Chet Greason, Popcornucopia
Allegory is fun. Nothing beats seeing old stories in a new, mind-blowing light. Here’s one of my favourite allegorical film interpretations that I originally read in a Bathroom Reader and have been adding to over the years.
L.Frank Baum, the guy who wrote the Oz books that the Wizard of Oz film is based upon, was a noted Populist. Populism was a political movement that gained notoriety during the late 19th century that championed the working class. One of their primary goals was the devaluation of the American dollar. At the time, the government kept their currency to a gold standard, hoarding gold in places like Fort Knox. Each dollar note stood for a chip off a gold bar somewhere. By devaluing to a silver standard, as silver was more abundant than gold, there would be more money to go around for the little guy, although it would be worth less. (Incidentally, FDR did away with the gold standard during WWII and introduced a system based on I.O.U.’s, so now those dollar bills represent, essentially, jack.)
The Populists were one of the most successful third parties in American history, and even succeeded in having populist governors in two states, one of which was, you guessed it, Kansas.
Enter Dorothy, a notably female protagonist (Baum was also a suffragette). She leaves the Populist hotbed of Kansas and gets blown away to Oz. Oz, which is shorthand for ounce, is how we measure gold, ergo, Dorothy lands in the land of the gold (standard). She inadvertently kills the Wicked Witch of the East, or the American East Coast, where the bankers and railroad tycoons were all located. By doing so, she frees the Munchkins (AKA the little people) from the tyranny from the east, and they send her off down the yellow brick road (note: gold bricks) to the Emerald City (Washington) to see the Wizard (The President).
Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, who represents the farmers, who needs a brain, or, rather, an education, and the knowledge of how to better position himself politically. She then meets the Tin Man (industry) who needs a heart. The industrial world, at this time, was tumultuous, with unions battling employers for fair wages, safe working conditions, and regular hours. Lastly, she meets the Cowardly Lion, who represents politicians whose roar is worse than their bite and who lack the courage to do what is difficult but right.
Before they reach the Emerald City, they fall under the sleep-inducing spell of a poppy field. Poppies are where we get opiates like heroin and opium. Opium addiction was the narcotic scourge of the 1890s. And how do they counteract the effects of a downer like opium? Why, an upper of course! Snow jolts them awake, or rather, white powder (cocaine was an over the counter cure-all at the time.)
The Wizard (or president) puts on a great deal of pomp and circumstance but, underneath it all, is just an old, silly white man. He says he can’t help them until they do something about the Wicked Witch of the West. At that time, the American West was experiencing crippling droughts known collectively as the Dust Bowl, which had a devastating effect on agriculture. Note that, in every confrontation the characters have with the witch, she always specifically threatens the Scarecrow with heat (fire). And how do they beat the Western Witch? They throw water on her.
The Wiz then takes off, leaving the Scarecrow in charge, and it turns out Dorothy’s ruby slippers will grant her ultimate wish. Why ruby? Because the makers of the film wanted some colour that was really going to pop. In the original books by Baum, the slippers were made of, wait for it…silver.
So the key to Dorothy’s happiness in the Land of Gold was silver, and she had the ability to use it the whole time.
And boom goes the dynamite.