The Goblin King Discount

If you watch the film Labyrinth then you will see David Bowie stealing a baby away and then telling a 15 year old girl that the baby only gets to go back home if she submits to his wishes. Let that one sink in.

I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say

Ah… The romance.

Apparently the film folk are talking about a reboot – but I think we all know that if that overall concept was pitched in isolation for the first time today it wouldn’t get very far. It is, at a base level, creepy. Two doses of ‘child in peril’ isn’t very likable.

However… I dare you not to enjoy Magic Dance

And I dare you not to enjoy David Bowie in this.

Because it’s David Bowie. And that man had a charisma rivalled by few.

My contention is that we let people get away with more if they are charismatic. We let people get away with more if we can frame other elements of their contribution in a more positive way. We don’t see Labyrinth as super creepy because it’s Bowie. We are distracted – and we want to be.

“Oh, that’s just x being x” is a story that’s easier to tell than facing into the problematic nature of the Goblin King. All too often we afford societal and organisational Goblin Kings a mental discount to keep them within our own frail boundaries of acceptability.

Perhaps the Arctic Monkeys articulated this double standard most clearly in A Certain Romance

Well over there, there’s friends of mine
What can I say? I’ve known ’em for a long long time
And yeah they might overstep the line
But I just cannot get angry in the same way

We are human beings. I’m describing human nature. This is a reminder, not a revelation.

But as leaders or working within HR I don’t think we can just allow for the Goblin King Discount these days (if we ever could) and as catchy as their Magic Dance might be.

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