumed public relations guy for the precinct) tries bringing in a young juvenile offender to show him around and try to put a scare into him about crime. It not only doesn't work, when Mick lays into The Captain with a tirade that includes "people don't scare him, he scares people", the kid in turns lays into the officer with a death threat. The Captain still thinks he's getting somewhere.
  • A number of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes have featured shorts that were supposed to invoke this, but their over-the-topness leads them to being mocked. Besides the "X" Marks the Spot short, others have included:
  • Parodied in an episode of MADtv with a commercial for "Scared Straight Anywhere".
  • Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye featured a variation in "Skin Deep" after the team arrest a rich heiress who finances an eco-terrorist group. When the woman smugly says she'll be happy being a "martyr to the cause" and that the only people hurt by the group are greedy developers, the team bring in the civilian who'd been trying to lure out the group she represents; Joel was eleven years old when that same group started a fire, his mother dying trying to get him out and Joel left with such horrific burns over most of his body that he barely looks human. Seeing such clear first-hand evidence of the effects of such actions is enough for the girl to give up her partners, and she tearfully apologises to Joel for what happened to him.
  • An episode of Orange Is the New Black has a group of prisoners excited to take part in a scared straight program, where they have to yell at delinquent teenage girls. The prisoners even practice for the role.
  • Classic Doctor Who in the 60s and 70s indulges in this from time to time, because the show was originally conceived as Edutainment, because Nightmare Fuel Public Service Broadcasts aimed at children were omnipresent in the UK in the Seventies, and because the reason Doctor Who exists is to scare the Krotons out of children. A few examples:
    • "The Web of Fear" contains a non-plot-important sequence when Jamie hops down onto the Underground train tracks and the Doctor launches into a lecture, complete with panicking and impassioned hand gestures:
      Jamie, no! Don't move! Don't touch the rails. Whatever you do, stand still! Stand still. Don't move. Keep quite still, Jamie. ...Oh, it's all right. You can relax. The electricity is off. If there had been a current running through these rails, you'd have been fried! Electrified! Brunched! Burnt up! Now, come along. It's safe now, I think, but we'd better be careful. Follow me.
    • After the Nightmare Fuel sequence where Jo gets a piece of plastic sprayed over her airway by a killer fake daffodil, the Doctor gives a lecture about the dangers of suffocation from plastic sheets, mentioning that you only need four inches square of plastic to suffocate and you will be unconscious in two minutes and dead in ten. This was a hot topic at the time, as plastic bags were a new development.
  • On NCIS, Ducky serves this function when the rest of the team is unable to break the perp. Like the CSI examples above, all it takes is having the perp watch the Creepy Mortician in action.
  • The fourth season of Canada's Worst Driver is set in an abandoned prison complex. In the first episode, the drivers who have engaged in outright criminal driving behavior in the past are placed in prison cells for a few minutes to drive home what could happen to them if they don't shape up.
  • Played for laughs on Good Girls. When Ruby discovers her daughter Sara has been helping sell off stolen goods at school, she gets a cop friend to "scare" Sara with a trip to a jail. However, sharing the cell as well, it's Ruby who gets freaked out as (having secretly gotten involved in several robberies and working for a local gang boss) she realizes just how terrible jail is going to be for her and begs to be let out.
  • Steve Martin's 1980 comedy special Comedy Is Not Pretty parodies these kind of ads in two sketches:
    • He plays a drunken reveler whose friends don't take his keys come morning, and he ends up weaving all over the street and running over a child chasing a ball — not with his car, mind you, but with his steamroller. Not only do the kid and his ball end up flattened in a gag straight out of Looney Tunes, the steamroller is realistically depicted as moving very slowly and the kid has plenty of time to notice and step out of the way, yet the collision is presented as if Martin were driving a car at 50 miles per hour!
    • He later plays a convenience store owner who makes the mistake of not selling his stock of plutonium under the counter, which means a pair of terrorists are able to shoplift some after he turns down their initial request for it (because they didn't bring a note permitting them to buy it).
  • This is the premise of T.I.'s Road to Redemption. Each of the first seven episodes dealt with a different youth and lesson he aimed to impart in the weeks leading up to his sentencing. These episodes also involved someone who was dealing with the fallout of that same mistake ("the future, if you don't change") passing on their own lessons.
  • An episode of Walker, Texas Ranger has Walker helping a former gang member (Hulk Hogan) who's turned his life around to run a youth center. Members of rival gangs converge with the young kids and it looks like a fight is about to break out. Walker arrives with some ex-cons who quickly educate the kids to how gang life leads to prison or the grave. One even shows off the scar from an eye he lost in a fight in jail.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: Gary Seven's plan in "Assignment: Earth" is to cause an orbiting nuclear weapons platform to malfunction and almost start World War III in order to convince the politicians to give up on deploying such weapons.
