I re-watched Rambo yesterday.

(Technically, it’s called “First Blood,” from 1982, but once it became a hit, everyone just called it Rambo.)

 

 

 

 

 

My buddy Louie made the suggestion, as he swore it was a great film.

I was 8 when it came out, and Sylvester Stallone, as Rambo, became a cultural icon.

These days, it’s hard for youngins to relate to how big a deal someone/something could be, if it got caught in the eye of the monoculture.

ET, Rambo, Top Gun, The Terminator.

 

Courtesy of Terminator Wiki

 

They defined the 80’s, much as Charlie’s Angles, Star Wars, and Archie Bunker repped the 70’s in the Zeitgeist.

I remember Rambo as a roid-head, basically, using his massive muscles as a metaphor for American dominance.

But this movie is SO not that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 7th grade, I had a teacher, Mr. Ferraro, who was the cool guy everyone loved.

He had a “cool” car, which I think was a Camaro, but I’m sure some of my classmates could correct me.

And he was totally into Springsteen. (Again, this was Jersey in the 80’s.)

One day, he broke down “Born in the USA” for us, and explained it had been misappropriated by Reagan, and politicians like him, who used the song un-ironically at their rallies.

 

Courtesy of Billboard.com

 

I say un-ironcally, as the song is actually about a Vietnam Vet who comes back to his small-town factory life, and has a shit time of things.

It’s not a happy song, nor a traditionally patriotic one.

But the politicians only heard the chorus, and no one else was paying attention, I suppose.

Same thing with Rambo.

I mean, the guy was a hippie, for God’s sake!

A long-hair!

This being the 80’s, Stallone had a fluffy, feathery version of long hair, but still, we get the picture.

Wearing an old army jacket with an American flag on the lapel, he catches the attention of a smug, conservative, bigoted Sheriff, (played by 80’s stalwart Brian Dennehy,) while walking along the highway.

 

 

I’m not sure if the setting is ever disclosed, but as they’re obviously in massive, Western mountains, and at one point, we learn Portland is south, I’d say they’re in Washington.

Rambo, of course, is White, but as a hippie, he represents “The Other,” and the Sheriff literally runs him out of town on sight.

He’s done nothing wrong.

He’s just walking-while-hippie, which counts as vagrancy.

And though in the 21st Century, we all say “Thank you for your service,” every time we see a uniform, back then, Vietnam vets were treated poorly, and became one of the first populations of long-term unhoused Americans.

So that’s the premise.

Then, Johnny Rambo ends up hunting the bigoted cops up in the mountains, after they beat and attempt to torture him, and he escapes from jail. (With a pre-NYPD-Blue David Caruso playing the only skeptical cop; the one who thought it was dumb to pick a fight with a former Green Beret.)

Stallone is ripped, for sure, but not massive, so whatever they did to blow him up into a body-builder for the sequels, it came later.

 

 

He’s no bigger than when he played Rocky Balboa, and does a great job in this one too. (His early acting work is criminally underrated.)

Like Rocky, Rambo was an underdog.

But he was fighting against “The Man,” and then in sequels becomes a mass culture symbol for institutional American might.

Often, when symbols are powerful enough, people don’t even know they’re being indoctrinated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was thinking about that, preparing the column in my mind, and went searching in my Photos for some images I want to write about today.

(But not yet.)

Instead, I found a group of pictures I shot in a Santa Fe government building back in February.

The family and I were on a rare downtown walk, and stopped in to use the restroom.

It must have been the Veterans Affairs department, where we discovered a series of photographic installations.

One drew my attention immediately, as I saw grids of dead soldiers from Vietnam.

 

 

From a distance, as a grid, we just notice the volume of people, and outlines of faces.

As soon as I saw it this morning, I flashed to the grid of images of dead children in Uvalde.

 

Courtesy of The Texas Tribune

 

But then I saw the close-up images of the soldiers, (from when I approached the installation,) and immediately you notice the individuals, and realize how many of the men who perished from here were Hispanic and Native American.

Ancient cultures, both of them, and so specific to New Mexico, but bigots would just see a wall of brown faces.

 

 

Like the people killed in that El Paso Walmart a few years ago.

Nasty business, this racism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s get to the real inspiration for this column, shall we?

(Rambo came later.)

