Today, I have been reading in Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture, in which William Leach lays out the rise of a consumerist mindset in America, which he argues is influenced by Mind Cure, the philosophical and ethical underpinning of theosophy and several other popular spiritual movements of the day whose main tenet is positive thinking.
He points out Baum’s prominence as a pioneer in techniques of window display, and his general unconcern with suffering, and sets these ideas parallel to major features of Oz: the very landscape is rich with food, so that even though Dorothy runs out of provisions a couple of times, somehow food always comes to her, either from kindly people in cottages or from the foraging of her companions. The Wizard himself is a complete fraud, who uses techniques of display to manipulate his subjects (he “made” the people of the Emerald City build his palace by convincing them he was a powerful wizard, etc) and continues that practice with Dorothy and her companions when he says he can help them but will only do it if they wipe out the wicked witch.
He is a showman, and a brilliant marketer of his own brand, and everyone loves him anyway. Even Dorothy forgives him. Baum identified with him. Leach argues that Baum is participating in the process of divorcing consumption from production – that you can have whatever you want, if only you believe in yourself and go about taking it, and that doing so is not only ethical, but desirable.
The idea that we each contain the potential to achieve our desires is clear in the companions, of course. I’ve already written (and so has, like, EVERYONE ELSE) about how each one of them believes he lacks some critical characteristic, but how each one of them is WRONG.
It’s interesting. I’m not sure how much of the issue of consumerism will matter for my larger project, but I think the influence of Baum’s theosophy, in particular his focus on the power of positive thinking, will be very useful.