Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Wizard of Ounces

Quite a few blogs and alternative news outlets are starting to identify the recent slides in the US stockmarket and exchange rates as being harbingers of the global financial meltdown so many of us have been expecting

For some, it’s just like its 1929 all over again

And we all know what happened economically and politically in the ten years after 1929 don’t we?

Actually, to tell the truth, most people don’t, which is why it’s been so relatively easy to stage the rerun.


A frequent response ordinarily financially astute people who I have discussed this with have given to me when discussing impending recessions/ depressions goes something like this...

'Yeah, the bubble will burst eventually but the people who will get hit hard will be those who were stupid enough to over-extend themselves borrowing money to buy over valued houses or consumerist shit. It will serve them right'

Hmm, the problem with that line of thought is, of course, is that it's bollocks. Only the ultra-rich will benefit and will be able to hoover up assets at fire-sale prices. Everyone below that level will have to shoulder the costs of having several million of their fellow citizens wiped-out financially. They will pay through increased taxation, job insecurity, and exciting but not so new forms of government.
Everyone will get it up the rear end


Still, it would be good news for people who like to dabble in documentary photography. Some photographers, like Martin Parr (more of him another time), have adapted to the times and have set about recording the horrors of faux prosperity and over-consumption but for most socially-aware photographers there’s nothing like a really good fucking depression and lots of people looking fucked up and wretched.

You can really display your humanity photographing people who are in the shit

Enter stage left, Dorothea Lang and the most iconic photograph of the 1930s Depression –
Migrant Mother

'Migrant Mother' aka 'Oh look! Poor People! How quaint' - Someone made an entire career and a comfortable living off the back of this photograph - and it wasn't any of the people in it

I love that picture. I used to love it when I was younger because I thought, as I was told to, that it documented the despair of the excluded and was a powerful call for people to do the right thing. I now love the picture because I know that it was taken by a ‘champagne socialist’ under false pretences and totally misrepresents its subjects. In the words of the ‘Migrant Mother's grandson

“…a shiny new car (it was only two years old) pulled into the entrance, stopped some twenty yards in front of Florence and a well-dressed woman got out with a large camera. She started taking Florence's picture. With each picture the woman would step closer. Florence thought to herself, "Pay her no mind. The woman thinks I'm quaint, and wants to take my picture." The woman took the last picture not four feet away then spoke to Florence: "Hello, I'm Dorthea Lange, I work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the plight of the migrant worker. The photos will never be published, I promise." Florence said, "Okay, if you think it will help." The woman turned, walked away, got in her car, and was gone. The next day the promise was broken: Florence's picture taken by the well-dressed lady was on the front page of all the newspapers…”

'Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet... I'm Hunting Poor People'

The moral of the story being, I think, that that the ruling class, be they industrialists or chattering liberals, always exploit the poor – they just go about it in slightly different ways.


And whilst on the subject of Depressions, the 1930s and people called Dorothy, somebody made a comment under one of those ‘It’s 1929 all over again’ articles that reminded me of a theory that has always amused me…

The comment claimed that The Wizard of Oz was a political and economic allegory of America in the late 1890s and the not entirely dissimilar economic and political situation of the 1930s

"We're off to get fucked by the Bankers, the wonderful Bankers of Oz!!"

A few examples to illustrate the thesis...

  • Oz is the abbreviation for Ounces, the traditional measure of Gold. The price of which was manipulated by financial ‘wizards’ such as JP Morgan

  • The Yellow Brick Road leading to the Emerald City are allegories for the Gold Standard and Washington

  • The Wicked Witch of the East (Coast) represents the money men from New York

  • Dorothy herself represents the honest ‘everyman’ farmer from agricultural Kansas who eventually realises that she had the power to change the world for the better all along in the form of her silver slippers (a free currency/ the vote)

  • The Tin Man represents the industrial proletariat held back by monopolies such as JD Rockefeller’s Standard Oil

…and so on and so on. There’s even a nod to the international drugs trade in the form of a field of sleep-inducing poppies that almost do our heroes in

There’s an entire article on the subject up on Wikipedia (so it must be true). Normally, I’m a tad sceptical about people reading things in books or lyrics without explicit acknowledgment from the author but the Oz thing seems solid to me … and very, very funny

It makes you kind of wonder what’s really going on in
Teletubbies. It’s pretty clear that kids understand every word they’re saying but they won’t tell us grown ups


And finally, on the subject of people reading too much into books or lyrics, my favourite example is the undoubtedly excellent Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix. The opening line goes...

After all the jacks are in their boxes and the clowns have all gone to bed
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
Footprints dressed in red and the wind whispers mary…

Now you could, as some Hendrix fans have done, try to decipher the complicated psychedelic allegories woven into these words…

Or, you can just believe, as I do, the story that Hendrix was piss drunk, late one night in front of a television and only had this to watch…



lwtc247 said...

nlVery intersting that Stef. Al Jazeera showed a "People and Power" program about the 'carry trade'. People (large companies) were borrowing at almost 0% for Japan (or Swiss Franc), essentially FREE MONEY, and going (carrying it) to other countries to buy profitiable businesses and other assets. This is why we are seeing such HUGE mega takeovers.

Apparently, Iceland is doing this and buying up property in London (which of course will appreciate much higher - or so it is hoped) than the value of the Yen.

I dont know the name of the guy who did the program, but like all good economic commentators I've come to repsect, he sounded a bit like a duck when he spoke.

Of course the ordinary people cant do this. Big business only. And this "Big Biddnez" becomes bigger and more unfriendly in the process and of course more greedy, which like Dorothy you mentioned is going to be screwed. i.e. if the Yen appreciates and the interest rate goes up.

