Accidental Aesop

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Aesop's beast fables do not teach us to be wise or honest or kind. They simply show us what will happen if we dick around with talking animals.
Peter Chiykowski, Rock, Paper, Cynic

When a writer intends to simply write a piece of fiction without An Aesop but someone reads something into their work that they didn't intend. This can also happen when the creator did intend An Aesop, but the one people pick up is completely off tack from the one they intended.

This seems to stem from some people always assuming Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory, which leads to them gasping "What Do You Mean It's Not Didactic?" when you tell them as such. This also generally requires the Word of God to clear things up—if, indeed, even that helps; don't count on it.

Like Misaimed Fandom (where readers fail to catch the moral or satire intended by an author), an Accidental Aesop may result from poor authorial communication or, indeed, the Unfortunate Implications that come with poor use of common symbols.

See also: An Aesop, Broken Aesop, Family-Unfriendly Aesop, What Do You Mean It's Not Didactic?, and Death of the Author. Occasionally these unintended Aesops have Unfortunate Implications. However, Tropes Are Not Bad; just because a text wasn't intended to be a commentary doesn't mean it can't work perfectly well as one.

Examples of Accidental Aesop include:


Anime and Manga

  • At first, Gunslinger Girl's disturbing depiction of the horrors and abuses its innocent little girl protagonists faced and how their lives were completely destroyed was lauded by many fans as a brutal Deconstruction of the lolicon genre and/or a commentary on the use of Child Soldiers. Nope. Turns out it's straight-up Author Appeal. Many of the more subversive elements and Fan Disservice of the early part of the series were apparently to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience and probably weren't even the creator's idea. As time went on and the series' popularity grew, the creator gained Protection From Editors, and it became decidedly more Fan Service-y and disturbing for totally different reasons.
    • And then there's the straight out porn, drawn by the creator, of the girls being intimate with their handlers, consensual or otherwise.
    • Incidentally, the fact that the first season of the Anime has this Aesop but the second doesn't is likely part of the reason why the latter season was critically panned by comparison.

Comic Books

  • Even though The Smurfs's book "The Black Smurfs" was just a fun story about a Zombie Apocalypse (though family-friendly and luckily reversible), some people tends to consider it an allegory of black immigrants. They were made purple rather than black in the Animated Adaptation to avoid those Unfortunate Implications.
  • Galactus from Marvel Comics is a godlike being who eats the life force of entire planets to survive. Obviously, every time he eats, potential billions if not more die. Galactus rationalizes that he's got to eat and the inhabitants of those planets are far below him on the universal pecking order. His entire character might be the greatest Accidental Aesop in favor of vegetarianism ever... or was, until it was revealed that Galactus is required for the universe to properly function.
  • The antics in Chick Tracts often send the unintended message of "God is a dick who will send even good people to hell for not accepting my religion, meanwhile serial killers who do get off with no punishment."
    • Further from this, "You can kill as many people and steal and burn as many things as you want, if you accept Jesus right before death, you'll be marked as a good person and thus won't have to face any consequences."
    • A tract on abortion assures you that your aborted baby is in heaven. Numerous other tracts make the point that everyone is born in sin and will go to Hell if they don't convert. So if you want to be certain your child goes to heaven, abort it!
  • A lot of comics written by Mark Millar seems to have pro-family messages. Several of his characters have issues that can be traced to their family lives. For example, Ultimate Red Skull and Spider-Girl in Old Man Logan are both despicable psychopaths because they had an absentee father, toward whom they hold a grudge. Hit-Girl is completly messed up because of her psychopath father. The Unfunnies' Troy Hick has a Freudian Excuse for being a Complete Monster in the mental breakdown he suffered after his wife left him, and Millar's run on Fantastic Four portrays Reed and Sue Richards as perfect and extremely happy with their lives. However, Millar has said he never intentionally put any sort of message into his works, so all of this is completely accidental.
  • Warren Ellis was once accused of advocating fascism in The Authority. He responded by saying that he wrote the Authority as villains facing even worse villains, not heroes people should look up to.
    • He was also accused of having anti-George W. Bush messages in Black Summer, which starts with superhero John Horus murdering the president who was clear stand-in for a Bush, but story doesn't realy deal with the reason Horus did it but the consequences of his actions. If anything, the real aesop seems to be "Even if everybody hates your president, you shouldn't murder him." And even that seems to be accidental, as Ellis thought of the story as a Deconstruction of the Superhero genre more than anything else.

