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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Media Can Show Us Ourselves

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

Each of us takes our own individual meaning from the media - from films, records, plays, TV. Some pieces nearly speak to us directly, and we cherish them not only as works of art, but also because of what and how they speak to us.

My favorite film is "The Wizard of Oz," and I watch it every time it's on TV. There are those who watch it with their eyes as a children's fantasy, an adventure story.

There are those who watch it with their heads, seeing allegory and symbolism wherein the Scarecrow represents American farming interests, the Tin Man represents American industry, and the Cowardly Lion represents the American military of the late 1930's. With Dorothy as the American public and the Wizard as Roosevelt, an elaborate symbolic historical lesson can be drawn. I read about this historical interpretation once, but I forget the details. Besides, I really don't care.

Because for those who watch with their heart instead of with their eyes, for those who reflect upon it with their soul rather than with their head, it can speak to our lives softly and deeply.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is less about wishful thinking than it is about daring to dream, "where the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true." All dreaming does take daring; dangerous in its own way. But those who do dare to dream - Martin Luther King, Kennedy, Dorothy Gale, me (and you, too?) sometimes DO take that dare and dream.

Once Dorothy dares to dream, her whole world is changed, transformed from black-and-white to brilliant color. There is a new land, new sights, different ways of seeing things - even horses of different colors. It is strange and different and yet very real, much like any awakening we experience in our lives.

You must have felt it at one time or another - that sense of awakening, of newness, of whole new worlds and vistas opening up, opportunities to be savored and explored. She (and we as viewers) sees a fresh and colorful new world where all the old rules are suspended, new friends are found, new dangers are faced, and new journeys are begun.

The film is filled with such moments of self-realization. Evil is defeated (and the Wicked Witch dispatched) not through any special bravery or violence, but by Dorothy's act of trying to save the Scarecrow from the flames. Love - trying to save another from destruction - not only saves her oldest friend, but melts the evil into a smoldering puddle.

And later, as the curtain is pulled back and the all-powerful Oz is revealed as just an ordinary man (lost himself) performing his magic with smoke and mirrors, there is a reality that speaks to us today. Unmasking any of the icons of today (or any time, for that matter) shows us that behind the magic and bluster are ordinary people, "very good men - just very bad wizards."

The climax, of course, comes when the Wizard shows them that they had possessed all along what they had been searching for. As he gives them silly outward symbols for what already lives within them (a diploma, a ticking heart, a medal), he and Dorothy both realize that they had the power to realize their dreams all along, too. The power is inside. That which we seek we already possess. We just need to understand it.

Dorothy is a fool to leave, to trade the Oz of color for a Kansas of black-and-white, to forsake her dream and return to the drudgery of what is comfortable and familiar, to trade the wonder and joy and warmth (and yes, love) she finds in Oz for the worn-out cliche of "There's no place like home."

There is more (so much more) which can touch us, from the Scarecrow's simple observations ("Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking") to the Wizard's gentle warning ("Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable").

I do not know whether the writer or director had any of these deeper realizations in mind when they crafted this film. Audiences construct meaning. The meaning each of us receives from a film may say more about us personally than about the film itself.

Media literacy - understanding and thinking about those messages which touch us deeply - may be yet another way to learn about ourselves as well.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.