In an article on the current British Museum’s exhibit of 60’s and post-60’s American art, English historian Simon Schama makes the pop culture reference, “But we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
If that phrase is not familiar to you, either you have not seen the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, or you have seen it, but in a different language. The movie, adapted from the earlier book series by L. Frank Baum, is among the most popular American movies of the 20th century; the “Toto” line, and many other lines from the movie, are often used in American media as well as in ordinary conversation.
In The Wizard of Oz, the actual line, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” is spoken by the main character, Dorothy; she says it in wonderment to her little dog, Toto, while realizing that she is no longer in her usual, plain Kansas homeland, but in a strange and colorful place called Munchkinland*.
The “Toto” line is often paraphrased or loosely borrowed, as it is in Schama’s article; the phrase itself means being out of familiar surroundings and in a whole new, strange place — either a positive one that could make you say, “Wow!” or a more negative one, where you feel out of your depth.
In his article, Schama uses the line to refer to contemporary art in the Trump era — and how the current hard-right Republican view of art is in a whole new place from other recent periods. “The inspirational high of the Obama presidency,” Schama says, “has been succeeded by an administration bent on obliterating all its accomplishments ….”
In other words, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
This iconic movie is a favorite among Baby Boomers who grew up with the once-a-year showing on TV and whose Gen X and Millennial children were treated to it on video throughout their childhoods. Google the phrase and it appears on T-shirts, posters, and memes; the line has also been referenced over the years in many movies, songs, commercials and TV shows.
To use this line yourself, try it the next time you find yourself in a strange situation. For example: you walk into a wedding reception that is extravagantly decorated and unlike anything you have ever seen — or could afford. You say to the person next to you, “Toto, it looks like we’re not in Kansas anymore!” and see if you get a laugh of recognition. (Just don’t say it to the bride’s parents.)
*Munchkinland is the place where Dorothy and Toto begin their journey to find the Wizard of Oz. The native people of Munchkinland are “Munchkins,” who are a small and round sort of people. And if you have ever been to a Dunkin Donuts store, you know that “Munchkins” are small, round donuts.
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