Lecture 20 1
School of Arts and Letters
Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies
AK/HUMA 1780 6.0A Stories in Diverse Media
♦ Reminder: Our final exam is set for Friday, August 21 2009, at 7pm‐10pm in room
137 South in the Ross Building. The exam is worth 20% of your final grade. For those
who will not be in Toronto for that date, you should be making arrangements with
Distance Education for an offsite exam at
http://www.atkinson.yorku.ca/disted/offsiteExam/index.htm. You are responsible
for making these alternate arrangements.
This exam is mandatory and
it is your responsibility to attend and to arrive at the right time and place.
♦ Correction: the last posting date/time for the Discussion Rooms is Friday, August 21,
before midnight, not Friday, August 22.
♦ Also, to clarify, the final exam in NOT open book.
The Wizard of Oz: The Film
The Socio‐Cultural Climate, 1920‐40
The film The Wizard of Oz came out in 1939, just as the Second World War was
beginning and the Great Depression, which really hit America hard, was nearing its end.
This was a time when things seemed pretty bleak, not only in America but also
throughout most of the world. Ten years earlier, in 1929, the American stock market
had crashed and plunged the United States, and those many countries that were
dependent on them, into a widespread economic depression. The decade leading up to
this crash—the roaring 1920s as they were called—were characterized by optimism,
progress, and prosperity, initially stimulated by the technological and economic Lecture 20 2
developments that arose out of the First World War effort. See Lecture Summary, Slide
But there were reasons for the impending stock market crash at the end of the
1920s. After WWI many countries turned to the United States for loans and support, but
the American economy sustained many of these countries in an artificial manner. As the
decade continued, the economy was affected by a postwar depression as demobilized
soldiers came back to their jobs and into job markets that were shrinking because of the
end of wartime demand. As prices began to decline because of overproduction,
economies in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia also began to suffer. The end result
was widespread inflation, which eventually produced the stock market crash in 1929
and the decade known as the “dirty thirties.” In 1929 there were 1.5 million Americans
who were jobless; but just 4 years later in 1933 13 million were jobless. Ironically, it
would take another world war to jumpstart the economy again.
Yet, at the same time, technological advances that we depend on today, such as
the tractor and the telephone, were also invented or integrated into the fabric of daily
life during the interwar period. Consumer luxuries such as wristwatches, automobiles,
and washing machines became more and more common. Suffice it to say, rapid and
extreme change characterize the time between the two World Wars.
Moreover, in Midwestern America between 1929 and 1932 American farmers
(like Auntie Em and Uncle Henry) fought for their survival against both economic and
natural disasters. Plummeting prices for their goods and a severe lack of rain meant that
wheat prices sank by 50% and raw cotton fell by two‐thirds. Hundreds of families lost Lecture 20 3
their farms because they didn’t have the money to pay their mortgages, repay other
loans, or pay their taxes. Also devastating was the series of dust storms that hit the
Great Plains from 1932 through to 1940. Clouds of dirt higher than 8000 feet would roll
in and were accompanied by thunder, lightning, and extremely powerful winds, very
similar indeed to the cyclone that hits the farm in The Wizard of Oz.
One of the ways out of this Depression, many believed, was through what was
considered a new frontier, the world of technology and innovation. Epitomized by the
“World of Tomorrow” exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1939‐40, America was
poised by the end of the 30s to recreate itself. Over 25 million people visited the World
Fair’s exhibits. One of the most famous displays was a time capsule that was not to be
opened until the year 6939. It included such iconic American products as a kewpie doll,
Life magazine, and Camel cigarettes. The very first television and its accompanying
commercials were placed on display at this Fair; little did they know how widespread
the use of these devices would become.
In effect, the Fair introduced a future that was prosperous and happy precisely
because of new technological (and, by implication, commercial) advances. Interestingly,
the design of the World’s Fair is reminiscent of the futuristic Emerald City in the film
version of The Wizard of Oz. (See the Coca‐Cola advertisement, Lecture Summary, Slide
3). The futuristic city depicted in the film, and utilized in the advertisements, is symbolic
of the era’s technological utopianism. As one critic puts it, America’s faith in technology
was meant to lift the nation from the dire realities of the Depression into imagined
realms of wonder and plenty. Thus, the magazine Daily Variety praised Fleming’s film for Lecture 20 4
its “technical wizardry” and Hollywood Spectator characterized it as one of the greatest
technical feats the screen has to its credit.
Just one year earlier, Orson Welles had terrified New Jersey with his War of the
Worlds radio broadcasts. Governmental policy also made the link between salvation and
machinery. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President at the time, had formulated the
Technological Trends and National Policy (1937) component of the New Deal meant to
lift America out of its economic crisis. The policy recommended that the nation could
cure itself through modernization. Thus, once again, technology, and its awesome
and/or horrifying consequences, signified hope for the nation.
Enter the celebrated invention of Technicolor and the movie that would make it
famous, eventually becoming one of the best‐known movies in the world: Victor
Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz. The story itself was ripe with opportunities to explore such
innovations to create a sparkling portrayal of technological magic. The most obvious
example of this fascination would be the character of the Tin Man, but, of course, the
entry into the Land of Oz and the cyclone special effects would have movie critics talking
about Hollywood’s wizardry for years to come. Those trendsetters “behind the curtain”
of the movie were hailed as pioneers in the national preoccupation with harnessing
technology for the supposed good everyone.
The Tin Man, then, is a particularly apt character for displaying such
technological wizardry. As you know from reading the book, the character was once a
"real" person. In fact, he represents a reversal of the Pinocchio myth in the novel.
Instead of an inanimate object being made into a human boy, a man is turned into a Lecture 20 5
machine. Interestingly, in place of the back‐story to his life in the film, we are given his
dance sequence. Thus, rather than informing the viewer that the Tin Man was once a
human being, the dance (and character exposition) calls attention, as one critic
suggests, to the miracle of metal moving like a man. He is a robot. His tottering dance
sequence, in which he constantly threatens to fall over, depends in large part on the
viewers’ curiosity about the ability of a man made out of metal to move.
But the Tin Man also epitomizes the shortcomings of technology due to his lack
of humanity. Not only does he manage to become immobile because of rust—a
consequence of his tinny shell of a body—but he pines for a heart. Quelling any
potential fears of the viewer, his character enables the audience to marvel at
technology yet remain assured that machinery needs humanity to harness it.