Film

  • George A. Romero has always maintained that he did not intend to make any comments about race in Night of the Living Dead. He hired Duane Jones, a black stage actor, to play the hero because "he gave the best audition." Much of the movie's dialogue was improvised by the actors during filming, with only a loose adherence to the script. It was only when the film was released that Romero says he became aware of the implications of Jones's character being black. However, some critics continue to insist that it's highly implausible for someone in the 1960s to cast a black actor as the lead without being aware of the significance.
  • Many critics were horrified by the apparent Family-Unfriendly Aesop in 1992's Radio Flyer, in which a little boy escapes his abusive stepdad by using a flying machine he rigged up with his brother instead of telling other adults about what's going on: that a kid should take care of such problems by him/herself, and fantasy is an acceptable way to handle them. Not an Aesop that's going to be appreciated. The whole movie is problematic in terms of how it's supposed to be interpreted; check out its listing at The Other Wiki.
  • The Aesop of Seven Pounds is probably not "don't use your cell phone while driving," but that's what at least one critic concluded. It also isn't killing yourself is wrong unless you give your organs away.
  • The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, made at the height of the Red Scare, was praised by people on both sides of the issue who assumed the villainous pod people were meant to be analogous to either Communists or people being swept up by Senator McCarthy's witch hunts. Director Don Siegel was quick to say that he did not intend to portray any kind of message and just thought he was making a simple alien invasion film. Seeing as the film ends with the hero shouting into the camera "They're here already! You're next!", opinions are still divided.
    • The McCarthy/HUAC furor had more or less died down by the time the movie was made, so the director was probably telling the truth.
  • The 1970 film Joe (starring Peter Boyle, directed by John G. Avildsen) was meant to send a message about the narrow-mindedness and brutal intolerance of mainstream American culture when faced with the hippie counterculture, but a lot of the audience sympathized more with the bigoted blue-collar title character and saw the hippies as getting what they deserved.
  • The director's cut of the Will Smith version of I Am Legend, in which Neville returns the zombie girl to her fellow zombies, then abandons New York to look for survivors elsewhere, has the accidental aesop of "it's bad to offer a cure if the sick people don't want one"; the original book also has this to some extent, but Neville is the Sole Survivor of uninfected humans and the zombies have already more or less rebuilt society, so by capturing the infected, only to inadvertently kill them every time a cure fails, he's become a Complete Monster.
    • On the other hand, in the new ending, instead of letting the girl go (after which the zombies go away voluntarily) Neville holds onto a grenade and blows up a bunch of them to save two human survivors. Leading one guy on Cracked to remark "finding a diplomatic solution with your enemies is now more controversial than blowing them the fuck up."
    • Of course, the original ending also revealed that Neville was kidnapping and experimenting (and often killing in the process) sentient creatures capable of relationships and love, so there's the lesson of assuming how human things are.
  • The film adaptation of 300 is often interpreted to glorify secular, westernized countries standing against the religious extremism and intolerance of the Middle East. However, some critics pointed out that in the film, Persia is a massive, wealthy empire bent on expanding its influence throughout the world, while the Spartans are a small group of dedicated, zealous fighters who are willing to break the rules of war and martyr themselves to resist the invaders. Some viewers interpreted Persia as representing the United States and Spartans representing the terrorists.
  • According to Mel Gibson, the intention of Apocalypto was to draw parallels between the Modern and Mayan civilizations, and how the latter collapsed because of its greed, political corruption and environmental destruction before being finished off by the Spaniards; however, more than one person interpreted the final scene as that the Mayans were so vile and savage that they deserved to be conquered and subjugated, because they needed to be saved from their barbaric ways by the white Europeans.
  • This trope grew to absurd proportions between about 2004 and 2007, when the Iraq War became a major point of controversy worldwide. For a while, it seemed as if every work of fiction was interpreted as an argument either for or against the war. The final Star Wars film (Revenge Of The Sith) was taken to be a veiled condemnation of the Bush Administration, with Darth Vader as George W. Bush and Emperor Palpatine as Dick Cheney. Seriously.
    • There have been conflicting or even parallel arguments for what, if anything, Revenge of the Sith was trying to be anvilicious about, ranging from the Bush and Nixon administrations to the rise of Nazism in Germany to oh, hey, look at those awesome digital effects!
    • This continued on after 2008 with a change in tone, where suddenly many critics began projecting hopeful, wondrous aesops onto movies. One reviewer went so far to claim that the 2009 Star Trek movie was now "light, fun, and inspiring" because Obama was now President, supposedly contrasted against the "dark, militaristic, despairing" Star Trek movies made during the Bush administration. Nevermind that the 2009 movie features the near genocide of an entire species, as well as protracted gun battles and dogfights... Obama! Hope! Things changed!
  • WALL-E is often interpreted as having a rather Anvilicious environmentalist or anti-consumerism message, but the director stated that there was not supposed to be any political message, and the setting was created to justify the story. Fred Willard also ad-libbed the line, "Stay the course," causing some people to assume the film was commenting on the Bush administration.
  • Batman Begins has Batman go out of his way to not kill someone because he deserves a fair trial, then ends with him refusing to save Ras Al-Ghul from a crashing train. The Aesop here is "If I have a personal grudge with someone, it's perfectly fine to let them die even if I have the means to save them easily." (note: In this universe Ras Al-Ghul probably isn't immortal, and even if he is then Batman still doesn't know it.)
    • Alternately: "Everyone deserves a fair trial unless they know your secret identity, in which case you should just let them die."
  • 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! Black men will love you more than white men ever will!".
  • If Crash had an aesop, it was probably "Racial stereotypes are stupid; everyone sucks." However, some deduced that the lesson was "If a guy rapes you, it's okay if he's a cop."
    • Furthermore, "Every single person in America is a racist", "Scary black men are going to rob you", and "If a man rapes you, don't report it, because he may save your life someday."

