Monthly Archives: April 2016

Rocky: Not My Hero Posted by Maxine Elizabeth Whitney

“When they’re cheering for Rocky, they’re cheering for themselves” – Sylvester Stallone

Many movie buffs and locals to the city of Philadelphia would argue that Rocky is one of the most influential and inspiring fictional icons in the history of American media. He is an average, middle class white American who is given an impossible task. He takes it on without fear to show that he is not just an average joe because of where he comes from. He is a symbol for masculinity, self-respect, and and drive that all people in his place can look up to. In his piece Reaffirming Tradition Values, Daniel J Leab explains that the reason Rocky got as much praise and appreciation as it did is because it mimicked the mood and the important aspects of 1970’s America. As written by Leab, “the film touched “a live nerve with the public,” as Frank Rich put it. American audiences, influenced by the bicentennial’s strong emphasis on the validity of the American Dream, had lost interest in downbeat themes, in bleak reality, in attacks on old-fashioned values- all subjects which as films of one sort or another had recently done well at the box office” (Leab, 269). Rocky showed middle class America that they can put up a fight against bigger powers and make a name for themselves no matter their background. This is what 1970’s America needed, to see that there is hope for those in a similar position, who until then felt hopeless.

However, does Rocky really deserve the icon status he has gained? I understand that I was not alive during that time and I may not understand the struggle or feel the connection that so many American’s had to him. However, its my outside, modern perspective that will allow me to make the unbiased critiques. First of all, its frustrating to me that the embodiment of the 1970’s American dream has to be a fighter. I understand its symbolic, I understand that if you get knocked down you have to get back up, but I would never idolize someone who could make 150,000 dollars for knocking someone out. I don’t think for a second that that is a realistic standard for the American dream. He did not even really do much to earn the opportunity to win that money. Someone found him and picked a fight with him. That’s not working to achieve a goal, that’s being handed an opportunity and working not to waste it. Not all Americans are going to be put in that situation.

However, I do see that his story is one that was heavily connected to what people were feeling at the time, and that’s something I will probably never be able to fully understand. However, I think my main frustration and the cause for my ranting is that I think a majority of the people who idolize him in present times may not be critically analyzing the film. In fact, I was one of those people before I actually watched it. In addition to my realization about his false American dream image, the racist and sexist under-themes are frustrating and make it hard for me to see him the same way. I think this is why he has maintained his iconic status even beyond the time period where he was most relevant. People don’t watch the film with the intention to critique, hence he stays relevant because he is a tough guy who beats his odds. Since this kind of character is much more popular in modern times, I am rejecting it. I say no more to the strong, violent male character who does more than he thinks he can. Where my girls at?

Works Cited

Leab, Daniel J. “Reaffirming Traditional Values The Blue Collar Ethnic in Bicentennial America: Rocky.” Hollywood’s America: Twentieth-Century America Through Film. Ed. Steven Mintz and Randy Roberts. N.p.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 264-71. Print.

The first picture :

The second picture:

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Rocky, Symbol of a City by William Kowalik

WK1Rocky is much more than an iconic film in American culture. Rocky is representative and encyclopedic of a particular time and place. Rocky, the character and Rocky the movie are inextricably linked to the City of Philadelphia. I think few films have such a deep connection to a specific place, as does Rocky.

Philadelphia is much more than the setting of the Rocky (and Creed) franchise; it is an integral part of the movies that blurs plot and setting. In the case of Rocky, they’ve very much one and the same.

Philadelphia is Rocky. Rocky is Philadelphia.

wk2Not to mention Philadelphia’s long and storied legacy of boxing plays into the story. Much as the architecture of Frank Furness spoke to the industrial city of Philadelphia, melding the industrial with the beautiful. Rocky speaks to post-industrial Philadelphia. Rocky, like the city itself is down own his luck, but still trying to make something of himself, up against, and in the shadow of those better than him. Rocky puts up a good fight against Apollo Creed, but still ultimately loses. Philadelphia a once great city has long lagged behind its main competition New York in many ways for over two hundred years, but has slowly found its niche. “Stallone hit at the core of the matter in his comments on audience response to the film: ‘when they’re cheering for Rocky, they’re cheering for themselves’” (Leab 271).

