Examining The Politically Charged Nature Of 'Wicked'

Examining The Politically Charged Nature Of 'Wicked'

Gregory Maguire's novel is more than a fairy tale.

In October of 2003, "Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz" debuted on Broadway. The performance, which originally featured Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, and Joel Gray, tells the tale of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch before and after Dorothy arrives in Oz. It's received quite a few awards and is the 10th longest-running Broadway show. One of the show's most popular songs, "Defying Gravity", has been sung in countless school productions and was even featured in an episode of "Glee."

Many people forget that "Wicked" the musical stemmed from Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel, "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West." Maguire penned this to be a reimagined version of Richard Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and the 1939 film adaptation it inspired. Maguire was inspired to write his series during the start of the Gulf War. He's quoted saying that,

I became interested in the nature of evil, and whether one really could be born bad. I considered briefly writing a novel about Hitler.... But when I realized that nobody had ever written about the second most evil character in our collective American subconscious, the Wicked Witch of the West , I thought I had experienced a small moment of inspiration.

Maguire's text is lengthy and a little hard to process, but there are so many important lessons hidden between its pages. Here are just two political statements that are made in "Wicked":

Divisions Are Alive And Well In Society

The story opens with Elphaba, an average young girl who happens to have green skin. Right away, there is a clear distinction between Elphaba and the other people of Oz. On numerous occasions, Elphaba is discriminated against. To make matters worse, the "great" Wizard of Oz endorses segregation and stereotyping of various ethnic groups animals.

As the story continues, Elphaba interacts with Glinda, then known as Galinda, at Shiz Univeristy. Glinda, like many students at the Shiz, is a typical spoiled private school student. Elphaba, however, is on scholarship. This creates an obvious class division between Elphaba and most students at the Shiz. However, the rich students prefer not to acknowledge this disparity. In the musical, another situation occurs at the Shiz. While in Doctor Dillamond's class, a student is found to have written, "Animals should be seen, not heard." It's quite a polarizing statement, one that has been encouraged by the government.

It's clear that Maguire is hinting at racism and elitism within America, but he's also referring to sexism and religious traditionalism. Consider if "animals" was replaced with women in the above quote. It would then resemble 1 Corinthians 14: 33-35, which has been incredibly misconstrued in society today. One could make the argument that race and class have also been perverted in America — people either choose not to see race or make it a point to embrace it with positivity or negativity. As for elitism, many American citizens, like the rich students of the Shiz, don't even consider how prevalent poverty is in society. To them, It's easy to scoff at those on welfare and blame them for not utilizing their opportunities then to help them find financial stability.

Terrorism Is Not Always Black And White

Elphaba, upon failing to convince the Wizard to stop discriminating against minorities, becomes a civil-disobedient. A 2010 article from Mari Ness notes that,

The Elphaba we first meet is an innocent if rather green and biting child with a fondness for the word “horrors.” When we next meet her, she is a somewhat cynical, occasionally sharp-tongued teenager with a strong moral core. A series of tragedies, betrayals, conspiracies and a murder transforms her into a still moralistic terrorist.

Since no one else will stand up and fight against tyranny, Elphaba feels as though she must rebel for the good of the people, even if it means using violence. An article from Inlander described this as a turning point. Upon singing the song "No Good Deed" in the musical, Elphaba "becomes what everyone has already named her" but then "questions her own intentions — asking whether she’s really acting for everyone else’s benefit or whether she was doing it for her own benefit … She is very much a citizen — she believes in what’s right and good, and she makes no apologies.”

At the end of the play , the people of Oz gleefully celebrate their triumph over Elphaba. One citizen says, "No one mourns the Wicked." Glinda claims that "goodness knows the Wicked die alone. It just shows when you're wicked, you're left only on your own."

Here, we find Maguire testing the nature of terrorism. If an individual, like Elphaba, is fighting to overthrow the government and reestablish order, is that individual defined as a freedom fighter or a terrorist? And based on this, does the threat to society deserve to have any basic human rights? Legally, terrorists are not entitled to any protection under the Geneva Conventions, which govern treatment of civilians, prisoners, and soldiers. The Conventions have strict requirements, even for those who violate all aspects of international law. Many have criticized the U.S., specifically, for enacting "cruel and unusual" treatment of prisoners of war. Maybe Maguire is trying to say that terrorism is not always easily defined. And in terms of the treatment of terrorists, ethics cannot necessarily be thrown out the window.