Literature

  • JRR Tolkien claimed to despise allegory, which didn't stop people seeing the One Ring in Lord of the Rings as an allegory for the atomic bomb. The key difficulty with this and any other theory that takes The Lord of the Rings as an allegory for World War II: the major plot details were planned out well before the war even started. Also, as Tolkien himself noted, if it had been about World War II, they would have used the Ring.
    • But not World War I, though Tolkien denied that too.
    • This is why Tolkien made such a distinction between allegory and applicability. You can apply as many meanings as you like; you just can't presume to put them in the author's mouth.
    • It's also a very popular theory that Gandalf was an allegory for Jesus, as he died while fighting against sin for the good of his fellow man (and hobbits, dwarves, and elves), only to be resurrected in a "pure" form. This was specifically denied by Tolkien in a letter, who considered it offensive, and said Gandalf's death and resurrection were as relatively unimportant as Lazarus' beside that of Christ.
  • An example so famous it's taught in US History classes is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair was trying to convert Americans to socialism with a story about the horrors of capitalism made manifest in meat processing plants. Unfortunately for his intended message, all anyone noticed was the description of how sickeningly unsanitary the meat processing plants were, leading less to, "Oh, the poor oppressed workers!" and more to, "Oh, the poor oppressed workers are in my food!" which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Sinclair put it best when he said, "I aimed to hit the nation in the heart, but I hit the stomach instead."
  • Some people became vegans after reading War of the Worlds, despite the story being about the morality of British imperialism.
  • The stated Aesop in Aristophanes' Lysistrata might be interpreted as stating that if Athens and Sparta teamed up instead of fighting each other, they would be unstoppable and have the rest of Greece at their mercy. In modern times, the play is generally considered to have a pacifist and/or feminist message. These are justified in so far as the play does portray the war as hurting both sides and acknowledges (albeit in a humorous way) that war has a toll on female civilians. However, given the Ancient Greek opinions of women, it seems that his message was more like "even women are smart enough to know this war is bad."
  • Robert Frost vehemently denied that his poem "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" was a metaphor for contemplating suicide, but at that point it was too late, and it's now the single most popular interpretation of the poem.
    • Is it an accidental Aesop for "The Road Not Taken" that Frost intended it to be misunderstood? The misunderstanding can be seen in that most people misremember the title as "The Road Less Traveled".
      • The real lesson, for those not into poetry, is that the narrator is lying to himself, trying to take credit for events that were ultimately a matter of luck. Importantly he says that both paths really were the same as far as he could tell, only calling one less traveled at the very end.
  • Starship Troopers is quite openly about two things: the importance of personal responsibility in a worthy society, and the importance of a professional military. However, some readers see it as a disquieting work of rah-rah propaganda recounted by an unreliable narrator brainwashed into praising his fascist social system and the ultimately meaningless war he fights. This reading turns the book into a dystopian work with almost exactly the opposite moral originally intended.
    • The Paul Verhoven film, while keeping mostly to the original plot, is actually designed to be taken as the alternate meaning.
      • Actually, it's rather infamously an In Name Only 'adaption'--the least kind description is that they realized that for a bit more money they could get protection against lawsuits by buying the movie rights for the book they more or less ripped off and get a more marketable title.
  • Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who: "A person's a person, no matter how small" was not meant to be a commentary on abortion. Ted Geisel and, currently, his widow have tried to keep it out of the hands of the people in that debate (the book predates Roe v. Wade).
    • An alternative Accidental Aesop is the presence of God. On Horton's side, something that can't be seen or heard or touched (the Whos) can still exist. For the Whos, Horton is a massive being who holds their entire world in his hands. Doesn't that sound familiar?
    • The story was originally intended to be an allegory on the post-war occupation of Japan.
