As I write this, it is the eve prior to the airing of the ninth episode of WandaVision and I simply could not let this moment go without a post. Fitting that it will be my first post in almost a year (more on that later).
Over the last eight weeks, viewers of this made-for-television Marvel series have been extremely 'vocal' on social media about all aspects of this show.
The sleuths who diligently attempt with every episode to decode all the subtle (and not so subtle) hints at what is going on in Westview.
The hunters who scour every episode for easter eggs, relishing in delight, especially when the eggs reach back to the source material, the comic books. Note: sometimes the hunters and sleuths overlap.
The lost ones who have no idea what is going on but share their thoughts with a unique mix of admiration, excitement and bewilderment.
The gatekeepers who (often angerly) belittle those who have 'never read the comics' and therefore are not true fans (a truly heinous group of people who make it difficult for fans to be fans let alone increase the fan base).
The crafters who are so moved by different show details that they immediately get to creating - pins, stickers, t-shirts, songs, memes - you name it the crafters are making it.
The spoilers who post their reactions without providing a spoiler warning before doing so.
Not to be confused with the responsible re-actionists who always provide a spoiler warning prior to getting into their reactions, analysis, sleuthing and/or easter egg moments.
There are other fan types but my point is that fans are expressing themselves in force about this series. But why?
Why has WandaVision struck such a strong cord with the Marvel fan base? What makes it so noteworthy? And what can both 'producer' (Marvel/Disney) and 'consumer' (the fan base) learn from this experience?
Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) loves it's acronyms, I've made one of my own - P.A.S.T.E., the glue that holds together this series but also has the potential to help future fan projects of all types.
P is for Pandemic (and Participation)
It goes without saying that the Pandemic has changed everyone in profound ways. For fans, the pandemic has eliminated the ability to congregate with one another in person at comics culture events, such as fan conventions, movie theaters, etc. So yes, the timing of this show airing during a pandemic has likely lead to more people tuning in to find out what the show is all about. However, just because something is available doesn't necessarily mean that people are going to immediately love it - and that was definitely the case when the first episode aired. Even hard core MCU fans were left asking "what did I just watch?" Those that hung in there were rewarded and by the second episode the social media participation began in earnest and not just on TikTok (just search #wandavision).
The series, in true Marvel form, is a reflection of our own reality, with layering of struggles and emotions that we share with the characters. This reality layering serves as a form of indirect participation for the viewer. As viewers, we live vicariously in the moments of grief, depression, anxiety, humor, etc that the characters do. In fact, when the series concludes and eventually the pandemic ends, the P in P.A.S.T.E. will transform to Participation, which will (hopefully) go beyond the digital platforms. I have a strong feeling that there will be a great deal of WandaVision cosplay happening when conventions return.
A is for Anticipation
The very format of WandaVision, a single season television series that is released once weekly, inherently builds anticipation. In an era where whole seasons of series drop at one time and binge watching has become the norm, this format choice is unique and adds both to the charm of the series but also to the fans ability to take their time and savor each week's episode. Whether you choose to watch it once and then think on it or to watch it multiple times before the next episode is available, fans are provided the opportunity to think, feel, reflect and share their ideas. One could argue that we get the same anticipation between the films but I would counter that this format offers a different form of anticipation, one where the content stays relevant and is refreshed within a weeks time instead of months or years.
S and T are for Story Telling
These were given two of the five acronym letters because they stand on their own and work together simultaneously. First, Story. There is so much story happening in WandaVision - it spans multiple timelines and feels like a comic book in the way it jumps around and yet easy to follow, clear, concise and relevant to the various story lines. We're not just getting a new story, we are getting back story and potential future story all at the same time. That alone is a huge feat. Now add in the Telling. When the story is combined with amazing characters who are vividly portrayed by an amazing cast, the Telling is amplified to a new level. There are no 'secondary characters' in this series. Every speaking part (and quite a few non-speaking roles) hold significance to one or more of the storylines being worked through. The Story and Telling in WandaVision are working in harmony to reveal a rich series that draws people in to wonder 'what will happen next?'.
E is for Engagement
While the hard core MCU fans are loving all the nods to other films and portions of the universe that are yet unexplored (Will the X-Men become part of this world!?), this series can actually be an entry point for potential new fans or at the very least, new viewers. Sounds impossible right? Yes, there is a lot of deep cut information at play in WandaVision, but the series is also accessible. For the first seven episodes, the series uses a considerable amount of humor and pop culture references that people outside of the fandom recognize and enjoy, what I call point-of-reference engagement. In fact, I asked my husband (who doesn't follow the MCU happenings at all) to watch the series with me and he has found it quite entertaining and engaging. Would I recommend that people start with WandaVision as an introduction to the MCU? No. Would I make sure they didn't miss it? Absolutely, yes. And would they be able to follow along with what is going on even if they had never seen another MCU project? Yes, this is a easy entry level for non-fans because the 'surface' story is one that you can get on board with even if you don't have all the comic books, movies and television shows memorized. Better yet, the 'deeper' story engages the fans and it doesn't detract or distract from the 'surface' story.
As mentioned before the social media engagement by fans has been through the roof on this series. In particular on TikTok, I've noticed that some of the 'secondary' characters' accounts have become recognized by fans and now these actors are engaging with fans in a way I've only really seen at a fan convention panel. For instance Norm, played by Asif Ali (@asifalicomedy), has been answering fan questions and from the looks of it, thoroughly enjoying every moment. Another example is Victoria Blade (@victoria_blade_), the actress who portrays the woman in all the in episode commercials, isn't just answering fan questions, she is also continuing to share her other pursuits as a singer and songwriter. Honestly its fantastic to see people connecting with these actors because their journeys are just as much part of the production as the other 'main' characters and under 'normal' circumstances, fans wouldn't be able to connect with them, to have their questions answered.
Long Term Uses for P.A.S.T.E.
P.A.S.T.E. should NEVER be used as in 'Copy'/'Paste'. Lightning never strikes twice and nor should it be assumed that all future fan culture projects will be as wildly successful as WandaVision. However if fans and producers alike consider issues of Participation, Anticipation, Story, Telling and Engagement, all future projects have the potential to be profound for those who encounter them.
Fans who use fan fiction, fan art, cosplay and social media to express their fandom(s) should consider how P.A.S.T.E. could assist to enhance these projects.
There is no home for gatekeeping in the P.A.S.T.E. system. We as a fan community must continue to call out gatekeeping when we see it, and be welcoming to all fans when they cross our paths. NO ONE KNOWS EVERYTHING - that's why we have each other.
When in-person fan culture events return, look to P.A.S.T.E. to help enhance these gatherings for ALL fans.
When production companies look to create new content, consider P.A.S.T.E. as part of your strategy to create a project that lives up to its best potential. For example, co-creation. There are some AMAZING ideas circulating amongst the fan base and I have always felt it was a shame that fans don't have a method to submit them to producers. Yes, I know that this sounds like a nightmare but there has to be a way to make it happen that protects and acknowledges all involved parties.
As more digital projects roll out this year, production companies should consider how P.A.S.T.E. will effect their approach to fans.
How would you like to see P.A.S.T.E. used in the fan community and/or production industry?