Saturday, May 2, 2009

Trick of the Mind: The Dark Side of Oz

FYI: My text formatting didn't copy out of Word and I'm too lazy to fix it. All you MLA Nazis will have to pretend that the titles are appropriately italicized.

In 1973, British progressive-rock band, Pink Floyd, released their ground-breaking conceptual album, The Dark Side of the Moon. In the early 1990s, the album mesmerized a new generation of listeners, but in a surprising new way. An early internet message board started a rumor that The Dark Side of the Moon would synch up with the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. When started at a specific time in the movie, there are moments when the music and lyrics on the album seem to correspond with the scenes in the film. The phenomenon was dubbed The Dark Side of Oz, or sometimes The Dark Side of the Rainbow, in reference to the rainbow design of the album’s cover. When viewed correctly, the two pieces of work do seem to coordinate at certain points. However, this occurrence is more likely created by peoples’ psychological tendencies rather than a carefully planned conspiracy by Pink Floyd, like some fans believe it is.

Synchronicity is a theory that explains the seemingly meaningful coincidences between two unrelated events. The two events relate to one another conceptually with little chance of them occurring together randomly. It is the brain’s way of creating a pattern of connection that may not really exist. Synchronicity appears to happen because peoples’ minds notice the things that happen, while failing to notice the things that do not happen. They process out the like events and dismiss everything else around them. This is an unconscious habit that everyone possesses. It is a normal way for the brain to sort out sensory input it receives and only pay conscious attention to the things that are likely to be the most significant. Without it, people would struggle to think because their brains would be sorting through every bit of information it comes across.

People who watch The Dark Side of Oz are already aware of what the intended results should be. Therefore, they already have a mental predisposition towards picking out the synchronous events. They are intentionally looking for instances that confirm the connection between the album and the movie and are not paying attention to the instances that do not connect the two. This is known as “confirmation bias.” Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking where someone tends to specifically look for things that confirm one's beliefs, and to ignore the things that do not fit the pattern. If someone were to sit down and listen to The Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz with the intention of finding connections, they are likely to do so simply because they have already determined that they will find such connections.

Some fans of the The Dark Side of the Moon effect believe it was intentional on the part of Pink Floyd. The effect is created by starting The Dark Side of the Moon on CD at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, during the credits when the black and white MGM Studios lion roars for the third time. Whether or not it is intentional, the seeming correlation between the two can be striking at times. In one scene Dorothy is balancing on the fence of a pig sty while the lyrics in the song say, “And balanced on the biggest wave.” Another strong parallel between the movie and album is when Dorothy first walks past the Scarecrow in the field. The lyrics at that time say, “The lunatic is on the grass.” One of the final connections between the two is right before the album ends. Dorothy and the Scarecrow walk over to the frozen Tin Man and a sound similar to that of a heart beating starts in the music. In the movie, the Tin Man is about to sing the song, “If I Only Had a Heart.”

Although these instances can provide for a strong argument for the intentional nature of The Dark Side of Oz, the times when the album and movie do not line up far outweigh the times when they do. If this fact is taken into consideration, it dispels any proof of a real and consistent pattern. In addition to the psychological explanations of synchronicity and confirmation bias, the technology required for Pink Floyd to reproduce The Wizard of Oz in their studio and record music in time with it did not exist in 1973. Alan Parsons, the album's recording engineer, also stated that there had been no effort during recording to integrate the album with the film. The band also denies any such effort.

Regardless of how it came to be, The Dark Side of Oz remains a legendary piece of rock history. Its legend continues to grow because it challenges people to decide whether or not they think it is real, or simply their minds playing a trick on them. When viewed with a critical eye though, it is evident that the correlation between the movie and the album is nothing more than a psychological effect created by brains that are wired to find patterns and meaning in places that are occasionally meaningless. The rumor of The Dark Side of Oz remains simply what it is, a rumor.