How People Missed The Point Of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (And Why I Don’t Blame Them)
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021) is Jane Schoenbrun’s second directorial outing and first feature film, a dream-like half-found-footage, half-third-person dive into the life of teenager Casey (Anna Cobb) as she participates in the Worlds Fair Challenge, an internet-based experience that claims it will transform you and reminds one heavily of old-school creepypasta tales from before the time of Jeff the Killer. Most people assume after watching that it’s the story of Casey’s descent into a sort of madness as she seems to make plans to commit violence against others and herself, with a sort of alter-ego emerging in the footage Casey shares with the mysterious JLB (Michael J Rogers).
They think it is about a girl taken by the illusion and delusion of the Worlds Fair, its promise of transformation coming true in a fashion not dissimilar to The Monkey’s Paw with her being twisted into a worse version of herself, only being snapped out of it in the end by JLB, leaving her shaken to the point of disappearing, her fate left ambiguous despite JLBs claims to have met her in person at the end of the movie.
I thought this was the case too, the first time I watched it. I was wrong.
We’re All Going To The World’s Fair is a story about transformation, but not as a warning. It isn’t telling us ‘don’t be like poor, delusional Casey’, it is a story about the ripping away of agency, and the transformation of something fun into something sinister, and that transformation doesn’t occur to Casey, but to the Worlds Fair Challenge.
In case you don’t already know this, the Worlds Fair Challenge is a load of hooey, just like the Blue Whale Challenge, the Momo Challenge, and those old-school creepypastas I mentioned before, although we don’t see any of the panic that those have raised. Even the method of supposedly activating it, chanting ‘I want to go the Worlds Fair’ three times at a computer screen harkens back to the urban legend of Bloody Mary, and it can be compared to a very similar, real-life piece of web content; The Slenderverse, a collaborative experience that claims to show the real lives of people being pursued by the internet legend Slenderman. This reflection makes sense when you think about the fact Jane Schoenbrun’s debut was a documentary about the Slenderverse, A Self-Induced Hallucination (2018), and that some of the people involved in the fast-paced trek through videos that occur at different points are either ones who participated in the Slenderverse, such as Evan Santiago with his series The Record Of Stan Frederick, or otherwise exist as internet personalities such as YouTuber May “NyxFears” Leitz and ASMR creator Slight Sounds.
In the same way as the Slenderverse, the Worlds Fair Challenge while being collaborative is entirely disconnected as well. People tell the stories they want to tell and if they want to connect it to something else they either write it into their series or contact the person they want to connect theirs to. This is what happens when JLB, a man somewhere in his thirties, contacts Casey with his claims of ‘You Are In Trouble’, telling the young teen to reach out to him. JLB, however, doesn’t just try to connect their stories. He tries to take control of her narrative, taking her story away from her to try and force her to do it the way he wants it to be done. This becomes most clear when, in the final moments of the movie, he keeps trying to insist she follows a specific idea of what the Worlds Fair Challenge actually is, despite Casey’s interest in a different interpretation. It reaches a point where JLB believes that Casey must truly think the Worlds Fair is real, with him breaking character to shatter the illusion she must be in.
But she isn’t in an illusion. She doesn’t believe in the challenge, she just wants to tell a story, and the taking of that away from her, the removal of her agency and the idea that she must just be crazy, must not know what she’s doing- it is the last straw. She cuts contact with JLB and, hopefully, moves on with her life. What happens to her is still vague but the ending feels far less depressing, like she has freed herself from a shackle. In the end, a transformation has taken place. The Challenge has become something negative to Casey, something that JLB has ruined. To me, JLB represents those in fandom who mean well but often end up hurting people. Those who want to control how things are interpreted, those who are desperate for some form of connection, or those who end up taking the game far too seriously.
Many people interpret JLB as a representation of a groomer, and while I see why they think that I don’t find it to be the case myself. Most of his actions with Casey are focused on the game. While he is creepy and a bit odd for seeking out the teenager, it never feels like there’s something nefarious going on. The worst it gets is his lie about seeing Casey again, but that if anything is more frightening as showing that he cannot let go of his obsession with the game, and how deeply he needs to tie up any loose ends within it and control how the narrative plays out.
To me, he is similar to those online who take young fans under their wing and use them as a conduit for what they want to see in the fandom, teaching them how certain interpretations are ‘wrong’ or why certain big-name fandom members ‘don’t know what they’re talking about’. In the end, he is simply a sad, older man who can’t seem to let go when it would be the healthier choice, and while I don’t really feel bad for him he doesn’t quite feel like a villain either.
I don’t blame people for having the first interpretation. The way movies usually go would have you believe that is the case, that Casey must have something sinister happening to her, supernatural or otherwise, but the most sinister thing that occurs is the tainting of something she once enjoyed. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair may be largely billed as a horror movie, but it is more of a coming-of-age story. Casey realizes that the challenge is no longer sacred, and in a sense has lost her innocence, something the internet often has taken away with its shock sites and the members of it who prey on those who still have an innocence to lose.
In my own experience with the slenderverse there was a loss of that sort of sacredness when I was young, and one when I was older. In May 2014, two twelve-year-old Waukesha girls lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in an effort to appease the slenderman. The incident sent shock waves through the community, with much of the mainstream not taking into account the delusions that led to the attack and instead choosing to blame the slenderman and the slenderverse itself for it happening. Some shows even used the event as inspiration for episodes, such as Law and Order: SVUs episode Glasgowman’s Wrath. The second loss of sacredness occurred in 2020 as Adam Rosner, the creator of the popular slenderverse series Tribe Twelve, was outed as a confirmed groomer, pedophile, and zoophile and accused of being a transphobe. This event was another that shook the landscape, dividing the fandom into those who believed the accusations and evidence and a minority that believed Adam Rosner was innocent. It was one that made me feel sick to my stomach, knowing that for so long he had been hurting fans as young as 15. Luckily, the vast majority of Slenderverse fans have entirely rejected Tribe Twelve, refusing to watch it or participate in it directly, and most people who are still fond of the series take the characters and make them their own, divorcing them entirely from Rosner. While both events have faded into the background of the fandom’s mind they are far from forgotten, and I doubt they ever will be.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a movie that hits close to home. I grew up reading creepypastas and watching the slenderverse, inundated with these collaborative fictions and everything that came with them. I loved them, and like a kid whos into any kind of fiction, I wanted to be part of that world. I still want to be part of that world, and still want to make something that ties into it, even if it isn’t exactly popular these days. Despite everything, those communities and the idea of collaborative storytelling, are still things that are near and dear to my heart, and if you like We’re All Going to the World’s Fair and the idea of that storytelling, it’s something I think you should get into as well. Start with the classic Marble Hornets and go from there. While it isn’t technically connected to the Slenderverse at large, its influence on later series, such as EverymanHYBRID pulling direct imagery in the beginning, is impossible to miss. Many creators have outright stated the influence Marble Hornets has had, seeing as it was the first to show that a series based around the Slenderman was something that could be done. Most of the series have finished now, with EverymanHYBRID having ended in 2018, Stan Frederick having ended in 2020, and series such as MLAndersen0, WhisperedFaith, and DarkHarvest00 seemingly finished despite not having endings, but everyday new series crop up, and could be found if you know where to look. As many of us who grew up on such things get older and start being able to make something of our own it’s important to look back on the history of the fandom, where it got its influences, what it has further come to influence, and where it can go from there.
If you’re a fan of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, check out the Slenderverse. If you’re a fan of the Slenderverse, check out We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. I’m sure each group will be able to find something they love in the other.