Idols With Feet Of Clay

by Viorica

Viorica rants about the bad writing in Robin Hood, and muses a bit on blind faith.
I mentioned in my Merlin article that I'd become uncomfortable with BBC's Robin Hood. It started out as harmless enough fun, then I noticed how abusively the men (including the writers) treated the female characters. By the end of the second season, when Marian was murdered by a man who was supposed to be pitied for his grief over her death, I was disgusted enough to turn the TV off and not look back. But when the third season started, I was drawn back like a horrified spectator to a mangled car wreck, and found that I was even more disturbed than I was before.

One of the biggest changes this season is the fact that they've finally gotten around to introducing Friar Tuck. He acts mostly as a motivator for Robin - while he's technically Christian, he might as well be heading the Church of Hood, considering how highly he values the faith people have in Robin. To Tuck, this blind faith is key to defeating the Sheriff. If everyone believes in Robin, they'll all fight for him, and trust that he'll restore peace and happiness. On the surface, it's a reasonable enough idea - you want people to be behind you when you foment a rebellion, after all. But when you peel back the layers of Tuck's logic, you find a frightening degree of fanaticism.

In the second episode, people from Locksley are being conscripted to fight for an Irish rebel, whether they like it or not. One girl charges off to save her brother, who was taken along with most of the village men. When Robin is captured along with the rest of them (due to her mistake of course, as Those Wimmin Can't Use Their Heads - a recurring theme on this show), she is incensed that Tuck's priority is rescuing Robin and Robin alone rather than the 30+ villagers. His response to her accusation that he's being selfish is that the faith people have in Robin outweighs the importance of the villagers' lives. It's reverse Jesus syndrome - instead of Robin sacrificing himself for the people, they're to be sacrificed for him, without being consulted as to how they feel about it. Not only that, but Robin and Tuck are the ones who get to make judgement calls on whose life is worth more. I find that deeply fucked up. Yes, war generals often have to make judgement calls where peoples' lives are at stake, but you don't put one man ahead of a dozen others because he's of a higher rank. The idea that Robin is more important than anyone else just by virtue of being Robin makes him no better than the people he's fighting - both see the common people as tools to achieve their ends.

At the end of the episode, after the girl's brother has been killed by the Sheriff, she angrily (and reasonably) tells Robin that she never wants to see him again. Tuck consoles Robin by telling him that "You can't win every mind." and "She's grieving now, but soon she'll be angry. And then she'll be ready to fight." Robin might find this comforting; I find it disturbing. What Tuck is saying is essentially that people should follow Robin not because they think he knows what he's doing, but because they're too pissed off to think clearly. There's a word for people who fight due to a combination of fanaticism and blind fate, and that word is "terrorist". Not hero.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with believing in something; thousands of people the world over do it without any negative consequences. People believe in political leaders, and that's necessary for them to be elected and take action. But there's a difference between believing in someone and taking independent action and believing in someone and waiting for them to do all the work. Robin doesn't have any credentials that make him a better leader than Joe Villager. In fact, he's arrogant, stubborn, and quite stupid. He's removed from the concerns and cares of the people who are actually suffering under the Sheriff's rule, and his driving motivation is the gratification he gets from the hero-worship he receives. Believing in him simply for the sake of belief is like believing in some guy because he says he can grant you eternal salvation if you just let him sleep with your wife - naive, foolish, and ultimately doomed.

The root of the problem is the writers, of course. The sad thing is, they haven't the faintest idea that they're doing it. They probably set out wanting to say something Deep about Faith and Hanging In There. Standard fare for children's stories - and this is a children's show. It's their lack of talent that's transformed Robin into a cultist with a reverse Jesus complex. Unfortunately, since no one's told them that it's actually a really stupid idea, all we can do is watch from between our fingers and hope that it's over soon.

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Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 15:04 on 2009-04-08
Thanks for another interesting article, Viorica - I'm kind of relieved I never started watching this, despite it being theoretically the sort of thing I'd be into.

Obviously I haven't seen it so I don't really have any right to judge (but when as that ever stopped me) but the Reverse Jesus Complex sounds bizarrely feudal to me. I mean, the Robin Hood legend is a bit weird anyway, being about this landed lord who lived in a forest for a bit until the rightful King came back and told him he could have his castle and peasants back again, which is hardly the sort of thing to inspire commoners to cheering and throwing their hats in the air. But in a Feudal system, it makes perfect sense for 30 worthless scumbags to sacrifice themselves for the nearest aristocrat. That was, after all, the point.

But there's surely no excuse for that kind of thing in something with purportedly modern sensibilities.
Arthur B at 15:48 on 2009-04-08
There's a word for people who fight due to a combination of fanaticism and blind fate, and that word is "terrorist". Not hero.

