Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Wizard of Oz says: Follow, Follow, Follow, Follow, Follow Gender Roles

      Many children's films are tasked with instilling positive views and morals into the minds of youth. One such award winning film is The Wizard of Oz, in which a tornado whisks Dorothy and her dog, Toto, away to the land of Oz. Here, she must follow the Yellow Brick Road in order to meet the Wizard who can take her home. On her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy meets a Scarecrow in need of a brain, a Tin Man in need of a heart, and a Cowardly Lion in need of courage. Finally, in order to go home, Dorothy must defeat the Wicked Witch of the West. After doing so, Dorothy finally wakes up in her home to discover that she was dreaming. According to Giannetti’s political outline, this film is a leftist, liberal film. Although one may initially believe that this film focuses on traditional ideals such as friendship and adhering to the norm, the film’s more radical views of questioning religion, as well as a few male stereotypes of the time, make it apparently liberal. Although The Wizard of Oz presents many positive and empowering morals to its young audience, as a film of the 1930’s it does depict negative stereotypes.  One such stereotype is seen through the character of Dorothy, suggesting that if a woman cries and gives up, she will eventually be rescued. Despite such negative messages, the positive message, that through time and experience one gains knowledge, is embodied by the film’s main characters.

      The Wizard of Oz conveys many implied positive messages, instilling good morals in the minds of its young audiences. However, in the end, one positive moral stands out above the rest; “experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.” This moral is presented near the end of the film after Dorothy and her companions discover the Wizard of Oz’s true identity and he grants their desires. The Wizard of Oz bestows upon the Tin Woodman a heart, teaching him to help others, the Scarecrow a brain, giving him a college degree, the Cowardly Lion courage, giving him a medal for ‘supposed’ bravery, and the Wizard promises to take Dorothy home, a plan which ultimately fails. Nonetheless, in bestowing upon the characters their desired traits, the Wizard of Oz reveals to both the characters and the audience that one always has the power to attain his or her desires. The Wizard of Oz’s ability to bestow the desired traits upon the characters grants the film and its message an increased sense of ethos as his ‘all-powerful’ nature renders him a trusted, ‘Christ-like’ figure in the eyes of young audience members. Additionally, producer Victor Fleming increases the strength of The Wizard of Oz’s most powerful positive message through an ethos argument. This scene highlights the fact that validation of society is not necessary in order to realize one’s true potential. Nonetheless, the Wizard of Oz recognizes the power such validation holds as he bestows each character with earthly manifestations of their desires. Young audience members recognize the emotional appeal that the Wizard makes to each of the characters. As the Wizard reveals that the power to attain their desires was always in their grasp, each of the characters become overwhelmed with emotion in awe of the Wizard’s ability to help them recognize their full potential. The characters responses evoke a similar response in the audience members, as it allows them to see that they too have the ability to unlock their full potential. Although the characters maintained the potential to realize their dreams all along, it is only through their journey to the Emerald City that they recognize their innate ability to conquer their fears. Therefore, in addition to realizing one’s own potential, the positive message of this film also conveys that only through time and hard work can personal growth occur, a message that rings true with its young audience.

      As a product of the 1930’s, The Wizard of Oz, conveys many negative messages and stereotypes. However, the main negative message of this film is seen in the character of Dorothy, suggesting that if a woman cries and gives up, a man will eventually save her. This negative message relies wholly on an ethos appeal, calling the audience to pity Dorothy and the frailty of women. As the main female character of the film, Dorothy is often put in precarious situations in which she must find a way out and continue on her journey home. While in Kansas, Dorothy falls into a pig pen screaming and crying until she is rescued by male farmhands. Additionally, as Dorothy embarks on her journey to the Emerald City to find the Wizard, a man who can take her home, she acquires a male entourage who save her from the Wicked Witch of the West as she cries helplessly. Dorothy’s ‘pity parties’ evoke ethos arguments, prompting young audiences to sympathize with her by imaging how frightened they might feel in such a situation. Younger audience members may believe this to be the most effective means to solve problems. This use of ethos leads to the use of overly sentimental appeals which “use tender emotions excessively to distract readers from facts” (Everything’s an Argument p. 74). This sexist message promotes female hysteria as well as female inferiority to their male counterparts. However, due to Dorothy’s  disproportionate use of emotion, young audiences may focus more intently on their own feelings of distress, potentially failing to wholly recognize the negative stereotypes Dorothy embraces. Nonetheless, as an inexperienced and easily influential demographic, child audiences often accept negative views, upholding the negative stereotypes of the past. 

      Although the negative message of female inferiority is seen throughout the film, the positive message that “experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get” greatly outweighs this negative aspect. The positive message employs ethos and pathos whereas the main negative message relies solely on an ethos appeal. Additionally, the positive message, that knowledge comes through experience, is the main message of The Wizard of Oz, revealed at the end. Therefore, because the negative message of this film is so minor, it is possible that young audiences may not notice or accept sexist messages. Overall, I believe  that The Wizard of Oz’s successful incorporation of the positive message, that knowledge comes though experience, outweighs its use of sexism deserves four out of five nachos. Although The Wizard of Oz effectively presents an overall positive message to young viewers, overt sexism dampens Dorothy’s eventual triumph in defeating the Wicked Witch of the West, implying that she could not have been successful without her male companions.

Works Cited:
Lunsford, Andrea A., and John J. Ruszkiewicz. Everything's an Argument. 7th ed. Boston:                         Bedford/St. Martin's, 2016. 
The Wizard of Oz. Dir. Victor Fleming. Perf. Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton. MGM/UA, 1938.              Film.

No comments:

Post a Comment