Here’s an old joke my Dad used to tell me:
On his first night in prison, a man is lying in his cell, trying to sleep. He hears someone shout out “14!” The place erupts into laughter. It dies down and someone else shouts “22!” Again, gales of laughter.
The man is confused. He asks his cellmate: why do you all find numbers so funny? His cellmate replies that everyone’s been in here so long, they know all the jokes. To save time, they numbered them. Any time someone wants to tell a joke, they just say the number and everyone knows what the punchline is!
The man thinks this is a very clever idea and decides to try it out himself. He waits till the laughter from the latest joke calms down and shouts out “8!”
No-one laughs. The place is deathly silent.
The man turns to his cellmate. “Why didn’t they laugh?”
“Well kid,” he says, “some guys can tell ’em and some guys can’t.”
This was supposed to lead into a bit about cultural references, memetics and that episode of Star Trek where they go to a planet of nerds who can only communicate by quoting their favourite stories. I got sidetracked when I decided to see who else had written out this joke. Was it different from mine? I was probably last told this joke 10 years ago. I must’ve messed up some of the details.
Google suggested “prison number joke” and I pulled up the first result. Here’s how they worded it:
A man is sent to prison for the first time. At night, the lights in the cell block are turned off, and his cellmate goes over to the bars and yells, “Number twelve!” The whole cell block breaks out laughing. A few minutes later, somebody else in the cell block yells, “Number four!” Again, the whole cell bloock breaks out laughing.
The new guy asks his cellmate what’s going on. “Well,” says the older prisoner, “we’ve all been in this here prison for so long, we all know the same jokes. So we just yell out the number instead of saying the whole joke.”
So the new guy walks up to the bars and yells, “Number six!” There was dead silence in the cell block. He asks the older prisoner, “What’s wrong? Why didn’t I get any laughs?”
“Well,” said the older man, “sometimes it’s not the joke, but how you tell it.”
Their punchline is better, but isn’t that curious? Considering the circumstances, it’s surprisingly similar. Speech has power, even when translated to another medium, and especially when used to communicate cultural packets. I may not have finished those thoughts about memetics and Star Trek, but I think this joke gets the point across about as well as I could.
I just finished Mad Men, and I’m going to miss it so much.
I’m going to miss it because it’s a show about people who believe no-one loves them. And I believe only one person loves me and accepts me for who I am. That’s a lot more than most people have and I’m grateful, but generally I feel like people tolerate me at best. I know that’s irrational, and I know there might be a whole bunch of people who disagree. Thank you for that, truly. But it doesn’t change how my mind works. It’s just how I’m wired, I can’t help it. I’m trying to deal with it.
I’m generally not loved, and generally no-one likes me because I don’t say the things I’m supposed to say in order to be likeable. Mad Men made me feel like that’s normal. And now it’s gone and I don’t know what to do.
Bye Don and Peggy and Joan and Roger and Pete and Betty. Even Meredith. Thanks for the trip. Thanks for making me feel like I wasn’t a total fucking weirdo for not fitting in. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you like hell.
Rocky, right? You know what I’m talking about.
I’ll watch Rocky movies until the day I die. They’re practically a part of my DNA at this point. Stallone could make a Rocky movie about Alzheimer’s and I’d watch it. Me and my brother adored those movies. A couple of downtrodden kids finding inspiration from their heroes. I even thought Rocky VI was pretty good. I’m pretty sure David and I could entertain ourselves indefinitely watching Rocky films.
But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider anything past the first film pure cash-grabbing fluff. Thanks to the sequels, Rocky’s a joke. He’s from a neolithic time where men solved their problems by punching them.
Here’s a quick factgasm for you: did you know Rocky was shot in 28 days on a small budget? Did you know it was an independent film? Did you know it won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing? That’s a recipe for modern cult cinema critical stardom, but due to the myriad sequels’ myriad failures, it’s been consigned to the bin of “movies meatheads enjoy unironically”. Because it’s got, you know, training montages. And fights with oiled up beefcakes. Stuff guys like. Rocky IV has no less than 4 montages, including one where they collect clips of things that happened only ten minutes ago. That’s the hallmark of the Rocky series… but it’s not Rocky.
Rocky is a moody character study. It’s not about boxing in the slightest. It’s about the bullshit you have to put up with every fucking day and believing that in spite of whatever petty nonsense the world throws at you, you’re worth something. Saying Rocky is about boxing is like saying The Life Aquatic is about the ocean. The woman I respect the most in this world considers Rocky II to be the pinnacle of the series because “you get to know the characters more”. This is something on which I will not bend. Rocky II essentially ruined the character, because he wins in the end, and Rocky’s not meant to win. Rocky’s meant to be shit.
Just look at him in that final climactic scene. He’s not really fighting at all, he’s just standing there, taking all the punishment the world has ever delivered to him. Who cares if the champion is punching the shit out of you? It’s easier than having to put up with everyday life. Apollo Creed, by Rocky’s own admission, is the best boxer in the world. He’s smart, he’s funny (god damn he’s hilarious) and he’s the best athlete in his field. But Rocky never sees him as a giant to slay. Rocky doesn’t have to win, he just has to prove to himself and everyone else that he’s not just some bum. He may not compare to the world’s greatest, he may not be able to fight back – but at least he doesn’t have to fall down.
There’s a beautiful moment in that scene. Rocky is practically useless and hits the mat. Mickey, the old cynic, tells him “Down! Down! Stay down!” He doesn’t want Rocky to get hurt. Adrian sees the man she loves flailing about, barely able to lift his gloves. She doesn’t see someone taking a stand against the cruelty of life – she sees someone taking a beating, and she can’t watch.
They’re both right. It’s a very romantic way to look at having the shit pummelled out of you by someone who’s better than you in every way. But, god damn it, can’t we all relate to picking yourself up? To not giving in?
Rocky hits me in a very primal, human way. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider, like all you had to hold on to was your sense of self, try giving the first film in a much-maligned series another shot. You might be surprised by how touching it is.