WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic

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

This was common in The Sixties. For instance, as feminism was breaking out all over, television produced shows that featured powerful women cheerfully suppressing their true natures in order to be a loving, compliant, submissive helpmeet to an average guy. For instance, 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.

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"? [1]

There are counter-arguments that the depictions of strong heroines like Buffy, Veronica Mars and others show the equally Reactionary Fantasy that strong female characters live sucky lives. But while it's true that female heroes often fight both Rogues Galleries on the streets and personal problems at home, many male heroes do the same. And no one accuses Batman of being a disgrace to his gender. Part of this may be pure backlash: No one tries to hold up Batman as a feminist/masculist role model for his gender (perhaps for humanity, but not for males period). And the cycle continues.

Detournement is not only inevitable, but is 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 Freaks 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 Rule-Abiding Rebel, praised for being at the vanguard of a social change when they are in fact doing nothing of the kind.

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.

Examples of Reactionary Fantasy include:

Anime and Manga


  • The old "road-show" movies of the '30s-through-'60s would try to evade local censorship by setting up outside of town. They would also cover themselves by presenting the "depravity" of their films as an object lesson. Sometimes this would happen only in a "clean-up" reel that would be shown only when local law enforcement sat in.
  • Several examples exist in film before television was common, e.g., Reefer Madness, Invasion USA, Children of Loneliness. Feature length Very Special Episodes that show that folks Can't Get Away with Nuthin', and that any deviation from the norm will kill you.
  • It's not hard to see many Slasher Films 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. 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.
  • During the reign of the Hays Code (which coincided with the height of The Mafia's power), there were rules that essentially prevented villain protagonists from winning in the end. So there's a plethora of Gangster movies from the era which are 95% Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster! followed by the Feds kicking in the door at the end and killing or arresting everyone just to satisfy the censors.
    • Much like many Biblical epics of the same era implied a lot of fornication and orgies, but in the end the sinners would be punished and God's prophet and his followers would be triumphant.
    • Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed films also operate like this; the Villain Protagonist can kill every damn officer on the island, just as long as someone from somewhere comes to arrest or kill him at the literal last minute of the film.


  • The Chronicles of Gor are openly male-supremicist, with most of the female characters Sex Slaves.
  • 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. Let's leave it at that.

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.
  • The Reactionary Fantasy can also be a Very Special Episode. For example, the Quincy episode "Next Stop Nowhere", which teaches us that Punk Rock kills, hence the trope name The Quincy Punk.
  • 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.
      • The novelization of Star Trek the Motion Picture (credited to Gene Roddenberry but ghostwritten by Allan Dean Foster) takes time in the preface to state that Kirk and the rest of Starfleet are "Old Humans" as compared to the "New Humans" who are a significant part of Earth's population and are more peaceful and enlightened. This preface inverts the impression of the episode. It is not that those people are "weirdo hippies," it is that Kirk and company are "weirdo throwbacks". "Old humans" make better space explorers. The "weirdo hippies" need the "weirdo throwbacks" to be the "rough men prepared to do violence" on their behalf.
  • 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.
    • This sort of parses in the "fantasy" aspect of "reactionary fantasy". All this stuff we're supposed to hate and be disgusted by is often done in lurid, creepy, obsessive detail. This allows the viewing audience a double-edged thrill: they can be horrified and morally offended that it happened, and also get the kinky zing of all the descriptions of nubile teenagers tied up in leather and violated. You can see these sort of things in a lot of old "pulp lesbian novel" covers.
  • Law and Order Special Victims Unit is king of this.
  • And Dr. House. If sex doesn't kill you, you'll survive to have death-sentenced children. Gregory House is somehow needed to keep a decent reproductive rate on Earth.
    • House has gone both ways (though not, regrettably, with Wilson). Cameron gets high on crystal meth taken from a patient and jumps Chase, leading to a relationship which escalates to a wedding in the Season 5 finale. House and Stacy have adulterous sex before House decides that restarting their relationship would be a bad idea. Thirteen's various escapades are a consequence of her discovery that she has Huntington's chorea, but she doesn't catch anything from them. Well, nothing worse than an incidental fungal infection which gives her cracked lips and helps House solve a case. "Another life saved by girl-on-girl action!"
    • Hey, Ensign Sulu/Kumar's friend Harold is a submissive with a choking fetish ("Love Hurts", 1.20)! While it turns out his preferred form of play has dangerous health consequences, the parents who disowned him for being kinky aren't portrayed sympathetically, and the episode ends with House suggesting to the patient's dominatrix a healthier way of humiliating him.
  • Even Bones couldn't resist some Acceptable Lifestyle Targets with the episode Death in the Saddle where a man is killed by his depraved sexual partner after he told her that he was not going to see her any more. (They were into pony play.) There is even an Anvilicious speech at the end by Booth stating that Good People Have Good Sex.
  • 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.
  • Five words: Lifetime Movie of the Week. To sum them up, even under their Straw Feminist understones and alleged "empowerment" of "distressed women", half of the plots go on condemning whatever thing frightens middle aged suburban housewives.
    • And 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.
  • It has been noted that I Dream of Jeannie, while looking like (and cited above) as one of the archetypal examples, may in fact be a subversion. Tony arguably freed Jeannie upon being rescued in the first episode -- only to have Jeannie choose to follow him home anyway. Thus she stays with Tony because she wants to, not because she is bound to him in any way, and her "servitude" and "obedience" are an act on her part. This explains rather neatly why and how she manages to get around his orders so frequently and thoroughly...
    • The fact that she voluntarily follows him home is why it's a Reactionary Fantasy. Tony doesn't have to exert any effort to subdue Jeannie because she's happy to be his servant, no force or convincing needed.

Professional Wrestling

  • Women's wrestling in general, particularly in WWE. Even though all the WWE Divas of at least the past decade have been rigorously trained, and at roughly the same level as the male wrestlers (heck, their coach for many years, Dave Finlay, was male!), after all is said and done they still are viewed - at least by the audience if not necessarily by the bookers - as mere sexual objects, with lazy storylines and often inconsistent characterization. Male wrestlers may be sexually objectified, too, but this has happened much less frequently (Lex Luger and early Shawn Michaels come to mind, as does Cody Rhodes in our own era) - and it's not at all uncommon for a Hollywood Homely male wrestler like Chris Benoit to be portrayed as a straight-up All-American Face, whereas an equally plain Diva will have to contend with an "ugly" gimmick. The "Knockouts" of TNA fare a little better, but there are still instances when a match will end with them being soundly spanked.
    • The bitter irony of all this? Female wrestlers fared pretty well as far as characterization went back in the pre-feminist early days of wrestling, but were (reportedly) pimped and even raped behind the scenes. Now, it seems, the opposite is true: women in wrestling are respected in Real Life but degraded in the performances.

Western Animation

  • Wait Till Your Father Gets Home was essentially an animated version of All in The Family, only featuring a somewhat milder Archie Bunker who typically won his arguments at the end. It helped that the protagonist was fairly moderate, especially compared to his far right-wing neighbor, who was depicted as a complete idiot.


  1. Well, Buffy did, because it was his name and all. Then she killed him.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.