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The Wizard of Oz and Philosophy: Wicked Wisdom of the West (Popular Culture and Philosophy) Paperback – November 25, 2008
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Part I covers ethics, looking at such things as virtue, goodness, and justice. Part II covers the philosophy of mind, using in particular the stories of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and Dorothy to illustrate the issues involve in this area of philosophy. Part III covers what is best described as purpose or means and ends. Part IV covers existential things. Part V covers belonging. What is our place in the world? Part VI covers evil or the problem thereof.
Here are my notes and comments for the book.
(Pagination is from the Kindle version)
Page 194: Philip S. Seng, one of the editors, discussing the synchronization of the movie and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon writes “. . . I also don’t want to suggest that these experiences don’t happen. They are real, and for those who find meaning in them, they do have meaning.” My reflection on this statement is that it is because we are the only ones who give meaning to things in the world through language. More accurately in my opinion it is unconscious brain activity that gives meaning, and language is the translation of it. It is also like labeling the world, but one should not forget that “the word is not the thing.”
Page 205: Randall E. Auxier, the other editor, has a chapter on the “Phenomenology of Scary Stuff.”
I couldn’t help thinking that it amounted to a lot words about nothing. Granted science does not tell us every thing about how we experience the world, but to talk mumbo jumbo about these experiences doesn’t seem at all helpful
Page 230: I found this in chapter 14 entitled “Coloring Kansas”: “We all see with our imaginations what is not available to our senses or to our sense of the ‘real.’ When we consider ‘reality,’ do we include only what is gray, or do we pull out our own box of Sixty-Four Crayolas and make the present look a bit more lively. Think of that box as your portable set of imagined ideals, and the ‘real’ as your very own coloring book. We are all doing this all the time, we just seem forgetful about how we learned to do what we’re doing, and too many of us fear coloring outside the lines.” I couldn’t help wondering if this is why adult coloring books are so popular now.
Page 302: In a chapter on Feminism, Pam R. Sailors, describes how Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West’s character in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, as formed of “multiple pieces.” She writes, “. . . it’s better to accept the pieces of your self than spend your whole life trying to be someone you’re not because that will condemn you to denying parts of yourself. Elphaba knows that her self has multiple, sometimes contradictory, aspects . . .” This allowed me to reflect that I am not always consistent. This is okay because it is part of what makes me me. In another way I think of myself as multiples - writer, artist, cook, friend, etc.
Page 307: Richard Greene in a chapter quotes Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: “’If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.’” He relates the notion that “. . . if you could live with yourself, then[sic] you must not be wicked.” Psychopaths popped into my mind when I read this. They don’t appear to have a conscience, so they are without the notion that they are wicked.
Page 311: In Kevin Durand’s chapter he points out David Hume’s argument “. . . for a kind of moral subjectivism, points out that morality is not something that is in the world.” I believe I agree with Hume. Moral subjectivism makes sense in light of my view (above) that it is we who supply meaning to the world.
Page 339: In “In the Merry Old Matriarchy of Oz” chapter, another one by Auxier, he writes: “But the traditional authority of women was in fact intimately tied to the authority of myth, as it turned out. When myth and its traditions were pulled down and replace by reason, the authority and wisdom of women went down with it.” (italics are mine) First, let it be said that I do not believe that women are inferior to men, but this fact has been contested. It is based on the interpretation of artifacts, which makes it not a fact. As for myth and patriarchy I ask: what about the Old Testament? That’s patriarchy through and through. While probably written around the time frame of the early Greek philosophers, it is based on myths passed down through oral traditions that stretches back way further then this.
As you can tell from my comments there were things I was in agreement with, things I was not, and things that got me to reflect. As with any anthology some unevenness is expected. This book is no exception. I like the idea of the series, but there is only a limited number titles that interest me. “The Wizard of Oz” is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I decided to read this one. I have read a few other books in this series, so I think the concept is good. One thing that bothered me was the parts that used idealism and phenomenology as tools for exploration. I’m not sure how many chapters did this, but they were my least favorite ones. Overall, I enjoy the book. It was a thinking book with lots of interaction with the text, even the parts I was not in agreement with.
I could recommend the book for lovers of “The Wizard of Oz” - books or movies or play – and like to explore ideas. I think both things need to be of interest for a reader to gain the most satisfaction from the book.
But it's the movie musical that so many of us remember. I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz each year on television. Everyone watched it, the whole family, the whole neighborhood, our classmates and their parents. It brought us together for a few hours and gave us something in common. Now everyone can watch it on DVD whenever they want and another generation knows what grandma is talking about when she mutters about Dick Cheney, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."
In the tradition of the other Open Court Press books about pop culture and philosophy, The Wizard of Oz and Philosophy has several essays that expound on the meaning of the story with regard to Kierkegaard and Epicurus and Wittgenstein. I skipped those essays and went straight to the fluff.
My favorite essay of the bunch was by one of the co-editors, Phillip S. Seng, called "Dude, When Did Pink Floyd Write a Soundtrack for The Wizard of Oz? He discusses the dormitory game of synching the movie with Pink Floyd's The Wall album and the ensuing "coincidences." I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I conducted this experiment some years ago. All in fun, of course (blush blush). Anyway, although there were many seemingly planned meshings of music and image, it really was nothing that couldn't be explained by coincidence and imagination.
I was curious to see what a philosopher (or Doctor of Thinkology) would make of the phenomenon. Would he find meaning in people's determination to find a conspiracy where surely none could possibly exist? Or would he validate the coincidences as more than chance? Seng comes up with a conclusion that both surprised me and left me nodding in agreement and admiration.
Other essays discuss feminism in Oz, why water melts the Wicked Witch, the slave culture in Oz, and whether Dorothy should have stayed in Oz rather than returning to Kansas (oops, sorry for that spoiler). This is one of the better Pop Culture and Philosophy collections, along with Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing. Recommended!