Ridley Scott's Robin Hood premieres this weekend, much to the delight of action buffs, toxophilites, and people weaned on tales the legendary archer and his band of Merry Men. The prequel, which stars Russell Crowe as the titular outlaw, re-imagines a Robin Hood prior to his self-imposed exile in the bowels of Sherwood Forest and, according to Slate's Dana Stevens, bereft of the "recognizable tropes" from the well-worn legend. "Little John (Kevin Durand) isn't particularly large, Friar John (Mark Addy) never carries Robin Hood on his back across a river, and no one mounts a horse by leaping down onto its back from a tree," writes Stevens. "This adaptation seems either not to understand the appeal of its source material or to reject it deliberately. The movie eschews every value we've come to think of as quintessentially Robin Hood-ish: derring-do, mischief, laughter, joy."
But while critics pore over Ridley Scott's arrow-riddled take on the pre-Magna Carta vigilante, other reviewers have chosen to analyze Robin Hood's morally ambiguous brand of lawlessness through the prism of modern American politics. "Rob from the rich and give to the poor" sounds awfully socialist, but Robin's resistance to taxation may resonate more with the Tea Party than lefty themes of redistribution. Is Robin Hood a Tea Partier or a socialist?
- A Tea Partier Turned Socialist? At the Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan senses a strong anti-government current swirling beneath the popular mythos of Robin Hood. While the master archer has always had a place in the public imagination for "robbing from the rich to steal from the poor," the new manifestation is a wholly distinct beast. "Set in an England that has been bankrupted by years of war in the Middle East -- in this case, the Crusades -- it's the story of a people who are being taxed to death by a corrupt government ... It asks: What's a man of principle to do?," says O'Sullivan. "If you said, 'Steal from the rich, and give to the poor,' you must be thinking of the old Robin Hood. The correct answer here is: 'Don't retreat, reload.'" He says there is "precious little of the socialist stuff" in this "politicized" version of the legend.
- Robin Hood the Libertarian The New York Times' A.O. Scott concurs, declaring Russell Crowe's Robin Hood a medieval libertarian rather than a proto-socialist. "This Robin is no socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution, but rather a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles. Don’t tread on him!" In contrast to O'Sullivan's analysis, Scott stops short at declaring Robin Hood an avatar for the Tea Party movement. "So is 'Robin Hood' one big medieval tea party? Kind of, though that description makes the movie sound both more fun and more provocative than it actually is. The film’s politics, in any case, are more implicit than overt, so that the filmmakers can plausibly deny any particular topical agenda," notes Scott.
- A Symbol of Equality, Socialist or Not The Boston Globe's Ethan Gilsdorf ponders the modern appeal of the Robin Hood legend, made salient by "this hope for a savior to restore the balance of power." "Even today, he remains a powerful symbol against tyranny, injustice, and over-taxation," reflects Gilsdorf, albeit hesitantly. "Egalitarian . . . or socialist? If you believe in redistributing the wealth a little, Obama-robin is a force for good; for those who see this nation’s economic policies as troubling, not so much." Regardless of Robin Hood's leanings, the political undertones are bound to generate interest. "In these disillusioned days of robber barons ... it makes sense that, in Ridley Scott’s newest of Hoods, Crowe doesn’t simply steal from the rich and give to the poor. ... Taking the law into his own hands, he becomes a freedom fighter and the ruling class doesn’t like it."
- A Socialist for All Seasons Zachary Pincus-Roth at Slate argues that Robin Hood's mantra of "rob from the rich and give to the poor" reflects an ingrown human instinct. "While Robin Hood's ideals are politically controversial, researchers in psychology and related fields are finding that humans seem inclined to engage in Robin Hood-like thinking..." Pincus-Roth points to a growing body of literature supporting his thesis that Robin Hood's socialist overtones are simply a manifestation of human evolution.
"Everyone agrees that there should be some redistribution, but we disagree on how it should be done," Fowler says. "Republicans trust the market more. Democrats trust the government a little bit more."
This distinction may reveal why Robin Hood's appeal cuts across party lines: He has liberal goals but accomplishes them with conservative methods. Instead of operating within the government, he's against it, creating clever plots to foil a villainous bureaucrat, the Sheriff of Nottingham. ... Now that sounds like a summer movie hero.