Weekend Binge

Witness the rise of a gay-inclusive Free Love commune…and its jaw-dropping fall

Wild Wild Country. Courtesy Netflix

Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every Friday, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.

The WTF: Wild Wild Country

This Netflix series didn’t get the fanfare it deserved when it arrived back in 2018. Wild Wild Country tells the story of one of the 1980s biggest–and oddly forgotten–cause célèbres. In 1981, the Indian spiritual guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, aided by his outspoken secretary Ma Anand Sheela, founded a commune for Rajneesh’s followers (usually called Rajneeshees). The Rajneeshees managed to build a sparkling city in Wasco County, Oregon they’d hope would become a Utopia, serving as a worldwide example of peace, prosperity and queer-inclusive free love. In other words, a paradise.

It didn’t work out that way. The Rajneeshees and their exotic ways immediately ran afoul with the nearby farm town of Antelope, and later, with state and federal authorities as well. Members of the commune–including Sheela–would stage bioattacks on neighboring towns and elected officials, face charges of immigration fraud, tax evasion and wiretapping, culminating in Rajneesh himself attempting to flee the country.

But why recommend it to a queer audience? The Rajneeshees, for all their faults, welcomed LGBTQ people and sexual fluidity at a time when both subjects were still considered taboo. At the height of the AIDS crisis, Rajneesh preached acceptance of queer people…and that AIDS would likely result in the extinction of humanity. The Rajneeshees, therefore, became one of the first religious groups to preach the importance of STD testing and knowing partners; Sheela, in interviews, boasted that despite being a free love society where anything really could go down, the Rajneeshees had found ways to eliminate venereal disease altogether. Wild Wild Country makes the case that the Rajneeshee values of free love and STD prevention caused a moral panic in broader society, and ultimately helped destroy the experiment of the commune.

The six-part series recalls the rise and fall of the Rajneeshee commune, and features extensive interviews with Ma Anand Sheela, residents of Antelope, former members of the commune, federal investigators and more. It’s a penetrating look at one of the most bizarre media sagas in recent memory. It’s a harrowing and, at times, mind-boggling tome of religion gone awry, cultural xenophobia and homophobic panic. Give it a watch, and prepare to be riveted.

Streams on Netflix.