Dianne St. Jean
Look behind the curtain

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” 
- The Wizard of Oz

 Nearly every one of us is familiar with that comical moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s little dog Toto pulls back a curtain to reveal a man manipulating a number of controls.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” commands the Wizard’s image to Dorothy and friends, who have finally made it inside the secret chamber to attain the answers to life.

What makes the line so humorous is that it does reflect real life, so much so that it has even become the basis of a Princeton University study on how people learn and make decisions in real-world situations based on images or on their perception of what is real and what isn’t.

Today’s media overload, social or otherwise, has made it even more relevant, even giving it its own definition - ‘fake news’.

As much as ‘fake news’ has become a buzz, the ironic thing is, it has always existed. Like the man behind the curtain, the only difference now is that the curtain has been pulled back. For decades and generations before us, most of the world totally believed that whatever they saw or heard on the news was the truth. In other words, the images that were projected to them were automatically assumed to be a reflection of reality.

Luckily there have been times when a mindful handful of society recognized that much of the world’s power is strategically and methodically controlled through manipulation of images. Propaganda, a large part of behind-the-curtain machinations, has been responsible for both the rise and fall of most powers, Nazi Germany being an extreme yet classic example. Hitler rose to power swiftly and was almost unstoppable because of his masterful use of propaganda; at the same time, cracking those codes was the key to his defeat.

In similar fashion, the true moment of power in The Wizard of Oz comes when Dorothy and her friends realize that they are actually masters of their own destiny, and that they don’t have to rely on the so-called wisdom of some elitist image projector.

What the movie does not reflect, however, are the repercussions of that revelation. After being exposed, the Wizard somewhat breaks down and admits what he’s been doing. In real life, however, ripping the mask off master manipulators whose key desire is to have ultimate control often results in a very different reaction. We’re seeing an example of this now with the recent uprisings – and subsequent beatings and jailings – of those protesting against Putin. Not that these uprisings are revealing things we didn’t already know about Putin, but in his world, as in the world of all control-seekers and manipulators, there is a certain level of ‘peace’ or order maintained as long as no one really rocks the boat. When that control or carefully manufactured image is threatened, however, the real ugly comes out.

More than ever, in this time of history, we need to take some lessons from Dorothy and her companions. There’s something so appealing about depending on others to make the hard decisions or just simply give us what we need with little or no effort or cost to ourselves. How tempting, even, to take the path of least resistance and ignore the man behind the curtain.

The reality, however, is that those who are wanting or losing control will do whatever it takes to get and keep it. At this point, all human decency flies out the window. Vicious talk, tactics meant to intimidate, and just plain dirty playing are, unfortunately, things the upcoming generation better learn to deal with in wisdom.

And this is the wisdom - “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” does not mean pretend he isn’t there, rather it means don’t be manipulated by an image.