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Just remember. You're unique. Just like everyone else.

A Broken Aesop used by many different shows, especially ones aimed at children: The point of the story is telling the reader not to do things just because somebody tells them to do them. The paradox is obvious.

This is usually part of a story about peer pressure, informing children that it's wrong to do something just because someone tells them to. "Be a nonconformist" is usually used in situations like "don't do drugs" or "don't wear grossly sexed-up in-style clothes" or "don't key the unpopular teacher's car because the Alpha Bitch wants you to." They aren't about nonconformity or being yourself; they're about doing the right thing. Or, to take a morally neutral view of this, obey your authority figures, not your peers, because authority figures cannot be questioned, and if your peers question them, your peers are bad people. So don't follow them! Rebel by obeying! At this point, the evil AI reading this will (not) explode.

Can also be a Family-Unfriendly Aesop, if the author's intent was obviously to send the message: "Don't listen to anyone but yourself and me -- because I know I'm right."

It should be noted that it is perfectly possible for a work to have as An Aesop that "being a Rebellious Spirit is a good thing" and thus be a sincere advocate of anti-authoritarianism. This trope is not about sincere advocates of anti-authoritarianism, but rather instances where such a message is undermined by "be a rebel by doing what I want you to do."

See also: Be Yourself, "Jump Off a Bridge" Rebuttal, The Man Is Sticking It to the Man.

Examples of Disobey This Message include:


Advertising

  • Any commercial touting individuality. The Aesop seems to be "Be Yourself; buy what everyone else is buying."
    • Sprite was especially bad with this. "Image is nothing" was their slogan even after they stopped doing ads which used this trope.
    • A Time Warner Cable commercial urges consumers to "express your individuality with people just like you".
  • Yahoo's "Start Wearing Purple" campaign, with purple touted as representative of innovation and individuality, comes to mind.
    • The Irony being that purple is the traditional color of royalty and divinity, meaning people who wear it demand that others follow their every action...
  • Although possibly not as common as anti-drug and anti-bullying campaigns, this is also a rather common subject of public service campaigns aimed at schoolchildren.
    • That is until you combine the two. There is an Anti-Drug PSA running where there are various Good and Bad influences on a teen's shoulders, including family, friends, and his basketball team. Of course, the Good influences invariably make better arguments than the bad ones. The last to speak is his father, who asks, "Do you enjoy making your mother cry!?" This is immediately followed by the line: "The only voice that matters is yours." Following this, the teen turns down the blunt offered to him.
      • To be fair, this seems to be more the result of bad wording, as it does make sense in trying to say "Your parents and teachers can tell you all about the evils of drugs and alcohol all they want, but when you're offered these things, it's still ultimately up to you and not them to make the decision."
  • A campaign poster for a student government candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park said "Think Independently: Vote For Me!"
  • One particular Scion commercial gave the message "don't be a sheeple by driving our cars." Considering that Scion is trying to cash in on the car loving aspect of stereotypical urban culture...
  • The store Hot Topic is the perfect example of Disobey This Message- as it is the vendor of mass-marketed non-conformity.
    • On the bright side, they have had Marvel Zombies and Halo shirts.
  • Dr. Pepper had an ad like this, "I'm part of a unique and original crowd."
  • An internet commercial used this, showing a batch of unhappy, identical stick figures dropping money into garbage bins. Then one stick figure turns blue and getting a face because he has the idea to switch to this company's internet! But lest people be afraid of being too individual, the end makes sure to show all the other stick figures turning blue as well.
  • This superbowl commercial for Motorola's Xoom tablet, meant to be a massive Take That at Apple's famous "1984" ad. The guy is shown to be fighting the system by using the Xoom, in contrast to the legion of white-hooded apple zombies, but the inadvertent message is "Fight enslavement by this huge corporation by buying the products of this other huge corporation".
    • Which is exactly the same Broken Aesop Apple delivers in the original 1984 commercial. Fair is fair.

Comic Books

  • Lampshaded in the Batman Legends Of The Dead Earth story "Fables of the Bat-Man". In a dystopian future, Posea tells kids stories about Batman that each have An Aesop designed to make them question their society. The first one is that you shouldn't let anyone force you to think their way. One of the kids asks "Except for you, Posea?" and he replies "Well now, maybe you've got me there, pup, so I'd urge you to question everything, even what I tell say. Find your own truths - and always think for yourselves."

