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 and/or stupid. 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 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. (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.
Can lead to Do Not Do This Cool Thing, if the audience likes looking at gruesome pictures. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 any more. 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.
- 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.
Jack Chick: But God, I've spent my whole life kissing your ass!
- 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:
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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and miss.
- The video "Dark and Lonely Water", which was about safety in and near water, had a Grim Reaper-esque figure (voiced by Donald Pleasance!) stalking through swamps, then looming over children playing by streams and sending them to their deaths. It ends with a chilling voiceover of "I'll be back..."
- 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.
- 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! http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15302476/)
- 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 horror movie addict and thoroughly enjoys the showing.
- 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, its not quite clear. The entire film and a riff by Larry Bundy Jr. can be seen here.
- While much of the film can be pretty laughable, there is one scene that actually does its job right — Sharon unintentionally drinks some weed killer, and goes home not feeling well. Shortly afterward, the film fades in to a shot of her house late that night, and while you never get to see what's happening inside the house, you can hear Sharon crying and screaming in agony from the chemical poisoning and calling for her mother as the lights turn on. The next scene shows Sharon's mother clearing her bedroom of her belongings and her now-empty bed.
- 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 horrifying slide show about VD 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Parodied on a regular sketch on Saturday Night Live, 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.
- 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.
- 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 supposed to invoke this, but their over-the-topness leads them to being mocked. Besides the X Marks The Spot short, others have included:
- Last Clear Chance, a short showing that you should never horse around railroad crossings. Y'know "Why don't they just look?"
- Cheating, a short showing you that if you cheat once, the entire world will hate you.
- The Days of Our Years, another short by the same group who did Last Clear Chance, that shows that no matter what happens, you will get hurt or die. No exceptions.
- Notably, that one managed to at least vaguely disturb the riffers at one point. More specifically, the part where a guy gets his eyes burned by a welding torch.
- Parodied in an episode of MADtv with a commercial for "Scared Straight Anywhere".
- 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.
- "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:
- 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).
- 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.
- "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 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.
- 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 pointless, as a more appropriate Aesop would be "don't be on mountains during thunderstorms" rather than "don't have sex".
- Plus it's rather sexist since it's always the girl that gets killed. 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 Horny Devils and Vagina Dentata were initially warnings against sex with strangers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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."
- 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 which was made worse with Bill Cosby's rape scandal) 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 drugs. (They'll be lucky if their efforts haven't driven the kid to drink.) 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.
- 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!"
- The Finnish primary childrens' TV show had a segment in the '80s and '90s that seems to have been out to intentionally traumatize toddlers about thin ice. Featured were panic, Uncanny Valley animation, and music that was just plain wrong. Good thing, too — the way Finland is crammed full of nature means that each winter fills the country with open, inviting death traps. Falling through lake ice doesn't dick around but kills you in a hurry.
- The clip also does a good job by showing kids what to do in case someone does fall into an icy lake.
- The bear's voice is plain horror. If you're curious, he says "Beware of weak ice." In a creepily low tone.
- 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 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.
- As seen in Pinocchio, if you drink beer, smoke cigars, 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.
- 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.
- One episode had the dentist suggest weaning Tommy at age one. 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.
- Another episode features Didi encouraging Lou to eat healthy in 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.
- 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, complete with graphic pictures. But she fails to mention that the danger is only while having sex. 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 crew in "Butt Out" that tried to get the kids to not smoke. However, with their actions and their final statement "If you don't smoke, you can be just like us", it immediately causes the boys to start smoking.
- 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.
- The Simpsons
Snake: Bust me out of here, I'll totally make it worth your while.
- A dentist scares Ralph into brushing his teeth by showing him "The Big Book of British Smiles."
- 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:
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 balacava, 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.
- Toy Story used this to epic effect. In order to beat Sid (a kid who loves to mutilate and blow up his toys), Woody decides to reveal to him that all toys are alive. As a result, Sid is terrified of toys.
- 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 say "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".
- 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 drink 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.
- Balto: 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.
- 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 re-offending (recidivism), and in fact many studies demonstrate the exact opposite trend occurring, as noted in the blurb above. 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 their muscles. Basically, they're being trained to be better criminals.
- Scare tactics that involve showing criminals that they will get caught are pretty efficient, though. How scary the punishment itself is, is largely irrelevant, it is the danger of being caught that scares them away from criminal behaviour.
- Any anti-drug PSA inevitably backfires for the same reason as above. The biggest risks will The Aggressive Drug Dealer, and many, many of the commercials use either imagery or just outright say that you'll waste away to a hollow the skeleton on the first drink/puff. However, since the ads are aimed at teenagers who are already in the state of distrusting or outright disliking "the man", if they decide to try a drug and like it, they come to conclusion that all the negative things they've been told about drugs are untrue.
- Before anti-drug PSAs, the U.S. had "scientific temperance instruction" in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This was lurid Dry Crusader propaganda pushed on the public schools by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. The material trafficked in pseudoscientific hysteria about the dangers of alcohol and was explicitly aimed at recruiting children into the temperance movement.
