[A fuller version of this essay is posted at Faithful Agitation.]
When presented with the choice of curling up on the couch with my beloved and our two still-at-home kids to watch Robin Hood or going off alone to watch the presidential debate on-line, it was a no-brainer. Truth be told, I would have taken a far lesser offer. Maybe even a trip to the dentist.
I hate the debates. I don’t learn anything useful from them and I don’t think anyone else does either. No presidential debate has ever changed my preference or even my opinions about candidates.
I watch them knowing who I prefer and what my vote will be. Because of that, I find watching somewhat akin to watching my favorite baseball team try to hold on to a lead in the ninth inning. Will my guy hold on, or will he blow it? Except, debates are nowhere near as entertaining as baseball. When was the last time you saw Mitt Romney stretch a double into a triple? Oh, sure, he stretches the truth like Bryce Harper stretches an extra base, but it’s simply not as much fun to watch.
When was the last time you saw Barack Obama break off a knee-bending curve ball? Sure, he’s thrown his supporters more than a few curves over the past four years, but it’s just not as much fun as watching Stephen Strasburg strike out the side on nine pitches.
If the debates had some other value, like maybe helping create a more informed citizenry, then they would be worth my time. But they’re just made-for-TV spectacle, and they’re not even very good at that.
So it was on to Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood, which carried more political clarity than most debates. The Robin Hood myth is, of course, all about equitable distribution of a society’s resources in a time of radical, structural inequality when the rich have set the rules to fix their position on the top of the social hierarchy. Sound familiar?
Robin takes the time, in Errol Flynn’s version, to show the effects of a skewed tax and finance policy on the poor and destitute. Romney and Obama both try to pitch their case to the broad middle class, and neither mentions the poor very often at all.
I was, by the end of the evening, much more well entertained by Errol Flynn than I would have been by the debates. More than merely entertained, I was more informed, as well. At least, that is, informed in the way that the prophetic voice informs.
As Walter Brueggemann suggests, “odd voices of discernment, mostly poets and unwelcome dissenters who had a sinking feeling in their gut […] found words that unnerved the city; because they offered a shrill reminder that even slick logos do not change or nullify the facts on the ground in the city” (from the essay “Every City a Holy City,” inDisruptive Grace).
No, Errol Flynn did not set out to be “prophetic,” whatever we take that to mean. But Robin Hood at least shed light on the facts on the ground: poor people who are victims of an unjust economic system.
The facts on the ground all around us remain unchanged and unaddressed in the current campaign: a broken economic system, a broken political system, and millions of broken lives. To say nothing of drone warfare, climate change, and a host of other deep and structural problems that neither candidate wants to address. These are the most pressing questions of our age, and the silence about them is remarkable.