Firstly I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak today.
Have you ever watched a film, and thought to yourself, ‘this plot is very familiar’ or ‘I’m sure I’ve met these characters before’?
This comes as no surprise. Screenwriters make frequent use of characters and situations, which they know we will find familiar. It is these plot components and familiar characterisations that help to keep our interest engaged.
The Russian scholar Vladimir Propp (prawp) devoted his career to analysing the plot components of common Russian folktales. He identified a staggering 31 narrative functions and eight broad character types. These were; the villain, the dispatcher, the helper, the princess, her father, the donor, the hero and the false hero.
According to Propp, every story has to have a hero who dominates the storyline – and nearly always seeks and eventually wins the heart of the ‘princess’.
Let us test this theory of Propp’s by applying it to the medium of feature film.
I’ve chosen Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves. In this legendary story of a man who robs from the rich, to give to the poor, Robin Hood is cast as hero with Maid Marion assuming the role of princess. Some re-imaginings of the Robin Hood legend cast Guy of Gisbourne as the false hero while the villain is, of course, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Marion’s father presents an obstacle between her and Robin, although in some versions of the story – such as ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’ – the role of Marion’s father is assumed by the woman who shares a house with her, whom makes attempts to ‘protect’ Marion. The dispatcher in this story is a character called Azeem who gets Robin out of prison, while the donor is Marion’s brother Peter, who gives Robin a ring (Propp’s magical object) and makes him swear to protect her. In nearly all renditions of the Robin Hood story, the character Little John takes on the role of helper, who, without which, Robin would not be able to complete his quests.
The medium of feature film is now almost a century old. Does Propp’s analysis of character types still hold true when put to the test against a more modern phenomenon: the online community?
Some types of online community, such as Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs), continue to support Propp’s theory well, but for the majority the eight characterisations that he identified they are largely irrelevant.
Following some research in 2008, I identified no less than eleven characters which exist in online environments. Some of these were already documented. Others I invented.
The most talked about and controversial variety of online community participant is definitely the Troll, so named after the supernatural beings in Scandinavian folklore in the 17th century. The Troll posts deliberately provocative messages intended to start a fierce argument (‘flame war’) between other members of the community. Stepping in to counter troll activity is the Big Man, so-named after the ‘Big Men’ in tribes such as the Siane who form a de facto council that confirms social policy and practices. Big Men are pivotal in the community, supporting group order and stability by personally absorbing conflicts.
Snerts are even more badly behaved than trolls. It is their raison d’être to be obnoxious by posting messages with the sole intention of causing gross offense. Snerts are apparent in most online communities and rarely support or recognize any of the Big Men unless there is immediate personal benefit in doing so.
The posted messages of Snerts and Trolls may look similar. However, when you apply the definitions described in my theory the key differences between them become clear. A troll’s intention is to provoke a reaction, for example by playing devil’s advocate in an argument. Snerts, on the other hand, are only interested in being directly and openly offensive.
Howard Rheingold, the online community researcher and author of seminal text ‘The Virtual Community’ describes sociable online community participants, who I have now termed Flirts. Marc Smith on the other hand has identified members of an online community who, after being banned for unacceptable behavior, return (as might the Scarlet Pimpernel) with a new identity, intent on realising for themselves a form of personal justice. I call these E-vengers.
Jenny Preece has written a number of articles on the subject of ‘empathic communities’. She has described sympathetic and empathetic online community participants. Their common reaction to others may be summed up with the acronym ‘MHBFY’ (my heart bleeds for you). I call such characters MHBFY Jennies.
Some community members – known as Chat Room Bobs – are driven by the desire to achieve sexual gratification through the sharing of pictures and dialogue of a sexual nature. Others – I call them Rippers – are characterized by feelings of helplessness (such as 21-year-old computer expert Brandon Vedas who killed himself during an online chat session in 2003 – Ripper was Brandon’s screen name).
Finally, there are Wizards and Iconoclasts. Wizards are the beta testers of the online community. They love a learning curve and are always open to experiencing advances in technology. Iconoclasts are the Wizards’ nemeses, who seek only to destroy rather than build online communities.
