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Posts Tagged ‘Rocky’

Thinking about Superman, I realized I was drawn to similar themes from Rocky.  Clark, just like Rocky, is the humble underdog.  He’s dorky and clumsy.  He’s rejected by the cool kids in high school and he can’t get the girl in adulthood. Both protagonists are rule followers (although Rocky is cooler).  Both men come from humble beginnings and take their lives and futures seriously.  They are also funny and appropriately light hearted so as not to seem too cold and driven.  Rocky and Superman are not dissuaded from fighting the tough fight, be it against Apollo or Lex Luthor.

Both Rocky and Superman are good guys and their success does not turn them bad.  They both respectfully (arguable) pursue one woman and are patient with these women.  Lois asks Superman what color underwear she is wearing as he has x ray vision.  He then proceeds to peer through her dress, indicating that he would not do this had he not be asked.  After Superman and Rocky rise to fame they maintain their respect and interest in their one woman and traditional family values.

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As I walking through the Philadelphia International Airport on Wednesday, I stopped into a store. There on the wall of over-priced souvenirs was an entire shelf dedicated to Rocky.

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What does it meant to bring a Rocky shot glass or hot sauce t-shirt or doll back to a loved one?

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Rocky

To me, achieving the American Dream means to rise from the ashes. It is the idea of “rags to riches.” This is why America is known as the “land of opportunity.” On the surface, I believe Rocky not only achieves the American Dream, but also embodies the American Dream. He grew up in the slums of Philadelphia and worked collecting loans as the “muscle.” He used hard work, determination, and of course luck to accomplish the unimaginable; going the distance with Apollo Creed. It is a classic underdog story, making Rocky the American icon he is today.

However, as you delve deeper into the context of the film, you find that the movie is about much more than “rags to riches.” I chose this photo because throughout the film, Rocky is filmed from behind portraying him as the average Joe leading the importance of gender in this film. Rocky is a white male who stands for morality and “traditional” views. At this point in history blacks were gaining acceptance and women were gaining power. Rocky, in a way, restored the American image of power: white males. I believe this was emphasized when Apollo Creed entered the arena dressed as George Washington. I feel that the scene was specifically designed to challenge the Civil Rights Movement. A powerful black male gets knocked out by a white nobody; reaffirming white power. It is ironic that America is known as the “melting pot” yet this movie portrays the American Dream as a very white, male dream.

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One of the main ideas of the film Rocky is that the eponymous character is an underdog. He’s down on his luck, living in a seedy apartment, etc. The film’s tagline is “his whole life was a million to one shot”. This is part of why the film (and character) has been so endearingly popular for almost 40 years. The city of Philadelphia features a statue of the character on the steps of its Art Museum where the famous montage scene ends, as shown above. Many people love replicating the movie and running up the steps, casting themselves into Rocky’s shoes.

Rocky’s story is presented as The American Dream: he is down on his luck, but is given the opportunity of a lifetime and through hard work and chance, makes the most of it. The fact that he doesn’t win the fight at the end of the movie isn’t important to most people. It’s about the journey he takes in getting to the fight. He is brutalized by the stand in for Muhammad Ali, the most famous boxer at the time (or ever)It’s about climbing the steps and facing the world, ready to take a hit.

