WandaVision must be the most complex Marvel project to date, and definitely one of the most complex shows I’ve seen in a long time. It’s going to sound strange to make this comparison, but WandaVision’s complexity is like S1-3 of Arrested Development. Although vastly different genres and forms of complexity, both have an amazing wit about them, benefit the well-educated viewer (in terms of historical and current events), and offer a ton of rewatchability when it comes to hidden secrets and gems throughout their runtime. Most obviously is the “recasting” of a particular character who also says “kick-a!$” which… I mean that’s a long string of “you gotta know to know” to know, you know?
Even how WandaVision handles its drama is so amazingly convoluted. There are episodes that are filled to the brim with joy and excitement while always having this bitter grief tagged alongside it. Every time I smiled, I found myself stricken with sadness. Every time I laughed; I was reminded something was wrong. And yet, even moments of sadness and sorrow would be interrupted with successfully funny moments and reveals. Like, this is impressive and not the sort of risky-creativity I was prepared for with a Disney Marvel property. And that is not to undermine the MCU. I think what the MCU has going for it is enjoyable, but this was so different and so much more refined than anything else I’d seen in the MCU.
On a totally different but somewhat related note, I remember a couple months ago my cohost Daniel on the Cinematic Doctrine podcast once brought up how one reason representation in film and film media is considered so important is because it’s exported across countries. Several decades of idealized life was expressed by the stereotypical nuclear white family living their life and solving their problems one 22-minute episode at a time. Children growing up in foreign countries would see success (the father working a job that isn’t quite clear, or the mother preparing and caring empathetically for their children as a stay-at-home mother) and want to replicate it, but in reality they weren’t replicating general human ideals, but one culture’s ideals (and not even that, one writer’s ideals in one state in one city in one local community that was financially incomparable to their own). This would produce an almost exported ideal of success that became ingrained in a community on an entirely different continent with an entirely different history and entirely different nationality.
This can be dangerous because what’s often exported is ideal, not reality. Ideal isn’t wrong, as ideals are goals set to be sought. Yet, goals set to be sought are sought because they aren’t achieved, and exporting the ideal comedy show and it being consumed as the ideal way to live has real life consequences. It’s often why criticism of Friends and how it undermines the “geek” or “intelligent” friend in the group has created a culture of diminishing the value of the intelligent.
This can sound like a massive stretch, I know, but you’ll see this idea discussed in certain online communities or even in film/tv groups. And, it’s not irrational. What we take in as people is often what we churn out, or at the very least it’s appropriate to say what we take in influences what we churn out. And that’s not surprising when you observe the current social climate. Often what’s consumed, when observed like a child and not with someone who has grown in media literacy, produces a sense of convinced ideology. It encourages people to adopt what’s being displayed to them rather than mindfully engage it, criticize it, refute it, but understand it. And we’re in the midst of this right now as we watch entire groups of people observe nonsensical ideals that encourage irrational and dangerous behavior. Call it “whatever-your-uncle-just-shared-on-facebook-from-a-website-that’s-clearly-fake”. And these same people will regularly fantasize and reminisce about a time that was better and hope to live in it yet again. If they had powers like Wanda Maximoff, they’d surely entrap everyone in their idealized fantasy. It’s this weird thing where people movie beyond idealizing a time and begin embracing it to the point of losing contact with family, or rioting at the capital.
Often what’s misunderstood in these communities who eagerly swallow nonsense news and ideals is a yearning for “the better days”. It’s a fear that we as a society or group are moving into worse times, and that if only we can capture the past and relive it can be get better. Yet, the worst of times have been behind us (AIDS epidemic, overt Black enslavement, McCarthyism) just as much as the worst of times are being experienced now (cortisol producing social media powerhouses, a literal waste of plastic in the Pacific Ocean 3 times the size of Texas, increase gun violence and crime, pervasive systematic racism and classism). To ignore the bad of the past by super-imposing unrealities atop of them (which often are unable to solve the bad of the now) does nothing but harm others even if one is desperately trying to survive the bad of now. It’s why I don’t prescribe to the idea that one should “make us great again”. Things weren’t great then. Things were, frankly, the same. There was bad, just as there was good, too. At the end of the day, it simply is.
