Pleading the Fifth: The Rocky V of the Family

Another surprise Mythic Bios post. And I can make a pun about boxes and boxers in the light of the upcoming solstice, but I’ll spare you those gifts – or not – and get to the main attraction.

Mythic Bios Verses Rocky V.

Now, in its heyday Mythic Bios mainly looked at mythological and geeky things, but before I go into too many tangents, I will reiterate the fact that I like to look at how stories are made, built on each other, how they have continuity with one another (or as the wise ItsJustSomeRandowGuy liked to say in his skits “Continuity – Boom!”), and how they change over time. I mainly like to look at how legacies are created: whether they are intended to be so beyond the auspices of a franchise, or not. 

I have had one, or two, partners that have jokingly invoked the American Fifth Amendment in not incriminating themselves over something they will, or might say. I guess I am doing it much the same way as I talk about the fifth movie in a series that many people do not want to exist. It is understandable, After Rocky’s legendary, even mythic, defeat of Ivan Drago in light of Apollo’s death – only to have him lose all of his property because of Paulie’s mismanagement, and then having potentially fatal brain damage, and he and his family moving back to their working class roots was a little much. I mean, look at Adrian: do you really think someone with her shrewd, calculating mind would let freaking Paulie manage their family’s resources.

No. No she would not.

It was a bit of a spectacle even beyond that, — though there is always some spectacle with these films — with George Washington Duke constantly and cartoonishly being in Rocky’s face that made Apollo’s theatrics look tame by comparison. And then a street brawl where Rocky has to fight despite having a life threatening condition – contradicting the reason he couldn’t compete anymore to begin with – and, well …

Rocky V was a mess.

Yet, there was something in it that stuck with me: an element that could have translated well into future movies: even Rocky Balboa and the Creed films. 

I’m not a sportsman. I was always a stereotypical, uncoordinated, skinny geek. But that’s not what Rocky was about. Hell, you can make the argument that Karate Kid wasn’t even about karate. Rather, both series were about individuals defying the odds and finding their place, evolving and adapting to their circumstances, to achieve something with the power of community on their sides. And both series, Karate Kid’s sequel series Cobra Kai, and Rocky’s successor Creed honour where they came from, and who was in them, and they build from them new stories, and worlds. This is what mythic world-building has always been for me: building on the old, to continue it, and also adding a new slant or narrative. This is one reason why I covered Cobra Kai on this Blog.

This is why I’m looking at Rocky right now. 

In all the other Rocky films, we see a man overcoming all of these detriments: his age, his partially blind eye, his preconceptions, his grief, and his own personal demons to victory in the term of – again – coming to grips with his own flaws, and time. In the first film, Rocky deals with the potential he left behind while facing down the reigning Champion in Apollo Creed. In the second film, he adapts to his injured eye and proves to himself that he is – and deserves to be – the Champion when he faces a Creed that is serious. By the third film, Rocky has to deal with his mentor Mickey Goldmill’s death, and having his confidence shattered by too much fame, and an aggressive but serious asshole named Clubber Lang. It is under Apollo, his former enemy turned friend that he learns how to exercise in different ways, and regain his fighting spirit. And by the fourth movie, what could easily have been a propaganda film about East versus West, the Soviet Union versus the United States, Russia versus America, or revenge for the death of his friend Apollo Rocky goes through almost a shamanic journey linking to the land in Siberia to defeat Ivan Drago, and have one last truly legendary fight against a monster. 

So where do you go from there? I mean, the easy answer is you skip the mess of a fifth movie – pleading ignorance, or protection for even thinking about it existing – and look at Rocky Balboa: at a man grieving his wife’s death, and his sense of aging, and having one last great fight before gracefully stepping away to the sunset, and welcoming and training the next Champion. 

I always wondered what would have happened if Rocky had been training all the ways he did when he was a younger man: before he left and became a reluctant enforcer. Would he have been an even better fighter? But that is irrelevant, because every encounter he had in these films and in this narrative determined the lessons he would learn, and eventually apply to his life. Rocky learned everything when he needed it. And I think there was a lesson, in the much maligned fifth film, that could have developed his character further.

His mistakes.

Many fans have hard feelings towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not a great sentence to continue this, especially with that film’s many flaws, but one thing that always gets me – and it is always tied to the Hero’s Journey – is that you have a hero’s mistakes, and you have a master’s mistakes. The hero gets older, and can’t journey anymore. At least, they can’t do it in the same way. So all they can do is see the next generation, and pass on what they have learned. And, sometimes, that hero is still young, and they think they can teach or guide someone as well as their mentors did for them. That is less Last Jedi, and more the Old Trilogy, and Rocky was made during the zeitgeist of that time: when Star Wars was at its height. And make no mistake: Rocky was a hero’s journey movie: with someone starting off small and working their way through a larger world, and finding themselves. 

