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"Now, we're not trying to indoctrinate you. Well, we are, but we're not succeeding."
Peter Sagal, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me

This is when a very serious Aesop is undermined because it's presented by a show that just cannot handle it well.

This is especially common in children's shows. There are many, many cases where a well-meaning show for children tries to explain a newsworthy issue. Sadly, the characters just usually end up way out of their comfort zone and the message often goes way over the poor kids' heads, often because it's so different from the normal tone of the show.

Not that this is always the fault of the writers. Any attempt to tackle serious subject matter honestly is problematic when the Moral Guardians are watching. This is often due to the fact that many attempts to deal with such serious subject matter will usually have said Guardians responding with outrage at its mere inclusion! Yes, even if you are explicitly attempting to discourage it.

And so you often end up with children being warned about something dangerous -- but exactly why that something is dangerous is often never explained (which is why this trope can be a rich well of Paranoia Fuel). It's hard to tell kids "don't play with power tools because you might get killed" when you can't say die (so expect to hear something like "very, very badly hurt"). Likewise, gun safety is an improbable issue to address when everyone packs a laser gun or something. Most infamously, drug abuse isn't easy to deal with when you can't quantify why you shouldn't use drugs[1]or when you can't even acknowledge that drugs exist.

Not to be confused with a Broken Aesop. While there can be some crossover, Broken Aesops are lessons undermined by the action within the show (e.g., "Be nice to people who are different from you. Now, let's go back to fighting monsters!")

Don't confuse this with a Family-Unfriendly Aesop either, because while again there can be some crossover, Clueless Aesops are acceptable lessons -- at least, they start out that way. It's just that the lesson is handled in such a compressed time, in a manner that is so laughable (or even offensive), or is presented in such an out-there or age-inappropriate show that it ultimately ends up warped. The typical reaction is Don't Shoot the Message.

Also do not confuse with any Aesop delivered by Cher Horowitz.

Compare Space Whale Aesop, as there is an awful lot of crossover. See also some examples of And Knowing Is Half the Battle, Very Special Episode, Do Not Do This Cool Thing, and You Can Panic Now. Drugs Are Bad and Too Smart for Strangers are especially prone to this.

Important note: This trope is about works of fiction that fail to get their intended message across. Don't use this page to Complain About Aesops You Don't Like.

Examples of Clueless Aesop include:


Advertising

  • In the early 1990s, many MegaCorps would send, ostensibly out of the goodness of their hearts, free "educational kits' including lesson plans, worksheets, and other materials to elementary school teachers. In truth, they were really unsubtle advertisements for the company's products. These were often heartwarmingly/hilariously/heartbreakingly misguided. One of the most infamous such lesson plans doubles as a Broken Aesop: "Let's learn good nutrition with Ronald McDonald and friends!" Um...

 Troy: Now turn to the next problem. If you have three Pepsis and drink one, how much more refreshed are you? You, the redhead in the Chicago school system?

Student: Pepsi?

Troy: Partial credit!

  • Another example was the D.A.R.E. group in the late 1980s that tried to encourage kids to not do drugs and in their educational kits they included a pencil with the slogan "Too Cool To Do Drugs". Unfortunately, because they set their slogan not to start at the eraser end but at the lead end of the pencil, as it was sharpened the slogan devolved on the pencil from the original message, down to "Cool To Do Drugs", to simply "Do Drugs".
    • A similar incident happened on a smaller scale for some rubber wristbands for red ribbon week. The slogan on the wristbands: I've got BETTER things to DO than DRUGS. Observant students quickly noticed the message in all caps. Despite the mistakes (and news coverage) the exact same design is still in production.
  • Then there's this Digital Piracy Is Evil ad from Warner Bros. using a scene from Casablanca. Only trouble is anyone who has seen the movie knows Rick is actually angry at Ilsa for resisting the Nazis! So WB is comparing themselves to... what?
    • While not as uncomfortable in terms of subtext, the one where the Wizard of Oz yells at Dorothy and company for, er, pirating media is pretty terrible too.
  • "Don't Drown Your Food" is a PSA about not overloading your foods with high-calorie condiments, but the message is so vague that it makes it seem as if you shouldn't put any condiments on them at all.


