Sep 17, 2009

Fairytales, Finances, Faith, & Future

Jeffrey SeifBy Dr. Jeffrey L. Seif

L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an American classic that teaches us that though we’re often like the Tin Man or the Cowardly Lion, searching everywhere for what we imagine is missing, it’s been inside of us all along. Written at the turn of the 20th century, it was also an allegory of the financial crisis and spirited monetary debates of that era.

Jewish songwriters Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg added music to Baum’s book — like “Over the Rainbow,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” and “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead.” Arlen’s father was a music minister in a synagogue — a “cantor.” Harburg’s real name was Isidore Hochberg, Arlen’s was Chaim Arlook, too Jewish-sounding for the new world, apparently. Jewish producers Mervyn LeRoy and Arthur Freed made their contributions to the screen version, as did the Jewish studio head, Louis B. Mayer.

Baum, a Methodist, used the fairytale as a vehicle to communicate the contemporary message of Populism politics, when the Common Man (Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion) were battling Wall St. Financiers and Tycoons (the Wicked Witches of the East and West) over the monetary standard — the Gold Standard/Brick Road that takes you to the illusory power of the Wizard/President versus the Silver Standard/slippers that possess the magic to get you home to safety. (Hollywood changed the color of Dorothy’s slippers from silver to ruby to showcase the new Technicolor capabilities and thus ruined the allegory.) Oz is simply the abbreviation of “ounce” — 16 ounces of silver equaled one ounce of gold.

By means of the above, Baum and his Jewish silver screen colleagues took pains to remind struggling Americans that the little guy eventually wins!

I find the social, political, and economic connections interesting. However, I have more education and expertise in interpreting Bible classics than American literature and silver screen classics. From that perspective, I see America’s journeys through depressions in the late 1800s and 1930s, through revolutionary and civil wars, World Wars I and II, and other trying times as repeated demonstrations of God helping us come through it all.

I have faith in our future because of a God who says, “I’ll never fail you nor forsake you!” Because of Him, I believe we will rebound from our current troubles. To my way of thinking, the malignant financial forces at work will not necessarily destroy us. Instead, for me as with Dorothy, the troubling times provide a challenge to lock arms with friends and confront the powers in the Emerald City. I believe that we lions, scarecrows, and tin woodsmen would do well to come to terms with the times, find a Dorothy-like protagonist to help us recover our personal and spiritual equilibrium and, with faith in God, begin the journey home to soundness and security.

Related Links

The Wizard of Oz (1939 film) - Wikipedia
Christian Themes in THE WIZARD OF OZ - Richard M Riss
In the Footsteps of the Rabbi From Tarsus - Dr. Jeffrey L. Seif (Book)