i'd wondered about whether the baum book was an analogy for something, this answers my q's
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of the world's best-loved fairytales. As Judy Garland's famous film nears its 70th birthday, how much do its followers know about the story's use as an economic parable?
Dorothy in Kansas conjures up nostalgic thoughts of childhood Christmases hiding behind the sofa from the Wicked Witch of the West. Or those flying monkeys.
It's unlikely its young fans will have been thinking about deflation and monetary policy. The 1939 film is the most famous evocation of the story
But the story has underlying economic and political references that make it a popular tool for teaching university and high school students - mainly in the United States but also in the UK - about the economic depression of the late 19th Century.
At a time when some economists fear an onset of deflation, and economic certainties melt away like a drenched wicked witch, what can be learnt from Oz?
The 1939 film starring a young Judy Garland was based on Lyman Frank Baum's book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. It told of an orphaned Kansas girl swept by a tornado into a fantastical world, but who wants to return home to her aunt and uncle.
Thinking the great Wizard of Oz can grant her wish, she sets out to meet him with her beloved dog, Toto, joined by a scarecrow, a tin woodman and a lion.
Baum published the book in 1900, just after the US emerged from a period of deflation and depression. Prices had fallen by about 22% over the previous 16 years, causing huge debt.
Farmers were among those badly affected, and the Populist political party was set up to represent their interests and those of industrial labourers.
The US was then operating on the gold standard - a monetary system which valued the dollar according to the quantity of gold. The Populists wanted silver, along with gold, to be used for money. This would have increased the US money supply, raised price levels and reduced farmers' debt burdens.
Yellow brick code
In 1964, high school teacher Henry Littlefield wrote an article outlining the notion of an underlying allegory in Baum's book. He said it offered a "gentle and friendly" critique of Populist thinking, and the story could be used to illuminate the late 19th Century to students.
Since its publication, teachers have used this take on the tale to help classes understand the issues of the era. SYMBOLISM OF CHARACTERS Dorothy: Everyman AmericanScarecrow: FarmerTin Woodman: Industrial workerLion: William Jennings Bryan, politician who backed silver causeWizard of Oz: US presidents of late 19th CenturyWicked Witch: A malign Nature, destroyed by the farmers' most precious commodity, water. Or simply the American WestWinged Monkeys: Native Americans or Chinese railroad workers, exploited by WestOz: An abbreviation of 'ounce' or, as Baum claimed, taken from the O-Z of a filing cabinet?Emerald City: Greenback paper money, exposed as fraudMunchkins: Ordinary citizens
And Littlefield's theory has been hotly debated. He believed the characters could represent the personalities and themes of the late 1800s,with Dorothy embodying the everyman American spirit.
US political historian Quentin Taylor, who supports this interpretation, says: "There are too many instances of parallels with the political events of the time.
"The Tin Woodman represents the industrial worker, the Scarecrow is the farmer and the Cowardly Lion is William Jennings Bryan."
Bryan was a Democratic presidential candidate who supported the silver cause. But he failed to win votes from eastern workers and lost the 1896 election. In the same way, the Lion's claws are nearly blunted by the Woodman's metallic shell.
The Wicked Witch of the West is associated with a variety of controversial personalities, chief among them the industrialist Mark Hanna, campaign manager to President William McKinley.
In this scenario, the yellow brick road symbolises the gold standard, the Emerald City becomes Washington DC and the Great Wizard characterises the president - and he is exposed as being less than truthful.
Off to see the President
Yet none can help Dorothy return home. Eventually she discovers that her silver shoes (changed to ruby for the film) have the power to take her back to Kansas. The allegory is still taught in schools
The possible implication is that gold alone cannot be the solution for the problems facing the average citizen. But Professor Taylor thinks it's unlikely the book took sides. Instead he says it was merely explaining the story of the Populist movement, some of whom marched on Washington DC in 1894 to demand government improve their plight.
Their demand for the use of silver with the gold standard was not met, although within a few years, inflation returned after discoveries of gold in South Africa and other parts of the world.
In Baum's story, Dorothy loses her silver slippers in the desert before she reaches home - a possible reflection of the decline of the silver cause after 1896.
But not everyone believes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz includes any hidden meanings.
"Nobody ever suggested it until 1964," says Bradley Hansen, who is a professor of economics at the University of Mary Washington.
"There's no solid evidence that Baum had written it as a monetary allegory," he adds. "While it may have grabbed students' interests, it doesn't really teach them anything about the gold standard and, in particular, the debate about the gold standard."