Anime & Manga


Comics

  • Little Dot had an issue featuring the title character's Uncle Smoke, who likes to smoke. His obsession culminates with him taking a big smoke from a large pipe that's really a building decoration, after which a doctor tells him he has to stop smoking ... so he takes up skywriting! Because that's like smoking with a plane instead of your lungs! Seriously, look at it.
  • Possibly parodied in The Doom Comic with a Green Aesop about safe disposal of radioactive waste. In a comic otherwise entirely about the marine's hunt for his beloved BFG. Yeah.
  • Chick Tracts are (in)famous for their inability to convey a message.
  • Back in the late 1980s when AIDS was still the new pandemic, Archie comics sometimes included a full-page PSA featuring Principal Weatherbee telling the students: "Your best defense against AIDS is education" but didn't say anything else. So, where is this education we're supposed to get?
  • In the 80s there was an X-Men one-shot called Heroes for Hope in which the X-Men take on famine in Africa ... which, as everyone knows, is caused by an ancient demon that feeds on human misery. Oh well, at least Marvel gave the proceeds of the comic to charity.
    • The demon in question was established to be merely a consequence of the misery in the area, which was caused by far more complex causes... but it was very, very easy for the casual reader to get the above impression.
    • In retrospect, Mikhail Rasputin's quasi-introduction falls into this category by Fridge Logic-- Peter Corbeau compares his death to the real-life Apollo 1 fire... except that it was later revealed that Mikhail hadn't actually died, but had been sent to another dimension, gone insane, and come back as a supervillain. Addressing real-life disasters is hard in a comic that's so big on bringing people Back From the Dead.
  • Serenity (not that one) - it was supposed to be a story of bad girl finding about the wonders of God's love and becoming better person in the process. The way it was handled makes most people see it as depressing story about lonely girl getting subjected to emotional harassment and manipulation by bunch of Christian zealots, until she turns into brainwashed drone, while all she wanted was to have friends.


Films -- Live-Action


Literature

  • Enjoy this list of awkward Berenstain Bears books. Not all of them have Clueless Aesops, but remember, these books tend to be written for very young children.
    • Why did they even need a book about Mama being pregnant? They already had the one in which Sister was born.
    • Papa Bear is racist?! Argh!
  • This Cracked.com list of 'Great Books for Traumatizing Children' appears to be mostly made up of Clueless Aesops. They range from Anvilicious (Latawnya the Naughty Horse Learns to Say No to Drugs) to outright fucked up (Alfie's Home) to Nazi propaganda (The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pinscher).
  • The Horatio Hornblower story "Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer". The story features Horatio taking part in a sneak attack on a French ship. One of his crew, who earlier complained of feeling ill, has an epileptic fit. As the man -- unaware of his surroundings -- starts speaking loudly, Horatio strikes the man on the head with the tiller so they won't be found out by the enemy. Although the man's fate is left vague, it's clear that even if he isn't dead, he'll never play the piano again. Later on Horatio notes that the guilt of possibly killing the man is what gave him the courage to complete his task. Uh, what?
    • Actually, Horatio makes it very clear that the reason he wanted to complete the task was so that he would not have possibly killed a man for nothing. Which is fair enough.
    • The TV series tries to make this a little less of a WTF moment by making Horatio's best friend Archie the epileptic. Knocking him out makes him feel guilty enough, but later on Horatio's enemy unties the boat and the still-unconscious Archie drifts out to sea. A horrified Horatio is thus given a nice bit of character development when he's led to believe that he killed his best friend (he didn't, Archie's found alive in a Spanish prison a couple of episodes later).
  • On the surface, Twilight is a safe, clean, nonviolent fantasy serving as a cautionary tale about the dangers of premarital sex. Bella is certainly tempted, but Edward does the good Christian thing and pressures her into getting married first. This is all well and good, except it's coming from the same story that portrays an emotionally abusive ephebophile stalker as romantic. In the real world, teenage romances do not last forever, and marriage is the last thing that random charming attractive guy will pressure unsuspecting women into. The lesson is outright contradicted in the final installment, when the pregnancy nearly proves fatal. Marriage does not protect from STDs, nor does it physically or emotionally prepare one for pregnancy.

    And the first time they actually sleep together after their wedding, it's a violent event that leaves Bella injured and the bed destroyed. The Aesop here seems to be less, "Wait until marriage" and more, "Don't have sex ever."
    • Many readers draw religious parallels and symbolism from the books, particularly when considering that Meyer is a Mormon. Meyer claims that she didn't intend the books to be influenced by her religion or promote her beliefs, but admits that her values do shape her writing. Regardless of intent, many readers feel the result is clueless aesops.
    • On a related note to the Breaking Dawn pregnancy, Twilight is simply not the kind of series that should be having a debate about abortion. Also, the pro-life/pro-choice thing is slightly irrelevant when it's clear that the baby is most assuredly killing the mother, and she may or may not survive to give birth (in other words, exactly the kind of exception most pro-life advocates are willing to make when it comes to their stance on abortion). The fact that it's a Creepy Half-Human Hybrid with powers of Mind Rape and makes Bella thirst for blood during the pregnancy only makes things worse- Bella may well be giving birth to the Anti Christ.
  • Another religious book- I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The intended message was: "Christians should not forget their spirituality - including, but not limited to, serving others - no matter how much they wish for romance, marriage, and sex". The message that actually came across to most readers was "Do volunteer work as a substitute for a romantic relationship". Needless to say, many readers were disappointed and angered.


