In the movies you see some guys who’re bullied around by those who are luckier when it comes to money, looks, opportunities, etc. And invariably enough, whether we do good or bad in real life about these circumstances, we support the lower guys in these movies. For example, we never supported Apollo Creed – at least until he becomes friend with Rocky – or Ivan Drago – perhaps Americans had reasons to feel hostile to this character, because he was a Russian, but everyone in everywhere was hostile to him foremost, because he was the bad guy – in the Rocky series. I give the example of Rocky, because he was one of the best underdog heroes ever, since the story of this series was based on this notion especially.
We didn’t like Clubber Lang (still, Mr. T was a special character). Was it because he was an underdog, or was it because of his attitude? (Standing so close to him, Rocky might say it was his body odor?)
Rich or poor, powerful or weak, lucky or unlucky, I can’t imagine any one single person who supported the anti-heroes in these movies while watching them. No! Because, Rocky – or other underdog characters – symbolizes the wrongs that we face, which – at least during that moment – we couldn’t do anything to change it. Subconsciously, we support these characters not because we love them, but because through them, we take our revenge for the wrongs we faced.
At the other hand, we see an interesting turning point in the story when Rocky takes a protégé named Tommy. In the beginning, Tommy is after the same thing which Rocky was after many years ago. So, Rocky tries to live his youth once again, and to win another victory through Tommy. However, they different point of views and values about life, so at first sight, Tommy seems to betray Rocky on his way to the greatness. However, just try to think objectively here. When Rocky was young, was he trying to do a different thing? Was he fighting just to have a belt… or money?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Rocky, and this character is one of my heroes of all times. But let’s be honest, Rocky was just trying to get out of the slums he lived, and he became a hero for the folks in the same neighborhood, because they also wanted what he wanted, and therefore he became some kind of symbol as Rocky the Poor (good guy) against Apollo the Rich (bad guy). (Why is a person framed as “bad” just because he is successful and rich, that’s another curious point?)
However, there’s ONE really IMPORTANT point here: we saw a similar turn in the story previously in the third movie, when Rocky fought against Clubber Lang (Mr. T). Clubber is also a hungry and poor guy, who believes he deserves much more, so he attacks Rocky as a target, because Rocky is the champion. Are you aware that the roles are upside down here, but we still support Rocky? Because, this time Rocky symbolizes our well deserved good position in life, not an underdog anymore. (This is one of the reasons I see this series as a very important example when it comes to set our values in life.) In first two movies, Apollo was the bad guy because he was at the same position where Rocky was in the third movie. But Rocky was never framed as bad. Why? Because we already knew and loved him. Most importantly, he already symbolized our aspirations in life.
Meanwhile, what made us feel distant and different from Tommy or Clubber was that they were trying to take the shortcut through their human values. We already had seen how hard Rocky worked and fought to gain that position. But these guys were trying to pay a much lower price, and in Tommy’s situation especially, what he did was some sort of cheating. That’s why we never liked them. And that’s why, in the sixth movie, Mason Dixen was never hated by the audience, because he was just doing what he was supposed to do: to protect his title, which he already paid a price similar to what Rocky paid years ago.
While Ivan Drago was depicted as the monster guy who was backed up by technology versus Rocky training in the nature, Dolph Lundgren still stands as an impressive action movie actor.
It’s often said that great friendships come from great fights. No doubt, Apollo meant a lot to Rocky, and they had a very strong mutual respect.
Well, now the most important question of this article: yes, we like these underdog characters, and we support them while following their stories, somehow internalizing them with ourselves. However, in real life, we mostly try to act like Tommy or Clubber, because in real life we believe that “all is fair in love and war.” Therefore, we mostly walk away from the values which we admire these underdog characters for. And the question: do we have to take the shortcuts in real life because it’s real life, or can we follow the same values, and still be successful?
Ask this question to yourself, and answer it again, by and for yourself.
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