Things get worse for Kevin Smith!
If you search for Kevin Smith’s name on YouTube, you’ll see a surge of videos last week with sensational thumbnails showing Smith’s face crying and overlaid with all capital letters claiming he is “EXPOSED,” “DEFEATED,” or experiencing a “MELTDOWN.”
Smith’s new He-Man animated series hasn’t had a graceful landing on Netflix when it released on July 23. Amid accusations of Smith making the show too “woke” and abandoning the spirit of the original cartoon, Smith has fired back at the fans in interviews. In turn, some fans have called this “fan blaming,” an emergent fandom term that signals how much ownership you think fans should have over the things they’re a fan of.
That Smith is at the center of this latest controversy is convenient because he’s not a director who wandered into the world of fandom as an outsider who simply adapted a beloved franchise. Fans and fandom have always been central to his work. His debut feature, Clerks, put him on the map not only as a leading director in a new wave of 90s indie movies, but for the then groundbreaking decision to allow his characters to discuss pop culture—like this conversation about the politics of blowing up the Death Star—like real fans.
His later films would emphasize his fandom for comic books, and he quickly became well known for his enthusiasm for the genre. He even wrote a few, and has critically acclaimed runs on Green Arrow and Daredevil, as well as a few Batman limited series. For years now, Smith has been creating the culture he used to be a fan of. Smith says the new He-Man show, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, is for older fans who grew up with the original show. The first five episodes are currently on Netflix. The second half of the season doesn’t have a release date yet, but Smith has tweeted about working on them.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation was not unanimously received as a slam dunk. Some fans took issue with what they felt was an insufficient amount of the titular He-Man in the show. Rather than take this lying down, Smith defended his own work, telling Variety, “You really fucking think Mattel Television, who hired me and paid me money, wants to do a fucking Masters of the Universe show without He-Man? Grow the fuck up, man.”
Some of the ways that Smith has defended himself have rubbed certain fans the wrong way, and they’re using an emergent piece of internet terminology to describe it: fan blaming. As a term, it exists somewhere halfway between gaslighting and victim blaming. The idea is that creators who make unpopular creative decisions in legacy nerd media will blame the fans for the negative reaction, rather than taking blame for their own, presumably bad creative choices. Is it reasonable that some He-Man fans would be upset that a Masters of the Universe show doesn’t have a lot of He-Man? Of course. To those fans, saying that some fans have unrealistic expectations about the media they love is denying them their god given right to dictate how that media is made, and also to complain when it misses the mark.