Supposedly Rebellious Series

As far as I can make out, "edgy" occurs when middlebrow, middle-aged profiteers are looking to suck the energy—not to mention the spending money—out of the "youth culture." So they come up with this fake concept of seeming to be dangerous when every move they make is the result of market research and a corporate master plan.

A Supposedly Rebellious Series is a work that portrays itself as edgy but is too conventional or safe to truly justify that portrayal.

The work appears to be going in an interesting/unconventional/challenging direction but ends up conforming to society's accepted standards and expectations, as if the creator suddenly wimped out. For example, a character might be touted as an independent feminist role-model, but ends up reliant on a man to get her out of every scrape. The story appears to be challenging, but instead breaks its own Aesop to conform to the status quo.

There are many reasons for this, but pandering plays a big part; controversy sells and being rebellious has, paradoxically, become the norm in modern creative industries. As such, some will latch on to a particular controversy or topical issue in order to cash in on being a "rebel", only for anyone with an interest in the issue to discover that, ultimately, the emperor has no clothes. This also has the effect of transforming genuine rebellion into a cynical marketing exercise. On the other hand, going too far to the rebellious side of the spectrum can be detrimental to the work, so they ease up. They want it to sell, after all.

Rebelling, but not enough to upset any societal norms, is also an idea in sociology: the people who stray from the norms let the rest of us know where the limits are. This trope can be seen/used as a reflection of this idea, but using the trope this way is rather rare. There's also a psychological undercurrent, since humans are often torn between the conflicting impulses of self-expression and "fitting in": a character may consciously want to rebel, but subconsciously crave social acceptance, undermining his/her attempts at subversiveness; either that, or he/she may want to simultaneously rebel (because it's "cool") and remain true to deeply held traditional beliefs, when, of course, that combination just cannot be. This is an idea that is Older than Television at the very least, and one of the main themes of Sinclair Lewis's novel Babbitt.

Of course, none of this necessarily means that the work is bad; it's just not as rebellious as the hype would have you believe. Sometimes, the work was truly rebellious in its own day, but, since then, subsequent rebellions have increased our threshold for being offended and the older works are now Paper Tigers. On the other hand, if a work is aimed at children, it need only be slightly rebellious for the Moral Guardians to indignantly pounce on it. Also, practically any work that claims to promote some kind of ideological or political moral risks being considered this by someone with more extreme opinions or a more aggressive attitude towards promoting them.

Often uses the Broken Aesop. Works falling into this trope often have their "controversial" elements over-stressed. Also see Reactionary Fantasy, Fair for Its Day, Debate and Switch, Poke the Poodle, The Man Is Sticking It to the Man, But Not Too Gay, Hide Your Lesbians and Clueless Aesop. A form of Hype Backlash.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • This argument has been made regarding Dilbert, since Scott Adams is less of a radical than he's sometimes thought to be. Adams himself gave it away in a book title—I'm not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot. A serious essay in the otherwise-humorous book The Dilbert Principle makes it perfectly clear that Scott Adams is not against capitalism and business themselves, it is the often-inhuman practices associated with them that he wants to satirize. (And if he were really anti-capitalist, how could he justify making money from all his merchandise?)

  • Indie filmed Saved! starts off with characters being persecuted in a small town for being gay, liberal, atheist, Jewish, or otherwise different. Then at the end one of the characters has a baby and decides there must be a God after all. Needless to say, the people who wanted to watch an atheist Author Tract were severely pissed off. More optimistically, you could say that the plot managed to Take a Third Option. The ultimate message of Saved is not that Christianity is wrong, it's that American Evangelicals are doing Christianity wrong.
  • The Brave One was praised by critics for depicting a woman who becomes a vigilante, calling it "dark". However, the first two people she shoots are conveniently extremely violent criminals, and in the end the film seems to fall into a Black and White Morality where she was in the right, or she'll be O.K., because she just needed to kill those people for therapy.
    • That's not even getting into the fact that it's a movie about a blond white woman killing evil, savage Scary Black Men, and the racial dynamics of this are never addressed in-story. (Though granted, the story also contains good black men, and an evil white man.)
  • For all the praise heaped upon Brokeback Mountain for being "progressive", it's still a cliched forbidden love story where the more aggressive lover dies. It's also been accused of But Not Too Gay, due to the relationship between the men getting less screentime than those with their wives.
  • 1993's Philadelphia was the first big-budget mainstream film about AIDS and thus seen as a landmark. As discussed in the book Inside Oscar, it took its lumps: while it got many positive reviews and won Tom Hanks his first Oscar, other reviews complained it assumed Viewers Are Morons with regards to the subject matter. It was also panned as simplistically depicting the protagonists (a dying gay man and his—at first—reluctant, straight lawyer) and antagonists (the homophobic and uncaring superiors at the hero's law firm, who fired him when he revealed his illness), and not giving enough screen time to the relationship of the hero and his lover out of fear that viewers might take offense. That said, the consensus was that if it led to greater understanding of the subjects it tackled, it served a greater purpose. Some of this also falls under Values Dissonance—by the standards of how homosexuality was commonly depicted in the mainstream during early 1990s and prior to the film's release in general, the film's sympathetic, naturalistic, humane treatment of the main character and his lover was quite unique.
