Feb 5, 2013

The Boys and Men of Oz

My brother and I hated The Wizard of Oz, the terrible 1939 movie starring Judy Garland.  When we were little we were terrified of the flying monkeys, the man-eating pigs, and the homicidal Wicked Witch. When we grew older, we ridiculed the saccharine songs and the corny "It was all a dream" bit.  And why would anybody want to go back to Kansas?

I never heard of any Oz books until one day in junior high I stumbled across a whole shelf of them at the library, 14 published by L. Frank Baum and 20 by other people. I picked one up out of curiosity.  And then another.  And another. I had found a "good place."

There was little beefcake: the protagonists, boys or girls, were drawn in the same style, as delicate and pretty as cherubs yet tough and hardy, able to endure long wilderness treks and fight monsters.

There was little bonding. The protagonist traveled with a melange of talking animals, magical objects, and adult companions. I found only two significant homoromances.  In Ojo in Oz, between Ojo and the bandit Realbad, but in the end Realbad turns out to be the boy's father, ruining it.

And in Rinkitink in Oz (1916), the jovial king Rinkitink discovers that his talking goat companion is really an enchanted prince named Bobo.  The two walk into the sunset together.

There were many disturbing, horrible elements.

1. No one ages in Oz, so babies stay babies and kids stay kids forever.

2. No one can die, so if you cut someone into pieces, each piece remains alive and conscious.

3. Inanimate objects can easily be brought to life, and they stay alive and conscious forever.

4. There is casual racism, sexism, and class-based bigotry.  Rude comments and unpleasant mannerisms are presented as endearing. Kids are often threatened by sinister adults.

So why was Oz a good place?

1. The delicate, pretty boys in their flamboyant costumes are all gay-coded. Every boy in Oz is gay.

2. Adult men and women follow a strict division of labor, with women who hoped for equality ridiculed.  But the boys and girls have precisely the same interests and activities.  A boy named Tip is transformed into Princess Ozma.

3. The boys and girls never express any heterosexual interest.  Occasionally an adult does, but only minor characters in side-plots irrelevant to the main story.

4. There are few if any nuclear families.  The main family structure in Oz is single parent and child.

5.The outsiders who find their way to Oz are the odd, the unusual, the outcast, the "queer."  And they always find a home.

See also: The Wizard of Oz

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