Live-Action TV

  • Perhaps the best example: The barely remembered (or perhaps nicely repressed) Disney Channel Special Presentation, Winnie the Pooh: Too Smart for Strangers. Seeing the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood dole out advice to the kiddies on how to avoid being kidnapped and molested is stunningly f___ed up in itself. If there is a list of characters who should never explain -- nor even be aware of -- child abuse, Pooh is easily at the top. But apparently, that wasn't bizarre enough for The Disney Channel; instead of using the animated characters, they chose to use the unspeakably terrifying costumed characters from the show Welcome To Pooh Corner. The whole thing seems coldly designed to scar a child's mind.
  • The Hannah Montana episode about Oliver having diabetes is a re-edited version. The original episode portrayed diabetes in a downright dangerous and inaccurate way. Bonus points for jokes about fainting diabetics! Whee!
    • To clear things up, "No Sugar, Sugar" (the original) made it seem like any amount of sugar is bad for a diabetic. "Uptight (Oliver's Alright)" (the re-edited version) presents more accurate information about the condition, in that diabetics (especially type 1) need sugar every once in a while to keep their blood sugar levels even.
  • A Canadian children's program once tried to tackle the serious subject of alcoholism and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. That show was Today's Special... And for maximum childhood destroying effect, the IED-prone alcoholic was played by Gerry Parkes, better known as none other than kindly old Doc from Fraggle Rock!
  • Kids Incorporated had an anti-drugs episode, an episode about homelessness, an episode about child abuse, and a surprisingly poignant episode about Kid's estranged older brother. Oh, and they each contained the usual happy covers of popular songs and Imagine Spots and were each aired in the middle of a week's worth of otherwise completely off-the-wall fantasy episodes with magic robots and such.
  • The Mork and Mindy episode with Mr. Bickley's blind son seems to have multiple Aesops: accept handicapped people, learn to see life in a new way, don't abandon your son... But it's not well-handled because this is a show about a Cloudcuckoolander alien who says the darnedest things. Just to give an example of how poorly executed this episode was, they used the "Does your guide dog get scared when you're skydiving?" joke.
    • "Hold That Mork"'s Aesop was about gender equality. Nothing wrong with that, but it was delivered through the plot of Mork joining The Denver Broncos cheerleaders. Even if the message is good, let's face it, the whole point of the episode was really about providing Fan Service for the both the male viewers and, apparently, Robin Williams fangirls with a cross-dressing fetish.
    • Of course, the only episode that tops that one in the "Fan Service with tacked-on Aesop" category is the two-part "Mork vs. The Necrotons". In a nutshell, Mork gets captured by the titular aliens, whose leader is played by Raquel Welch. Innuendo, both visual and spoken abounds, so much that even Mr. Get-shit-past-the-radar himself later on said that it made him uncomfortable. And the message at the end was... The Power of Friendship. Yeah.
  • The Law and Order Special Victims Unit episode devoted to teenage drinking binges. It's a show about sex crimes. The episode spends an hour (minus commercials, but complete with title card PSA) lecturing the audience on the horrific fact that -- get this! -- teenagers like to get drunk.
    • The funny thing is, it looked like they were going to drop it halfway through for a B-plot; but it gets dragged back in because the kids get off and then make fun of the judge via a YouTube video. It was unintentionally hilarious because that moment and everything that followed felt more like a sitcom than a drama. Then the writers realize at some point that the show has to have something to do with sex. So, the hot mom who provides the kids with booze? She's screwing one of 'em.[2]
    • It wasn't that some teens like to get drunk, it's that some teens could be full blown alcoholics before graduating high school, which is very much a true and oft-ignored reality.
  • Many Public Service Announcements with an anti-drug message were so poorly executed that they practically made a joke of their own message. The point is especially lost because most of them do not seem to portray any other consequences of doing drugs.

 "This... is crack."

    • The anti-drug PSA where the girl's dog talks to her and asks her to stop smoking pot. Honey, if your dog is talking to you, pot is the least of your problems. At least he's trying to help.
      • Arguably, the moral is "if you're taking so many drugs that you hallucinate that your dog is warning you off, you'd better rethink things".
    • An early "Above the Influence" add showed two teenaged boys smoking pot in the office of the father of one of the boys. One of them noticed a gun on the desk and picked it up absently. When his friend asked "is it loaded?" he said it wasn't and fired, presumably killing his friend. The intended message was probably something like "marijuana will impair your judgement in life threatening ways." But the danger came off as so contrived that message could easily be "don't leave a loaded gun with the safety off on top of the desk in your unlocked office when your thirteen-year-old son is in the house."
    • There was another odd set of anti-drug ads where a girl high on weed is shown (through icky special effects) to have melted into the couch. Doug Benson has a terrific deconstruction of how clueless this ad was in (of course) Super High Me: if your reaction to an anti-drug PSA is "Whatever they were smoking, I want some", it has failed.
  • The Saved by the Bell episode about Jessie's caffeine pill addiction, legendary for its Narm. Indeed, "I'm so excited... I'm so scared!" became a huge Memetic Mutation.
    • Also the episode that dealt with the dangers of drinking-and-driving. Now, this subject unfortunately isn't that far removed from real-life high schools (not that Bayside could be considered entirely realisitc), but the presentation is questionable. Bottom line, Zack and friends get found out because they keep telling different cover stories and get left with a lot of holes to plug. It's as if the intended lesson was "If you're going to lie, keep your story straight so you don't get caught."
  • There was a Public Service Announcement at a local TV station which used its puppet mascot and tried to explain the difference between "good touching" and "bad touching". The trouble is, they used footage from Looney Tunes cartoons while they were talking about "good touching"... including Bugs Bunny's crossdressing smooches on Elmer Fudd, and multiple shots of Pepe Le Pew. Someone clearly wasn't paying enough attention when that PSA was made....
  • Punky Brewster's anti-drug episode featuring the "Chicklets". The final scenes with P(SA)unky & friends in the middle of an anti-drug protest are anviliciously hilarious. The thing can be seen in all its glory here.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a tendency to identify (and mock) these in The Fifties educational shorts it aired, which had titles like "A Date With Your Family". The lessons in said shorts ran the gamut from Clueless, to looking very Warped thanks to Values Dissonance, to being straight-up Warped regardless of the time they were made. Hence, such gemlike riffs as "Emotions are for 'ethnic' people", and "Expressing individualism is just plain wrong".
    • And:

