How did ‘The Taxman’ suddenly turn from ‘villain’, to ‘hero’?

I don’t know. Call me old-fashioned, but...  I still prefer those hackneyed old stereotypes, at the end of the day...

Have you ever sat down to watch an old favourite film of yours, for the first time in years (if not decades)... only to find yourself wincing in embarrassment, every time it shows its age in the most awkward, and cringeworthy of ways?

Well, it’s the sort of thing that happens to me a lot (but then again, that’s to be expected, really: seeing as my all-time favourite films, as a young teenager, were: ‘Weird Science’; ‘Police Academy 1-6’; and ‘Revenge of the Nerds’… in that order.)

But you probably know what I mean, because... let’s face it: there is nothing quite like ‘watching an old movie’, to bring home just how much the world we live in has changed, over the past century or so.

Take ‘Gone With The Wind’, for instance. When that film came out 80 years ago, it was critically lauded for its generally sympathetic – if admittedly sugar-coated – portrayal of 19th century American slaves. It was also the first time in movie history that an African American actor (Hattie McDaniel) actually won an Oscar... albeit in a supporting role.

Today, on the other hand? The same film is often held up as a classic example of 1930s racism, in its own right: a movie ‘made by white Americans, to assuage white American guilt’…

You can never really win, can you? But then again, it’s not just our attitude towards ‘race’ that has changed just a tiny bit, since 1939. Sexism, ageism, homophobia, toilet-humour… you name it, it was all there in those films we were brought up on as children (whether we ever realized it or not…)

... and yet today, just a few decades later: the same things that we had all simply accepted, at the time - without ever so much as batting an eyelid, that I remember – are now all... ‘Verboten!’ ‘Off-limits!’ ‘Taboo!’, etc.

On one level, I suppose it explains why so much of today’s cinematic output is limited only to ‘safe’ – and therefore, ‘boring’ - offerings, such as the latest Spiderman or Star Wars reboot. (Until, of course, people start complaining about negative stereotyping in those moves, too. After all, isn’t it a bit racist to  refer to indigenous aliens as... ‘Sand People’? And to say thing like: ‘The DARK Side of the Force’...?)

But again, let’s not digress too much. For the part that really interests me, in this on-going ‘cultural revolution’ of sorts, is that… some of these changes are a heck of a lot more ‘conspicuous’, than others.

It is, after all, a whole lot easier to spot (and be offended by) those issues where our cultural perspectives have REALLY changed beyond recognition, since the time those movies were made… than the ones towards which our attitudes are still in the process of ‘transforming’: even right now, as we speak.

In other words: to a contemporary audience, almost any movie made in the 1980s – and the ‘Police Academy’ series is actually a very good example of this – will appear deeply objectionable, on a wide variety of moral grounds (with ‘sexism’ and ‘homophobia’ being the likeliest causes of offence).

Ah, but how many people would similarly ‘take offence’ at the ending of a movie such as, say... ‘Toto Contro Diabolicus’? You know: the classic 1962 Italian comedy - starring Antonio (Toto’) de Curtis, and Eduardo de Filippo - which pitted ‘Il Principe delle Risate’, against France’s most popular ‘comic-book supervillain’...?

Oh, OK.... I’ll admit that ‘Toto Contro Diabolicus’ might not feature very prominently, in a list of ‘influential movies from the past’. But I could just as easily have mentioned George Harrison’s song ‘Taxman’, from the (also early 1960s) Beatles album, ‘Revolver’... which ends with the line: “Because I’m the Taxman. Oh yes, the Taxman… AND YOU’RE WORKING FOR NO ONE, BUT ME…!”

Not to mention classic folk-heroes such as ‘Robin Hood’: who famously ‘stole from the rich, to give to the poor’. [Note: what that description omits to mention, is that all the money that Robin Hood was merrily ‘redistributing’ – supposedly, for ‘social justice’ purposes - was actually tax-revenue that had legitimately been collected by the Sheriff of Nottingham; who, needless to add, has since gone down in history as the ‘villain of the piece’...)

While I’m at it: I could take this back another couple of thousand years, too (after all, wasn’t it Jesus Christ himself, who once convinced a certain ‘tax-collector’ by the name of Matthew Levi, to... well, ‘give up his evil ways’, and join him as an Apostle?)

