Nearly eighty years ago, Glinda the Good Witch told us all how to get back home again: “You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.”
The Electoral College meets tomorrow. Barring a truly historic rebellion, the College will finalize the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. In January, barring any unforeseen incidents, he will be inaugurated as the Forty-Fifth President of the United States. Already, disappointed liberals and progressives are looking towards the mid-term elections in 2018 or the next Presidential election in 2020.
Before looking forward, let’s take a moment to look backwards, to 1939.
L. Frank Baum’s original novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was published in 1900, but to characterize the 1939 movie as simply a filming of that novel misses several key points. In Baum’s novel, Oz was a real place; in the movie, it was a dream. In Baum’s novel, Dorothy gets whisked up to Oz in the first chapter, after minimal characterizations of Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. In the movie, before Dorothy travels, we are introduced to two new characters, Miss Gulch and Professor Marvel.
Miss Gulch is a local townswoman who abuses her political control. She claims that Toto, Dorothy’s dog, has bitten her, and gets an order from the sheriff to take the dog into custody to be destroyed, prompting Dorothy to call her “a wicked old witch.” Dorothy encounters Marvel when she’s running away from home. Marvel is a conman, wandering the Depression-area landscape with his trailer that offers false claims about foreign heads of state. He is kind-hearted enough to trick Dorothy into going back home by looking into his crystal ball and “seeing” Auntie Em crying on the porch.
Another key element of the film was its use of color. “The Wizard of Oz” was not the first color film, but it was the most symbolic of the early films. While Hollywood had started thinking about filming in color at the beginning of the decade, the Great Depression led to sharp budget cutbacks, putting technological advances largely on the back-burner.
“The Wizard of Oz” made a perfect vehicle for the message that the industry, and the country overall, was emerging from the Depression: The real world was drenched in sepia monochrome, while Dorothy Gale’s dream was in full, vibrant color. Even so, the final message of the movie is that while we can dream all we want, we live in the real world. We have to make of it what we will.
In the movie, Dorothy has two characters promising to help her return to Kansas: Glinda the Good, the ruler of the lands to the north, and the Wizard (Oz, the Great and Powerful). The Wizard is played by the same actor as Professor Marvel; this is deliberate, as several of the major characters in Oz are dream versions of Kansans.
Like Marvel, the Wizard is a conman: He has an over-sized countenance, uses smoke and thunder to appear frightening, and reveals details about Dorothy and her friends to add to his credibility. He agrees to only help the group if they complete a blatantly MacGuffin task: Get the Wicked Witch’s broom.
In a subtle bit of storytelling, Marvel’s crystal ball appears again, but not in the Wizard’s chamber. The Wicked Witch uses it to track the progress of the protagonists. Both Marvel and the Wizard seem to be benevolently incompetent, while the Wicked Witch is Dorothy’s version of Miss Gulch, who abuses her political power. However, the bridge between the two characters is the crystal ball: Is Professor Marvel, the social outsider, really that different from Miss Gulch?
Perhaps the most famous line associated with the Wizard, one of the most famous lines in the film, comes when Dorothy’s dog Toto reveals that the Wizard is just an ordinary man: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
Baum’s original book was a moralistic children’s fantasy. Its message is that we all carry within us the power to make the changes that we want. We talk ourselves out of that belief through our own insecurities. A heart, a head, courage, and a way home: We cannot look to others to find these things. We all have them already.
In 1939, that was an important story for a culture emerging from perhaps the worst economic collapse in the country’s history: To make America great again, we need everyone to find their own inner strength, and to build on that strength.
MGM, though, added a sociopolitical message of their own: Don’t look for heroes. Marvel and Gulch, the outsider and the insider, are not so different. They both operate on their own best interests first. The Wizard promises to bring Dorothy home, but when he has to choose between his own freedom and honoring that promise, he chooses his own freedom.
This year’s Presidential election resembles that contrast. Hillary Clinton is Miss Gulch, seen by her detractors as a wicked witch who has an army of minions to do her bidding. In the real world, she’s a somewhat unpleasant representative of the status quo. Donald Trump is Professor Marvel, seen by his detractors as a pompous blowhard who is more inept than powerful. In the real world, he makes grand promises of change, but it’s not clear how those will happen.
And tomorrow, with the Electoral College votes, some people are holding out for a promise that Glinda the Good will save the day with a high-pitched laugh and a wave of her magic wand.
MGM knows, though: While the Wizard, the Wicked Witch, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tinman all have equivalents in Kansas, Glinda the Good doesn’t. She doesn’t exist in the real world.
She is us. She is the power in each of us to change our own world.
The election season is over for another year and a half. We don’t have time to go back to sleep and wait for that cycle. We have to stop relying on elections to make us aware, and stop relying on politicians to do what needs to be done.
Now is the time for all people of conscience to come to the aid of our society. Let us join together and stop dreaming of a world where magicians and witches control our destinies. Regardless of what happens in Washington, DC, in the next few months, we must continue to work towards equity, civility, and fairness.
Photo credit: IMDB