Friday, May 14, 2010

Heroes and Thieves

There seems to be a bit of a "bah-humbug!" moment on behalf of some critics in the film industry regarding the upcoming film-adaptation of the legend of Robin Hood. Needless to say, this is a myth that, much like Through the Looking Glass, has seen many iterations through many mediums. But it appears that this prequel to the well-known story explores a tighter focus on Robin of Loxley's relationship with the government in particular. The critics opine that he appears much more like a tea-party tax-protester rather than the socialist fever-dream proletariat-hero that they have always envisioned him to be.

Let me say first and foremost that, although I've enjoyed some incarnations of the Robin Hood story, I've never been a huge fan of the myth...just from an aesthetic standpoint. Most of the adaptations just haven't captured my interest (although a few have). Nonetheless, I can at least somewhat sympathize with their qualms regarding the film. It is certainly true that we generally regard this particular story as a socialist one; indeed we are told he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. I've often thought that this particular distillment does somewhat of a disservice to the story itself. Could the lore of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men hold any other meaning(s)?

I think it's safe to say that most authors want to convey some kind of message in their stories. They may not all be axiomatic and of ethical origins, but there is usually something - a feeling, a question, an idea - that they wish to convey. But, even being fairly aware of an artist's intentions, we often have our own bias in retrieving some kinds of messages that were never intended. For instance, someone can walk away from a movie like Aliens and get any combination of the following messages:
  • Technology is bad
  • War is bad
  • Capitalism is bad
  • Mining is bad
  • Respect animal rights
  • You can't trust people
  • We shouldn't explore space
  • There really are extra-terrestrials
  • People in the military are not intelligent
  • Children are smarter than adults sometimes

That is not to say that any of these items are or are not true; but I've heard any one of these messages gleamed from that film at any one point in time. The author of the story, or the director of the film, may or may not agree with any of these points. It's less likely he intended to convey ALL of these messages (at least consciously). So it's safe to say we all have a bias to see stories through the prism of our own dispositions. So I will go ahead and make it clear that my interpretation of the Robin Hood legend is probably tinted; however I do not believe that makes it incorrect.

While I think that the story is quite saturated with overtones of the virtue of charity, I've always felt that it was a story primarily concerned with the virtue of justice. Indeed, it was actually a story about injustice; A tyrant who oppressed his people by over-taxing them and then passing favor to rich government officials who squandered that wealth. The dichotomy of a poor peasant/warrior vs. the rich tyrant/king may certainly connote class inequity. But I've often felt that it just as easily connotes inequity of authority. The protagonists are generally the common people, whereas the antagonists are wealthy aristocrats who are entrenched with government power (the faux-king and sheriff in particular stand out). Indeed the story is not about the inequitable wealth incurred by a free society, but of a people who are heavily taxed of every last dime by their government, under the threat of being imprisoned.

Taxation and government power, at least to me, were key parts of the plot. In fact, it was the crux of the whole story in many regards. And while I believe the class aspects of the story are important, I felt that they merely provide the appropriate sentiment in the struggle of those with no authority over government officials whom hold all of the authority. Is it possible that this cherished legend of rich vs. poor could really be about the governing vs. the governed? You may be too attached to the prevailing interpretation to concede much ground on the idea of the story as centered around government power, but, given the angle I've introduced here, would you not concede that my story could be an equally plausible explanation? I don't think it's that much of a stretch. After all, is the idea of Robin of Loxley stealing from the government to give to the poor really that frightening?

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