 "Dad, I had a feeling today."

"Well don't, son."

    • While we're on the subject, another fun rip on the strange messages given by such shorts is Nada Surf's song and music video, "Popular".

 "Remember to wash your hair only once every two weeks!" (Eww...)

      • This sounds odd today, but shampoo was harsh, even corrosive back in the Fifties. Washing it every day would have made them look like they stuck their fingers in a light socket regularly for fun. It sounds warped out of context though.
  • Riff Trax has continued Mystery Science Theater 3000's tradition on that score, most notably with their commentary on the short Drugs Are Like That, a parade of dubious and even contradictory metaphors for drugs. At different points in the short, for example, habitual behavior (such as hair twirling) and spontaneity (represented by making a minor change to a Lego-block machine) both become drug-use analogues.
  • The Truth's line of anti-tobacco PSAs are often well written, but one is an Egregious case of Did Not Do the Research, where they try to prove tobacco companies were aiming their products at kids because cigarettes were shown in The Muppet Movie -- because clearly a movie featuring Muppets can only be for kids. The Muppet Movie was released in 1979, when Jim Henson was out to prove puppets could appeal to older audiences and a film didn't need an R rating to be made for adults.
  • The well-intentioned episode on Star Trek the Next Generation in which a member of a race of asexual women and Riker fall in love. As Cracked.com put it: "The episode's message ends up completely garbled. Intended as a condemnation of homophobia, the episode instead comes off as the story of one woman's brave quest for cock in the face of lesbian tyranny."
    • Also their choice for all the 'asexual' aliens to be played by women, because you know it wouldn't do for Riker's Love Interest to look like a man. (Okay, it is scientifically accurate because the only vertebrates we know of who can reproduce asexually are all female. Still...)
    • "Symbiosis", the anti-drug episode. The Enterprise rescues some of the crew and a couple of barrels of cargo, considered more important than crew by those who weren't rescued, on a ship going between two planets in a system that has only interplanetary travel and is losing that. Planet #1 is supplying a drug to planet #2 that is an addictive cure for a plague that has, Dr. Crusher discovers, been wiped out centuries ago. This is the sole industry of Planet #1 -- they don't even have their own ships -- but only Planet #2 uses the drug. Everyone stops the Enterprise from seizing the drugs by citing the Prime Directive. Because of this, Picard retracts an offer to send parts for fixing the ships to Planet #2 because of the Prime Directive.
      • An argument can be made that the episode isn't anti-drugs so much as anti-exploitation and slavery. There is a slightly out of place Character Filibuster on the subject, but it arguably avoids being too anviliicious by virtue of coming from the character's established traumatic background.
  • Due to Executive Meddling, the entire Weird Al Show ended up as clueless Aesops; which annoyed the star. My personal favorite is "The way to deal with bullies is open communication". ("I want your money." "Here it is, please stop hitting me." is open communication, isn't it?)
  • Diff'rent Strokes decided to tackle sexual predators in the two-parter "The Bicycle Man". In the story, Arnold wants a bicycle. After becoming friends with Mr. Horton, the owner of the bicycle shop, over part one, he, and his friend Dudley (Diff'rent Strokes' recurring Very Special Episode scapegoat), start spending time with Horton in the back room where he lives. After riding on Mr. Horton's back and playing "Neptune, God of the Sea," Horton offers them some alcohol (which only makes Arnold worried that he might be caught with it on his breath) and sits them down to watch some cartoons. "That mouse just lost his drawers! [audience laughter]" Yeah, so after enjoying a nice X-rated cartoon, Arnold is uncomfortable enough to leave. Dudley wants to stay, and Arnold goes home. After letting slip what happened, Mr. Drummond calls the police. They arrive right as Horton is about to... uh... begin. Dudley appears on screen drugged with tranquilizers and shirtless. Then they have a couch conversation about how important it is to tell an adult about such things. While this is admittedly far more direct and open than the "bad touch" PSAs of the 90s, there is laughter throughout the episodes right up to when Mr. Drummond calls the police. Yes, even during the set-up to the molestation. That must have been the most awkward studio audience ever.
    • Harsher in Hindsight considering Todd Bridges came out later saying he was repeatedly molested during the show's run.
  • Even Police Camera Action is not invulnerable to this trope. In fact, possibly more so than Hannah Montana.
  • The 1998 episode Rust Buckets is a possible example of this, and just could not handle the episode's issue (unroadworthy vehicles) well. In fact, in Part 2 after the commercial break, it went off-topic!
    • The episode Unfit to Drive from the 1996 series, Enough's Enough from the 1997 series, and (to a slightly lesser extent) the 1997 episode Don't Look Back In Anger tend to sometimes forget what the aesop they're dealing with is.
  • Parodied by The Goodies with their Mary Whitehouse expy-approved sex education film, which avoids any mention of anything related to sex:

