Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wizard vs. Witch. Who's the real villain?

While writing a story for JW SChnarr's Shadows of the Emerald City horror anthology, I began to wonder why people assume the Witch of the West is the villain? I thought the same as a child, but looking back at that movie I don't understand why she is seen as the villain at all. It can't just be the maniacal laughter and green skin, can it? I've known several very nice people with laughs that could scrape the paint off a wall, but that doesn't make them evil. And to discriminate based on green skin? I'd like to assume the makers of the movie weren't selling a racist agenda in their children's movie. I should note that the Witch in the original book did not have green skin, but she was described as being very very old, homely and having only one eye, so it could still be that she was assumed to be the villain just because she was unattractive or very old.

Let's look at both sides, witch vs. wizard:

The Wizard is in a position of power where he has spent a lifetime misleading the public and frightening his citizens into submission. A little girl from a far-off land approaches him, asking for assistance, and his response is to send her on a mission to kill his most dangerous adversary. In return he makes promises that he's incapable of keeping, giving snake oil presents to Dorothy's helpers and then escaping before fulfilling his promise to Dorothy. His only explanation is: "I'm not a bad man, only a bad wizard." That's a terribly weak excuse considering the magnitude of his crimes. The Wizard escapes without providing his promised payment AND without paying for his crimes, and we think the story ends happily?


The Witch: The Witch's eastern counterpart is dispatched without warning by a powerful child adversary who claims she didn't mean to do it. But of course, that's exactly what any child-assassin would say in that circumstance. And honestly, when was the last time an intact house fell out of the sky by coincidence? And if it were an accident, what are the odds that it would land on the Wicked Witch of the East? The Witch would be a fool to believe Dorothy at her word. Then, despite the child-assassin's claims of innocence, the girl accepts a mission from the Witch's greatest adversary to go kill the Witch. How can anyone fault the Witch for trying to kill Dorothy? It's clearly self defense! Even in the moments of her death, the Witch has no reason to question her own judgment--somehow the girl knew her one weakness and used it with no hesitation. Dorothy claimed it was an accident, but again, what are the odds of that?

In a discussion with writer Jeanne Tomlin about this topic, she said the following:
"It's hard to separate this subject from the very real persecution of women that witch hunts in Europe covered up. What you are looking at and questioning is some pretty basic sexism. Any time a female creature (especially in a Disney movie) wants power, then she is by definition evil since power by rights belongs to males. Blech. I prefer to concentrate on less depressing parts of fantasy."

While there probably is some degree of sexism at play here, particularly since the source material was written over a hundred years ago, I don't think that's the whole picture.

If I had to pick who was the most powerful character in the story, I would say it was Glinda, yet she's not portrayed as evil. She plays a positively depicted female in power, despite her ridiculous bubbly voice, and her unfortunate fashion sense (was that pink monstrosity of a dress EVER in style?). She's the only one who is shown using magic of her own, even if she does show it by riding around in a bubble. The Wizard's magic is smoke and mirrors, and the Wicked Witch of West seems to have no magic, save through magical mediums: the broom, the crystal ball, the monkeys. Glinda is the only one who shows any inherent magic, and she's the only one who can determine the magical nature of the slippers. If sexism were the only agenda here, I think Glinda would be portrayed differently.

Glinda and Dorothy are both portrayed very positively, but every single major male character has a major flaw that mars his character: the heartless, the brainless, the cowardly, and the impotent. Granted, it may be a stretch to call the Tin Man and the Scarecrow male, but they were referred to with male pronouns in the book, and were played by male actors for the movie.

It seems to me that the sexism of Witch vs. Wizard is perhaps not so much a fault with the filmmakers, but is due to assumptions made by the viewers. Looking at it objectively, it seems very clear to me that the Wizard is the villain because of his behavior.

What do you think? Do you think the Witch is the real villain, or the Wizard, and why?

2 comments:

Jeanne Tomlin said...

*sigh* It's hard to separate this subject from the very real persecution of women that witch hunts in Europe covered up.

What you are looking at and questioning is some pretty basic sexism. Any time a female creature (especially in a Disney movie) wants power, then she is by definition evil since power by rights belongs to males.

Blech. I prefer to concentrate on less depressing parts of fantasy.

David Steffen said...

While there probably is some degree of sexism at play here, particularly since the source material was written over a hundred years ago, I don't think that's the whole picture.

If I had to pick who was the most powerful character in the story, I would say it was Glinda, yet she's not portrayed as evil. She plays a positively depicted female in power, despite her ridiculous bubbly voice, and her unfortunate fashion sense (was that pink monstrosity of a dress EVER in style?). She's the only one who is shown using magic of her own, even if she does show it by riding around in a bubble. The Wizard's magic is smoke and mirrors, and the Wicked Witch of West seems to have no magic, save through magical mediums: the broom, the crystal ball, the monkeys. Glinda is the only one who shows any inherent magic, and she's the only one who can determine the magic nature of the slippers. If sexism were the only agenda here, I think Glinda would be portrayed differently.

And it seems to me that the sexism of Witch vs. Wizard is perhaps not so much a fault with the filmmakers, but is due to assumptions made by the viewers. Looking at it objectively, it seems very clear to me that the Wizard is the villain because of his behavior.