I seem to remember being put off the new Robin Hood when I heard the writers were going to try to tie it to contemporary politics and ask Tough Questions about the War On Terror. I'm kind of glad I stayed away...

Never mind; we'll always have the '80s version.
Dan H at 15:56 on 2009-04-08
while he's technically Christian, he might as well be heading the Church of Hood

This is, I think, a very common problem with anything that tries to deal with the concept of "Faith" in what is, ultimately, a secular society. The conceptual leap from "faith" in God to "faith" in a person is a small one, but they're actually very different things (then of course there's "faith" in yourself, which as we all know is the highest virtue to which anybody can aspire, and the solution to all of life's problems up to and including death).

To put it another way: we still think "faith" is A Good Thing but we don't really know what it means any more.

The "reverse-Jesus" thing is very similar. Modern "messianic" figures (Harry Potter, John Sheridan, Buffy) are basically gigantic wish-fulfillment ego-trips. It's the result of taking ideas that are rooted in concepts of community and applying them to a society that prioritises individuality.

Or something.
Claire E Fitzgerald at 13:45 on 2009-04-09
Thankyou for this! That programme has always irked and unsettled me, but I've never been able to put my finger on exactly what it is that gives me the ideological heebiejeebies. But you're quite right - it's the personality cult.

I also get very frustrated with it because it seems like a big step backwards in TV writing. Obviously, the producers have deliberately chosen to "sing something simple" for a family show, but I think they've gone much too far along that route. Kids today are used to dealing with complex plots and quite intricate sets of interrelationships between characters. This show reeks of adult writers deliberately coming down a few levels to what they think children can handle, and the result is dull and predictable. (At risk of being obvious, compare the layers of plotting that go on in an episode of Dr Who...). Kids now are much closer to adult viewers, in that they'd rather be confused for 10 minutes than bored for 10 seconds; they really can do without all the heavy-handed signposting.

Besides which, Keith Allen's pantomime villan sherrif DOES NOT WORK on television. Every time he comes on, I find myself hiding behind the sofa for all the wrong reasons.

What they've done very successfully is create something that *looks* a lot like quality programming. It's by the BBC, it's on at teatime, it's glossy, it Deals With Issues, it's historical-ish, it has David Harewood in it. But in terms of storytelling and ideas, its about as sophisticated as Thundercats. (I am not, before you start, knocking Thundercats. I loved Thudercats. It's just that neither my parents nor I were under any illusions that it was intellectually stimulating or challenging my preconcieved ideas about the world.) It's like one of those "health snack" bars that actually have as much fat and sugar and additive crap in them as a good old-fashioned Curly Wurly, but because they're packaged like a granola bar and not very nice, they con people into thinking they're good for them.
I have never seen the show, but your analysis made me think of George W's war. Sort of. Where Robin is Iraq, the villagers (or whoever) are the Iraqi civilians, and Tuck is Cheney/Rove pretending to be Christian (but not acting as Christ) and trying to control Iraq. When Robin is controlled, Tuck will have a better chance at destroying the Sherrif, Iran, who is trying to slay the imperialistic oil-lover, Richard.

Okay, it's a stretch.
Viorica at 17:20 on 2009-04-12
@Claire- well the historical-ness of it is . . . relative. It's become a running joke among viewers that all of the characters wear hoodies and Marian shops at H&M. It really isn't even that glossy- the production values are awful. But as for the Dealing With Issues, the writers either honestly believe in what they're writing (which scares me, considering that one interview where they claimed that Marian was secretly attracted to Guy because "women like 'em a little rough) or they're just trying to look smart and failing miserably. Either way, the ideology of the show makes me miss Joss Whedon, Minority Warrior.

Never mind; we'll always have the '80s version.

Personally, my favourite version is tied between the Disney movie and this one
Dafydd at 10:06 on 2009-04-15
Virtually every week, the Merry Men want to go to Nottingham Castle. Graphic of an arrow flying horizontally and they are there. What do the soldiers guarding the gate and the dungeon and the treasury and the Sheriff sitting on the privy actually do? Keeping rebels out of secure areas is clearly not part of their job description.

Hoods - these are not the Droids you want. Sheriff and Guards already know what the Merry Men look like and the badges they wear, but Soldiers ignore any-one wearing a hood. Why don't Peasants wear hoods when the Tax collector comes to town? Because that way, the Peasants would not need Robyn to rescue them. (Maybe Robyn operates under the Prime Directive and is forbidden to teach Hood technology to lesser races like Peasants.)

Sheriff is an excellent Magnificent Bastard which is fine when he sets up his cunning plan of the week, but he still has exactly the same supercilious smile at the end of each episode when Robyn has foiled the cunnig plan. Sheriff doesn't even care when Robin kills Sheriff's sister. It makes no sense.

