Beware the Irish Proletariat

Hearts of Iron III is becoming more interesting.

I decided to start afresh, this time taking control of Ireland. The game begins in 1936, giving you a bit of a run-up to World War II. I set the game controls to easy, because I have no idea what I’m doing, and sat down to have a long hard look at how Ireland was doing in the 1930s.

It seems Ireland has minimal surpluses in almost all the resources in the game, with the notable exclusion of oil. I decided I didn’t want to deal with the perfidious British, seeing as my real goal out of World War II is to retake Northern Ireland anyway, and looked further afield. I’m still not ready to treat Germany as another AI, so I’ve decided to try and turn Ireland to Communism. This involves a lengthy and very gradual shift diplomatically to becoming part of the Soviet Union’s faction. In the meantime, I’m buying oil from the Soviets and selling everything else to the USSR, Mexico, Argentina and latterly the United States. I’m building up cash, though I have no idea what to do with it. I’ve also instigated significant research paths that completely ignore conventional warfare, because right now I have a pretty pathetic army and I don’t see that changing.

I am attempting to turn Ireland into a Communist nuclear power by 1943.

Needless to say, this makes zero sense historically, which conversely makes it lots of fun in the game. Ireland was becoming ever more combative with Britain in the diplomatic arena in the 1930s, but Communism was never an option. For one thing, Ireland was dominated politically by the conservative Catholic hierarchy at this point in its history. The Archbishop John McQuaid was a close advisor of Irish leader Eamon De Valera and had no small input into Ireland’s constitution of 1937. In addition to this, the extremely questionable decision by De Valera to send official condolences to the German embassy on the event of Hitler’s death aside, Ireland was never really going to help the Axis Powers or in any other way attempt to undermine the British war effort. Staying neutral was in large part necessitated by Ireland’s economic and military conditions and a handy way of making it clear to the British that Ireland was no longer a colony. That latter approach earned De Valera specific excoriation in Winston Churchill’s final speech on the war, which really only shows the extent of the British elite’s delusion regarding Ireland. It turns out the Irish really DID want political independence, loosely interpreted by most as not letting governments from other nations make your decisions for you.

Beware my Red and Green legions, Churchill!

Role Playing a Strategy Game

I bought Hearts of Iron III this evening, the product of a delayed reaction to the game being talked up on the Idle Thumbs podcast many moons ago. There’s something in me that’s always wanted a game like this: complicated, measured in pace and historically accurate. Everything about it seems like a ton of fun.

Really.

Unfortunately, I tend not to be very good at strategy games like this. I’m more of a Civilization games player, and even then I tend to ramp the difficulty down and then race for the nuke. And also, spacemen. With Hearts of Iron III, I’ve resolved to be patient, or at least to be comfortable with the idea of enjoying the game in a different way. Specifically, I’d like to play the game without worrying too much about winning, exactly. Rather, I’m looking to play the game as well as I could and to use it to facilitate more daydreaming and historical role-playing. Yes, I’m a nerd. Sue me.

So, what has happened to date in the Hearts of Iron experience? Well, I started up one of the four main scenarios offered, taking control of Japan the morning of the Pearl Harbor attacks. It raises all kinds of interesting questions when it comes to games like this. At some point, I’m going to play as Germany. Or, what if I take control of a minor nation and decide to ally with Germany? In the game, it’s just another actor in the global conflict. In real lifeā€¦ I’m not comfortable with people who LARP as Nazis and I don’t know what I think of effectively trying to win as Germany, or how I would approach role-playing Russia. It kind of takes the fun out of it, though. I don’t expect to have much success with the game in terms of winning the war (really, I am not good at these games) but I would like to mess around with the scenarios and see what happens.

So, I took control of Japan’s diplomatic relations and declared war on Ireland.

Germany immediately informed me that they had taken leadership of the Axis Alliance and that they would be handling diplomatic relations from this point forwards. This struck me as rather funny, but it’s also an early sign that I’m going to like this game quite a lot.

If This is It.