    • On the subject of Dr. Seuss, the aesop of Green Eggs and Ham is sometimes misinterpreted as giving in to peer pressure.
      • To clarify, in the story, the narrator eventually gives in to trying the green eggs and ham. The message appears to be more positive, as in, it's good to try new things and it's ok to admit you changed your mind instead of being stuck in your original opinion.
  • When Tom Clancy wrote Rainbow Six, it was almost certainly intended as an Author Tract against environmentalists, especially the extremist fringe. But the only way he could make them into a credible threat was by putting them in charge of a mega-corporation with near-limitless resources and political influence. Since anyone with extremist views could have done what they did with the resources they had, this turns the story into an Aesop about the dangers of corporate power, which is almost certainly not what Clancy had in mind given the strong conservative tone of his works...
  • Fahrenheit 451 is almost universally interpreted to be about government censorship on literature being used to control the population. As late as the 1980s, Bradbury himself stated that the book is about censorship. In his old age, however, Bradbury has come out insisting that he'd always intended the book to be about how crappy television is. Critics have wisely chosen to ignore Bradbury's assertions, and a UCLA class drove him from the room by telling him to his face that he's simply wrong about his own book.
    • In all fairness the New Media Are Evil vibe comes across very strongly throughout the novel, perhaps it's just a question of where different people see the emphasis...
  • The eighteenth century critic Thomas Rhymer said that there seemed to be two possible Aesops in Othello': either "Don't elope with blackamoors" or else "Take better care of your laundry." (The latter being a reference to Desdemona's handkerchief, which convinces Othello that his wife is cheating on him.)
  • Many opponents of the Twilight series cite examples of Jacob and Edward's dominance of Bella as anything from undermining feminism to propagating Mormon beliefs.
    • This blog takes the middle ground on "propagating Mormon beliefs" by running down all the Mormon-themed shenanigans in Twilight, but refusing to give Meyer enough credit to assume she put it there intentionally.
  • Anna's Story was a sympathetic account of Australian schoolgirl Anna Wood's death by water intoxication after taking ecstasy. Obviously, the intended aesop was Drugs Are Bad. However, since Anna's friends waffled for way too long about getting her medical attention after it became very obvious that she was deteriorating, the equally important lesson learned could be that if you're going to take drugs with friends, have decent friends.
    • Alternatively (and a bit more generously to Anna's friends, who were mostly guilty of little more than naivety and inexperience), if you're going to take drugs, make sure you and the people you're with know what the potential consequences are and what the best course of action to take in case of something going wrong is.
  • An in-universe example occurs in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five: the 'moral' that the Tralfamordians derive from The Bible is before you kill anyone, make absolutely sure that they're not well-connected.
  • The book I Kissed Dating Goodbye is supposed to have the moral of "So many Christians are so desperate to get married that they forget about the most important thing, which is spirituality, and which includes serving others". However, to most readers, the message that came across was "do volunteer work as a substitute for being in a romantic relationship". Needless to say, it pissed off a lot of readers- and that is an understatement. The name of the book cause some problems as well, since it wasn't really about "not dating at all", but "not casually trying for dates because you're desperate for affection while having no long-term purpose for the relationships". But the name tended to reinforce the alternative aesop, even/especially for people who didn't read it.
  • Considering H.P Lovecraft's general xenophobia and racism, it's likely he intended the final revelation in Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family- that one of the title character's great-great-great grandparents was some sort of pre-human 'ape-goddess'- to be legitimately horrifying enough to justify his fatal Heroic BSOD. Ninety-odd years later, when what amounts to almost literally the exact same revelation about a huge swath of the current population is met with a profound 'meh' outside of the scientific community, the really disturbing thing about the story seems more to be how truly fragile poor Arthur's sense of proportion and grip on reality are.


