Reactionary Fantasy

An attempt to profit from any new (particularly socially radical) trend or subculture while at the same time subverting or preaching against it.

This was common in The '60s. For instance, as feminism was breaking out all over, television produced shows that featured powerful women cheerfully (but imperfectly) suppressing their magical natures in order to be a loving, compliant, submissive helpmeet to an average guy. Jeannie of I Dream of Jeannie must hide that she was a genie, and Samantha of Bewitched must deny her supernatural heritage to be a "good wife" to Darrin. The message was clear: even women with superpowers should be content to Stay in the Kitchen, voluntarily.

Best of all is if these shows can fool their audiences into thinking that they're making an edgy political point and really cash in on the trend. An awful lot of teenagers thought The Mod Squad, a show featuring three hip kids hired by the police to narc on their friends, was really cool. There are even those who argue that I Dream of Jeannie had a proto-feminist sort of sexual liberation to it. But seriously: would Buffy or Xena have put up with calling a man "master"? note 

Détournement is not only inevitable but counted on. A Reactionary Fantasy, done properly, is very like a Kansas City Shuffle: the writers get fans of the social movement when they're actually skewering it.

If it's just for an episode, rather than a series concept, see Subculture of the Week.

It's even possible for a program or film to turn into this accidentally, if it is genuinely condemning a new social development without any pretense of trying to cash in on it, but the Moral Guardians simply see the subject matter and denounce the work as subversive for that alone. (Prior to the 1950s in film and the 1970s in comic books, for example, it was forbidden to even acknowledge that illegal drugs existed, even if you were required to do so in order to say that Drugs Are Bad.)

This could be seen as the Opposite Trope to Do Not Do This Cool Thing; while that trope is about an artist intending to represent something as bad but unintentionally presenting it as cool, this trope is about an artist pretending to represent something as cool but actually undermining it. Contrast Feminist Fantasy. Only tangentially related to Michael Moorcock's famous essay "Epic Pooh", which deals with much more overt reactionary attitudes in the fantasy genre. If a Reactionary ideology is portrayed negatively (intentionally or not) then the story has a Evil Reactionary.

See also: The New Rock & Roll, The Generation Gap, Subculture of the Week, New Media Are Evil, Stranger Danger, Can't Get Away with Nuthin', Very Special Episode, Lifetime Movie of the Week, Compressed Vice


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     Comic Books 
  • Iron Man: The Hulk and Spider-Man were big counterculture heroes in the 1960s, particularly in how the Hulk was always fighting the army. So, Stan Lee decided to introduce a character who was as Establishment as possible: A rich, handsome, munitions manufacturer who was entirely in bed with the military (and would stay so for decades). He ended up almost as popular as the previous heroes, though it took Robert Downey Jr. and a snarkier sense of humor to push him onto the A-List. However, because of this trope, he tends to lean further into being an Anti-Hero compared to other superheroes, and writers tend to highlight his vices.
  • Empowered came out at a time when humor websites were starting to make fun of older comic book's sexist and fetishistic depictions of female superheroes, specifically when they would be Bound and Gagged and needed to be rescued, and their Stripperiffic outfits, especially Wonder Woman. Empowered is ostensibly and Affectionate Parody of those comics, but Empowered is depicted in a sexual manner far more explicitly than most of the comics it's parodying, and often not in a funny way either, nor in a way that is so over the top that it isn't sexy. And that doesn't even include the fact that Wonder Woman is, and always was, an anti-sexist icon.

