Punch Drunk?

The media jab Clinton's metaphor

Since it was the news of the day yesterday, you’ve probably heard by now about Hillary Clinton’s comparison of herself to…Rocky Balboa. Speaking at a meeting of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO yesterday morning, