On Wednesday morning, two world leaders reached out to the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel shared a clip of a speech on the meaning of freedom in the digital era. US President Donald Trump shared a picture of his head grafted onto the bare body of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa. Merkel’s communication was meaningful, while Trump’s was perplexing, except to his following, who would get the semiotic instantly.
Having failed to convince the world that he is doing enough about the Russians, with this image — doctored for the age of fake news — Trump has entered the lists in the war of chests, washtub abs and all. Avid outdoorsman Putin, who has bared it proudly in several photo shoots, is his most celebrated competitor. But there are others. In a world that seeks strongmen, there will be more.
Trump has a bipolar relationship with movie boxers. Earlier, he had accused his critic, Robert de Niro, of being concussed from acting in too many boxing movies, starting with Raging Bull. Now, he has chosen to merge with Stallone. But this is politically clever, because Rocky Balboa, played by Stallone, is one of the most inspirational speakers ever, and his quotes are still as current as Chuck Norris facts. A popular example: “It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” That was a harangue to his son. Balboa was harder on himself: “I gotta problem I gotta fight!” For a populace bamboozled by fake news and MAGA-ness, such clarity and sense of purpose is the universal nostrum. Even Putin would approve, though he wouldn’t dream of taking it on the chest. Being intelligent, he would sidestep.