I created a video about this a few months ago, when I was in the habit of posting vlogs over on my YouTube channel which is currently under refurbishment, shall we say. I recently re-discovered it and thought it would be a good idea to post my thoughts on these topics in the show here for you all to read. If you’re interested in the video, you can click here.
The thing I love about theatre and other forms of art is that although it is generally viewed as entertainment for the masses, it holds up a looking glass on life as we know it. A quote from Hamlet perfectly captures my feelings on this: “The play’s the thing//In which to catch the conscience of the King”.
I was introduced to the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz at a young age, like most children, and fell in love with it. At age thirteen, I discovered the musical Wicked, a prequel about the witches of Oz, and shortly after I read the novel it was based on. Perhaps due to my age I didn’t quite grasp how dark the novel was in comparison to the bright musical, and the depth to which politics is discussed by Maguire. Watching the musical a few months ago, however brought back some memories of the book, and it suddenly dawned on me that many of these darker themes which are present yet overshadowed in the musical are rarely spoken about. Instead, people favour the love story between Elphaba and Fiyero, or the friendship between the two female leads. I, however, want to talk about the darker themes and how they are reflecting our own society back at us, even still almost ten years after the show started playing in London’s West End.
The Corruption of Power
In the dialogue leading up to and including the song “Wonderful”, the Wizard himself acknowledges his own corruption and the changes fame has given him.
Wonderful, they called me wonderful,
So I said, “Wonderful, if you insist.
I Will Be Wonderful” and they said, “Wonderful!”
Believe me, it’s hard to resist!
He reminisces that because the citizens of Oz look up to him and devote themselves to him, he has been given some strange sort of power. The Wizard has become some kind of deity, a God-like figure whom nobody can remember what he looks like, becoming a sort of myth when Elphaba and Glinda go to see him. This power has gone straight to his head (perhaps his animatronic head which greets visitors is a sneaky metaphor of this), and he believes this can allow him to do whatever her wants, even the morally bad things. However, because of this myth that has been created around him, he cannot stop. He must continue the legacy of being “wonderful” in his secretly wicked way. The choice between being “wonderful” and “wicked” in this show is a strong theme, and there are many lines and lyrics which hint at the idea that nobody is really “good”.
We see the same struggle in choosing with Glinda. The reason she doesn’t leave with Elphaba in “Defying Gravity” at the close of act one is because she has already had a taste of the power that both the Wizard and Madame Morrible can give her; and she likes it. The sort of social position in Oz’s hierarchy she is eventually given in act two (see: “Thank Goodness”) is something she has dreamed for all of her life, and despite knowing deep inside she is doing the wrong thing for “good”, she proceeds to taking it anyway.
Glinda, as a character, presents the majority of society today. She has been preened to look up to role models and only want the highest forms of attention and praise. In a society where we are obsessed with getting likes and retweets, compliments on our selfies, and subscribers on our channels, we are all increasingly becoming more “Glindafied”. Not only do we look up to people like the Kardashians and YouTubers, but we can quite easily join them through social media platforms and very easily become “famous” and have some sort of position of power. Whether we reach that point in an ethical way (clickbait anyone?) is another matter, and we don’t seem to care, all we worry about is whether we have achieved the end goal: the fame.
At this point, I’d love to point you to this video by Jon Cozart, who hits the nail on the head about how internet culture has people exchanging their morals and values for views:
Madame Morrible also has an interesting line in the show. Speaking of the Wizard, she notes “If you do something for him, he’ll do much for you!”. This lines must quite obviously have sexual connotations. It suggests that if you do a favour for someone, particularly a man in power, they will do many a thing for you. But, you will always be under his thumb, with the secret of what you have done his ready to spill if you step a toe out of line. We see a glimpse of this relationship between the Wizard and Morrible. This lines exemplifies the work ethic of people, also: there is none, if they can help it. As long as you know someone or can get someone to do a favour for you, you can bypass all the hard work and even talent, and cut straight to the chase – the fame, the money, success, and power…whatever it is you desire. It’s sad. It’s all about exchange relationships.
Secrets form a large part of Wicked – from Melena’s affair to the Wizard’s secret plan with the monkeys. We never truly know what is actually happening or what to believe. This leads to the idea of having idols very complicated – the Wizard might seem wonderful to Elphaba and Glinda, but in reality he’s a dictator with evil plans. This can be seen in real life, with many young people idolising YouTubers for how they appear on the screen, but in reality, some have been outed as possible sex abusers. In short: everyone has secrets (some more harmful than others) and we shouldn’t blindly look up to people.
Secrecy links hand in hand with power, and again we see this with Glinda. In act two, she cannot tell any of the citizens what is happening in the Emerald City; Madame Morrible threatens her not to as it would ruin all of their reputations and cause anarchy, therefore disrupting the social order they have so carefully cultivated. Reputation, after all, is much more important than being truthful in Oz.
In fact, not just in Oz. Many high-flying people have apparently known about the sex abusers of the 70s/80s at the BBC, but have kept word about it as it would damage their image. They didn’t want to get either themselves, or the abusers who were seen as perfection, into an trouble or danger. Sickening, really.
Celebrity as a Distraction
Madame Morrible has no issue in telling Glinda that she should be “encouraging” as the new figurehead for peace and happier times in Oz, despite the turmoil happening all around them. Her engagement celebration to Fiyero is the perfect distraction, so the public do not start to question the meaty, political decisions their leaders are making. Personally, I am not as aware of politics as I feel I should be. Why is this? Perhaps I am lazy, yes, but maybe also because of the education system’s flaws in tecahing us the basic political principles. From a young age we are provided with distractions: celebrities, social media, royal weddings…all of these smaller, trivial things which are deemed “big news” are only in place to provide distractions from what is really happening. Only the few, like Elphaba, are adept at seeing through them. Glinda, therefore, is the shining example of a distraction. In fact, her fantastic solo number, ‘Popular’, is often seen as a standout in the show, and many audience members come away remembering these delightfully comic moments, and forgetting the hard-hitting political parts the show throws in. This is interesting in itself.
A very obvious point, but I’ll say it anyway. The Wizard causes a conflict between the humans and animals of Oz, orchestrating a “them and us” divide, and eventually people began to want animals to be killed, to stop teaching, and to be “seen and not heard”. He turns the humans against animals (perhaps this is another distraction?), and of course this sort of hatred is seen all throughout human history. Gender, race, and religion are all still discriminated against, and the media and politicians attempt to turn people against refugees, those of Islamic faith, and much more. Elphaba and Nessa also represent minority groups – being of a different skin colour and being disabled – and we see how they are discriminated against by the kids at Shiz. In fact, their outfits are also a lot darker compared to the Shiz uniforms already donned by Galinda and the other students. Perhaps this is done so not only to single out Elphaba as a central character, but to perhaps exemplify that they are seen as “bad” and “dark” to the other students.
So, those were a few of my thoughts about the media, politics, and celebrity culture within Wicked! Are there any things you think I missed out or think I may not have completely thought through? Let me know in the comments below!