The other day, driving my daughter back from her school’s summer camp, she told me she’d changed her mind, and decided she was offended by the kid who’d called her a “Crazy Jew” a month ago.

At first, it hadn’t bothered her, but now it did, so she was going to tell on him.

She said there’d been a discussion in camp that day, as she described anti-Semitism to her friends.

They disagreed with her, and didn’t think there should be a separate word for hating Jews.

It was just racism, they said.

All one big hatred.

I told Amelie that while there was hatred specific to Jews, (and hence a particular word for it,) I actually liked what her friends had to say.

Hatred over skin color, country of origin, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexual preference, it’s all the same thing.

And it’s all awful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It must have been that conversation, because when I went on a walk yesterday, my mind flashed to some art I saw in San Francisco, and it really stuck in my craw.

I’m sure it was a part of my overall-negative-reaction to the city, and while I’m bored of piling on, it happened.

So why not report on it?

The story is, I visited the San Francisco Art Institute when I was in SF in March, and the famed, historically important art school has fallen on hard times.

(It nearly went out of business, and was operating a skeleton program with a skeleton staff, when I was in town.)

Again, I don’t want to add to their woes, but I’d been told there was a famous Diego Rivera mural there, and should check it out.

So I did.

Three times, I had the chance to pop in, and have the gallery to myself.

I was not amused.

The mural, which as with all Rivera work looks great, is an obvious critique of Capitalism, by the famously Communist, Mexican painter.

It shows the means of production, and I later learned it’s called “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City.” 

At the literal heart of the story, the bi-laterally symmetrical, center of his composition, is a gross, stereotypical depiction of a Jewish businessman.

“Oh shit,” I thought, when I first saw it. “Now I have to write about anti-Semitic art again. What a bummer.”

And here I am, three months later, doing just that.

 

 

 

 

 

The hooked nose.
The beady, bulging eyes.
The bowler hat and round glasses.
The super-shiny suit.

He’s in the middle of the cabal, this Jew.

 

 

The other “White” guys could be from anywhere.

But not the one in the heart of it all.

(Symbolically.)

The rodent-like, dark-hair/dark-eye Jew, smaller than the other two, with a flashy, pin-striped, double-breasted suit.

Man, it made me mad.

Because as I said earlier, powerful visual symbols often subvert the conscious mind.

They propagate hatred, over generations.

What a crock of shit.

See you next week.

 

 

 

(Editor’s note: While doing some background research, I learned Diego Rivera had some Jewish ancestry, which does not absolve him of exploiting this nasty trope. Furthermore, Google turned up an English kerfuffle ten years ago, where a muralist got in trouble in London, for the same Jewish stereotypes, and was then compared to Rivera, who also had a mural over-painted for its inclusion of Lenin.)

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2 Comments

  1. Wow, this one’s really rife with irony! And when it comes to irony (ie- hypocrisy writ large) who better to start with than Stallone, the ’80s paradigm of fearless American masculinity who in real life (unlike say… significantly less cut Al Franken)
    was scared shitless to visit the troops in Iraq (because, ya know… it’s dangerous!). Perhaps there’s some kind of American tradition there starting with- I play a war hero in reel life (not real life) John Wayne.

    One of the most obvious, anti-Semitic depictions I’ve recently witnessed was none other than Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems, where his prosthetic teeth made him look like the very epitome of the disparaging, centuries old cartoon caricature come to life. Never seen it addressed, never understand how he agreed to it!

    And finally, yes, the pictures of sacrificed soldiers and students. I’ve always thought that recruiting offices should only be manned by Vets who’ve actually sacrificed in war- sacrificed arms, legs and other significant body parts. Wonder if it would influence recruiting numbers? Sorry, digressed. I distinctly remember how the photos of “Napalm Girl” and the My Lai massacre influenced public opinion concerning the Viet Nam war, and not in a positive way. They showed the real life consequences of our actions, the reality that our patriotic propaganda denied and obfuscated. When are we finally going to see the real life consequences of our domestic, gun culture slaughter? Those photos of our sacrificed children should be blown up poster size and line the chambers of Congress every time they’re in session. They’ll make a most appropriate backdrop to discuss our god given 2nd Amendment rights!

    • Right on, Stan. Watched The Duke the other week, in “The Searchers.” So he was on my mind as well. Good call on Sandler in Uncut Gems. One of my least favorite films of the last 10 years. That movie almost gave me a panic attack.


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