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25 Years of Rocky Balboa – The "Progressive" Left’s Nightmare By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, July 03, 2001

THIS YEAR, 2001, marks the 225th anniversary of the birth of the United States – and, not unrelatedly, the 25th anniversary of the creation of Rocky Balboa, perhaps the most powerful symbol of the Spirit of ’76 in contemporary pop culture.

In 1976, Sylvester Stallone created, and acted in, his all-time classic "Rocky," which won the Academy award for best picture. There would be four more sequels. Rocky just kept coming back. And he still lives on – in our imagination.

Rocky Balboa symbolized something far more than a simple-minded pugilist. Indeed, his character transcended the dynamics of the boxing ring and came to represent the values upon which America itself thrived. It was especially "Rocky I" that touched the heart and soul of the American character, precisely because it celebrated the theme of the triumph of the human spirit, and of individual initiative – against all odds. In other words, it told us the story of the American Dream.

And it is this very fact which explains something that had confused me throughout my childhood years. As a youngster, I lived and breathed Rocky. I jumped up and down watching his first two sequels, just as I cried to them. And that is why I was always in complete and utter dismay when I came around Leftists and the topic of Rocky Balboa surfaced. Among no one else had I ever witnessed such angry and unquenchable rage directed at the movie, and the character, that had so moved my heart and inspired my youth. It was a mystery to me why these people could hardly contain themselves when expressing their disdain for my favorite character, as they foamed at the mouth, castigating the film with every obscenity that was available in their vocabulary.

On this 25th anniversary of Rocky, I reflect on this mystery of my youth. After many years of dissecting and diagnosing the Leftist mindset, I can say, with confidence, that it is no longer a mystery to me. It is simply just a phenomenon, I suppose, wherein resides enough material to justify an entire psychiatric conference.

In "Rocky I," we witness the trials and tribulations of Rocky Balboa, an underclass boxer from the slums of Philadelphia. He is the "Italian Stallion" and he empowers himself through the boxing ring. At first, we see Rocky as a small-time boxer who fights in the ring for spare change and earns his living as a debt collector for a loan shark. And yet, Rocky is given the opportunity to take a shot at the "American Dream." And even though he loses the final contest by a split decision, he still succeeds as a fighter, and as a human being. The main theme cannot be more clear: the individual can succeed against all odds – as long as he contributes the determination and perspiration. The American Dream is possible for all Americans.

And it is here that we get our first hint of why it is impossible to meet a Leftist that likes "Rocky." Ideologues who build their life on hating the United States, and on seeing it as an economically and politically unjust social order, simply cannot humanize themselves long enough to enjoy the human dimensions of such a film. This would be a treasonous betrayal of their political faith.

I decided to talk to my friend Peter Sheldrick about this phenomenon. An actor and scriptwriter who is the founder of the "Role of the Dice Theatre Company" in Toronto, he is probably the greatest fan of "Rocky" in the world. It would be no exaggeration to say that he has watched all five Rocky movies more than, let us say, one hundred Rocky fans put together. Almost every third time I talk to him, he is either watching, or preparing to watch, or having just finished watching, a Rocky movie, and it is usually "Rocky I." Before I can even say anything, he usually breaks out into a passionate analysis of certain scenes that are on his mind.

I must say that Peter always hits a chord in me when he talks about "Rocky," because, like him, I find it difficult to watch the first two sequels without experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions, and always shedding some tears.

So I decided to ask Peter what it is about "Rocky" that he loves so much and why, in his view, the Left hates the character and the themes that he represents. Peter tells me,

I have sat in the company of Leftists while watching Rocky and there were times when I was on the brink of tears, while they were complaining about ‘class structure’ in the movie or something or other. They cannot view a human film about the human heart through the eyes of a human – especially when its themes violate their sacred political vision. They hate the movie for what it is, and for what it isn’t. It’s like going to a comedy club and complaining that comedians are telling jokes and that people are laughing. It must be a very torturous experience to live your life as a Leftist, because you are basically trying to deny your own natural impulses at all times, as well as trying to suppress them in others.

