Robin Hood Anxiety Syndrome

Robin Hood Anxiety Syndrome:  A state of agitation occurring in left-wingers when a work of popular culture threatens to awaken them from the dream of their own superior virtue and expose them as the fools and aspiring tyrants they are.  See also Dark Knight Anxiety Syndrome.

Why so serious?

The left dodged a cultural  arrow this weekend.  If Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood had been a good or even semi-good movie, it would have delivered a much-deserved slap in the face to them and everything they stand for.  Unfortunately, while Scott got the spirit of the legend right, he told his story badly.

It was the comedian Steven  Crowder who first pointed out to me that Robin Hood is a conservative.  Before he mentioned it, I had—as reviewer A.O. Scott of the New York Times apparently still does—lazily thought of Robin as one who “robs from the rich to give to the poor.”  Which would make him a socialist.  And a thieving thug.  But I repeat myself.

As Steven pointed out to me, however, what plagues England in the Robin Hood story is never poverty per se, but taxation.  Invasive government taxation and hunting regulations have reduced the English peasants to penury.  The King, the Sheriff and other government toadies are the people’s enemies.  And Robin Hood, far from trying to redistribute wealth, is merely attempting to get the people’s money back from these bloated tax-and-spenders.

That’s the real Robin Hood story and that’s the way Ridley Scott tells it in his new movie with some present day commentary thrown in.  King Richard the Lionheart stands in for Scott’s version of George W. Bush:  courageous but spendthrift, he dies while brutally fighting the Muslim invaders of the Holy Land.  He’s replaced by King John, a narcissistic incompetent who breaks his word, blames his predecessor for everything and taxes the nation to the brink of revolt.  Sound familiar?  Robin Hood becomes a hero while making fine speeches about individual freedom and responsibility.  And there’s even an evil French rapist who chases a wealthy woman around the room while snarling that she owns too much land.

It’s no wonder the film’s release caused an outbreak of Robin Hood Anxiety Syndrome among our lockstep lefty intellectual elites.  Screenwriter Brian Helgeland quickly attempted to distance himself from any Tea Party type sentiments.  The critics at both the Los Angeles and New York Times were eager to suggest the story was “revisionist,” which it’s not.  And the far-left Village Voice declared the movie a self-parody and said, “All the more reason for Sarah Palin to love it.”

All of which is reminiscent of the left’s hysterical denials when some of us made the perfectly obvious observation that Batman:  The Dark Knight was a sympathetic portrait of George W. Bush.  Nothing terrifies our elites more than having pop culture expose the tyranny and foolishness behind their masquerade of superior virtue.  They can’t bear the thought that they’re the bad guys.

Oh, if only I were a leftist critic!  Whenever they like the politics of a movie, they pretend it’s good, as they did with such  trash as In The Valley of Elah and Rendition.  Alas, I’m a conservative and bound to tell the truth as best I can.  Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood stinks.  The plot’s awful, the lead actor dull, the heroine absurd.  It won’t make much of a cultural impression.

So for now, at least, the left can keep telling themselves they’re not the villains of the piece.

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  • Elwin

    I enjoy the fact that you use the Michael Curtiz / Errol Flynn film to illustrate the article. This will always be the quintessential Robin Hood for me. And yes, while Stephen rightly points out the truth of Robin’s mission, there were plenty of us out their who always knew that it was about unfair taxation (without representation, no less…).
    But thanks to both of you for continuing to point out the error of the Left trying to co-opt our hero.

  • EdSki

    It doesn’t matter how the movie turned out. To the left, Robin Hood robs from the rich and gives to the poor, that’s all there is to it, and if you suggest there’s more to the the story, they will simply insult you and move on.

    Deep thinking is not really that big on the left. Trust me, I used to be there.

  • Anthony

    I remember when I heard the actors who played the Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings say that they were like the pacifist clique of Middle Earth. It sounded nice.

    But I was thinking, wait a minute, these Hobbits live in rural lands, away from cities. They are farmers; they are the heartland. But, many of them are willing to take up arms to so stop a deadly menace threatening the whole world. They see the need for war to stop evil.

    That’s not liberal ideology these days. I just couldn’t believe how naive those actors were … it was so obvious, but they managed to dodge the truth anyway. But it’s like trying to dodge rain drops; you’re going to get wet.

  • je pressman

    Klavan, Usually you have some point of view ,which is on target,but I disagree with your take on this Robin Hood. It stinks? No it doesn’t,it is a well-made well acted film and I enjoyed it . Crowe plays Hood as the yeoman he supposedly was and this Hood is a good man, a worthy man. This isn’t the 72 year old swashbuckler version, or Costner’s take and that has ticked off some critics, who knows why? You are correct about the left of center critics saying this is a pro tea party movie,but they have interpreted the RH folklore as designed specifically for the 21st century. The movie shows that the desire for responsive government /or leaders is timeless and Ridley Scott shows that quite well. This RH is worth seeing. Stinky? Not at all.

  • Pingback: Dissecting the Robin Hood socialist/Randian divide | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

  • Jim

    I wish i could share this on my Facebook page! Its great!

