Monday, January 8, 2018

Political correctness strikes again in entertainment

I consider myself at least a well-informed amateur historian.  I've studied the subject for, literally, decades, and of the books in my personal library, I'd guess a good half of them are concerned with one or another historical incident, accident or trend.  I use that background to inform a lot of my own writing.

One of the cardinal rules of the historian is that one should never, repeat, NEVER evaluate an earlier period of history through the 'filters' of the customs, attitudes and morals of a later period, including one's own.  For example, it's useless to categorize all slave owners as 'immoral' when, by the standards of their own time, what they were doing was not considered immoral at all - so much so that even the Bible does not condemn slavery, but encourages slaves to be obedient servants of Christ as well as their masters.  George Washington owned slaves, and saw nothing wrong in the practice.  Today, in a more enlightened time, we condemn it out of hand - justifiably so, as I'm sure you'll agree - but we can't expect people of a bygone age to see it our way.

That's why any reinterpretation of a historic event, or legend, or fable by the entertainment industry has to be approached with dire suspicion.  Those who may be 'authorities' in that industry are seldom, if ever, sufficiently well informed and/or qualified to evaluate history correctly.  There have been innumerable lapses of judgment that have almost (if not entirely) ruined history 'for the masses' by deliberately changing events, cultures and rationales to fit modern sensibilities.  (Remember 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', where much of the action was switched from the Crimea to India?  Or the myriad historical inaccuracies in 'U-571', perpetrated in the name of increasing its box-office appeal?

It looks like this entertainment-driven reinterpretation of history is about to be repeated in a new version of the Robin Hood legend.  The Telegraph reports:

A new version of Robin Hood, destined for release this year, is to reveal a rather different side to the beloved outlaw: a “seriously militarized anarchist revolutionary” returning from an unjust Crusade with PTSD.

The 2018 Robin Hood, played by British actor Taron Egerton, will see a hardened crusader believing he has been deceived into fighting for a “bull---t” cause, returning to England full of resentment.

There, as he observes a “fractured” society, he is moved to his famous ambition to steal from the rich to give to the poor after observing the inequalities in society.

Newly-released pictures show the cast, which includes Jamie Foxx as Little John, using bows and arrows which, the actor said, have been computer-generated to make them “rapid-fire, almost like an AK”.

The Sheriff of Nottingham, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is seen in a very modern steel-grey coat, flanked by a futuristic army wearing heavy metal armour and appearing to wield guns.

There's more at the link.

Let's just run down a few points, shall we?
  • "The term 'anarchist' first entered the English language in 1642, during the English Civil War, as a term of abuse, used by Royalists against their Roundhead opponents."  That puts it several hundred years later than the Crusades - and makes it an entirely inaccurate label for Robin Hood.
  • The Crusades were perceived by Christians at the time as righting injustice, not perpetuating it!  (Muslims, of course, had a different perspective.)
  • PTSD was an unknown term in those far-off days, although its effects were doubtless known.  Life in medieval Europe was extremely dangerous from birth to death, no matter what one's station in life.  Life expectancy does not appear to have been much over 40 for even the upper classes - and it was probably significantly worse for the poorer, lower-status classes.  Everyone would have been aware that life was uncertain at the best of times.
  • "Bull****" causes" have existed throughout history, as has the judgment of those encouraged (or forced) to fight in them.  The Crusades were often reassessed in that light by their survivors.  So was the American Revolution, the American Civil War, even the First World War - see Smedley Butler, for example.  That a mythical Robin Hood might have thought likewise is not surprising, and hardly worth trumpeting as a major new perspective on his character.
  • Society was not "fractured" - it was remarkably cohesive, for its time.  Class structure was, of course, dominant, and there was little or no social mobility.  Today we regard that as an evil.  In its day, it was regarded as being as natural as breathing.
  • There was, and is, no such thing as a "rapid-fire bow" as described.  Ancient China developed a rapid-fire crossbow, but it wasn't very effective.  The English longbow is anything but rapid fire, because it demands enormous strength and energy to draw and loose repeatedly.  It took years to learn to use it properly.  A top archer might loose six to eight arrows in a minute, for two or three minutes, but after that he'd be so exhausted that his rate of fire would drop significantly.
  • As for the Sheriff's period-inaccurate dress and his "army's" equipment (particularly bearing in mind that Sheriffs did not command "armies" at all) . . . need one say more?

I can't take this adaptation seriously, based on this report.  It's just another Hollywood mishmash, with no historical accuracy whatsoever.  On the other hand, I'll agree that Robin Hood may have had PTSD.  He was an archer, after all, so of course he'd be highly strung!



Anonymous said...

One version of the Robin of Loxley legend has him outlawed for fighitng to regain his unjustly-seized title and estate, later restored to him by Richard the Lionheart.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

All versions of Robin Hood, like all versions of King Arthur, will be historically inaccurate. It's inevitable, given the nature of Myths. That said, it sounds like this new iterations is going to be even LESS historically accurate than the Errol Flynn version... which is something of an achievement.