I use this term because that’s how reality works. It is. It is not better or worse, it just is. To accept reality permits us to experience reality, both in terms of pain, suffering, but also joy and gladness. It permits grieving and celebration. It permits us to exist. Rather than living in a fantasy world of our own creation denying reality, we can move freely in time and space feeling the breeze flow against our skin or the blades of grass press beneath our toes. We can also take stock of the deep sadness brewing in our hearts and weep. We can see our loved ones walk by and smile so freshly our cheeks hurt, or drain ourselves of tears at their passing. It, then, allows us to respond to what’s real.
When we choose not to respond to reality, we seek to fix something that isn’t real. When we try to fix things that aren’t real, we find what we seek to fix (the ideal we seek ultimately to achieve) is impossible. We endlessly chase after something that cannot be had because the basis for which we are responding to has never existed at all. In example: If one is convinced that Prompting Event A has happened and they are seeking to respond with the hope that Correlated Result A is achieved, how can Correlated Result A be achieved if Prompting Event A never happened? In fact, Prompting Event B took place and it’s only correlated result is Correlated Result B. Correlated Result A can ultimately never be achieved and the ideal never realized because Prompting Event A never happened to begin with.
This is the struggle of believing in unreality. Upon which someone is fully convinced that the unreal prompting event has happened, they are lost to follow the trail of that prompting event despite it’s event never being prompted. Doomed to travel an aimless result that can never be achieved, an existential blindness toward nothing but hostility and frustration. The only actual result that comes from this is anger. This anger is often the kind that goes, “Everyone else is wrong! I’m the one who’s right!” or “This is foolishness! Can’t they see?”. Everyone else, ultimately, becomes the idiot, the fool, the imbecile who is not smart of enough to posses the secret knowledge of what is really going on.
I write this because for all it’s immense creativity and risk, WandaVision is about reality, and as a film and television lover, WandaVision uses the ever-creative and often ambitions medium of film to talk about reality. It touches on so much of what our current experience of reality is like: an entire people group’s absolute acceptance of unreality and who can’t tell the difference between what’s true and what’s false even if you had irrefutable proof. That same group of people who have, for the last year, likely stayed inside and read a lot of unverified articles or untrained “journalists” on YouTube who’ve never fact-checked their sources, nor fact-check their own productions to ensure they release truthful and valuable information.
But, even more so, WandaVision is about having compassion for those who do not believe in reality. Many people are told they are not allowed to be sad or angry, many people can’t afford to grieve because their jobs barely provide PTO (sidebar, in the Old Testament grieving could last WEEKS if not an entire month, and it was more-or-less culturally mandated. Imagine if Capitalism, which Christianity loves so much, imitated that part of scripture?). So, these people latch on to something that comforts them. Unfortunately, despite the immediate comfort, unreality does little in terms of stability and lasting comfort. It’s a sham. Live it long enough and it starts to hurt others. And soon, it will take advantage of you to the point of self-destruction.
And that’s what captures the compassion of the the show. Wanda Maximoff, at the end of the day, has good reasons to be attracted by unreality. Unreality promises what reality doesn’t: an alternative. Reality is reality is reality. It doesn’t change, and when it’s filled with misery, pain, suffering, injustice, hatred, slander, assault, and everything morally reprehensible, unreality becomes deeply attractive to the point of enslavement. We all fraternize with unreality at times (a good book by the fire, a long gaming session with the boys), but sometimes we get so drawn into it’s lustful gaze that we start to cause serious harm. And then, before you know it, you’re lost in some bizarre sitcom you used to know and love from a simpler time where the creek down the road was the most exciting thing in your life and the only car troubles you had was how to get that Hot Wheels track to run through the whole house.
I loved WandaVision because it stresses a compassionate exercise on those who don’t believe in reality. Absolutely loved it. It’s a patient show. It’s a hilarious show. It’s an angering show. It’s a painful show. It’s a romantic show. It’s a joyful show. It’s a loving show. And compassion is love. And I love reality, but am I willing to love those who don’t believe in reality?
If reality allows us to resolve our problems, to respond to them clearly, are we willing to help others embrace reality to solve their own? Can we endure the unrealities of others to draw them toward what is true? At what point has someone become to “unreal” to be saved from their unreality?
It’s so easy to show compassion to those on the other side of the screen reading a script. But, when they’re sitting right across from you at the holiday dinner table convinced the Coronavirus vaccine will give you 5G poisoning, or the one worshiping in the pew beside you cheered on the rioters on January 6th, it’s hard. It’s hard, but it’s reality.
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Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!