I think what intrigues me so much about Rocky V is Rocky being a trainer. A teacher. A manager. He wanted to pass on his knowledge to someone who would appreciate it. He wanted to help someone much in the way he desperately wished someone would have stepped out, and helped him. You know, for all Mickey did volunteer his services, it was only when Rocky got that offer to fight Apollo Creed: even if Mickey had believed in Rocky’s abilities, and had been furious with him squandering them. I just saw Rocky wanting to give a young man, still not ground down by the world, perhaps a little rough around the edges, a chance. Rocky always wants to give people chances. Look at Spider, the first person we ever see him fighting on a lower level, and “Little Marie” – who ain’t so little when we see her in Balboa – and he offers them jobs at his restaurant. And how many times did Rocky bail out Paulie’s dysfunctional, tortured ass? 

So I like the idea that Rocky did encounter, and train, Tommy Gunn. I like the idea that he was, in a way, Rocky’s Jungian Shadow: reflecting that need to fight at all costs, and that where Rocky has heart, Tommy only wants power and glory, and has no ties to anyone. It’s heartbreaking, when you think about it. Like, imagine Mickey taking Rocky under his wing, and Rocky utterly betraying him, and smearing him: letting outside forces corrupt him and blind him to the truth of the sanctity of the spiritual fight? Or at least disrespecting tradition, history, and his own skills.

What happened with Rocky and Tommy, and even Washington is basically Obi-Wan Kenobi dealing with Anakin Skywalker getting corrupted by Palpatine. Only, it’s more messed up in that Washington only ever cared for dealing with Rocky’s image and getting that fight from him with one of his agents, and didn’t care about Tommy at all: just using him to hurt Rocky. And unlike Obi-Wan, Rocky has his family: he has Adrian, his son Robert, and even Paulie. And this isn’t even mentioning his own community. 

I know that Sylvester Stallone had Rocky IV remastered, making a director’s cut, but what about Rocky V? There might be issues with regards to deceased or aging actors, but there are effects to de-age them, or perhaps others scenes that were deleted – and not the ones like Little Marie being married to a drug-dealer: which I’m glad got cut.

So I guess the question is: how would I remaster Rocky V, and put it back in the continuity?

Well, it’s difficult. I think it should have been some time after Rocky IV. I don’t see Rocky losing his fortune, especially as he is high profile with the US government after his victory over Drago, and the people love him. I do think he would be done with fighting, and want to spend time with his family. I like the idea that he still has trouble relating to Robert, as he was always out fighting, and now that he’s there and around, there is a class and cultural difference between them as Robert has gone to some high level schools. And maybe, the issue after a while is Rocky feeling this sense of alienation. He doesn’t have Mickey or Apollo around anymore. He doesn’t fight. He’s a bit aimless. And he feels like people venerate him, and it makes him uncomfortable. He just did what he had to do in Apollo’s memory. That was it. He fought because he needed to, but now he doesn’t know where to put any of that energy, and he has trouble relating to those around him: even Paulie, and Adrian.

I am toying with the idea that this is where Adrian gets sick. She isn’t dying, but this makes Rocky want to take her and the family back to the old neighbourhood in Philadelphia. They sell off their mansion, which they don’t need anymore as Robert is older now, and Adrian never had much of a use for that property anyway. There is a good hospital for her, but she also wants Rocky to find his purpose beyond taking care of her. She wants to fight, like he does, and she doesn’t want him spending all of his waking moments at her bedside like he had in the second film. So he reopens Mighty Mickey’s gym, finds the old crowd, and starts training again: the legend having returned home, and to his roots.

This is around where he meets Tommy Gunn, and sees a lot of himself in him. Robert doesn’t understand this neighbourhood, and he wants nothing to do with fighting or anything of that kind. When I was younger, I wanted Robert to be the next champion: but this difference between father and son works better for me now. Rocky doesn’t have to be a hereditary legacy, and it isn’t if you consider Mickey and Apollo’s influence on Rocky. But I would keep Washington trying to lure Rocky out of retirement, and then targeting Tommy: who has had a history of being a drifter with anger-management issues.

