August 29, 2006

The racist Wizard of Oz

Is the wizard still wonderful?

L. Frank Baum was a racist who called for exterminating American Indians...Who was the real L. Frank Baum? Could the creator of America's greatest fairy tale truly advocate mass murder? Does a lifetime of artistic achievement absolve him of his despicable words?

Should kids be taught about all this?

I haven't answered these questions for myself yet. I watched The Wizard of Oz again the other night, happily singing along with Judy Garland--but unable to lose myself fully in the story. I was on the lookout for hidden racism and found none. But when the Wizard was once again shown to be a fraud, it didn't seem startling at all.
Comment:  Yes, kids should be taught about all this. See The Indian-Oz Connection for more on the story.


Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, last night I was going through part of an old Oz collection I have accumulated in hopes of selling it off. Baum's "nonfiction" writings about Indians are pretty much "par for the course" for a dominant racist paradigm which was unfortunately the default point of view for white writers, including Twain. Just a little later, H. P. Lovecraft (another landmark American writer better known for his fictional creations than his editorials) was also writing racist rants in editorial form, like Baum, as part of his "nonfiction". Lovecraft also occasionally referred to inferior mongrel races even in his fiction.

Do I excuse these writers? I love the fiction of both, but I grit my teeth and shudder at their repugnant racial views. Likewise with Thomas Jefferson, who had some really bad ideas along with his really good ideas.

One thing that could be said about Baum's Oz was it was truly multicultural; perhaps to a degree that was not been seen elsewhere for such fictional creations. Baum and the two or three writers who followed him filled the place with scores of diverse communities (even if they were of faerie folk, Munchkin, angry trees, or talking dishes).

Anonymous said...

The "Backstory" to the first Oz book is interesting to consider in these discussions as well: a white male from a distant land arrives and, through trickery, apparantly advanced technology, and deception, takes charge of the place.

Anonymous said...

Disclaimer for first post (so you know you don't have to repeat points made in the Blue Corn Oz essays)

- Mentioning that most/many whites (including writers) thought this way is not an attempt to say that Baum's views were OK then or now.

- My pointing out the multicultural nature of Oz is not any attempt to deny Baums' prejudice/racism. Just because he was confortable with women made out of quilt-cloth or gargoyles with wooden wings does not mean he accepted Native Americans.

Rob said...

I don't agree that Oz was a land of multicultural harmony. See my argument in The Indian-Oz Connection for why.

Anonymous said...

I see what you mean. Oz's many but isolated and separated "pockets of diversity" do not seem to fit the definition of "multicultural". I'm not sure what multcultural means yet myself, but am moving in that direction.

Thus, Oz ends up being more like the idealized, "best intentions" of the reservation system, which intended to keep the many diverse Native nations isolated in a large number of reservations scattered across the US.

Rob said...

I tackled the issue of what multiculturalism means in Multiculturalism Defined. Check it out.