Gregory Maguire uses the world of Oz to question bureaucracy, religion, power and various other issues in society today. Specifically, when examining societal divisions, Maguire critiques how institutions perpetuate the creation of in and out of groups. He also proves how the system can create even larger issues like civil disobedience, rebellion, and possibly terrorism. In questioning terrorism, Maguire examines the nature of criminality. What makes a criminal? And do criminals, even terrorists, deserve to be treated as human beings?

"Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" is more than a reimagined fairy tale; it's a striking political allegory that begs readers to question the world that they live in.

Cover Image Credit: Fanpop

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The Dangers Of Ideology And The Importance Of Free Speech & Debate

Universities are currently policing thought, indoctrinating students into a radical egalitarian ideology, and crushing dissenting opinion.

It’s truly amazing to consider how quickly the culture on college campuses has changed over the last several years. Once staunch defenders of speech and academic freedom, modern universities are quickly turning into ideological echo chambers, indoctrinating students into a radical left-wing egalitarian worldview, while crushing dissenting opinion.

The disturbingly Orwellian trend to quell free expression on campuses can best be illustrated by an event that unfolded last year at James Madison University’s freshman orientation, when “student leaders” distributed a list of 35 things that incoming students should avoid saying, including phrases such as “you have a pretty face,” “love the sinner, hate the sin,” “we’re all part of the human race,” “I treat all people the same,” “people just need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps,” among other expressions.

You might find yourself laughing this off as nonsense, an isolated set of events perpetuated by a select group of fringe radicals. Unfortunately, I can assure you that this is not an isolated incident. In addition to the slew of protests that erupted at universities last year in response to conservative speakers being invited to campus, these kinds of events are indicative of a larger, and more pernicious attempt by the radical left to control the linguistic territory.

At universities across America, the campus left now demands that people accept certain preconditions for discussion. Not the kind of reasonable preconditions such as “treat people with respect,” or “don’t resort to personal attacks.” Rather, It is demanded that you accept a neo-Marxian worldview, rooted in the notion that the world is nothing more than a power struggle between two groups of people: those who oppress and those who are oppressed. They demand that people accept notions like white-male privilege as axiomatic – not to be debated – and force people to acknowledge how they've been privileged by the current socio-economic structure.

Refusing to accept these presuppositions not only bars someone from participating in the discussion. To challenge an idea, such as white privilege, is to reject the fact that racism and bigotry exist in our society. To challenge the notion that being white necessarily means you must be more privileged than a person of color is akin to blasphemy. To push against the idea that certain classes of people in America are ‘victims of systemic oppression’ is to deny the humanity and individual experiences of people of color, women, and other minority groups.

The campus left emphatically espouse the notion that “the personal is political.” Thus they believe, unequivocally, that the primary responsibility of the University should be to ensure students from “diverse cultural backgrounds” feel safe – and by safe they mean “not having their identities challenged;” and by identities they are referring to their belief systems – the lens by which they perceive the word.

From the perspective of a radical leftist, to participate in debate is not seen as merely engaging in criticism of some abstract idea. To challenge an idea is to challenge someone’s identity, and to challenge someone’s identity is to debate their humanity.

And that is one of the axiomatic rules of the campus Left – you cannot debate someone’s humanity.

Indeed, with more than a fifth of college undergrads now believing its okay to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive or hurtful statement,” the future of the First Amendment itself is currently uncertain.

What exactly is so dangerous about this movement?

For starters, the freedom of speech has wrongly been construed as just another value that we in the West hold in high regard. But it is more than a Right that we share as citizens of this nation. It is, ultimately, the mechanism by which keep our psyches and societies functioning.

See, most people just aren’t that good at thinking. I don't mean this as a sleight against anyone, but we’re all insufficient and we have limited awareness of most things because we just can’t know everything. We rely on communication with one another to facilitate the process of learning about things outside our realm of knowledge. Often we have to, first, stumble around like the blithering idiots we are, espousing our biased beliefs in a public forum, and subjecting our ideas to criticism before we can properly orient our thoughts.

