Will Conservatives Ever Free Us From This False Reality They’ve Created?
While Democrats passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent his weekend defending Dr. Seuss. Yes, Republicans still consider this an important issue, which must mean it's polling favorably among conservative voters. Republicans are corrupt but not stupid ... with notable exceptions named Lauren Boebert.
One of the weirdest parts of this culture war is that the self-styled “warriors” aren’t willing to stand by the emp… https://t.co/wixfFL8Wqn— Jake Tapper (@Jake Tapper) 1615045496.0
McCarthy tweeted Friday, “I still like Dr. Seuss, so I decided to read Green Eggs and Ham. RT if you still like him too!" Green Eggs and Ham isn't one of the six titles that Dr. Seuss Enterprises has decided not to publish because of offensive content. Neither is The Cat in the Hat, but as Jake Tapper noted, the National Republican Congressional Committee is sending copies of that book to contributors. Here's the fundraising appeal:
"Cancel Culture is TOXIC!"
Patriots proudly declare.
“Free Speech must be defended!"
Dems retort: “Too bad. Don't care."
If you really appreciated Dr. Seuss' work, you wouldn't mock his style so pathetically.
Republicans are lying about the Seuss situation and refusing to publicly read or show images from the actual offensive work. They're also lying about what actually matters to Americans right now. This is the war they want to fight, not the COVID-19 pandemic or poverty. This is what riles up a Republican electorate with a kink for having their intelligence insulted. They want to live in this alternate reality.
This brings us to WandaVision.
I've reviewed this series over at AV Club for the past two months, and a commenter offered an interpretation that seems relevant here. SPOILERS, of course:
Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) finds real life too overwhelming and retreats into a fake world, shaped by nostalgia and her desire for “simpler" times that never actually existed. Because this is Marvel, Wanda's nervous breakdown manifests in a literal sense: She magically creates a classic sitcom reality for herself, but while her actions aren't malicious or even intentional at first, they aren't harmless. She's trapped an entire town within her delusions. They have no choice but to play along.
This is what it feels like to live among a significant number of Republican voters these days. It's impossible to engage with people who are desperate to believe lies. Whenever Wanda was confronted with the truth, she rewrote reality, often defiantly, and even physically banished a Black woman from her pleasant neighborhood.
McCarthy and other conservative “anti-cancel culture" warriors are appealing to what I call “toxic nostalgia." Conservatives resent that life is complicated and no longer defined on their terms. They don't want to reexamine anything they enjoyed from their youth (e.g. Dr. Seuss, The Muppet Show, or Gone With the Wind).They even object to warning labels before offensive programming or discussions about problematic content. New York Times columnist Charles Blow made headlines when he called out the old Pepe Le Pew cartoons for promoting rape culture. The very same "free speech" advocates were incensed that Blow would question their nostalgia for cartoons where a bad French stereotype attempts to sexually assault a cat. They weren't interested in debate. They wanted to banish Blow from the false reality.
While Wanda's version of a 1950s and 1960s sitcom is more racially diverse than the actual shows of that period were, the gender roles are quite regressive. Wanda seemingly enjoys her life as a stay-at-home sitcom mom, but she's forced that “simplicity" upon the other women in her "perfect world." We also don't see any queer couples. This ideal sitcom world is anything but.
Most conservatives will claim that life was “simpler" before rampant "political correctness" or “wokeness." This isn't true, of course. Marginalized groups lacked the power to make their voices heard. The “simple life" actively silenced them. We learn that Wanda's inadvertent victims suffer internal anguish beneath their smiling exteriors. This hit home. Minorities and women have never liked racist or sexist jokes or images, but it was usually in our best interest not to speak out publicly, especially in the workplace. We were just trying to “fit in" (a theme in an early WandaVision episode) and live as peacefully as the dominant culture would permit.
Ultimately, only Wanda could reject her false reality and free everyone imprisoned within it. I wish conservatives will have the courage to do likewise, but I'm not optimistic.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."