- The old flour sack baby assignment you would be given in health class. With more advanced technology, this assignment has been upgraded. It now includes a realistic, electronic baby doll that cries at more or less random intervals, even in the middle of the night, needing to be "fed," "changed," or "rocked." Included with some sets of dolls is a "crack baby," which, once switched on, cries almost all the time in a far more high-pitched and desperate tone than the other dolls.
- Students at a school in Oceanside, California were told that some of their classmates had been killed in drunk driving accidents. Most of them were sad, some cried hysterically. Hours later, it was revealed that their friends were alive, and the whole thing was a hoax to scare 'em straight.
- This must have "inspired" a few schools, because this also happened in Marysville, Washington in 2008. Complete with candle light vigil and tearful speeches given by the students' mothers, and no indication that it was false during the assembly.
- Older Than They Think: This has been going on since the 90's at least.
- There's a less extreme version of this at many schools. They have a person dressed as the grim reaper come get you. For the rest of the day, you aren't allowed to talk at all or be called on in class. Then, at the end of the day, there is an assembly with all the kids selected laying down pretending to be dead while someone talks about the dangers of drunk driving.
- Anyone who lived in Ontario around 1998-2000 while in grades one and two was probably scared shitless by the Ontario Hydro Diorama. Essentially, it was a little model town filled with kids doing various stupid things with electricity, such as flying kites too close to hydro lines or jamming forks in toasters. The presenter explained the obvious danger in the below situation before pressing a button that caused the kid to light up like a Christmas tree, spew sparks, and let out an indescribably horrific zapping sound. There was also a similar version brought to 3-5th graders by a electrical company in Maine, depicting things like kids being killed via electrocution when trying to retrieve a soccer ball from a power plant
- They also had a similar one about house fires, including a kid lighting matches in a closet full of clothes and someone falling asleep with a lit cigarette; after the presenter explained the danger the rooms would light up like they were in flames and the presenter would tell you a gruesome story about dying in a fire.
- Florrie Fisher was the inspiration for Jerri Blank.
"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."
- Hell and similar concepts in many religions are examples of this.
- This gets parodied in Dilbert: apparently, there's a whole realm that deals with little stuff that Hell ignores, like drinking bad milk and stealing extra ketchup packets. It's called "Heck," and it's ruled by the pitchspork-wielding Prince of Insufficient Light. Scott Adams came up with this idea when Executive Meddling kept him from making a strip involving Satan.
- Mick Stevens' Poodles From Hell (1984) goes into detail about Purgatory: who goes there (people who drink right out of the bottle or eat from the second layer of chocolates before finishing the top) and what happens (you are put on the staff of Heaven, chauffeurs, waitresses, etc., and are subjected to a wide range of petty annoyances).
- In the US, tobacco companies have begun to put images on the outsides of cigarette boxes, depicting things such as rotting teeth, bleeding brains, and other things.
- Australia's recently gone a step further — in addition to the photos of what smoking can do to the human body (and yes, we're talking full-blown photos of the real-deal for those who weren't sure), tobacco companies are now limited to plain packaging, meaning no colourful logos or eye-catching boxes.
- Alfred Hitchcock detailed a story from his youth about how his father sent him to the police station with a note that told the desk sergeant to lock him in a cell for ten minutes. When he was let out, the sergeant told him, "This is what we do to naughty boys." It instilled in him a lifelong fear of the Man, as evidenced by its use as a recurring theme in several of his movies.
- Harlan Ellison tells this same story on himself. He was opening boxes of cereal in a grocery store to see if any of them had the one premium of a collect'em all set he did not have.
- Dentists may often have pictures of their worst cases or pictures of people who didn't take care of their teeth at all on their walls, or charts showing signs of peridontitis or Gingivitis.
- "The Third Wave." Originating as a high school experiment to teach students how German citizens were blinded to the Jewish Holocaust of WWII, also a book and a couple of movie adaptations. Seriously freaky stuff; some people have said, on watching accounts of it, that they could see themselves most likely joining in the Wave right from the start. It started in a classroom, and spread to the entire school, evolving a prejudice against non-members and basically turning said school into a small scale version of Nazi Germany, with less killing.
- Many sex-ed programs — regardless of whether they preach safe sex or abstinence — will show pictures of STD-ridden genitals to drive the point home.
- The Drivers Ed films "Red Asphalt I, II, III, IV, V" is basically just a compilation of video footage shot at the scene of particularly grisly car wrecks.
- Driver's Ed in general tends to trend this way in most Western countries. This is not entirely without reason, as most major cities gain a few new gruesome examples of the results of bad driving every week. And the victims are, almost invariably, the ones who didn't listen to the warnings from their elders/teachers/what have you. Scare 'Em Straight is tolerated far more for driver's education than in other places because it's proven over and over again to be the most effective way of teaching the consequences of unsafe driving.