    Film - Animated 

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Sucker Punch has critics polarized - Word of God states that the burlesque, skimpy outfits, and creepy men watching the girls dance represented him and the audience in a way, watching human actresses be sexualized for mindless entertainment. However, the film's critics state it's still out-of-place sexualization in the end, and cliche ones at that.
  • It's not hard to see many Slasher Movies of the '80s this way either. The victims of the killer are nearly always teenagers who rebelled against society through drinking, doing drugs, having sex, partying, listening to rock, and other things (and of course, there were many Moral Guardians who considered these films anti-conservative simply for showing these things). The Final Girl of nearly all of these movies was invariably a Token Wholesome virgin. Starting in the late '90s, however, slasher films tended more towards subverting, parodying and/or deconstructing these aspects more than they played them straight. John Carpenter, who is credited for starting the trend of "sinful teens get murderer", commented that the only reason why the victims in his films were drunk or just had sex were because they were distracted and not expecting a mass murderer in their midst.
  • Walter Hill's The Warriors on the surface appears to be very sympathetic to the (dubious) ideal of proletarian revolution, with thousands of rough-and-tumble anarchists - and what's more, outright criminals! - literally ruling the streets. But the revolutionary scheme fails early on, and the movie turns into a Stern Chase from that point forward. More to the point, The Warriors is ultimately anti-utopian and puts forth the essentially right-wing messages that crime does not pay and that yearning for revolution is naïve at best, and unbelievably foolish and dangerous at worst. The most defiant character is arrested, beaten, and dragged off to jail in humiliating fashion; and the other protagonists in the end realize they may not have Earned Their Happy Ending after all.
    Swan: This is what we fought all night to get back to?
  • When it comes to movies, this trope is Older Than Television. It used to often come up in the context of movie publicity campaigns appealing to working-class and/or urban audiences that their picture was more controversial than it actually was, and a poke in the eye of the Hays Code (largely a middle-class and small-town social grouping), when in fact they were doing nothing of the sort, or at most doing it so sneakily that the censors never noticed. To give just one (albeit complex) example: in the early 1930s, the Warner Brothers film studio decided to start - tentatively - producing "social problem" films (which were called "preachment yarns" by Hollywood insiders), trying to defuse potential (or actual) controversy by claiming all along that they didn't want to take sides, only to report objectively. But as it turned out, the irony cut both ways. The Warners film Cabin in the Cotton (most famous nowadays for giving Bette Davis one of her earliest film roles), which was about the class conflict between Southern plantation owners and their "peckerwood" sharecroppers, was both denounced and hailed as a piece of socialist propaganda, with the Soviet Union's government censorship bureau deeming it the first American film sufficiently anti-capitalist to be approved for release in Russian markets. But if you watch the actual film, you'll note that it isn't radical at all: the "peckerwood" hero combats injustice not by revolting against it, but by working within the system (he works his way up to a higher position than the other sharecroppers) and arranging a truce between the rich planters and their labor force. Furthermore, the rich people in the film are not villainous caricatures and are given the opportunity to defend their policies, and plausibly so. Probably the only remotely subversive thing about Cabin in the Cotton is that the Bette Davis character (the daughter of the hero's rich boss) proves to be a Wrong Girl First, as the hero chooses a poor peckerwood girl as his sweetheart instead (and even this has more to do with the Davis character's sexual immorality than with class solidarity).
  • Come to think of it, as much could be said about even the very "first" movie, The Birth of a Nation. Despite what both supporters and detractors have seemed to think about it over the years, D.W. Griffith's 1915 epic is not a neo-Confederate secessionist fantasy, but an expression of superficially conventionalized (if very, very misguided) American patriotism. The "nation" referred to in the title is not the Confederate States of America but the United States of America, and the real enemy is not the U.S. government but a few "crazy" reformers and their toxic ideas about race-mixing and generally upending the sociopolitical status quo. The movie doesn't even treat the Ku Klux Klan as "heroic" in the most traditional sense (it even admits that they're criminals before the law!), but as a "necessary evil" the white South has supposedly been goaded into taking upon itself. This was the orthodox interpretation of Reconstruction put forth by historian William Archibald Dunning in the early 20th Century, when the real tragedy was seen to be the North and South fighting each other rather than that of slavery itself.
  • Maleficent attempts to retell Sleeping Beauty from a more feminist perspective. It does so by retconning a film that was already quite feminist for the time. Namely by turning the villain into a Woman Scorned and quasi rape victim at the hands of a male who was not a villain in the original story. It likewise turns three strong female characters from the original into bumbling and uncaring idiots - and gives all their heroic moments to Maleficent instead. Likewise any male characters that appear are evil, useless or subservient to the women. The fact that one of the most powerful and badass villains in the Disney canon was imagined as only being evil because a man broke her heart was criticised by many.
  • The Imitation Game strives for a Be Yourself moral and celebrates the efforts of World War II code breaker Alan Turing. However it does so by taking considerable Artistic Licence History to present him as a textbook case of Hollywood Autism. Likewise Turing falls very much into But Not Too Gay. Aside from the flashbacks to his time with Christopher - wherein Turing actually being in love with him is a surprise reveal (and after Christopher has died) - his homosexuality is an Informed Attribute. Critics of the film noted how it had no problem showing Turing being blackmailed and persecuted for his sexuality, but never shows him in a single homosexual relationship. It's been theorised the filmmakers felt a nerd with an Ambiguous Disorder - or the 'safe' kind of different - would be more sympathetic to the general public.

