In 1975, L. Frank Baum’s Classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was remade into a Broadway musical, with an urban twist, called The Wiz. Three years later the musical was made into a movie with the same name.
As an elementary schooler, I went to see The Wiz on a field trip with my fourth grade class. My two best friends at the time were named Eric and Charles. Eric brought a family pack of Vienna Fingers (vanilla sandwich creme cookies) that I vividly remember the three of us scarfing down as we watched the movie. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how good they tasted, especially since the ones on grocery store shelves today fall woefully short of the standard set back in 1978.
I also don’t think I’ll ever forget the music in the movie. All the performances were good, but I was particularly struck by Diana Ross singing "Home", Nipsey Russel singing "If I Could Feel", and Michael Jackson singing "You Can’t WIn". I still remember, the melodies, images , and even most of the lyrics that accompanied those performances almost 40 years later. And I, of course, remember the basic plot, as any kid who has ever watched it undoubtedly does.
But I didn’t remember any of the dialogue. That wasn’t what I liked about the movie anyway. That is, at least until I watched it again Friday morning with my daughter.
The scenes were just as I remembered. In one of my favorites, there was Michael Jackson ‘done up’ as the Scarecrow, up on a scarecrow pole with his arms extended from his sides and wrapped around the arms of the pole. He was being taunted by the crows who told him that he’d be stuck up on that pole for the rest of his life. Then they demanded he to sing The Crow Anthem as a means of reinforcing message. The theme of the anthem is an unequivocally negative one, but the melody and the music (and Michael’s vocals) are so powerful that it’s easy to forget that the song is about the futility of life. Take a look for yourself.
Luckily I missed the essential meaning of the lyrics as a child. Or, at least I didn't act as if I had adopted them as a part of my own life code.
Anyway, Dorothy (Diana Ross) had been in the wings watching the scene above play out. After shooing the crows away, she told the Scarecrow that he wasn't stuck and could get down off pole if he wanted. Encouraged, the Scarecrow tried to climb down. But his legs, which were weakened and unsteady from lack of use, buckled and he fell flat on his face. The crows jeered as Dorothy rushed over to help. Here's just a little of the dialogue that ensued:
Scarecrow: Subject is a hopeless failure.
Dorothy: You are not a failure, you are just the product of some negative thinking. Just a little self confidence and coordination and you’re gonna be fine.
(Dorothy helps the Scarecrow to his feet and urges him to take steps)
Scarecrow: You mean the only thing standing between being stuck up there and living it up down here was - - - - - those crows?
Dorothy: They told you you couldn’t do it and you believed them?
Once the scarecrow "got his legs", he and Dorothy performed the movie's signature song, "Ease On Down The Road". With simple, yet very instructive admonishments to listeners like, "pick your left foot up and put your right one down", "keep on movin' down the road that you choose", and "don't you carry nothin' that might be a load", it's a direct rebuke of The Crow Anthem and could easily be subtitled, You Can Win - But You Gotta Keep It Simple.
Friday's feedback letter accused me of being too simplistic for the complicated racial realities we face today. I’ll take that as a compliment, at least as it relates to the problem solving principle called Occam's Razor which holds that, "One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities needed to explain anything."
If you are convinced all by yourself or by some 'crow' (perhaps a Black Lives Matter leader, or a politician - Republican or Democrat, or College Professor or President as examples), that you are stuck up on the pole, through no fault of your own, and that there are no prospects for an improvement to your situation, there is a simple solution and that is to change your thinking. This is true because negative thoughts lead to negative actions which lead to negative consequences.
If you allow yourself to get stuck in that pattern, the crows will have you singing their anthem in no time. And it'll sound good just like it did in the movie. The problem is that the ideas underpinning the anthem are so self defeating that no protest march, policy capitulation, or dissenter's scalp will ever be enough to help you truly get your legs.
But change your thinking and watch how quickly you start easing on down the road.