 Narrator: This is a man. And this isn't.

    • Also parodied by The Sooty Show (even though the episode itself was a straight attempt at trying to get across at least some basic sex education) when Matthew tries inexpertly to give The Talk to Sweep, hampered by his use of Dissimile and Metaphorgotten.
  • The children's show The Big Comfy Couch suffered from clueless Aesops at times...including the downright bizarre lesson "Don't fall down with your hands in your pockets."
  • Highway to Heaven has many clueless Aesops:
    • Trust in God? No, an angel will do whatever you need.
    • Always do what God says? No, the angel breaks the rules whenever he sees fit, sometimes without remorse.
    • Be yourself? Sometimes, but not if you're fat. If you're fat, you need to lose weight so people will like you.
    • Avoid violence? No, take up for yourself, even if it's for something trivial, like a stolen sandwich.
    • Gambling is bad? Only if you haven't rigged the results for yourself (appears in numerous episodes).
    • Never lie? Flexible depending on the situation.
    • Money is the root of all evil if you have it. If you don't have money, money is the cause of all your problems, as is evidenced in episodes where a senior-citizens' home is being sold, a woman's animal shelter is being sold to developers, and an episode where kids won't have Christmas because their dad doesn't have a job.
  • "Walker told me I have AIDS."
  • There was a brief flare-up of PSAs that instructed children to go and get an adult if they saw or read anything on the Internet that made them uncomfortable, without quantifying what such things might be. Given the number of things one can find online that can make grown adults uncomfortable, this seems a little ill-thought-out. (But at least parent and child can sit and stare at the walls for a while together.)


Music

  • "If Everyone Cared..." is Nickelback's spectacularly non-specific, crowd-pleasing, inoffensive protest song. It warrants a mention here because the whole thing is Chad Kroeger whining about how much better the world would be if, like, nobody ever had to be sad and stuff. Yeah.
    • "If everyone loved and nobody lied, If everyone shared and swallowed their pride". He does at least go on to have a call to action. Kinda.
    • Considering the same band came up with "Never Again", a ferocious (if over simplistic) diatribe against domestic violence it's double jarring.


Print Media

  • British magazine Take a Break, which incidentally, is known for trying to put An Aesop in where it can, ran a story about a couple with Down's Syndrome who decided to get married. They explained to the couple "If you get married you won't be able to have a different boyfriend or girlfriend ever again. However, did they not explain what divorce was to them? This gives the wrong impression to some parents of disabled adults.
    • Somewhat justified, as when people decide to get married, they at least intend for it to be permanent.


Puppet Shows


Theater

  • This review of Michael Jackson the IMMORTAL World Tour, the Cirque Du Soleil tribute to the musician, calls out the "They Don't Care About Us" number for presenting one of these in the below quote. (Later in the review, the critic also points out that the intended anti-greed message is undermined by the fact that the show probably wouldn't exist if there weren't tons of money to be made off of Jackson's memory.) Keep in mind that this show also features Bubbles the chimp as a character and a production number with a giant sequined glove dancing around, among other things.

  During [the number] dancing robots appear with LED breastplates that first flash dollar signs amidst videos of urban and international violence, then display hearts as Mother Teresa appears onscreen to feed starving children. The number was originally designed for Jackson's This Is It shows (performances that were preempted by the artist's demise), so Cirque can't entirely be blamed for its unseemly exploitation of human suffering for commercial entertainment. Of course Jackson would have seen himself as raising awareness, and Cirque doubtless think the same thing about the pro-Gaia number Earth Song that unfolds as 30,000 people sip from souvenir plastic cups.