In his chapter on “The Blue Collar Ethnic in Bicentennial America”, historian Daniel Leab uses Rocky as his example.  Leab’s picture of life in the 1970’s–particularly urban life in the 1970s, as a gloomy era when everything looked to be hopeless is part of the “Rocky narrative”, however, peaking through this darkness is some form of the American dream, some will to triumph and overcome. This same attitude is one that Philadelphia experienced during this time, coming to a very dark place at the time of Rocky, and then slowly rising up from that depression. In just the last census, conducted in 2010, Philadelphia five-decade population decline began to reverse. “Rocky’s life is bleak. He seems to have no future” (Leab 265).  Despite the darkness in the film, critics and viewers see Rocky as “optimistic, idealistic, and sentimental” (Leab 269).

The character of Rocky Balboa is flawed and multidimensional, despite that the fact that he might not seem so at first look. Issues related particular to race, racism, and sexism, which in itself is an entire topic to delve into, but would be inappropriate not to mention. Especially given Rocky’s clear and specific depiction as an Ethnic White, the film’s relationship to Philadelphia, where race has long been a heated and difficult topic.

WK3There’s a certain self deprecation and criticism from the community. Several individuals throughout the film call Rocky a bum. He ardently denies this claim. A marketing push for Philadelphia on billboards in the 1970s, which certainly didn’t speak well for the city, touted: “Philadelphia isn’t as bad as Philadelphians say it is”.

Rocky is a symbol of the city, this city, Philadelphia. But he is a symbol of this city at a very defined moment in its history. The once great industrial city, fallen and down. While Philadelphia has come back strong in many areas—a leader in healthcare, education, and culture, with a thriving tourism industry—where in fact tourists marvel in the sights of our nation’s founding, and make the trip up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to, run, climb or walk the seventy-few steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Visit Philadelphia proudly declares that in 2011, the steps were named the second most famous filming location in the world, second only to Grand Central Terminal in New York. At the same time, few tourists will venture away from Center City to experience the rest of Philadelphia; where over a quarter of city lives in poverty. The gritty image of the city, has sold well, and continues to do so. Five months after Rocky was released, they had earned over $50 million. And on top of that, Rocky still earns money (Leab 268). Even though much of the city has changed from the time of Rocky in 1976. Many Philadelphians still have a bleak future, and still live like Rocky. This further emphasizes that Rocky is not exclusively a snapshot of one place and one time, but part of the narrative of city; it’s not the story (or just the story) of a boxer, of a man; it is the city.


Leab, Daniel. “Reaffirming Traditional Values: The Blue Collar Worker in Bicentennial America: Rocky.” Hollywood’s America: Twentieth Century America Through Film. Ed. Steven Mintz and Randy Roberts. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 264-71. Print.

Eakins, Thomas. Between Rounds. 1899. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.

Rocky Statue:

Philadelphia Billboard:


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Rocky and the Global Common Man’s Resonance by Samantha Smyth

stamplRocky’s resonance through the ages is paralleled by few other films. The rough and tumble Philadelphia boy seems to be the pinnacle of icons for the down-and-out, the under-achieved, under-represented, the gritty real people, whose lives aren’t glossy like Good Housekeeping covers depict. Rocky plucked himself out of obscurity and, quite literally, fought his way to the top (only after a humbling loss in Rocky I). He is the every-man’s underdog. He’s a dim-witted, fourth-rate, club fighter with no particular distinction, but he manages to embody optimism and courage (Leab, 265).

The reason for Rocky’s resonance beyond a bicentennial United States icon is to do with his relatability. As such, his image has been lifted and utilized many times, in many countries, making the Italian Stallion more than just an American idol but also an international icon.

Stamp collectors had the opportunity to enjoy the mangled-up Stallone face on 5 sets of limited edition stamps released in 1996 bringing fact to Rocky’s own line: “Yo, is this a face you can trust? Someday, they’ll put this face on a stamp.”

The fact that Rocky’s face was lifted for the 5 countries (Ghana, The Gambia, Uganda, St. Vincent and Grenadines, and Grenada) was explained as: “Rocky Balboa stands for the average guy who wants to lead a decent life and be the best he or she can be. The Philadelphia club boxer symbolizes everyone who has at anytime in their life been faced with seemingly impossible obstacles and yet refused to just give up” (Daniel Keren, Total Rocky). Each country felt an affinity for the man who nearly won, and each country boasts “more Rocky fans than America,” according to the article published on Total Rocky.