It all points in a certain direction, doesn’t it? And nowhere, perhaps, is this direction better illustrated, than in that classic Toto’ movie I mentioned earlier. You can watch the clip for yourselves on Youtube, by the way: but in a few words, what happens is this.

Having duly defeated the titular ‘supervillain’, Toto’s celebrations are cut short by an ominous knock on the door. A sinister, shadowy figure is revealed in the doorway... and in between bouts of insane cackling, the following words drift into the room:

“You may have defeated Diabolicus, but from me there can be escape! I am… [stepping into the light] the TAXMAN!” (Whereupon Toto’ – understandably enough – ‘faints with horror’...)

Yup: make no mistake. Up until the early 1960s, at least – if not, throughout the entirety of human history - the ‘Taxman’ was always universally acknowledged to occupy the niche, of ‘super-villain, par excellence’.

Never mind Dracula, Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter, or any of those amateurs… it seems that our collective subconscious fears, as a society, have always been best represented by this ghoulish, vampiric, and utterly inescapable – not to mention, very REAL – presence, in our midst.

Until, of course, today: when not only is this time-honoured ‘Taxman’ stereotype – i.e., the ‘villainous blood-sucker’ of the George Harrison song: who ‘steals from the poor, to give to the rich’, etc. – simply fallen out of fashion (presumably, along with all the other ‘negative stereotypes’ of the past...)

... but we’ve now struck out in the clean opposite direction, it seems: one in which the ‘Taxman’ is suddenly regarded as... on one level, an ‘unsung hero’ of sorts: in the sense that ‘tax evasion’ is now universally regarded as a ‘Big No-No’ (when, let’s face it, it was almost exactly the other way round, until literally just last week...)

And on another level entirely: the same Taxman has now been ‘reinvented’ as... a ‘champion of social justice’, no less! (Almost as though Robin Hood, and the Sheriff of Nottingham, simply ‘switched sides’, while we were all busy looking the other way...!)

Meanwhile - just to illustrate how very alarming, this sudden transition really is - consider that, only a few days ago, the Finance Minister announced the introduction of a whole new ‘tax collection’ system, in this country (one which, I might add, makes the Sheriff of Nottingham’s tax-collection methods appear rather ‘non-intrusive’, by comparison...)

This is how Clyde Caruana himself described it, on May 9: “The tax department is to introduce computer software that will automatically alert authorities when a person or business’s declared income does not tally with their accumulated wealth [...] This will make it far easier and quicker for the authorities to immediately detect tax evasion and act on it, Caruana said....”

This ‘software’, by the way, also “uses artificial intelligence to draw data from different registries and bank accounts to assess the individual’s cash deposits and illiquid assets, like property, land, vehicles, boats, etc...”

And if that’s not scary enough for you: more ominously still, Caruana added that “it marks the beginning of a much-needed culture change and will alter the way that tax investigations are conducted. Gone are the times when people are investigated simply because someone else reported them anonymously, or because they were randomly picked and probed...”

No indeed: today – with this new (and positively Orwellian) technology in place – people can be ‘investigated for tax-evasion’... even if there is no reasonable suspicion of any ‘wrong-doing’, on their part, to begin with!  (It all happens ‘automatically’, remember? Using an algorithm that can just casually ‘hack into’ just about anyone’s private financial details, whenever – and for whatever reason – it chooses...)

As such: this ‘new taxation system’ can only be described as ‘the single most serious threat, to our collective ‘right to privacy’, that this country has ever actually seen’...

And yet, and yet: how have the people of Malta and Gozo actually reacted, to the sudden announcement of such a deeply ‘inauspicious’ (if not ‘downright terrifying’) development?

Why... like it’s a ‘good thing’, of course! Like it’s ‘socially responsible’, for ‘The Taxman’ to (quite literally) do what he does in that Beatles song... and simply ‘help himself’ to everything that is actually ours, by right (including, in this particular instance, the ability to live our lives i peace: without the excessive, undue, and unwarranted INTRUSION, that this new ‘tax-collection’ system undeniably represents...)

I don’t know. Call me old-fashioned, but...  I still prefer those hackneyed old stereotypes, at the end of the day...