  • The Disney Animated Canon's deliberate attempts at more rounded female characters over the past 20 years have faced similar problems, especially where romance and physical beauty are concerned. See Girls Need Role Models.
  • Mainstream American horror films, especially when compared to horror films from Asia and Europe. For all the evil that American horror icons do, they'll never go too far so as to earn it an NC-17 rating, instead relying on Gory Discretion Shots and avoiding certain acts. This is largely because the entire system of American cinema tends to yield to Moral Guardians. A film can't be mainstream if it's rated NC-17—none of the big chains will show NC-17 films, and a high percentage of the target audience would be absolutely forbidden to see it. The target audience for American horror is teenagers and young adults; were it not for this trope, the platonic ideal for an American studio would be a PG-13 horror movie. But anything that is seen to cross the line risks getting rated NC-17 because it crosses the Moral Event Horizon. Finally, if someone films a villain crossing the Moral Event Horizon in a graphic way, it is often believed that the director is crossing it as well. In short, this is why the villains of American horror movies are so often subject to Draco in Leather Pants.
  • I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry poses itself as slightly more "socially active" than Adam Sandler's other work, encompassing a pro-gay message. It still reduces the face of organized homophobia to sub-Westboro Baptist Church-level goons, merrily trades in gay stereotypes, its climax is predicated entirely on ignoring the fact that bisexuality is a thing that exists, and it stayed away from actually having the two leads kiss in order to avoid the dreaded R rating.
  • Similar things can be said about Strange Bedfellows, the Australian precursor to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. The film mostly plays homosexuality for laughs, but a sequence in the second act set in some of Sydney's gay nightclubs sets up an anti-homophobia Aesop on which the film never quite delivers. After their trip to the city, the two leads claim that they suddenly know what homophobic persecution is like, but not once were they ever shown to be victims of such persecution; they were told about it by the homosexuals they met. They ultimately got away with their scheme, leaving the message (if any) unclear; is it OK to defraud the Government and mock a minority group simply because you don't hate said group? Because of your loyalty to your mate? Because you needed the money?
  • Surely one of the most frustrating examples in Hollywood history is Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch. The character of Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is sorely tempted to engage in an extramarital affair, especially after Marilyn Monroe shows up—but, unlike the play on which the film was based, the story never reaches that point. Oh, Sherman does fantasize about scandalous trysts (as well as fantasizing about his absent wife having one of her own by way of justification), and we do see them acted out in Imagine Spot fashion and rendered fairly raw and edgy for a 1950s film (such as one in which a woman all but rips Sherman's shirt right off his body), but when it comes to real life, Sherman just can't go that extra step with Marilyn's character. He feels tremendous guilt and shame about even talking to her, and even tells his psychiatrist that he feels like a rapist (though, this being 1955, he uses the word "terror" rather than "rape"), even though the worst thing he does in the entire film is try to kiss the girl while they're playing a piano duet and accidentally tackle her off the bench. While it's good that the movie didn't want to be seen as condoning adultery and rape, it hardly does justice to the stage version.
  • Spike Lee's Bamboozled has an in-universe (and possibly out-of-universe) example toward the very end when the Mau Maus, a Malcolm Xerox-school street gang, launch their campaign of terror against The New Millennium Minstrel Show, which has 21st-century black entertainers in Blackface. They abduct the star of the show (which is not really fair, because he has himself turned against the TV show's producers and has refused to put on the makeup) and force him to tap-dance for them while they take turns shooting him in a slow, torture-style gangland execution. Even if you leave aside the argument that the Mau Maus themselves embody a negative black stereotype of a different sort (an argument that Lee himself implicitly makes), it's hard to overlook the irony of the gang members disguising their identities with grinning, bug-eyed New Millennium Minstrel masks as they carry out the assassination.

  • A Brother's Price has been accused of being this. While it is true that the women in the novel talk about men, and, as the protagonist would describe it, chase after men's pants most of the time, the book never claimed to be feminist—it is just that because it inverts many gender-related tropes that readers automatically expect it to be, in some way, feminist and revolutionary, and/or recommend it to others as this. The cover even exaggerates how standard and conventional a romance the book is, by picking the most stereotypical scene that happens in the book.