This morning I had a sudden urge to listen to some Huey Lewis and the News. I know. It’s not a regular thing. It happens here and there.

The video for “If This is It”* is nuts. It starts off with an amazing bit of 1980s technology, the tape deck powered by D batteries. How enormous and preposterous do those things seem now? It then goes into utter weirdness. Apparently Huey’s ex-girlfriend is ignoring him. Huey, roaming the well-populated beaches of wherever(.…America? I guess California) sees her everywhere, dressed in a white swimsuit whilst busy being fondled by guys who spend a lot of their time in the gym, if you know what I mean.

*Fun fact: I had no idea there was an “if” in the title of that song.

Well, all I really mean is that they spend a lot of time in the gym. Those characters aren’t terribly well fleshed out.

The middle part of the video features a visit to a seance for some obscure reason, which promptly sees Huey panic and run away, to return to the beach once more looking lost and upset. We see really weird inserts of members of The News here, buried in sand up to their necks or…playing tennis while emerging from the sea in a sequence that looks like it was recorded the other way and played backwards. Okay.

Finally Huey confronts the ex, who it turns out isn’t being fondled by men in his imagination but is actually just sitting there on the beach holding court with muscle-bound dudes. Not sure where the little girl who answered the phone early in the video is. Who’s watching the kid? Is this some kind of reveal, that it wasn’t just in Huey’s mind? Or is this whole adventure on the beach a journey into his subconcious? Is this an excellent example of a music video from a time when nobody except for Queen and Peter Gabriel had any idea at all how to make music videos?

Anyway, Huey grabs the ex-girlfriend and rather worryingly holds her in place in a vaguely threatening manner while yelling at her in front of everyone at the beach. Turns out Huey Lewis is a weird, insecure and mildly frightening man. A blonde lady witnesses this, and later as Huey sits dejected on an empty beach, this lady wanders along from whatever she was doing off-camera, takes him by the hand and they walk off.

I love the 1980s logic that Huey has essentially upgraded by ending up with a blonde after the brunette broke his heart. This is kind of awesome, but mostly as a sociological point of interest. The whole video is a bit disturbing really, and reinforces all kinds of bad behaviour that many adolescent men unfortunately fall into but that many of us do grow out of. It’s entirely possible I’m reading way too much into a Huey Lewis and The News video on a Monday morning.

The Death of Apollo Creed

I want to take a few moments to talk about the death of Apollo Creed.

Apollo Creed is my favourite character in the Rocky films, by far. He’s the most interesting character in the first movie, he’s one of the more enjoyable aspects of the third movie, and his death in Rocky IV was downright traumatic for this author in his youth. Add to this the fact that he “got out” (i.e. was pummelled to death) after the series had already gone off the rails but safely before the monstrosity sometimes referred to as Rocky V emerged on to screens to scar young minds everywhere, and Apollo ends up being one of the least abused characters in a series that specialized in tearing apart the viewer’s respect for any of its central personalities.

He doesn’t get off scot free, though. Apollo Creed’s behaviour is one of the many things in Rocky IV that doesn’t make sense. That aggressively defies any attempt to derive common sense or narrative consistency at all. His motivations are utterly muddled. First, Apollo arrives at Rocky’s mansion to dine with the family and Paulie’s robot, whereupon he reveals his plan to fight the drugged up super soldier athlete from Soviet Russia. Adrian embarks on her (at this point) completely worn out and tired role in Rocky films where she says things that make perfect sense but in a wheedling tone that gets her nowhere. The men, as is the norm in this series, look at each other suggestively, flex a little, and inform the little lady that honor and getting beaten up by a homonculous sent around the world by the Soviet Union on some kind of press junket are the most important things in the world ever. When asked why he’s doing this, Apollo responds “Let’s just say it’s something that I believe in, alright?”

