Rocky is first of all a movie for men. But it shows their neediness. Men need to be free, famous, & gentled. Thus are they made; or broken. Freedom is citizenship. Fame is the prize of those who benefit their city. Of course, men hate showing neediness. They are therefore the least likely creatures to learn. But men are stubborn, not stupid. They will learn, if they must. But whoever will teach them cannot condescend to them. He must show he obeys their rules & knows their minds by their deeds.
Teaching men requires teaching about war. Speeches about war cannot replace deeds of war, but they nevertheless bring out the warlike passions. These passions are either flattered or instigated, because they are not friendly or likable, they are dark & they ultimately enslave men. Therefore, it is not sufficient to arouse these passions, they must also be controlled. The city enslaves men by making them citizens to free them from slavery to dark passions.
Rocky is our hero’s name, the name of legendary boxers. His nickname, the Italian Stallion, suggests there is a certain poetry about boxing. The first scene is a two-bit fight; Rocky is fighting a two-bit fighter; above the miserable scene, Jesus is painted holding the bread & wine for holy communion; fit military music plays. That is the distance between what is best & what we have.
We start at the bottom & work our way up; the poet wishes that we see this ascent. America in the ‘70s was in misery & Americans learnt, humiliated, what losing hope was like. The economy was in tatters, so people were out of jobs by the millions. The Vietnam War had divided America against itself. A re-elected president felt forced to resign. This was also a time when brutal & immoral movies were repaid not with infamy & censorship, but with critical praise & the public’s attention. Insanity was the new truth, said the radicals: common men in their common lives were in fact monsters of world historical injustice who deserved all the evil the world had to offer. In short, the leaders & the poets of America attempted to persuade America to commit suicide.
Rocky is supposed to be the counter-poison to that attitude. It must therefore teach what keeps a man going who likely would suffer less if he killed himself. It must restore hope in democracy. The poet admits that there is much ugliness & despair in America. He offers us a rather ugly man to admire. But this is a man who never consented to his humiliation & who was convinced he would rather die than forsake his name.