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  • Writer's pictureBen Zimdahl

The Expanding Digitised World and an Era Post TV

Updated: Feb 7

WandaVision on Disney+

A somewhat generational shift away from the norm of televised sitcoms previously dominant in the world of the small screen, has seen the rise of a new era and a growing array of digital on-demand streaming services. Just as television disrupted the monopoly that cinema originally held upon audiences by the mid 20th century — which had itself along with radio taken over from music halls as the predominant evening-time entertainment form — on demand streaming services have come to challenge our attention for that within the world of television today. Above this effect of development in the televised series, streaming services such as Netflix, PrimeVideo, Disney+, Apple TV et al. have moved toward expansion into the realm of feature length productions, resulting in new home cinema access which in turn is further re-establishing the parameters of the distribution of cinema as we know it. With the advent of the laptop and devices such as tablets in conjunction with online streaming services, and other video platforms of the likes of YouTube, TV broadcast as we knew it is no longer at the forefront of home entertainment. A juncture that in reflection of this change could well be recognised as an era now post TV.

Recently I was viewing the miniseries WandaVision of the streaming service Disney+. WandaVision is a series of the digital streaming age that presents us with a reflection of the history of television itself and hence self-consciously appoints its place within a Post TV era. The series moves through different realms of contextual meaning and visual metaphor to show an array of known historical tropes from television in the western world, or more specifically, that representative of American culture. Using the essential features of historical situational-comedies or sitcoms as we know them, those which almost unanimously take place within the suburban home setting, the series adopts the familiar mise-en-scène of popular American television series' past, episodically re-representing these sequentially, using roughly one episode for each decade throughout the second half of the 20th century. Correlations can be seen to sitcoms such as I love Lucy, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Full House, Malcolm in the Middle, and Friends etc., in conveying this as moving chronological references within the miniseries.

WandaVision continues events within the Marvel Cinematic Universe of which viewers with familiarity of its blockbuster films bring with them to the viewing experience. Thus, the series presents us with the curiosity of its characters, Wanda & Vision, paradoxically living an idyllic suburban life customary to that of a sitcom TV set, in this case in the fictive Westview, New Jersey. With this presumed background knowledge of the two characters our entertainment begins with the comic element of them living through these chronologically developing idealised sitcom settings. Beginning to watch the show one may find themselves unquestionably enjoying its premise, at ease in the familiar setting and aided by the rhythmic and distracting quality of sitcom. Since our protagonists are superheroes, they appear to be ‘playing’ husband and wife, which allows us to begin to expect an explanation as to why they are confined to the realm of these characters within a sitcom. What we come to learn is that a traumatised Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, has taken over Westview, constructing a 'safe environment' that she controls, or rather reigns over with an inhumane mind control of inhabitants. Which is the form of an unconscious psychological coping mechanism on the part of her powers, in response to the loss of Vision, and the previous post-mortem dissection of his body for military repurposing.

This use of the series within a series provides the digital era its position within the history of television and opens an interesting interplay for the development of its plot. As this controlled familiar world begins to reveal glitches, we become aware that something is wrong with it, and that the characters are in conflict: in fact acting under Wanda's direction and living inside her TV show. In the first instance of this Wanda and Vision are having Vision’s boss and his wife over for dinner as a customary practice of good will and gratitude toward his employer. And no less in aid of assisting a promotion at work. A classic rehashed scene favourite most befitting the 60’s sitcom bewitched. Following the authority-based expectancy of Vision’s boss at the dinner table to a level of rudeness that shows the acting character's frustration with the situation, he stops mid-sentence and curiously begins to choke, upon this the characters are stuck in their acting, in a loop as it were, unable to break character and providing a level of anxiety unusual to the sitcom format: where death has no usual place, especially in such a cold sense. What arises from the scene is our first understanding that Wanda has directorial authority over the other characters and Vision can save his boss from choking only upon her begrudging command. To allow the town to go about existence under this control to provide a world in which to safely house her reincarnated Vision they have become forced labour actors within a series of situational comedy events, and as these glitches begin to occur it becomes apparent to us that they are indeed acting, and further, not of their own will. They are prisoners of an enclosed safe-world that Wanda’s subconscious has taken captive. It makes you wonder, as legacy television frameworks loose their stronghold around the globe: in a post TV world, are we heading towards monopolistic competition, or an eventual free market economy on the small screen?

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