  • In an episode of The Connors, Becky claims that she was scared straight into quitting alcohol forever by going to rehab and seeing how badly some people's lives were destroyed that had hit rock bottom, as she was talked into going to get help early before it spiralled out of control. Subverted, in that she wasn't being entirely truthful with herself and others and wouldn't really find the root of her problem until a family therapy session which turned out to be deep-seated resentment that Mark uprooted her plans when they were young.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • Due to a series of miscommunications (Walt lying to his wife Skyler that Jesse is his pot dealer, his wife asking her sister Marie a totally hypothetical question about a stoner, only for her sister to mistakenly think the stoner in question is Skyler's son Walt Jr.), Marie tells her husband Hank to take his nephew Walt Jr. to a seedy motel to ogle the crackheads to show what drugs can do to you. Junior, who hasn't done any drugs at all, is of course completely bewildered and doesn't understand what's happening.
    • Happens in-universe when Mike is recounting to Walt a past experience from when he was a police officer. He periodically had to deal with an abusive alcoholic who would regularly beat his wife, who was too scared to ever press charges, so they couldn't put him away for more than a day at a time. One day, Mike got furious enough that he drove the scumbag out into the desert acting like he was going to kill him, but it was just a warning that he better not lay a finger on his wife again or next time he won't be so merciful, and then Mike let him go. Unfortunately, the warning didn't stick, because two weeks later the guy beat his wife again, and to death this time. Mike considered it a lesson to himself that he should've "gone all the way" instead of committing a "half measure".
  • On the Barney Miller episode a 9-year-old played by Todd Bridges tries to hold up Barney's wife Liz. Harris takes it upon himself to divert the kid from a life of crime. He does this by getting a pimp they have in custody to play up his own loser qualities, telling tales of a Judge Meanie who throws the book at young offenders, and bragging about his credit score.

  • "YOLO" by The Lonely Island spoofs the "you only live once" meme and the backlash against its risk-promoting nature by being the diametric opposite: a song telling the listener to avoid doing anything risky, to the point of not going outside, boarding up your windows, wearing a straitjacket for protection, and pulling out all your teeth so you don't accidentally bite your tongue. At the end of the song, it is pointed out that YOLO also stands for "you oughta look out".
  • The music video for Weird Al’s “Don’t Download This Song” implies that if you illegally download music, you’ll be electrocuted in the chair.

  • The Christian play Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames. It's a series of vignettes where people die and stand before the gates of Heaven. If they accepted Christ beforehand, they're allowed in. If not, cue the creepy music as Satan comes out and drags the "heathen" off to Hell, whose only crime in many cases was skipping church that week. The play is based on the Evangelist belief that only those who worship Jesus — and do it the correct way — are allowed into Heaven, regardless of how good or bad they were in life; everyone else goes to Hell. Indeed, most of the people condemned weren't bad people at all. This is the point; to an Evangelist, simply being a decent person isn't enough.
  • An Older Than Steam version of this is The Reckoning of Everyman.
  • Hairspray parodies 1960's drunk driving Public Service Announcements with the perky, up-tempo curtain closer "Blood On The Pavement."
  • Parodied in the "Scared Straight to the Altar" segment of the musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. A group of adults with defined standards in what they're looking for in a spouse are forced to listen to a convict's story about how he grew so bitter over being single for so long that he eventually snapped and murdered all of the couples at a New Year's party. This terrifies his audience into abandoning their standards, grabbing the nearest member of the opposite sex, and running off to get married on the spot.

    Urban Legends 
  • A multitude of Urban Legends try to scare teens out of sex, with stories of horrible fates that can befall them when they drive off into the wilderness. Usually it ends with one or both of them being murdered by some maniac, but one story has two teens having sex on top of a mountain during a thunderstorm and getting struck by lightning, killing the girl and fusing their bodies together, leaving the terrified boy trying to call 911 with his tongue fused to hers.
    • Another version involves only the genitals being fused together, and the boy is so traumatized that he throws up in the girl's mouth. The smell of the vomit attracted a bear, which proceeded to eat the girl's face. Oh, and the boy didn't even have a phone, so he had to drag himself and the girl's half-eaten corpse to the highway, traumatizing some Girl Scouts along the way. When he was finally taken to the hospital, the doctors managed to separate the couple, though the boy's penis was destroyed in the process. This Urban Legend is a bit counterproductive, as a more appropriate Aesop would be "don't be on mountains during thunderstorms" rather than "don't have sex". The urban legend may also be a bit sexist in nature. However, it's subverted a bit in that, while the boy survives, the ordeal's going to leave him super-traumatized and disfigured for life (at least the girl's Resting In Peace).
  • There are also anti-drug Urban Legends, like the story of the baby sitter who took LSD and "Baked a turkey"? It wasn't a turkey... It was a bay-hay-beee!
  • Though not the origin of the mythos, vampire legends in 1500s England shifted from Looks Like Orlok to the more well-known Vampires Are Sex Gods to discourage teenagers from having sex before marriage (as well as being a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases). This was during a time when religion and salvation as a whole were significantly more important, so losing your soul to vampirism greatly outweighed the benefits you would get... if they didn't just drain you dry and leave you dead on a street.
  • In a similar vein, most legends of Succubi and Incubi and Vagina Dentata were initially warnings against sex with strangers.
