Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Short Change Hero" by The Heavy AND Robin Hood Politics

Music appropriate for pondering.
Point of ponderment: Modern political sensibilities and Robin Hood adaptations. Not long ago, some of us will remember a rather clever adaptation of Robin Hood released by the BBC, starring Cutey McCuteness and his nearly acting talents:
Perfectly charming, I'm sure. Not really my type. The show maintained a cheerful level of quips between the cast of characters and it explored a variety of themes. It managed to remain feeling like a Robin Hood story while telling stories we'd never heard before and exploring characters in ways that seemed reasonable. A good romp in story telling, to be sure. I couldn't stomach it somehow, in spite of the cleverness of the dude they cast as the sheriff. They kept the humor light, but they also had an overall feeling of grim and serious. They explored a lot of subplots and built on themes from previous episodes to give future episodes significance. I like all of these things. Should have kept my interest through the three seasons. It really didn't, somehow, and I could never quite put my finger on exactly how, until I saw this guy:

Rock Sheriff
This is Keith Allen, who played the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood. I saw him in this other TV series, called Case Histories. It's a BBC murder mystery series set in Edinburgh. Mr. Allen plays the douchy actor who accidentally gets murdered half way through and you're not that upset. And when I saw him in the show I went, "hey, he's playing exactly the same character as the Sheriff of Nottingham, but in modern Edinburgh, and he's the douchy actory who gets killed and you're not really bothered instead of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Isn't that nice." And it made me think about what had annoyed me about the Robin Hood show. It might, it occured to me, be the modernity with which the Robin Hood writers wrote the various characters in Robin Hood. That at first seemed completely absurd because of how fun the toenail polish wearing Sheriff of Nottingham was to watch in the episodes. He had the kind of weird crazy that felt transcendental, which is why he could fascinate women and charm allies and enemies and generally snake his way through things. We see attitudes like that throughout history and we always pause and listen because those people have obviously tapped into some higher secrecy.

While I thought this through I realized it indicated exactly what annoyed me about the rest of the show. The Sheriff's character was all right. I squared with that. However, the writers of the show did this weird thing with all the rest of the characters: the political savvy of all the other characters had been updated to match the Sheriff's, or a modern audience, or something. What that meant is no one was surprised by back stabbing, not in the old sense of horror that we'd associate with twelfth century England. Everyone wheeled and dealed, even the fair Maid Marien, who would not, we hope, be that nefarious. Everyone in the show could calculate the angles, as if they were long-time conmen, trained politicians. I could never quite buy the modern powers of diplomacy displayed by every freaking character in the show. It seemed improbable at best.

That's my little treatise. It got me thinking about inserting anachronistic sensibilities into stories, and how internal consistency of your world extends further than artifacts and language. Whole sensibilities must be considered. A pre-scientific method (look up Decartes and radical doubt)England is less likely to be as cynical and suspicious as the show depicted, that's what I think. Characters like the Sheriff called into question a statement like that so that you wondered what it would take to educate other people inside a different paradigm of how people are expected to operate. However, having every single character at the same scheming level right out of the gate is secretly boring, if you think too hard about it. One must be careful with such things.

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