I just like the focus to be Rocky not seeing Tommy as an accident waiting to happen, and also not relating to his son, and the tension where he focuses on Adrian and Tommy and nothing else. And it all degenerates much as it did in that first film. And Adrian wants Rocky and Robert to have a better relationship in case she isn’t around anymore. Everyone can see that Tommy is bad news, and even Tommy – despite initially wanting to do right by Rocky – succumbs to his worst impulses. 
In the end, when Tommy attacks Paulie, that’s pretty much it. A rabid dog has to be put down. Rocky realizes, then and there, that he has to live now, and not try to put his glory days in another. He also comes to the understanding that Tommy was never a younger version of him, that he already has a son, and he needs to protect his family – and the sanctity of the sport he bled for. For this film, Adrian would go into remission at the end, and Rocky and the rest know the fight will continue. Always.

By the time of Creed, Rocky doesn’t want to try to train another student. He remembers Gunn, and the mistake he had been, and more than that, the mistakes he made. He thought he could train Gunn as well as Mickey and Apollo and Duke. He was wrong. But despite what people said about Luke Skywalker not being a good teacher, people like him and Rocky, and Daniel LaRusso all learned from being heroes and protagonists. And I think Rocky honouring Creed’s father, and Creed himself, would be a great step: and in that restored continuity, Rocky – having given up on Mickey’s Gym (passing it onto Duke perhaps) and making Adrian’s restaurant instead – he trains someone else right. If Gunn was Rocky’s Darth Vader, then Creed would be his Luke Skywalker, minus the dying part.

It’s not perfect, and please don’t judge me on it,  but this is my long way of stating that I liked the idea of Rocky being a failed teacher who ultimately remembers what is important in life, and then later redeeming even that and becoming a great manager. We always live legacies, and mythologies. And while this rewrite would probably be a tall order, it is nice to think about. And I look forward to seeing where the next creative struggle – the next fight – leads.

How to Make a Jedi Warrior

It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it.

Whenever I come back here, I feel like I have to say something introspective about my time away. I used to write here all the time, like almost every day. But sometimes you just need to experience something, or go through something — processing it — before you can write about it. 

In this case, it’s The Men Who Stare at Goats.

I know, right? Out of everything to return to talk about on Mythic Bios, why this film? So I have been writing a lot of indepth reviews on my Horror Doctor Blog started around the height of the Pandemic, and this writing is not going to be one of them. That’s not generally what we do at Mythic Bios. No, at Mythic Bios we online creative processes and ideas even more than we do at The Horror Doctor, or Sequart, or anywhere else I write about geekery. 

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a 2009 tongue-in-cheek satirical comedy about war: specifically how the American government used, or uses, New Age and esoteric concepts to aid them in combat. It was adapted into film from Jon Ronson’s book of the same name by Peter Straughan, and directed by Grant Heslov. I’ve not read the book. I’ve only watched the film.

To give you a rundown, as the summary goes, the United States government saw the Soviets were fascinated with psychic experiments and, to counter them in a war of propaganda — of a seeming of power as opposed to anything practical or concrete, simply doing it because the other side was feeding rumour, and they had to save face there — they made their own research team in the military to deal with them. It’s basically one Emperor having new clothes, and another Emperor wanting the same to one him up. Of course, in the story there are people who genuinely believe in the power of the paranormal such as Vietnam War veteran Bill Django who had a life changing near death experience that made him realize that the American method of waging war needed to be changed through the element of peace: with the motto of “their gentleness” being “their strength.” 

I actually found Django, and his student and subordinate Lyn Cassady’s methods of utilizing paranormal phenomena, or psychic power, fascinating. Django creates a force within the military called the New Earth Army: which essentially trains its chosen soldiers to use this power. It’s tied with the idea of the American government, and the CIA experimenting with remote viewing, clairvoyance, telepathy, invisibility, telekinesis, and even teleportation. Certainly, we know they did things with the development of LSD and attempts at mind control and brainwashing that have been covered before.

Essentially, the New Earth Army as portrayed in the film are “psychic spies” that are called “Jedi Warriors.” You see, Django created the concept for them from studying New Age concepts in the seventies of free love, appropriated branches of yoga, and quite possibly studying at other mystic lodges: his views and research being taken by the brass of the military to show up the Soviets, and even to support the beliefs of individuals like General Dean Hopgood: a man who consistently smashes into a wall in order to eventually phase his molecules through it, and phase on the other side with the power of belief itself. 

It’s all goofy, and insane. It feels like someone initiated into the Discordian Society created this whole paradigm as something of a joke that — like all shared jokes — has elements of truth inside it. And certainly the protagonist of the film, Bob Wilton, believes it’s all bullshit at the beginning of his journey … until a series of hijinks through Kuwait during the Iraq War make him seriously reevaluate what he thinks perceived reality actually is. 