Anonymous said...

As a young man, Washington was very callous about slavery. It is a credit to his character that he slowly started to turn against slavery, eventually preparing to have his slaves emancipated. It is my understanding that the American Revolution was one of the major causes of the emancipation movement... people started to realize that claiming liberty for yourself while denying it to slaves was inconsistent. This eventually led to banning slavery in the North.

The South, also developed an anti-slavery movement... which was killed off due to fears of slave revolt and the profitably of cotton.

Jim said...

While historically inaccurate, the Flynn version of The Charge of the Light Brigade was at least a fun film to watch. said...

Putting too much modern politics into any historical setting is generally a turn off for me. I liked the Flynn version for its comedy and sword fighting. The Costner version peaked at the prison break scene. I never saw the Crowe version. I was disappointed with the Elwes version. Disney's was fun to watch because of the humor. From what I've seen of the description of this version, I'll pass.

I don't really need a movie to be all that accurate with history as long as it's entertaining. The 13th Warrior was a fun movie to watch. So were U-571, The Charge of the Light Brigade Braveheart and The Longest Day. The first rule of entertainment is to be entertaining if they can slip in some real history so much the better. If there are too many anachronisms that it pulls me out of the story, that's a bad thing.

Margaret Ball said...

Well, this one sounds like wall-to-wall anachronisms with a gloss of Social Justice. Pass.

I wonder how long it'll be before they make a movie lionizing Pretty Boy Floyd?

C. S. P. Schofield said...

@Margaret Ball

This one sounds like a shit sandwich with a side of fried toadstools....but you said that.

Anonymous said...

Many many contemporaries of George Washington were against slavery and thought it immoral. Respect your positions, but afraid you're way off on this one.

emil said...

star wars takes place a long time ago in a glaxy far, far away....and isn't taken very seriously as history.

It's a movie, not a documentary.

Bruce said...

It would be cool to see Robin Hood and his band shooting two or more small darts with one shot- the Turks did this, off and on. For mass fire at soft targets, I think it sometimes worked. And Robin Hood was supposed to be a master archer, so he'd try trick shooting now and then. Though the Howard Pyle stuff where he makes one impossible shot now and then, when it matters, is what sticks with me.

Ditto on PC stupids screwing up good stories.

Phssthpok said...

A few observations and points to consider:

-Something often overlooked (Read: deliberately glossed over and/or eliminated entirely) is the part about Robin's thievery from 'the rich' being from the 'tax-collectors'...I.E. Agents of The State (Prince John) who were bleeding the 'poor' people dry with taxes. Anarchist indeed! I doubt ANY proper state-loving socialist media company in FGB would portray THAT part of the story to the masses for consumption!

-The 'guns' that are apparently wielded by the 'futuristic army' in the accompanying photo look to me as though they posses spring loaded arms to either side. To wit: they are CROSSBOWS.

-Which may explain the CGI 'rapid fire' spoken of as they appear to be much bulkier than a standard type crossbow (Bolt magazine?). See also the images of your own link to the Chinese repeating crossbow.

-As for English Longbow fire rates, I'm of the opinion that you underestimate their fire rate by almost least under 'volley fire' conditions which is where the ELB really shone. I can easily envision a sustained volley fire rate of about one every five seconds,though I'd agree they would tire quickly. I doubt they'd last a full minute at that rate, but I suspect at that point the armies would have made contact and engaged hand-to-hand combat, and aimed fire would be preferred anyway.

Andrew said...

Argh. "Robin Hood", the most abused story ever, it seems.

The Errol Flynn version at least had decent costuming (I mean, Olivia Dehavelland in that smoking silver silk outfit with the Y belt, oh, baby!) And the cast was fantastic. Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn actually sword fighting, versus playing 'wire weinie' like so many others. The rest of the cast was also well done. And the music was nothing but uplifting and heroic.

The rest of them, not so much. And Costner's version really blew it.

As to anything 'Crossbow' in England during the "Hood" era(s), well, no. Not just no, but hell no. It was a national passion for the longbow, and an equal hatred of everything the crossbow stood for (basically, anyone can shoot at any time with little to no training (think AK-47 of the medieval era (the way so many 3rd and 4th world people use the AK, not the way Special Forces use them.))

I shudder to think what various bullscat the 'next' version of "Hood" will be, maybe space aliens or Chinese?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I've already introduced my grandson to the Flynn film and the Howard Pyle book.

Feather Blade said...

I was disappointed with the Elwes version.

To be fair to RH: Men in Tights it wasn't intended to be any kind of accurate, being a comedic parody of RH: Prince of Thieves.

And, as Elwes pointed out, he was the only Robin Hood to have an English accent.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Peter here about historical accuracy in the films. As a "for example" U571 has the Americans seizing the first Enigma machine from a U-Boat. No, the British had recovered three of them plus code books before the American depiction of the event. The reason I insist on historical accuracy is that few people nowadays actually bother to research and read history so once again, America wins the war ... Next film, the Battle of Britain set in 1940 where the American Air Force flying P51D's wins the battle on behalf of the British and dropping an atom bomb on Berlin to end the battle and the war by November 1940. Yeah, right ...

