I realized yesterday that I think about one of the Rocky films every single day. Every day of my life for the past five years at least. Probably the last ten or twelve.
In fact, I think about Rocky IV all the time at the moment. I’m doing some work on American ideology in the 1980s and I’ve always been a sucker for Cold War propaganda anyway. Stallone’s career in the 1980s was like some kind of young Reaganite’s fevered dream, but Rocky IV is still the champion of good old fashioned jingoism mixed in with completely undercooked notions of universal humanistic qualities that cross borders, oceans and possible nuclear conflicts. Don’t get me wrong, the idea that people come together over something pure and wonderful is a great idea, and I think a very nice one. I just don’t know that Rocky Balboa outrunning his KGB tail in the snow and generally beating the crap out of the pride of the USSR’s sporting world was likely to get everyone off their seats chanting his name and thinking about Mom’s Apple Pie, McDonald’s and The Beatles.*
*The Beatles aren’t American obviously, but were such a perfect expression of what came to be recognized as the cultural superiority of the West. That cultural superiority, fuelled by free speech and open societies, played a major part in the fall of Communism.
Rocky IV is a funny movie really; they try half-heartedly at one point to depict a volatile situation where both sides are wrong, when the Soviet manager becomes indignant at the pre-fight press conference with Apollo Creed. It doesn’t last long. Paulie, sitting to the side in an odd position, makes the entirely valid point that the Soviets couldn’t talk too much about the affairs of others when people were being kept behind a massive wall in Berlin by the threat of force. The fact that Paulie is essentially sitting in the pose of a guy espousing politics from his armchair, though probably not intentional, doesn’t help with the image.
It’s just so… weird. Like a lot of problematic fiction, Rocky IV leaves gaps for the audience to fill in. As a piece of American/Western propaganda it’s perfect. Drago’s drug use is inferred by a lot of talk about the power of “science.” Audiences in the 1980s had seen plenty of examples of Soviet science, with the East Germans in particular a widespread joke before actually being caught doping. Drago isn’t much of a character, a massive homunculus that turns up and grunts before killing the series’ best character and running back to Moscow. It’s odd. Dolph Lundgren’s performance has been mocked to the ends of the earth and back, but practically every man my age has absorbed Drago’s character into our understanding of popular culture. Between Drago and Clubber Lang, not to mention Creed, Rocky is about the least interesting thing about the Rocky movies by the mid-1980s.
At the very end of the film, Drago starts to show some humanity, to resist his masters. Presumably this is a statement on the inhumane nature of the Stalinist system. Again, it’s undercooked stuff. They know the audience will get where they’re coming from, and if not, how bad? They’ll see Rocky win the Cold War.
Sometimes I feel convinced that I’ll essentially turn this blog into a Rocky blog, but then I get distracted and write about other things or just don’t write at all. This was supposed to be a quick post on the weirdness of fandom and my own apparent participation in it. I love the Rocky movies, adore them, have spent far too much time thinking about them and critiquing them over and over again. I am a Rocky fanboy, in a lot of ways. What a weird fanboy to be.