Film

  • Also parodied in Monty Python's Life of Brian: after Brian shouts at his followers, "You are all individuals!", they repeat back in monotone, "Yes! We are all individuals." Except for The Runt At the End -- "I'm not!" -- who is immediately shushed.
    • It should be noted that this line was a Throw It In, and the guy that did it got a bonus for thinking it up.
  • Played straight in Team America: World Police, where the Aesop is "Don't listen to celebrities for political advice, unless they're Trey Parker and Matt Stone".
  • Dead Poets Society: Don't do what grown-ups like me tell you! Let's all be individuals... together!
  • Think for yourself is the main argument of the protagonist in Thank You for Smoking, one he uses to assert that the schoolchildren should challenge authority, in this case the authorities saying smoking is bad for you and you shouldn't do it (he is PR man for the tobacco industry).

Literature

  • Socrates discouraged writing, saying that insight is best gained from debate. People pore over the writings of Plato, trying to find out what Socrates thought.
  • Subverted in the first Harry Potter book. Harry, Ron and Hermione more-or-less teach this lesson to Neville after he's cursed by Draco Malfoy. Later on, this causes Neville to decide to try and stop the trio from sneaking out at night, unaware they need to in order to Save the World:

 Neville: You were the one who told me to stand up to people!

Ron: Yes, but not to us.

    • His action is rewarded by the end of the story anyway, with the Aesop that, even though not necessarily appropriate in the given situation, his actions were good.

 Dumbledore: It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to our enemies - but just as much to stand up to our friends.

  • The Illuminatus! trilogy works with this issue quite a bit. Often charismatic, powerful leaders of the anarchist protagonists deliberately lie or spread false rumours of themselves painting them as monstrous villains, in order to make their followers suspicious of their motives and make up their own minds. The problems start when the followers choose to follow despite of this; it's implied that the evil Illuminati was born because of a mistake like this.
  • One criticism sometimes leveled at some followers of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is that, despite the fact that objectivism encourages thinking for oneself (the virtue of mental independence), some Objectivists are hypocrites that implicitly believe Objectivist conclusions are the only reasonable conclusions that independent thinkers can reach (and any failure to do so consists of intellectual dishonesty). There is a reason that "Randroid" has become one of the more common criticisms leveled at Objectivists, fair or not.
    • Michael Shermer wrote the interesting essay "The Unlikeliest Cult in History" about this very phenomenon.
    • This even pops up among fans of objectivist writers who don't explicitly reference Rand in their works -- though the devotion is instead to that writer, not Rand (usually until the writer in question tells them where he got the idea).
    • An example would be in the novels of Terry Goodkind, where the main character effectively ends up as a benevolent capitalist dictator, the series having explored the weaknesses of all other forms of government. The last chapter of the series features that character ordering his followers, ironically enough, to no longer do the devotion, a ritual that has over time turned the heads of his family into objects of a cult of personality.
  • The basic message of the essay Self-Reliance was "Everyone should be a nonconformist".
  • This is used as a Logic Bomb (among others) in Thief of Time to combat the Literal Minded and orderly Auditors of Reality - "Ignore This Sign, By Order".
  • Lampshaded in one of Maus's self-referential meta-sections.
    • Therapist: There's no way to explain the story that you're trying to tell. Maybe there just shouldn't be any more stories.
    • Artie: Samuel Beckett once said that any word is an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness. (Beat). On the other hand, he SAID it.

Live Action TV

  • Law and Order Special Victims Unit perfectly illustrates the problem with this message in the episode "Authority." Robin Williams' character Merrit Rook is constantly telling people to question authority and "don't be a sheep", but you can clearly see that his followers still follow him like mindless sheep... which he clearly enjoys. Elliot "defeats" Rook by repeteadly refusing to bow to him, even when subjected to Mind Rape type psychological games with the plus of his "rival" using Olivia as a hostage. Rook then admits his defeat (and even says Elliot won because he didn't let Rook get to him), lets Olivia go and then pretty much disappears (it's heavily implied he was Driven to Suicide by drowning.
  • Subverted again in The Prisoner episode "Checkmate", the prisoner of the title teaches other prisoners how to tell real prisoners from guardians. They apply this lesson to him and conclude he's a guardian, foiling his escape plan.
  • Another parody of the concept comes from Scrubs. The Janitor has spent the episode (which spans about a month) growing sideburns and encouraging others to do likewise because he wants to bring them back into fashion. Then he reveals that his are fake, and hopes everyone has learnt an important lesson. Only...

