There’s not a lot to do in West Africa, and I often find myself rifling through my well-worn collection of DVD’s looking for something to re-watch that seems interesting. This weekend in my hunt I ran across an old Disney classic cartoon – Robin Hood. I hadn’t seen this cartoon probably since I was young; I purchased a copy for when my wife will (at long last) let me watch it with my son – a date that still appears to be far off in the future. Nevertheless I peeled off the plastic and sat down to watch; and found myself astonished by the simple wisdom of the team from Disney circa 1973.
Robin Hood has been portrayed in pop culture as a “justified thief”, seizing money from those who made it and handing it to those who didn’t – the poster child for redistribution. He’s been used by those who vilify capitalism as the perfect hero; a rebel who fights tirelessly against the robber-barons of medieval England who (according to the story) made their money by oppressing the poor. This version of Robin Hood has become so commonplace in the popular imagination that even Ayn Rand used it to describe one of her heroes – Ragnar Danneskjold – as the anti-Robin Hood.
“It is said that [Robin Hood] fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived. He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity.” Atlas Shrugged – Part II, Chapter VII
Amazingly, Disney sets the record straight in their frolicking musical interpretation of the old legend. This children’s story portrays elegantly and cheerfully – without anger or violence – what few are willing to say. It tells a story about illegitimate Prince John and his hangers-on who thrive by imposing taxes on the poor, juxtaposed against the quiet noble desperation of the impoverished who seek to provide for their families despite the predatory overtures of their rulers. It shows in an unpretentious story the true source of inequality; the belief by some that they have the right to the goods of others. In this story, Robin Hood is not a parasite that taps blood from the productive class to hand it out as he sees fit; he is the valiant defender of those who produce in the first place as he returns to them their hard earned money taken from them by force. He is Ragnar Danneskjold. This is a Robin Hood I can get behind.
Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Disney has in their simple story the courage to portray a profound truth regarding the nature of poverty and oppression and inequality. This is a story that all children should be immersed in. I will start with my son, as soon as my wife lets me.
Joel D. Hirst is a novelist, author of “The Lieutenant of San Porfirio” (and its Spanish version “El Teniente de San Porfirio: Cronica de una Revolucion Bolivariana“); and the upcoming sequel “The Burning of San Porfirio”.