The film industry has a very polarized market to deal with. According to a 2018 study “64% of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue”, so how do big budget movies still attract the wide swaths of people they require? Well, we believe it has something to do with a little thing we call “The Robin Hood Effect.”
The Robin Hood Effect: When a character is perceived as being secretly loyal to members on both sides of an ideological divide.
We will offer up some film examples in a moment, but let’s start with the prime example from literature, Tom Thumb. I’m kidding. It’s the “Robin Hood Effect”. Robin Hood is the prime example. Specifically…
Robin Hood and the American political divide.
To many on the political left, Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the needy. Taking back the money from the wealthy and “Spreading the wealth.” *WINK*
Meanwhile, to the political right, Robin Hood fought back against an oppressive government with outrageous tax policies. “Taking Down the Big Government to Help the Small Business Owner” *WINK* Or No Taxation without Representation *WINK*
You see? Both sides of the argument might very well think that if Robin Hood were to be brought into reality today, he would be on their side.
Make sense? Half of you said “yes”, half said “no”. I’ll make the half that I secretly agree with feel better and show some examples in movies.
Before these examples, let’s explain that we are not making the claim that this is always done intentionally. There could be several reasons a writer would achieve the Robin Hood Effect with their character and intentionally tricking an audience is only one of them. Although, it’s more than likely that at least one of these characters was intentionally written to achieve this effect.
Here are a few examples of characters who are secretly on both sides of an ideological divide and the reasons why both sides have good arguments to claim them as their own.
Captain America and The Divide on American Patriotism
Are you Pro-American patriotism? Well here is a character born and raised back when men were men. A man who isn’t afraid to walk around and save the whole world dressed in red, white, and blue and go by the name “CAPTAIN AMERICA” rather than his first name. You’ll love him. He’s on your side. He hates Nazis, just like you.
Are you Anti-American patriotism? Well here is a character who doesn’t just blindly listen to what America tells him is good. He is against bullies and doesn’t care where they are from. He leads a team of his closest friends who are from around the world, all kinds of races and colors.
He was given a suit that symbolizes America’s blind patriotism. He hates having to wear it and even feels like a circus monkey when helping America gain capital. As time progresses, he rips the stars off his suit and lets the red white and blue fade the more time he learns about the evils of America. You’ll love him. He’s on your side. He hates Nazis, just like you.
Katniss Everdeen and the Divide On The Size of Government
Think the government being too big is a problem? Katniss Everdeen is here to save the day. She’ll fight government officials on any side as long as she knows they are trying to run a big government. She’s a rugged individualist. She’ll stop at nothing to fight back against structures of power so she can be herself and be able to live her life free of oppression. She’s on your side.
Think the government can be whatever size as long as they are doing good things? Watch as Katniss explores a world shown to be beautiful but mismanaged. From the stunning cities, dams, and technology, it’s clear that if this powerful country wasn’t run by an old, white man (or an old, white woman for that matter) everything would be great. Watch as Katniss learns that her rugged individuality is dangerous and that the only way to win is with teamwork and the collective. She’s on your side.
Iron Man and The Debate on Gun Rights
Pro Gun Rights? Iron Man is a capitalist who saves the world by telling his corrupt government “If you want my property, you can’t have it.” I think you know where he stands.
Or is Iron Man the guy who learns that being a greedy capitalist is a bad thing and thinks all superheroes need to be under the power of the UN or a similar governing body? “Sign the Sokovia Accord.” I think you know where he stands.
Superman and the divide on American Exceptionalism
Superman! You know what side he is on when it comes to American exceptionalism. Your side.
The Man of Steel? He’s totally pro American exceptionalism. “I’m as American as it gets.” If he landed anywhere else, the world would be doomed. You remember the comic series where he lands in Russia and nearly destroys the world with communism?
“Truth, Justice, and the American Way”
The Man of Steel? He’s totally anti American exceptionalism. He’s an illegal alien who is constantly treated like an outsider, who isn’t welcome here, all while he’s doing the jobs Americans won’t. He gave up “truth, justice, and all that stuff” a long time ago.
Black Panther and the Divide on Critical Race Theory
Black Panther? Your side. Black Panther, a movie about an African American who shows that Black is King. A glimpse into an alternate version of Africa untainted by whites and the evils of slavery.
Or is he on the other side. Black Panther, a movie where a man stands alongside anyone, even a painfully white guy, to face a villain who believes in punishing individuals for the effects of racism they did not participate in? “You are becoming them? You would destroy the world and Wakanda.”
You ever wonder why Black Panther doesn’t argue offer his personal opinion on why Killmonger is wrong about the world?
Characters like these are extremely useful when targeting a large and divided market. This goes beyond avoiding divisiveness though. It’s another level deeper, screenplay writers are convincing both sides of an ideological battle that their character secretly agrees with them. Just so we are clear, it is physically impossible to be on both sides of an ideological divide. Your brain does not work that way.
Your favorite characters may not be as on-your-side as you first thought. Talk to people who you disagree with about movies you both like. You’ll be fascinated by what they say. Maybe you’ll find some common ground or maybe you’ll convince them our side is right. *WINK*