As I hope I have shown you, the codes and conventions that apply to one form of new media may not apply to another. Those characters in films which are merely broadcasted to us are widely different from those we create as manifestations of ourselves in cyberspace. So I’ll leave you to ponder this – which character are you?
Firstly I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak at this conference. It is very fitting that we should hold this conference in Mid Wales as it was in this region that Twm Shon Catti, the man known as the Welsh Robin Hood undertook his villainous and heroic activities.
Historical archers, such as the longbowmen from Llantrisant have won battles, such as the Battle of Crécy in 1346, due to not only their skill, but also the leadership shown by those in the army they are part of. Robin Hood is one of the most renowned mythic archers, known for his exceptional skill at archery, purportedly more accurate than the Freemen of Llantrisant as he is known for splitting a competitor’s arrow in an archery contest to snatch victory. Despite this, some stories of Robin Hood suggest that he cannot be compared with the Freemen of Llantrisant with authors such as Dick King-Smith indicating that he could barely pull back the string of his bow properly, but even these suggest that Robin Hood had an almost obsessional interest in archery, even up to the day he died. Even with the depiction of such traits, there is little written in the literature about Robin Hood’s personality, though it is quite apparent from many of the stories about him that he exhibits many autistic traits and qualities. Robin Hood is often depicted as the leader of a band of robbers, more commonly known as the Merry Men, but what sort of leader could he have been if he exhibited certain autistic ailments?
If Robin Hood has an autistic spectrum disorder such as Asperger Syndrome, it is likely that he would also have a monotone voice as this is characteristic of people with the syndrome, which would mean that he would not be able to convey emotion as effectively as he perhaps should do. According to the Disability Rights Commissions Guidance for disabled leaders, 38% of a first impression consists of a person’s vocal qualities such as tone of voice and their rate and pitch. According to Johnson (1999) disabilities, such as autism and other developmental disabilities, are seen as antithetical to leadership, and often this perception is a barrier to people with such disabilities becoming leaders. Johnson argues that as people with disabilities emerge as educated, competent, and well-trained professionals who address issues specific to the constituency of which they are a recognised member, their leadership must be embraced. This seems to suggest that people with autism becoming leaders is something that will happen in the future, and not something that has happened in the past or is happening in the present. There are many leadership qualities possessed by people with autism and other developmental disabilities, some of which have been exhibited by historical figures, and some by mythic figures such as Robin Hood.
In attempting to understand leaders and people with autism, particularly Asperger Syndrome, some authors have found it helpful to identify the personality traits of these individuals. Stogdill (1948) identified several characteristics of emergent leadership, those being dominance, extroversion, sociability, ambition, responsibility, integrity, self-confidence, mood, emotional control, diplomacy and cooperativeness. Helton (1997) also identified a number of factors that suggest someone is a leader, including that they have vision, an ability to handle change, self-awareness, a clear set of values, openness and trustworthiness.
Friedman & Lambert (2000) concurred some of these attributes by suggesting that leaders possess vision, charisma, confidence, courage, humility, honesty, concern for others, and a strong sense of justice.
Some of these traits of leaders are consistent with the traits found in individuals with Asperger Syndrome and others are not. Individuals on the autistic spectrum are known to be dominant in their interactions with their peers according to Wolfberg ( 2003) as they like to be in control and often attempt to command over others.
According the National Autistic Society some people with Asperger Syndrome are known to have a strong sense of justice. However the NAS also indicate that people with Asperger Syndrome do not cope well with change, and some people with the syndrome find it very difficult to adapt to changes in the workplace (Bishop, 2003), something which Helton (1997) suggests leaders have the ability to do. Nelles (2005) identifies three specific attributes of people with Asperger Syndrome, which are that they have courage, strength and character. These are perhaps similar to the courage, self-confidence and charisma that are characteristic of leadership. Another trait of people with Asperger Syndrome, according to the DSM-IV criteria used to diagnose people with the condition is that they have impairment in social interaction, which conflicts with Stogdill’s (1948) claim that a characteristic of leadership is sociability. In addition to this impairment, DSM-IV also states that to diagnose someone with Asperger Syndrome they need to have “restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities” which is perhaps what makes some autistic people exhibit dominating behaviour, a quality of leadership, and perhaps makes them perfectly positioned to develop a vision that restricts others to their will as a leader would, as suggested by Helton (1997).