  • Little Women (and its sequels) is one of those books that academics describe as "proto-feminist." Most people who read it—particularly scenes that showcase "Father" as a god-like entity to be fawned over and obeyed—may wonder if the academics are reading some other book. This is mitigated somewhat when you realize that 'Father' here is an Expy for Bronson Alcott, controversial philosopher who strongly advocated women's rights, opposed slavery and was part of the Transcendentalist movement with Thoreau and Emerson. His daughter did, in fact, blatantly idolize him—the sequel, Little Men, is structured entirely around his distinctly non-mainstream educational theories (which included admitting African-American children).
  • Likewise, while Jane Austen's works are undeniably astute and satirical, her heroines adhere to and fulfill the expectations society placed on women in real life, which might make its "feminist" reputation a little dubious to some. It is, of course, necessary to remember that she was writing at the beginning of the nineteenth century, at which time the standards of what we might view today as 'feminist' were much, much different. Indeed, for Austen's time and culture, women writing fiction to begin with was progressive. The concept of women's rights already existed—the Declaration of the Rights of Woman was issued by proto-feminist activist Olympe de Gouges protesting the male-centric Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1791, and Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1796—but it was a decidedly minority position. Indeed, it would be fair to say that during The French Revolution and The Napoleonic Wars, woman's position in society seriously deteriorated compared to the preceding Age of Enlightenment—in France, Olympe de Gouges was sent to the guillotine and women were expected to restrict their activities to those of housewife, mother and repos du guerrier.
  • Charlotte Brontė's Jane Eyre is another questionable case. While Jane leaves Rochester when she finds he locked up crazy Bertha in the attic, she ultimately returns and marries a humbled, disabled Rochester, happy to fulfill the role of caretaking, loving wife. However, there is a lot of scholarly debate on this point, because she did it on her own terms, evidenced again by her refusal to accompany her cold cousin St. John to India. It has been read as both for and against feminism, and the debate is unlikely to ever be settled.
  • Dragonriders of Pern:
    • Anne McCaffrey's series is often viewed as being ahead of its time, featuring both gay men as significant characters and strong female leads. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the patriarchal system is alive and well.
    • The "strong females" still play second fiddle to their male partners. Weyrwomen, the riders of the queen dragons, are supposedly the most powerful people in the weyr. However, the reason for this is because their dragon decides who the male Weyrleader will be—the rider of the dragon that mates the queen earns the title (and acquires the Weyrwoman as his lover). After that, the Weyrwoman takes care of the domestic duties of the weyr, while the Weyrleader handles fighting, discipline and diplomacy. The dragons with male riders are there to fight the parasitic "Thread"; queen dragons—and by association, their riders—are mainly there for breeding purposes. As if to mitigate this inequality, the Weyrleader is only there to fight Thread. He becomes a figurehead during an Interval, which is around two hundred years. A Pass is only fifty years—an exceptional Weyrleader could be born around the beginning of a Pass and survive well past the need for fighting. The Weyrwoman's in charge of everything aside from wing drills. The position of Weyrleader itself depends on the queen dragon, whereas the Weyrwoman is in charge for life. It's not a glamorous job, but lack of food and medicine would make it hard to live to be the awesome saviors of Pern. Yet this still reflects most classically patriarchal societies: women take care of the necessities at home yet have little control over their own life, while the men ride off to take the glory in the occasional war while all their more domestic needs are catered to.
    • Women who aren't dragon riders have very little status. In fact, Lord Holders (effectively the kings of their territories) are entitled to sleep with anyone they please, while their wives must stay faithful and no girl is allowed to refuse a Lord Holder if he propositions her.
    • Menolly is frequently cited as being a prodigy even among the gifted Harpers (singers/musicians/teachers) at the Harper Hall. Yet when the time comes for her mentor, Robinton, the Master Harper of Pern, to retire, it's her husband Sebell who becomes the most important Harper on Pern. However, Sebell had been Robinton's protege/right hand man long before they'd even heard of Petiron's mystery prodigy. And, to put it mildly, the Master Harper's duties weren't limited to singing and composing.
    • While Pern is often praised for featuring gay male characters at a time when such characters were rare, they get a rough deal. Green and blue riders, who are usually gay or bisexual men, are the lowest ranked riders in the weyr. McCaffrey's portrayal of them is often unflattering. They're oversexed and irrational in the case of T'reb, whose nasty mood swings result in serious injury of main character F'nor, or foolish and reckless as with P'tero and M'leng in Red Star Rising/Dragonseye who are mainly there to provide What an Idiot moments that move the plot along. K'lon, of Moreta, is probably the most sensible and heroic of all the blue and green riders described, but even he isn't allowed to forget that he's a "mere" blue rider: Weyrwomen Moreta and Leri find out that he's discovered the time traveling ability of the dragons, and forbid him from trying it again since the information is reserved for bronze and queen riders only, with lesser riders considered less competent, and therefore likely to die when they mess up while time travelling. Readers with a dark sense of humour might find some justice in the fact that Moreta gets herself messing up while time traveling.
