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. A classic example would be British publishing house, the New English Library, who made an entire genre out of Reactionary Fantasy.

This was common in The Sixties. 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. If the creators play their cards right (or if no one reads too closely), they may even come to be considered a Supposedly Rebellious Series, praised for being at the vanguard of a social change when they are in fact doing nothing of the kind.

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.

Examples:

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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.

    Film - Animated 

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Sucker Punch. Full of violence and degradation from scantily-clad women, and some exploitation of the woman, from a Big Bad Caligula. The director claims he's actually critiquing exploitation, others disagree with this and see half naked woman being abused.
  • Tim Burton's two Batman films show Gotham as a vaguely futuristic dystopia where criminals do whatever they like and a Badass Normal vigilante in a subversive costume causes all kinds of cool damage bringing them to justice - but women are still sex objects and expected to scream a lot and wait for men to come to their rescue (Selina Kyle, of course, being the tragic exception that proves the rule).
  • 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.
  • Forrest Gump is the story of how a Good Ol' Boy who sincerely believes he lives in a great country America the Beautiful finds happiness and wealth by Just Following Orders note  because Dumb Is Good. It is mirrored by the story of an intelligent girl who Really Gets Around due to Abusive Parents who sincerely believes she lives in a terrible country America the Boorish, becomes a Soap Box Sadie trying to change things for the better, and lives a life that goes From Bad to Worse (and it's implied to end with Death by Sex). Torpedoing this argument, one could note that Jenny is merely a Wide-Eyed Idealist, not a crude left-wing caricature like some of the other characters we meet. Not to mention that being "ordered" to run away from bullies or any other kind of danger is not a message that most reactionaries would applaud.
  • 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?
  • The Deer Hunter (1978) was widely praised for its "courage" in daring to depict the Vietnam War as it actually was, without any sugarcoating to avoid offending or disturbing people. In fact, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture largely on the strength of these praises. The lack of sugarcoating was true enough, but the larger claim of realism was definitely not. The segments of the film hailed as the most "realistic" were scenes of Viet Cong torturers - and later, Saigon gangsters - forcing Americans to play a deadly "Russian roulette" game while screaming at them in screechy Southeast Asian voices. This was never reported actually happening - and, in fact, the one time during the war an eyewitness account reported someone threatening people with a gun in a manner at all similar to Russian roulette, it was an American officer doing it to Vietnamese villagers! More to the point, The Deer Hunter is very similar to the earlier films it was supposedly challenging in that it's fueled by American patriotism and self-righteousness and the unspoken assumption that foreign enemies are unequivocally evil Asshole Victims. It is realistic in that it shows American troops suffering both physically and emotionally, but the only reason that the likes of, say, John Wayne didn't show that was because it would have made Americans look weak.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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 Gray meets similar criticism to Twilight (hardly surprising given that it originated as Twilight fan fiction):
    • 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's 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's somewhat similar to Twilight in that it presents itself a certain way to people who want to think about those things but are too afraid or nervous to. Twilight was written as a big romance with a girl lusting over the most gorgeous guy in the world, but the reader never got to read the sex scene it was building up to. In that vein, 50 Shades presented itself as a book about kinky, crazy sex, but wasn't actually that kinky.
  • 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.
  • Lord of the Swastika is a pulpy post-Apocalyptic fantasy novel about a brave and thoroughly Nordic warrior fighting the ruthless Dominators to save the human gene pool in the ashes of America, written by popular sci-fi novelist and Austrian emigre Adolf Hitler in reaction to the communist takeover of Europe.
  • 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 (assuming New Orleans can be considered part of the South). 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!

     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).
  • 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. (In 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.

     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 attraction as their male counterparts and 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 male division but ended up content with a single one for women after some experimentation. 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.
  • Much the same fate befell the concept of weight classes themselves in the WWF. From the Light Heavyweight title, which was pretty much only done in imitation of the cruiserweights in WCW before growing board 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. A little more than a year after Mysterio's victory, the cruiserweight division lost all credibility when the title was put on a Hornswoggle, and disappeared entirely shortly after. For a few years after that, WWE went back to pushing the same power-based muscleheads that had always been its bread and butter.
  • 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 that the division's trainer, Fit Finlay, was given the position as a demotion even though he decided to make the most of it and majorly by the fact women's title lacking Smackdown brand was actually regressing from silly gimmick matches to cat fights and bikini contests. 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 and with Jonathan Coachman expressing that they already had the best women's wrestlers in the world and didn't want anymore, instead now looking for a woman with "class" to represent the company. The participants ranged from playboy playmate to Man Show juggie dancer and the contests involved such activities as eating pie and seducing Kamala. When the contest 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 the diva search apparently did, filling their spots on the roster. Before long Raw was also back to the T&A gimmick matches, then 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 but the first two only got put on the main roster after getting breast implants and the the third 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.
  • 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 an ongoing ECW programming, it quickly became clear it wasn't going to mirror the spirit of the ECW of old when ran on a single "extreme rules" match a night, when the original ECW simply had no disqualifications 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 have been of any concern in the original ECW further convinced diehard fans WWECW would be a failure but an appearances 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 wrestler who nonetheless looked like a typical jacked up WWE champion and had a voice that deflated his promos. Then Vince McMahon became ECW 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 debuting 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, amongst various gold and black belts stood out as a bright pink butterfly, gratifying slogan aside, the longest running "divas" champion prior to title unification was portrayed as anything but smart or powerful, regularly getting fluke wins and misreading a letter written in her native language and 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 they had, if only by technicality and 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, competitive division nationally televised in the US, not that their was much competition, by 2009 they also got tag team title belts, which to the uninformed reads like another step forward but it was preceded by two back. Most of the "Knockout" women wrestlers had been cut from or otherwise left the roster, 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 and was part of a Mean Girls\porn star hybrid group who in those two years managed to get 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.

     Web Original 
  • The Onion's fictitious "editorial cartoonist" Kelly is very much in this vein. His videos turn this Up to Eleven.