When the definitive cultural history of our late capitalist political moment is written, much will be said about the seminal influence of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This 1971 film, emerging in the context of the Nixon administration, the War in Vietnam, and an ongoing reassessment of America’s place in the social, political, and ecological world, is still as fresh and potent as the first day it opened in theaters. Taken collectively with its originating text by Roald Dahl and subsequent re-make by Tim Burton, the Wonka Cycle constitutes one of the fundamental cinematic expressions of postmodern anxiety and self-reflexivity. Can it be any surprise that this complex contemporary fable has spawned a burgeoning field of scholarship?
While none of this will surprise Wonka specialists who seek out this volume, the lay reader may be surprised to know the extent to which Wonka as a text has risen to its prominent status in such a short time. For the benefit of such a reader, I will provide a brief literature review of the field.
Wonka Studies was initiated in 1987 with the publication of Jonathan Mortman’s “Oompa-Loompas of the World Unite: A Marxist Reading of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (Forth 03, Fall 1987). Much has transpired since Mortman’s widely-acclaimed essay; the field has since evolved into an important sub-discipline of cultural and critical studies. The convening of the first Conference for Wonka Studies at Blippensbild College in 1992 disseminated various advances in Wonka scholarship made in the wake of Mortman’s intervention. Yet it was not until the following year that we start to see the first Wonka Studies seminars open on a test-case basis in various major research universities.
Scholars are divided as to the true political position of the Wonka Cycle. Heidi Zolker and Brian Stafford-Jones famously argued in their 1994 missive, “Oompa-Loompa Rights are Human Rights” (Force 17, Spring 1994) that the musical sequences of the film contain a carnivalesque critique of capitalist labor relations. This view would have become the established orthodoxy had not Leopold Öngg published his magisterial “Of Wonka and Wankers: The Golden Ticket as Phallocentric Signifier of Biopower” (Oberflächlichenstudien 03, Summer 1996). Drawing upon the insights of Foucault and Derrida, Öngg argued that the incentive-structure inscribed into the plot of Willy Wonka took an inherently apologetic stance towards the forces of patriarchal capital. Without denying the subversive elements identified by Zolker and Stafford-Jones, Öngg suggested that the anti-capitalist performances were akin to the economic logic of early National Socialism. “Wonka is a Strasserite. Behind and, indeed, beneath the Chocolate Factory, lurks the gas chamber,” wrote Öngg in a memorable and much-quoted phrase.
This central question – whether Wonka is a communist or a fascist – occupied much of the debate throughout the nineties. The important interventions by Julia Linley (Forts 16, Summer 1997), Oswald Glover (Forks 28, Fall 1998) and Eric Breedlove (Folks 30, Winter 1999) all respond to this controversy in some way.
Yet starting in 2002 with the rediscovery of early middle French theory, Wonka scholars began to move away into more reflexive and less strictly partisan approaches to the material. At the same time, more attention was given to the gender and class dynamics outside the Factory itself. Ernest Grenouille’s “We Are All Grandpa Joe” (Färt48, Spring 2003) was an important model of this “Humanizing” Turn. The wider socio-political, cultural, and economic troubles of the new millennium also found their place in the new scholarship. The significant upshoot of articles about Slugworth in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis (Karawasi 2009; Davison 2009; LeBocq 2010) are just one example among many.
Recent work has been equally attuned to our political moment. That much was clear to all the attendees and presenters at the 27th Annual Conference for Wonka Studies, which convened at South Mercury University and Ladies’ Seminary from 6-9 February, 2019. The essays included in this collection form the core of a radically self-conscious response to our era. For instance, Hilda Davis-Davies argues in her powerful intervention, “The Queering of Violet Beauregard,” that that character undergoes what is actually a transfiguration into a radically non-heteronormative and (more importantly?) non-speciesist physicality. Violet Beauregard thus becomes a model of praxis, and not without a certain jouissance. Jean-Claude LaMerde brings a psychoanalytic lens to the famous Augustus Gloop scene in his “Gloop/Narcissus: A Neo-Lacanian Reading.” LaMerde dares to ask, “Is the chocolate river in fact an objet a?” Fistula Pepper responds to the broader need to make Wonka Studies more interdisciplinary with her Film studies essay, “From Wonka to Cremaster: Interrogations of Late Capitalism in Cyclic Film.” Her comparison of these two masterpieces opens new cultural insights.
Yet all of the twenty-one essays published here break new ground. The future of Wonka Studies as a discipline is bright as a Golden Ticket.
State University of Marshwater
Table of Contents
I. There is Nothing Outside the Factory: Derrida’s Of Grammatology and the Factory as Spatial Arbiter of Semantic Meaning in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
II. “I’ve Got Another Puzzle for You” : Strategies of Negotiated Subalternity and the Representation of the Racial Other in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
III. Does Charlie Bucket Punch Down?
IV. “I Want It Now!” : Veruca Salt as Model of Radical Feminist Praxis
V. “If You Are Wise You’ll Listen to Me” : Critical Re/Readings of Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
VI. The Chocolatier’s Two Bodies
VII. To Win is to Suffer: The Final Confrontation in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as Turnerian Rite of Passage
The Rev. Dr. Aldo von Krefeld-Lipniz
VIII. The Queering of Violet Beauregard
IX. Gloop/Narcissus: A Neo-Lacanian Reading
X. “Is the Hurricane A-Blowing?”: The Willy Wonka Boat Ride as Bourgeois Representation of 1960’s Radicalism
XI. Eco-Geographies of Consumption in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
XII. “Pure Imagination” and the Impure Imaginary of Late Capitalism
XIII. A Thousand Candied Plateaus: Latent Rhizomatic Constructions of Subjectivity in the Wonka Cycle
XIV. Post-Oedipal Constructions of Parenthood in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
XV. “The Candy Man Can” : Gender and Linguistic Power in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
XVI. The Factory as Simulacrum: Landscape, Consumption, and Constellations of Subjectivity in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
XVII. Wonkavision and the Ship of Theseus
Angus Leroy Huntingdon III
XVIII. From Wonka to Cremaster: Interrogations of Late Capitalism in Cyclic Film
XIX. Spectacles of Sweetness: Touring the Chocolate Factory with Guy Debord
XX. A Journal of Courage: A History of Wonkastudien
XXI. Decolonizing Wonka Studies
Becky Carrington Hughes