STORY THOUGHT #1: ROBIN HOOD IS NO NORMA RAE

Storytelling has been a life-journey. On this page I will share things I've picked up along the way, as well as new thoughts that present themselves as the journey continues. Some will be about drawing and visual storytelling, some will be about writing and story with a capital S. Let's do this!

 

Earlier this week, writers' room musings led to the following question:  in stories where a single hero rises to free their people, should that hero be an average person, or should they have a special status to begin with?

Well, let's starts with Robin Hood, who steals from the rich to give to the poor, fighting for social justice and to free his people from a tyrannical ruler.  Robin himself is not an average Joe, however. he is a nobleman in disguise. Why is that? Why couldn't he be some random farmer who's mad as hell and who's not  gonna take it anymore? 

Meanwhile union organizer Norma Rae is NOT a poor-little-rich-girl who finds a political conscience. She's an average single mom who IS mad as hell and who's not  gonna take it anymore? 

So what's the difference? 

I'll argue that this has to do with the overall societal vision that the story is defending, and therefore with how it frames issues of social injustice. In other words, does the story take the ultimate position that the system would be good if it weren't for a few bad apples, or is the system corrupt at its core and must be dismantled (or at least fundamentally reformed?)

Robin Hood defends the bad apple theory. The problem is Prince John, the illegitimate usurper who is a corrupt, degenerate asshole, and makes everyone suffer. At the end of the day, King Richard returns, restoring order. This story is not trying to reform monarchy, it's just trying to retire a defective ruler. The system is good, and once the illegitimate despot is replaced by a benevolent ruler, everyone lives happily ever after. If the rebellion had been started by some random charismatic field laborer, we would have a revolution on our hands. That would be a whole different deal. Instead, we have a prince in commoner disguise  cleaning up his own house in an act of "Noblesse Oblige". Ultimately, he's not fighting the system, he's protecting it.

So you could argue that stories like Robin Hood, while presented as stories of popular liberation, are in fact only protecting the system by giving you a few bad apples to root against. The structure of oppression remain in place at the end, only in the hands of benevolent or fair-minded rulers. Meanwhile, the necessary rebelling is left to a nobleman in commoner's clothing. Not an actual commoner.

This is--another spoilier alert--the ultimate point in the Matrix. Neo was never in position to really threaten the system, he was just there to let the people blow up some steam.

The other side of the coin is Norma Rae. In that story, it is the system that is corrupt and needs complete reform. That's why Norma Rae IS a woman of the people, not Undercover Boss.