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Bashir: But the point [of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"] is, if you lie all the time, nobody's going to believe you, even when you're telling the truth.

Garak: Are you sure that's the point, doctor?

Bashir: Of course, what else could it be?

Garak: That you should never tell the same lie twice.

A Sister Trope to Alternate Character Interpretation, this refers to when the entire moral message of a story is subject to a strong kind of Fridge Logic. As in, while the characters may interpret the Aesop a certain specific way and the writer has also intended for the audience to see it as such, the audience may end up scratching their heads and noting that if the characters had followed a different course of action, they could have avoided most of the complications of the story just as easily.

Can often result from an Idiot Plot. For the weasel-worded, Accentuate the Negative troper version, see Warp That Aesop.

Examples of Alternate Aesop Interpretation include:


Anime & Manga

  • In Episode 11 of Cowboy Bebop, "Toys in the Attic," an Alternative Aesop was acknowledged after Jet lost his money (and clothes) in a card game with Faye. The Aesop he learns from it is that people can achieve something only by honesty and hard work. Faye, however, sees it as a proof for her Family-Unfriendly Aesop, that Humans Are Bastards and only the smartest and strongest can survive.
    • Throughout the episode, each character offers their own potential moral for the situation. By far the most sensible is Spike's take: "Don't leave things in the fridge."
    • Another interpretation of Jet's situation at the beginning might be, "Don't gamble against someone who you know cheats."
  • The Pain Invasion arc of Naruto. Was it supposed to be about The Power of Friendship, or, rather, "Pride goeth before a fall, and a haughty spirit before destruction"?
  • The moral of the Gundam franchise is supposedly War Is Hell but viewers have often wondered if the real moral is "Causing a war is bad, yes. But fighting a war defensively and against those who caused it, can be flat out heroic."


Comic Books

  • Tricked is a graphic novel in which we find out at the end of the story that the moral the surviving characters took from the plot was "guns are bad". But, the access Steve had to his deceased grandfather's guns was just dumb luck. Steve himself didn't know whether his grandmother had gotten rid of the guns until he was already there. By contrast, Steve's mental illness and erratic behavior was observed and commented upon by several characters in the story, but they all decide it's Somebody Else's Problem and let Steve go on his merry way. In terms of preventing the situation that makes up the climax of the book, better mental health awareness probably would have been a lot more help than gun control advocacy.


Film

  • What eventually became Act of Valor was always intended to be a recruitment video for the U.S. Navy SEALS. That it makes a good recruitment video was almost the only positive comment critics could consistently give it. And yet with an outcome of roughly half the team becoming casualties in the film's 1- to 6-week span, including one guy losing his eye, one guy getting shot repeatedly and sustaining major injuries, and one guy dying and leaving behind a widow expecting a child, the long version of the moral seems to pretty clearly be, "These guys are heroes because they get horrible outcomes on a regular basis." Which is arguably pretty good for only attracting the most committed for the SEALS, but might ultimately be counter-productive for Navy recruitment as a whole.
  • The Breakfast Club. The common interpretation is that the titular teens could overcome their differences by finding common ground and appreciating the uniqueness of each of their characters. The more cynical interpretation is that the characters didn't actually learn anything: At the end of the movie, their narrative function is pretty much what you'd expect from their character types. The girl with rich parents hooks up with the bad boy, the jock gets with the loner after she gets a makeover, and the nerd is the only one who puts any actual work into the assignment.
    • Made even worse by the fact that the message of the loner and the jock's hookup is basically "Boys will like you as long as you dress how they want."
  • The obvious moral of Kung Fu Panda is to always Be Yourself. However, given how sympathetic Tai Lung can come across in how hard he worked to attain the Dragon Scroll only to be denied, and how it can be argued that Po hardly trained at all and did get the scroll, one could make an argument that the moral is the only thing that determines whether you succeed or not is fate.
    • Tai Lung worked for the Dragon Scroll because he thought it would make him powerful; we're supposed to take from his backstory that he was working for the scroll for the wrong reasons, and sympathizing with him for reacting badly to Oogway's rejection is missing the point. Po wasn't explicitly working for the scroll at all; he was trying to better himself for it's own sake. So I guess the alternate Aesop would be, "Hard work is only a virtue if you're doing it for the right reason".
      • The reason Tai Lung wasn't given the scroll is because he isn't psychologically capable of making use of it, the same as his (and Po's) master. It takes Po a while but he finally gets it; Tai Lung's brain breaks when he finally sees it. The scroll is blank, the final lesson is that there is no secret power. Tai Lung is also presented as a much more powerful fighter than Po; Po is just naturally immune to his best moves.
  • In the film The Object of My Affection, the main character (a white woman), ends up with a black man at the end. Apparently, the reason for this was to show that "one should be able to date whomever one wishes". But in practice, the message that came across was more like: "Can't find a white man? Get yourself a black man! A black man will love you much more than a white man could possibly ever will!".