I think there’s something great about a film during with the creation of “Jedi Warriors” — drawing from the zeitgeist of the 1970s with George Lucas, from his own studies into older films and Joseph Campbell’s examinations of the “mono-myth,” or the Hero’s Journey — that has Ewan McGregor as the central protagonist. Remember, this was four years after his role playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and no one expected him to return to Jedi Knighthood on the screen … until now, in 2022, when he will be starring in his own miniseries Kenobi

My point is, this is the closest film anyone was going to be seeing McGregor be a Jedi Knight again in any way, even this strange, yet charming lampoonish manner of a younger man trying to find his way, and prove himself to … himself in doing something meaningful. It’s a film that gets ridiculous, but oddly poignant at times. Lyn Cassady reminds me of a friend of mine who believes in powers beyond our understanding, and has this almost Don Quixote sense of wonder that is constantly tested by disillusionment and pain: elements portrayed well by the actor George Clooney. He serves as an ad hoc mentor figure to Bob Wilton, through example, while also serving as something of a fallen or a wounded warrior himself. And Bob Django, portrayed by Jeff Bridges, has a major charm, a bit of showmanship, and earnestness of a man who just wanted to negate the violence that he’d seen decimate his fellow soldiers: recognizing that humanity’s natural inclination was not to violence, leading to their incompetence and destruction in an armed conflict with the Viet Cong. He reminds me so much of an older Luke Skywalker: perhaps the way he could have been portrayed in the Sequels, and in some ways when you see what Django is like at the end of the film, he kind of is. 

But I think what got me was that each “Jedi Warrior” has their own abilities, and focuses in utilizing their power. For example, Gun Lacey stares at hamsters to will them to die: which is a smaller application of goats. And goats are used because humans generally feel bad about using dogs, which were the original test subjects for causing telekinetic deaths. Lyn can goad someone into attacking him, but immediately undermine them believing they will win, and using that fact against them when he decides to act. It’s hard to explain but some of the soldiers sleep and try to understand their dreams in locating a subject. Some study the Bible. All of these elements are found throughout our own culture. Hell, even LSD experiments and mental breaking are performed by the overly ambitious Larry Cooper: as played by the now infamous Kevin Spacey, who also seems to have mastery of a technique called the dim mak: the Japanese death touch. 

And I was thinking about these strange, eclectic soldiers — these “Jedi Warriors” — and I asked myself once the film was done, if they were possible. Would it be possible, in our world, with our reality’s rules, to create Jedi?

The reason I started thinking about, specifically in this patchwork paradigm of all of these concepts brought together in the film and perhaps by the novel as well, is how one soldier was criticized for stating that a popular author knew the location of a kidnapped dignity. It hadn’t been the case, and it became a source of embarrassment that, coupled with Cooper’s LSD experiments influencing a fellow Jedi Warrior to go berserk and commit suicide, changed the mandate and free flow nature of the New Earth Army: essentially rendering it defunct. 

But what if that soldier wasn’t wrong? What if by the tangential nature of the New Earth Army and its parallel thought processes, what they really needed to do was find one of these author’s books, read through them and the passages — or become familiar with them — and use some gematria, some numerical code associated with letters and words — to find the target. And it made me think about neurodiversity, the plasticity and elasticity of the human brain, and mind concepts. And again, the question I asked myself.

Can Jedi Warriors, as portrayed by The Men Who Stare At Goats, exist in real life? And, if so, how?

This is how I think ladies, gentlemen, and other psychic beings, it could be done.

You find a series of individuals with a fairly high IQ, and allow for neurodivergent additions that generalized testing might not pick up. Unlike The Men Who Stare at Goats, you pick men, and women, and other genders. You select them from a diverse background of cultures, subcultures, and ethnicities. You interview their commanding officers, their friends, their families and communities, and you test them to see how great their intuition and instincts are. These are actual traits you can find in hunters, trackers, profilers, and anyone with street smarts. How else did humanity survive earlier times of development without some kind of secondary or sixth sense.

The key is to refine that. You need to find and develop practices that can hone intuition and instincts. There are plenty of esoterica and even religious and spiritual practices to draw from. However, you need more than just breathing exercises, meditation, pain-management, and martial arts: though they would make for an excellent foundation. Personally, I can see aikido being extremely useful in knowing the force of one’s opponent, and using it against them in a flow not unlike a philosophy espoused by what many call Daoism. Tai chi would also allow for flow and constant movement, and you include elements of dance.