Robin Hood has been represented in many different ways in many different mediums. Up until the nineteenth-century members of the establishment portrayed Robin Hood as a villain. In a petition to Parliament in 1439 Piers Venables of Aston in Derbyshire was disparagingly compared to Robin Hood and famously Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury, described Guy Fawkes and his associate terrorists as “Robin Hoods”. It is only in recent times that Robin Hood’s insurgent behaviours have been compared to someone that is a campaigner for social justice as opposed to a terrorist fighting for a political cause. In the True Tale of Robin Hood, it is said, “The widow and the fatherless he would send means unto, and those whom famine did oppress found him a friendly foe” and “Nor would he do a woman wrong, but see her safe convey’d : He would protect with power strong all those who crav’d his aid”. This suggests that Robin Hood has the leadership quality of having concern for others as well as having a strong sense of justice, something that is characteristic of both autistic people and leaders. Robin Hood is often portrayed as having no respect for unqualified authority, an autistic trait according to Frith (1991) and Arias (2006), suggesting he has a clear value system, which is a leadership quality according to Helton (1997).
A clear indication of Robin Hood having some autistic characteristics is that he is easily deceived, which according to Baron-Cohen (1992) and Sodian & Frith (1992) is a common ailment of people with autistic spectrum disorders. In the ballad, Robin Hood’s Progress to Nottingham as well as many retellings of the legend, Robin Hood is easily deceived by some foresters into killing one of the King’s deer and in the ballad, Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Robin Hood is also easily deceived, but this time by Maid Marian, whom he does not realise the identity of until after having a tussle with her.
Picking up the Ladybird series of Robin Hood books, such as The Ambush by Kester & Kenny (1955) and The Silver Arrow also by Kester & Kenny (1940) as well as many other series of Robin Hood books, Robin Hood is usually seen wearing the same clothes. According to Lewis (2002) this is characteristic of leadership, as groups are able to identify with a uniform as a symbolic form of communication and according to Pyles (2002) wearing the same clothes all the time as if they were a uniform is also characteristic of people with Asperger Syndrome. What perhaps suggests that Robin Hood was wearing the same clothes more for autistic reasons than as a leadership decision was in The Silver Arrow (Kenny & Kester, 1940), Robin Hood wore the same clothes to the archery contest as he wore when he was with his Merry Men, suggesting he had difficulties with changing his outfit as an autistic person would.
One autistic trait that Robin Hood has that perhaps conflicts with traits of a leader is the way he seeks out conflict and speaks in a confrontational manner, as Boyd (2004) suggests a person with Asperger Syndrome would, as opposed to being diplomatic as Stogdill (1948) suggests leaders should be. For example, in the ballads Robin Hood and the Curtail Friar and Robin Hood and Little John, Robin Hood makes a possibly straightforward situation for someone with diplomatic abilities as confrontational as an autistic person would. Both these stories also demonstrate how Robin Hood is courageous, which is according to Friedman & Lambert (2000) a leadership quality and according to Nelles (2005) is a quality that people with Asperger Syndrome have. Indeed, McSpadden & Wilson (1921) clearly state that Robin Hood is courageous, and in the ballad, Robin Hood’s Progress to Nottingham, Robin Hood is said to be “a proper young man, of courage stout and bold”. Other stories about Robin Hood indicate that he is slow to anger suggesting he has emotional control, which is a leadership quality according to Stogdill (1948), and something which is apparent in many adults with autistic spectrum disorders such as Asperger Syndrome.
Applying the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria to Robin Hood as well as recorded traits of people with Asperger Syndrome also suggests that he is on the autistic spectrum. Robin Hood clearly has “restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities” as manifested in his intense interest in archery, which is alluded to in the ballad Robin Hood’s Birth, Breeding, Valour, and Marriage and suggested in the many adaptations and retellings of the legend as well as having only one close friend, that being Little John. The criteria of “qualitative impairments in social interaction and communication” can be insinuated from the theatre productions of Robin Hood as according to Knight (2003) Robin Hood has so few lines in such productions as is confirmed in the play Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood, which was recently performed in Pontypridd, where Robin Hood appears quiet in the classroom and only becomes animated when he disputes something. If Robin Hood is a leader, this may be one of his weaknesses, although perhaps if he were to be as focussed on his vision as autistic people are focussed on their plans, then he may compensate this social impairment in his leadership by being dominant in his interactions with others through trying to force his strong sense of justice onto them as someone with strong leadership skills would do, as suggested by Stogdill (1948).
