In the last 72 hours I binged-watched all of Netflix's docuseries Wild Wild Country. I know what you're thinking, "Kat, shouldn't you have been studying?" And to that I say:
C's Get Degrees 😉
Stacy and Cassidy have been talking my ear off about Wild Wild Country, making all sorts of fun jokes that I just did NOT understand. So I had to see for myself and wowza there's a reason I finished it so soon.
Wild Wild Country, a Duplass Brothers production directed by Maclain and Chapman Way, follows a piece of history that is seldom remembered, save by those who lived it. The series documents the Rajneeshpuram community established briefly in Antelope, Oregon in the 80's. Rajneeshies believe in the enlightened man, limitless and abundant sex, and above all else they loyally follow the community's founder, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Back in the day they set up an idealistic commune near Antelope where their myriad hedonistic activities could unfold undisturbed. This, however, brought much controversy to the small town and quickly gathered national attention. Long story short, only a brief moment passed before the shit hit the fan.
The quality of this docuseries made me shit my pants. They interviewed several key sannyasins, or Bhagwan followers, and were even able to sit down with the one and only Ma Anand Sheela Bhagwan's personal secretary and basically the bitch who runs things. More on her later.
They also interviewed several residents of Antelope, all of them cute old people with a touch of xenophobia. Okay maybe a whole lot. When they started making anti-rajneeshie paraphernalia tension started to mount. I, the incredulous viewer, was sort of on the Rajneeshies' side. I mean if they want to set up a haven in the desert where they party and fuck, like, what's the big deal? These dusty ass farmers need to pull the plows out of their asses.
(Cassidy and Stacy are definitely gunna take that last line out)
There I sit on the 5th floor of my school's library, clinging to every next development in this story, and as the doc dug deeper into the cult I found myself more on the Bhagwan's side. When Sheela and the other sannyasin's speak about him, the utter admiration in their eyes is enough to make me consider throwing on the orange smock and singing myself up for some good ol cult livin. And that's the beauty of this documentary, it is framed in such a way, that you want the cult to win, until the end. Which brings me to Sheela.
If there is ever a better example of a strong woman than Ma Anand motherfucking Sheela, please show me because this woman is FIERCE. Sure she manipulated another sannyasin into attempted murder, committed one of the largest cases of immigration fraud the U.S. has ever seen, and viciously carried out a massive bioterrorism attack on the town of The Dalles but you HAVE to be strong to do that shit, amirite???
Sheela is fascinating because every time she would talk to the press she had this "don't fuck with me" demeanor. She made a lot of white men hate her, and I am totally here for that. When present day Sheela looks back on this, she mentions that the Bhagwan told her to appear strong to the press. I think she took that direction and fucking sprinted with it. But then, the viewer never really knows if Sheela was the mastermind behind all of the terrorism, or if it was executed at the order of Bhagwan. And even though she ended up leaving the commune, might she still be loyal enough not to snitch anyway? There's a strong possibility.
What fucks me up is that she just wanted to help people, to spread the Bhagwan's message. She has a sharp intuition that she was born with, and when handed power, millions of dollars, and people to protect she went HAM in the only way she knew how. Before you think I am defending bioterrorism, consider her whole character: the fact that she now works as a caregiver, or that she was manipulated by Bhagwan to throw herself into her work immediately following the death of her husband, with like zero time to grieve.
When we are shown the complex relationship Sheela has to the community, to herself, to Bhagwan we are able to see what the nation couldn't see back in the 80's. We see that she is a human. We are forced to reckon with her actions by seeing her at eye level and to really question if we would not have done the same thing. Most of us would say no, Kat, that's disgusting how could you imply that? But until you find yourself as the leader of a multi-million dollar cult-like operation I wouldn't rush to that conclusion.
Ma Anand Sheela, love her or hate her, you can't get over the fact that she's a bad bitch.
The typical documentary is told in a very linear style, and while this one followed that formula, it did so loosely. There were specific times where it would jump ahead, or backward, and then loop around to connect everything. In this way, it created a narrative style that made the audience work a little harder for their spoils. So when you did figure out what was actually going on, you never saw it coming, just like the poor sannyasins. Some Sannyasins claims that there are things that the documentary got wrong, you can read more here.
Wild Wild Country is definitely worth the watch, binge or not. Just try not to get too angry when you find out what the commune has turned into today.
Osho's #1 fan 👐