The Man Behind the Curtain

Postcards from Jumpspace

When she arrived in the Emerald City, Dorothy and her companions were groomed, dressed and prepared for their encounter with the Great and Powerful Oz. Upon entering his chamber they were awed and frightened by the Great Oz floating before them, wreathed in smoke and flame. Of course, Toto then finds the man behind the curtain who is running the whole thing. Like a villain being unmasked by Scooby and the Gang, the Great and Powerful Oz is revealed to be just a con man from Kansas.

The con man then gives her companions what they want and Dorthy is shown that she has the ability to go back home herself and she returns to Kansas.

I have always wondered… why is this considered a happy ending? Sure, she is happy to be home at first, but she will wake up the next morning in her black-and-white world, knowing that the bright, colorful world she left behind was only a dream and that the only magic in the world was the work of a man hiding behind a curtain creating an illusion through smoke and mirrors.

I’ve been thinking about Dorothy and that man because DragonCon is coming here to Atlanta next week. I’m planning on going this year, for the first time in around a decade. You would think that I, as a long time Atlanta resident and Science Fiction fan, would have been a regular attendee but that hasn’t been the case. Actually, I haven’t been to any Science Fiction convention in a very long time.

I used to be a regular Con goer; at one time I was going to multiple Cons per year and sometimes even multiple Cons per month. I worked to put on Cons. Hell, I was on the staff of several WorldCons.

The odd thing is that I discovered after a while that the more Cons I went to, the less I enjoyed the reasons I was going. For example, growing up I was a huge fan of Star Trek. My friends and I would run around the vacant lots and fields of our town pretending we were a landing party from the Enterprise exploring an alien world. We built models of the Enterprise, bought the novels, blueprints and tech manuals and would daydream that we were on the Enterprise itself, exploring strange new worlds.

I knew Star Trek was just a TV show of course, but somewhere in some corner of my mind my sense of wonder could take over and, just a little bit, I could imagine it was real.

Then I started going to the Cons and meeting the actors who portrayed the characters who had been my heroes. I met Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly and many of the others. I attended the panels showing how the special effects were done, how the amazing devices the crew used were just bits of plastic and broken electronics and how the alien worlds they visited were odd sand dunes with spray-painted vegetation populated with extras wearing foam rubber and glitter.

Somewhere along the line, this started affecting how I reacted to the books I read and the movies and shows I watched. Suddenly, I wasn’t seeing the new, alien worlds in front of me. Instead, I found myself noticing more and more the man behind the curtain in the corner. And some of the color, some of the magic seemed to go out of the world. An entire genre that had brought me enjoyment by awakening my sense of wonder, had lost its wonder.

So I took a step back. I quit concentrating so much on what was going on behind the scenes and started focusing on the stories themselves again. And, slowly, that man started disappearing behind the curtain again. Sure, I still knew that shows like Farscape and Battlestar Galactica starred Ben Browder and Claudia Black or Jamie Bamber and Katee Sackhoff, but to me they were less important than John Crichton and Aeryn Sun or Lee “Apollo” Adama and Kara “Starbuck” Thrace. I could watch and enjoy the adventures of Moya and her crew of fugitives or the Galactica and its rag-tag fleet and feel that sense of wonder again.

It has been a decade since I last went to a convention. I’m expecting to have fun with this one, to run across old friends that I haven’t seen in a long time, to prowl the dealers rooms, to gawk at the costumes and to see what new and exciting things are around the corner. And, I’ll probably look in on those panels featuring the people who play heroes on the screen, larger than life and wreathed by smoke and flame. But when I do, I will do what I can to ignore the man behind the curtain and so keep my dreams of color and magic.

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