Wandavision: An Intersectional Perspective On The Erasure Of Jewish Identity
Wandavision, PTSD, and Identity
Marvel Cinematic Universe’s decision to scrap the Jewish backstory of Wanda Maximoff, which connects her character to the Holocaust, has been thoroughly covered by angry fans and the consensus opinion on the matter is the MCU was disrespectful and insensitive by ignoring Wanda’s Jewish culture. But don’t get it twisted, this article isn’t another rant about how Jewish people get shat on — well, ok, part of it is. Instead, this rant is about narrative agency — especially for marginalized groups in America in 2021 — and how White Christian culture (even when it is “woke”) has polluted the general American culture and made it harder for people of color to breathe. Case in point: Notice how WandaVison’s censoring of Jewish identity — which, allegedly, was done to “protect” Jewish Americans — was still tailored towards a White and Christian audience? This is our new culture: A culture of trying to appease the majority audience — who happens to be White, Christian, and politically correct; even when they are “enlightened” liberal white Christians — instead of providing the artistic freedom to create whatever character best fits the script for the director without being in fear of being canceled for sharing a new perspective.
I say this neither as a Marvel fan or a Jewish cultural critic — the authors of the bazillions of articles on Disney erasing Wanda’s background seem to fall into one of those two categories, they are either Jewish or comic book geeks. I say this as an African-American college student-athlete who goes to a Christian university and has very little interest in superhero movies (Welcome to 2021, where you watch WandaVision as an assignment in your “post-postmodernism” class.) However, ignoring Wanda’s backstory is a problem for me. While watching the series, I was thoroughly confused and felt left out because there were a lot of small things I missed since I am not familiar with any of the Marvel movies. As I was scouring Youtube channels with comic book nerds breaking down what was going on in the show, I stumbled upon one detail that bothered me; the erasing of Wanda’s Jewish origin story. This is a problem because if outside factors influenced the MCU’s decision on the writing of her character, then we have lost artistic freedom and in this case, Jewish people lose narrative agency and it denies history. “Thanks for the lesson…but I don’t need you to tell me who I am,” I thought. “I’m wondering if Jewish folks felt the same way.”
Before getting into the weeds of cultural whitewashing and X, let’s start big (and honest): We live in a culture where big corporations, especially filmmakers in Hollywood are obligated to be politically correct. Corporations are afraid to be different for the risk of being canceled. But here’s my question: Who is Disney being politically correct for?
If you actually think about this, the answer isn’t really clear. (And maybe watching the show from a non-White perspective lets you see what I’m worried about.) Let’s think through this meeting at Disney Headquarters: Did someone really stand up and say — at a moment when Holocaust denial is at an all-time high — we should really be removing Wanda’s Jewish roots to protect Jewish folks from having to think about anti-semitism? Or did someone say: “Hey, all those Trump-voting Dads whose credit cards pay for Disney plus subscriptions are getting tired of all this alt-right bashing?” It seems corporations are scared of the hypothetical reactions from the audience and again, I don’t know who their ideal audience is either. And that’s the problem: With knee-jerk corporate cancel culture we never really know. And for folks who are actually vulnerable in post-digital America: We really, really, really, need to know what people’s intentions are.
Understand this, I don’t hate White people or Christians, I am at North Central University, a school full of people who fit that description, and I love everyone here. I do hate the political correctness in this culture and it directly ties with the MCU’s decision to rewrite Wanda’s backstory and — using the Wandavision Jewish controversy — I will propose a different way our culture can approach a different perspective. To make it easy (and comfortable) for you — before I go hard on this issue — let’s start with cultural whitewashing.
Harm I: Whitewashing
There isn’t a clear reason why Wanda isn’t Jewish in WandaVison, but it is not a reach to come to the conclusion that the story was whitewashed to appease the audience in this highly politicized climate. Wanda seems to be in control of her surroundings, yet has limited ties to her home country Romania or her Jewish roots. The MCU makes the audience feel like Wanda grew up with an American lifestyle with White culture which is where the conclusion of Wandavision has been whitewashed can be reached.
We have gotten to a point where we’re not original and stay politically correct because the most popular art forms are whitewashed. The fear of being offensive halts our innovation when it comes to entertainment. We won’t see movies like Tropic Thunder ever again because it won’t get a pass in our highly political climate and that’s a real shame. Whitewashing can be seen and television shows like WandaVision and the lack of originality can again be seen with Disney. They would rather produce a Toy Story 6 or Cars 4 rather than come up with a new movie idea. But why is it like this? The biggest media corporations encourage it. Disney has bought and written a ridiculous percentage of the highest-grossing movies of all time and they’re guilty of whitewashing original stories. To be clear, the process of whitewashing is when someone abandons the original culture of a person or art to make space for the white Christian culture we have in America. This is very dangerous because it eliminates narrative agency. Let’s use WandaVision as an example; we are only aware because of all of the angry Jewish people writing articles that Wanda’s backstory got wiped out, but looking at her character in the show it’s troubling that she’s closer to Christianity than any religion. The TV shows Wanda loved as a child had primarily Christian themes and most of them had Christmas episodes.