  • The janitor of a large office building complains to the CEO that the women's bathroom mirrors are constantly smeared with lipstick, which is hard to remove even with wipes and solvent. The CEO agrees and puts up a notice. When that fails, they come up with a plan, and the next morning the CEO asks all the women in the building to report to their bathroom so the janitor can give a demonstration. The janitor arrives, goes to the stalls, picks up the toilet brush and starts vigorously scraping away at the lipstick mark with it. The mirrors were lipstick-free from that day forward.

    Video Games 
  • A Half-Life modification called Afraid of Monsters is a complete videogame version of this. The main character is David, a drug addict who seeks help for his addition to painkillers. But before he gets treatment for it, he takes more of them in a hospital's bathroom, and everything goes awry after that. After a nightmare sequence, David encounters all sorts of messed-up creatures and locations like dogs with shaved human heads, gibberish-spouting nonsensical zombies, giant flickering faces that laugh like children, levitating aliens, abominations made of human limbs, random ghosts appearing, even more random noises without sources, and a world that is extremely dark and changes form. It is made more elaborate with the Multiple Endings, and the fact that, to see the good ending, you have to get the others first — and they all hammer home the Drugs Are Bad moral, each of them sequentially showing David having gone on a rampage while on the pills and murdered over twenty people, being questioned by the police and not remembering any of it, and ultimately hanging himself in his cell out of guilt before the final one shows David having OD'd on the pills, only being saved because he went to the hospital for help to kick his addiction... and that's an evolution of the non-Director's Cut ending, where the entire game was just the last thoughts going through David's addled mind before he succumbs to an overdose.
  • In BioShock 2, we get to visit Ryan Amusements, the centerpiece attraction of which is the "Journey to the Surface" ride. Since Andrew Ryan has an almost obsessive need to keep his underwater city secret, the exhibit was designed to discourage Rapture's youth from wanting to visit the surface. As such, visitors get to ride faux-bathyspheres down streets labeled "Curfew Alley" and "War Road," and watch creepy animatronics of families, artists, and scientists be menaced by Wallmaster-esque figures representing The Government. Apparently, it was quite effective. It even scared Andrew Ryan half to death, and he funded the thing!
  • In Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory, your white-hat hacker group learns of a bullied teen who's plotting to murder his entire class by hacking the Brain Uploading cyberspace everyone uses to take control of their real bodies and make them jump off the roof of the school after murdering their teacher. Your team resolves this by letting them all think he succeeded, then when the guilt and Despair Event Horizon sets in for everyone they reveal that they faked the whole thing to teach them all a lession.
  • Anders' personal quest in the second chapter of Dragon Age II ends with him losing control and menacing a young female escaped mage while glowing blue. If Hawke stops him from killing her, you run into her again outside, where she asks you what happened; Silly!Hawke's response is that it was all a demonstration to scare her away from the idea of ever summoning a demon.

  • The webcomic version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid has Gregory go to the dentist once, which has pictures of all the people who never brushed their teeth in their lives or never even used floss. This unfortunately doesn't do anything to help Gregory with his fear of the dentist... and you can bet your ass that a lot of people are afraid of someone with metal tools poking around in their mouths.
  • Unwinder's Tall Comics makes the case that marijuana advocates themselves are the best way to scare youngsters away from using drugs.
    Eli Parker: Really, the best scare-em-straight tactic is to just show youngsters actual publications by actual marijuana enthusiasts. I can think of nothing more off-putting to the aspiring pothead.
  • Her Highness Zulenna Luzhakna from Girl Genius demonstrates how to do it properly without exaggeration. It sort of backfired, though.

    Web Original 
  • Benzaie got hired to make a PSA about seat belts. He made a Flipnote animation of Yarn Kirby turning into a car and crashing into a rock, causing his face to fly off and splatter against a boulder. Watch it here.
  • A Moral Tale by Joe Bethancourt — "There is No Cure. Even Banjos Anonymous cannot help this one."
  • Oversimplified's Prohibition episode depicts this trope being put to use when explaining how support for banning alcohol in the United States was drummed up.
    • An In-Universe example is when a WCTU supporter, to discourage children in a classroom from drinking alcohol when they get older, tells them a story where a guy named Timmy would suffer from Spontaneous Human Combustion upon drinking only one sip of whiskey.
    • A real-life Scare 'Em Straight poster also makes an appearance, where somebody drinking alcohol is depicted as descending into a homeless life of crime which inevitably ends with the drunk being Driven to Suicide.

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs (2020): In "The Hamburg Tickler", Dr Scratchansniff attempts to use this tactic on the Warners.
  • Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The episode "Busted" is one of the best animated Scare 'Em Straight episodes. Series host Bill Cosby warns at the beginning of the episode that some graphic language is used, and indeed it is: When Albert and his buddies are given the prison tour by a police officer, they hear lots of hooting and lurid comments from the inmates. Even without the use of strong profanity, the remarks that various inmates make about wanting the kids to join them in their cell (so they can have sex with them) – not to mention the strong commentary from two of the other inmates about not having any rights or freedoms, and the strong probability of lost opportunities once released – is enough to convince the gang to stay out of trouble and the hell away from people like Rudy's buddy, who got them in trouble in the first place.