  • The book (not movie) Logan's Run told Middle America to worry their heads off: those scary hippies would create a world where an eleven-year-old girl announces that she's sexually "skilled beyond all others", where fourteen is adulthood and everyone dies at twenty-one.
  • Stephen King, in his study of the horror genre Danse Macabre, suggests that horror literature is inherently conservative, simply because horror is always a disruption of the world as it is — and it's shown to be scary and bad.
  • A common feminist criticism of the Twilight series is that it's one of these due to how Edward's relationship with Bella is portrayed among other things. Let's leave it at that.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey:
    • Some call it 'progressive' for basically being porn for women, but it depicts and romanticizes a blatantly abusive relationship.
    • This also comes up in the series’ portrayal of kinky sex and the BDSM lifestyle. It's supposed to be 'edgy' because it deals with the subject at all, but it's really pretty puritanical about it: Christian's sexual proclivities are the product of abuse and emotional damage, lead him to behave abusively toward Anastasia, and ultimately have to be exorcised so they can have a healthy relationship.
    • Another criticism by some is that the book is marketed as kinky and edgy, when the sex is actually pretty vanilla, especially when compared to what many people in BDSM do. It presents itself a certain way to people who want to think about those things but are too afraid or nervous to. The trilogy presented itself as a series about kinky, crazy sex, but wasn't actually that kinky.
    • There's also the concern that people who are not all that familiar with BDSM might think that that's how that kind of relationship is supposed to work, and might lead to people thinking that it's a how-to manual to introduce some Casual Kink into an otherwise vanilla relationship, or entering into BDSM relationships without understanding how it's actually supposed to be.
  • Commonly inverted by American porn novels of the Sixties and Seventies, which would often feature introductions explaining how all this sexiness was the result of mental illness, but never mention it in the actual text.
  • Youth in Sexual Ecstasy is a novel that promotes sexual abstinence and preaches against premarital sex, all while having a casanova protagonist immersed in an Everyone Has Lots of Sex environment.
  • The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad consists largely of a Stealth Parody entitled Lord of the Swastika, in which, After the End, a brave and thoroughly Nordic warrior fights the ruthless Dominators to save the human gene pool in the ashes of America, supposedly written by Science Fiction novelist and Austrian emigre Adolf Hitler in reaction to the communist takeover of Europe.