 Janitor: You have to think for yourself. Don't be a sheep and follow the fold. Now repeat after me, "I think for myself".

Everyone: "I think for myself".

Janitor: "You can't tell me what to say".

Everyone: "You can't tell me what to say".

Janitor: "I won't say this".

Everyone: "I won't say this".

Janitor: Rrrrolululu.

Everyone: "Rrrrolululu".

Janitor: (to himself) Unbelievable.

Everyone: "Unbelievable".

Music

Newspaper Comics

  • Classically done in The Parking Lot Is Full strip shown above.
  • Dilbert poked fun using this trope by having Dogbert interview a rapper who espoused individuality while dressing and acting like every other rapper.

Stand Up Comedy

 Steve: Let's repeat the non-conformists' oath! "I promise to be different!"

Audience: "I promise to be different!"

Steve: "I promise to be unique!"

Audience: "I promise to be unique!"

Steve: "I promise not to repeat things other people say!"

Audience: "I promise..." (confused murmuring and nervous laughter)

Steve: "Good!"

Video Games

  • This is the entire point of several video games, namely Metal Gear Solid 2, Bioshock, and Portal. Tragically, taking such advice to heart when you start playing results in a woefully incomplete gaming session.
    • Especially interesting in Bioshock where you can only advance the game by obeying orders, only to learn that your character has been mind-controlled into obedience without realizing it. What commentary this makes on the nature of video games is left to our interpretation.
  • Depict 1 combines this with Mission Control Is Off Its Meds. If he says you need to collect gems, you die the moment you touch them. If he says the spikes will kill you, you can pick them up and use them as throwing weapons. If you fail to "press Esc to end the game" at what he says is the ending, he leaves you in a huff.
  • In Bit.Trip FLUX, this would be the message to the player, from the player character in the ending. His journey is over, but yours isn't. Put down the controller and live your life. Instead this trope is played with, as it is required for the ending to the series.

Western Animation

  • Parodied in an episode of The Simpsons, where a teacher tells his entire class to think for themselves. They all immediately repeat him in monotone: "Think for yourself..."
    • The same exact joke was used in The Critic, a sister show.
  • South Park gives this one a Lampshade Hanging. In one episode, some Japanese men plot to conquer the United States by brainwashing kids using a Pokémon-like TV show and video game. All the kids like "Chinpokomon" and go along with the evil plan to bomb Pearl Harbor primarily because it's what everyone else is doing. Eventually, the South Park adults catch on and come up with a counter-plan: the surest way to get their children to stop liking something is to like it themselves. It works. Stan then goes into his "I've learned something today" speech and praises individuality, and all the kids decide that no, they shouldn't bomb Pearl Harbor. Kyle, however, reasons that if going along with the group is bad, then now that everyone else has decided not to bomb Pearl Harbor, he should show his individuality by bombing Pearl Harbor by himself. Stan then tries again, beginning with "A group mentality is helpful sometimes." Kyle gets confused, gives up, and goes home.
    • A better Aesop is, "Do what is right, even if it is popular."
    • In another episode the Goth Kids performed a song in the school talent show entitled "Talent Shows are for Fags"
  • Subverted in The Replacements. Riley becomes a celebrity and everyone starts imitating her. After spending the whole episode trying to get them to stop, she realizes it's their right to act like whomever they want.
  • Lampshaded in Daria, "The Pinch Sitter", in which Daria and Jane un-brainwash two "kids" and teach them to think for themselves. Near the end of the episode, the children turn to Daria and ask how they can trust what she said to be true, to which Daria replies: "You can't, and that's the greatest lesson of all."

Web Comics

  • Goblin Hollow: "You laugh at me because I'm different. I laugh at you because you're all the same" -- on, as Ben points out, a mass-produced T-shirt.
  • Parodied (in an inversion of the usual parody) in this Order of the Stick strip: Tsukiko claims paladins are only happy when they're forcing people to be exactly like them. When the Monster In The Darkness says O-Chul told him he should make his own decisions, she replies "Right, exactly like he does! He's doing it already!"

Real Life

  • The whole concept of mass-produced Banksy paraphernalia fits this trope perfectly, especially considering the artist's vehement anti-commercial stance.
  • Almost every conspiracy theorist peppers his theory with requests to "think for yourself" and "form your own opinion". Obviously enough, if your own opinion does not match his own, you are either a governmental agent or just too dumb to see the Truth.
  • This demotivational poster.
  • A famous quote, attributed to Buddha himself encapsulates this trope pretty well: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
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