We made a warm and robust fire (ok, I flipped the switch for the gas fireplace) – uncorked a bottle of wine, grabbed our Hudson Bay blanket and got comfortable to watch one of our favourites – "The Wizard of Oz". Yet, these days, even a family movie we’ve seen a hundred times seems to carry a political message.
Sue loves everything about that movie – save for the flying monkeys – they scare the bejesus out of her.
"The Wizard of Oz" was released as the great depression was coming to an end and fear of another worldwide conflict was rising. At the 1939 Academy Awards, it won 2 Oscars (both for music), while Gone with the Wind won best picture. It’s a classic, in part, because nearly 80 years after its release, it has aged so well and its messages remain poignant. Imdb.com and rottentomatoes.com, (big-time influencers of our viewing choices), give it an 8.1 and 99% respectively.
Novelist Sir Salman Rushdie is a fan of the movie. In his essay, named after the film, he argues its driving force is the inadequacy of adults. They fail to keep Dorothy safe. They fail to keep Toto safe. The intimidating Wizard is revealed as a small man of harmless bluster. It’s the weaknesses of adults that force children to grow up and control their destinies.
In a movie full of compelling characters, it’s the scarecrow (a straw man – or a weak opposition argument set up only to be easily confuted) that I find the most a propos for our troubled times. Like his two cohorts, he feels he is limited by a single, glaring weakness.
“With the thoughts that you'll be thinkin'
You could be another Lincoln,
If you only had a brain…”
He is Dorothy’s first and most loyal friend and proof that goodness and honesty live on an independent axis from brains. In spite of his lack of gray matter, though, he does possess a certain barnyard wisdom.
“How do you talk if you don't have a brain?” Dorothy asks him.
“Well, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they?”
Pundits have coined the term “post-truth” to describe our current political environment. A generation of spin has spun into bald-faced lies. The new president didn’t create the post-truth world – but he may be the first to shamelessly embrace it. He certainly doesn’t talk like a politician. His supporters, tired of all the double-speak, appreciate what they see as straight talk.
But facts do matter. Words matter. And reasoned, fallacy-free arguments matter.
The principles that govern coherent and constructive debate are tossed aside at our peril. When these are lost – the rules become brutal and simple. Force wins every debate – no matter logic or morality. Words morph into nothing more than weapons – to be used according to their impact in the moment – regardless if they accurately portray their adversary, are based on facts or contradict the ones last used.
Whatever our political stripe, we must preserve the principles of reasoned debate – with greater urgency than any other position.
We need to be adults about this. We owe it to our children – to not let these weaknesses undermine the fabric of our society or else the flying monkeys will take over.
Ted Markle, a media industry veteran of more than 30 years, is a keen observer of the humorous side of the human situation. He appears in this space every Monday. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. – Twitter : @tedmarkle