  • Nifty

    I enjoyed the film- not the best to be sure but enjoyable. And King Richard died fighting French in the film, not Muslims (though he was coming back from the Holy Land and W did spend time arguing with the Europeans while finding support in England, so the metaphor still holds). My disagreement with Klavan ends there though- I found myself smiling several times at the very blatant over-taxing-is-bad theme and the speech about people making their own way through their own work. A good conservative film after so many leftie attempts :)

  • Sophs

    I actually really liked the new Robin Hood. A more real take on a story that is often told in a very fairy-man kind of way. Masculine Robin Hood? Yes, please!

  • Devin

    Count me in with the faction who liked it. I quite enjoyed this telling of the Robin Hood legend, and disagree with Klavan’s criticisms for the most part.

    But I do agree with him in that this is a quintessentially conservative story. It speaks of the evils of the state taking from a man that which he honestly makes. I also couldn’t help but sense an allusion to the present Islamofascist threat in the character of Godfrey, the French agent who identifies himself as an Englishman “when it suits me.”

    I enjoyed Russell Crowe in this role, just as I did Maximus in “Gladiator” – a serious-minded, mature, masculine warrior who is not humorless but says what he means and means what he says.

  • mk

    I will add to the side that says the movie wasn’t bad. I thought it was decent. It was a different take on the Robin Hood legend, which I enjoyed. Oh, it wasn’t perfect, but I still liked it.
    A few people pointed out that Russell Crowe was “too old” to be Robin Hood. I disagree. For the version of this story, he was not. And frankly, I prefer a character like this with a little depth as opposed to some trendy pretty boy pretending at being a man (hello, Ashton Kutcher). Or a man with the maturity of a 12 year old (George Clooney). Russell Crowe had some depth to him.

    Again, it wasn’t perfect, it was a little too long, but overall, I enjoyed the slightly different take on the Robin Hood legend and how it was acted. Frankly, anything is better than Costner.

  • Christian Toto

    Great column — but one nagging thought. While “The Dark Knight” sure played out as you describe, what did the film’s screenwriters have to say on the subject? Did they deny the similarities … or dance around the question? Or did they not intend it as a social commentary, but the work ultimately spoke for itself?

    And yeah, this “Robin Hood” could have rode into battle with a Romney 2012 T-shirt on and I still would have wished to close my eyes rather than endure this snorefest.

  • Angela Richter

    I’ve always considered Robin Hood a Socialist Hero because of the redistribution of wealth moral of the story. Stealing from the productive rich to give to the shiftless, worthless poor. As a result I refused to tell my kids about Robin Hood and will not pay to see any movie or read any book about the fable.

    Liberals still firmly believe he is their moral hero. Until that changes, my mind won’t.

  • Bilwick

    Angela, sounds like you’re still letting the Left dictate its terms to you. Look at the story for yourself. Also, in Robin’s day the rich weren’t so much “productive” as they were the ones with the most men-at-arms at their beck in call. In other words, except for some merchants, they were pretty much the State.

  • Capn Eddie Ricketyback

    HaHa. I enjoy both Andrew Klavan’s and Christian Toto’s commentary in various places, but their opinions of this movie (which I haven’t seen), varies considerably from the non-showbiz people who go to movies for recreation, at least from the comments on this site. Reminds me of when I served on the board of a philharmonic orchestra, and there was always a lot of disgreement between the board members, who liked to hear melodious music, and the conductor and some orchestra members, who wanted to play a lot more obscure and disharmonious (Did I just make up a word there?) music than we wanted to hear.

  • Chris

    Andrew: You hit the nail on the head with your description of the pre-emptive distancing of “Robin Hood” (the film) from the Tea Party movement. A lot of conservatives jumped at the early bait from the screenwriter and Crowe himself, but it seemed to me that the filmmakers were protesting too much–perhaps trying to immunized their work against left-leaning movie critics.

    Crowe remains one of my favorite actors: “Gladiator” and “Master and Commander” are two great films that beautifully extol conservative virtues, and Crowe’s performances are stirring. Nobody will ever replace Flynn as Robin Hood, but if anyone could come close, it would be Crowe. If he’s dull in this film, it’s because the material failed him. From the testimony of their work, neither Crowe nor Ridley Scott ought to be judged as facile lefties.

    But the big story that I haven’t seen in any write-ups about this Robin Hood is that it started life as a movie about the Sheriff of Nottingham, with Crowe playing that role in a sympathetic light, versus an anarchic, criminal vision of Robin Hood. (The Wikipedia entry on the 2010 film gives some background and links.) What’s the story behind that turnabout? In outline, that original concept sounds more than a bit like “Dark Knight”–was Andrew’s famous WSJ article on the latter film a reason the filmmakers abandoned it for a more “traditional” take on Robin Hood? Evidently the early script for “Nottingham” was considered a hot property, which Ridley Scott was very keen on obtaining.

    Quite beyond the possible politics of the matter, I’d be interested in reading about how the storyline changed so radically–from an artisitic standpoint. You’d think an enterprising journalist would be eager to write that one; but they’re just too lazy to do anything but regurgitate press releases.