  • The massive, multi-series crossover special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue featured just about every major Saturday morning cartoon character of the early '90's inflicting massive amounts of psychological torture on a teenage addict to try and scare him off of marijuana and beer (mostly marijuana, since his dad was the only one who noticed the missing beer). Made even better when you consider that the real purpose of this special wasn't revealed until it aired! Instead, all the ads displayed it as a fun adventure starring all the big cartoon stars of the day. Cue deer-in-headlights look on parents' faces when their seven-year old-son turned to them and asked what marijuana was. Keep in mind that this aired in 1990, when marijuana was still illegal. Good luck showing it to today’s stoners.
    • An article about the special in the now defunct X-Entertainment website even argues that if anything, this attempt could backfire spectacularly. Because if kids are shown that they'll get to meet their cartoon heroes if they try to take drugs, guess what's going to happen next.
  • The Space Whale Aesoptastic Grizzly Tales For Gruesome Kids was based around the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer tactic of linking some kind of negative behaviour (e.g. being lazy and arrogant, being a couch potato, playing knock-down-ginger) with a spectacularly Disproportionate Retribution, such as being reduced to a drooling vegetable, turned into a potato chip, or hollowed out by termites, all with the intent of terrifying small children into being good little zombies. There is some question whether the series was a straight attempt at this Trope, or a prime example of Poe's Law.
  • One episode of Home Movies had a schoolteacher who was a former prison guard locking the kids in a cell for a few hours in order to scare them straight. They used the time to brainstorm about their next film project.
    • And it was a white-collar prison — the kids thought the whole setup was pretty sweet. Coach McGuirk even commented that the cells were better than his apartment.
    • Another episode had Brendon filming a cautionary warning about putting marbles in your nose, which led to a rash of kids (and one teacher) putting marbles in their noses — of course, it had a metal song in it with the lyrics "Don't put marbles in your nose/Put them in there/Do not put them in there!"
  • An Episode of Rocko's Modern Life had Rocko go to remedial driver's ed classes, which included a graphic crash demonstration film, using crash-test dummies made of tomatoes.
  • The cartoon Play Safe delves deep into the well of horror to convey a somewhat dubious message about train safety. Complete with jerky rotoscoping, Deranged Animation, a horrifying soundtrack, and a Space Whale Aesop to boot (playing in train yards results in... hijacking a sentient streamliner and crashing it into another train?). You too can view the madness here.
  • Beavis and Butt-Head go to prison on a school-sponsored 'Scared Straight' program — you can guess how they absorb the message. The episode ends with B&B promising to return to the joint so they and their new jailbird friends can "party again". The worst part is that the principal didn't even pick any troublemakers from the permanent records that might need scaring, with the exception of Beavis and Butthead, he just picked students out of the yearbook and chose the ones he thought looked like punks.
    • The dumb duo also take in a 50's drivers-ed video, starring two meatheads with a suspicious resemblance to our protagonists. They then proceed to replicate the accident during their own driving test.
  • Big City Greens: In "Bleeped", Bill ends up going "full-dad" and outright insists the children not cuss anymore, complete with Blank White Eyes and an echoing voice. Said procedure is enough to frighten everyone (including Remy) into silence...except for Cricket, who only pretended to be scared so he can drop a B-bomb at the end of the choir concert.
  • The "Deathrace" episode of Metalocalypse has Toki and Skwisgaar forced to go to driving school after a DWI arrest. The school forces them to watch a film about drunk driving, with accident scenes so graphic that they become afraid to drive a car, and fail the test as a result.
  • In the 90s, British primary school children were treated to a rather well-done fire safety animation called 'Frances the Firefly'. The aforementioned Frances lives in an insect village, but she can't fly very well nor glow as brightly as the other fireflies. So, a bratty cockroach persuades her to use a large match instead, which results in her burning off her wings, dropping the match in pain, and burning most of the village down.
  • Rugrats:
    • One episode had the dentist suggest weaning Tommy at age one (which is how old he currently was). And he showed how bad it would be if they did not wean him at age one, showing a chart with two kids — one kid had a trophy saying "Best teeth," while the other had huge blanks in between each of his deformed teeth, and apparently, he wasn't weaned. Later, Tommy has a nightmare about a giant sippy cup that yells “DRINK ME!”.
      • This could also be why Chuckie has buck teeth...
    • Another episode features Didi encouraging Lou to eat healthy, which he downright refuses, but when a video depicting the importance of heart healthiness that he is suggested to watch gets accidentally played in front of him, it convinces him well enough to change his eating habits, which starts out with Lou deciding to chow down on a dish of soybean casserole that Didi cooked for him. Considering how old Lou is, it must have been pretty serious.
      • Consider this: the first VA of Lou, David Doyle, passed away of a heart attack...