    • Perhaps in recognition of this, it's been stated by McCaffery that men and women were on much more equal footing in earlier times. The plague in Moreta's time caused gender values to revert, however, since women were expected to stay at home and repopulate Pern.
  • There's controversy about the outing of Albus Dumbledore after the end of the Harry Potter series. Some are praising J. K. Rowling for making one of the story's most prominent characters homosexual, whereas others are accusing her of chickening out by not having this fact actually in the text.
  • These days, Djuna Barnes' book Nightwood is often called a masterpiece of "queer literature", because it's got an almost all-gay or bisexual cast, and is clearly intended to be pro-tolerance. Unfortunately, all of the characters are either Depraved Bisexuals or their victims. In fact, earlier critics saw the book as just that: a tract about how same-sex couples never end well and will destroy you.
  • Heinlein's novel Farnham's Freehold had characters sent to the far future, where tables have turned and whites are enslaved by blacks. It treats the slaves and masters as the usual nasty stereotypes (listless and lazy for the former, and predatory and dehumanizing for the latter); the only difference is that the slaves are white and the masters are black. Also, the slave owners routinely neuter and eat the slaves. Heinlein's intention seems to have been to combine taking slavery to its logical conclusion (if slavery treats people as domestic animals, then...) and role reversal. Unfortunately, the result (almost certainly inadvertently) both treads into old racial stereotypes concerning cannibalism and suggests that black slave owners would be worse than whites.
  • The Wheel of Time has been touted as the great aversion to The Smurfette Principle, shaking up the patriarchal notions still latent in fantasy literature by presenting many females in positions of authority and wisdom. But practically all the female authority figures are manipulative, hypocritical, mind-bogglingly arrogant, misandrist, and ruled by their own emotions. The women's greatest hubris is attempting to control the male Chosen One and his all-male army, which leads to many of the "strong" women being bound in abject servitude, unable to disobey.
    • Though, oddly enough, the vast majority of male authority figures are equally as negatively-portrayed, though they tend towards unsubtle brute force instead of manipulation. A case could be made that Wheel of Time is misogynistic and misandristic in equal measures.
    • There's also the case that the most politically-powerful women tend to be put through extensive Break the Haughty/Humiliation Conga cycles, often largely undeserved, for the sake of Author Appeal. It's typical for such women to find true happiness in a state of servitude and unconditional love for a man. It could be argued that Robert Jordan put his women on pedestals at least in part to have the enjoyment of knocking them down. However, as a balance, there are equal examples of women rising from a lowly position to great authority.
  • Dune has come under similar criticism as The Wheel of Time pertaining to the Bene Gesserit and other significant female characters in its universe.
    Absolute power attracts the corruptible.
  • Feminist writer Angela Carter, well known for her rewriting of traditional fairy stories into feminist pieces in The Bloody Chamber, was initially hated by all for espousing such a blatantly feminist message. Then some fairly radical feminists read the book and criticized her for abiding too much by the rules of a patriarchal society when she wrote it.
  • Aphra Behn was the first woman in England to earn her living as a writer. Her stuff is shockingly misogynistic.
    • One of her books, Oroonoko, has been read as an anti-slavery tract, because the hero is an African prince who becomes a slave in Suriname and tries to start a rebellion, making him the Doomed Moral Victor. However, the book is actually supportive of slavery in general; it's just that Oroonoko shouldn't be a slave because he's royalty. To reflect his superiority over other Africans (whose fate does not interest Behn), he is given a European nose and lips.
  • Eliza Haywood's Fantomina has been read as an early story of female empowerment and liberation, because the female lead uses various disguises (even posing as a prostitute) to pursue the man of her dreams and engage in pre-marital sex with him. Even setting aside the obvious stuff objections, there's the ending, where she gets pregnant, has his baby, and spends the rest of her life in a French monastery. She gets punished for her transgression and quickly returned to the domestic.
  • Happens In-Universe in The Unidentified by Rae Mariz. In this Advert Overloaded Future, Katey aka Kid goes to a school sponsored by Mega Corps. Students can become "branded", which is when they are sponsored by different corporations. The companies are interested in branding Kid because of her being somewhat on the fringes of society. They want to have someone who is somewhat of a "rebel", but not too much. The corporations also throw parties that seem to be typical teen parties, but are full of advertising.
  • The in-universe character of Ayn Rand 's short story "The Simplest Thing in the World" zigzags this trope. Henry Dorn is a struggling writer who starts out thinking that no one will accept any truly original story, so he has to write a conventional murder mystery. Then he gets to thinking creatively (asking questions like "Is it really possible to have a Sympathetic Murderer?"), and comes up with a fun premise about about how the murderer could be a blackmailer who only picks on corrupt Asshole Victims. He gets excited about how this could be a story that would truly make people think about its rebellious themes, that it would "prove what some of our popular people are really like." But he ends by deciding not to write this story, and instead of continuing to try to be a published writer, he will just start looking at the help wanted ads in the newspaper.
