Last week on WandaVision, in one of the least subtle yet most illustrative moments of the series, Wanda’s father brings home a suitcase for his children. Inside, front and center, are DVD box sets of Bewitched, I Love Lucy, Who’s the Boss?, The Addams Family and Malcolm in the Middle. What had been tonal and stylistic inspirations in past episodes became direct reference points. The world that Wanda created to escape her pain was not only inspired by the general concept of American family sitcoms, but by concrete titles. We saw in that suitcase the toolbox she used to build Westview with; the blueprint that helped her construct her refuge.
WandaVision has slowly revealed itself to be about a woman coping with intense grief, and escaping into a world where she can coexist with those she lost. It’s about Wanda rewriting her world, and the language she chose to use was the language of American mass media. Which happens to be a language I’m also fluent in. Because it’s the language that taught me, much like Wanda, how to survive.
I was born in Mexico City and grew up in its suburbs consuming every piece of entertainment that I could put my eyes on. I’ve always been a media consumer first and foremost: Young adult mystery book series, Saturday morning cartoons, Sunday outings to the movie theater, the morning radio on the ride to school… American mass media was always omnipresent in my life.
I don’t think a large portion of Americans can truly perceive the outreach that their popular media has on the rest of the world. Their entertainment exports (mainly movies and television shows) have created a common language that expands beyond national borders and identities (even fake ones, all the way to Sokovia). Yes, this is a side effect of Western imperialism (a topic I am not equipped to discuss), but I am still in awe of how products like The Office, the Disney Princesses, or Batman can be so far reaching and culturally penetrative.
From a very young age, I decided I wanted to work in the movies, and coming to the United States was an implicit part of that, because most of the movies I was being fed were American. And I do mean statistically most; any given weekend in a Mexican movie theater, perhaps 85% of my options were American imports. I was fortunate enough to be able to come to Los Angeles for college. And making that journey with me was an overwhelming feeling of being an outsider. Loneliness is, after all, a seminal element of the immigrant experience.
However, as culturally detached as I many times felt from my peers, there was one thing I could always rely on: entertainment. That put me on a level playing field. I could follow conversations, befriend classmates, and make references that I knew others would understand: the Friends poster that adorned my dorm was a great conversation starter in the first weeks of the semester. One of my longest-lasting friendships originated when a classmate overheard my love for early seasons of Glee. I could not only keep up, but actively engage with the curriculum of my film courses. I had brought my own Sokovian case of DVD box sets, and it helped me survive in a strange land.
I came out of the closet not long after that. Which was its own way of becoming a newcomer in a foreign place – and, in some ways, scarier.
When I moved to the U.S., I trusted that this tongue of catchphrases, pop culture throwbacks, and song lyrics would help me get by, because I had learned of its universality by then. But I had no idea what I shared with others in the gay community. I’d never dared to explore that. I’d never spoken this language openly; how was I to communicate with them? It was an awful, sinking feeling. For the first time, I found myself experiencing true cultural cluelessness.
But as I slowly found my way around, I began to notice that everyone I felt compelled to befriend spoke in a similar vernacular as me. It wasn’t just mass American culture anymore – it was a more specific language. I’ve made friends over the comfort that Agatha Christie novels brought us. I’ve dated people because of our mutual love of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I found countless others who had always felt slightly eccentric for loving the Academy Awards – something that now feels like a standard shared interest among us. Once again, we’d all been collecting the same DVDs in our box set.
That was such a profound relief. There was an emotional transformation that was happening inside me that would take me a while to fully understand, but now I had a group to share it with. Talking about the pieces of mass media that we loved provided me with a sense of understanding about myself, and a sense that I’d found a home.
Every week, WandaVision reflects the ways in which Wanda turned to the media she consumed in her childhood to keep her safe in adulthood. And that’s perhaps the most resonant element of the show for me. However, there is also a striking difference.
Wanda retreats into an imagined world of reruns and tongue-in-cheek references to find solace, but that leaves her incredibly isolated. Like her, I also leaned on my emotional DVD case when I felt lost. But it was those same tools that led me to find a true sense of community and belonging.