Video Games

  • The Tales series in general, and Tales of Symphonia specifically, are chock full of Narm Charm: it ranges from overly-dramatic to flat-out-bizarre, but still manages to be awesome despite that.
    • Tales of Vesperia has some interesting things to say about justice that get completely lost due to the game's Black and White Morality. Yuri murders Ragou and Cumore, two Complete Monsters. Sodia later attempts to kill Yuri because she thinks of him as a criminal. This is supposed to question Yuri's actions and show that justice is sometimes a very subjective thing. Problem is, unlike Ragou and Cumore, Yuri does not fap to the screams of dying children but is a clearly heroic character. So the whole thing just makes Sodia come off as a dangerous psychopath trying to Murder the Hypotenuse. The justice plot is later dropped entirely for a Green Aesop that doesn't make much more sense.
      • Its even worse than that. Ragou was caught red-handed for feeding people to his pets For the Evulz and was punished with a slap on the wrist. Cumore had the authority to keep sending people out to die in the desert because frankly no one cared to stop him. The justice system is obviously, hilariously broken and its apparent that Yuri's vigilante acts saved a lot more lives than Flynn's Lawful Stupid approach to things.
  • The moral they try to get across in I.M. Meen is that you should read more. What we get is more like "Never ever touch a book or else that book might suck you into a horrible labyrinth and and an evil man will torture you like some kind of sadistic pedophile".
  • Yakuza 4 has a sidequest where orphaned kids who were separated from their illegal immigrant parents when said parents were deported are spraying graffiti to express their hate for Japan. Tanimura and Zhao pull them aside for an important lesson: Is it the fault of the clearly flawed process for dealing with illegal immigrants? Nope. Is it the fault of the hostile, zero-tolerance mentality that the Japanese people have towards illegal immigrants? Nope. Is it their parent's fault for thoughtlessly putting themselves at risk for this situation to begin with? Nope. IT'S NO ONE'S FAULT! SO JUST STICK YOUR NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE AND FORGET ALL ABOUT IT! Never mind the kids who will fall victim to the same situation that you're in someday, and that you, as a casualty, are in the perfect position to be an activist.


Web Comics

  • Parodied in Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, in which The Big Man asks the readers to 'keep it real about AIDS'.
  • Evil Diva did a story about rape. That would be bad enough for it's own reasons. But thanks to the fact that story presents the subject by pandering to a loads of stereotypes and quickly becomes ridiculous - Diva goes to a college party, meets a stranger, who assults her after few minutes talk in front of everyone and no one seems to care - the message basically turns into "college students are evil".


Web Original

  • This trope was brutally satirized in The Onion article "Talking To Your Child About The WTC Attack", which encouraged parents to give a no-holds barred explanation of the world history leading up to the World Trade Tower attacks in order to answer why this bad scary thing happened (serious Tear Jerker warning). Although given that the material is fairly obscure even among adults who try to keep with the news, the real moral might have been "try hard to understand world history, and don't believe the simplified explanations we have to tell our kids."
  • Poked fun at by The Cinema Snob in his review of "Rock: It's Your Decision". The reformed, ex-rock-and-roll-fan protagonist preaches to a group of kids about what he saw at a rock concert once: The people listening weren't just sitting quietly and listening to the music! They were getting up and dancing! The music was controlling them! The Snob snarks, "This is an emotional response, like crying when you're sad. This, too, is sinful, and should be suppressed."


Western Animation

  • There was an animated story in Yo Gabba Gabba about anthropomorphized drops of water and oil who live in towns across from one another. They are separated by a line in the middle of a road and they are not allowed to mix with one another. Now, the story looks like it's heading towards a Green Aesop when an oil drop runs across the road and collides with a water drop. But the story focuses on how together they make a pretty rainbow. And then all the oil and water drops start playing together. The message was supposed to be "it's wonderful when people who are different play together", but unfortunately children will probably interpret it as "go ahead and pour oil in the sink/bathtub/etc. to make pretty rainbows".
    • Also, oil and water? Not well-known for mixing together. It (hopefully) should be blatantly obvious that generally oil should not be in water.
  • Family Guy in general, since its Dead Baby Comedy status makes taking any Aesop it offers seriously near-impossible, especially when it comes to religion and gay rights.
    • It gets bad when they introduce a character that's pretty much every offensive gay stereotype rolled into one, and Seth MacFarlane goes on record saying that the gay community is intended to identify with him. Or how they shove the "Being gay is not a choice" aesop in an episode where Peter is made gay through genetic research!
  • The (in)famous episode of Arthur called "Arthur's Big Hit." Since it was discussed many times before, here's a summary: the episode was supposed to teach us a good moral like "Violence won't solve your problems"; instead, the story went out of its way to make Arthur the bad guy.
    • What makes it even worse is that D.W. never got punished. Arthur spent an entire week making a model plane, and DW not only ruins the wet paint, then blames it on Arthur, but she then throws his plane out the window, after he specifically told her not to touch it. She's not even sorry that it broke, blaming the plane for being defective because it didn't fly. Arthur hits D.W. in retribution, but gets all the blame.
  • Anvilicious as it could be at times, Captain Planet sometimes went in over its head. It gave us the following stellar examples, some of which can be viewed via list of uncomfortable "Captain Planet" episodes:
    • The infamous "If It's Doomsday, It Must Be Belfast" episode, which was meant to promote world peace. What it managed to do instead was become the single most offensive example of both the Oireland trope and The Troubles trope, making the struggle between Catholics and Protestants look like The Jets against The Sharks. Highlights can be seen here. (And the comments. Dear God, the comments.)
      • Even better, while the titular subplot is far better known, this episode also had the team attempt to solve the Israeli / Palestine conflict... with Ma-Ti. Yeah really.
    • While not as Ripped from the Headlines as the other episodes, we must not forget the time that the Planeteers went back in time to battle Adolf Hitler. It's hard to talk about how racism is bad when the good Cap equates his hate with pollution.
      • And it's even worse when you consider that, in Real Life, Hitler and the Nazis were big on conservation. To the point where some historians have argued that the Nazis intended to turn the entire nation of Poland into a nature and hunting preserve after the war!
      • To be fair, hatred had been established as toxic to Captain Planet, as the counterpart to Heart. It was also used to summon Captain Pollution.
    • The Mind Pollution episode. Linka gets hooked on a fictional drug called "Bliss" that has instantaneous addictive properties. Since the nuances of real drug addiction are drawn out and complicated, everyone who used Bliss just got turned into a mindless zombie.
    • "Teers In the Hood" for the waffles!
    • Oh goodness, the AIDS episode...