  • A lot of Colonial and Post-Colonial literature by African authors, such as Things Fall Apart and Cry, the Beloved Country, comes across this way. This is both because the authors were Christians, and thus didn't want to venerate the African tribal systems that pre-dated the Colonialists, and because they actually wanted to be published. The common theme is "it was perfectly fine for the Europeans to 'civilize' us, but then they went too far by exploiting us". Cry in particular comes across this way, containing a long rant about how the tribal system was horrible, but better than nothing, and how the ideal situation would have been to transform South Africa into a carbon copy of a European country, run by educated, Christianized blacks.
  • There is such a lot of fuss about the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy because it has explicit sex and a promiscuous billionaire businessman adept at what the book insists is BDSM. The actual story is about a 21-year-old virgin college girl trying to get him to give up his life style for her. And succeeds. They end up happily married with two kids.
  • The House of Night series makes a big fuss about how it has a female protagonist who's The Chosen One. However, the character often degrades other women for being "sluts", often for no reason, and in vampire society (which is portrayed as the ideal), it's the men who do the fighting—and only the men.
    • Similarly, the author made a point of having a Good Guy be homosexual. The guy in question talked and acted effeminately and had no characterization aside from Gayngst.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire earns praise for having well-rounded, engaging female characters, queer characters, and characters of color... who are, respectively: raped, commodified, sexualized by the narrative (at ages as young as 13), tortured, given little to no power or agency, and routinely Stuffed into the Fridge; forced to hide their orientations and relationships due to their violently homophobic society; and hit with a ton of racist stereotypes (the Dothraki are a thinly-veiled Expy of the Mongol Hordes and are considered "savages" by the rest of the world, and the Dornishmen are disproportionately made up of sexy, Hot-Blooded, Ambiguously Brown people who are either extremely cunning and manipulative or totally ruled by their emotions). Basically, their magical fantasy world has the exact same prejudices, limitations, and power structures as the real world.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • It is renowned for showing the first interracial kiss on TV...except that rather than being motivated by love, Aliens Made Them Do It, so it truly means nothing beyond the surface. (And not only that, the take that finally ended up in the broadcast was a staged kiss—Shatner's and Nichols' lips never actually met onscreen.) There was a second shot though that didn't even go that far. Shatner intentionally made a face so they had to use the 'kissing' shot.
    • The main female characters on that progressive and staunchly anti-prejudice show were a phone operator, a nurse with a crush on her male superior officer, and a "yeoman" (read: secretary) with a crush on her Captain. Plus all Kirk's Disposable Women and Green Skinned Space Babes. In the final aired episode "Turnabout Intruder", it's stated that women cannot be starship captains in Starfleet! Granted, it's the Axe Crazy villain who says this, but no one corrects her and the show's creator later confirmed that he actually meant that to be the case—until the backlash caused him to Retcon his first statement out of existence. The captain of the second ever warp 5 ship, the Columbia, which pre-dates Kirk by about eighty years, was a woman—but again, we don't know this until decades after the end of The Original Series.
    • The forced Kirk/Uhura kiss and the subservient roles for women can be blamed to some extent on Executive Meddling. Gene Roddenberry originally cast Majel Barrett as second in command of the ship, but this was deemed unacceptable during test screenings (or because Barrett was Roddenberry's mistress and the executives felt that this implied a slight conflict of interest, casting-wise). It's also worth noting that even though Aliens Made Them Do It, the Kirk/Uhura kiss was still controversial enough that the show received a ton of mail about it. At that time, even kissing by couples of the same race was less usual on TV. As for Kirk's Green Skinned Space Babes, some fans argue that their number, like rumors of Mark Twain's death, has been greatly exaggerated. It's also possible to point to strong female roles among villain characters, such as the unnamed Romulan commander whom Spock seduces in 'The Enterprise Incident'.
      • The fact that Uhura's role was revolutionary then, but still a bit problematic now (see Society Marches On and Fair for Its Day) is often given as part of the reason for the rebooted 2010's series expanding both her Action Girl cred and showing just why her skill with languages was invaluable to the Enterprise crew.
    • The kiss itself may have been forced, but the dialogue immediately before it suggests enough intimacy between the two (even if it's just friendship) that it can't be dismissed as nothing, either. Kirk is trying to comfort Uhura (it's implied that they're about to be used as a live sex show against their will in order to entertain a group of telekinetic aliens), and she says that she's not afraid, because she always feels safe when he's around. Cue the kiss—forced, but not meaningless.
    • Speaking of no prejudice, you green-blooded, pointy-eared freak... (Of course, Dr. McCoy was the only one who was like that with him. And Spock bit back. Hard.) Also, it is open to some debate how much that was just personal point scoring.
