As you may recall in previous articles, I’ve drawn upon superhero traits and storylines to inspire the roles and skills we often need for community economic development.
In my recent work into rural entrepreneurship ecosystems, I’ve been thinking about the Marvel Studios TV series called WandaVision. This article builds on a few of the show’s themes that may be relevant for rural development. Apologies to die hard Marvel Cinematic Universe fans as I leave out backstories or details of other characters.
The Marvel story is about two superheros Wanda and Vision living an idyllic suburban life after the events of Avengers: Endgame. This TV series starts with them living a happy life in the 1950’s and each episode shifts to various sitcom genres through five decades, all in the same town called Westview. We eventually learn that Westview is under Wanda’s spell bubble where she casts an illusion of a perfect family and utopian community, all of which comes crashing down after battles with other superpower actors.
Here are some of the themes from the WandaVision story that I feel relate to rural development:
Coping with loss. Wanda and the entire world were having to cope with a tragic loss of loved ones when 50% of the population disappeared in Avengers: Endgame. In many of our rural communities we’ve suffered losses reflected in social, economic and public health indicators, all driven by mega trends such as globalization. The cumulative results are that families are less secure, more fragile and have had to flee to urban areas for more opportunities. This has left gaps in rural communities’ built infrastructures, businesses and services. Even our social infrastructures have been depleted, opening the way to hopelessness that shows up in substance use disorders and mental health calamities.
For those remaining in rural communities, they may be experiencing the stages of grief similar to what Wanda experienced. The shock of loss, denial and use of her powers to create an illusionary Americano or the “good ole days.” When I hear people say they need strategies to “keep our youth” in the community, it is devoid of the realities of the gaps and positive imagination of what could draw them back or attract new youth to build a more inclusive and innovative community.
Awakening to reality. All good stories have painful awakenings, where typically the hero accepts a transformation process and finds a new way forward (often not the way expected). In WandaVision, it was assisted by other actors in the story (both from inside the community and from outside the community). The battles Wanda faced led to awareness and a shift from a forced illusionary world, to acceptance of seeking a better way. She eventually releases her perfect world to rebuild on the foundations of her home (details we won’t see until a future Marvel story). Please note, Wanda does not destroy the foundations, just the old structures built there.
Our rural communities have needs far greater than we have the resources to address them. We need both our own strengths and hope for a better future – and outside stakeholders with the power and resources to partner with us – to rebuild our foundations and make way for innovative people, products and places.
Rebuilding together. When we are rewriting our own story or a new story for our communities, we need a full cast of characters, strengths and skills to accomplish the tasks at hand. We rebuild one project at a time, with a common good vision for a downtown, an economy and a thriving community. Let’s take the proverbial Main Street. The icon of our interconnected lives of commerce, justice and belonging. Who are the actors needed from inside and outside?
With the help of some of my colleagues, we’ve identified a few of the actors that can help rebuild upon the foundations. In our next article, we will explore who those actors for rural development are.
Comment and let me know what you think about development in your community (and if this resonated with our Marvel fans).
*image: Disney+, Marvel Studios