“About-Face”book

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, by L. Frank Baum, is one of the most popular American stories of all time.  It was written well over 100 years ago but has proven to be timeless.  The story itself is amazingly creative and entertaining and it transfers very well both to the stage and the silver screen.  Adding to its mystique are the attempts that have been made to understand the symbolism and “true meaning” behind the story.  A widely accepted theory is that the story was a monetary allegory about the American economics of the time, but Baum did not offer any conclusive evidence that he intended his story to be an allegory.

It is for this reason that I am offering my own interpretation of Baum’s story.  I believe that he predicted the internet’s development and warned of the subsequent sweeping changes it would cause in the world.  Specifically, he was thinking of Facebook.

When you look at the story, the connections are obvious.  Dorothy, the heroine, represents all of us; common folk just trying to find our way in the world.  Toto represents the mouse for her computer.  She, like most people, wants to establish strong connections with others.  Suddenly there is a cyclone that takes her to a strange land (the rapid development of social media).  She meets a bunch of wonderful munchkins (computer bytes or shrinking brain cells; not sure which).  She finds the yellow brick road, a seemingly easy path to the Emerald City and salvation.  This was Baum’s representation of Facebook.

Things look really good for Dorothy at first.  On the golden road, she meets the good witch, gets an haute couture set of silver shoes, and quickly makes some friends in the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion.

Dorothy and her friends make it to the Emerald City, but the problems start to rear their ugly heads.  She and her friends all meet the Wizard, who appears as a different entity to each of them.   This was Baum’s commentary of how Facebook is not always what we think it is.  The first problem is introduced.  They don’t get what they expect right away; they have to overcome many challenges first.  Baum uses this twist in the plot line to underscore the fact that you have to be wary of some of the people you encounter on Facebook and the potential false promises made.  Additionally, that it generally requires time and work to establish strong and healthy relationships.

As Dorothy and her entourage initiate their journey to take on the challenges, they encounter a wicked witch.  She sends a variety of incredibly undesirable and dangerous things their way, including wolves, crows, bees, and, of all things, flying monkeys.  Here, Baum uses the wicked witch to elaborate on how Facebook can become addictive and cause problems for you or your kids.   These  problems can include gaining weight by sitting in front of a screen all day, getting bullied, being the victim of a predator, becoming enamored of others’ virtual lives (that are usually over-hyped), and getting depressed that your life is not as good as others’.  Additionally, the flying monkeys must be Baum’s shout out to all of the bizarre things that get posted on Facebook.

Dorothy and her posse eventually overcome the challenges.   Her little gang now consists of real, not virtual, friends.  This is Baum’s demonstration of how powerful a real friendship is compared to a virtual friendship.  Dorothy’s greatest victory occurs when she throws water on the wicked witch, thus melting her.   Baum is suggesting that once you realize that Facebook is causing problems, you should throw water on your computer and move on.

Dorothy and her squad triumphantly make it back to the Emerald City which is now supposed to be their salvation.  They are escorted to see the Wizard, representing the greatness that Facebook could provide people’s lives.   Here is the kicker.  Toto, now representing carpal tunnel syndrome, exposes the Wizard for the fraud that he is.  He is just some weird little dude (Zuckerberg?) who has obtained great power through deceit.

Baum was definitely not overly cynical, however.   Once the Wizard is uncovered for who he really is, he helps Dorothy and her mates find what they are looking for.  In other words, when used cautiously, frugally and with good limits, Facebook can be a really cool thing that can add positive to one’s life.

Baum also uses an irony in this story to remind us that we don’t need Facebook to feel good.  During the challenges, the Scarecrow, convinced that he has no brains demonstrates rapid and clever problem solving skills.  The Tinman, sure of his lack of heart, shows compassion and determination throughout.  The Lion, the “coward”, performs courageous acts.  Baum is screaming at us that we don’t need virtual friends to feel good.  We are more capable than we think but we have to challenge ourselves to tap into our hidden strengths and convictions.

The story ends with Dorothy clicking her heels three times and returning home.  She is greeted with very real hugs and kisses.  This is perhaps the “feel-good” ending of all time.  Dorothy’s three clicks represent the following:  #1 “close all programs”, #2 “log off”, and #3 “shut the computer down”.

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