Wonderful Wizards and Wicked Witches

Are you as wonderful as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or as wicked as the Wicked Witch of the West? Neither? Both? Wonderfully wicked and wickedly wonderful?

In the current-running musical, “Wicked,” the Wizard of Oz character explains his position, illustrating one way that humans are vulnerable to sliding down a path toward wickedness without quite knowing that we’re doing it – believing, in fact, that we remain, all the while, “wonderful.” The wizard sings:
I never asked for this or planned it in advance.
I was merely blown here by the winds of chance.
I never saw myself as a Solomon or Socrates.
I knew who I was, one of your dime-a-dozen mediocrates.
Then suddenly I'm here, respected, worshiped even,
Just because the folks in Oz needed someone to believe in.
Does it surprise you I got hooked and all too soon?
What can I say? I got carried away, and not just by balloon.
Wonderful: they called me wonderful.
So I said, wonderful, if you insist,
I will be wonderful,
and they said wonderful.
Believe me it's hard to resist
'cuz it feels wonderful.
They think I'm wonderful.
Hey, look who's wonderful: this corn-fed hick!
Who said it might be keen
To build a town of green
And a wonderful road of yellow brick!
We believe all sorts of things that aren't true.
We call it history!
A man's called a traitor, or liberator.
A rich man's a thief, or philanthropist.
Is one a crusader, or ruthless invader?
It's all in the label which is able to persist.
There are precious few at ease
with moral ambiguities
so we act as though they don't exist.
They call me wonderful
so I am.
In fact, it's so much who I am, it's part of my name!
The baby boom generation, which includes me, grew up on the Wizard of Oz movie – the 1939 MGM film starring Judy Garland. Starting in 1959, the year I was born, “The Wizard of Oz” was on TV once and only once every year for nearly thirty years. The annual telecast was a big occasion in many households, including mine.

It was always on a Sunday evening. The popcorn would be popped, and hot cocoa made with milk heated on the stovetop, and the whole family gathered around. Every year. Year after year through my childhood and into my young adulthood.

Twenty minutes into the film, it switches from the black-and-white of the Kansas scenes to the dazzling Technicolor of Oz. I was nine-years-old before our family got a color TV set. Before that, we were watching on a black-and-white set anyway, so the switch to color didn’t happen for us.

The film got into our consciousness:
"Somewhere over the rainbow."
"Follow the yellow-brick road."
"And your little dog, too."
"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

To this day, if you happen to list any three things where the items have two syllables, two syllables, and then one syllable, I’m going to have a strong impulse to chime, “oh, my.” Paper and pencils and pen – oh, my. Apples and raisins and grapes – oh, my. In my youngest years, it was a genuinely frightening movie. Dorothy in the dark woods worried about lions and tigers and bears, and my heart really did gasp along with her: "oh, my!"

Flying monkeys, and mean, powerful witches. The film so effectively penetrated the deepest insecurities of childhood -- and then reassured them – I think that’s why we were as excited to watch it for the 10th time as we were for the first or second.

As we boomers grew into adulthood, we had stored away some of film’s really good lessons. There’s no place like home. And you always have the power to go there. What you think you lack, you don’t lack at all. You’ve had the power all along to go where you wanted to go. It’s your shoes, which is to say, right where you’re standing, you’re home. We forget that. Come back to right here, right where you stand right now, in the shoes you’re now wearing, and you’re home.

That was a level of metaphor beyond the grasp of literal-minded childhood. Still, year after year we heard Dorothy wake up to the realization:
“If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
That slowly sunk in. What you want is right there with you. You can never lose it.

As we grew, my generation began ourselves to move out of the black-and-white moral simplicity of good and bad into a Technicolor world of moral ambiguity.

It didn’t occur to me as a child to wonder what would make person wicked, or evil? Or what makes people judge other people wicked? Or that maybe the fact that somebody is judging someone else to be wicked, bad, evil says more about the person passing the judgment that it does about the object of their disapproval. As the wizard sings in the musical, "Wicked,"
"There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist.”
We act as though there were a clear line between the wicked people and the wonderful people, the evil people and the virtuous people. Maybe the pretense of moral clarity is itself the source of evil.

* * *
This is part 1 of 4 of "Wicked."
Next: Part 2: "Drawing the Line"

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