In 2007, Serbian city Žitište erected a statue dedicated to the fighter. The subject of a documentary, Amerika Idol by Barry Avrich, the statue was revealed to be the hope of the city to counteract the misfortunes of the past 4000 years. The statue is thought to bring “inspiration,” and “tourism dollars,” as reviewer Robert Bell points out. Bell also states that the residents believe Rocky will be a good role model for the youth and also stands as the “universal representation of the underdog.” Rocky as the symbol of luck, a waypoint for wayward youth, and the ultimate underdog has been utilized by town.


“When they’re cheering for Rocky, they’re cheering for themselves,” seems to be the most apt description of Rocky uttered by the man himself Sylvester Stallone (Leab, 271). It’s Rocky’s ability to appeal to the every-man that makes him so relatable. He stands for the underdog and embodies the emotions of courage, bravery, and pluck (which we could all use a bit of sometimes). As such, Rocky’s image has become the symbol of fight, of determination, and of strength in the face of adversity.

So, why Rocky? Because he’s every man, every person, the common man… he’s one of us. His appeal crosses borders, but his message remains the same. Go get it, and don’t give up.


Daniel Leab, “Reaffirming Traditional Values,” Hollywood’s America.

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Rocky: The Quintessential Philadelphian Story by Keira Wingert

C4SD4Ti2EsiqHj3x34QPUv8UAs a Philadelphian, one of my best kept secrets to date was that I had never seen the movie Rocky. This movie has become an icon not only to Philadelphia but also to the world, spurring hundreds of thousands of people to flock to the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps and run to the top or pose beside the hulking Rocky Balboa statue at the base of the steps. I always felt ashamed that I never watched the iconic film before, but I figured I didn’t have to; growing up here, I was told the Rocky story dozens of times without ever actually having to see the movie itself. I knew about Apollo Creed, Adrian, Mickey, and Paulie, and I had performed the film’s punchy, upbeat score in my elementary school orchestra. I was familiar with all the iconic lines (“Yo, Adrian!”), the major plot points, and the iconic still image of Rocky at the top of the PMA steps. But one thing I never understood is why the low-budget movie starring an unknown actor Rocky became such an important part of Philadelphia’s culture. After all, it’s certainly not the only film that takes place in Philadelphia (need I mention the film literally named Philadelphia?). So why did Rocky become thefilm set in Philly? Recently, I was forced to watch Rocky finally, after 22 years of somehow avoiding it, and I came to a better understanding of Philadelphia’s connection to the film. This film represents the city and its people in a way that is realistic, not dolled up to conform to typical, fabulous Hollywood representations of big cities. Philadelphia is known for its grit and hardworking attitude, and that is exactly how the city and its people are represented in Rocky.

Philadelphia has a reputation among other cities as being a bit…rough. This is the city whose sports fans have a penchant for throwing things at people they don’t like, including, but not limited to, the poor Santa Claus who was booed and pelted with snowballs at an Eagles game back in 1968—a story that despite having happened over 40 years ago has somehow remained a defining part of this city’s lore. It’s the city that (unsurprisingly) beheaded the adorable hitchhiking robot whose journey was supposed to represent human kindness and togetherness. Five years ago, Philly was named the 2nd Dirtiest City in the country, beating out Los Angeles, Memphis, and New York. (New York!! Have the people who made that decision ever even been to New York? It’s disgusting!! And they expect us to believe that we’re actually worse than that?!). We don’t have a great reputation—and yet, we’re completely unfazed by the way the world sees us. We’re pretty content just doing our own thing. That’s the Philadelphia represented inRocky.

The Rocky character himself represents Philadelphia perfectly. In this film, Rocky Balboa is a lovably ordinary character. He is a working class guy who lives in a tiny, unattractive apartment. He is apparently uneducated and boxes for a meager living—though he also works as a loan shark’s muscle to make ends meet. He has two turtles and a fish, all of whom he greets as friends when he comes home in the evening. He has a painfully awkward crush on an even more painfully awkward woman, Adrian. When we first meet him, Rocky doesn’t seem like the type of person to seek out greatness; rather, he seems largely content with the life he has. For Rocky, winning isn’t everything. He is completely ordinary—that is, until he is handed a great opportunity. That’s when we see Rocky begin to change from the modest working-class citizen to the great Philadelphia icon he is today.

