John DePetro has long referred to Governor Lincoln Chafee by the insulting and disrespectful name of “Governor Gump.” DePetro has taken the name “Gump” from the 1994 Tom Hanks movie Forrest Gump, the implication being that Chafee is in some way as mentally handicapped as the titular character.
But there is an older use of the word, dating back to L. Frank Baum’s 1904 sequel to his children’s book The Wizard of Oz entitled The Marvelous Land of Oz. In this book a gump is a magnificent elk-like creature common throughout Oz.
This thought occurred to me as I listened Friday morning to Providence Diocese’s Bishop Thomas Tobin on the John DePetro Show. Speaking about the made up controversy regarding the Holiday Tree/Christmas Tree, Tobin compared Governor Chafee to the Wizard from the 1939 The Wizard of Oz movie:
In many ways the Governor is like the Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain in the movie. The Wizard of Oz who creates an illusion, who creates a fantasy land he thinks everyone else lives in, but in fact it’s a different world.
Who would have thought that the radio shock jock and the Catholic bishop would be so enamored of old children’s books? Putting aside DePetro’s comparison, which is infantile and unworthy of serious consideration, let’s take a closer look at Tobin’s literary metaphor.
When we think of the Wizard, in either the original novel or in the movie, we think of a man who claims to have magic powers. This man deceives the gullible and the ignorant, and uses deception to ensure his own political, temporal and secular power. We all know the famous line, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” But the Wizard, when exposed as a fraud and confronted with his lies, ultimately confesses that he is, after all, just a “humbug.”
I bet you see where I am going with this. Just as a comparison to the mentally handicapped Forrest Gump is better suited to John DePetro than to DePetro’s intended target, so is the comparison of the Wizard of Oz much more suited to Bishop Tobin than to Governor Chafee.
Tobin is, after all, a man who makes outrageous, unverifiable claims about reality. He claims to have the power to bless people and things. He claims the magical power of being able to transform wine into blood and bread into flesh. He tells the gullible and the ignorant magical stories about himself and others. Unlike Governor Chafee, it is Tobin who lives in an illusory fantasy land. Tobin’s title, “Bishop,” possesses the same sense of medieval gravitas as the word “Wizard,” though I’m sure your average peasant feared the politically and religiously ruthless Bishops more than they did the spells of faraway and mostly mythical Wizards.
In L. Frank Baum’s original novel, the Wizard forces the inhabitants of the Emerald City to wear green tinted glasses in order to fool them into thinking the city is made from precious gems. We have an idiom about the folly of seeing the world through “rose-colored glasses” rather than as it truly is. But whether the lenses are tinted green, rose or Catholic, one’s perception of reality is “colored” and our relationship with the world becomes warped and perhaps even dangerous.
The difference between Bishop Tobin and the Wizard of Oz is simply that the Wizard knows better than to believe his own hype. The Wizard knows that he is deceiving people and when confronted with reality the Wizard is man enough to admit his wrongdoings and to try and make amends. Of course, The Wizard of Oz is a book for children, and the novel’s reality is simple and justice is almost always ensured. Here in the real world things are more complex. Liars and mendicants, even when revealed, either double down on their claims or move onto the next gullible victims.
Here in the real world, justice and happy endings are rare.