Robin Hood, Batman and the Myth of the Benevolent Billionaire

So that new Robin Hood movie came out. The one that has been described as a second-rate Batman Begins. The one where knights carry riot shield and the Crusades play out like Zero Dark Thirty. That one. One thing that intrigued me about the new film was the use of Robin’s dual identity as Robin of Locksley to make the Batman parallels even clearer. I just have one question throughout this mess. Why are we expecting the rich to save us? Batman is a billionaire who plays dress up to beat up the poor and disenfranchised. Robin Hood robs from the rich and gives to the poor while remaining a feudal lord. Green Arrow … has a goatee? I’m sure we’ll get to Green Arrow. At least he jumped into politics, although looking at recent blondes millionaires in politics, maybe not so good. So, let’s talk about the myth of the benevolent billionaire.

Perhaps every point I could make about the problems with those who hoard wealth is made better in this video by Peter Coffin. A point that I want to focus on is the example they provide regarding the use of coltan. Coltan is a conflict mineral that is a component of most consumer electronics. Even the most philanthropic of billionaires require that the cost of producing coltan remain cheap. If we investigate any company of a significant size, we can find issues with their supply chain especially if they provide cheap products. Perhaps the easiest example for me to return to because of its clear-cut nature is that of Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Bezos is the richest person in the world and his workers are overworked and underpaid. Now, I could continue to dunk all day on billionaires but I want to examine how our media about the mega-rich presents this group.

First, Batman. I’ve gone back and forth on my dislike for Batman before. There are a lot of reasons. Batman’s memetic power on the Internet had him feeling overdone by the time the Dark Knight Rises came out. Those who enjoy Batman also focusing on his hyper-competence allowing him to win any fight. However, thinking on this topic, one thing always irritated me about Batman more than anything else. Bruce Wayne sees his parents killed in a mugging gone wrong. Then, naturally, he spends his young life fixating on the abstract concept of crime killing his family and training to perfection to fight ‘crime’. Bruce then uses his personal wealth to build himself a state-of-the-art crime-fighting outfit that he uses to beat up the henchman of his villains. Now, I’m no expert on crime but one of the corollaries of crime is often poverty. The most uncharitable look at Batman is that he’s a billionaire who dresses up to beat up poor people. Assuming that Gotham reflects a contemporary America, those folks probably don’t have health insurance either. Interesting sidebar, Bruce Wayne’s estimated personal wealth is $9.2 billion. Comparing Wayne to billionaires in our own world, he would rank around 175.

Now, there is a possible counterargument to my point. Bruce Wayne engages in philanthropy. How much is never specified but it is part of his public identity. However, as detailed above, that wealth had to come from somewhere. Looking to the example of Bill Gates as mentioned in the earlier video by Peter Coffin. Gates is a figure well-known for his philanthropic ways. His company, Microsoft, also requires the use of conflict minerals to continue existing. Someone is getting screwed over in this equation.

Now, let’s look at Robin Hood. Robin Hood conceptually is pretty simple. He robs from the rich and gives to the poor. A noble goal, a goal I can get behind. However, in the most recent film based on the legend which is apparently a whirlwind of anachronisms to make a point about our contemporary world features a very Batman Begins angle to its protagonist. Robin Hood lives a dual life as both ‘the Hood’ and Robin of Locksley. Apparently, he still loses his land.

Now, I think the issue I have with this story is that it never prompts any introspection from Robin Hood. Robin Hood is a feudal lord, he presumably got to that position via birthright and had a serfdom that he ruled over. I’ve never yet seen a version of Robin Hood where he wonders if feudalism is bad for even a second. It’s not feudalism’s fault, it’s just the unjust king who will be dethroned when the true and good king returns from the Crusades. You might view this as all taking place in a historical context so we can’t ascribe our contemporary values to these fictions. Well, we keep retelling the story in our modern world which suggests that we still have a connection to this story. I guess my point here is to stop expecting the rich to save us. Elon Musk only cared about the Thai kids stuck in a cave so far as it could promote his homemade dinghy. Perhaps the most unrealistic aspect of all these stories is to expect the rich to do anything besides accumulate wealth. These stories are rich asshole propaganda and I wish these stories would get wiser to the fact or go away.


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