Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rambo = Che Guevara + Christ?!?

In the finals days of '07, Bostodelphia joined a blogosphere noting the recent poster campaign advertising the upcoming Rambo movie's, how shall we say, iconographically loaded depiction of the title character. In a recent comment, Nick Rucka over at Maboroshii Productions, nails down for us the similarity between this "spraypaint stencil" of Rambo's visage and the mass disseminated silkscreen renditions of Che Guevara's likeness as photographed by Alberto Korda. We've tagged a few other entries noting the correlation as well; and noted that the Playstation 3 community's icon literarcy may be limited to Solid Snake (that Rambo's bandanna warrior look predates Solid Snake's is a fact the Playstationeers will have have to come to terms with on their own).

Turns out the uncanny resemblance is in fact not cosmic coincidence, but intentional marketing strategy. Yesterday's New York Times ran "Tough Guys for Tough Times" by Fashion and Style writer Alex Williams. In a survey of the "return" of a number of 80s macho icons to the pop cultural radar, Williams got in touch with Tim Palen, co-president for theatrical marketing at Lionsgate, Rambo's studio. Regarding advertising Rambo in general as well as what we called the "Che Rambo" ad, Palen was quoted with the following (note this may not be a verbatim quote of words in sequence, as it's coalation of two quotes in Williams' article. Bold text added by Bostodelphia for emphasis):

Stallone and Rambo are huge, iconic images already. It’s really kind of holy territory, especially when it comes to young males, and males in general. ... We called [the ad] Che Guevara crossed with Jesus Christ by way of Andy Warhol. In a way, he’s all of those.
So not only do we get an acknowledgment of the speculated Guevara vibe as intentional, but also the marketers were going for a "Jesus thing" with this. Admittedly, now that Christ has been put on the table, I can see a possible resemblance between Stallone's crags and the faded face of the Shroud of Turin.

Over at Nick's Maboroshii post, someone commented about the return of "great white hope" saving other whites from "the savages", and I think Williams' article picks up on that too, though doesn't push the notion very aggressively. Another commenter drew a comparison between this ad and the works of Bansky. I don't know, I think the Bansky analogy is a little sophomoric. Frankly, I'm tired of every instance of "subversive" appearing art, particularly commercial art, being compared to him. Often they're bad comparison, and dilute the points of Bansky's work.

In a nutshell Bansky is broadly counter-cultural and often specifically counter-commercial. His work is to disrupt, interrupt, if not outright obstruct cultural commerce, be that commerce a visit to a "cultural institution" like a museum or buying the Paris Hilton's album at FYE. In other words, when engaging in "culture", Bansky's trying to give you "second thoughts" on the ideology that engagement participates within, perhaps ultimately dissuading you from further engagement.

This Rambo ad is not there to give us pause, and certainly not dissuade us, from buying tickets to the carnage show. Rather, if anything, this ad campaign is counter-Bansky, or rather counter "culture jamming". Whether it's simply acknowledged as cleverness or bombarded by "OMG WTF!" the Rambo ad does penetrate a market that would likely otherwise see itself as too sophisticated or cool for Rambo. That is, the ad does give it some ironic cred, so the ironic cred crowd can glom onto it, at least that market that spends a lot time trying to come up with new feats for Chuck Norris to brag about. Simultaneously, the ad also appeals to a market segment that does indeed see Rambo as some sort of great mythic figure in some sort of jingoistic American pantheon. Bansky wants to challenge audiences into awareness. This ad doesn't care about your awareness or not, it just wants you to buy a ticket.

While eye-catching, I don't know if this simultaneous appeal to its "literal base" and "arch" audiences is entirely new. I'd say professional wrestling has been doing this for at least a decade now.

1 comment:

Nicholas Rucka said...


Thanks for stopping by the Maboroshii blog. I just updated today and mentioned your blog and your post. Thanks too for the head's up on that NYTimes article. I would've missed it otherwise.