According to data from Parrot Analytics, WandaVision, the first streaming series by Marvel Studios, is the most in-demand show across all platforms, revitalizing the discourse around Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. It has spurred hundreds of fan theories about what are the character’s motivations and what each episode means for the large interconnected constellation of series and movies produced by Disney’s superhero-centered studio.
The series follows the life of the Avenger Wanda Maximoff, as she tries to process the grief over the death of her romantic partner, the android Vision, by kidnapping a city and creating an alternative reality in which she lives with Vision and their two children. For the last two months, engulfed in the world of speculations, theorizing, and overall, enjoying the show as a proper nerd, I realized this show reveals some interesting things about the challenges for democracies in the modern world; I started thinking about what WandaVision might say about the future of democracy and what that means for those of us who observe Venezuelan politics.
What made me realize the connection is that Wanda builds an illusion to take shelter—emulating the way conspiracy theories work.
Venezuelans aren’t strangers to conspiracy theories. A key component of the rhetorical elements that chavismo wanted to push in its early years was that Chávez and his movement needed power to “avenge” the alleged crimes of old. History was usually rewritten for that end, even making up that Simón Bolívar was assassinated in 1830 by the Colombian elite, rather than just succumbing to TB. Later, with the cancer that ended up killing Chávez, a conspiracy theory was born around the notion that the disease was inoculated by a foreign power, conveniently placing him in the same narrative of justice in which they placed Bolívar, both to bolster the legitimacy of his successors and to continue having popular support.
The combination of repeated defeats and increasing powerlessness makes many prone to conspiracy theories that alleviate the pain of dealing with an ever-increasingly complex political reality.
This kind of conspiracy theories framed for millions of people an alternate reality that proved to be quite resistant. For years, to the eyes of chavistas, any suffering they went through was inflicted by the enemies of the comandante, or was the unavoidable cost of such a historical struggle.
Wanda kidnaps the entire city of Westview, in New Jersey, under a spell that turns them into characters of a show. She constantly rationalizes it by arguing that she’s trying to make their life better by bringing Vision back to life, and that inflicting pain on others is justified.
The Year of Magical Thinking
However, the parallels between WandaVision and the Venezuelan experience are even stronger when you look at it through the lens of the opposition. The combination of repeated defeats and increasing powerlessness makes many prone to conspiracy theories that alleviate the pain of dealing with an ever-increasingly complex political reality.
During Chávez’s illness, we saw the emergence of theories about the nature of his cancer, whether he was even sick, or perhaps already dead. This was a natural response to the poor information provided by government officials and the convolution of the political reality that comes with the transition from a dying president.
We also saw the dramatic increase of these conspiracy theories during the Trump era. Venezuelans were dealing with excruciating pain and uncertainty, which made them hold strongly to a fake political reality in which a third party, be it a dissident military or Trump and the U.S. army, were going to quickly solve the problem of political defeat.
Our constructed worlds seem comfortable, but are unsustainable in the long run and will only bring more pain as they diverge from what really happens.
This is just like Wanda does in the show. A crisis of this nature is very painful, especially when people lose everything, both the tangible (with the access to food and medicine) and intangible (by losing the ability to see a realistic solution in the foreseeable future). Venezuelans, like Wanda, create a world in which the issues will just be solved and everyone can live happily ever after. Watching WandaVision, I didn’t only see an Avenger dealing with the very human feelings of grief and loss; I also saw all of the different stories of people that have fallen prey to these realities to avoid dealing with the pain they have to manage every day. The sitcoms Wanda creates feel a lot like the hopes created through anonymous Whatsapp audios or fabricated Twitter news.
It makes sense for conspiracy theories to emerge in Venezuela. Many citizens have had to mourn their loved ones and Venezuelans, both inside and outside of the country, have had to deal with the descent of their nation into a complex humanitarian emergency. We cannot ignore this pain, much like Wanda Maximoff after losing Vision.
I don’t know what the solution is for the Venezuelan context. Conspiracy theories affect even the most stable democracies and this has many moving parts. Yet I think that the path forward starts with finding a way for those who are hostage of these spells to acknowledge reality. Our constructed worlds seem comfortable, but are unsustainable in the long run and will only bring more pain as they diverge from what really happens.
The challenge for democracies, especially ours, is to find a way to end the spell and come together under the same reality to find a solution and become the vibrant democracy that we can be.
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