Reflections on the Emerald City & Main Street, USA

Two undeniable symbols of the American Dream to me are the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz and Main Street at Disneyland. One appears as a simple, regular street (and where you enter at Disneyland), and the other is the end scape of the mythical yellow brick road in the 1939 classic film, The Wizard of Oz. Something fascinating about the two metaphors is that these places have mythologies attached to them, and overlapping mythologies at that. These include the American Dream and how you can consider what that might mean for this country and for you. There are two significant differences between the Emerald City and Main Street – the Emerald City is a glittering end point of perfection, and also a beginning of some mythological wonder of ‘getting there’ – which is where the American Dream exists. Another famous green symbol in film and literature is the green light in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This an oft explored literary symbol and can be interpreted in numerous ways. For the purposes of my analysis here, I do think that the greenness of the Emerald City and the green light of The Great Gatsby, both images illustrate a yearning that is fundamental to achieving your conception of the American Dream. There is so much room to dream.

Notably, the American Dream needs a yearning within it for it to inherently operate. The source of the desire could be material for some, but in reality, my idea around the American Dream is rooted in a certain measurements of fiscal stability, as well as a healthy, active civil society. Surveys of the public have shown this as well. The American Dream can have connotations of greed, but more importantly, the American Dream is illustrated by an opportunity for economic stability and social mobility. As for Main Street, I am especially fascinated with the idea that this is an “average town street,” where “anything can happen” and “anyone can make it happen” for the sake of achieving your dreams. The street, by design, is based on the town of Marceline, Missouri, that Walt Disney grew up in, as well as Fort Collins, Colorado. I am truly fascinated that both The Wizard of Oz is set in Kansas, and Main Street originates in the Midwestern town Walt was from.

The color green has numerous meanings that we associate alongside it – in The Wizard of Oz, there is a clear monetary association to it. In the original novella, L. Frank Baum made Dorothy’s shoes silver. The shoes changed to a glittering ruby red to show more vividly in the film. The yellow brick road is intended to symbolize gold and the shoes originally being silver sent a clear message about the bimetal monetary standard value. This was incredibly important in the time that it was written, in terms of valuing currency. Additionally, the characters are also political representations of the landscape of America at the time the book was written. The Scarecrow represents American farmers; the Tin Man represents America’s steel industry failure to combat international competition; the Cowardly Lion as a metaphor for America’s military performance in the Spanish-American war. (Wikipedia). The construction of the image of the Emerald City in the story is by no accident at all.

Beyond the Emerald City, there are people who embody the American Dream. Marilyn Monroe is one such example. She famously had a deep passion for the color green. Additionally, the first national magazine cover in 1946, she was on had her dressed in a Dorothy costume from The Wizard of Oz holding a lamb… how ironic – for Marilyn’s first magazine cover to be her petting a lamb! Little did she know the lion that Hollywood would be to her. Marilyn had emerald colored clothing and jewelry, which was clearly because she loved the color. The Emerald City mythology undoubtedly impacted her (she watched films for hours as a child at movie houses), as it was the most famous movie in Hollywood when she was growing up – Norma Jean was 13 when the film came out). Marilyn, later into her career, owned almost no real diamonds and owned mostly costume jewelry. She did not accumulate much wealth at the end of her life because she was so incredibly generous with those around her, to her own demise perhaps.

The irony of Marilyn’s American Dream was achieving mythology status in our culture without the monetary intensity we might associate with such level of fame. More importantly, building her fame included owning her story of how she had endured poverty and economic hardship early in her life and sharing that with the public. The American public embraced her for it because it is an all too familiar narrative in this country unfortunately. Her first husband, Jim, notes how he lived in a tent with his family during the Great Depression and was never ashamed of this. This kind of poverty was all too normal. The American Dream largely includes arising from economic hardship and helping others.

I am a proud American. I believe in the various merits of the American Dream. I believe I have the opportunity to pay it forward because of the opportunities I have received and the hard work I have put forth to grow in my career and achieving an education. I seek to continue my own American Dream. I do believe part of this foundation is a strong support system. This system is one that we can all work on creating for ourselves when we pursue our dreams. I also believe that abundance must be shared. Greed is sometimes associated with the color green, and it’s important to remember that sharing is caring and generosity comes in many forms.

Green also is associated with life itself; connecting green to nature is more important for me than it is to monetary value. If generosity is not in a monetary form, it can come in the form of kindness and sincerity for your neighbor – maintaining a general attitude of generosity leads to abundance of all kinds, I believe. In my opinion, the true nature of all our spirits contains love and love can be shared all around in a multitude of ways! Looking toward one another for love, hope, and support is deeply human – to see and be seen for how we experience the trials we experience in this life and for regarding one another with respect because of it. As this country faces economic hardship, the losses that have been brought on by a global pandemic, and the current and future climate challenges we all face, we must believe in our own vitality and the power of humanity for it.

Taken at his studio on 480 Lexington he shared with Marty Baumen, Milton Greene photographs Marilyn Monroe sitting on a stool in a black skirt and green vest. Some cut out flowers sprinkle the back wall creating a simple background.

The American Dream is yours and as much as it is mine

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