Saturday, May 22, 2010

Robin Hood As Everyman

My friend Dan Gifford has written a piece over at Big Hollywood about how the legend of Robin Hood and his battle against the forces of oppression has been reinterpreted by Hollywood over the years:
I grew up watching  “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Richard Greene during the 50s without ever realizing its stories about the exploitation of serfs and ill gotten capitalist wealth were written by blacklisted communist Hollywood writers who were spreading Soviet agitprop.
Perhaps I was just too young to see whatever propaganda was intended by the Richard Greene series (which was still in re-runs when I was watching TV in the 1960s).  Or perhaps it was done with sufficient skill that I did not recognize it, rather like the poem, "Little Boxes" (1962) by Malvina Reynolds, which one of my elementary school teachers read to us as some sort of indictment of middle class suburbia.

I look back on "Little Boxes" now with considerable disgust. The poem was making fun of the bourgeois conformity of suburbia and materialism.  This is an easy position to take, if you already have a house--but for a whole generation of Americans growing up after World War II, the dream of owning a home of your own was not just that "evil" of materialism.  It was freedom from apartment living.

A home of your own meant that you were not dependent on a landlord who could arbitrarily evict you, or raise the rent, or create rules on a whim.  It was the relative peace and quiet of not living cheek by jowl with others.  It was not having to tell children to be quiet, or not to jump up and down, for fear of disturbing the tenants in the apartment next door or downstairs.  It was--dare I say it--an attempt to free members of the working classes from the misery and oppression that characterized tenement life when Jacob Riis was documenting How The Other Half Lives.

The Wikipedia article about "Little Boxes" quotes Tom Lehrer as calling the musical version "the most sanctimonious song ever written."  In many ways, "Little Boxes" is the type of thinking that brings to mind the saying, "A developer is someone who wants to build a house in the forest; an environmentalist already has a house there."

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