beings have seen The Wizard of Oz...
There can be no doubt of the significance of this one movie
and its impact on our lives. If you care about the future, set your V-chip
to block Oz.
more than any other film or television program,
more than have read any work of literature,
more than have studied all the religious scriptures ever
more than have been propagandized by all the political tracts
of the world.
In the film version, The Wizard of Oz teaches three
Accompanied by song and dance, these principles are expressed
forcibly in dialogue.
that education is irrelevant,
that virtue is not its own reward, and
that heroism is a hollow joke.
Be advised, the novel by L. Frank Baum, first published
in 1900, gently suggested opposite values:
Not many children have read the original, however. But hundreds
of millions have been influenced, often repeatedly, by the film version.
Permit me to highlight the variances...
that knowledge rewards the application of mental effort,
that compassion is worth the price of caring, and
that courage means conquering fear.
wanted Oz to give him a brain. In Chapter XV of Baum's novel, Toto unmasks
Oz, and Dorothy renames him "The Great and Terrible Humbug."
But Scarecrow gets his wish -- pins and needles mixed with bran to replace
cerebral straw. Later he draws a distinction between intelligence and education
by saying, "When I get used to my brains I shall know everything."
In the movie, as nearly every inhabitant of the planet
will recall, Oz asserts that back where he came from, people function well
enough with no more brains than Scarecrow's, but they have something he
does not have -- a diploma. Scarecrow clutches his rolled-up parchment
and promptly recites the Pythagorus Theorem (incorrectly, truth be known).
So much for classrooms and teachers, textbooks and homework.
Tin Woodman wanted
a heart. In Baum's novel, the de-throned Oz tin-snips a hole in his chest
and installs a piece of silk stuffed with sawdust. Tin Woodman thanks Oz
for his kindness and vows to "bear all the unhappiness without a murmur,"
giving compassion a solemn nobility.
The screen version allows Oz a smirk and the observation
that back where he came from, people have no more heart than Tin Woodman,
but they have something he does not have -- a testimonial. Thus, Albert
Schweitzer and Mother Theresa lacked true compassion -- until their good
works were recognized by the Nobel Committee.
wanted courage. Baum's bogus -- but sagacious -- Oz pretends to take care
of that with a foul tasting liquid, having earlier given valor its discretionary
part, "True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid."
The movie belittles the bravery of every person who has
been called upon to accept mortal risk. The Hollywood Oz declares that
back where he came from, people get by with no more courage than what Cowardly
Lion has, but they have something he does not have -- a medal. That's cynicism
not satire. And more destructive than all the pyrotechnics and vulgarities
in R-rated blockbusters.
of The Wizard of Oz will doubtless begin with the lamest of arguments:
It's only a movie.
The Sermon on the Mount was only a speech.
That mere children constitute its audience hardly needs rejoinder.
All teachers, all members of congress, all business leaders
of today were once children, and all of them have more than once heard
the call to "follow the yellow-brick road."
The film emphatically develops the character of Oz as a phony,
first in Kansas (as a snake-oil merchant) and later in Dorothy's hallucinations
brought on by head-trauma.
Phony and felonious. Talk about V-chip violence! The
previous sentence has an exclamation point for good reason:
Oz, as Technicolor Wizard, orders Dorothy and her friends
assassinate his rival, The Wicked Witch of the West. Which they reluctantly
set about to do -- and succeed, albeit inadvertently. Such is the moral
price paid for diploma, testimonial, and medal.
will protest that kids are sophisticated: That children see...
That's curious. The characters repeatedly deny these qualities
in themselves, and Dorothy is heard to say, "I like you just the way you
are" (brainless, heartless, and gutless).
Scarecrow as smart,
Tin Woodman as kind, and
Cowardly Lion as brave.
As an adult, I wonder why Dorothy's three companions
-- ostensibly bright, sensitive, and assertive -- collaborated in a felony
in order to qualify for the personal attributes they so earnestly seek.
Where do children acquire their critical thinking skills?
If, by any chance, values learned in The Emerald City are not discarded
but reinforced along the way, then how confidently do we predict that virtue
will ultimately prevail?
Does the maturing mind disparage cynicism or embrace
to the The Great and Terrible Humbug, we have...
Back where I came from, people...
Scarecrow in graduate seminars and reactor control centers,
Tin Woodman in governmental institutions and corporate board
Cowardly Lion in military ranks and law enforcement.
However impossible to take, the best advice was given by
lack genuine credentials,
scoff at heroism, and
"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."