Alright. Let’s take this on face value. Apollo is in to wearing star-spangled trunks. He loves America. He’s the ultimate capitalist in many ways, a genuinely self-made man who took physical gifts and produced a business with himself as the chief commodity. Thing is…there was never any hint the character had any nationalist sentiment in him, at all. The entire film is based on the premise of Creed setting up an exhibition fight in Philadelphia to make money off the back of local sentiment for the city’s (and the nation’s) history. I’m not saying that Creed doesn’t love his country, but since when was he a card carrying flag waving anti-Commie True American Hero?

Now, let’s be fair for a second, and decide that I’m being way too harsh. Let’s face it, I’m reading a lot into three movies, one of which was essentially a vehicle for Mr. T. Creed is nationalistic. Suddenly. Okay, whatever. Why then, after the dinner at which he more or less reminds Adrian that the men are talking, does he sit down with Rocky to watch old video and reminisce about being in the spotlight? This actually makes sense!! This is the perfect motivation for Creed to be in the fight. He lives for attention, he lives to be in the public eye.* As he sits with Rocky watching the videos of their two classic fights, he yearns to be that man again, that hero. Despite the clear doping going on in the Soviet camp, Apollo feels strongly that he can win. It’s an exhibition, the man is an amateur; Apollo recognizes he’s not who he was, but he thinks he has enough left in the tank and the particular style he’ll need to take this guy out.

*And of course, he dies in the public eye. I’d like to give credit to Stallone for this but I’m not convinced there’s anything particularly intellectually rigorous going on here.   

This one scene is hardly a cinematic masterpiece but it makes sense. It’s one of only two moments in the film that Apollo acts in a way that is consistent with his character through the series to date, the other being his magnificent entrance to the ring whilst being serenaded by James Brown. However, from that point until his death, he goes back to mindless nationalistic Apollo Creed. When he’s not being macho Creed. His demand that Rocky not throw in the towel makes no sense, Rocky deciding not to making even less sense. The whole thing is a mess. We end up with a shot clearly intended to be iconographic. The problem is that when the intent is so starkly visible, it rather ruins the effect.

I’m annoyed about Apollo Creed’s death. Not on a daily basis or anything, but whenever I see the film I’m reminded of how they completely wasted the series’ best character. Rocky III, while incredibly goofy, gave Creed something new to do that was consistent with the character’s behaviour in the first two films and developed a genuine relationship between he and Rocky. In Rocky IV, Apollo appears here and there in between numerous montages, cites (at least!) two completely different motivations that could be considered complementary if you squint just right. Not to mention the fact that his death is a complete disruption to any kind of interesting narrative because he should never have lost to the Russian at all, let alone be beaten to death. APOLLO CREED IS A BETTER FIGHTER THAN ROCKY. That’s for another blog post however. 

Gonna Fly Now

On this, the anniversary of my birth (I think it’s time to stop telling the Internet how old I am, which is a bit of a giveaway as to my age anyway) it’s time to reflect a little, at least for a minute or two.

There. That was enjoyable.

There was a time when I considered making this blog a Rocky-only blog that would feature posts on Apollo Creed, the third and fourth Rocky movies versus the first two, and Apollo Creed. I soon found out I had enough trouble writing on my blog regularly without worrying about making Rocky-specific content. 

However, I do think I’ll be ferrying some this way soon. Some ideas on Rocky-based content:

  • Why “Where’s your hat?” is the best line in the first Rocky movie
  • Apollo Creed, the best character in the Rocky series
  • Burt Young is amazing
  • Rocky 3 is a kids’ movie (this is a recent realization for me)
  • I find Rocky 4 enjoyable mostly because I’m a professional historian

There. That should do it for a while. Blogging is an odd thing, you know. I find it intimidating because I want my posts to be good, but I rarely have time to sit down and write anything much longer than five hundred words. There’s also so much great stuff out there. I’m going to write a blog post soon on my favourite line of dialogue in the whole series and I doubt I’ll make a single point that comes close to the marvellous insight into storytelling that the Hulk shares with his readers on a regular basis. Still, that’s the beauty of blogs: democracy in action.

At least I check my work for typos. Be grateful, Internet!