The possibility that Robin Hood does not convey emotion in his voice, as depicted in Tim Brooke-Hunt’s production leads to the question of whether Robin Hood could be an ardent leader as he is often imagined if he has a monotone voice, or whether he would simply be a detached brigand.
To investigate this I carried out a study. A total of 398 people from the Robin Hood community were asked to take part in the study and 23 responses were received. Although there was no gathering of data relating to age or gender, it was evident from the participants’ profile pages that they were from diverse backgrounds, making them representative of society. Audio recordings were made of the script from the popular Robin Hood adaptation, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves where Robin Hood made a speech in which he tried to unite the Merry Men behind his vision of a just society as a leader would. The recordings were made of the actual scene from the movie in which Robin Hood played by Kevin Costner made the speech, a person who had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome making the same speech in their naturally monotone voice, and a control, which was an actor making that speech who had not previously played the part of Robin Hood, nor been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. A website was constructed to hold these audio recordings to make them available to participants and the results collected in a database. Participants were asked to listen to the audio files one after the other and then rate the speaker using a 6-point Likert-type scale on specific attributes characteristic of leaders based on the studies by Stogdill (1948), Helton (1997) and Friedman & Lambert (2000).
The study proves conclusively that people will judge another person’s leadership qualities based on their voice and that in most cases a professional actor, in this case Kevin Costner, will convey in their voice stronger leadership qualities than an amateur actor or an autistic actor. The autistic actor was seen as less dominant than the professional actor or amateur actor, which contrary to the widely known fact that autistic people are dominant in their interactions with others. The autistic actor’s voice did not convey their strong sense of justice as the professional actor or the amateur actor, nor did their courageous traits come through. The autistic actor came out showing stronger emotional control than the professional actor. As discussed adults with an autistic spectrum disorder such as Asperger Syndrome often exhibit greater emotional control, and the results suggest this is perceived in their monotone voice.
The results of the study suggest that if Robin Hood does have a monotone voice and is autistic then he will have to rely on his dominating behaviour to portray the leadership quality of dominance to the Merry Men, rely on taking part in bold activities to demonstrate his courageousness, and rely on policies such as robbing the rich to feed the poor to convince people of his leadership qualities of having a strong sense of justice and being concerned about others. Robin Hood is perhaps better known for convincing people of his leadership qualities through demonstrating his personality through his actions than his voice, as he is known to demonstrate the leadership qualities of concern for others, courage and responsibility by taking the blame for the actions of others.
Robin Hood was autistic, a member of the World Wide Robin Hood Society is to claim at an international conference on England’s most renowned legendary outlaw.
I was recently given a cutting from the Daily Mail, titled, ‘A true blue Robin Hood’. It said: “No praise can be too high for the BBC’s Robin Hood, whose third episode is on BBC1 this evening. One would naturally expect any BBC outlaw to be an unreconstructed socialist, virtuously robbing the rich to give to the poor.
“This production is different. The Sheriff of Nottingham is a villainous character, obviously based on Gordon Brown, who goes around the place appropriating property and imposing intolerable tax levels on ordinary people, while Robin Hood is a model Tory, trying to set the people free.”
From what I see, the BBC’s Sheriff of Nottingham can clearly be compared to Saddam Hussein and Robin Hood is clearly like Bill Clinton. The BBC’s Robin Hood is trying to contain the Sheriff like Bill Clinton tried and failed to enact a policy of containment with Saddam Hussein. Like Bill Clinton Robin Hood has the values of someone intolerant of injustice, but like Bill Clinton as well as being smooth talking and conveying charm this Robin Hood is concerned about his popularity.
The Sheriff like Saddam Hussein has no consideration of human rights in his quest to control his people, resorting to torturous methods to do so. Like Robin Hood’s relationship with the Sheriff, Bill Clinton as a protagonist was in a difficult position, as he knew getting rid of his antagonist would create instability.