  • South Park
    • "Proper Condom Use" had Ms. Choksondik showing the 4th-grade girls all the STDs they could contract if they had sex without the boy wearing a condom (never mind the fact that these girls are 9-10 years old), complete with graphic pictures. However, she fails to mention that the danger only occurs if they are sexually active. Hilarity Ensues.
    • A particularly vicious and (ironically) anvilicious takedown of these tactics in "My Future Self 'N Me." Town parents hire actors to fake being "future" drug addict versions of the kids, scaring them away from ever trying drugs.
    • The rap crew in "Butt Out" that tried to get the kids to not smoke. The problem is, the group is so incredibly lame that when they end the performance with "if you never smoke, you can grow up to become just like us", the boys are terrified into smoking just to avoid ever turning into Totally Radical dweebs like them.
    • In the episode "Faith Hilling", a teacher forces Butters to put a gun inside his mouth and shows the class a violent PSA on "Long Johnsoning", both intended to scare the children away from using memes. He is later shown dancing with the gun still in his mouth, AND HIS FINGER IS ON THE TRIGGER.
    • Henrietta Biggle is sent to a correction camp by her concerned parents. Unfortunately, she becomes a suicidal emo and is even brattier than before. It’s up to her goth friends to save her.
  • The Simpsons:
    • A dentist scares Ralph into brushing his teeth by showing him "The Big Book of British Smiles." It’s incredibly xenophobic, but Ralph understandably cries and says “that’s enough”.
    • In "Duffless", Homer is shown one of the gruesome driver's ed videos after receiving a DUI. He's laughing his butt off. "It's funny 'cause I don't know him!" Really, it's not like it's totally Homer's fault. The makers of the film apparently thought its subject matter was too scary, so they softened it with "zany" circus music and the narrator (who happens to be Troy McClure) making some puns. ("Here's an appealing fellow. In fact, they're 'a-peeling' him off the sidewalk!")
      Troy McClure: Hi! I'm actor Troy McClure, you may remember me from such public service movies as Alice Through The Windshield Glass and The Decapitation of Larry Leadfoot.
    • In the episode where Marge gets issues with road rage, part of her community service is watching a film documenting the dangers of angry drivers, wth such gems as a judge, wearing robes and all, sentencing passing cars to "kiss his ass", and an astronaut going berserk in the middle of the road with a golf club.
    • Subverted at the end of "The [PTA] Disbands"; Springfield Elementary begins renting its unused cloak rooms to the prison to deal with budget problems. Skinner hopes the presence of convicted felons would scare the more troublesome students (Bart) straight. The episode ends with this exchange:
    Snake: Bust me out of here, I'll totally make it worth your while.
    Bart: I'm listening.
  • The "Ghost Car" film shown to Kim Possible's Driver's Ed class is presumably rather gory (even in scratchy black and white), judging from the reactions we see.
  • Parodied in an episode of The Venture Bros.. The boys visit a prison "Scare 'em Straight" program... a supervillain program, even. The Monarch, as per usual, shows quite a bit of genuine concern over the boys being there, while other supervillains lament that they've made the wrong choices in life that led to them having horrible facial deformities and so on.
  • In the Treegasm episode of Ugly Americans, Mark has Randall convince a tree to stay with its girlfriend by giving it a very long and very detailed account of his sexual history, culminating with "Oh, and also, my dick recently fell off. I don't know how I forgot that little chestnut."
  • The Boondocks:
    • "...Or Die Trying" has a parody of anti-piracy PSAs, which compares "stealing movies" to robbing and murdering an old lady. This succeeds at scaring Jazmine into fearing movie piracy.
    • In "A Date with the Booty Warrior", Huey and Riley are sent to a "Scare 'em Straight" type of program, where they go to a prison and see how bad it is. But the whole thing goes very awry, when they and the rest of their group are taken hostage during a Prison Riot. However, in the ending, Riley claims to be completely unscared and unimpressed by his experience.
  • Mr. Krabs did this twice on SpongeBob SquarePants. First concerning the hooks, then about the main drain. Squidward also did this about the Slasher.
    • The mash bringing... the slash singing... the rash slinging... the flash ringing... the ash pinging... thethethe HASH SLINGING SLASHER!!!!!
    • SpongeBob himself does it when he is made hall monitor. Seeing a couple's window open, he decides to scare them into leaving it closed by dressing in a balaclava, jumping through it, and shouting "I'm the Open Window Maniac!", sending them running out the door. Soon, the police are looking for the Maniac... as is SpongeBob, not knowing that he's actually looking for himself.
  • Played for laughs in American Dad! where it shows a younger Hayley refusing to eat her vegetables until Stan tells her she needs to eat them in order to get strong and fend off sexual predator Bill Clinton. Stan then knocks under the table and says "Oh! I think he's here right now!", which causes Hayley to quickly finish her food out of fear.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Prick Up Your Ears", the school brings in a PSA group advocating for abstinence in the most hyperbolic terms possible. Such claims include "Sex turns straight people gay and gays into Mexicans", "If you have sex, your penis will fall off, and land in another dimension, populated entirely by dogs, who will eat it", and "If you have sex, you're automatically in Al-Qaeda".
