This writer just completed a six-part series on Ellen Brown's remarkable 2007 book titled “Web of Debt.” This article follows from it by picking up on the theme she struck, using L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" as a combination parable, monetary allegory, and political manifesto for change at a time it's most needed.
Published in 1900 as an American fairytale, it became a popular staple, later made into the classic 1939 film staring Judy Garland, the 1975 award-winning Broadway musical, The Wiz, featuring the first-ever all-black cast, followed by a hit film on the stage production.
As Brown explained, who would have thought this "charming tale....was drawn from that most obscure and tedious of subjects, banking and finance," and (in the wrong hands) the chokehold they have on societies. Who understood that it was "all about people power, manifesting your dreams, (and) finding what you wanted in your own backyard." Who also could have imagined that "the real-life folk heros who inspired (Baum's) plot may have had the answer to" today's global economic crisis.
Brown began by quoting Hans Schicht in a 2005 editorial headlined "The Death of Banking and Macro Politics" in which he stated:
"Through a network of anonymous financial spider webbing only a handful of global King Bankers own and control it all....Everybody, people, enterprise, State and foreign countries, all have become slaves chained to the Banker's credit ropes."
Schicht continued saying:
Today, international bankers are looting world economies with the aim of turning them into Guatemala - subjugated, unempowered, enslaved, and impoverished like in Orwell's classic dystopian novel - "Nineteen Eighty-Four." He warned that:
"Big Brother is watching you (and) If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."
In "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," Baum struck a different theme even though he claimed to have written it "solely to pleasure the children." Some scholars, however, see another purpose, allegorically portrayed in his characters:
Like the early 20th century Populists, Brown explained that "Dorothy and her troop discovered that they had the power to solve their own problems and achieve their own dreams." The Wizard of Oz embodies "the American dream (and) national spirit" potential to realize it.
At the end of Baum's tale, the Witches are exposed as crude fakes and vanquished. Hope springs eternal as a result. The Tin Man actually has a heart. The Cowardly Lion finds courage. The Tin Woodman is emboldened by a bimetallic tool, a gold ax with a silver blade, and the Scarecrow learns he's intelligent, not stupid. When the Wizard disappears in his hot air balloon, he becomes leader of Oz. The Tin Woodsman rules the West, representing the Populist dream of empowered farmers and workers, and the Lion protects smaller beasts in "a grand old forest."
Thereafter, farm interests achieved national prominence, industrialism moved West, and Bryan commanded only a number of lesser politicians, far short of his hoped for goal.
Baum had dark message as well. As Brown explained: "there are invisible puppeteers pulling the strings of the puppets we see on the stage, in a show that is largely illusion." The Federal Reserve and most central bankers rule world economies by controlling their money, their very lifeblood without which commerce can't function. As long as that continues, Wicked Witch power will prevail.
Like Bryan, Baum supported the Free Silver Movement, and like many others at the time distrusted Eastern bankers. As a result, writers like Henry Littlefield described his charming fairytale as a "Parable on Populism."
Born in 1856 in Syracuse, New York, Baum developed an early interest in theater, wrote plays, and in 1887 left for Aberdeen, South Dakota where he edited a local weekly until it failed in 1891. It was a time when Western farmers lived daily with the stark reality of dry, open plains and all the hardships they brought - drought, low prices, manipulated freight rates, and the terrible blizzards of 1886 - 87.
At this time, the Populist Party was founded - as an agrarian People's Party opposing gold, supporting free silver, and seeking government aid without success. As a result, the movement was a desperate attempt for empowerment by the ballot.
In 1891, Baum moved to Chicago where he associated with reform elements. He saw the fallout of the 1893 depression, sided with working class people, consistently voted Democrat, then later marched in "torch-like parades" for William Jennings Bryan in the 1896 election. Yet he wasn't a political activist despite his sympathies with populist causes.
Henry Littlefield believes that "the original Oz book conceals an unsuspected depth....(Although) a children's story, (it) delineated a Midwesterner's vibrant and ironic portrait of (America) as it entered the twentieth century," beset with serious flaws.
Besides writing "solely to pleasure children," Baum delivered a powerful populist allegory. Littlefield wrote:
"The Wizard of Oz says so much about so many things that it is hard not to imagine a satisfied and mischievous gleam in Lyman Frank Baum's eye as he had Dorothy say (at his story's end), "And oh, Aunt Em! I'm so glad to be at home again!" - meaning, she "and her troop had the power to solve their own problems and achieve their own dreams." So do we, and that's the key message to remember and act on.
His son called him "the man who put the rainbow in The Wizard of Oz." Born in New York in 1896, he became a successful electrical contractor, then went bankrupt after Wall Street's 1929 crash. Out of work, George Gershwin's brother Ira introduced him to musician Jay Gorney. In 1932, they wrote "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," an anthem reflecting the plight of the unemployed.
In 1970, Studs Terkel said this about it in his book, "Hard Times:"
"In the song the man is really saying: I made an investment in this country. Where the hell are my dividends? 'Can you spare a dime?' What the hell is wrong? Let's examine this thing. It's more than just a bit of pathos. It doesn't reduce him to a beggar. It makes him a dignified human, asking questions - and a bit outraged, too, as he should be."
In Hollywood, his memorable lyrics included issues of race and class in Finian's Rainbow, "Over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz," and the special meaning he imparted. He wrote it for Judy Garland, Dorothy in the film, who was about to take a journey, and it began with the working title: "I Want to Get on the Other Side of the Rainbow," then shortened to "Over the Rainbow." It began:
"Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby."
It's about Dorothy taking a journey, wanting to get out and go somewhere. In Kansas, the rainbow was the only color she saw. She wanted to get "over the rainbow (where) skies are blue And the dreams that you dare to dream Really do come true." It continues:
"Someday I'll wish upon a star and
wake up where the clouds are far
Where troubles melt like lemon drops,
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me
Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow,
Why, oh, why can't I?
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,
Why, oh, why can't I?"
Harburg's son Ernie wrote his biography titled: "Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz." Interviewed on Democracy Now, he called the film (and song) an "American artwork because the story, the plot with three characters, the brain, the heart, the courage, and finding a home is a universal story for everybody."
In 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began investigating Hollywood's motion picture industry for suspected communist sympathizers. "Friendly witnesses" came forward and named 19 people accused of having leftist views. Of those, 10 refused to testify and became known as the "Hollywood Ten," among them authors Ring Lardner Jr. and Dalton Trumbo, noted for his powerful 1938 anti-war novel, "Johnny Got His Gun."
In all, hundreds of actors, directors, producers, screenwriters, musicians, songwriters, and other artists were blacklisted and denied employment for their progressive political beliefs. In 1951, Harburg was one of them. His son called it horrible seeing friends suddenly with no income. There were divorces, ruined lives, suicides, and in some cases people left the country.
Figures like Screen Actors Guild president, Ronald Reagan, and Walt Disney told the HUAC that communists threatened the film industry based on hearsay and the tenor of the times - McCarthyism, coined in 1950 for the demagogic senator, infamous for his politically-motivated witch-hunts until his own his own excesses brought him down.
Once blacklisted, Harburg returned to New York, found work on Broadway, then went back to Hollywood in 1962. In 1981, he passed away at age 84, and in 2005, the US Postal Service honored him with a commemorative stamp. It's taken from Barbara Bordnick's 1978 photographic portrait along with a rainbow and lyric from "Over the Rainbow" - where "dreams that you dare to Dream really do come true."
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