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 into the rebellious 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 to 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
and The Man Is Sticking It to the Man
. A form of Hype Backlash
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Anime and Manga
- 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 itself, 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.
- 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 also expects that women are supposed to be faithful to their husbands, even if he's clearly not heterosexual, but it's perfectly okay and tragically beautiful for the hubby to keep a gay lover on the side. 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 and 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 the Marilyn 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.
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 rumours of Mark Twain's death, has been greatly exaggerated. It's also possible to point to strong female roles amongst 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
- Even Captain Jack'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 pheremones, a man who is only gay for Jack (though possibly in denial). The only one that isn't too debatable is the 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. At least in early episodes, some of this could be justified by the show's early-1960s setting; while the Civil Rights movement had been active since the 1950s, the key triggers behind propelling several other such movements into the mass public consciousness (such as the publication of The Feminine Mystique, which kick-started the Second Wave of feminism, and the Stonewall riots which helped make Gay Rights movement more public to mainstream observers) simply hadn't happened yet. Which is certainly not to say that these movements weren't still active, but they weren't necessarily active on the level that WASP types such as the main characters would really have been aware or taken much notice of. It's frequently hinted that while these characters might have it good now, the longer the series goes on the more unpleasant (to them) surprises they have coming their way.
- 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 Charlies 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.
- 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 (the "Attitude Era") or earlier they'd be more open about that fact. But since WWE is now 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.
- 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.
- 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 Bad Ass Action Girl. Turns out Momohime is possessed by the spirit of a man the entire time; when not possessed, she's typical of the sort of 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 lean 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.