Guy of Gisbourne looks great as a Long-coat Bad-ass murderer, rapist, genocide. There could have been a Peace Treaty between the Christians and the Muslims, Guy murdered the ambassadors and doomed Europe to 1,000 years of war versus Islam. But he loves Marion and that makes him redeemable??? Severus Snape has risen from the grave and wants to eat your brains. You need Snape to eat your brains. That way you can make sense of the plot of new Robyn Hood. Deep Space 9, Gul Dukat is a raping genocide and thinks he is still a good man. DS9 shows that Dukat is in denial.

Jaq, I do like her, she is an interesting character. When she was introduced, I thought TPTB had realised the Show was stuck in a rut and they wanted to enliven it. These days, Jaq sits at the back and her sole function is to be the girl-friend of the bloke at the back.

Firing arrows horizontally, double Ouch! An arrow flies in a parabolic arc. You aim above the target because of Gravity. You can shoot an arrow, you can loose an arrow, you can even set your arrow on fire before you shoot it; but you can't fire an arrow. You can't fire a sword or spear, you wield or stab or slash. You can only fire firearms, muskets, shotguns, rifles, cannons etc. hence the name firearms.
Wardog at 10:18 on 2009-04-15
Personally, my favourite version is tied between the Disney movie and this one
The Disney Robin Hood is made of win and awesome. I particularly love the way the minstrel rooster describes himself as a latter day folksinger ... like what were they on when they thought "Robin Hood ... Deep South ... let's do it!"
Dan H at 12:02 on 2009-04-15
You can shoot an arrow, you can loose an arrow, you can even set your arrow on fire before you shoot it; but you can't fire an arrow

This one I will actually defend. Modern TV shows are written in modern English. In modern English the verb "to fire" can be used to mean "launch a projectile".

If you're going to get all etymological about things, the verb "to fire" in relation to "fire-arms" presumably referred to the actual act of lighting (by means of a naked flame) the wick or taper which ignited the charge that launched the projectile, so technically you shouldn't be able to "fire" a handgun either, since no actual "fire" is involved. Technically you "percuss" a handgun.

Sorry, I know that's a really trivial point, and I know it does bother some people, but argument from etymology bugs me - if we insisted that we only ever use words in a manner that agreed with their original definition we'd all be speaking Latin.
Rami at 12:51 on 2009-04-15
if we insisted that we only ever use words in a manner that agreed with their original definition we'd all be speaking Latin
Old High German, surely?

If we're getting bugged by trivial points here I'd ask everyone at this point *not* to look up the equations for the ballistic trajectories of bullets, arrows, etc. That, honestly, doesn't bother me. Movies constantly show an arrow being aimed right at someone or a sniper laying crosshairs on a Notable Personality, but the point of the scene is that someone is being targeted and sequences with rangefinders, elevation calculations, and wind-speed maths would be entirely superfluous and rather dull.

Edit: Dull to others, anyway. I actually had a strange fascination with the mechanics of sniping when I was younger and can still be intrigued by it.
Arthur B at 13:00 on 2009-04-15
you can't say that you caught a bus or a train

that would imply you tossed a big net over it and yanked it off the road or rails

also what is up with metaphors people say things and they aren't literally true what the hell
Wardog at 13:20 on 2009-04-15
Play nice Arthur, we all have our personal annoyances.

For example, I have lately found myself getting disproportionately irritated by books that have "[dialogue]" he hissed, where [dialogue] cannot possibly be something that could conceivably hissed. E.g. "Traitor" he hissed.

Now, for everybody playing along at home, try to hiss the word traitor.

Thank you.

I know, I know, it's mind-boggling trivial but sometimes it makes me want to throw a book at all. *needs to let go more*
Arthur B at 13:44 on 2009-04-15
Leaving semantics aside, Dafydd, I do think you've got a good point when it comes to hoods being the ultimate disguise. It's a perennial problem of lots of Robin Hood adaptations, actually - I seem to remember it cropping up in Robin of Sherwood.

I suppose the problem is that the Robin Hood myth takes place on what's actually a very limited playing field - you've got the forest, you've got some villages, you've got Nottingham and you've got the castle. It makes sense, because to your average serf that's basically the whole world, but it does mean writers have the problem where whenever something happens in the castle that the outlaws need to be present for they have to sneak in, and coming up with new and interesting ways for them to do that on a weekly basis must get pretty difficult. But having them use the hood trick every episode strikes me as laziness, especially since it's not too hard to come up with some other means for getting them in (nebulous sympathisers in the castle kitchens or something) which doesn't involve the increasingly absurd situation of guards letting people through without bothering to get a clear look at their face.
Viorica at 16:23 on 2009-04-15
Actually, last week's episode did feature the new girl sneaking into the castle by pretending to be a kitchen wench. Of course she was captured in under five minutes, because girls can't do anything on this show unless they kowtow to Robin, and this paticular girl (the one I mentioned in the article) rightfully thinks he's full of it.
Arthur B at 16:46 on 2009-04-15
Ah, so having an actual plan is inferior to just throwing your hood up and hoping you don't get noticed?
Shim at 17:13 on 2009-04-15
Now, for everybody playing along at home, try to hiss the word traitor.