  • Hilariously invoked in Never Mind the Buzzcocks with host Simon Amstell constantly mocking Donny Tourette, a supposedly "rebellious" punk singer who is the very epitome of this trope.
    Bill Bailey: You're about as punk as Enya.
  • Even Captain Jack Harkness's own show, Torchwood, suffers a bit from this. Of course it's far more liberal than Star Trek, but it doesn't seem to be quite as progressive as it sometimes claims to be. The creators claim all the main characters are bisexual. But among the principal cast of the first two seasons, they're a woman who has a romantic relationship with an Energy Being in the form of a female human, a woman in a heterosexual marriage who once kissed an alien in a woman's body when under the effects of sex pheromones, a man who has a man attempt to seduce him after being exposed to similar pheromones, a man who is only gay for Jack (though possibly in denial). The only one that isn't too debatable is Extreme Omnisexual Jack.
  • While Law & Order has had quite a few plots with gay victims (and gay perps) over the years, for one of TV's longest running dramas, it never had a gay recurring character. So, one season, one of the characters finally comes out—and it's Serena Southerlyn, who's already in the minus column for a lot of the fandom, and she comes out twenty seconds before she leaves the series. Add to this the incredibly laughable fashion in which it happens: after DA Branch fires her for getting too involved in a case, there's a pause, and Serena asks, "Is this because I'm a lesbian?" Branch acts as an Audience Avatar by looking very confused for a few moments, before saying no. Reportedly, this was ad-libbed by the actress as more or less her way of giving the finger to the show/staff, or added last-minute by the creative staff for extra "drama" (take your pick). The very, very...very subtle foreshadowing (read: Serena becoming extremely supportive at even the slightest whiff of a "gay cause", so to speak) didn't help things at all.
  • Mad Men, while getting renown for dealing with the blatant sexism, racism and homophobia of the sixties, somewhat cripples that message by being a story mainly about privileged upper-middle-class straight WASP men, whom the vast majority of women on the show throw themselves at, while other minorities only flash by every once in a while. Sure, the show is very good at demonstrating prejudice, but as we rarely get to see the flipside of it (or any of the struggles for equal rights that went on in the time, for that matter), the viewer can very well go through the whole series without noticing the message.
  • The "Toni's Boys" episode of Charlie's Angels is considered to be an essential feminist episode of the series. In the episode, numerous attempts are made on the lives of Kelly, Kris, and Tiffany and Charlie hires Antonia Blake and her Boys to protect them and the Angels work with them. The Angels prove themselves incompetent and need Toni's Boys.
  • Sex and the City frequently moralized about the prejudice faced by single women in their 30s and by sexually-adventurous women, but the Happy Ending of the series involves all four characters in committed monogamous heterosexual relationships with white men, and in two cases already raising children.
    • Not to mention it's held up as one of the more sex-positive shows of its era...while treating bisexuality as a sign of immaturity and kink as something laughable.

  • David Bowie's "She's Got Medals" is about a Sweet Polly Oliver situation with the transsexual undertones taken to, by 1967 standards, outrageous levels. A modern-day listener is likely to instead be put off upon hearing that "she got very tired of picking up girls, cleaning her gun, and shaving her curls...moved to London Town, and now she's settled down."
  • Bone Thugs-n-Harmony had two albums that fell into this. One was called Thug World Order, and their recent one was called The World's Enemy. The former which was supposed to be overtly violent, anti-establishment, and sociopolitical fell victim to Executive Meddling, partly due to 9/11 which happened months earlier. However, the misunderstanding of the second album is largely the group's responsibility, possibly due to people misunderstanding the title. It more or less means Defector from Decadence, although some misinterpreted it as referring to something darker, malevolent, and violent and felt the album did not deliver on this.
  • Black Sabbath and, by extension, Ozzy Osbourne, are known for their dark lyrics and melodies, but, despite their reputation, they're not actually glorifying evil or the occult. Most of their songs explicitly include a desire to overcome the darkness, or at least portray it in a negative light.
  • The '70s glam band KISS arguably owe their entire existence—not to mention their phenomenal success and astronomical wealth—to this trope. Almost from the beginning (1974), they aspired to appeal to edgy teens and preteens, hence their spooky face paint and medieval-inspired outfits...but to Get Crap Past the Radar, they steered clear of outwardly-offensive behavior (drummer Peter Criss was the only one who had serious drug problems), swore very infrequently on their records (the nastiest word heard on any of their '70s albums was bitch), and sung and performed not Satanic themes but songs about cars, girls, and partying—standard '70s stuff. Their "metal" was never as heavy as some of their contemporaries, and they certainly never pushed the envelope as much as, say, Alice Cooper. (This essential harmlessness could be seen in their very first television appearance, when Gene Simmons was a guest on The Mike Douglas Show in full makeup, a skull-and-crossbones T-shirt and a leather jacket; he said "I am evil incarnate" in a sepulchral voice and the audience just laughed.) Eventually, when the '80s arrived and it became clear that the bar for rebellious behavior had been set a little higher (or, rather, lower), KISS did raw up their image a bit more; among other things, the f-word started to be heard in some of their songs.
