Sunday, September 9, 2007

Neuroses of Oz


I hold a special place in my heart for The Wizard of Oz. In my childhood it came on television about once a year and that night was always special in my household. I became gradually able to watch it all the way through without escaping to the safety of the kitchen at the sight of the flying monkeys or the apple-throwing trees.

Now that own a copy on DVD I occasionally watch a scene or two just to let it wash over me like a healing balm. Sometimes I rewind a single snippet over and over again. A couple of weeks ago I became completely enamored of Dorothy's earnest question to the Scarecrow: "what would you do with a brain if you had one", much to the rapid annoyance of my family and friends. By the way, that question has a wonderfully crisp triplet cadence that could be played on a drum or trumpet:

What-would-you
Do-with-a
Brain-if-you
HAD one?
But there are a couple of quotes from the film that always mess me up. Both are parts of the movie's essential philosophical core message. At first I didn't pay much attention to them because they felt mindlessly comforting, but once I began to more truly listen I came to the conclusion that the first is just plain wrong while the second makes absolutely no sense.

The first occurs when the Wizard gives the Tin Man a clock in the shape of a heart and pronounces:
And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.
This is outright balderdash and could be the creed of codependency: it doesn't matter how much you love others, but only that you do whatever you can to make a lot of people love you. No wonder I grew up so externally directed!

The second is when Dorothy is learning that she possesses the power to return to Kansas by simply clicking her heels. When the Scarecrow asks the lesson she has learned on her adventure she replies:
If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with!
What does this mean? WHAT! DOES! THIS! MEAN?! The more I try to parse it out the more confused I become. You can't lose something you never had? If you don't have something then you should never try to look for it? Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose?

Put them together and the message seems to be: don't try to make your life better, just focus on making other people love you. Go down this yellow brick road far enough and we are surely not in Kansas anymore. We're either sitting in a therapist's office or hiding out in a battered women's shelter. You might as well replace the soundtrack with the song "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction:
Jane says
"I've never been in love,
I don't know what it is."
She only knows if someone wants her.
"I want them if they want me.
I only know they want me!"
Having said all that, I finally grew to love and sometimes even envy the flying monkeys. Not only do I want one or two to carry out my evil bidding ("Monkey! Go pick up my dry cleaning!") Sometimes I secretly want to be one.

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