True enough, the Left has always seen the human being as an entity made of clay that must be reshaped. That’s what Rousseau and Marx, after all, were all about, and why the Soviet experiment in the 20th century attempted to build the perfect Soviet man. Despite the horrors that these ideas perpetrated against humanity, Leftists hold on desperately to this vision of the human being’s malleability. It is no mystery, therefore, why even the thought of Rocky Balboa sends Leftists into convulsions. Peter continues,

Look at the whole man-woman theme that "Rocky" so touchingly and powerfully portrays. For instance, Rocky represents a tough and masculine man. We hardly ever see this any more in our popular culture. That’s because there has been a feminization of our culture for the sake of political correctness. I can only think of Bruce Willis in "Die Hard" as another exception. He is an action hero that represents masculinity.

In "Rocky," some of the most beautiful parts are when Rocky talks to Adrian about being a man. This is about life, about the human condition, and it reaches into something that is real in all of us. It is about Rocky expressing not only his need to confront his challenges, but also to face his vulnerability and his fear. It is about being human. There is something about what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman. But how many times have we heard these words being used in our pop culture in 2001? We don’t hear them any more – because our basic human impulses are now being censored. Rocky violates this fascist code.

I agree with Peter. Rocky sure does violate that code. At the heart of the Leftist dream is the destruction of gender roles, since gender is seen as something that is socially constructed and oppressive. It is no surprise, therefore, that the muscle-bound Rocky, who has to be a "man" and get into the ring, so infuriates the Left. As the author Susan Jeffords explains in her book Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era, the very presence of a muscular man in a movie is an act of hatred against women. The portrait of a heroic, aggressive, and determined American male is all about political ideology and how a certain notion of "masculinity" is imposed on males – to the disadvantage of females.

Jeffords’ repudiation of "hard" male bodies in American popular culture comes with certain intriguing implications. One of them is that, when true equality finally arrives, men will get into the boxing ring with no muscles at all, and, hopefully, just with sagging chests and fatty blubber all over them. Within a true utopia, perhaps, instead of wearing boxing trunks and boots, male boxers will be fitted in thongs and high-heeled shoes. Preferably, of course, there will be no boxing at all. And maybe no men at all either.

Peter points out that the Left clearly also has a problem with the way in which Rocky and Adrian love one another. He observes,

Rocky consistently tells Adrian that he is a man and that he has to do what a man has to do. Adrian, meanwhile, agrees, despite her reservations, to stand by him and support him -- because she is his woman. It is also a very loving relationship. In "Rocky I," he makes her feel like a woman – something that has been hiding inside of her. He brings it out of her. She hides behind her clothes, and her glasses. There is a powerful scene, and I think it is one of the most powerful scenes in film history, when Rocky takes her glasses off, and breaks the boundaries behind which she has been hiding her femininity. He kisses her for the first time. It is here that we see the male seduction of a woman – that timeless ingredient of our human condition, that glorious ingredient of our beautiful condition. If I think of a Leftist watching this, well yes, of course, they hate all of these themes. They want to liquidate such realities – especially if they are represented by "Rocky."

"Rocky" does not, of course, just violate the Leftist Party line on gender. The film also transgresses the "Progressive" faith about economic and social opportunity in oppressive capitalist America. Sheldrick explains,

The first "Rocky" is clearly about the American Dream. Rocky is given the chance to be better in life, to succeed. The Left simply hates the idea that America is a land of opportunity. But Stallone celebrates America as a land where people are given chances and can succeed in pursuing them. The key here is that Rocky succeeds on an individual level. It is him against the odds. Thus, we see the triumph of the individual and, once again, of the human spirit. For the Left, the individual is to be erased, and the human spirit simply does not exist. That is why Leftists cannot even feel an emotional tingle while watching the most moving parts of "Rocky," because they are sitting there the whole time agonizing about why everyone isn’t sharing everything. They simply deny that there are certain universal realities that no society can change or erase.

Peter hits a chord in me on this note. During my doctoral studies in history, several graduate students used to explain to me that "Rocky" was a terrible and oppressive movie, since it perpetuated inequality. At that time, having no idea how anyone could even watch the movie thinking of these things, I would ask what they were talking about. They answered that Rocky achieved his success on an "individualistic basis." But for true "social justice" to be achieved, they counselled, the revolution had to be fought on a "collective front." A close friend of mine told me that my eyes used to glaze over when I heard these arguments. Is this what some people were thinking about while watching "Rocky?" No wonder I always preferred to hang out with my hoodlum friends rather than with the majority of "intellectuals" that I knew.