    • Another episode has Brian required to retake the DMV test to renew his license, and Stewie makes a "driving safety" video in the style of the old scare-em-straight gore fests, except with himself poorly edited into playing all the roles. If that wasn't bad enough, most of the video is just the characters talking about getting oral sex while driving.
  • Parodied in an episode of Duckman, as Duckman's father had once attempted to scare him straight after he stole some candy from the store, by having the chief of police lock him up for an hour, similarly to the real-life experience of Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, 15 minutes after putting young Duckman in a cell, the chief tipped over his chair and hit his head on a radiator, putting him in a coma for 18 months. No one else knew why he was in there, and his father never came back for him, so Duckman ended up staying in prison until the chief woke up and let him out. All this resulted in was giving Duckman a crippling fear of enclosed spaces.
  • The Defenders of the Earth episode "100 Proof Highway" contains a scene where Mandrake catches Kshin taking liquor from his drinks cabinet. Realising Kshin (who only started drinking to copy his peers) doesn't understand the dangers of alcohol, Mandrake shows the boy a vision of what could happen to him if he continues to drink; in the vision, Kshin (aged up to the same age as Rick, LJ, and Jedda) is killed in a drunk driving accident. Afterwards, Mandrake tells Kshin that:
    One little drink leads to another. And the others may lead to that, Kshin.
  • Kaeloo: Parodied in Episode 96, when Stumpy and Quack Quack get addicted to eating carrots which have the same effect as tobacco. Kaeloo decides to pull a scare 'em straight by lying to them that they'll turn into rabbits if they keep eating them. She also points out that Stumpy must have already begun turning into one because he has buckteeth, and ignoring the fact that Stumpy is a squirrel and has always had buckteeth, the two boys decide to give up carrots for good. And then they get addicted to something else.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "The Washouts," Spitfire gives a speech to Scootaloo warning her about the dangers of going through with joining the Washouts with Lightning Dust, saying that Scootaloo will end up "in a full body wing and hoof cast, drinking through a straw" multiple times. Spitfire does this in a Drill Sergeant Nasty tone with exaggerated body movements and at the top of her lungs to get the point across. At first, the speech doesn't work, as Scootaloo still joins the Washouts, but when she sees the ridiculously dangerous stunt she's supposed to perform, she admits she's thinking about "drinking through a straw" and tries to back out.
    Spitfire: "Practice?!" Well, la-dee-doodle-da! Let me give you a different scenario. You're probably saying to yourself "I'm young, I'm strong, I'm gonna go out there and stunt some tricks with my new friend Lightning Dust." Well, I'm here to tell you that if you play that game, you're gonna find out it's pretty hard to "stunt tricks" in a FULL BODY WING AND HOOF CAST, DRINKING THROUGH A STRAW!
  • Motor Mania: One of the early cartoons to star Goofy during his "everyman" phase, it shows the dangers of road rage and other hazards on the road, and is often shown in driver's ed classes in real life.
  • In the Care Bears episode “A Rhyme In Time”, Gram reads Hugs and Tugs a story about safety after they get into danger. The book scares them, as they imagine things like smoke being full of monstrous creatures, hot liquids as lava, a bathtub as an ocean, and being chased by bottles of poison. Fortunately, Gram calms them down, and the twins are happily talking before bed.
  • One episode of The Amazing World of Gumball has the parents and Principal Brown attempt this to discourage kids from skipping school by staging a fake hijacking with the schoolbus. It goes wrong when it turns into a REAL hijacking.

    Real Life 
  • In criminology and studies of delinquent rehabilitation, Scared Straight programs are infamous for being, well, bullshit. Almost no credible scientific evidence has ever backed up that these programs reduce rates of delinquent recidivism; in fact, many studies demonstrate the exact opposite. For example, delinquent teens sent off to boot camp-style rehab programs often come out of them having learned new techniques for running faster, climbing higher, and building up muscle — things that could be quite useful in the criminal world. The only way in which Scaring 'Em Straight is successful is when you demonstrate not the consequences of getting caught, but the likelihood of it — criminals don't care how scary the punishment itself is so much as that there's a punishment at all.
  • Many cultures have been doing this to children for a long time, inventing scary supernatural beings — not always strictly malevolent — who will straight up abduct children who misbehave and don't listen to their parents. Indeed, this is the source of several modern-day boogeymen — and several more beloved cultural figures like Santa Claus, who traditionally did abduct kids on his "naughty" list. (Consider the provenance of his sidekick The Krampus.) Indigenous cultures in North America often included the twist of the kid being actually accosted by someone in costume, only for their parents to intervene and save them, and then for the Masquerade to be revealed at a special ceremony.