 Todd: Man, AIDS stinks!

      • It should be said, however, that the writers (according to the late Ben Hurst, one of them) were proud of that episode for what Aesops they were allowed to convey (i.e. that HIV is not easily transmissible and any stigma is largely unfair to the victims). And that they were allowed to cover it at all.
    • Maybe not as infamous as the other examples here, but certainly one of the strangest And Knowing Is Half the Battle segments and not just for this particular show. Most of them said things like, "make sure you don't leave all the lights on all day", "only run the air conditioner if you really need it", or "recycle your waste paper"; perfectly reasonable and good advice for the show's young audience. This one, however, asked the kids to curb overpopulation and the various problems it can cause by promising to have only three or less children when they grow up.
      • If you're trying to curb overpopulation, wouldn't a logical approach be to teach kids that orphans are perfectly good kids who need homes? That way you're teaching compassion for others instead of accidentally calling anyone who had quadruplets evil.
      • What's more, since this was a show aimed at kids, they had to execute the whole anti-overpopulation message without mentioning birth control or abstinence. So kids are told to make smart choices about family planning, but they're not explicitly told how.
  • The infamous Saturday morning special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue tried to deal with the dangers of marijuana -- by wasting a perfectly good Massive Multiplayer Crossover and having beloved children's cartoon characters spew quaint little platitudes about how drugs are bad. And marijuana users are apparently angry, semi-violent hoodlums a la Reefer Madness. When that cartoon was broadcast in prime time in Italy, it was preceded by an "insanely long" and "insanely boring" message by the then-Prime Minister.
    • American children were treated to a similarly Anvilicious message from Bush, Sr.
    • And Aussie kids got one from Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Kind of funny in retrospect, as he's the Prime Minister celebrated for downing a yard of ale in eleven seconds when he was younger (making it into the Guinness Book of records), so you have to wonder what else he got up to back then. But then, this is Australia, where you're looked upon as weird if you don't like to get smashed at least occasionally.
    • Apparently, the special was not advertised as being a Very Special Episode prior to it first airing, fooling kids into thinking that it was going to be a purely fun crossover cartoon super special. Little did they know that they were about to be Anvilicious'd to oblivion.
    • Y'know, some of those very cartoon characters being aware of drugs explains WAY too much.
  • The Flintstones Kids "Just Say No (to drugs, of course)!" prime time special. It's less infamous than "Cartoon All-Stars", but it could almost be the type specimen of the Clueless Aesop Very Special Episode. It features your trademark crazy inaccurate information, a whole new set of characters introduced during the episode, and radical changes made to a main character after hanging out with the aforementioned new characters. The latter two elements were used just to deliver the Aesop and none of them were ever acknowledged after this one episode. And, oh yeah, there's the bizarre sight of the slapstick-prone Flintstones characters talking about drugs. And to top the whole thing off with a bonus, there's a killer Hilarious in Hindsight moment or Funny Aneurysm Moment: Michael Jackstone.
    • Another Hilarious in Hindsight moment: "It tastes gooood, like a-- *click click* cigarette shoooould!!"
    • The special also failed to make drugs look any worse than smoking. Apart from being unable to win a race that he apparently usually wins, the drug dealer kid's biggest problem is that he'll be taken to the police station, after which his parents will come to pick him up and yell at him. Let's repeat that. The kid (named Stoney for extra Anvilicious points) was arrested for drug possession and they're actually going to allow his parents to stop by and take him home that same day. And his actual punishment will be his parents yelling at him. So if you do drugs, the worst you can expect is that your parents will yell at you.
  • Quite a few Dragon Tales episodes have perfectly good Aesops that wipe out on the shores of Most Writers Are Human And Do Not Live In Magical Lands, and wind up just looking strange. To wit: Lorca is a magical dragon who lives in a Magical Land with Unicorns and wizards and magic everywhere. Oh, and he's in a wheelchair. So the little kids watching this fantasy cartoon where children have wonderful adventures in a Magical Land can learn that disabled people are just like you and me. Even when they are dragons in wheelchairs. We get the intended message, but it seems a little on the nose to have a mythical creature in a wheelchair.
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, "Sonic Says," "Bad Touching." The big problem with this, and other episode tags and PSAs like it, is that shows in the Animation Age Ghetto were allowed and even encouraged to warn against sexual molestation, but were forbidden to define it. They could tell kids to tell parents or the cops about "bad touching," but they couldn't say what sorts of touching are bad.
    • Even worse is this Sonic Sez, which attempts to teach a respectable Aesop ("Only dial 9-1-1 in a real emergency"), but Sonic inadvertently tells kids that "If you're being attacked by people who mean you harm, calling 9-1-1 would be a dumb joke."
