As time goes on, more and more of the green agenda resembles an attempt by the global upper-middle classes to pull the drawbridge up behind them and leave the peasants on the other side of the moat forever. A recently televised children’s pantomime, and some coincidental news stories about the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products, illustrate all of this quite neatly, bringing to the fore the extent to which the environmental movement seeks to keep the poor in what Karl Marx called “rural idiocy”. Those of us who care about conservation and the environment have bitter cause to regret this, and the backlash to which it is now giving rise.
Pantomime first. Being a father to young children, I sometimes am forced to have half my attention diverted towards mind-numbingly awful TV programmes, mostly on the BBC children’s channel CBeebies. I plan to one day write a post about how almost the entirety of CBeebies’ programming seems designed to ensure children grow up with nothing to aspire to except simpering mediocrity, but for the time being, I will focus on this year’s iteration of the channel’s annual Christmas panto, Robin Hood. Those who have access to the BBC iPlayer can watch it here.
Let’s begin our discussion of CBeebies Robin Hood with a preliminary question. What is the first phrase that typically leaps into your mind, straight away, when the words ‘Robin Hood’ are mentioned? Let me take a guess. Is it something to do with robbing from the rich to give to the poor?
Robin Hood tales have apparently been all about that basic concept since the Middle Ages. Sometimes ‘the rich’ means a rapacious, tax-hungry king. Sometimes it just means ‘the rich’ per se. One can spin the character in other words as Friedrich Hayek or Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. And one can dress him up as an avatar for harmless venting or for biting social critique. But what Robin Hood is known for the world over is always, at root, the same thing: a fundamentally subversive and rebellious refusal to accept the status quo where wealth and property are concerned. What he fights against is, simply put, social class and its economic consequences, and in this he represents the wish fulfilment (and, let’s face it, often entirely understandable outrage) of the poor and put-upon.
But CBeebies Robin Hood is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend for the mid-21st century, and in the mid-21st century, we are supposed to have forgotten about old-fashioned notions like class. The idea that English history (and indeed most of world history) was characterised by divisions over wealth and property, as opposed to sex, race, etc., is nowadays simply banished from the agenda, as is the idea that anybody should want to transcend his or her background (particularly if he or she is working- or lower-middle class) and become rich. The most we are nowadays encouraged to aim for is a slightly higher welfare floor; the rest of the time our job is essentially to feel bad about what little prosperity we might have. It is therefore basically impossible to imagine the BBC sanctioning the production of a children’s panto that had any – even tongue-in-cheek – reference to the class-war element of the Robin Hood story.