Professor Hansen thinks the author was just trying to create a new kind of fairytale, the "Harry Potter of its time". There's no solid evidence that Baum had written it as a monetary allegory
Bradley Hansen, economics professor
Soon after publication, Baum adapted his book into a stage musical for adults which opened in 1902. Ranjit Dighe, who wrote The Historian's Wizard of Oz, says it poked fun at Theodore Roosevelt and the Populists, but Baum was playing for laughs, like Jay Leno.
Little can be learnt from Baum about the modern economic crisis, says Professor Taylor, although in both instances people have demanded more government action.
The Bank of England has - as the Populists more than 100 years ago demanded - provided a boost to the monetary supply, although the term "quantitative easing" was probably little known in the 1890s. And ultimately the US defeated deflation by creating money from new discoveries of gold abroad.
L Frank Baum died before the debates over his true intent had started. But in the book's introduction, he stated that he was only writing to please children.
He was no doubt unaware of its future appeal to economics students
― Henry Frog (Frogman Henry), Tuesday, 17 March 2009 19:21 (4 years ago) Permalink
also he wrote it about a pink floyd album
― if the robot is quicker, I'll allow it to service me. (jjjusten), Tuesday, 17 March 2009 19:22 (4 years ago) Permalink
Who knew William Jennings Bryan endorsed civil rights for gay Americans?
― •--• --- --- •--• (Pleasant Plains), Tuesday, 17 March 2009 19:27 (4 years ago) Permalink
― Nate Carson, Tuesday, 17 March 2009 20:19 (4 years ago) Permalink
there's no doubt oz has some low-flying political satire (moreso in the second book, which features an "army of suffragettes" taking over the emerald city!), but the "oz = populism" thing was made up by the professor mentioned in the article as a way to teach his students the history of populism, not to explain a hidden meaning in the baum book.
― (The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Tuesday, 17 March 2009 22:04 (4 years ago) Permalink
First favorite movie (before Star Wars came along), first movie I owned, and still up there for me:
― Pete Scholtes, Tuesday, 17 March 2009 23:16 (4 years ago) Permalink
Five surviving Munchkins attending NY Film Fest screening tomorrow.
― A Patch on Blazing Saddles (Dr Morbius), Saturday, 26 September 2009 01:09 (3 years ago) Permalink
I was hoping they'd be showing it here in Sacramento with that 'Fantom Events' thing they're doing, but no such luck. Bummer.
― VegemiteGrrrl, Saturday, 26 September 2009 02:19 (3 years ago) Permalink
I mean Fathom. Fantom. Whatever.
― VegemiteGrrrl, Saturday, 26 September 2009 02:20 (3 years ago) Permalink
Wait. Turns out they DID show it in Sacramento...because it screened 2 days ago. Curses.
― VegemiteGrrrl, Saturday, 26 September 2009 02:21 (3 years ago) Permalink
My friend was at that screening and saw the munchkins!
"Can die happy. Saw munchkins from the orginal Wizard of Oz movie tonight. Woah!"
― *:--☆--:*:--☆:*:--☆--:*:--☆--: (ENBB), Saturday, 26 September 2009 03:57 (3 years ago) Permalink
Musta been a press preview? it's not til 11am.
I think the coroner is one of them?
― A Patch on Blazing Saddles (Dr Morbius), Saturday, 26 September 2009 04:19 (3 years ago) Permalink
Ahhhh - just checked. It was some 70th anniversary function at Tavern on the Green last night.
― *:--☆--:*:--☆:*:--☆--:*:--☆--: (ENBB), Saturday, 26 September 2009 04:23 (3 years ago) Permalink
The coroner? The guy who sings "As coroner I must aver/I've thoroughly examined her"? That guy is great!
― Garnet Memes (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 27 September 2009 22:46 (3 years ago) Permalink
yes, he's still kickin'
― A Patch on Blazing Saddles (Dr Morbius), Monday, 28 September 2009 02:54 (3 years ago) Permalink
i always wondered about this. i remember seeing it every year with my dad. like, wondering when it would be on TV. good times.
― oops i accidentally made it personal (surm), Thursday, 26 November 2009 03:06 (3 years ago) Permalink
outdoor big-screen viewing in temple bar tonight - we won free tickets for a couch up front.
― pet tommy & the barkhaters (darraghmac), Thursday, 10 May 2012 17:04 (1 year ago) Permalink
in my mind this always aired on Easter but it looks like that was only 1978, but I certainly remember that showing.
― akm, Thursday, 10 May 2012 18:32 (1 year ago) Permalink