Monday, December 29, 2008

Clubber and Me

Avery is on some wild ish over at his site, talking about Clubber Lang and his place in the boxing hierarchy (the following from the comments section):

You gotta check out the opening scenes of Rocky III. Clubber was an animal. If you look at Tyson highlights and then Rocky III, you’d almost think Tyson’s early career was based on Clubber Lang. Reality imitating art, down to some of the same kinds of knockdowns. That would be some big-money betting, though. In fact, it would be the perfect scene for Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier to fix the fight by hypnotizing somebody.
One of my favorite writers, the late, great Ralph Wiley, essentially thought Clubber was a clown. And, in many ways, a sort of caricature for what most white sportswriters and fans imagined popular black athletes to be in the post-Ali era. That's why Clubber had to go down and go down hard in the film, according to Wiley.

The gritty, spunky, less-talented Rocky would always get the best of the loudmouth, preening Clubbers and Apollos of the world. Those buffoons just didn't have the heart when things got tough, right? Not in the face of the Italian Stallion. Or Larry Bird. Or Tyler Hansbrough. Or Wes Welker.

Not to mention, you might argue that we have more Clubbers than ever before - T.O., Kevin Garnett, Rampage Jackson, Joey Porter, etc, etc. And, yes, Mike Tyson. Those guys just feed the myth, for better or worse.

Anyway, I've never felt quite the same way about "Rocky" or Clubber again. Ralph Wiley ruined it for me.

But, yo, Avery took me back. Maybe Clubber and I can make amends. Here's let try this:


John P. Araujo said...

How does Dolph Lundgren's Ivan Drago fit into this mythos? Animal? Machine? Just curious.

avery said...

oooh. a critical reading of drago. i hadn't even thought of that, but i'm guessing he's supposed to represent cold, heartless, machine-like communism. hence, is lack of reaction to almost any stimulus.

stereotypes aside - and i studied them ad nauseum in undergrad - III is my favorite. if the franchise had stopped at III, it would have been perfect for me as a fan.

for a little more in-depth treatment of the whole franchise vis-a-vis Ali, there's a book in my library (i'm at the gig so i can't remember the title or the author right now), but it actually talks about how Rocky actually becomes Apollo, by adopting his style and wearing his clothes. With Apollo being Ali, the assertion is ultimately that Rocky becomes Ali, which becomes clear in the didn't-really-happen Rocky V.

blackink said...

Ah, I see. Good points, all of them.

If we're talking mythology here, yes, yes, yes, about Drago. I think like most kids who grew up in the era of the Cold War, most Americans saw Drago as a sort of template for the USSR. You know, "if he dies, he dies." Cold, heartless, machine-like.

But I think some of Wiley's analysis of the Rocky franchise, like mine, suffers because we both stopped paying attention after IV. And, to be honest, we didn't take IV all that seriously.

AT, if you find the title of that book, please feel free to share. I can always use some new reading material.

Speaking of which, have you ever read "Serenity" by Wiley? One of the greatest books about boxing, ever.

avery said...

ralph wiley was my dude. i remember the day he transitioned, it kinda sucked the breath out of me. even when i didn't necessarily agree with what he was saying - and that was rare - his prose was inspirational.

avery said...

i'm tryin to find the name of the book...i'm plumbing the depths of my old site on the wayback machine right now. but in looking at the racial critique of III that i wrote back then, here's what i thought:

And the best/worst one of all, Clubber calls Rocky "nigga." Think I'm lyin', put your copy in and get to 47:29, after Clubber has knocked Rocky down. You tell me what you think he says.

Of course, any discussion of a Rocky movie would be incomplete without looking at the racial elements. Most people with my background/transcript highlight the fact that Clubber Lang is a near-textbook example of one of the traditional stereotypes of Black men. There's no getting around that. But I think there's something that has to be acknowledged. Apollo.

Yeah, we know that Apollo was a thinly-veiled imitation of Ali. But like I said up top, Apollo is also the smartest character in this picture. And yeah, it's possible to read Apollo training Rocky as the usual "John the Baptist" move, but I think there's another way to look at it.

Apollo, the brain, uses Rocky, the body, to achieve his ends. He gets into contact with Rocky because he's bored. He's not particularly interested in fighting anymore himself, but he likes being around it, so he co-opts the one person to defeat him as a professional. This, then, becomes a win-win situation for Apollo. He gets to train and be in the gym around the fellas, but he doesn't hafta take any punches. Then, there's the financial aspect. As Rocky's manager, Apollo gets a cut of Rocky's money. As the fight promoter, Apollo gets a cut of the overall gate, and probably a cut from each fighter. He's covered whether Rocky wins or loses. Obviously for hs own pride, he wants Rocky to win, but whether Rocky wins or loses, Apollo wins. And I think the character would have been aware of exactly that. So any critique on a racial basis should at least hafta account for this stuff.

blackink said...

Respect due, A.T. Much respect for that one.

Apollo does change the way critics should view the racial dynamic of "III," yeah.

But I almost wonder if that angle is too subtle compared to the over-the-top ass-clown antics of Clubber and, hell, even Apollo to an extent.

I'm gonna watch "III" again, even over the protests of the FL - who really could care less about the Rocky series. I especially need to catch the moment where Clubber calls Rocky "nigga."