I was interested to read the article about Robin Hood (‘We love Robin Hood’, August 15), particularly as I am conducting some research into the perceptions of Robin Hood for an international conference about the myth.
One of the biggest claims about Robin Hood is that he was an excellent shot with the longbow, something alluded to in the article. However, if Robin Hood lived between 1160 and 1247, as many claim, he would have died three years before the longbow was introduced into England from Wales.
Some of the ballads refer to Robin Hood as living in the time of King Edward, when all sports but archery were banned on a Sunday, which would perhaps give greater credence to Joseph Hunter’s historical account if we are to believe Robin Hood was a master of the longbow.
Whether Robin Hood was an actual historical figure or not, the legend is alive today, and whether he robbed from the rich to give to the poor or save the lives of innocent men, Robin Hood will always capture the imagination of those who are intolerant of injustices.
I received a long-awaited newsletter from the World Wide Robin Hood Society this week. The big issues in it were how Nottingham seems reluctant to promote the Robin Hood legend and the report of the society into promoting the legend as well as the motion in Parliament and debate in the wider community about whether Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire owns the Robin Hood legend.
When I visited the East Midlands and Yorkshire to collect multimedia material for my HND Project (a website for people seeking out Robin Hood) I was surprised how little there was of Robin Hood in Nottingham itself. I expected to find more than paintings in the castle’s museum, I expected some guide of where to locate Robin Hood in the region.
I enjoyed visiting the areas in Yorkshire and the East Midlands that were associated with the Robin Hood legend, including Hathersage, Kirkless, Loxley, Nottingham and Sherwood.
I do not think that Robin Hood belongs to either Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire, I think he belongs to all of us. It does not really matter whether Robin Hood was born in Loxley, Nottingham, Wakefield or somewhere else, what matters is that people enjoy and share his legends, however accurate or inaccurate they may be.
The story I will tell my children is this:
A boy named Robin was born into the equivalent of working class family in a small village in England during the Middle Ages. Like their grandfather and uncle, the father of Robin trained as a carpenter and worked hard to support his family and pay his taxes. I will tell them how Robin’s father was not able to use his skills to set up his own business like their grandfather did, because in that time only those who had been made freemen were allowed to do so. They will learn how poor the working conditions were for Robin’s family and how there were not any trade unions or professional bodies to protect their rights.
I will tell them how like their ancestor who fought at as a longbow man at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, Robin enjoyed archery and at every opportunity practiced it. He was known in the village as one of the best shots, and hoped one day to fight for his Lord. Shortly after his eighteenth birthday Robin heard of an archery tournament in Nottingham and had his mind set on going. His parents tried to explain to him that he wasn’t allowed to leave the village and if he left he wouldn’t be able to fight for his Lord, but Robin lost sight of his ambitions and just wanted to prove he was the best archer in England.
I will say how Robin travelled to Nottingham against his parents’ best advice and on the way encountered about seventeen soldiers who were drinking excessively. These soldiers were behaving loutishly and started to torment Robin. I will explain to them that you should try not to drink too much or argue with people who drink a lot because it could have unintended consequences, like what happened to Robin when he was provoked by the soldiers and ended up killing them, something he had not planned.
I will say how the authorities found out what had happened and started a search for Robin, who through his actions had left many families without fathers. I will explain how services like Victim Support, which their father once volunteered for, did not exist in that time so there was little support for the bereaved families.
I will tell them the tales of Robin Hood based on my interpretation of the ballads in Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood: Ancient Poems, Songs and Ballads, including how he met Little John, Maid Marion and the other characters. I will tell them how Robin illegally practiced redistributing wealth, but how important this is to creating a society where everyone can realise their true potential. I will tell them how when Robin was older he became very sick and there was no National Health Service and being poor he could not afford the care that wealthier people had.
I will end the story at Kirklees, where he sought help, but was betrayed and after Little John forced his way into the priory to help him, he fired a symbolic arrow to mark where he would be buried.
My story of Robin Hood might not have the historical background of the one by David Hinchliffe MP, but it is a personal one, as varied as the ones told by minstrels since Robin Hood became a name associated with outlaws who stood up against authoritarian regimes that tolerated injustices.