He-Man and the Masters of the Culture Wars

My first memories of He-Man are from when I was 7 or 8. When you’re that age it doesn’t seem weird that the hero is so absurdly muscled that he could not scratch his own nose, or that the plots are more or less totally incoherent. You don’t know (or care) that the entire thing is literally an extended advertisement for toys. You watch that big, beautiful homunculus with his weird haircut raise that sword above his head and shout “By the power of Greyskull!” and you are hooked.

This is the enduring power of nostalgia - recapturing the moment you first thought “Woah, this is SO FUCKING COOL.” If you were an awkward, dorky kid like me and most of my oldest friends, you treasure those memories - the thrill of that connection to the culture. There are a bunch more of these moments - the first time you watched Star Wars, the first time you heard Picard say “Make it so”, the first time you encountered Magic: The Gathering cards. These are important memories to us - however cringe-inducing or dorky they may sound to everyone else.

So when Kevin Smith - essentially a member of the geek nobility alongside guys like J.J. Abrams - announced that he was reviving the show with Masters of the Universe: Revelation, my friends and I were tentatively pleased. I say tentatively because we’ve been duped a bunch of times before. This video is worth watching on the subject - even if I don’t agree with everything this gloriously curmudgeonly fellow has to say.

Alas, as has happened so often before, we were conned. The new Masters of the Universe is a hollow shell of the original, filled with fashionable modern tropes. And, as has happened so many times before, when we expressed our displeasure at being conned, we were condemned as toxic man-children and misogynists.

Now, to be clear, I’m not a super-fan. I was not deeply outraged. I didn’t write a review or send a protest tweet. But I was annoyed - particularly by the backlash against the honest reviews by real fans. Here’s a sample of the kind of review posted in reaction to the fans:

SJWs gonna SJW

This is the broken mechanism of modern cultural debate writ large. The entertainment industry took a piece of beloved IP and hyped a reboot, assuring the fans that it would be “true to the original”. When it was not, the fans broadly expressed their displeasure. This, in turn, stirred doctrinaire culture warriors to insult, dismiss and berate these honest views.

The critical thing for me is the blatant bad faith at every level. The studio rebooting the IP strung the fans along. They knew they were “modernising” the franchise - essentially writing He-Man out of much of the story - but they wanted the fans to drive that all-important viewership. The professional reviewers - gatekeepers of the culture - waxed lyrical about it because it ticked all the right boxes for empowerment and intersectionality. And when the fans disagreed, the foot soldiers arrived to put them in their place.

The people writing reviews like the one I screenshotted above do not care about the franchise - they have never cared about it. They care about scoring points against the “hegemony” represented, apparently, by me and my friends. We’re talking about a group of guys who are sensitive and thoughtful - loving parents, responsible members of their communities, and deeply good and tolerant human beings.

From an historical perspective, this kerfuffle isn’t even a blip on a blip. A minor 80s show was butchered on reboot. No one is going to die as a result. But it was unnecessary and, really, just plain mean. The fact that the warriors of the new culture feel justified in shitting all over my friends and me because it serves their agenda (regardless of the actual topic being discussed) tells you that our discourse is deeply, deeply broken.

As a culture, we will never be able to reach agreement on anything important if this is what happens when we discuss things that are largely irrelevant. My “side”, such as it is, is far from blameless - but I know a pack of bullies and zealots when I see one. I also know how these things play out in the longer term. It’s always fun playing Robespierre - until it’s your turn at that guillotine.