Making Rocky great again: What the fictional champ can teach America
U.S. President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter has generated a lot of debate since his inauguration. For some, it was an effective use of social media and a way to circumvent the mainstream media to reach his voters and sympathizers directly; however, especially when it comes to foreign policy, it has become a more controversial way of public outreach for a statesman that can complicate the already hectic decision-making mechanism.
His tweets often make already strained relations between the U.S. and its allies more challenging. Last week on the anniversary of the release of “Rocky IV,” the president one more time posted an interesting tweet. This time without any explanation or caption, President Trump tweeted a photoshopped picture of Rocky Balboa, the fictional boxer and hero of American cinema from the 1980s, but instead of actor Sylvester Stallone’s head in the picture, it was Trump’s.
Although he has previously posted similar tweets about movies and series, such as “Game of Thrones,” there was at least an accompanying message of the arrival of sanctions. At first nobody understood the meaning behind this tweet; however, soon after it was realized that the day was the 34thanniversary of the release of “Rocky IV,” the most profitable “Rocky” sequel.
Some ardent social media users were quick to respond to the tweet, asserting the differences between the atmosphere of “Rocky IV” and President Trump’s America, especially in regard to Russia-U.S. relations today. Some others, on the other hand, pointed out a more technical problem regarding the photoshopped poster. Watchful and attentive “Rocky” fans, who are nowadays in their mid-40s and 50s, also figured out that the poster was from the “Rocky III” instead of “Rocky IV.” However, there could be more complicated parallelism when it comes to the rise of “Rocky” in its sequels and the rise of America.
We all know about the rise of Rocky Balboa from being a fighter in small gyms to him challenging heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed in “Rocky” and his defeat of Apollo in the second sequel of the movie, in which he earned the heavyweight championship. Up until this point, the character Rocky was a basic exhibition of the American dream, an honest, humble and hardworking guy reaching for stardom and achieving his dream. Soon after with “Rocky III,” a different dimension of this power comes out.
The fame and fortune bring Rocky overconfidence and arrogance. He not only loses his edge but also his friends in the process. Only a major defeat and losing of some of his best friends wake him up, and he returns to the roots that made him powerful and a champion in the first place. This wisdom from failure and learning from a bad experience made him more mature and competent in “Rocky IV,” which was a more internationalized version of the atmosphere of the Cold War.
This time following Apollo’s defeat and death, he goes to the Soviet Union to challenge Ivan Drago. Drago made the same mistake as Apollo Creed in the first two movies and Rocky Balbao in “Rocky III,” underestimating the challenger and being blinded by arrogance and fame. Drago loses not only the title but also his supporters to Rocky. Once again, a humble hardworking and honest fighter wins the game.
So what is the difference between the narrative of this sequel and the sequel of America’s rise? Americans probably liked “Rocky” because of its parallel to the American dream, not only the ability to reinvent yourself but also America as being the land of opportunities for everyone. The rise of Rocky Balboa was reminiscent of the rise of many titans in the U.S. economy and society as well. For some, it might also represent the rise of the U.S.
An isolated and self-dependent country emerges as the world’s superpower following the mistakes of the other superpowers and works meticulously to establish a new international order. However, Rocky’s story and the U.S.’ rise don’t quite line up. America did not seem to go through what Rocky went through in “Rocky III.” Instead “Rocky IV” kicked in and the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War. “Prudence” was one of the keywords frequently used by President George H. Bush during the fall of the Soviet Union and in its aftermath.
So what happened to “Rocky III”? The U.S. experienced the “Rocky III” syndrome with the new millennium. It made exactly the same mistakes that Rocky Balboa did in “Rocky III.” The foreign policymakers in Washington, D.C. started to pay less attention to the advice of allies and preferred unilateral intervention around the world. The power and strength of the U.S. made it overconfident and arrogant about its power. Underestimating challenges pushed it into long and unending battles in different parts of the world.
People around the world became less sympathetic to the U.S.’ plight, and anti-Americanism rose. As Washington often fails to take responsibility for its mistakes, the international community began to look for alternatives. The U.S. in fact started to lose the hearts and minds of the people. It has become more isolated and has lost friends. Just like Rocky loses competitions when he is alone and wins them when he is with his team of friends and family, America started to lose in diplomacy and influence around the world when it began to act alone without allies.
Thus, we started to witness the “Rocky III” syndrome. The critical question is whether America will come back to its senses and make a comeback like Rocky in “Rocky III” after mending ties with its former rivals and strengthen its relations with its family and friends. “Rocky III” shows that there is a way out from this deadlock for the U.S. and a way for it to reclaim its title in the world.
We don’t know at this point why President Trump posted this poster on his Twitter account. If he already knew the poster was from “Rocky III,” then does he want to pass on a message for the future of the U.S.? If so, the foreign policymakers in the U.S. need to understand that making “Rocky great again” means some soul searching, accepting responsibly for mistakes and reuniting with friends.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on November 29, 2019.