Subversion means: “the undermining of the power and authority of an established system or institution.”
In visual media, it is used as a form of juxtaposition (usually humourous or gory) in media to add interest/individuality, make a statement (in many cases, political), or point out a potential danger, drawback, ETC to a certain thing.
A few examples of subversion are:
The Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared YouTube series
The Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared videos are a series of short films that have styles similar to The Muppets, Tweenies, and other suit and puppet children’s TV shows. It is also in the format of kid’s shows where every episode gives a different message, such as “Don’t talk to strangers”, “Share and don’t be greedy”, “Apologise after fights”, and, most importantly, “How to spend your time wisely while someone fixes your big red car.” These shows are designed to show young children manners, politeness, and sometimes self-expression with songs, dances, and funny characters.
The first episode of DHMIS is about “being creative”. The main characters are lead through a catchy song about expressing yourself and showing your creativity, and slowly turns dark and gruesome (By the end of the episode, “being creative” has evolved into some horrible, psychotic, gory nightmare).
I can’t see if there is a deeper message in that first episode myself, but the creators could be commenting on how children’s shows portray the world compared to the horror and gore of some of the awful things that happen in reality and 18+ rated films and shows.
(Link to the first DHMIS video – if you’ve read what i’ve said above, you should know of some of the content this contains.)
The video game Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club is a free dating sim on Steam, with a cutesy anime/manga art style. In dating sims, you (the player) have to play minigames and choose the correct dialogue options to woo one of the games romancable characters. Usually, the entire story revolves around the romance between you and your selected love interest, only really delving into deeper issues while on a date or during the final flirting scene, and are quickly resolved or dropped. It is also common for characters to follow specific character traits and personalities – for example; cute but angry girl, beautiful quite girl, childhood friend “quirky” girl, and energetic leader girl.
DDLC does use these stereotypes, and if it weren’t for it’s foreshadowing (Messages such as “This is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed”, and barely noticable suspicious dialogue) some players may have stopped before the main section of the game. However, eventually DDLC COMPLETELY turns on it’s own head, and goes from adorable to downright terrifying. (The Steam tags say “Psychological Horror” for a reason..)
The message that appears in DDLC isn’t much of a comment on dating sims (perhaps the cliches) but focus more on why people play them, and asks questions based around self-awareness and, to an extent, our mortality. As well as visually having an effect on the player, subversion in DDLC is used to experiment with the game’s code itself – going as far as including the code and files in the game as part of the actual gameplay!
(Link to a trailer for DDLC – Though you may be fooled, there are INCREDIBLY INTENSE themes in DDLC, and I reccomend you read up on it before playing or watching gameplay. However, it is likely social media and memes may have spoiled some of the worst the game has to offer.)
I see subversion as a complicated technique, and with some uses could become it’s own genre/subgenre. I don’t think there is any real way to use it, however I feel that subversion can be used to extraordinarily well and poor results, and in some of my research for future projects I want to see if I could try using subversion too.