“Facts are important to you.”
A therapist recently said this to me, as if it were a unique and defining characteristic.
As I reflected on this, I realized how right this therapist was. It is very important to me to repeat data and facts when I argue a case. Things that exist beyond the realm of speculation and opinion.
Was it because I was in love with facts that I became a journalist? Or did journalism unlock the power of facts for me? Either way, I have clung to facts whenever I’ve become the subject of scandal, gossip or of unfair smears. Facts are my protective blanket.
In the last few years, I’ve only grown to cling to facts more, as the idea of “truth” has become slippery. Even the idea that there’s such a thing as “truth” is seen as a political statement these days.
Not a week after the therapist said that, I found myself taking my kids to see the Broadway sensation Wicked. I must have been in my early 30s when I first read Wicked, and I thought it was one of the most beautiful books I’d ever read. It’s a book that seems to be about subverting “the truth” of a story by telling it from another point of view. But this is not so much a story with a Rashomon-like world view, as it is a story of the deception and manipulation of a populace in the pursuit of power. It’s a story not unlike TS Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral—about the cost of sticking by one’s beliefs, and the idea that truth and doing the right thing aren’t always enough.
When I first saw the musical, I felt unimpressed and heartbroken. I felt like the heft of the book had been lost amid some semi-catchy show tunes. But 10 years later, I took my kids because my self-righteousness had mellowed, and I thought my little villain-lovers would love the idea of an alternative backstory.
Eli spends his time “researching” “facts” about Disney villains, and Evie has been working hard to justify her love of her “Lots’ O’ Huggin’ Bear” stuffy. She argues she intercepted him before Daisy’s betrayal because she picked the Losto who wasn’t sold with a cane. He’s still good! It’s up to me to love him so he never turns bad! Evil as a matter of circumstance not a defining personality trait is the core to believing there’s such thing as an alternative narrative. The idea that evil just happens to people and animals.
The time around the musical struck me as profoundly and achingly relevant. The Wizard has cynically united people in their confusion and anger by turning them against a common enemy: Talking animals who are stealing their jobs. Why…don’t those animals belong in cages instead?
He says something to the effect of “Truth is only what people choose to believe.” When Elphaba—the most powerful threat to him and someone who possesses the power he only pretends to have—won’t be co-opted by him, she is slandered as a corrupt and evil woman. There are even chants at rallies.
The leader—who is imbued with not only power but morality as the “wonderful” Wizard of Oz—is a fraud who has created spectacle to distract from anyone finding out the truth about him. There is a very “only I can save you” message.
When we got home, we watched the original Wizard of Oz, and this Trumpian view of the Wizard is still there if you are primed to see it. He promises Dorothy and her friends things he’s unable to deliver and when called on it, gives them some meaningless trinkets. Nice diploma you just pulled out of nowhere…And sadly, it pacifies them. He isn’t exposed, despite the fact that every word of his title is a lie. He’s not wonderful, he’s not a wizard and he’s not from Oz.
He becomes an object of pity, not anger. Poor old lying hapless wizard! If he existed in real life, you can imagine the apology tour that would come next. The New Yorker profile arguing the Wizard wasn’t so bad. He meant well!
If only real life wizards could be tricked into getting into a hot air balloon they are unable to control.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom: