Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Adventures In IMDb Discussion Boards: Robin Hood And The BBC’s PC Agenda

A couple of weeks ago, a discussion was started on the IMDb boards for the current BBC version of Robin Hood, with the title “Ruined By PC Casting”. Since the beginning of the third season of the show, the casting of black actor David Harewood as Friar Tuck has caused some controversy, with the rightwing press spinning some bland utterances from historians into “fury”, and the inevitable online commenters railing against the BBC’s so-called “politically correct agenda”, which is supposedly to undermine historical fact and encourage the nation’s children to believe that Britain has always been a diverse and tolerant society. (Oh, the humanity!)

The IMDb has often been a hotbed of such discussions, and the first post in this thread covered familiar ground although taking a slightly different tack.

Robin Hood is an enjoyable show, but unfortunately it has been spoiled by yet another example of Politically Correct BBC casting.

One of the Merrie Men is clearly not the person described in the many accounts of Robin Hood's life. The BBC, with its agenda of encouraging multiculturalism, has cast an exotic actor in this role to indoctrinate children with the idea that people of all races and backgrounds have always been tolerated, or even welcomed, in England. The historical facts DO NOT SUPPORT this and it means the historical accuracy of the programme is completely skewed. This "update" of the Robin Hood story is basically a LIE.

The Merrie Men were not a diverse group. They were a bunch of local yeomen, bred in the environs of Sherwood Forest. For the BBC to suggest otherwise is patronising, arrogant and misleading. How are children meant to learn about our history when a supposedly historical programme like Robin Hood is based on falsehood and propaganda?

What I am saying is, everyone knows that Little John is ENGLISH and not SCOTTISH! And yet the role is clearly CALEDONIAN in this version of the legend. Surely GORDON BROWN is to blame!!

I (yes, I – did you see through my cunning obfuscation?) thought my point was fairly obvious. People complained about Harewood as Tuck but did not seem as upset about the casting of Gordon Kennedy as Sherwood stalwart Little John, despite his strong Scottish accent. And yet those people all claimed not to object to the fact that Harewood was black; they were up in arms because this casting was not “historically accurate” and smacked of “political correctness”. These protesters weren’t racists, you understand. They were simply standing up for truth, justice and the English way.

By using the same sort of language and arguments in reference to a seemingly unobjectionable piece of casting, I was trying to make it clear that the protesters were (a) ridiculous and (b) despite their claims to the contrary, racist. I was interested to see what the response would be to this (I thought) transparent bit of frivolous satire. User axtonuk quickly obliged.

How long will it be before your called racist?, I agree the BBC has bastardised the legend, its part of our English heritage, the BBC doesn't seem to care that Robin Hood is close to our hearts. The series is rather crap though, so will probably be forgotten in a few years!

Seems to me that the BBC is a mouthpeice for Labour and its multicultural dream. They don't think twice about rewriting historical facts, respect for other cultures doesn't extend to English people.

This sums up all the predictable, clichéd elements of internet discussion of the matter: accusing the BBC of being government stooges with an invidious agenda of multiculturalism; confusion over the distinction between “legend” and “historical fact”; complaints that English heritage is overlooked in favour of more exotic or trendy cultures, and that you can’t speak up for Englishness without being called a racist. I was gratified that my parodic opening post had been taken so completely at face value, and looked forward to many similar replies.

But then something odd happened. User crazy_girl2 posted the decidedly non-crazy response:

Does it really matter that much as long as the actors can act?! We all know Robin Hood wasn't a fox but that doesn't make the Disney version any less enjoyable.

The enjoyability of the Disney Robin Hood is debatable, naturally, but I was surprised to see this response appear so quickly. Such eminent good sense is not what I expect from teh internets! And then auroracat-1 blew my whole premise out of the water, exploding it point by point.

From the very beginning of this show the writers/producers said it would be a "modern" take on the Robin Hood Legend. I seriously doubt that children are watching this and thinking that it's historically accurate in any way. They've been off on the dates from the beginning, a casino, camafloge material, women wearing pants, black leather biker outfits,......the list goes on and on.

Given all this - I really don't have a problem with the casting anyone for any of the roles. (Remember to, that this is a lond tradition. Shakespears plays were originally performed with men in ALL the roles.)

The show is meant for entertainment purposes only it has never put itself out there as an educational/historical documentary type program.

Finally, Robin Hood is a legend and it has had many incarnations. It's not as if the subject matter has ever been hard fact.

When I posted again in an attempt to provoke a little more discussion along the lines of “The PC BBC is anti-Enlgish and rascist!!1!”…

The historical facts are well established. Everyone knows this. The BBC has simply ignored them. A Scottish Little John, really - whatever next?!

…I was quickly put straight by wieldy:

No they're not. The historical facts of Robin Hood are almost non-exsistant. No-one really knows who he was and what he did. All the 'robbing the rich to give to the poor', Nottingham forest, evil Sheffif etc etc is a romanticised legend based on a few scraps of evidence. Even the Major Oak in Sherwood forest, supposedly Robin Hood's hideout, is from the wrong era.

There is no truth about Robin Hood so the BBC hasn't taken any liberties with history. It's comparable to the Arthur legends, where there are a hundred different stories and very little tangible truth.

I could hardly gainsay this level-headed, intelligent post with any more ill-conceived rubbish. Fortunately axtonuk returned to do it for me.

The origins of Robin Hood come from: Hereward the Wake, Eustace the Monk and Fulk FitzWarin. All of those people existed! Either way Robin Hood is an old English legend set in a historical period, the BBC should respect that. They should also have respect for English heritage and culture. Its the English getting shafted again, we are supposed to respect everyone elses culture/heritage but no one respects ours!

Following this, a few posters picked up on other historical inaccuracies in the casting (Toby Stephens being too old to play Prince John) and the plotting (the show apparently named the wrong pope at one point), but pointed out that these either fell under the remit of dramatic licence or were too minor to affect anyone’s enjoyment of the programme. The killing blow came from theunderstudy1610, who stated:

Here we go again...

Look, if we're sticking to the original legend, then there should be no Tuck, or Marion (Robin would be too fixated on the Virgin Mary) and Robin wouldn't be some brave defender of Richard the Lionheart, or rival of the Sheriff. People have always been taking liberties with the legend.

Even the legend takes liberties with the history, sad to say that outlaws often weren't very nice people, killing, raping and robbing anyone who crossed them.

What the BBC have done is they've modernised it - they use modern cultural references (think the casino episode, biker gear etc.), Robin Hood wears a hoodie, Guy of Gisbourne eyeliner, and the women raid the foundation, they killed off Marion etc. etc. What's wrong with using actors of different races? There are plenty of other versions to watch if you don't like it.

It's not like it's historically correct anyway, more of a fantasy programme, if everything was historically correct (and they actually looked like 12th/13th century peasants) then maybe Tuck would stick out, but it isn't, and he doesn't. I'd hate to think there were any children out there who were learning their histoy verbatum from this show! Regardless of the race of the actor's there are just so many mistakes it would be ridiculous!

I just like that they've put a new spin on an old story - lets face it some of the classics would get dull if they weren't being presented in a different way. I don't care that David Harewood (Tuck) is black, same as I wouldn't care if he was aisian, aboriginee, or whatever, all I want is a good actor with a good characterisation, and I think David Harewood is delivering this.

Surely no-one can argue with any of that. In fact no-one did, and after a few more posts the thread petered out. I confessed to starting it as a joke, and was pleased when theunderstudy1610 admitted that he/she had fallen for it because my original post was so convincingly authentic:

I've just reread your post and yeah, I guess it does come across as more of a parody the second time around - sadly I know far to many people who say this stuff seriously AND for some bizare reson I never noticed that Little John was Scottish - hence I took it seriously, tbh, I read the first couple of lines and thought here we go again...

So what have I learned from this trivial but fun exercise? Mainly that the IMDb discussion boards are perhaps not as densely populated with anti-PC idiots and out-and-out racists as I suspected, and that there are numerous intelligent and reasonable people in this country who don’t act as if our birthrights are being sold when they spy a non-white face in a British TV programme set before the Empire Windrush docked. In fact, it seems from this – small but hopefully representative – sample that the people who are best informed about history are the least concerned about “accuracy” in history-based drama and the most prepared to allow licence in entertainment, preferring to criticise flaws in the writing or acting rather than searching for some pernicious hidden agenda.

I guess it’s something to bear in mind next time I see a news article about the “controversy” stirred up by a historical film or TV show. These controversies are often created by PRs in search of easy publicity and/or the media in search of an easy story, and the people who are offended are those who make a habit or even a career of being so. And the problem, of course, goes way beyond such trifling issues as BBC Saturday tea-time dramas.

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