- A lot of British children have been to "Firm foundations", a day out set specifically for this trope. The one which sticks in people's memory is when the site stages a kidnapping of the children, with up to the two members of staff staring evilly at a group of terrified 10-11 year olds before finally letting them know that it was all a test on stranger danger.
- Some of the more radical churches in the USA will host what are essentially 'Scare 'Em Straight fests' called "Hell House", often on Halloween. These are sort-of like your typical carnival haunted house. The notable difference being: instead of zombies popping out at you or what not, each of the rooms/scenes you're lead through will feature 'immoral acts' — such as gay marriage, under-aged sex, etc. — or terrible things happening to people who participate in said 'immoral acts.' It often ends in hell. As in, a recreation of the commonly-held Western image of hell (fire, lots of red, etc., etc.). A man dressed as Satan will usually be screaming at you at this point.
- Some High Schools like to put wrecked cars near the entrance around prom time to show kids "This is what happens when you drink at prom!"
- Heck, some schools have a whole assembly based around this. There are plenty of "rehabilitated" drunk drivers who travel around and speak at high schools about how it ruined their lives. Unlike most of the examples on this page, though, the effects of the accident are not exaggerated.
- The US military does a similar thing, except that the "rehabilitated" drunk driver is an actual driver who survived who also provides pictures of how she or he looked before the accident, when the medics arrived (severed limbs optional) and, if they were lucky, after several sessions of reconstructive surgery.
- This is actually a custom in several cultures. There's a (North) American Indian tribe where parents told their kids if they didn't behave, some fantasy beings (actually disguised relatives or friends) would come and take them away. So the kids will be actually scared if these beings appear, only to be saved by the caring family. (And later, there's even a ceremony where the Masquerade is unveiled, so to speak.)
- Some US high schools now have a component of their sex ed classes for the younger grades, if this is a school that has sex ed taught by older students. One of the students will come in crying on the last day and explain how she (it's always a girl) went to some foreign country and got AIDS and the various horrible things that have happened to her since. Her boyfriend dumped her, she's dying, she can't go to college and so on. Eventually she'll run out of the room in tears and then the others will explain that this is a true story, or it could be, but it's not hers and the girl doesn't have AIDS. Basic emotional manipulation.
- Sex ed classes taught by guest speakers sometimes have a guest speaker that's quite obviously pregnant, and they're sometimes quite young (sometimes even in high school). However, instead of the intended "That could be me!", it tends to become "why is this hypocrite telling me not to have sex?" Perhaps the most infamous case of this in the US was the Bristol Palin abstinence campaign.
- On a more adult level, the famous 1987 "Grim Reaper" ad to raise AIDS awareness in Australia has been credited with successfully informing the public about the very real risks of the virus, and that transmission was not limited to gay men through its terrifying imagery. It backfired somewhat in that some interpreted the reapers in the commercial to symbolise gay men and not the AIDS virus, however.
- Traffic safety films before the 1970s used to feature the gruesome results of actual car accidents and the people involved in them who were often horrifically injured and even died on camera. In the 1970s onward, this was replaced with slow motion footage of crash test dummies in collision tests; it drove home the point of how accidents happen without getting into the gore.
- Operation Lifesaver is this with railroad safety.
- ''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).
- Nuclear Weapons Taboo. The entire popular culture from the end of The '50s to The Great Politics Mess-Up had been imbued with the sense on a nuclear apocalypse coming 20 Minutes into the Future, enough to burn off the human species altogether and leave the cockroaches ruling the Earth. In practice, the hundreds of open air nuclear test detonations show the effects were not going to be that destructive. Which was the true danger from the start: people will think longer and maybe give up before launching the Doomsday Device; while treating the nuke as just a very big bomb not inherently different than any other ordinance is tempting enough for those in power to use them.
- The PARTY program in Canada is a form of this. 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 can involve police officers showing up to talk about drunk driving accidents.
- Healthy-eating videos don't skimp on showing how harmful unhealthy food can be to the body, from clogged arteries, to heart attacks, to damaged liver. Several older ones seem to ignore the idea of eating junkfood in moderation, either you eat all healthy (fruits, veggies, grains, ect.) or all junk (Burgers, fried foods, chips, cake). That unhealthy foods can be safely eaten if you eat them sparingly, with plenty of healthier foods in between, is rarely mentioned in older videos.
- The essay "And Sudden Death," which ran in Reader's Digest in 1935, offered an extremely graphic (even by modern standards) account of all the horrible things that can happen to you in a car accident. Near the beginning of the essay, the author suggests that "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." It's pretty much downhill from there (although remembering that cars in 1935 had very few safety features — even seat belts were rare back then — can serve as mild Nightmare Retardant).
- Animal rights activists also love this trope, with many of them showing footage from slaughterhouses, animal testing labs, and factory farms to win people over to the cause of vegetarianism and veganism.
- Your mind will often do this to itself. The term "l'appel du vide" means "The call of the void" and it's when your mind portrays a self-destructive decision or life-threatening scenario in your head. This is done to keep you in control of your actions and prevent you from making a decision that creates a life-threatening risk.