People would be very surprised to hear that “The Wizard of Oz” was written as a political allegory and was based on real people including presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, Williams Jennings Bryan, a former North Dakota senator and even the spirit of Sitting Bull. Published in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, the illustrated children’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” was published when there was a strong populist movement, similar to the recent Tea Party Movement and the rise of Trumpism.
We thought we might be able to update the many metaphors in the original “Wizard of Oz” story to fancily illuminate the election of 2020 and the Trump versus Biden race. It just seems that a story with flying monkeys, a wicked witch and a fake wizard fits somewhere in this year of natural disasters, a pandemic and cyber attacks on the truth.
Let’s update the casting. What current candidates or political figures should we cast as the Scarecrow who needs a brain, or the Tin Woodman without a heart, or the Cowardly Lion, bereft of courage? Is there a modern day Dorothy who proclaims “we’re not in Kansas anymore?” We need players for both the good witch Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West who rides a broom and tries to steal Dorothy’s ruby slippers (which were silver in the original novel.)
Donald Trump is typecast to play the Wizard, a reality star hiding behind a curtain and pretending to have great magic powers of a wizard. He gets away with his charade until the little dog Toto pulls back the curtain to show that “Oz, the Great and Terrible” is really a bully of a man, propped up by hidden levers (Tweets) and Munchkins (biddable admirers.) Maybe journalist Bob Woodward could play Toto.
Little Dorothy endures plenty during her adventures to the Emerald City along the yellow brick road and somewhere over the rainbow. But she didn’t have to put up with 15 months of bickering political campaigning, an impeachment, a stagnated U.S. Senate and late season presidential debates that even flying monkeys would be embarrassed to attend. Dorothy had a cyclone to deal with, but we’ve had multiple wildfires and now we have to vote during a pandemic that will be with us well into next year. We’d probably trade all that for even the most wicked of wicked witches. (Well, it is Halloween time.)
In Baum’s original story his trio of Dorothy’s companions were metaphors for various factions of the 1900 populist movement including farmers lacking formal educations, non-unionized industry workers and self-serving faux populist leaders. When the Scarecrow asks for a brain, Oz tells him he doesn’t need one. For what could pass as commentary on our 2020 election, Oz says, “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t you think?”
The Tin Woodsman wants a heart. “I shall take a heart, for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.” Dorothy had a single Cowardly Lion. We have hundreds of them. They’re called congressmen and senators. We need Dorothy to smack our representatives on the nose like she did in the movie. She made the Cowardly Lion cry.
“You’re right, I am a coward. I even scare myself,” he whimpered. Who comes to mind? Maybe someone we just watched during the recent Supreme Court nomination hearings, aging men demonstrating a lack of courage to honor the will of the people and our Constitution.
Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” had a happy ending, with Dorothy waking up back in Kansas after an apparent cyclone. She reunites with her parents and finds Toto who she thought was lost. After all the turmoil, flights over the rainbow, witch attacks and unrecognizable lands, Dorothy is back where she started at the beginning of Baum’s story. It’d be lucky for us, if we can get back to where we started, too, after this Oz-like “great and terrible” year.