Literature

  • In The Commitment by Dan Savage, one chapter mentions a sexually inexperienced wife who divorces her husband, concluding that some non-monogamy could have saved their relationship. This assumption is based off of the intense interest she takes in Dan and Terry's sex life. But, as she considers "sexual adventures she regretted" to be a good thing, and assumes that Dan and Terry are depraved homosexuals because they're gay, we could just as easily conclude that her sexual inexperience is leading her to over-romanticize sexcapades—recall Savage's earlier befuddlement at how "stupid mistakes you survive become points of pride". That's assuming that their marriage wasn't suffering other problems, which seems likely. The wife says, "I would love to have a three-way. But I wouldn't want my husband to know the details." When her husband laughs, Savage takes this as an example of how marriage can be prudish, but note that the wife's statement about Three-Way Sex implies that she would be having sex with two strangers. Dan and Terry, by contrast, had two episodes of three-way sex, which were them with a third man whom they had both gotten to know personally.
  • The obvious moral of the Harry Potter series is Love is more powerful than Evil. There are probably many possible alternative morals, but one easy one is: If you're putting all your security eggs in one basket (or seven horcruxes), keep track of those friggin' baskets.
    • Another is "Don't let your arrogance override your intelligence." If Voldemort hadn't been so sure nobody would realize he was using horcruxes, he probably would have hidden them better and made them less obvious items. This one is even mentioned in-story as his greatest weakness; he cannot even conceive someone being as clever as him.
  • In Slaughterhouse-Five, Kilgore Trout argues that the real Aesop of The Bible is "Make sure people don't have connections before you kill them." For example, he claims that it would have been more meaningful if God had "adopted" Jesus Christ as he was dying on the cross rather than say he was God's son all along.
  • Most readers interpreted the moral of I Kissed Dating Goodbye as "Do volunteer work as a substitute for having a significant other" instead of the intended message of "Do not forget about spirituality (including, but not limited to, serving others) simply because you wish for romantic love".
  • There's a whole list of them over on Cracked, take a look
  • Buzzfeed took a second look at various works by Dr. Seuss. Some of these are particularly Green Aesops. Considering the author, it is entirely possible that these are the intended lessons for adult readers.
    • Most of those listed are actually the primary aesop intended for the book.
    • The books were written to work on two levels: the timeless children's morality tale and political commentary on current events (for example, Marvin J. Mooney is Nixon). It's not as surprising when you realize that the first drawings he published were anti-Nazi political cartons starting in the late 1930's.


Musical Theatre

  • The narrator of Blood Brothers explicitly provides an Alternate Aesop Interpretation that counters what the symbolism and music have been suggesting about the tragic ending: Do we blame superstition for what came to pass? Or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class?'


Myth and Legend

  • From the pragmatic point of view, the aesop of The Boy Who Cried Wolf is "better safe than sorry". Hell, the boy is basically the inventor of training alert!
    • There's also "Don't trust kids with something important".
  • The Tortoise and the Hare is normally interpreted as, "Slow and steady wins the race," but it makes just as much sense to take it as, "Don't succumb to hubris when you have a clear advantage." Many recent examples, from American political elections to the Console Wars, bear this moral out pretty well.
    • If anything, the latter moral makes more sense: it wasn't because the tortoise was going slowly and steadily that he won.
    • It depends on the telling. In some variants, the Hare exhausts himself from the breakneck pace and naps for that reason, as opposed to pure hubris.
    • In some versions the Tortoise outright cheats (there are multiple tortoises or the tortoise jumps on the hair).


Webcomics

  • Misfile's 12th book tries to have Ash learn a lesson about his responsibility to the Old Road and fellow racers, but throughout the story arc, he points out none of his fellow racers like him, which they admit to his face, they got into this situation because of their own stupidity and he is completely unaffected by the situation, only coming in to stop the pestering and is then guilt tripped into finishing things. As was pointed out on the forums, the lesson is closer to "obey peer pressure" and the responsibility lesson seems tacked on and forced.


Western Animation

  • The aesop of King of the Hill episode "Moving On Up" could be either "Find a way to live with the annoyances in your life" or passive aggressively ignore the people that you can deal with and bottle the emotions that are natural.
  • ThunderCats (2011) has discernible Aesops in most episodes, some more well-executed than others.
    • "Song of The Petalars" has protagonist Lion-O give a Rousing Speech about The Last Dance and that they should "live Like You Were Dying," leading his team into a battle they cannot win, instead of living to fight another day. (They're saved by a Deus Ex Machina) The moral seems more like "Retreat is cowardice."
    • In "The Duelist and the Drifter" the Aesop is meant to be that we cannot rely on pure strength or weaponry alone, but must use flexibility, perception and skill to win battles. But since that amounts to a weaponless Lion-O Power Copying, perfectly replicating evasive maneuvers he's seen only once, the lesson could be "depend on your spontaneously-generated superpowers, not your sword."
  • The Aesop and Son shorts on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show had Aesop telling his son a fable with a moral, followed by his son proposing an alternate moral (which was inevitably an Incredibly Lame Pun).
  • The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy" was meant to show how a normal person would not be able to survive in that universe. It should be noted, however, that Frank Grimes' Sanity Slippage and eventual death came about from his own obsessive hostility towards Homer. Homer's attempts at making it up to Grimes after getting him in trouble only fuel the Green-Eyed Monster in Grimes, which lead to him concocting a scheme to humiliate the former in front of everyone. He finally snaps when his own at spiting someone he doesn't like, itself a rather childish act, doesn't go as planned.


Video Games

  • Valkyria Chronicles has way too many aesops, but the most uncomfortable one is the one against racism. The Darcsen are openly hated as a race because of the Darcsen Calamity, and we're told over and over that it's wrong to hate the Darcsen of today just because of something that happened so long ago. Then we find out that it wasn't the Darcsen who did it, it was the Valkyrur, and the Darcsen race is exonerated while the blame is laid at the feet of the Valkyrur where it should have been all along. And this attitude drives Alicia further down into Internalized Categorism as people begin to fear her potential for destruction, and ultimately resolves never to show her Valkyria status again. So "Don't judge people based on what happened long ago, because you'll never know how it really happened" becomes "It's okay to hate an entire race, as long as it's the right entire race".
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