You see, what we want are well-trained people who are young — or who can still be conditioned and taught — that can move easily, develop greater reflexes, and be able to read an environment, field, lifeform, or person almost immediately. That’s how it starts. But it’s also a group effort. This New Earth Army would need a team of scholars, martial artists, philosophers, even art historians, doctors, artists, negotiators, and therapists to educate these Jedi Warriors. They need to be taught how to look at something critically, but also in a totality. Deductive and inductive reasoning — the first making a hypothesis and being able to examine the possibilities and come to a conclusion, and the last being able to draw a general and perhaps in this case more specific series of conclusions based on observation — are key, and feedback into that honed intuition, and instinct. Also, as Lyn demonstrated, certain vocal intonations and sounds can be key to affecting your own, or another person’s, psychological state. I also really like the plastic implement Lyn used to disable Bob. I wonder if it can be made in real life and, if so, if another non-lethal, non-permanent damage long range one such as net can also be implemented but that would be a whole change of the psychology of war and, indeed, human psychology.

And not all of these Jedi Warriors will be the same. Some will focus more on chemistry and substances that can hone or put the body into alternative states. Others will focus on altering their responses to pain and pleasure more than their fellows. A few will just specialize in sifting through information from disparate sources, and put them all together, or take them apart. And more will be looking at propaganda and doing more than just sending pamphlets stating to an Enemy that their “dicks are small.” I can see a branch focusing on memes and memetics on the Internet. I can see people getting into the cultural and personal profiles and psychologies of a subject. And there would be peacekeepers that would be able to know the cultural mores and study human behaviour to be able to put people off guard, or to talk them down, and relax them. I can see flash mobs being used as a tactic to distract, or eliminate someone’s need for conflict. You can do a lot of radical stuff when you, I suppose, “hack” your normal human or group behaviour.

A lot of this stuff actually does exist. I know if I were a Jedi Warrior, which I am not, I would look at geek culture and what it says about a certain event that could occur, or has happened. And especially examining Jungian archetypes in folk and fairy tales allows you to know a lot about human beliefs.

Telekinesis isn’t possible as far as I can see, or teleportation. But honing intuition, reflexes, inductive reasoning, and maintaining a state of mindfulness could go a far way. I guess I just see this New Earth Army as something like the Druids from Shannara in which everyone has different abilities, the Foundation with its facets of psychohistory, the Bene Gesserit with their martial arts and Voice, or the origins of how the Jedi Order was founded in the Legends canon of Star Wars.

And this is all fiction, but this is how I could see it going down. I also wish we could have seen more Jedi Warriors jn action, though there being few does make sense in the story, and in general.  Because one thing I got from The Men Who Stare At Goats is the real lesson: that psychic power isn’t so much concrete paranormal ability, but the power of belief — of human belief — and being able to understand and use that. Like when Lyn tries to become invisible. He doesn’t actually become invisible, but he changes his body language, his breathing, his mindset, to mess with someone else’s perception of what they might see: or so he believes.

For Bob, he understands that the true power of the New Earth Army is to believe in something greater than themselves: in a lie perhaps, or stories, that can jive with the human need to do something different. Whether or not he phases through the wall at the end of the film is almost irrelevant. The fact that he changed his mindset to know that he can do something outside of a pre-arranged behaviour, to go beyond the grind, to not let people in power obfuscate the truth from him, is more important. That flexible thinking is what a Jedi Warrior should have. 

It’s weird. I’ve been away from Mythic Bios for a while, but damn: I would love to make a Men Who Stare at Goats RPG, or a New Earth Army game, and I would be a scholar with nerd and Jungian ties, with some erotic elements that can predict some things, interact with people, and bolster my energy. Using LeGuin’s Farfetching exercises, automatic writing, and making creations and links like those of Hermann Hesse’s The Glass-Bead Game would be key to my psychic spy methods. Hell, if I wanted to incorporate a view of the Force into it, I could just get it to relate to the old Theory of Ether that used to define reality in one Western perspective. I would go for a bit of a variant of Chaos Magick in that eclectic approach. There is something noble in harnessing the power of the Wind Mill, of air, of breath, of belief during a time of darkness and uncertainty. And I think Inspiration or bonus points should be awarded to the silliness implementation of those concepts in those game ideas if they ever happen, because what is more sublime than laughing at one’s self while accepting the validity of the actions that lead to that laughter? What is funnier than belief? What more is worth feeling something about? What more is worth fighting for? 

It’s great to be here again, if only for a little while. Take care everyone.