‘Wicked’ is a musical suited for this political moment
Lies! Propaganda! Revisionist history! Yeah, Broadway is just like real life
Thu, Sep 6, 2012 (10:43 p.m.)
Google the words “Paul Ryan speech” and you barely need to read past the headlines: “Paul Ryan’s post-truth convention speech” (The Atlantic), “Paul Ryan’s breathtakingly dishonest speech” (Washington Post), “The Paul Ryan speech: Five hypocrisies” (The New Yorker) and “Paul Ryan’s speech in 3 words” (Fox News). Those words? “Dazzling, deceiving and distracting.”
After Ryan sent fact-checkers into a flurry last week with a Republic National Convention address that took such ample liberties with facts and history that it left the media stunned and infuriated, I was sitting in a packed Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center for Broadway smash Wicked. Those unfamiliar with the show might not expect to find much in common with the Tampa and Charlotte conventions in a musical about Oz and the life of the Wicked Witch of the West pre-Dorothy, but (spoiler alert!) Wicked is full of political and social issues—from censorship to racism, discrimination and corruption. I’ve seen the show before (a number of years ago) and read the book, but I’d forgotten just how well it relates to the current political climate of name-calling, lies and propaganda.
In place of Ryan, we have the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Though not as dedicated to P90x as his Republican counterpart, the Wiz is no less handsy with the facts. And when confronted about his lies—including a smear campaign responsible for turning the young, (literally) green activist Elphaba into the Wicked Witch of the West—Oz replies, “They were the lies they wanted to hear. Where I come from we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true … We call it history!”
The line struck a chord. While the musical paints the Emerald City leadership as grossly amoral, we’ve been far kinder to our politicians in the face of their misdeeds (no banishments thus far, at least). Last week, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse even went so far as to defend a Republican welfare ad that’s widely been declared false, saying, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
Only he misspoke. What he really meant—and what he was really saying—was that they wouldn’t let the Romney campaign be dictated by facts. After all, that’s what fact-checkers do: They report the facts, and where political claims do and do not measure up. Of course, the Republicans aren’t alone in their manipulations of the truth. Last night’s speech by Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention—riveting though it was—also worked statistics and history for the most positive possible spin. And just like the citizens of Oz, lapping up the Wizard’s lies with smiles (and sweet dance moves!), Americans seem to be taking our politicians’ falsehoods far too easily in stride.