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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Robin Hood and Rosenkreutz

I just got some news today that shook me rather dramatically. So dramatically, in fact, that I decided to shelve the articles I was working on in favor of this one.

It just made surrealist retro 80s pastiche music videos seem... insignificant.

Somehow.

Anyway. I'll get to what that news was by the end of the article, but I'll just say, for now, that it prompted a line of thought about the nature of certain types of resistance heroes.

By resistance heroes I mean popularly admired (and reviled--this is important) individuals that oppose powerholders in society. There are a few different archetypes that came to my mind, but there are two that stand out as particularly relevant to society today.

They are The Robin Hood and The Rosicrucian.

THE ROBIN HOOD

The first of these is pretty recognizable as a folk hero. Robin Hood has worked his way into our culture fairly completely, but on the off chance that I have a reader that hasn't grown up with English folktales, the character is a rogue and an archer that battles the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and the pretender king Prince John. The iconic description is that he "steals from the rich and gives to the poor," and his end goal is to raise the ransom that will allow the true king, Richard, to return triumphantly to England.

The particulars, though, are less important to me than the archetypal construction. Let's look at the main things Robin Hood has going for him as a resistance hero:

THE ROBIN HOOD IS:
  • A single heroically talented individual
  • With a "Merry Band" of similarly talented followers
  • Who takes on powerholders through dramatic deeds
  • In order to support broadly populist goals

The Robin Hood is therefore a figure that fights power by carrying out individual, heroic deeds. This archetype makes for great cinema because it provides a central figure and a supporting cast of similarly minded and talented individuals. It has the heroism of the individual will and the collective strength of a group of likeminded people.

The advantage of this model is that it lends itself to a dramatic narrative that outsiders can latch onto. There is a natural central ideology expressed by the group and a strong entertainment value to the exploits of the individuals involved.

The disadvantages are pretty severe, though. After all, if The Robin Hood or the members of the Merry Band are compromised, the whole movement can be torn down. This makes it a fundamentally unstable system. Its greatest enemy is the Intelligence Agent or the Ruthless Assassin--in other words, individuals (usually part of a larger institution) that can either oppose the Robin Hood on his or her own terms (in the case of the Ruthless Assassin) or can compromise the Robin Hood through manipulation, hostage taking, blackmail, and general mindfuckery (the Intelligence Agent).

Examples might include:
  • Robin Hood (naturally)
  • Captain Jack Sparrow
  • Morpheus and Neo
  • The Fabulous Killjoys
  • Guy Fawkes (this will be important later)

THE ROSICRUCIAN

This is a little weirder and less intuitive. The Order of Rosenkreutz never actually existed--let's get that out of the way first. It was a hoax created by a bunch of drunken students. The idea was that the organization was composed of the finest alchemical minds in Renaissance Europe and was actively working to... well, what they were working towards wasn't exactly clear, but ever since then there's been a certain mania for the Order.

In fact, we can still see some of its influence today in modern conspiracy tales (they're often connected to the Knights Templar or the Illuminati) and, interestingly, in Masonic iconography (even though it was a hoax, the Order had a lot of symbolism associated with it that others adopted quite freely).

The reason I'm including it as a resistance hero is because when the Order of Rosenkreutz appeared on the scene the established powers flipped the proverbial fuck out. The Order represented a manifestation of what a lot of traditionalists feared above all else: the growing popularity of the mystic alchemy that was the precursor to modern science, the threat of a faceless foe united across national and religious boundaries, and the rise of heretical values following the emergence of Protestantism. So, you can see why this organization without a leader, without a structure, and without even a concrete set of goals had just about every literate person in Europe talking.

THE ROSICRUCIAN IS:
  • A faceless member of a larger organization
  • With esoteric and often vaguely defined goals
  • That draws strength from decentralization
  • And may be a copy without an original

That last point is a little odd, perhaps, but if you think of the historical Order it makes a bit more sense. The Rosicrucians that actually existed all existed because they tried to emulate another organization that they had heard of but never interacted with. The fact that this organization was a hoax--a nonexistent original--did not keep them from acting as copies. This means that anyone can be The Rosicrucian regardless of their heroic power. All you need to do is declare yourself The Rosicrucian and act in a way that you think carries out the esoteric goals, as you interpret them.

The great power of the Rosicrucian is that an individual playing The Rosicrucian can be compromised by the two villain archetypes I described earlier, but there will always be more Rosicrucians filling the ranks as people copy the original and the other copies.

The Rosicrucian is particularly weak to the Agent Provocateur--an individual who adopts the role of the Rosicrucian in order to commit atrocities that will discredit the movement.

Examples Might Include:
  • The Rosicrucians
  • The Laughing Man
  • Spartacus (by the end, spoiler alert)
  • Arguably the Viet Cong (ah, I can already feel the internet rage...)
  • V

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the point, shall we?

THE DEATH OF ROBIN HOOD

Staggeringly, this article was NOT just a filmsy justification for the creation of this image.

The leader of Lulzsec, Sabu, has sold out his organization. Lulzsec is functionally destroyed. What's worse, Sabu sold them out six months ago--he's been working for the FBI for half a year now. I find it difficult to articulate just the level of catastrophe we're seeing here.

What we're seeing is, simply put, the Death of Robin Hood.

Basically, Lulzsec gambled that their Merry Band of pirates could protect itself by hiding on the net while still carrying out the kind of press-making big publicity heroic stunts that made it such a power for its few months of action.

They gambled and they lost.

According to Anons the FBI threatened Sabu with the loss of his children--a claim I'm in no position to corroborate, but that I'm not particularly inclined to dispute. It doesn't seem what I would call implausible. This is the danger to The Robin Hood. If you put Maid Marianne in danger, you may find your Merry Band totally compromised. It's infuriating. It's twisted. But it's really only to be expected.

So, what's left now that Robin Hood is dead?

Well, I think what comes next is the continued move to the Rosicrucian model. The closer a Merry Band is, the more susceptible it is to either dismantling through the removal of key members or the subversion of people within the group. As I mentioned before, The Rosicrucian is less open to compromise due to the decentralized, individual nature of the movement.

This is why I suspect that Anonymous will carry on despite this setback and continue carrying out its raids and DDoS attacks. They are the Order of Rosenkreutz now: a faceless, esoteric mass of individuals fascinated with a shared loose set of ideals and icons. They are more fearful, in a way, than the relatively comfortable Robin Hood, but even in this there is a certain mystique and power. The Rosicrucian is in danger, of course, of falling to Agents Provocateur, but Anonymous has repeatedly shown that it is smart enough not to fall for the bait of people like the Westboro Baptist Church, and members can always splinter off if they disagree with the current targets.

What fascinates me about this is that we are seeing a transition from the model that Guy Fawkes worked under to the model championed by V (at least, championed by the movie version of V). Lulzsec was perhaps always doomed to failure. It is a throwback to an older model of heroic resistance that, frankly, didn't turn out so well for Guy Fawkes, either. We can perhaps take some consolation in that fact.

Robin Hood is dead.

But The Rosicrucian is alive and well in the 21st Century.

1 comment:

  1. The second I read "copy without an original" I was like, "The Laughing Man!" Then I saw you included him in your list. Very nice.

    Here's hoping Anonymous continues on. I fear the concept of a world without Him. I can't see that being a pretty place.

    ReplyDelete

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