  • Anti-drug PSAs frequently backfire for this reason. For instance, they scare kids with The Aggressive Drug Dealer, making them think it's impossible to say no to someone who tries to sell you drugs (not strictly true). Or they go into gory detail about the consequences of drug abuse, which aren't always accurate for the drug in question. Or they may even have ulterior motives; during the Prohibition era in the U.S., the government launched a widespread Dry Crusader program which was actually pushed on them by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, whose goal was to recruit children into the movement. All of this makes such programs very risky; if the audience is largely comprised of teenagers with a built-in mistrust of The Man, they could (and often do) wind up believing that everything the government says about drugs is untrue, leading to a feedback loop that causes them to go into progressively harder drugs — whose negative consequences need no exaggeration to be scary. This has been known for ages (in North America, for decades studies have shown that its (in)famous D.A.R.E. program does exactly this), but schools and organizations just can't help themselves.
  • Egg Sitting is a form of this. Advanced technology reveals its motivations; instead of a sack of flour, nowadays kids get a realistic electronic baby doll who cries at more or less random intervals (even in the middle of the night), demanding to be "fed", "changed", or "rocked". And there's a non-zero chance you get a "crack baby", which cries far more frequently (and in a more desperate and high-pitched tone) than the other dolls.
  • Driver's education is rife with this — and for good reason, as vehicular accidents are often gruesome and depressingly frequent. Over the years, showing the ugly consequences of unsafe driving habits — things which could have been resolved with something as simple as wearing a seat belt — has come to be a widespread and accepted meansnote  of teaching safe driving to new drivers. It's also particularly apposite when detailing the dangers of drunk driving.
    • The Ur-Example in this particular field is the essay "And Sudden Death", which ran in Reader's Digest way back in 1935. Let alone for the time, even by modern standards it was an extremely graphic account of all the horrible things that can happen to you in a car accident. It was quite effective, especially given the relative lack of modern safety innovations like airbags and seat belts. Representative line (from near the beginning, no less):
      "If ghosts could be put to a useful purpose, every bad stretch of road in the United States would greet the oncoming motorist with groans and screams and the educational spectacle of ten or a dozen corpses, all sizes, sexes and ages, lying horribly still on the bloody grass."
    • One method is to introduce a "rehabilitated" drunk driver who describes, in gruesome detail (and possibly with pictures), the injuries he suffered and/or inflicted in a drunk driving accident, the extensive reconstructive surgery he underwent, and exactly how lucky he is to be alive. These guys often make the rounds doing assemblies both for high school students and adults (like in the military).
    • High schools kick it into overdrive around prom time, as it's depressingly common for kids looking to have a good time and prove they're adults to go around drinking and then driving.
    • One campaign against drunk driving that's been going on in American schools since at least The '90s does this by randomly choosing a few members of the student body and having them "killed" by a drunk driver. On the milder end, someone dressed as The Grim Reaper taps you on the shoulder and you're not allowed to interact with anyone for the rest of the day (including teachers). On the scarier end, you don't go to class that day — instead, they straight up pretend you were killed by a drunk driver and watch your friends' distraught reactions. In a couple of cases they even held an impromptu vigil and got the "victims"' parents to speak before revealing that it was a hoax. British schools use a variant of this to teach kids to be Too Smart for Strangers, turning the kids into kidnapping victims.
    • Some schools have staged a drunk driving "accident" at the school entrance, complete with smashed up cars, bloody victims, and emergency responders.
    • Another program uses a car that has been rigged to simulate the reaction times and motor control of a drunk driver and then challenges students to drive through an obstacle course without hitting anything.
    • The PARTY program in Canada is a variant in which high school students are taken to a hospital to see how the staff there try to save drunk driving victims. It's not pretty, and it often involves police officers as guest speakers, too.
  • Dioramas are a good way to achieve this effect. They might be more effective than videos just because you can see the models get burned by real fire, drowned by real water, and shocked by real electricity as consequences of their foolish actions.
  • The inspiration for Strangers with Candy was one Florrie Fisher:
    "I was thrown from a horse and I had a laminectomy and I ended up in the San Francisco General Hospital. I was operated on by the same physician who had operated on the late Jayne Mansfield's son Zoltan when he was mauled by the lion."
  • Religions often do this, scaring adults and non-adults alike into compliance by saying they'll go to Hell if they're evil. One particularly bizarre (and journalist-attracting) variant in the U.S. is the "Hell House", which appears to be a typical Halloween-type Haunted House but instead presents the horrors as a Fire and Brimstone Hell and the consequences of not leading a particular brand of conservative Christian lifestyle. One fictional depiction occurs in this series of Something*Positive strips, during which the author learned that some also have "9/11 rooms":
    Randy: Secondly, the "Holy Ghost Stories" storyline upset some people — including my father. I made a promise to my dad long ago to avoid certain topics. Sadly, when I was researching the Hell Houses and learned some did incorporate a 9/11 room (one even centered around an entire terrorist attack)... well, I sort of lost it. Normally my storylines are about exaggeration. In regards to hell houses I found myself trying to understate things and omit some acts that occur that filled me with WAY too much rage.
  • Many jurisdictions will require cigarette manufacturers to print gruesome images on the packages depicting the results of a lifetime of cigarette use. Depictions range from rotting teeth to bleeding brains to cancerous mouths to corroded lungs.
