Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Living In Oz (Part 1): I Am the Wizard, Koo Koo Ka Choo

The Act We Act - Sugar (mp3)
Whole New You - Shawn Colvin (mp3)

One of life's joys, if you're an English or psychology geek, is finding that your understanding of something does a 180-degree turnaround, offering you an entirely new perspective, allowing you to spend more time looking at, considering, obsessing over something that otherwise would simply sit in the attic of your mind, gathering dust.

I recently had such experiences regarding The Wizard of Oz and The Family Man. With the first, not the movie so much as the character. With the second, not so much the character as the movie. Let's go with the character first.

Before, the revelation of mousy magician Oscar Zoroaster Diggs (thanks Wikipedia!) behind the curtain was deliciously humiliating. I thought we were meant to mock him, to laugh at him. He's using the fire and the big scary green face and the special effects to intimidate and scare and control. Shame on him! How pathetic! What fun to see him panicked, begging them to "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" The Witch was evil; the Wizard was a con artist. Both were equally deplorable.

For some reason, I now see him as something of a kindred spirit. In the entire cast, perhaps he's more universally human than any other character. *

While it might be the more natural thing to try and identify with one of Dorothy's fellow journeymen -- "yes, I too need a brain!" -- the truth for most adults is that we're most like the Wizard because of the way his life has unfolded. In a way, Oscar Diggs found himself in the same position as Dorothy, a stranger in a strange land. But rather than being the helpless doe-eyed naif who needs good witches and a bunch o' flawed males to help her get home, he just landed and adapted. He created this shell that allowed him to survive and thrive in a place that wasn't his natural environment.

We all create these personae, false fronts meant to simplify our complicated and confusing selves into packages the world beyond our bodies can better digest. It's not lying, exactly. Oftentimes these personae are very much parts of us, but they're more like cartoon versions, more two-dimensional than we really are.

Around my girls, I'm Daddy. Daddy does his best to never let his daughters see the guy who curses with verve and looks for double-entendres in everyday conversation more desperately than Michael at Dunder Mifflin. At work, I'm trying harder -- although frequently failing -- to be Mature Billy, the person who takes serious things seriously and whose observations and ideas deserve serious consideration in return. In New Orleans I'm Husband-on-a-Binge Billy, overwhelmed by a spirit of restlessness, gulping a few too many Hand Grenades and flirting pathetically (thus, harmlessly) with women of all ages.

It's not just me. One of our school's administrators has, during the work day, become a caricature of himself. He has become this persona identified only by his initials and Robert E. Lee quotes about honor. He's just a gruff and intimidating presence who only smiles out of the farthest corner of his mouth and speaks only in self-derived catch phrases... but always with this air of concern that he actually cares about the students. While this more cartoonish version might be occasionally grating to witness for certain adults, it's a very useful and effective persona that works very well on the students. Revealing too much of his soft underbelly to the teen collective would be letting them behind that curtain where they don't belong and aren't invited.

Don't we all do this?

In the tale, Oscar adapts so well to Oz that he ends up trapped. The persona he creates -- The Wizard -- is so essential in Oz that he finds himself either enraptured by their need of him or compelled to fill that gap. A wildly successful co-dependent, if you will. Yet, all along, he knows it's not really his home. Although he fights hard to keep Dorothy et al from revealing his deception, once discovered, he's more than ready to get the fuck outta Dodge. He hands the reins to Scarecrow, grabs the girl, hops in his balloon and heads for the hills. He knows it's time he left that little fantasy world and went back to the real one.


Oscar Diggs leaves because he already has a home. It might be black and white, a little dull. He might even be more of a nobody. But it's where he belongs. It's where he was meant to be. And at some point, he's gotta go back to that life and live it. He'll manage to find happiness and joy in it, even if, on occasion, he yearns for those Technicolor Panavision days of Oz.

Some might consider this use of personae dishonest. Yet rare is the soul who, if we're being truthful, manages to live wholly without deception. We just call it by different, kinder-sounding names.

Maybe when The Wizard departs Oz, he believes he will shed those facades. Maybe the all that fakery has wearied him and he longs to ditch the special effects. And in a way he will. But what he'll discover -- what we all discover -- is that returning home will require a new set of characters, all crafted to help the world understand him, and to help him manage the world.

* -- This could be a "Chester Drawer" moment for me. That is, this could be obvious for most people, but it took me a pathetically long time to realize it, just like I was in my 20s before I discovered they are called "chest of drawers."

"The Act We Act" is from Copper Blue, one of the best 20 albums of the '90s."Whole New You" is from an album of the same name, one of her weaker overall works. Both are on iTunes or Amazon.com's mp3 site.

5 comments:

Daytimerush said...

"Oscar Diggs leaves because he already has a home. It might be black and white, a little dull. He might even be more of a nobody. But it's where he belongs. It's where he was meant to be. And at some point, he's gotta go back to that life and live it. He'll manage to find happiness and joy in it, even if, on occasion, he yearns for those Technicolor Panavision days of Oz."

Well put...

John said...

I'm torn on that one; settling for a black and white world when you know that there's Technicolor out there seems to me a little sad. Thoreau wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desparation" and while I like the celebration of the ordinary and the taking pleasure in the domestic, sometimes it makes me wonder if we're not kidding ourselves when we say that Kansas is as good as it gets.

Daytimerush said...

Agreed, but that is where you "manage to find happiness and joy in it". Sometimes you have to settle.

Billy said...

The other catch is that you risk constantly searching for Oz. Or Narnia. Or El Dorado. Or whatever you want to call fanciful places that exist wonderfully in brief dreams but never can quite hold over the long haul.

I'm not saying we're all screwed either way; I'm saying both have their alluring aspects, and both have their pitfalls. And wherever we are, we gotta keep our personae at the ready.

troutking said...

Bob Dylan said "He that ain't busy bein' born is busy dyin'." I generally like that sentiment, and I think he has lived that. But...Bob doesn't strike as a particularly happy person...

In any case, I like this entry, Billy. I hadn't put that much thought into the movie, except when trying to synch up it up to Dark Side of the Moon.