29 June 2009

"I'm a damsel, I'm in distress, I can handle it. Have a nice day."

This post will not mean anything to the five or six people who frequent my blog, nor, probably, the random people who come by every once in a while. Therefore, this post is going to be a selfish one. I'm allowed. It's my blog. To quote an old roommate, "I do what I want!"

For almost as long as I can remember I have had a bit of an obsession with Robin Hood. It was that darn FOX and his incredible accent. I couldn't help myself! Even as a strapping young lass of three or four I recognized the power of a good, sexy British accent. So when I found out that the BBC was doing another re-telling of the legend a few years ago I got really excited. Since the cartoon I hadn't ever really seen a version of Robin Hood that I was particularly fond of (re: Kevin Costner's ghastly turn as a very American outlaw.) But this time I had a bit more hope, mainly because Richard Armitage was beyond brilliant in North and South and I was anxious to see him take a turn as the evil Guy of Gisborne.

So I watched. And it was delightful. It was completely ridiculous, of course. Strange camera angles and eyeliner and lines like "You are on probation!" or "I shot the sheriff!"/"No, you shot the deputy." It was a complete joke. It was beyond historically inaccurate. But I didn't really care, because that wasn't the point. It was good hearted fun with fine acting and an under riding theme of good winning out in spite of all odds. David and Goliath at its best and most cheeky.

I looked forward to it every week. For the entire first season I would wait up almost all night while the files downloaded onto my computer because people hadn't quite figured out You Tube yet. By second season I could watch the show almost immediately after it showed up in Britain. It was all that kept me moving during the Fall Semester. I considered it my personal mission to spread the Robin Hood love to all of my friends. We instigated "Robin Hood Thursdays" where a band of England-Happy, Lovesick like girls would get together and eat dinner and rewind that one part over and over again for the sheer pleasure of watching Robin do something cheeky or Marian say something biting (usually both).

At the heart of it all was Marian. If there was one thing I learned while I was watching the show for the first two seasons, it was that even if the show was called Robin Hood, it was really Marian's show. Everything revolved around her. She stole nearly every scene she was in for one simple reason: she represents everything Robin fights for. She is hope, she is determination, she is integrity and honor. Since Marian's introduction into the Robin Hood legend 300 some-odd years ago, the story has been hers. The story simply does not work without her.

And this Marian was particularly wonderful. She was a good balance of strong and weak. She was proactive in helping her community. She was occasionally soft and gentle, occasionally not. She was independent but, in the end, recognized that heroes are not as strong alone as they are when they are united with others who share common goals. She was a damsel occasionally in distress but who was capable of saving herself but also capable of a great deal of love. She was a wonderful role model in a media-world of shallow women who are either in constant need of rescuing or far too harsh to really claim the title of woman at all.

It is, quite frankly, the reason why Arwen gained a larger role in The Lord of the Rings films - Aragorn, like Robin, is charged with a large task (save the world.) But until the task is made personal, until they have a reason to fight that is more specific, neither Robin nor Aragorn can really be heroic. These men need women because it narrows the scope at the same time it expands it - saving the world becomes more than duty, it becomes "I need to save the world because then I can be with _______." Good writers realize this. Lily Potter, anyone? Her sacrifice was not to save the entire wizarding world (though it did), her sacrifice was to save her son (even if it was unintentional.)

So this is where the rub comes in. For some reason, for some wild, great, unknown reason, the writers of this show decided that it would be prudent to run Marian through with a broadsword. They tried to be creative and run the show without her - see what would happen if Robin lost his main squeeze, so to speak. Really, you can almost understand where they're coming from. Retelling the same story over again isn't really worth it unless you add something new to the mix. You have to be a bit unconventional. But there are lines that can't be crossed in that unconventionalism. Killing off the symbol of hope is one of those lines.

The writers of the show could have killed off anyone - and I mean anyone - other than Marian and the show would have survived. They could have run that same sword through ROBIN and the show would have continued without all that much of a hitch.

But all of this has become almost secondary to what I realized recently when I was thinking a bit more about why all of this has bothered me. I think part of it rests in my own desperation to believe that there really are happy endings. I think part of it is in my frustration that even at the time of Marian's death in the show there was no sign of peace with Robin. What sort of message does the show send by killing Marian off after all the addendums she had on when she would actually marry Robin? What kind of message is it to show a dying Robin and a ghost Marian only able to actually find real happiness when they're both dead and can't do anything about the troubles in England which, by the way, don't improve?

More specifically, what kind of message does it send to the girls out there who (cough, like me, cough) are trying to find out what it means to be a strong woman - both firm and kind, both direct but gentle, independent and dependent. It's such a hard balance to find. It bothers me that a family show, a show that appealed to just as many (if not more) women than men would so carelessly and thoughtlessly "murder" not just a physical body but a whole regiment of ideas on womanhood. In a television world where women are belittled and ill-treated, it was nice, for once, to see a truly strong woman portrayed on screen. A woman who really was a good counterpart for Robin.

You see, I don't watch movies or read books because I want to be reminded that sometimes things don't work out and sometimes people don't manage happiness in life or that sometimes people get run through with a broadsword. I watch movies and read books because I want to be reminded that sometimes things do work out. And sometimes people are happy. And sometimes good does win in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds.

So darn you, writers of a formerly wonderful show that lost all of its spark and fun and started taking itself too seriously and managed to kill off everyone (almost literally.) What a sad, horrible commentary in a world that desperately needs to believe in the possibility of heroes again.


Lisa said...

Once again, beautifully written Joni and so insightful. My guess is that if the writers of the show read your blog before they killed off Marian, they would have changed their decision. So who is the media symbol of powerful and compassionate womanhood we can look to now?

Joni said...

You know, I really don't know. The more I think about it, the harder it is for me to find good examples. Granted, I don't watch as much television as I do movies. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that the strong, witty, almost biting woman is definitely making the rise against women who are smart but also compassionate and soft. Who was it that gave the talk about how we have enough women who are _____ and we need more women who are ______? No joke.