  • Parents will occasionally do this by organizing a run-in with the police (particularly if the kid risks getting in trouble with them for real) in which a cop will lock up the kid for ten minutes and then explain it as a consequence of being naughty. For whatever reason, it seems to lead to art; among the artists who recounted being subjected to this were Harlan Ellison and Alfred Hitchcock, the latter of whom developed a lifelong fear of The Man as a result and used it as a recurring theme in his work.
  • Dentists might have pictures of the mouths of people who don't see a dentist (or those who do but don't take care of their teeth), as a way of scaring their patients into listening to what they tell them. They also like rather explicit charts depicting periodontitis or gingivitis.
  • "The Third Wave" was an attempt to impress upon students how easy it is to fall in line with authoritarianism. It was organized by a high school teacher who had a student ask why so many Germans sided with the Nazis during World War II. He chose to demonstrate the point by organizing what amounted to a secret academic club — one that spread like wildfire throughout the school as the students got a thrill out of being members. Once that happened, he instilled utmost loyalty and discipline on the students, leading to them gleefully doing extra work to impress the leader and turning in fellow members who did not. When he eventually revealed it was all a hoax, many of the students were quite rattled; several went on record years later to say it was a valuable experience for them.
  • Sex education programs like to do this to impress upon students the importance of safe sex:
    • One way to do this by showing the results of a sexually transmitted disease — including pictures of affected genitals. And only some of them are trying to drive home that Sex Is Evil. Of course, since many Moral Guardians are not comfortable with actually showing The Body Parts That Must Not Be Named, they might focus more on the social consequences of an STD and how it will ruin your health — and your relationship.
    • Some sex ed classes include guest speakers who quite obviously are in the middle of a Teen Pregnancy. The idea is to impress upon students her age that "it could happen to you!" Instead, it usually leaves them nonplussed, as it rarely ever looks that bad and she clearly didn't listen. It's particularly insidious when combined with abstinence education, as here's someone who clearly has had sex telling others that they shouldn't even think about it.
    • The "Grim Reaper" ad was a famous 1987 ad in Australia credited with successfully informing the public — through the use of terrifying imagery — not only the dangers of the AIDS virus, but also that its transmission was not limited to gay men. In some quarters, though, it backfired, as people just associated gays with the Grim Reaper.
  • Dumb Ways to Die also turns out to be about railroad safety. Until they get around to that, though, it's mostly hilarious (and set to a fairly catchy song).
  • This method was employed in an attempt to ensure a Nuclear Weapons Taboo; by being explicit and gory about the prospect of nuclear annihilation coming 20 Minutes into the Future, people would be dissuaded from ever actually using nuclear weapons (or, more importantly, electing people who might). The point was to get people to think of nukes not as really big bombs but as a Doomsday Device. However, the exact description of the impending nuclear apocalypse turned out to be exaggerated; in practice, hundreds of open-air nuclear test detonations have shown that the effects were not going to be as destructive as commonly thought. It's led to some interesting side effects, such as an extreme distaste for nuclear power generation.
  • Healthy eating campaigns are prone to this; they don't skimp on showing how harmful unhealthy food can be to the body, from clogged arteries to heart attacks to liver damage. Older campaigns also often ignore the idea of eating junk food in moderation, suggesting that even a smidgen of it will lead to these consequences (as opposed to the modern conventional wisdom that, in this case, quantity beats quality — you can get away with eating junk food in small quantities).
  • Animal rights activists love this trope. Many revel in showing footage from slaughterhouses, animal testing labs, and factory farms, hoping to win people to their cause.
  • The appel du vide (lit. "call of the void") is the French term for when your mind does this to itself. It's when you suddenly imagine an intrusive, self-destructive, or life-threatening scenario that either frightens or depresses you. It's theorized that this is a major factor in how humans control their actions and prevent themselves from doing things that harm themselves or others.
  • Woodshop classes are required to do this, especially when teaching teenagers. If you refuse to follow safety advice, it can be a very dangerous place; kids who don't pay attention or play with things they shouldn't can and do lose fingers or bits of scalp.
  • Vaccination is a very pricky theme. A study tested whether presenting scientific and empirical results or invoking this trope by telling some gruesome real cases could convert an anti-vaxxer. To the surprise of the researchers, both were equal in being completely ineffective. After the COVID-19 Pandemic provided a lot of data on the subject, it's pretty much borne itself out; many observers accused public health authorities (in some cases even rightly, but hardly all) of exaggerating the effects of the disease as a means of convincing people to take precautions, leading to avoidable psychological, economic, and indeed physical harm.


Video Example(s):


Captain Pike's Speech

"Strange New Worlds". After a first contact operation goes badly awry due to faulty intel, Captain Pike makes a second attempt. He lays out to the Kileans the violent history of Earth that led up to World War III (which uses stock footage of civil unrest from the 2010s and early 2020s), and tells them that's where they're headed if they can't put aside their differences. But they have another choice: be better, and join the United Federation of Planets.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / PatrickStewartSpeech

Media sources: