Hot air and wonderful wizards
We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
We hear he is a whiz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was.
If ever, oh ever a wiz there was, the Wizard of Oz is one because,
Because, because, because, because, because,
— Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
L. Frank Baum’s little book written for little people has earned a special place in the hearts of young and old the world over. Filmed in Hollywood, scored by the song writing team of Arlen and Harburg, it had an all-star cast that included Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Woodsman, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Frank Morgan as the Wizard, and Toto as him or herself (the script is not clear as to which). The film is an iconic piece of Americana from what now seems a long away time and place, somewhere over the rainbow. They don’t make movies like this anymore.
Baum’s story is sheer fantasy, of course. Who, for example, would ever believe that a little girl and her little dog would be lifted up by a tornado from black and white Kansas, and then deposited unharmed in a technicolor Land of Oz? Or that Dorothy would meet up, on the Yellow Brick Road, with a Scarecrow wanting a brain, a Tin Woodsman a heart, and a Cowardly Lion courage? Dorothy’s wish is to be returned home to Aunty Em in Kansas. (Little girls had simpler wants then. The I-phone and breast implants were yet to be marketed.)
After many adventures, Dorothy and her friends arrive at the Emerald City, home of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. There they discover that the Wizard is not all-powerful at all. He is a fraud constructed out of whole cloth by a clever PR team. Hidden behind a screen, he uses an amplifier to deliver booming crib notes prepared by others. (Teleprompters also were not available in those days.)
I’ll now try to edit and put in context with modern times the way the story ends:
Let us say that Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion represent low-information voters, before circumstances and the Fox News channel wises them up. Let us further stipulate that the Land of Oz is America, the Emerald City Washington, and the Wizard President of the United States. For the sake of argument, we’ll let Toto be Toto. (I’m no wizard, but I know better than to tick off a bunch of dog-lovers.)
Now in the original story, the Wizard gives the Scarecrow a diploma, attesting that he has a brain. College graduates today are also given diplomas, though many of these diplomas are in fields where there are no jobs whatsoever, and thus scarcely worth the paper (once upon a time it was sheepskin) the diplomas are printed on. All but a relatively few graduates today also have been given huge student loans, loans they would have great difficulty paying back even if they were lucky enough to find a job — any job.
The Wizard gives the Tin Woodsman a mechanical heart that ticks like a clock, and in all probability is a clock, a cheap one. The Tin Woodsman seems perfectly happy with it, which suggests that he might also have asked for a brain — a real one. The Cowardly Lion receives a medal, meant to demonstrate he is not cowardly, but heroic. In today’s America, the words “hero” and “victim” are often interpreted as meaning the same thing. Someone can be and often is called heroic simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Think of being shot by some loon with a sawed-off shotgun while drinking a cup of coffee in the company cafeteria. Sometimes such unfortunates are given military style sendoffs attended by presidents, as true heroes sometimes, but not always, are.
Now for Dorothy’s wish. The Wizard offers to fly her back to Kansas in his hot air balloon. (It turns out he is from Kansas, too — which raises the question why he would want to give up his Emerald City gig.) Just before final boarding call, though, Toto runs off chasing a cat. Dorothy runs after him and misses her ride. But not to worry. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, tells her to renew her wish, click the heels of her ruby slippers three times, and close her eyes. Voila! Dorothy wakes up back in Kansas. End of story.
There are two nice touches in the original script that fit perfectly into Washington reality today. The hot air balloon is one. There is enough hot air generated in Washington every day to float a whole armada of hot air balloons. The second is the bit about clicking heels, closing your eyes and everything turning out the way you wish it would. Sort of like “we have to pass this bill so we can find out what’s in it.” Leaps of faith. Hope and change. These sorts of things.
I thought a bit about whom to cast in my update of the Wizard of Oz, but I decided not to do so. I didn’t want this piece to end political.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.