     Live Action Television 
  • The Mod Squad told Middle America not to worry: those scary Hippies would sell out just like everyone else and you really didn't have to be afraid of your kids anymore because they'd eventually wind up punching a clock for the Establishment just like you. They guessed right, of course, but nobody knew that at the time.
  • Similarly, the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Way to Eden", which teaches that idealistic dreams of a perfectly enlightened and peaceful Elysian society are deadly self-delusion unless framed within socially acceptable norms. Chalk it up to Gene Roddenberry bowing to Executive Meddling. A few other TOS episodes, most infamously "The Omega Glory", were reportedly the result of this behind-the-scenes pressure.
  • This is also an aspect of CSI, which, as Television Without Pity shows us, proves that any unwed man or woman who consents to and enjoys having sex (especially if the sex is in any way not "normal": obese people, furries, swingers, etc.) will almost certainly die, while rapists and rape victims often live to tell the tale.
  • The subversion/reversal to end all subversions: The Addams Family. Not only were they eccentric (read: crazy), but Gomez and Morticia kissed all the time. And all the "normal people" on the show were shocked — but the audience wasn't, and wasn't supposed to be, despite the usual behavior of married couples on early 1960s TV.
  • Bewitched: Samantha could literally have anything she wanted by simply twitching her nose yet she willingly suppressed this power on the demand of a man with whom she tried to live a normal human life of domestic bliss. This despite the fact that the magical world she comes from is a far more interesting and liberated place (although portrayed as overly hedonistic, so that Samantha should prefer life as a mortal).
  • Five words: Lifetime Movie of the Week. To sum them up, even under their feminist undertones and alleged "empowerment" of "distressed women", half of the plots go on condemning whatever thing frightens middle aged suburban housewives. At least half the time, the good men are right. Doesn't matter what about, they're just right. Sometimes to the point of saving the heroine and/or doing her thinking for her. Also, the movies constantly show women getting victimized.
  • I Dream of Jeannie, despite Tony arguably freeing Jeannie upon being rescued in the first episode, she still follows him home and calls him master. While she'll work around his wishes, she still obeys them and is happy to be his servant (because she's in love with him). Despite this she constantly disobeys Tony's orders and causes trouble wherever he goes, of her own free will.
  • Sex and the City attracted quite a bit of flak during its run for how, for all its talk of being a progressive, empowering (even feminist) sitcom, the series nevertheless ended with all four female characters having found happiness by entering into committed monogamous relationships with white heterosexual men, and in two cases also by having babies. (Feminists of a different vein, meanwhile, have countered that such lifestyles are still feminist if women freely and willingly choose them.)
  • Though it ended up in Development Hell and has still yet to be seen, Conservative pundit Glenn Beck at one point announced his intention to create an Anti-Glee aimed at teens and children. His stated goal was to try and make conservative attitudes seem cool again after Glee became credited with helping popularize acceptance of LGBT individuals and other progressive causes among young people (n Beck's eyes, apparently, there's nothing cool about a Gay Conservative).
  • This article for the Atlantic defines this term with TLC Reality TV shows:
    Inevitably, this controversy will win the show more viewers. Because this is what TLC does: It finds people living atypical lives—usually ones in tension with "progressive" cultural norms —and turns them into spectacle. Watching the network's line-up, we're supposed to regard the show's subjects with equal parts amusement and outrage: Freaks with too many kids. Freaks who have never had sex. Freaks from the South. Freaks with multiple wives. This approach to programming succeeds, wildly, because it's a pure distillation of the appeal of reality television: self-righteous voyeurism.
  • Snog Marry Avoid strives to promote a healthy message to young women - that they don't need to overcompensate with make-up, extensions, fake tan etc. But it does so by relying heavily on the Madonna–Whore Complex and resorting to Slut-Shaming - since it uses Manipulative Editing to have a 'before' poll of men insulting the girls' original look, and an 'after' poll where they describe the new look as "marriage material." The fact that the Aesop seems to be that the girls in question should want complete strangers to want to marry them rather than getting to know them for something other than their looks has been mocked repeatedly. Additionally the show undermines its 'anti-fakery' message by essentially using fakery to make the contestants only appear natural.