But I gradually began to understand where this mentality came from: the veneration of Marxism. The authors Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner, in their book, Camera Politica. The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film, provide us with the popular Marxist criticism of "Rocky" that left-wing academics strenuously uphold. The authors argue that, in "Rocky,"

the desire to overcome the limited life possibilities which capitalism bestows on its bottom rung is generally limited to individualistic forms, which tend to reinforce the founding values and the legitimating ideology of the class system....It cannot help but reinforce the legitimacy of structural inequality, for it suggests that those who get out of the working class are better, more endowed individually, than their fellows.

In other words, "Rocky" violates the principle of how the fight against capitalism has to occur on a group basis, and not on an individualistic one. I remember, once, when a graduate student in sociology was explaining this to me, I asked, "but boxing is between two fighters! How are so many people supposed to get in the ring? It wouldn’t even work!" This particular "intellectual" shook his head upon hearing this question and waved me off. He clearly felt sorry for me. Obviously I had not been anointed, as he had been, with the privileged and "progressive" vision of the future utopia. He was, you see, very cutting-edge.

I still can’t help but wonder: if individuals such as these had it their way, what would the "Rocky" movies even be about? They obviously wouldn’t be about anything, since they would be edited into non-existence. Come to think about it, what kind of movies would exist if my former colleagues achieved total power? Ten-hour movies about workers slugging away in factories? Could anyone even sit through such films?

In the end, it is obvious that "Rocky" epitomizes the ingredients of human life, with all of its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, as well as with its hope, success and joy. And that is why Peter cherishes the character of Rocky Balboa. He concludes,

I tingle every time I see that part, in the first Rocky, when he visits the arena where the fight will take place. He goes there the night before. He can’t sleep. At that moment, he has confronted his fear. Then he comes back to Adrian and he tells her that he knows that he is going to lose. But he says that he just wants to be standing by the 15th round. His dream, his hope, is that he will just be standing……And I choke up every time I see that scene, and every time I think of that scene, because every single one of us that has lived this life we live, and can still feel with our hearts, knows what Rocky is talking about, and what he is feeling. And we can’t put it into perfect words, because it transcends, in some ways, who we are. But in our struggle in this life, against all the bloody odds, in all of its sweat and tears, we just want to be able to say that we were still standing. And it’s about pride, and it’s about fear, and it’s about courage. And that’s where Rocky moves mountains in my spirit.

And when the fight with Apollo Creed is over, when Adrian comes to the ring, she loses her hat. And, I mean, Rocky…..he has just been in the greatest war of his life, and he has confronted his fear, and his face is broken, and the first thing he says to her is, `Where is your hat?’ And that question pierces my heart. It shows us the essential importance of our simplicity, and of caring for each other and about each other. That question is about Rocky forgetting about himself, because his battle is over, and his next step is to love. He’s already done what he has to do. Now it’s time to move on with Adrian. And then they hug and you see the relief and the contentment in that final sigh, where we know that a synthesis has been achieved. And I think that goes for each of us in our lives, where we must be self-centered to the point of becoming who we are, and then to take all of it and to give it to another human being.

Sheldrick becomes silent, and we both remain silent for a moment, as the interview ends, and we quietly appreciate what Rocky means to the both of us, and to so many of the people that were inspired by him.

And on this 25th anniversary of "Rocky," I reflect on Rocky Balboa and how much he has made an impact on my own life. No other character, perhaps, so powerfully reminds me that as long as we exist, there will always be those traits in us that will bond us with one another. And this explains why people will be always able to identify with Rocky, no matter what experiment with social engineering will try to transform who we really are. Because from the beginning of humankind, we have been who we are, and we will continue to be who we are: imperfect, flawed human beings fighting against the odds, losing and winning, crying and laughing, recoiling and reaching out. We will never completely satisfy our insatiable spiritual hunger, until we touch the surface of the divine. And that reality speaks far more volumes than the cannibalistic and self-mutilating voice of the socialist dream. Rocky Balboa, with his courage and humanity, has reminded us of that powerful truth for 25 years.

Thank you Sylvester Stallone.


Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

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