by Robert Rebein
Dodge City, Kansas native Robert Rebein recently released Headlights on the Prairie; Essays on Home. Below is the opening essay, Why I Hate The Wizard of Oz…
Imagine having the land of your birth, a place about which you have complex and wildly ambivalent feelings, reduced to a black-and-white cartoon. Someone asks you where you’re from, and when you reply “Kansas,” this well-meaning stranger grins and blurts out, “Where’s Toto? Oh, that’s right. We’re not in Kansas anymore!”
You get this in New York, Indiana, California. Even as far afield as Paris, you get it. “Kansoz! Ah, oui. Les munchkins!”
How to say you hail from a place uninhabited by tinmen and sweet little girls in pinafores, a demanding, starkly beautiful place with twenty-mile views, sunflowers as big as your head, and night skies so clear that you might believe yourself to have been born among stars? Where the wind blows without cease and flies bite like vampires and the stink of the slaughterhouse overhangs everything like a toxic cloud. Where it’s not unusual for a kid like you to receive his first shotgun at ten, drive a wheat truck at twelve, and solo in a Beechcraft
Debonair at fourteen or fifteen.
“Does that sound like Oz?” you want to ask.
But you don’t. Why bother?
When the tornado came and swept you away, as you knew all along it would, it was not to drop you into some Technicolor fantasy, but rather into the same world of Applebee’s and Best Buy the jokesters inhabit. That’s the context here; that’s the reason you refuse to join Dorothy’s fan club.
Rebein is a professor of English and chair of the Department of English at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis. His books include Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City and Hicks, Tribes, and Dirty Realists: American Fiction after Postmodernism. Rebein, along with various UPK staff members, will be at the Dodge City Days next Friday-Sunday.