The Hidden Subversive Messages of [MGM’s Screen Adaptation of] The Wizard of Oz

When I tried teaching The Wizard of Oz in a literature class, I was a little frustrated with myself that I couldn’t bring the class discussion much farther than “how this book is different from the movie” and lists of one-to-one symbolism (“the yellow brick road represents the gold standard,” or  ‘the scarecrow represents agriculture, the tin man represents industry, and the cowardly lion represents the military”).  Part of my trouble was that I taught it near the end of a course, as the book was published near the end of the time period we were studying (which ended before the Great War), but the movie is so clearly a product of 1930s culture that the movie details the students really wanted to talk about weren’t relevant to the 1800-1915 time period the syllabus was supposed to cover.

If I ever do teach this book again, I’ll do it in a context where I can also teach the movie. This article from the BBC goes a few steps beyond the Wikipedia page that summarizes the various surface-level correspondences that seemed to dominate the class discussions.

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Dorothy, and the Cowardly Lion approach Emerald City in this still from The Wizard of Oz[T]he Emerald City of Oz isn’t the turreted faux-medieval Ruritania where Snow White lives, nor is it the Istanbul-ish collection of domes and spires drawn by WW Denslow in the original book’s illustrations. Instead, it is a modernist mass of neon-striped skyscrapers – and, like almost everything else in the land of Oz, it is blatantly artificial. The film doesn’t send audiences over the rainbow to a mythical past, but to a garish parody of the noisy, industrialised present.

If The Wizard of Oz had come out in the patriotic 1940s or 1950s, it’s hard to imagine that this counter-cultural classic would have got away with making a flying monkey out of contemporary society. But Fleming and his team conjured up the most powerful of children’s movies: a twister that whirls us into a world of hardship and chaos, of useless leaders and their gullible followers, and then reminds us that it’s the very same world we were in already. —BBC