Over the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen articles reporting on fan backlash against Kevin Smith, the creator of Netflix’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation animated series. These disgruntled folks claim that Smith lied to them by promising a direct continuation of the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, only to deliver a story that replaces traditional franchise lead He-Man with romantic foil Teela as its main protagonist.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen fans accuse pop culture creators of misleading them, either. On the contrary, the debate around film, TV, comic book and video game creators’ honesty (and the perceived lack of it) during pre-release promotional campaigns has only intensified over the last decade or so.
It’s got me thinking: Is it ever okay for creators to lie fans? And how accountable are fans for managing their own expectations?
Creators lying to fans isn’t a bad thing – when it’s for their own good
Of course, some fans will never approve of creators not being entirely truthful under any circumstances, however, it isn’t always a bad thing – especially when it’s for fans’ own good.
If that sounds more than a little patronising, remember that we live in a time where keeping spoilers under wraps is borderline impossible. Between smart phones and drones, industry leaks and obsessive online communities, almost any film, TV, comic book or video game mystery can be unravelled months before release – which ruins the surprise for fans, including those who actively went looking for spoilers.
So, is it really that shocking creators now resort to telling the odd white lie to preserve the element of surprise? It’s like when you were a kid who still believed in Santa Claus: your parents lied through their teeth in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but only because they wanted you to have a more magical experience when your presents finally arrived.
This is essentially what Christopher Nolan and his cast did when they lied about Talia al Ghul appearing in The Dark Knight Rises, or what J.J. Abrams did when he insisted that Khan wouldn’t show up in Star Trek Into Darkness – they tried to make things more special for audiences by keeping them guessing.
The same goes for Smith staying schtum on his plans to sideline He-Man in Masters of the Universe: Revelation or even Metal Gear Solid director Hideo Kojima controversially subbing in Raiden as the player character in sequel Sons of Liberty on the sly way back in 2001. Successful or not, Smith, Kojima and other creators who lie about key plot and character details are simply trying to ensure fans are pleasantly surprised – and these big twists aren’t meant to screw the fans, but rather serve a narrative and thematic purpose.
And honestly? There’s really nothing wrong with this kind of deception – so long as when the film, TV, comic book or video game in question is released, it’s in keeping with the overall spirit (and in the case of games, gameplay mechanics) of what was originally pitched to fans.
Fudging a few details? Fine. Lying about everything? Not so much…
That’s ultimately what it boils down to: creators can tell the odd porky pie, so long as they deliver a narrative (and where relevant, gameplay) experience that conceptually aligns with what fans were presented in pre-release interviews and promotional materials. When this doesn’t happen, when the entire experience promised by creators fails to materialise, it becomes a whole lot harder to justify any deception.
To be honest, though, this rarely happens. Sure, creators will often fudge a few plot or character details in press Q&As, and footage and artwork is often used in adverts that doesn’t show up in the finished product. However, despite this – and regardless of what the more militant fandom factions may argue – there’s typically a clear link between most movies, TV shows, comic books and video games and what we see in their marketing campaigns.
Even so, creators totally misleading fans does happen. Perhaps the best example is Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt’s action-adventure role-playing game, and the biggest pop culture train wreck of the 12 months. Shortly after Cyberpunk 2077’s release, it became clear that that not only was it markedly less ambitious (and polished) than the demo presented at E3, but the console versions were also an unplayable mess – and not only did the Projekt CD leadership team know about all of this, they took steps to hide it from prospective players to safeguard their bonuses.
Here, fans had every right to be upset. They were repeatedly assured by the game’s creators that they would be buying a literally game-changing title, and instead, Cyberpunk 2077 wound up being an unfinished, watered-down effort that some fans couldn’t even play– it would be hard not to be pissed in a situation like this.
Fans managing their expectations is just as important as creators telling the truth
But like I said earlier, Cyberpunk 2077 is a rare example of fans’ hopes for a major release being cruelly dashed by malicious creator deception. In most cases, creators are far more truthful than that – and far less to blame for fans’ disappointment than the fans themselves.
Putting even part of the blame back on the fans is an unpopular stance to take, but I stand by it: as fans, we need to learn to manage our own expectations. When a movie, TV series, comic book or video game doesn’t line-up perfectly with what we anticipated based on promotional materials, that’s no reason to get cranky with the creators, even if they did tell a few white lies along the way.
Heck, it’s the job of a creator to catch us off-guard; they aren’t supposed to give us exactly what we think we want, but something that’s unexpected and hopefully even better – and yes, sometimes that involves bending the truth. Coming to terms with this can be difficult, yet it’s key to enjoying pop culture today: we need to let go of what we thought a show like Masters of the Universe: Revelation would be and try to accept it for what it is.
If we can learn to do that, us fans might find we actually enjoy the next film, TV show, comic book or video game that finds itself embroiled in “lying creator” scandal – and that’s the truth.