Live Action TV

  • The series finale of Battlestar Galactica seems to have an Anvilicious anti-technology Aesop that comes completely out of nowhere. Ron Moore admits in his podcast on the episode that this was simply a desperate last-minute attempt to explain why none of the fleet's technology was discovered after they arrived on prehistoric Earth, and he didn't put much thought into any message that could be read into it.
  • The Bones episode "The He in the She" featured a transgender woman killed while swimming by the jealous ex-wife of her lover, with a subplot about her life as a male preacher and her estranged son. Booth took away an Aesop about the transforming love of God and the way it can heal people's souls. Temperance concluded that the Aesop was "always swim with a buddy".
  • The Doctor Who episode "The Unquiet Dead" was perceived in some quarters as an attack on immigration (since the episode features aliens who come to Earth on the pretense of finding a new home after their planet was blown up, but are actually attempting to invade), even though the subtext was entirely unintentional.
  • The iconic Baltans from the original Ultraman series have a similar story. This may have been intentional in their case, however, as nationalistic themes were fairly common in earlier toku productions.
  • The Torchwood episode "Meat" appears to have a pro-vegetarianism Aesop. But episode writer Cath Treganna "enjoys a good fillet steak as much as the next person".
  • The bigoted character Archie Bunker from All in The Family was meant to parody and protest racism and religious bigotry. However, many people came to sympathize with the character.
    • It's possible to sympathize with the man without sharing all his views; he's ignorant and bigoted, but he also tends to be the Butt Monkey of a lot of the plots.
    • The fact that he was never actually hateful towards minorities, just ignorant in a "he doesn't know any better" kind of way probably helped audiences sympathize with him. Not to mention that he was portrayed as an otherwise decent guy, albeit mildly abrasive. This is, of course, a case of YMMV.
    • It probably didn't help that he was portrayed as hardworking, dedicated, and serious, while the intended sympathy characters were frivolous, flighty, and a bit ridiculous to anyone that was used to working for a living.
  • Genetic engineering is shown as a viable technology in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the person of Julian Bashir. On the other hand, there's the Jack Pack. Lesson: If you prohibit genetic engineering, people will go to Back Alley Doctors, with possibly disastrous results.
  • In True Jackson Ryan hangs out at a boys-only skate park and True and Lulu want to go so they can get an idea of what skaters like to wear for a new fashion line. Ryan refuses to accompany them so True and Lulu disguise themselves as boys so that they can get in. They talk to one of the skaters there and he says Ryan is a poser, so True and Lulu sign him up for a competition to prove he isn't one. When Ryan finds out, he freaks out and fully admits that he's a complete and total poser. So then True, Lulu, and Ryan concoct a plan and Ryan cheats at the big competition by getting famous skater Ryan Sheckler to take his place, and he wins the competition and the skaters' respect. Nobody says anything like "You shouldn't pretend to be something you're not just to be popular" or "Cheating is wrong." Instead, he becomes super popular with the skaters and never faces any consequences. The moral? "Cheat, lie and misrepresent yourself and you'll get your way."
  • The episode "Darkness Falls" of The X-Files, where a logging company accidentally releases a marabunta of man-eating bugs, was praised and even received an award for its never intended ecologist message against deforestation. This is even funnier if you consider that every death in the episode could be blamed on the actions of an Animal Wrongs Group in continuous possession of the Idiot Ball, and that the bugs' release was going to happen anyway since they were originally trapped in a very old tree that was going to fall more sooner than later.
  • The original Star Trek episode "This Side of Paradise" is explicitly stated to be a modern take on the Lotus Eaters and the arrested development drugs and complacency can have, but to a modern viewer the Aesop appears to be about date rape when Leila Kalomi knowingly drugs Spock so that he will fall in love with her.
    • The Next Generation had an episode where the Enterprise encounters a colony that's been practicing enforced eugenics and social engineering for centuries. Geordi rather passionately argues at one point about how he has value, something to contribute, and a right to live despite being the exact sort of person this society would never have allowed to be born... causing some people to get a Pro-Life aesop out of the episode. The creators were outraged at this interpretation... apparently they'd rather side with the eugenicists who would have aborted Geordi rather than ever speak a word against Pro-Choice.
  • Quantum Leap: Sam can leap to any day in his own lifetime. In two episodes, he leaps to days that are a few months before his birthday. The obvious message? Life begins at conception.

Music

  • Ozzy Osbourne's song "Suicide Solution" has been infamously condemned as having pro-suicide messages. In fact, if you actually read the lyrics the song is clearly An Aesop on the dangers of alcohol abuse.
    • Ditto for "Revolution" by the Beatles, primary because Lennon throws the word "in" after "you can count me out."
    • A big part of the reason that "Suicide Solution" is read as being pro-suicide is because, unfortunately, at least one person took it to be. The song caught most of its controversy because someone killed himself while listening to it, and the provocative name didn't go over so well on the news.
  • "Captain Jack" by Billy Joel was mistaken for a pro-drug anthem. (Apparently, mentioning masturbation didn't help.)
    • It's true; this was perhaps part of the reason that the song quickly became an underground hit. In fact, in one live recording the crowd cheers louder when he sings the "smoke your pot" line. As it turns out, Captain Jack was really a drug dealer who was always on the street corner near Joel's house as a child. One could presume the protagonist of the song to be a frequent customer of Captain Jack's ("so you stand on the corner in your New English clothes"), but the message ought to be pretty clear from the final verse, that the song is a bit of a cautionary tale (in a live version, he even added the line to the refrain "Oh, Captain Jack could make ya die toonight!"):