One of the reasons that Das Boot was made in Germany was that the American directors who were approached wanted to include Waffen SS soldiers machine gunning American survivors in lifeboats to appeal to an American audience. Why would SOLDIERS be on a U Boat and why have them specifically target American survivors? However, if it HAD been made in America then 98% of the audience would believe that this is historically correct. (OK, there are a very few instances of U boats machine gunning survivors but this was a definite anomaly, not common at all).

As for the English longbow, the archers would not have become tired. I shoot heavy bows regularly and as I have developed good technique can shoot many arrows without tiring. Certainly a competition of six dozen arrows (that's 72 arrows for the hard of mathematical ability)is not a problem. Watching youtube videos of people shooting even very heavy bows, the longbow has an easy rate of fire of about 5 seconds. See this video

They restrained their rate of fire because they would run out of arrows rapidly. Again, if you study German infantry tactics of WW2 you will quickly spot that 1/3 of the men in a unit were allocated to supplying the MG34 and MG42 with ammunition. It was no different for the archers.

Phil B

Anonymous said...

Crossbows were rare simply because of their price. Even using modern production techniques, they are costly. This video shows the makings of a crossbow and how much it costs. With modern steel production, the cost of the prod (the "bow" bit of the crossbow) would be much less than the equivalent cost of a medieval crossbow prod that had to be laboriously had forged and laminated from steel.

They would be used by rich people only - equivalent to issuing a Rolls Royce as a runabout car to the troops instead of a jeep. So arming ordinary footsoldiers with such an expensive weapon would be financially stupid and would not happen. They were used for hunting and for women to use during sieges and suchlike usage.

Phil B

Will said...

Peter, if you want a different perspective on Robin Hood, check the book "The Chalice of Magdalene", by Graham Phillips. Is there a connection between King Arthur, Robin Hood, and the Holy Grail? That's one interesting detective story!

Peter said...

@Will: No, thanks. Graham Phillips is a well-known conspiracy theorist, who's published several books all alleging fantastically contorted and truth-stretching (not to mention made up out of whole cloth) fables about subjects relating to the life of Christ and those around him. He's completely untrustworthy.

Anonymous said...

Crossbows certainly were not a rare item during high middle ages. If we are talking about military specimens equipped with composite bows produced from layers of wood and sinew glued together, then those were arms of burghers and more or less professional soldiers, certainly not rich but rather belonging to middle class, if such term could be applied to that period. Italian city-states had arsenals and workshops that produced and maintained thousands of these weapons. They were able to equip not only their own militias but also units hired away to foreign powers - hundreds and sometimes thousands of soldiers. And simple wooden selfbow crossbow could easily be made and own by people of even more modest means, although after crusades this type was used for hunting rather than serious warfare. Steel or iron crossbows, like the one shown on this youtube clip, were developed later on, during Renaissance, and never gained that much popularity comparing to composite type, because at that time they had to compete with much improved firearms developed from medieval handgonne. Here is a interesting piece about their development and application

Snowdog said...

Jaime Foxx as Little John? Oh no no no. Phil Harris is the only Little John for me. Even if he is a bit bearish. :D

The Overgrown Hobbit said...

False to facts: "Bible does not condemn slavery"

The Bible classes slavers in with murderers, adulterers, and other baddies.

What the Bible does do is give advice to man on how to live a godly and virtuous life no matter what their station whether they are a slave, a free man, a wife, a judge, a king...

Recall Jesus's comments viz the legality of divorce.

Same deal.

But yes, outside of the world of ethical monotheism, in which all mankind are valuable because they belong to God and not to other men, slavery was and remains the norm

Within Christendom however it is not allowed.

Tal Hartsfeld said...

You advocate against retrofitting past and ancient history for the purpose of being more palatable to the current-day mindset?
Ahhh, but in today's officiously meddling culture (especially pop culture) it's "essential" to "correct" even past "misperceptions" to align with the more "enlightened revelations" of the past three decades. said...

Featherblade said: To be fair to RH: Men in Tights it wasn't intended to be any kind of accurate, being a comedic parody of RH: Prince of Thieves.

I was disappointed because it seemed to be trying too hard to be funny. Where Young Frankenstein came off as effortless, and Spaceballs came off as a bit flat at times, RH:MIT seemed to be straining for every joke.

It just wasn't my cup of tea

Ric said...

I am concerned that this is an attempt not to make a “Robin Hood” movie but a movie equating the Antifa/Anarchist movement with something noble and justified.
I would not be surprised if the sheriff were somehow made into a Trump like character.
Maybe I’m heading into tin foil hat areas. But anything coming out of Hollywood is suspect for the next few years.

SDN said...

"On the other hand, I'll agree that Robin Hood may have had PTSD. He was an archer, after all, so of course he'd be highly strung!"

One hoyt of carp, inbound.