The environments in which Rocky exists also represent his journey to greatness. In this film, director John Avildsen clearly made deliberate choices regarding the shooting locations in Rocky and what they represented in the character’s journey. Nearly every outdoor scene at the beginning of the film takes place in an industrial setting—ships float in the background, trains clatter by, water towers loom over the residents of the city. Trash is scattered on the ground. The color palette is bleak and hazy, and frankly, it could not be more representative of the more working-class or poor areas in the actual city of Philadelphia, as well as the meager beginnings of the Rocky character. As Rocky trains, we literally see him move from these more modest areas of Philadelphia—the dirty streets of South Philly and the bustling, working-class Italian Market—toward the more grandiose locations in the city, like the ornately designed City Hall and the beautiful Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The range of activities in which Rocky partakes—from feeding his turtles in his tiny apartment to climbing the daunting steps of the PMA—represents exactly the type of hardworking, ordinary people living in Philadelphia. He is content with his ordinary life, but he is capable of greatness, just like Philadelphia is. Rocky is a film that represents the both the everyday activities and the greatest triumphs of which a city like Philly is capable, and that is why it has become the essential cultural icon to represent us.


Chartoff, R., & Winkler, I. (Producers), & Avildsen, J. (Director). (1976). Rocky [Motion picture]. United States:  United Artists.

Leab, D. “Reaffirming Traditional Values – The Blue Collar Ethnic in Bicentennial America:  Rocky.” In Mintz, S. & Roberts, R. (Eds.), Hollywood’s America:  Twentieth-Century America Through Film (p. 264-71). Hoboken:  Wiley-Blackwell.

Leopold, T. 4 Aug. 2015. HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, gets beheaded in Philadelphia. CNN. Retrieved from

14 June 2011. Interaction:  Is Philadelphia 2nd Dirtiest City? 6ABC Action News. Retrieved from

4 May 2010. 9 Terrible Philly Fan Incidents…And Their Harmless Explanations. Sports Pickle. Retrieved from


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Song & Voice by Casey Watson


I’m smack dab in the middle of my research into Woody Guthrie’s iconic “This Land is Your Land,” arguably one of the most recognizable songs in the American folk song catalog or the whole of American music for that matter. We all know it. It is as pervasive in our culture as it is catchy. And while I dig and sift through biographies of Guthrie and articles addressing the dissentious message of the song, I’m reminded of something Scott Nelson mentioned in his John Henry piece: “Historians tend to regard music as background rather than raw material. Appropriated for book titles by countless historians, music itself is seldom seen as a primary source.”[1] I believe he is right. But obviously the role of music in memory is more complex, permeating almost all of our lives.

A friend of mine, a pop-music critic, made this observation in her article reconsidering Kanye West’s Yeezus earlier this year: “…music…[is] always in the air, always ready to sneak up on you, sometimes when you least expect it. There’s no telling, especially not on first listen, how many times you’ll hear a given song or album over a lifetime, or which listen will be the one when it finally clicks with you, if it’s to click at all. Maybe it’ll be the first, or third. Maybe it’ll be the thousandth.”[2] She’s pointing to the fact that a piece of music, more so than any other piece of artwork, can be consumed and internalized over and over in huge numbers. I believe that this unique ability of a song is precisely the reason that it is so easily considered “background” by historians or other researchers. Because a song can be replayed seemingly ad infinitum, coupled with the tendency for the listener to develop a personal connection and interpretation of said song (it’s art, right? It’s can be whatever you need it to be), we as listeners are able to retrofit it with new significance and personal meaning. In doing so, the song is slowly removed from its origins and in some cases, such as “This Land is Your Land”, transformed into an icon; a useful, malleable cultural tool.

Now then. Why does this matter? While doing my research, it occurred to me that perhaps a song’s ability to take on so many meanings while burrowing deeper and deeper into our cultural subconscious with each replay is the reason that songs are so often marginalized by some historians. In my opinion, this is foolish particularly when the subject is a folk song. Folk songs are stories and stories are seldom created for leisure. They come from specific circumstances and are sometimes the only traces the voice of a particular group. “This Land is Your Land” has taken on a life of its own since Guthrie penned it (as icons are wont to do). But we must not forget that his voice was that of the disenfranchised during the Dust Bowl. His words are telling and must not be forgotten as the song is sung by children at camp or Presidential hopefuls.

[1] Scott Nelson, “Who was john henry? railroad construction, southern folklore, and the birth of rock and roll”, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 2 (2): 54-55.

[2] Lindsay Zoladz, “Reviewing Yeezus in 2016 to Better Understand Kanye West and The Life of Pablo.” Review of Yeezus. Vulture, February 14, 2016.


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