  • A frequent knock on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is that as much as it tries to be pro-feminist and anti-sexual violence, it also glamorizes Police Brutality and frequently has the detectives express disgust with offbeat fetishes and sexual practices, no matter how consensual. The arc dealing with Serial Killer and rapist William Lewis, one of the show's few recurring villains, was also criticized as disrespectfully playing his crimes for cheap shock value, contrary to the series' message.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • During the 1930-40s, women in the USA were being pushed into workforce roles they had been traditionally discouraged from and women pro wrestlers were almost as big of an attraction as their male counterparts, in theory. When the NWA crowned Mildred Burke World Women's Champion, her legitimacy was established through defeating hundreds of men and she was promoted alongside World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz as an equal. In practice, the NWA had numerous world spanning male divisions but ended up content with a single one for women. Furthermore, commentary was often more about makeup and accessories than any strategy employed during a match. And that's before you get into Burke being cheated out of the title and barred from the NWA when promoters took the side of her ex husband in the early-mid 1950s when a reactionary slant really started rolling, hard as June Byers and other successors tried to get taken more seriously. The 50s did see women get a second world division with some longevity in the form of Tag Team titles, though experimentation with weight classes such as World Women's Junior Heavyweight Title presented by Jack Pfefer continued to fail.
  • Much the same fate befell the concept of weight classes themselves in the WWF. From the Light Heavyweight title, which they ignored for over a decade until they decided to restart pretty much only done to imitate the cruiserweights in WCW before growing bored and burying TAKA Michinoku who it was to be centered around to its own cruiserweight division, which WWE only got into by virtue of absorbing WCW. Rey Mysterio Jr. did become WWE RAW World Heavyweight Champion in 2006, but he was, as they say, the exception proving the rule. He was booked to look like a most pitiful champion and little more than a year after Mysterio's victory, the cruiserweight division lost all credibility when the title was put on a Hornswoggle, who relied more on Merrie Melodies type sketches than wrestling matches to retain his title, which disappeared entirely shortly after. For a few years after that, WWE went back to pushing the same power-based muscleheads that had been its bread and butter since 1983.
  • During WWE's "ruthless aggression"(early brand extension) era, it's women's division was praised for it's "innovation", the women's genuine athleticism and (gradually) moving away from the T&A gimmick matches. This was somewhat undercut by the division's trainer, Fit Finlay, being given the position as a demotion even though him deciding to make the most of it lead to most of that praise. It was majorly undercut by the fact women's title lacking Smackdown brand actually regressed from silly gimmick matches to cat fights and bikini contests at the same time. Even on Raw, the women's division rarely had more than four participants at a time and was often completely ignored. Power Stable Evolution boasting to have "All The Gold" with no mention of the women's title.
  • In 2004, WWE was running its second diva search, with Jonathan Coachman expressing that they already had the best women wrestlers in the world and didn't want anymore. Instead they were looking for a woman with "class" to represent the company. The participants in this "Quarter Of A Million Dollar Diva Search" ranged from a playboy playmate to a "Man Show" juggie dancer. The contests involved such activities as eating pie and seducing Kamala. When the whole thing was over, Jazz, Gail Kim and Nidia were released, being told they did not fit in with the new direction of the women's division, but multiple women who failed to advance in this diva search apparently did, filling their spots on the roster. Before long Raw was also back to such "classy" activities as T&A gimmick matches, then back to bikini contests. The kicker was that the third diva search in 2005 did claim to be looking for another wrestler but ended up being more of the same. Mickie James, Jillian Hall, Katie Lea, Melina Perez and Beth Phoenix did get called up from OVW as the diva search participants struggled to learn how to wrestle without Finlay but James and Hall only got put on the main roster after getting breast implants and Lea was called for the purpose of an incest angle with Paul Burchill, her lover in OVW who was changed to her brother in Monday Night Raw without changing their gimmick or interaction whatsoever. Phoenix was the only one brought up for reasons unrelated to looks or sex appeal, mainly because "creative" had booked themselves into a corner and quickly needed a competent female baby face on Raw.
  • WWECW, an attempt by WWE to cash in on the disenfranchised ECW mutants following the demise of the original company. The ECW One Night Stand 2005 event was generally well received and the second one(so are we dating?) at least had ECW original Rob Van Dam defeat John Cena...even if Edge had to help him. However, when WWE decided to produce ongoing ECW programming, it quickly became clear it wasn't going to mirror the spirit of the old ECW when it put on a single "extreme rules" match a night. The original ECW simply had no disqualifications beyond striking the referee what so ever, allowing wrestlers to go crazy as they pleased (and this was after the promising debut of Kurt Angle, who was to be in the original ECW before a Raven Sandman incident caused him to jump to the WWF). Van Dam being stripped of the ECW Title and Sabu's release for marijuana possession, which would not have been of any concern in the original ECW, further convinced diehard fans WWECW would be a failure but an appearance by mutant Sitcom Archnemesis Ric Flair had some hoping it would turn around. Then Batista and The Big Show were booked in an ECW main event, garnering chants of "Where's my refund!" and "Change the channel", immediately after WWE had finally gotten the mutants to start chanting "ECW" again no less. CM Punk, who would have fit right in with the original company and was champion of previous ECW cash ins IWA Mid-South and Ring of Honor, was passed up for in title contention in favor of Bobby Lashley, a talented if less experienced wrestler who nonetheless looked like a typical jacked up WWE champion and had a voice that deflated his promos. Then Vince McMahon became ECW champion and all hope was lost. WWECW was eventually retooled into a showcase for young up and coming talent like Yoshi Tatsu and Kofi Kingston, enjoyed by the two dozen people who still tuned in, but it was too little to late and still wouldn't have been true to ECW even if would have been implemented sooner.