As mentioned earlier, Disney has a large audience for their films. As of February of 2021, Disney+ has 95 million subscribers. So what new perspective can the viewers gain from their films? Well…none and that’s okay to Disney because they made millions from this practice and they’ll do it again with the same results
Harm II: Erasing the Holocaust Wokely
It’s apparent in WandaVison and it’s also seen in the Dr. Seuss mess. I‘ll admit, I was guilty of blaming social justice warriors for why six of his books were being taken down. It was actually Dr. Seuss Enterprises who made the decision to take those books out of print. This is concerning for me because I believe corporations will continuously churn out bland, recycled, whitewashed content to a wide range of audiences and it will still be successful. The harm in this is we lose our critical thinking but more importantly, we can’t talk about history. What happens when we can’t talk about World War II because it’s an inconvenience to make people feel uncomfortable when bringing up the Holocaust? History will either get altered or it will be erased leading to people not learning from history and making the same mistakes. Could this happen with Nazis and World War II? Doubt it, but denying history makes the chances go up. This could be shown by another set of actions by Disney. A couple of Donald Duck shorts have been taken off of Disney+ because those shorts have Donald Duck being drafted and going off to fight in World War II. The short won’t be on the platform because of the family-friendly standards being set by Disney Chairman Bob Iger and having kids see Nazis in a cartoon is a no-no because the goal is to be as uncontroversial as possible.
And this fear of making an original idea outside the politically correct frame is damaging because our creativity, originality, and critical thinking capabilities are being limited to fit the social norms of the corporate marketplace. I think of our culture as social fascists because I feel forced to be politically correct no matter my occupation, situation, or race because of the fear of being fired in the future or canceled from my social groups. The term fascist is extreme but if I am forced to be in favor of the politically correct ideology in the threat of being canceled, I am going to make the comparison to Nazis. Forcible suppression of opposition does occur today with the slippery slope of the deplatforming which was a trend in 2020. This is where critical thinking has gone down. Instead of having a conversation with people with opposing views, we have opted to get angry social justice warriors to remote voices from platforms. Sometimes the developers of the social media platforms we use make the decision for us by taking down posts that don’t fit our current culture. As a result, the level of creativity and originality goes down because we’re scared of putting out a product that represents a different way of thinking or a foreign culture as in the case in WandaVision. (Or in the case of Disney also canceling superheroes who are fighting actual Nazis.)
In WandaVision’s case, who are the losers from this highly sensitive climate we live in today? Clearly Jewish people because they do not get to have a popular Jewish icon to shake the narrative of Jewish people; a narrative that is very attached to the Holocaust and oppression they have faced since then. We’re not able to see the many different outcomes Jewish people can have, meaning we’re not seeing Jewish people as people. They’re just the people who get hated on by everyone. Not only that but think about the fans. The MCU’s attempt to take away arguably the most popular female Jewish superhero is dangerous because fans who could’ve gotten attached to Wanda could feel betrayed. Jewish people, specifically Jewish women, may have become fans of Wanda because they relate to her on a personal level. Taking that representation away to appease a bigger audience feels wrong. Especially, changing her character to a point where she could be closer to being a Christian than being Jewish.
By scraping Wanda’s identity due to fear of cancel culture, Disney is inadvertandely canceling Jewish culture. We have gotten to a point where we’re scared of embracing different cultures because the mainstream audience won’t approve it. American culture has become a culture of seeking the approval of others rather than creating the most authentic content and it has caused a halt in our evolution of creativity. I acknowledge whitewashing stories and being politically correct has made companies money, but we sacrifice growth because of it. Being politically correct is a game that changes everyday and there isn’t forgiveness for failing to live up to the standards of our culture. This approach of being politically correct to appease the majority of society increases the number of stereotypes and filter bubbles that exist in this world. This is done by limiting the perspectives the audience sees and it doesn’t allow a new perspective to appear, which creates a new narrative. It is vital to have a plethora of narratives for a people group so others can see them as non monolithic. As a people, we are becoming more ignorant than ever before but feel like we are the smartest, most woke people in the world. The evidence of this is shown with the political polarization in America. The solution is to hear multiple perspectives, but the problem with that is we’re not allowed to share them, at least the incendiary perspectives.
Since we all have a narrative to share and because this country is built off the idea of freedom of speech, we should let all people share their stories. The hard part is understanding and listening to those who are sharing their narratives without forcing your ideology onto them. Technology has advanced to us all carrying around communication devices with us at all times. Let’s use them to learn and grow rather than to stay with the ideologies that keep us stagnant.