Saturday, December 01, 2007

Random Observations and Trivial Events


I was reading an article in the Nov. 30, 2007, edition of the New York Times, a review of the new SciFi Network miniseries "Tin Man," described as a modern-day "high-tech refashioning" of L. Frank Baum's book The Wizard of Oz. About midway into the article, I ran across this paragraph:
Baum said that he sought simply to produce a modern fairy tale, but his symbolism was hardly subtle. The novel came to be understood as an allegory for debates about turn-of-the-century monetary policy stemming from outrage over the subjugation of agricultural interests to the imperialism of bankers on the East Coast. (In the book, unlike in the 1939 film, Dorothy's shoes are made of silver, not rubies. The notion of silver shoes ambling on a yellow brick road is thought to stand for Baum's advocacy of bimetallism, a shift from the gold standard that would have given farmers access to cheaper money).
At first I though the writer of the piece was joking, but then I realized he was dead serious. Do you mean that L. Frank Baum sat down and dreamed up Dorothy and Toto and tornadoes and munchkins and flying monkeys because his heart was aching to cry out about bimetallism?

Maybe this is true, but it only served to remind me of all those cruel, horrific English literature classes I endured in high school and college where every seemingly straightforward sentence had to be analyzed for its "deeper meaning." The old man in the sea wasn't really after a fish, he was after fame, or youth, or whatever the heck that astronaut in 2001 was looking for. I was asked to believe that authors NEVER wrote simply because they wanted to tell a good story, or wanted to make a pile of money and become famous. They always fashioned some piece of fiction as just a tricky smokescreen to hide their real messages about the alienation of man, the search for significance and their own repressed sexual desires.

Speaking of sex, I once made the mistake of taking an English class in college which combined study of Shakespeare with a study of Freud (I would kill two bards -- I mean birds -- with one stone, I thought). Boy, talk about digging up innuendo and hidden messages. All things in the text that were pointed or straight (like swords, castle towers or trees) were supposedly "male symbols," while all things rounded, or at least not pointed (like pillows, bowls and heads of cabbage) were "female symbols." Everything any character did in any Shakespeare play, according to this professor, had to do in some way with S-E-X. Sheesh, what a load of psychobabbling rubbish. I felt both angry and slimy after each class, and I considered thwacking my professsor on his rounded head with my Bic pen to relieve my frustration, but I was afraid he would interpret this act as some sort of a bisexual assault, or possibly an attempt at conception.


I think the feeling of being so busy as to be almost overwhelmed is a universal one in today's world. I guess we're just on the same wavelength, or at the same place in our lives, but If I was ever forced to accuse someone of sneaking into my brain and stealing my own thoughts about the issue, it would be Rod Dreher in this spot-on post on his Crunchy Con blog.


Kate said...

Despite being a bit of a bibliovore, I avoided lit classes in college. I told friends I was afraid that if I studied literature, I would never be able to enjoy it again.

So I took history instead. :-) All the fun of having some historical perspective on my books and their authors, none of the drag of being programmed to look for hidden messages.

Muley said...

Sadly, I fear that English classes are even more screwed up these days, what with all the need to get politically correct. And history, I'm afraid, often gets re-written as well, as there is the current trend against spening much time talking about the accomplishments of "dead imperialist white guys" and the like.

J. L. Bell said...

The NY Times has corrected that review you quoted. It now acknowledges that there's no evidence whatsoever that Baum supported bimetallism, much less that he wrote The Wizard of Oz around the idea.

Muley said...

Thanks for the update about Baum, J.L. That whole bimetallism thing seemed like a bit screwy issue to base a children's book on. Now, if he had been talking about going off the gold standard, or maybe protected tariffs -- well, now those things would make the imagination run absolutely wild.