  • Many kids got thoroughly sick of the very words "Heavy Metal" by the early 1990s because they were being used to describe not groundbreaking bands like Black Sabbath but radio-friendly pop acts who sang about "conventional" things such as girls, cars, etc. Exhibit A was definitely Warrant. They were actually bluesy Midwesterners who latched onto the Southern California Hair Metal craze, and while their songs are hardly conservative ("Ode to Tipper Gore" is just various formulations of the word fuck being spliced together for the length of about a minute), they're barely rebellious and certainly not countercultural. Warrant's biggest hit, 1990's "Cherry Pie", is simply a hick's ode to a girl he likes, and, except for the loud guitars and overt sexual innuendos, it's a standard rhythm-and-blues song that could have passed muster in The Fifties. Compare that to, say, what Pantera was putting out at that time, and you can understand why metal fans were so frustrated.note 
  • Punk Rock is a paradoxical genre to begin with, since it's supposed to be all about non-conformity, yet the fact that it is a genre means that countless punk bands are conforming to a set of genre-enforced rules. The never-ending arguments about what is and is not punk only serve to bring that contradiction to the forefront.
    • Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols has spent a lifetime abusing many people for calling themselves punk when as far as he's aware that he's the only working-class punk rock band, with many other punk musicians such as The Clash or Patti Smith being middle-class Bourgeois Bohemian. He also dismisses the influence and gimmicks of Malcolm McLaren, the flamboyant manager who promoted them with shock values.
    • On the flip side, many of the same bohemians whom Johnny Rotten abuses point out that punk and non-conformity is not solely the province of the working-class, and even the same working-class punk rockers can and often will be abused by the same system they start out rebelling against. The Clash released several songs such as "Complete Control" which talks about the fact that regardless of what musicians and rock bands want or where they come from, the people who really have control is the Radio Shows, the music business all owned by corporations. Which means that all rebel music is ultimately making their enemies rich. The Clash often wrote lyrics about people who start out rebelling ultimately conforming.
    • Just to confuse the issue, some critics use the word "punk" to cover any band or artist considered "fringe" in its respective era, from Screamin' Jay Hawkins in The Fifties to Nine Inch Nails in The '90s. The fact that the word was first applied by the music media in that sense in the first place (AC/DC was considered a "punk" band in the '70s) hasn't helped matters.
  • In spite of its occasionally being treated by the media as a feminist anthem, Peggy Lee's 1963 song "I'm a Woman" is all about being a traditional housewife if you look at the lyrics.
  • Parodied in Spray's "I Always Wanted To Say 'I Always Wanted To Say That'":
    Causing mayhem!
    (Albeit, quite restrained mayhem)
    Parameters rule!

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The one failings of the original EWO in Puerto Rico was over hype. It promised to revolutionize pro-wrestling/Lucha Libre but didn't offer much of anything fans couldn't find at indy shows while asking attendants to pay almost as much as IWA or WWC for an uncomfortable venue with poor entry and parking. Later incarnations of EWO would tone down the hype somewhat (and occasionally piggyback on the comparatively more revolutionary World Wrestling League, which still wasn't as hyped).
  • The anti-immigrant rhetoric of Jack Swagger and his manager, Zeb Colter. It's pretty clear from the context that Swagger and Colter discriminate against non-European immigrants; they tolerate Antonio Cesaro, who is Swiss-born, but not Mexican-born Alberto Del Rio (or, to a lesser extent, the Great Khali, who was born in India). They're obviously racially prejudiced, and if this were the 1990s or as late 2005 they'd be more open about that fact. But since WWE became rated TV-PG, overt racism would just not be appropriate. Even so, it's a little strange to hear the commentators "apologizing" to the audience for Swagger and Colter's rhetoric when there's vitriol out there that is far worse.

  • Henrik Ibsen's plays often suffer from Values Dissonance of this sort. What many modern readers perceive as Rule-Abiding Rebel behavior was in fact rule-breaking at the time—even portraying the (usually realistic) unhappy situations his plays always deal with was deeply shocking.
    • Ibsen got away with a lot by presenting multiple points of view and not outright stating which one to support. There's still argument over whether A Doll's House favors Nora's desire for independence, Torvald's desire to keep the marriage together, or neither.