Um. Actually I can sort of hiss "traitor" because of my accent, but I take your point. But what's a better word for "hissed" in this context? "Spat" maybe? How do you describe someone saying, oh, "marmalade" in a bitter, derogatory way?
Gina Dhawa at 19:37 on 2009-04-15
Re: Language
This is the show that had a character refer to to stolen treasure as "severance pay". "Firing" arrows doesn't bother me.

Ah, in my mind, there's no Robin Hood better than Robin of Sherwood (and Michael Praed at that). So I'm biased.

Viorica at 20:03 on 2009-04-15
@Gina- what, no mention of the Bavarian count dude "Doing my homework?"
Wardog at 20:13 on 2009-04-15
This is the show that had a character refer to to stolen treasure as "severance pay"

That's the funniest thing I've ever heard. By 'funniest' I mean I boggle.

How do you describe someone saying, oh, "marmalade" in a bitter, derogatory way?

"Marmalade," he said bitterly, making her feel as if he thought less of her for liking it.

Sometimes you can't beat "said."
Dan H at 20:19 on 2009-04-15
Sometimes you can't beat "said."

Kyra opined.
Wardog at 20:20 on 2009-04-15
"Fuck you!" shrieked Kyra, hysterically.
Dan H at 20:21 on 2009-04-15
"It was just a joke!" retorted Dan, explaining that it had just been a joke.
Wardog at 20:24 on 2009-04-15
"It's a stupid joke," hissed Kyra. "You know how I feel about opined," she continued, no longer hissing because 'you know how I feel about opined' is a very difficult line to hiss.
Dan H at 20:27 on 2009-04-15
Alternative joke:

"I have now implemented a system whereby you can use your livejournal username to post to Ferretbrain," openid Rami.
Wardog at 20:28 on 2009-04-15
I don't often do this but I did actually lol.
Rami at 21:46 on 2009-04-15
openid Rami
Hehehehehe. I like anagrams, so I won't claim you're taking my name in vain ;-)
Dafydd at 22:09 on 2009-04-16
1174 AD Christmas, Hogwarts:

Much the Miller’s son was very disappointed; his present was a maroon jumper with a large letter ‘M’. “Doesn’t the Miller know that I hate Maroon?” he SIGHED. “What have you got, Robin?” he ASKED.

Robin opened the letter, “This was your father’s. It is right that you should have it now.” he READ out loud to share with his friend. He opened the parcel.

“WOW!!!” enthused Much, “It’s a Hood! They are really rare. Put it on Robin. Put it on!” he GYRED and GIMBLED in the wabe.

1192 AD Locksley Manor

“The Hood is an Artefact of ultimate Evil, forged by the Gods before the Dawn of Time itself. Your DESTINY is to cast the Hood into the Hephaistian fires of Orodruin, called Mount Doom in the Human tongue and by mant other dread names by the Free peoples of Middle-earth.”

Robin was confused, “But Sheriff, why are you telling me all this?” he ASKED.

“Because, I AM your Father, Robin!” he MWAH-HAH-HAHED.

Firing spears and arrows has become “common usage” precisely because Hollywood did not do the Research.

I have done Canute duty against USA rules UK. I went on demonstrations versus American military bases and billion = 10^9 and MacDonalds.

I am now Canuting against firing spears and arrows. I AIN’T DROWNDED YET.

Have fun!
Gina Dhawa at 23:47 on 2009-06-27
Oddly (and fairly amusingly) enough, there were no arrows "fired" in this latest series finale.

They were all much more historically accurately "loosed".

Viorica at 00:37 on 2009-06-28
Didn't they kill half the cast, though?
Arthur B at 20:01 on 2009-06-28
So only the actors were fired!
Jamie Johnston at 22:44 on 2009-06-28
Ba-dum tssshhhhh! at 17:08 on 2011-11-04
Sounds like Harry Potter to me.

I consider Harry Potter to be the ultimate narcissist's wet dream, but lately I have found a disturbing amount of Potterish narc wank material. Such as Avatar, for instance. And now this...

Is it just me, or is the Western world starting to be more and more narcissistic, lately?
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