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Rocky and Gender

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Before last week, I’d never seen Rocky. It’s a sports movie, which is generally not my thing. When I actually sat down to watch it, I spent a lot of time noticing the way that extremely traditional American expectations of masculinity drove the plot, and informed both Rocky’s and Adrian’s characterization.
The relationship between Rocky and Adrian relies on the fact that he is a protector and she is the protected. Achieving the American dream, which is what this film is about, requires attaining the social and economic power to control your own life. In the case of Rocky, this power is accessible through masculine gender performance, and seems to require a feminine counterpart with whom he can demonstrate his appropriate masculinity. This becomes more obvious when you compare Rocky to Adrian’s brother, Paulie. Rocky is set up as a benevolent protector in comparison to Paulie, the man who was previously dominant in her life. Rocky, the film says, really cares about her. He utilizes his power in the way the film says is correct. It’s one of the ways in which downtrodden Rocky asserts his masculinity over the course of the film, in addition to the slightly more obvious aspect of his measure of triumph in the match against Creed. Being able to win over a woman is as much a part of his character arc as his physical training is, and the way this subplot plays out, it’s clear that he’s pretty much the only active player. Rocky essentially has to coerce her into beginning a relationship with him. I don’t know if that aspect was notable to audiences when the film came out, but the lack of respect that Rocky shows for Adrian’s boundaries, which is framed as acceptable by the film, was unsettling to me. Adrian’s role as a character is to resist, and then give in once Rocky proves his worth to the audience. Though Adrian changes after beginning her relationship with Rocky, her motivations are still fairly unclear to us. She’s whatever she needs to be in order to advance Rocky’s story.
A lot of Rocky’s character growth comes from regaining a sense of pride and drive. Earning the love of a woman enables his success down the line when it comes to his fight. The same characteristics that make him eligible for achieving the American dream also make him entitled to Adrian’s love. That’s how these stories work. And while Rocky doesn’t win, in the most literal sense, he still achieves his goal and retains his pride, which is here defined in accordance with his masculine gender performance.

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I think what is most interesting about Rocky is the way that many American icons were used by Apollo Creed and his team. When Mac Lee Green drops out of the Bicentennial fight, Creed now views the fight as a moneymaking opportunity by manipulating the American public through our icons. The fight was always about race for Apollo, but now, by exploiting American’s pride in the underdog to sell Rocky Balboa as a contender beyond his race, he’s “guaranteed” to win, therefore making a ton of money while still fulfilling his ambition to win a fight against a white man. Balboa is white and Italian, which Apollo thinks would be the perfect person to beat on the Bicentennial, celebrating America’s foundation, because he represents those that first discovered America. The money is a plus. At the same time, Creed taps into patriotism with other American icons to win American’s favor, while, again, still maintaining his racial message. By dressing up as George Washington and Uncle Sam, he says, “I, a black man, too can represent America.” Surrounding himself with black Statues of Liberty, he says, “All black people can, too, represent America.” Creed even wears the colors of the American flag on his shorts as a constant reminder of his patriotism. The Bicentennial fight is a show for Creed to make a statement and money, and patriotism is his character.

At first, Americans buy into his patriotism and his superiority as a fighter, admiring the underdog for his courage, but knowing he probably won’t win against the champion who has never fallen from a hit. However Balboa puts up a fight, and American’s favor shifts to routing for the underdog. But who will win? Rocky is a battle between patriotism and the American underdog story. As both are necessary representations of America, neither Creed nor Balboa can win. So patriotism and the underdog story tie.

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We have continued to harp on this notion of what an icon actually is, and what we have said again and again is icons arise when iconic people or places begin to carry weight in arenas that do not directly relate to the actual person or place. So, enter in this fine example above. If it wasn’t for Rocky, chances are high that there would be no reason for this man to propose to his wife in this particular location. The fact, though, that the man actually chose this spot shows how compelling the Rocky story has become. Yes, people run up the stairs on a daily basis and stand and look out at the city with their hands up–all because they want to mimic Rocky and his story. But Rocky didn’t propose on these steps, he proposed to Adrian at the zoo. So why propose here, man in the nice suit? Well, maybe they are both huge fanatics of the Rocky movies, maybe they are both born and bred in Philadelphia so he wanted to propose in one of the most Philadelphian spots ever. Or, maybe, he told his soon to be fiance when he was down on one knee that he believes love is a difficult journey–it’s a fight, it’s hard work, it’s making sacrifices, it’s often an uphill climb, but it’s all worth it, that she is worth fighting for, and what better place to take the next step (ha…get it?) in their relationship than above the Rocky steps. It becomes romantic then, right? Which is crazy because if one thought about this proposal location from a literal perspective, all it is is a guy proposing to a girl at an art museum in front of a mildly nice view of Philadelphia. I’m sure the bride-to-be’s friends wouldn’t swoon at that one. But, because of the Rocky story, the proposal acquires heightened significance, even though they have manipulated the actual use of the Rocky steps to fit their own situation. For this reason, the Rocky steps fit the criteria that our class has created in dubbing something “Iconic.”

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