What wasn't mentioned was what if Japan moves up the speed on the printing presses like the US does. Does Japan publish M3? The Japan economy is an extension of the US economy, helping to prolong the US's fall. People have been saying its all going to collapse for years but still its staved off. And Gold is still relatively not that expensive so the people in the know the international bankers still believe there's a lot more mileage left.

I never realised that the Wiz of of Oz could have thee meanings but it makes perfect sence.

In the end however Dorothy managed to overcome the wicked witch of the East, by throwing water on her and tapping the magic shoes. Any idea what these things represent?

Do you remember a movie called Zardos? Do you know of any connection with the hidden meaning behind the wizrds of Oz.

paul said...

Whatever form it takes we'll be told that it's our fault. Most will accept that as readily as they accepted the 'good times' were due to our own gifts.

Stef said...


Dorothy's slippers were made of silver in the original book. The author of Oz, L. Baum was politically active in the 'free silver' movement in the 1890s which advocated pegging the dollar to silver as well as gold as a means of inflating ordinary people's debts away at the expense of the banks...

as for the symbolism of the water I'll pass...

Stef said...

The most succint summary attempting to unravel the allegory in Oz I've yet found...

The original 1900 book centers on a yellow brick road (gold), traversed by magical silver slippers (the 1939 movie changed them to ruby slippers), as Dorothy leads a political coalition of farmers (Scarecrow), workers (Tin Woodman) and politicians (Cowardly Lion) to petition the President (Wizard) in the capital city of Oz (the abbreviation for ounce, a common unit of measure for precious metal). The real enemy of the little people (Munchkins) is the giant corporation or Trust (Wicked Witch of the West), whom Dorothy dissolves, just as the progressives of the era tried to dissolve the corporate trusts.

Stef said...

and yes, I do remember Zardoz - it's definitely laden with allegory but unfortunately suffers from being a bit silly

it certainly didn't penetrate popular consciousness in the way that the original Oz did and that's what makes discovering that Oz may very be a political allegory so amusing - people read it to children. ho ho, now that's what I call subversive

paul said...

Its strange how the film version is almost exactly the opposite of the book.
In the book dorothy gets to explore a weird, in your face version of reality. She does defeat the witch/bankers cabal, expose the ruler and find that opium has its attractions.
But in the film, It's only a dream, and she has learnt that everything as it is (depression era ameriky), is the best.

Stef said...


nicely put

and, as you know, not strange at all

much changed in America and the World between 1900 (book) and 1939 (film)

paul said...

Still, the film's a cracking piece of counter revolutionary entertainment.

paul said...

And the workers are happier without their courage, brains and humanity.

lwtc247 said...

Alice in Wonderland, Captain Pugwash, Wizard of Oz... What the hell were they trying to do to us kids's minds?

Shutter said...

The system for weighing precious metals predates 1066 and all that and is said to have orginated in Troyes, France. A Roman town, in Aube, on the Seine and HQ of Chemise Lacoste.There are 12 troy ounces to the pound, as distinct from the 16 avoirdupois ounces
A troy ounce = 480 grains ,avoirdupois ounce = 437.5 grains). Also used to measure archery weights and gunpowder
A troy ounce is abbreviated as ozt so fucks up your theory about Oz.
But hey, it's a fine story... and it if does where does the rainbow fit in ?

In case you ask avoirdupois means "goods by weight," (Norman French) a system of weights which whilst they seem odd are all simple multiples of the pound unit.. still of course used by our colonies like the US.

There are people who suggest that it was the Scots who introduced 16 ounces which being lighter were of benefit to the seller and confused the buyer ... shirley not.

Stef said...

and what lies at the end of the rainbow?

and it's just as well that Baum plumped for Oz rather than Ozt - imagine trying to find words that rhyme with that...

Oh, you're off to see the Wizard,
The wonderful Wizard of Ozt!
You'll find he is a whizt of a Wizt
If ever a Wizt there was.

it just doesn't bear thinking about

lwtc247 said...

Al Jazeera's "People and Power" 'homepage' is here...

The carry trade proggy int there yet, but I can see a pic of "duckman"

Stef said...

This guy has some anatid features...

Wolfie said...

Oddly enough I always saw The Wizard of Oz as political/economic allegory, maybe because my Father grew-up in the '30s depression and graphically recounted the conditions and the world events that gave birth to it? Mind you, most of the nursery-rhymes we know as children have their basis in political satire so it doesn't seem surprising that there are more examples right under our noses. Such creative imagery is scarce these days.

Good post Stef.

Recently Gordon Brown was visiting the US and I noticed all the headlines highlighting his statement "The Debt we owe the US", which I thought highly ironic but also a clear indication to the City that the ongoing policy of economic support for the ailing US dollar was going to continue unabated under his prime ministership.

brendadada said...

I love this blog. All my favourite subjects in one post, and a fascinating comment stream, too.

lwtc247 said...

Latest Wizard of Oz analysis: The Occult Roots of the Wizard of Oz. Vigilant Citizen – October 8, 2009.

Gold is up up up $1048 at last sight. Well no actually t isn't, its your paper crap that's goinf down down down.

It's amazing to read my old comments heading the comments section.

'He' of course was Mad Max Keizer.

Miss your posts Stef, especially in these times where 'do not disturb' ongoing mass murderers are winning the Nobel Piss Prize.

paul said...

Another aspect of the rich original text is that the inhabitants of emerald city is that they wear green glasses, everything is filtered by the colour of money.

stef said...

f*** me I used to write some long posts

2 years ahead of Vigilant Citizen though ;)