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The Politics of Performing Rambo

MCKENNA, Mark (2024) The Politics of Performing Rambo. In: Celebrity Studies Conference, July 1-3, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam.

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In an article that appeared in the New Republic magazine to accompany the release of Escape Plan in 2013, Isaac Chotiner questioned the appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone together in a film that outwardly appeared to be criticising the Bush administration and the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. In the article, ‘Right-Wing Icons Trapped in a Left-Wing Movie’, Chotiner reiterated the dominant view that Stallone was unwaveringly right-wing in his politics, a belief that for many was crystallised more than thirty years earlier under the Reagan administration with the success of Rocky IV (1985) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). Both films were unashamedly jingoistic, the former seeing the perennial puncher draped in the American flag after fighting his own one-man Cold War, and the latter, capitalising on the unfounded belief that American soldiers classified as Missing in Action were still being held in internment camps more than a decade after the end of the Vietnam war. During this period Stallone was invited to the White House and Reagan proudly proclaimed Rambo a Republican, and famously, after the 1985 Beirut hostage crisis, said “Boy, after seeing ‘Rambo’ last night, I know what to do the next time this happens.” In the years since, uncomfortable with this association, Stallone has tried to distance himself from the politics presented onscreen, preferring to see the Rambo character as at best politically neutral, or at worst, politically agnostic (Hannity, 2008). While these can be seen as reparative attempts that seek to temper these right-wing associations and position himself in more politically neutered terms, they also highlight the contradiction between his onscreen and offscreen persona that is not easily resolved, revealing inconsistencies and disruptions in the popular perception of the star. This paper seeks to present a more complex view of the star, complicating readings that have largely relied upon the implied political leanings of fictional characters, by mapping them back to the star.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Faculty: School of Digital, Technologies and Arts > Film and Media
Event Title: Celebrity Studies Conference
Event Location: University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam
Event Dates: July 1-3
Depositing User: Mark MCKENNA
Date Deposited: 08 Jul 2024 10:10
Last Modified: 08 Jul 2024 10:10

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