When the open exchange of ideas is allowed, you get the opportunity for multiple people to put forward their biased oversimplifications and engage in debate that raises the resolution of the particular question and answer at hand. Ideas are hit with hammers, combed for contradictions, inadequacies and even falsehoods. On an individual level, this kind of scrutiny sharpens the schema you use to navigate the world because other people can tell you things you can’t know by yourself.

Maybe it’s an opinion espoused, or a behavior that manifests itself, or a misconception you hold- in any event, subjecting your beliefs to criticism is, in the short term sometimes painful because we often learn things about the world and ourselves that are uncomfortable; but, in the long term, it is the only way method we have for moving closer towards something that more closely resembles truth – and if not anything true, at least something less wrong. As a result, the lens by which you look at the world becomes clearer.

Further, it is also through a collective process of dialectic that we identify problems in our societies, formulate solutions, and come to some sort of consensus.

Thus the right to say what you believe should not just considered as "just another value." It's a conical value, without which all the other values we hold dear, that people have fought so hard, in such an unlikely manner, to preserve and produce all disappear.

Without it, there can be no progress. Without it, individuals abdicate their responsibility to engage in the sacred process of discovery and renewal. Without it, we can’t think. Without it, there can be no truth. Without it, there can be nothing but nihilistic psychopathology. The end result is a populist that is not only afraid to say what they think, but that doesn't even know what they think because they haven’t been allowed to stumble around in the dark to find some tiny fragment of light.

Therefore, when we consider placing restrictions on the freedom of speech we must do so with the most extreme caution. By setting ridiculous preconditions for discussion, the campus left not only makes the process by which we solve the problems with our society more difficult, but also, if taken to its extreme, it can lead to totalitarianism.

In the wake of dozens of campus protests last year, universities are now in a position where they have to choose between two incompatible values: truth or social justice. The former will lead us to a greater understanding, while the latter can only divide.

Cover Image Credit: Teen Vogue

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Being An English Speaker Is A Privileged Status

Multi-lingual is the way to go

English is not the official language of the United States of America. But even if it was, a country apparently founded on the idea of valuing every citizen as a free individual could do a much better job welcoming people who do not speak English.

While it is natural that one language became the most common, and that this has simplified many processes, this same simplification is not afforded to those who do not speak the language.

Language barriers can reduce one’s job opportunities, meaning that even if one has degrees and plenty of experience, many jobs are simply not available. Many employers are unfortunately unaccepting of those who do not speak English fluently, and some even discriminate against those who do not natively speak English.

Education becomes extremely complex for non-English-speakers. On the student side, while many schools offer English as a Second Language programs, which is wonderful, it should be acknowledged that these students face more work and less support than students who are native English speakers. To add to this, if parents do not speak English, communication from the school or with teachers becomes harder to access.

One of the greatest privileges of English speakers lies in healthcare. They can be sure that they will find a doctor who speaks their language and can clearly explain their medical situation in that language. The same goes for psychologists, social workers, and others in the health professions.

This becomes especially complicated for those who speak languages that are not commonly studied.

A friend of mine who teaches was mentioning recently that while there are many students and families in her district who speak Arabic, there are so few people working in psychology, social work, or other support services who speak the language that for the district to access them is not only difficult but expensive.

This too often means that schools fail to offer students and parents speaking these less-commonly studied languages sufficient aid.

So what is the answer? To adopt English as an official language would be so wrong in our country full of diverse and wonderful languages, backgrounds, and cultures. Instead of attempting to make English more and more widespread, we should focus our efforts on ensuring that people in this country who do not speak English can receive all of the same support as those who do speak English.

Some of this lies in ensuring that systems and institutions offer resources in several languages and that employers will not discriminate against those who are not native English speakers.

Much of the solution, however, is on us, especially if we are students entering a people-oriented profession. In fact, in all professions, becoming multi-lingual does not merely open doors for us but creates a society where more people have access to the services they need.

Cover Image Credit: Maialisa

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