Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The soldiers of the King feared his name..."

In 1964 the Disney Channel (back in the day before their social fascism had really settled iun and been ratified) released a TV miniseries called The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, which was based on Russell Thorndike's series of films about the night-riding anti-press-gang activist Dr Christopher Syn, of Dymchurch-under-the-Wall, in the Fens of East Kent. Based on the environments and events of Georgian England, the miniseries told the story of Dr Syn, the vicar of Dymchurch, played by Patrick McGoohan, who in response to the ruinous tariffs, poverty, and impressment imposed upon the poor people of the Fens, organizes a crew of disguised ex-smugglers and escaped soldiers. He dresses in a ragged black costume, hatted and masked as a scarecrow, and, with his henchmen Hellspite (the church sexton) and Curlew (a Batman-and-Robin-style sidekick), he fights in Robin Hood fashion against the press-gangs and factors of the King.

The series was not wildly popular, but it played on US TV around 1969--probably in the wake of McGoohan's cult status as The Prisoner. I was ten, and it boggled me. I didn't know anything about radical history, beyond what I had imbibed growing up in a leftist-liberal household, but I responded very powerfully to the Scarecrow; so much so that that year, and the year after, I went out on Hallowe'en in full McGoohan garb. The staging and shooting of the program, its setting in the Kentish Fens (they even used some of Syn's historical settings, including his Anglican church), the marvelously spooky costuming, the way the Scarecrow used both propaganda and direct action to resist injustice, and--I suspect--the immediate resonances of the Scarecrow's anti-press-gang activities and the Vietnam-Era draft, another draft instituted to fund a colonial war of repression using the bodies of poor boys without other choices, made it incredibly powerful. And the exploitative partnership between institutions--Church and King--to take advantage of the poor.

And, going back even further, the power of that image--the archetype of the masking trickster, not entirely of this world, that reached back to the Wren Boys and Whiteboys--resonated with me as well. It was maybe my first lesson in the ancient traditions of ritual and rural revolt--I don't know if that was Disney's intent, but it's damned sure the lesson I took away.

That's who I wanted to be when I was ten. I wanted to use history, and legend, and the power of words and ritual gesture, to resist the oligarchy and help the poor.

Still do.

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