The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Another round with Rocky

If you want a good peek at how creative process works, take a gander at ROCKY BALBOA, which I just saw again on DVD. It’s almost a textbook example of how to take the pains and trials of life and use it as fodder. If you research Stallone’s life even a little bit, you’ll notice stuff having to do with his age, his relationships, his career, his attitudes toward success and failure…it’s all over the place. I’ve rarely seen a movie where the filmmaker wore his heart more on his sleeve. He was obviously desperate for redemption after Rocky IV and V. And he seems to have done it. My guess is that if the new Rambo does well, he’ll do more of them. Fine. But let Rocky sleep.
It’s interesting how the discussion of race in film, and especially sexuality, causes a real blip. Television is often mentioned as a place where black men can have sex (gee! TV is made by the same town that makes the movies. Whatever is going on ain’t the sole problem of Hollywood, trust me.) My guess is that it DOES drop the ratings, but I have no way of crunching those numbers. What I CAN say about television is that there was no DRAMATIC hour-long series that was ever successful (lasted more than two seasons) with a non-white LEAD (the person whose name comes first in the title) until Avery Brooks in Deep Space Nine. It had been tried multiple times. Finally stuck there. Let’s see now…at 10% of the population, you’d think that blacks might be, what, 5% of the leads in successful dramas? Otherwise, you’re certainly suggesting an inhibitory mechanism of some kind. Either Hollywood won’t make ‘em, America won’t watch ‘em, or blacks just can’t act well enough to carry a show. There may be a fourth answer, but I don’t know what it is.

I’m obsessed with starting any analysis from the position of “it’s all roughly equal.” So I go with the Universal Disconnect theory.
Mike Frank and I were talking at Larry Niven’s New Years party, and he asked whether it was racist to make a negative comment about a group if the comment was true. I said “yep.” By definition, a comment ascribing value based upon race is a racist comment. Doesn’t make it wrong. Doesn’t make the speaker a bad person (necessarily). But it is most certainly racist. I know people who have such attitudes about major racial and ethnic and religious groups…and who are still good people. But yeah, racist.
New Years Goals are here. I’m still in crush mode on SHADOW VALLEY, so I haven’t put a huge amount of thought into it. I will. I know I want to spend more time with my family (especially Nicki), to read more, and to write the third “Lion’s Blood” book, as well as rehabilitate my career in Hollywood. I want to take my martial arts training to the next level…but first I have to clearly define for myself exactly what that means. But once I have my goals, I’ll need to be able to visualize their end point, to be certain that my values, beliefs, and positive/negative emotional charges all align to support it. That’s the “Time Line” approach to goal setting taught by Tad James. Good stuff.
And the rope jumping is really fun. Because it relates to so many qualities of fitness at the same time, I can look at it as another window into my overall body/mind. And right now, what it shows is that I’m under serious stress, and need to chill a bit. Hard when you’re under a deadline. But…what the heck. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid rope jumping
is OUT
for those of us
with significant sized boobs . . .

even wearing double
really good
running bras

oh well


Steven Barnes said...

Yeah. Understand---but walking is probably the overall best exercise for health, anyway!

Anonymous said...

"Mike Frank and I were talking at Larry Niven’s New Years party, and he asked whether it was racist to make a negative comment about a group if the comment was true. I said 'yep.' By definition, a comment ascribing value based upon race is a racist comment."

As far as I have ever been able to tell, from roughly 40 years of hearing and reading how actual human beings use the English language, that is not how 99% of the English-speaking population on planet Earth understands "racist": they interpret it to mean "indicative of a viewpoint that unjustly demeans one or more racial groups." For almost any normal person using the word "racist", "racist truths" are an oxymoron.

I'm afraid that your definition of "racist" is technically correct, but also deeply misleading in any sort of real-world situation outside of the pages of a dictionary.

Note: I'll drop that criticism on the very first day that I see anybody at all in the entire public world of English-speaking political or social discourse actually say, out loud, that "racist truths" can actually describe a non-null set. But I'm not holding my breath on that reality-check -- and I doubt you are either.

--Erich Schwarz

Steven Barnes said...