And if you can't understand
why your world is so dead
why you've got to keep in style
and feed your head
Well, you're 21 and till your mother makes your bed,
and that's too long

  • "Puff the Magic Dragon" is about growing up and losing your childhood imagination, but since the song was written in the 1960s, certain subcultures just can't accept the idea that it's not about getting totally high on weed.
  • The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was intended to be about... Lucy. In the sky. With diamonds. It was based on a picture that John's son drew of his classmate Lucy, and the acronym is a complete accident (although both John and Paul admitted they were pretty high while writing the song).
  • Brian May insists "Too Much Love Will Kill You" ("...if you can't make up your mind") was only about the end of his relationship with his wife, having no connection to the bisexual bandmate who died of AIDS shortly before its first release.
    • Though if you listen to the actual lyrics, it's impossible to construe the song as being about AIDS.
      • That theory was put forward by fans who hated the fact that Brian became the face of Queen in the wake of Freddie's death.
  • The J.J. Cale song "Cocaine", famously covered by Eric Clapton, is often interpreted as pro-drugs because of the refrain "It's all right". The rest of the lyrics, however, basically boil down to "cocaine will ruin your life".
  • The Christmas carol "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was originally written by 16-year-old Buck Ram and is about a homesick college student, but has more recently become associated with soldiers away at Christmastime. At least one version of the song even includes soldiers wishing their families a Merry Christmas during the bridge. Touching, yes, but not the original intended message.
    • Adding to the misconception is the fact that the song tends to be associated with the World War II era (as do so many popular Christmas songs), so many listeners assume that the narrator is an American soldier in Europe or the Pacific.
    • Though this is likely nitpicking, considering both aesops are still "People who are away from home wish they could be at home for Christmas." Trying to narrow it down to being only about college students because the creator was a college student seems unnecessary.
  • The Crash Test Dummies Song, "Mmm mmm mmm mmm," is VERY frequently interpreted as being about child abuse, with the eventual message that brainwashing your child and forcing your child to hold your own beliefs is worse than physical abuse. Word of God says the message is that Kids Are Cruel, and the song is to be taken at face value.
  • Minor Threat's "Guilty Of Being White" is often mistaken for having a pro-racist message: Ian MacKaye specifically was writing about a time in his life when he was in the minority in a black neighborhood and would get beaten up for being white. Even so, the song's rejection of the idea of white privilege is still sort of of a touchy subject.
  • Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast was thought by many religious extremists to be a song praising devil worship, when it was actually based on a nightmare by the author, who is, along with all band members, a christian.

Newspaper Comics

  • Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, due to its popularity and long run, often ran into this Trope:
    • Schulz said he only created the Great Pumpkin as a fun idea: "What if someone believed in a Hallowe'en Santa Claus?" Many saw Linus's efforts as a mockery of the foolishness of religious people, but Schulz himself was quite religious, at least in the early years.[1] Linus's statement that you should never discuss "religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin" was intended to show that he doesn't view the Great Pumpkin as his religion per se.
    • There's a strip where Linus asks Lucy about what would happen if a baby was in heaven waiting to be born but its parents decided that they didn't want any more children. Lucy points out his theological and scientific ignorance. It was meant to be a parody of people who ask really weird hypothetical questions, but people on both sides of the abortion debate seized on it as proof that Schulz supported them and asked him if they could have permission to reprint it in their literature. He said no.
    • In an anthology, 1960s letters written to Schulz about his new African-American character Franklin are reprinted; because he was introduced during the Civil Rights Movement, people assumed Schulz was trying to make some sort of statement. No, he said. Franklin's just black by coincidence.
  • A Dilbert cartoon featuring Wally receiving a pig as a Mail Order Bride was taken by a lot of people to be a racist comment on the looks of Asian brides. Scott Adams denied this was the case, saying that the pig was supposed to be just a pig and the joke was about a shoddy mail order company sending a non-human bride.

