Back in the “olden days” of my childhood I could never wait for “The Wizard of Oz” to come on television. It seems like it came on as a special every year or so in those days before DVR, DVD and VHS. And even on our black-and-white television, the colors of Munchkin City came to life in my childhood imagination.
The Wizard of Oz was a powerful, almost god-like manifestation when first seen in the 1939 classic. Of course, later, little Toto drew back the curtain to expose the man operating the controls.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” was commanded by the god-like Oz, created, as magicians might say, with smoke and mirrors.
At this year’s midwinter convention, Jonathan Levit spoke of the similarities in design and magic, including the principle of misdirection: “don’t look here – look over there!”
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” is classic misdirection – directing attention away from what is actually happening to what appears to be happening.
Used with finesse and sparingly, misdirection can be a powerful tool in persuasion. However, when misdirection is over-used, the facade melts away and it is no longer effective.
I think many politicians are particularly guilty of over-using misdirection.
As a point of interest, one interpretation of The Wizard of Oz is based on American politics of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. In that interpretation, the wizard is the American president, who is ultimately shown to be “less than truthful,” as a 2009 BBC article described.
I think the interpretation holds for politicians in general, and to that I’ll add an interpretation of my own. Given the imagery of the wizard being a political figure, I’m going to cast Toto in the role of the press.
See, one of the real heroes of the story is Toto, who pulled back the curtain to show what was really going on. Without Toto, Dorothy and her friends would never have known the truth, and would have continued cowering in fear.
The truth literally did set them free – the truth empowered them, and called the wizard to account.
In our local communities, we do this every day. We stand up in school board meetings and city council meetings to tell elected officials they can’t go behind the curtain to deliberate.
At the state level, TPA works diligently during each legislative session to make sure the curtain stays pulled back, empowering the public to know what is truly happening with their tax dollars and representation.
And at the national level, the more the wizard screams “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” the more determined they are to see what is truly behind the curtain.
There are plenty of people who see Toto as a nuisance digging in Miss Gulch’s garden. But Toto is indispensable to the story.
It is as important as it has ever been for us to play the role of “Toto,” pulling back the curtains of secrecy and bringing government action into the light of day.