Socialist Worker

Rambo is a big, lumbering metaphor for US imperialism

by Steven Podovsky
Issue No. 2090

Rambo and an unfortunate foreigner

Rambo and an unfortunate foreigner

US imperialism is in trouble and, as Gil Scott Heron once said, “John Wayne is no longer available”, so enter Sylvester Stallone with Rambo’s fourth slaughter-filled outing.

John Rambo has always been a transparent symbol for the state of US imperialism.

When Rambo appeared in First Blood in 1982 it was about the trauma of the returning Vietnam veteran adrift in the US.

Oddly it was also an almost watchable B-movie about a guerrilla humiliating a larger power that doesn’t comprehend the fight it’s in.

The war had come home and not all the ghosts were exorcised. Those responsible for creating this Frankenstein’s monster are the enemy. Rambo’s friend was killed by US napalm and it is the cops that beat him up.

The trauma of the Vietnamese is ignored – they only appear as torturers in flashbacks. Rambo only reluctantly kills one person.

The second movie saw Rambo recreating and popularising one of the myths of the US right as he went back into Vietnam to rescue prisoners. This time the US wins.

Ronald Reagan took Rambo to heart joking at the end of one hostage crisis that, “After seeing Rambo last night, I know what to do the next time this happens.”

Rambo III saw Rambo fight alongside the Islamists in Afghanistan. After purging the Vietnam syndrome, Rambo was freed up to get the Russians.

Of course, the problem was that he needed what became the Taliban to beat the Russians. When the Cold War ended, Rambo movies decayed into a memory of 1980s kitsch.

But now he’s back. “Iraq” does not appear in the movie. Neither do Rambo’s and the US’s former allies in Afghanistan. Instead the action takes place in Burma, where government soldiers have done bad things to Christian missionaries.

The distressed damsel is pure, kind, blonde and white while the Asians are victims or savages and they mostly end up dead.

Rambo is half Native American, which has the double use of deflecting criticism of racism and at the same time enables the disturbing “wildness” of the all-American hero to be blamed on his barbarian non-whiteness.

Rambo’s rise and fall was about the US right reclaiming the ideological ground lost in the 1970s.

That remains true today. Rambo is inarticulate, aging and musclebound, with too many weapons and killing too many people. Just like US imperialism and as about as unpleasant to watch.

Directed by Sylvester Stallone
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Article information

Tue 26 Feb 2008, 18:57 GMT
Issue No. 2090
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