    Video Games 
  • Valkyria Chronicles is a romance story that takes place during a fantasy World War II, focusing on a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits militia squad and its commanding officer, Welkin, and his sergeant, Alicia. The game gets a lot of praise for having a strong, capable female lead, who is not only a skilled soldier, but by and large the most powerful character in the game even without the potently destructive super powers she acquires later on, and she still gets to be the lead female in a romance story. However, that romance story requires her to completely abandon her Action Girl shtick, and Welkin's love is the only thing that stops her from flamboyantly killing herself with the force of her self-loathing; the climax itself reads like a shopping list of the most cliche JRPG love-scene lines. Similar situations happen to all but one of the main female cast, with a woman's emotions causing her to lose control of her judgment to the point of doing something that would effectively end her life, and she lives or dies depending on whether she has a male love interest to talk sense into her.
  • Muramasa The Demon Blade has the fact that it has two protagonists, one male and one female, and considerable marketing oomph was put into showcasing that the female protagonist is a cool, sword-wielding badass Action Girl. Turns out Momohime is possessed by the spirit of a man the entire time; when not possessed, she's a typical willowy-princess-maiden type you'd expect to find in a game about ninjas.
  • Jade Empire seemed fairly progressive for its time, giving the player two potential Gay Options. There were two female characters and one male character who could all be romanced. One female character would only respond to a male player character, but the other two would respond regardless of gender. The problem was that near the end of the game, the romance subplot would culminate in the player character and their romantic partner engaging in a kiss...except for the gay options, where the camera panned away just as the characters leaned in.
  • Sunset Overdrive has this problem as well—its "edgy" humor is mostly restricted to unfunny meme references, and there's no effort to either improve the jokes or try to put effort into its supposed irreverent attitude. Yahtzee remarks that it feels like the humor was committee-designed and sterile.
  • Sands of Destruction was hyped as being a game about trying to end the world. Well, it sorta is—The Hero isn't really keen on it, though his Love Interest is (and a part of the conflict is between his desire to make her happy and his desire to keep her safe). By the end, Morte isn't so interested in destroying the world, either, so Kyrie no longer has to choose between happiness and life. The plot actually turns out to be a fairly standard "save the world" scenario; it just takes a roundabout route to get there. It does do a fairly good job of subverting many gender tropes, but, surprisingly, this was neither advertised nor acknowledged.
  • Although it succeeds more than most of the other examples on this page, quite a few character arcs in Persona 4 backpedal on themselves even though the game is supposed to be about facing truths about who you really are, and seems at face value to deal with concepts like sexuality and gender. Some examples:
    • Rise's character arc is about her leaving the idol industry and having to deal with the problems that causes her in a society where her stage persona (!) is valued more than her true self. Throughout the game, she deals with upset fans and a manager who won't leave her alone even after she quits. A good statement on the idol industry, right? Well, come the end of the game, Rise decides to become an idol again. For no particularly thematic reason.
    • Kanji's first few scenes play up to the viewer the idea that Kanji is gay. To someone playing the game for the first time, it might be surprising to see an openly gay party member. But after he actually joins your party, he's Ambiguously Bi from then on.
    • Naoto's Shadow evokes the concept of sex-change surgery, despite the fact that her character has nothing at all to do with being trans otherwise, which raises the question as to why that particular concept would be in the game at all other than for shock value. On the other hand, this trope is averted with the fact that Naoto's story does follow through with discussing the subject of Japan's gender roles.
  • One of the most infamous examples is Shadow the Hedgehog, which is supposed to be an "edgier" Sonic game... which is mainly expressed through Shadow saying the word "damn" a lot.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Kojima tweeted and stated in interviews claims that, "People would regret their words and misdeeds about Quiet" involving the truth behind why she's so Stripperific, and that he was essentially tackling subject matter (what many presumed to be things like playing a mass-murdering protagonist or killing child soldiers) that, if he failed to handle properly, could get him kicked out of the industry forever. Most say that Quiet's excuse for her state of dress is pointlessly flimsy and adds little to nothing to the character, and not only does Venom Snake not really do all that much evil at all really, but the game completely strays from any child death at all besides one plot-related one; the game instantly fails a mission if a child soldier dies.

    Western Animation 
  • Like a lot of things, mocked by Family Guy quite often. One particularly memorable example is a parody of movies about career women who learn "what's truly important in life":
    Male Lead: Over the next 90 minutes, I'm going to show you that all of your problems can be solved by my penis.
    • The show itself has been criticized for racist, misogynist, and homophobic/transphobic humor, despite its liberal leanings (such as how Muslims and/or Arabs are always portrayed as terrorists).
  • The creators of Monsuno claimed that it wasn't "your little brother's action show"...except it really was.
  • One of the criticisms towards Dreamworks Animation is the fact that the studio's post-Shrek reputation has been passing itself off as the subversive and "adult" alternative to Disney, despite rigidly adhering to Moral Guardians' expectations by never creating any films worthy of anything higher than a PG rating.
  • Similar to the description of this trope at the top of the page, Quest for Camelot wanted to give us a strong female lead who defies expectation and becomes a female knight. What we got was a coward who is always either getting captured or running from danger and always relied on others (including a guy who's blind!), yet is still knighted at the end.