Video Games

  • The racist FPS Ethnic Cleansing, as well as its Spiritual Successors White Law and ZOG's Nightmare, were made by a white supremacist record label in order to convert young white gamers to its cause. Those few people who played the games mostly went away thinking that, the next time they hear white supremacists claiming that they oppose violence, they will treat such comments with a fair bit of skepticism.
    • Alternatively: if these are the best games that the racists can come up with, then they clearly have no idea what they are doing, and shouldn't even be trusted to run a newspaper route.
  • Word of God is that the Aesop of BioShock (series) is that humans cannot live up to their ideals and thus any attempt to realize Utopia will fail. However, the first game was seen as an attack on Ayn Rand and the philosophy of Objectivism. This was unintentional; Ken Levine is a libertarian who sympathizes with Objectivism even if he has his disagreements with it. Since the release of the sequel (which attacked collectivism), the intended aesop has become much clearer.
  • Thanks to Capcom's inability to make new main characters the Mega Man series argues in favor of capital punishment, and possibly the dangers of racism. Because Dr. Wily was not executed after he was captured by the BlueBomber in 6 (the intended end point of the series), he built Zero, causing a chain of events that, as of the Mega Man Zero series, has killed more than half the population of earth, and has left the planet itself almost scorched beyond recovery, which oddly enough involved another human villain that also wasn't executed once captured by our robotic heroes, which only made things worse when said villain came back. Also, because Capcom hasn't continued the Mega Man ZX series, it's implied that in the Mega Man Legends series, humanity has ultimately gone extinct because the legal system in this world couldn't put down a Mad Scientist who had certainly caused enough chaos to warrant such a punishment.
    • Mega Man 7 also has an accidental aesop found only in the English version. In both versions, the blue bomber prepares to shoot Wily and Wily reminds him that robots can't hurt humans due to being "Three Laws"-Compliant. In the japanese version, Mega Man puts his blaster down with no argument, while in the English version we get "I am more than a robot!! Die Wily!!" but still hesitates long enough for Wily to escape. This not only supports the above message about capital punishment but can also be seen as condemning pacifism or that there are exceptions to principles like do not kill.
      • What seems to be the be a running theme in the series is that all of the problems stem from people charged with protecting the innocent not doing their jobs properly. The government neither executed Dr. Wily when he was caught, nor stepped in and ordered Dr. Light to take lethal measures at an earlier time. Also, a cut-scene in the fourth Mega Man X game shows Sigma fought a Maverick Zero when he was still a Hunter. He lost because he didn't take Zero out immediately with his sword, even though his job was to kill Mavericks as quickly as possible, and decided to screw around. If he had done this, the events of the X and subsequent series wouldn't have happened.
  • Minecraft has a stunningly powerful Green Aesop as the player discovers grand sweeping vistas and slowly corrupts and ruins it, looking back only to find the landscape perverted by their own desires, a shell of its former self. Many players try and keep the landscape as pristine as possible just to avoid this. According to Notch, this was completely accidental and people probably shouldn't read so much into it.
    • YMMV, since the player's own architecture may well be just as grand. . .
      • Because the game is just THAT open ended, it's very possible that quite a few accidental Aesops my just pop up at any time. Another easy one could be that creepers are taken as a representation that all work is transitory, here one point and gone the next, or that some people just can't accept what you have built.
  • The original Japanese script of SaGa 2 involved a smuggling ring of illegal opium in Edo. The 1991 official English localization could not mention such drugs, so changed opium to "bananas". An NPC lampshades this by asking why bananas have to be illegal in the first place. It's obvious to most players that criminalizing bananas is silly, and the sheer organized crime involved might not exist without a legal ban on bananas. In the real world, this is an increasingly vocal argument against the War on Drugs, especially after a 2011 United Nations commission declared the international War on Drugs to be a costly, violent failure—drug crime and drug violence are usually caused by drug bans, not vice versa.

Web Comics

  • This comic from Rock, Paper, Cynic deliberately misinterprets the general morality of Aesop's fables.
  • This strip of Shortpacked! was seen by most fans, including Willis's own girlfriend, as his commentary on the New York Post cartoon controversy. Word of God is that he hadn't heard of it.
  • Concerned had several strips that dealt with a Combine Mook who was killed by Gordon Freeman, his life, his friends' attempt at revenge, etc. Apparently, some people thought it was a Deconstruction of generic video-game enemies, but according to the author it was supposed to be an extended joke about the absurd concept of Combine infantry (who have volunteered to be augmented with soul-eating cybernetics) having civilian lives.
  • This episode of Le Avventure del Grande Darth Vader has two characters arguing which of two 1980s home computers is more powerful, the main character making fun of them with tests rigged for none of them to win, the two characters arguing about modern video cards and the main character shutting them up with a Cool and Unusual Punishment. Word of God says that the intended aesop is "arguing about any hardware is stupid", but at least one reader was enraged because he only saw the aesop of "1980s home computers suck because they are inferior to a modern PC".

