Friday, July 9, 2010

Robin Hood: A Real American Hero

With all the hoopla surrounding Russel Crowe's new Robin Hood movie, I've been hearing a lot about how the beloved hero is nothing more than a socialist thief, a tool of the New British Empire to weaken America's defenses by draining our coffers with needless welfare programs. A quick Google search reveals that there are quite a few people, mostly on the conservative side (though there are exceptions), who share this view of Robin as a wealth-redistributing traitor, stealing from those who had the Ayn Randian courage to "risk their financial well-being", cutting checks to layabout hog-farmers and welfare widows.

Now this made me mad. Robin Hood, unamerican? Please. How could you find a folk-hero more American than Robin Hood? Sure, his origins are English, but so are mine, if you want to get technical. He's very much a part of the American pantheon. He's our trickster-god, a cultural hero as precious to us as Jason to the Greeks, or Beowulf to the Saxons.

It is my contention that Robin Hood, by word and action, by thought and by deed, supports every single one of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." When King John makes it impossible for Robin to live and operate within society, Robin simply uproots himself and his men to Sherwood Forest, where they live (mostly) unmolested by the State or its agents. And of course, the whole thing started because there was no way for Robin, or the people in general, to obtain redress for their grievances."

The right to bear arms and form militias? Oh, yeah. What are the Merry Men if not a militia formed by concerned citizens, working to overthrow a corrupt system?

Amendment three? That's a tough one. The quartering of soldiers wasn't really a problem in the middle ages; they just slept in tents and bought or stole what they could from the locals. But in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights (yes, it counts as part of the mythos), Robin arrives home just in time to see the repo man hauling away his castle, so in a sense he's being deprived of his living space in order to finance the king's coffers. This ties nicely into Amendment Four, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Fifth Amendment is kind of a sprawling statement, but it guarantees, among other things, that "private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation." Robin and his Merry Men personally enforce this law for the benefit of the downtrodden commoners, protecting or compensating them for this unreasonable confiscation, often with arrow and sword if need be.

Frequently, Robin's death-sentence is handed down from on high by an authority (King John, or the Sheriff of Nottingham) who is anything but impartial. After the warrant for his arrest is issued, the legal system skips over all that boring "trial by law" stuff (which is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment) and jumps straight to the execution. Often, anyone who meets Robin is empowered (and even encouraged!) to kill him on the spot. This lack of a trial also violates Amendment Seven, which insists that "the right of trial by jury shall be preserved."

The Eighth Amendment protects against "cruel and unusual punishments," and torture, that confession-extraction method favored by medieval monarchs, certainly falls under that category.

Amendments Nine and Ten deal with powers denied to the State, and reserved for the people. Isn't that what Robin was always fighting for? The right of the common taxpayer to stand up and be heard by Big Government?

The fact that Robin's tale addresses the same issues as the American Bill of Rights, almost four hundred years before the Americas were even colonized, speaks to the timelessness and universality of Robin's crusade for freedom. His influence on the English-speaking mind is profound and long-lasting, and reminds us all of the need for brave men who will stand up to corrupt systems, and rally people with their words and their actions, to throw off corrupt rulers, and remind us that we're only as free as we make ourselves.

And if that's not American, I don't know what is.


  1. Don't forget that he's a self-made man!

    I heard that the new movie was originally done with the Sheriff as the hero, and somewhere along the way Russell Crowe morphed from being the Sheriff to being Robin Hood. (There may have been some excitement about shooting bows and arrows...) I heard, too, that the movie didn't do as well as expected.

  2. Self-made? Depends on the specific story. Sometimes, he's a commoner; other times, he's a dispossessed nobleman. It depends on the writer's politics.

    But regardelss, he's certainly a self-remade man.