A agree, Erich. That's where the whole "Political correctness"thing comes in. I guess I feel there are perfectly good people with negative views of other racial groups. I've had to look at the world that way, or else despise an awful lot of people.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

"Generalization is flawed thinking only when it is applied to individuals. It
is the most accurate way to describe the mass, the Wad. And America is a
democracy, a dictatorship of the Wad."
-- Trevanian: Shibumi

Any meaningful statement about any group has exceptions and qualifications, but you can still make meaningful descriptions of groups.

I disagree with your usage of "racist." By this standard, a person who says "children are young" is an ageist, a person who says "women are not men" is sexist, and so on. It's a distortion of an entire class of words to no useful purpose.

That jump rope is kicking my ass, but I do love it.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

And please, Mr. Stallone, let Rocky go. I recently rewatched Rocky I, 2, and 6 -- you could put those 3 movies in a box, pretend 3, 4 and 5 never happened, and put the boxed set on the shelf next to the "Godfather" trilogy, and apologize to no one.

Lis Riba said...

What I CAN say about television is that there was no DRAMATIC hour-long series that was ever successful (lasted more than two seasons) with a non-white LEAD (the person whose name comes first in the title) until Avery Brooks in Deep Space Nine.

I didn't know that. I remember hearing that Star Trek (original) was responsible for the first interracial kiss on network television. [Though Snopes mentions something a few years earlier on British television.]
Is it easier to slip these things thru on SF?

Steven Barnes said...


Saying "Children are young" wouldn't be ageist. Saying "Young people aren't as smart as older people" or "young people aren't as responsible as older people" WOULD be, because you are attaching a value judgement. Saying "children are shorter than older people" might be ageist if there is a value attached to height. Talking about race and intelligence, for instance, is "racist" because you are ascribing value based upon skin color. If intelligence weren't so highly regarded, I wouldn't use the term "racist"--it would just be an opinion/observation on the level of "Asians have straight hair." If you add "and straight hair is ugly" the comment becomes pejorative, and I think it's fair to consider it racist.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

If telling the truth now qualifies as racism we're all in trouble. For example: black on white violence is much more common than white on black violence. This is a values-neutral statement of fact; we can drill down into the historical and socioeconomic reasons why this is true, but it's still true when you get done.

I do appreciate your feelings on the blacks intelligence thing -- I've only ever heard it from white conservatives, and I don't doubt they're telling the truth as they understand it, and it's racism. But that's because they're operating on insufficient information (in the best case) and letting their desires inform their conclusions.

One of my sons was having trouble at school recently. I reminded him he was descended from a long line of the most murderous blue-eyed bastards the world's ever seen (and then taught him how to punch for the nose). Is it racist of me to observe that my son's ancestors include berserker murderers? Would it be racist if someone not white did it?

Steven Barnes said...


remember that I'm using a denotative definition, not the connotative "you're a bad person if you say this" definition. Can a person tell the truth as they see it and make a racist comment? I'd guess that the MAJORITY of racist comments are made by people who "mean it." To say "you're descended from a line of blue-eyed murderous bastards..." isn't racist even by my definitions. Saying "the most" shades there, but in no negative way. One must consider intent. Saying "Group X (not my group) is a bunch of murderous bastards..." is getting worse. Now, if you said that affectionately (as if you were their commander in war time) makes it a positive statement, but still "racist." The problem here is that we've been programmed to consider ANY racist statement as a negative. This happened because people used such comments to denigrate and insult with impunity. While it may be limiting to consider the strictures, it is still preferable (in my mind) to the alternative, which would be those with the power having the ability to say any damn thing they want about what they consider the "lesser breeds." It's a problem, but in my mind, the lesser problem.

Mike R said...

Just wanted Rocky Balboa last night - damn good movie and it really touched me. I'm going to be turning 30 soon, and growing older is _just_ starting to get real for me. 30 isn't old by any stretch, but it's different from 20 too. That speech where Rocky says that life can always punch you harder really rang for me, because even if you are very lucky and live a long and happy life you will still grow old and weak.

I'm curious, did you watch any of the extras? I saw the Alternate ending where Rocky won the decision and am really glad they didn't go with that one - just too much.

I'm listening to Sly's commentary track now, and it's pretty interesting. This and his answering of questions over at Ain't it Cool News has really made me think that the guy is a good person.

You know, I was in Philly about two years ago, and now I really regret not making time to go run up the steps and doing the Rocky thing. Ah well.