  • In 2007, Vickie Guerrero became the general manager of Smackdown. In 2008, Guerrero debuted a new "Divas Championship", giving both the Raw and Smackdown brands their own women's title. In May 2009, WWE debuted a new marketing slogan for its "Divas": Smart, Sexy, Powerful. Of course the main angle on Smackdown was nepotism, since Vickie was sleeping with Edge, the new Divas title when viewed alongside the various gold and black belts stood out as a bright pink butterfly, the gratifying slogan clashed with the longest running "divas" champion prior to title unification being portrayed as anything but smart or powerful, regularly getting fluke wins and misreading a letter written in her own native language. Both titles ended up being won by two women who spearheaded what was essentially a high school angle. Touching back on title "unification", the women's belt was actually done away with, at which point the "reactionary" approach discarded wrestling history itself, given that belt went back further than any other WWE had, if only by technicality. In some ways the 1950s looked progressive by comparison.
  • TNA's Knockout Division got hit with this rather hard and fast. Getting their own title in 2007, it was easily the most serious, diverse and competitive division nationally televised in the fifty states, given WWE's much degraded counterpart was the only competition, but it was also the first time since the 1990s a major women's division in the fifty states were getting invitations from other majors the wider region such as CMLL, AAA, IWA PR or WWC. By 2009 the knockouts also got tag team title belts, which to the uninformed reads like another step forward but it was preceded by two steps back. Most of the knockout women wrestlers had been cut from the roster or otherwise left, meaning the nine left really weren't enough to carry two divisions when one of them required two title holders yet one woman managed to hold both the singles and a tag team knockout belt while being part of a group that in those two years went from examples of the division's depth to Mean Girls\porn star hybrids that were shoved into every bit of Knockout air time in some way shape or form. The tag team title belts ended up being done away with in four years after a joke run, with one set of crowned champions not even getting the dignity of losing the belts on air in between.
  • The 2015 "Give Divas A Chance" movement became an Ascended Meme on WWE TV, after numerous fans and employees complained about a ridiculous 30-second match on Raw - and certain Divas started to champion it and turn it into a storyline. This is undermined by the fact that the eternal battle is the WWE Divas vs the creative team who tend to give the women ridiculously short time for matches, no developed characters and feuds that fall into the Girl Show Ghetto. So for all the talk of how the Bella Twins are "holding back" the division, the Bellas were still just victims of the system themselves - making them the Designated Villain. And the Divas continue to face an uphill battle against management behind the scenes, rendering the storyline moot until the creative team regularly gives them the same amount of attention afforded to the NXT Divas.
  • Paige claims to be the 'Anti-Diva' and to defy the usual stereotypes about what a WWE Diva should be. While the 'character' may have began with some merit - she was the only wrestler hired alongside various models(not counting that one from Tough Enough) - she eventually slipped into this. She still wrestled in a Stripperiffic outfit, caked her face in make-up and eventually provided blatant Les Yay Fanservice in her matches - all the while essentially claiming she was automatically better than the rest of the Divas purely because she wasn't feminine. The character acts as if she's simply being herself (much in the same way other Divas such as Lita, AJ Lee or Kaitlyn were) when if one compares her gimmick on the indies, it's obvious that WWE put her in that look and gave her that gimmick. As a heel she averts this, as she usually has a bit more depth. But if she's a face then she falls into this completely: being praised solely because she's not blonde or feminine.

  • Some people have argued that A Streetcar Named Desire is a "progressive" work because it depicts a blue-collar, "ethnic" character (Stanley Kowalski) standing defiantly against the tradition-bound, Protestant South (set in New Orleans, one of the South's few Catholic enclaves). That's a seriously misguided view with which the author himself almost surely would have disagreed. Not only is Stanley not the main character, and not only had the aristocratic society he's supposedly rebelling against slid into decay long before he was even born, but he's thoroughly selfish and a borderline Psychopathic Manchild and a rapist, for Pete's sake!