As a child of the 80s, He-Man was the first franchise I can remember being seriously invested in as a little boy. The appeal is obvious; it was a simple power fantasy wrapped up in the imagery of fairy tales and accouterments of science fiction. When Prince Adam used his magic sword to become the Most Powerful Man in the Universe (TM), it was emblematic of the potential every little boy wants to see within himself.
As much as people at the time complained that the cartoon was nothing more than a half-hour toy commercial, the rampant merchandising only made it more awesome. The action figures and playsets my parents generously gave me only served as more more fuel to feed the imagination and create my own adventures with the colorful palette Mattel provided.
He-Man was popular. It was cheesy and exciting. It crystallized the joy of heroism and the value of strength & courage. It worked hard to not only be wholesome, but also portray heroism within reasonable moral boundaries. And as the title character’s name implies, it was unapologetically hyper-masculine in a manner that was still appropriate for small children. So when Kevin Smith helmed a brand-new He-Man revival for Netflix this year, it’s only natural that it would be a hit.
And by “hit,” I of course mean a mob assassination.
To be clear upfront, I haven’t watched it myself and I have no intention of doing so. I don’t need to watch a snuff film of a childhood hero for myself in order to make an informed judgment. The truth of the matter is our there. Plenty of individuals already took the bullet for me on this one, and I’ve no interest in feeding the Hollywood beast.
To sum the new series up briefly (spoiler warning), He-Man is killed off in the first episode of the new “He-Man” show. The focus then shifts to an extremely butch Teela and her (heavily implied) lesbian girlfriend as she goes her own way to pick up Eternia’s pieces. In the meantime, every male character is killed and/or disgraced while Teela is constantly praised and affirmed for being so strong and wonderful as she angsts in righteous indignation over not having been told Adam’s secret identity. Then in the final episode, Kevin Smith brings He-Man back from the dead for the sole purpose of immediately killing him again with the stipulation that it’s definitely permanent this time. Gotta make sure he’s good and dead, after all.
So yes, He-Man has now been Last Jedi’d, and anyone paying attention saw it coming. Some people literally did. Clownfish TV got the inside scoop very early on, and received a lot of flack for announcing it–including blatant lies from Kevin Smith who insultingly denied the whole thing.
But simple pattern-recognition was enough to let us know that this train wreck was the most likely outcome. Whether it’s Star Wars, Star Trek, Ghostbusters (2016), Terminator, etc, the consistent push on nearly every revival of beloved franchises has been to cannibalize them for makeshift shrines to wokeness. And because feminism requires Hollywood to make every “strong” female character a silly caricature of a man, their only option is to tear down any existing male characters who would inevitably upstage the newly minted heroines. As much as Hollywood likes to brag about subverting expectations, they only do so in the most puerile and utterly predictable ways. They cannot create; they can only consume.
This pattern is not a coincidence. Yes, incompetence and creative bankruptcy play a role, but “Indiana Jones and the Nuclear Fridge” along with the Star Wars prequels showed us what merely incompetent cash-grabs look like. That’s not what we’re getting today. There’s clearly another spirit at work here and another motive beyond profit (especially given the consistent unprofitability of these things.) If there’s one thing dragons hate, it’s boys aspiring to be dragon-slayers.
The Devil has always worked to destroy the Good, the True, & the Beautiful, and he has no shortage of thralls joining his efforts. Part of that work is to remove, degrade, or corrupt anything that might inspire us. Throughout our lives, men will be both given ample opportunity to stare evil in the face and the grave responsibility to defy it. We need to be prepared for that.
Our dragons may be metaphorical more often than they are literal, but conflict against evil is inherent in male nature. (Yes, women are called resist evil too; no, they don’t do it in the same way men do.) But like any fulfillment of our nature, that drive to overcome needs to be cultivated throughout our lives. Our fairy tales and myths are precisely how we begin inspiring and encouraging our children. As Neil Gaiman (paraphrasing Chesterton) put it, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
There is something to be said for the prospect of taking stories enjoyed in childhood and elevating them with more mature themes–to build on the foundations that we laid earlier and remind us of the childlike hope and positivity we sometimes forget as adults. For example, taking The Hobbit and moving on to Lord of the Rings is an excellent progression. But that’s not what’s Hollywood is doing. Kevin Smith took a childlike power fantasy for little boys and transformed it into a childish power fantasy for adult feminists. Taking candy from a baby seems like an apt analogy.
Naturally, the critics, like good little minions of the Spirit of the Age, are praising it just like they do every other humiliation ritual they think is good for us. But He-Man has the now-typical receptive split between critics and viewers (critics at 96% and viewers at 36% last I checked.) We know better than to trust the critics at this point. And we know better than to let our media overlords extinguish our hope along with our myths.
To be sure, every revival/reboot/adaptation announcement still gives me that reflexive reaction of “Wow, I’d sure love to see more of [nostalgic show].” But by now, I immediately remember that successful revivals are extremely rare. Even the ones that aren’t full-on woke are mostly terrible (e.g. X-Files, Indiana Jones.) Bill & Ted Face The Music is the only one I can think of that I actually enjoyed, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the only upcoming revival I’ve noticed that actually looks good. And while both of those continue the unfortunate pattern of passing the torch from men to women, they appear to do so in a way that actually respects and embraces what came before rather trying to dismantle it. It looks to be more about inheritance than subversion.
And as more Americans wake up to this conflict that’s going on in popular culture, Hollywood and established media organizations will inevitably come to realize that they are imminently replaceable. There are already companies like Arkhaven Comics doing the jobs the mainstream won’t do: Producing and curating fun stories that openly embrace things like faith, heritage, and heroism. Artists who choose to inspire and edify will ultimately have an enormous market available to them.
The emasculation of He-Man is a disappointment, to be sure. But despite what Hollywood thinks, killing our heroes won’t defeat us. We will always remember what they represent, and we will always find ways to crystallize those things in new art and enflesh them in our own lives.