Children’s tale has universal political, life lessons

Published 12:31 am Saturday, August 6, 2016

When I told my niece, Sarah, we’d celebrate her Sweet 16 in New York City, she quickly gave me her top request: the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

I’d read the book. The touring production had just been in Alabama. I was not excited. She was.

“Wicked” is the back story of the all-too-familiar Wizard of Oz. It explores the friendship of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West to most of us) and Galinda (Glinda the Good Witch). Sarah could not have picked a show with a more timely message.

Elphaba is green. Like many who look different, she is treated differently, and disliked by her beautiful school roommate, Galinda. Of course, they eventually become unlikely friends, until Elphaba takes a controversial political-type action, standing up for the rights of those being silenced.

Galinda works constantly to be the girl who appears to be good and who pleases others. Elphaba begins to be painted as “wicked.”

When the show was over, I asked sweet Sarah what it was about. She looked at me as if I had three heads.

“It’s about the witches,” she said.

“Yes, but what is it really about?”

“Um. How the witches are friends.”

Three or four probing questions later, I outlined the themes. Good vs. Evil. Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes, we cast someone who is not like us in the role of “wicked,” not because they are, but because we need for them to appear wicked so that we are more attractive by comparison.

“Ohhh,” she said. I could see the lights in her eyes.

“Now. Where else do you see this happening,” I quizzed her. Poor child, to have to travel with someone determined there are lessons everywhere. But this time, her comprehension was lightning fast.

“Politics,” she said with a grin, outlining how candidates are using the same tools.

Any student of the subject will agree that it’s easier to get someone to vote against something or someone than for someone. It’s playing out on our national stage, and we’re about to see it in the state, as the legislature considers a lottery to cure the state’s General Fund woes. As much as Alabamians dislike such sins, Gov. Bentley is gambling that we’d prefer it to a tax designed for the same cure. The governor insists that his proposal is for a lottery only, if Alabamians approve it, and would not allow additional gaming. Experts disagree.

As we trod toward November, remember the universal lessons.

Different does not equal bad.

Some actions produce unintended consequences.

Things aren’t always what they seem.



Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.