    • There is an even more ridiculous Sonic Sez, that may suggest the writers knew exactly how silly this was. Grounder smashed himself while chasing a rabbit, a container of pills falling out of him in the process. The rabbit goes to take them, only for Sonic to stop him. The pill bottle reads, "For Grounder, Robot Headache Pills, Take One A Day With Oil."
  • An episode of the Double Dragon cartoon involved a kid obsessed with video games. He was taught that life is not a video game... by a pair of magically-super-powered crime-fighters who summon dragons and shoot fire and stuff... in a show based off a video game.
  • The Classic Disney Short "Donald's Happy Birthday" (1949) was about Huey, Dewey and Louie wanting to buy Donald a birthday present but Donald insists that the nephews save money. Once they get the money, they buy Donald a box of cigars. Donald jumps to a conclusion and thinks they want to start smoking, so he forces them to smoke the entire box only to later find out the cigars were meant for him. Here, the nephews are thinking of their uncle and working hard for the money, while Donald wants the boys to save money and not smoke, but the problem is, Donald is supposed to be seen as the bad guy--he becomes aware he's a smoker by forcing the nephews to smoke when they get punished for being good? You're left with a very screwed-up morality tale, and the disturbing ending doesn't help.
    • The aesop seems more like "Don't jump to conclusions" or "Think before you act impulsively", rather than having anything to do with the risks of smoking...In fact, who says it's even playing out an aesop on the first place? It seems more like it's all Played for (dark) laughs.
    • If you watch the third Donald Duck cartoon DVD collection called "The Chronological Donald Vol. 3 (1947-1950)", this episode is listed as "From the Vault". Reportedly because of the climax where Donald forces them to smoke the entire box, they may have been worried that it might confuse/upset some viewers, and doesn't it seem a bit hypocritical that Donald doesn't want the boys to start smoking when he's been seen smoking in several other cartoons?
      • That is somewhat Truth in Television. There are plenty of people who know that smoking is bad for them, but for whatever reason, they just aren't able to quit. However, they do do their best to keep their kids from starting down the same path and getting addicted along with them.
      • Donald doesn't even have to have any objections to smoking to be upset at the prospect of his nephews doing it. Keep in mind, they're children. The vast majority of parents drink, but it certainly wouldn't be hypocritical of them to get upset that their 11 year old is drinking.
      • Another twist though, is that despite the father makes kids smoke whole pack to set them straight plotline being common, it's counter-productive for preventing addiction and it's actually very dangerous, possibly fatal for young children with no experience with nicotine. So it isn't well used in any well-intentioned Aesop.
      • You know, in 1949 no one really though smoking was bad. Just saying.
  • Ah, Tinkerbell & The Great Fairy Rescue. This entry in the otherwise surprisingly good Disney Fairies movie series soured some viewers thanks to it's intended Aesop being presented in such a clueless way as to become downright warped. The morals of the story were probably originally meant as, "spend more time with your child" and "don't stifle your child's imagination" and "have an open mind". In practice, the moral instead became an alarmingly Anvilicious Science Is Badong Script Wank. These days, do we really need a children's film where a skeptical biologist is the antagonist?
  • In-Universe example from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: In the episode "Over A Barrel", Pinkie Pie's song about sharing is so annoying, it makes things worse.
    • The show also had a real life one with "Feeling Pinkie Keen" (from the same writer, oddly enough). Similar to the "Tinkerbell" example, the message was supposed to be that you shouldn't obsess over finding explanations for all the weird stuff you see. Twilight's final summation had some unfortunate phrasing that made it sound like the message was "Scientists should admit that God exists."
  • Also happens In-Universe in South Park, when the school decides they need to teach the kids about safer sex -- without actually talking about sex. So they just tell the kids that boys always need to wear condoms, or else they might get girls pregnant, and leave it at that. Hilarity Ensues.
    • At the end of the episode, Chef specifically calls this out, points out that the people teaching the sex ed (Mr. Garrison, Mr. Mackey, and Miss Choksondick) are all misguided, misinformed, or just plain clueless about sex themselves, and says that if the parents want it done right they should do it themselves.
  • According to Drug Avengers, an obscure and very weird educational cartoon recently exhumed by Everything Is Terrible, the reason Earth will not be able to join the Galactic Federation in the future is because we do too many drugs. Yup.

Notes

  1. Even, in some cases, to well-informed adults. Especially to well-informed adults.
  2. The SVU deals with crimes involving the elderly and children, as well as sex crimes, so there was even a more plausible reason for them to be involved in the case. The original reason they got involved? Semen was found on the same bedsheets as a dead teenager.
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