Web Original

  • From a Nezumi Man review "GAH! See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Smoke, and all your skin falls off".
  • If the way reincarnation works in the Reincarny webgame series is to be believed, the safest way to prevent criminals from committing crimes again for a long time is to give them life imprisonment without parole, since executing them will just allow them to escape from Hell and be reincarnated as adults who immediately start doing the same things they did before. (The game series is at least 90% of the way toward the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism)

Western Animation

  • Some fans perceived the moral of the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen" (in which Twilight Sparkle spends the entire episode doubting the veracity of Pinkie Pie's oracular 'twitches' and scientifically attempting to debunk them, only to suffer a Humiliation Conga and finally accept that there were some things she couldn't explain) to be anti-skepticism. Word of God says that the moral was supposed to be that Twilight's hubris was wrong, not her doubts. The controversy is addressed here.
    • Likewise, the episode "A Dog and Pony Show" is supposed to show the viewers that you shouldn't underestimate your friends, even if they don't seem like they'll be able to handle themselves. However, due to the method that Rarity uses to deal with the Diamond Dogs, the much more prominent Aesop in the episode is "Whining will get people to do what you want."
    • "The Mysterious Mare Do-Well" was also problematic in that it came across to some fans as effectively saying, "It's totally okay to go behind your friends' backs, show them up and sabotage them if they act in a way that you don't like," as opposed to, you know, just talking to them about it like friends." The message the episode was supposed to have about how one shouldn't be boastful or a gloryhog is completely lost because, firstly, the Great and Powerful Trixie showed this lesson far more effectively and, secondly, because the other ponies do boast and brag about how awesome Mare Do-Well is and gladly receive accolades and talk up all their own successes. So, ultimately, the episode just comes across as the ponies being smug and hypocritical and contradicting the friendship message central to the show.
    • In Winter Wrap-Up, Twilight searches in vain for a way to help with the town's winter cleanup activities, but only comes into her own when she realizes everyone else needs organization and management (which are her specialties). The obvious aesop is that you should play to your own strengths rather than trying to fill anyone else's shoes, but some interpreted it as saying that the "elite" (Twilight, in this case, being from Canterlot) have to boss around the stupid common folk because they're too pathetic to do it themselves. Much like Feeling Pinkie Keen, the people who saw this aesop didn't do so to agree with it, but apparently just so they could be outraged by it.
  • An episode of The Simpsons had Lisa taking part in a competition wherein the other team cheated (by using glow sticks, expressly against the rules) and won. She spends the rest of the episode appealing to progressively higher authorities until finally then-President Clinton himself overturns the results. The Aesop in this case is pretty explicitly spelled out: if things don't go your way, you can always whine to someone until they do. Thing is, it was clearly meant to be a Spoof Aesop; Marge points out that it's not a good moral to take away from this, and Clinton simply replies that he's not a very good president. Be that as it may, "Calmly and logically appeal to authority figures when faced with an injustice" isn't really that bad a moral.
  • Parodied in-story in South Park episode "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs," the kids decide to write the most offensive book ever written, which to their surprise becomes an instant bestseller, even though people can't stop throwing up when they read it. Almost immediately, people start reading political messages in the story, only for others to angrily insist that the book says the exact opposite. The kids, who only wanted to be offensive, find this all very annoying.
  • Family Guy every single time it tries to be pro-gay rights. One episode was pushing for gay marriage where the couple trying to get married was a human and a dog. A dog that acts like every Camp Gay stereotype you can imagine. Oh, and a deleted scene near the end shows that the person he's getting married to doesn't even speak English and doesn't know what's going on, with another character (Stewie) commenting in English that the human is going to be raped. The episode is supposed to be pro-gay rights but it instead comes off as "Gay people have sex with dogs, forcibly marry other people for their bodies and WILL RAPE YOU." You couldn't have messed that up even more if you tried.
    • The same thing happens when they try to mock religion. Brian turns just about everything into an anti-theism rant, and gets openly pissed off at anybody who has any religious beliefs (mostly because religious people are intolerant). He is genuinely meant to be seen as the Only Sane Man. The problem is, Jesus and God are both characters in the show. Brian has met both of them. Any time Brian mocks religion, he's blindly ignoring what's clearly right in front of him.
    • And then there's the pro-marijuana legalization episode which, of course, uses every "stupid stoner" joke and stereotype in the book. Basically, any attempt by Seth MacFarlane and the other writers to advocate their liberal views is always going to wind up backfiring because the humor is so incredibly lazy... they either don't feel like (or aren't capable of) writing more subtle and clever humor, or they think the people watching are drooling idiots (which says something about the sort of people they think are vulnerable to their intended messages).
  1. (Around the 1980's Schulz started describing himself as a "secular humanist" and admitted he didn't go to church anymore, but The Great Pumpkin was introduced in 1960.)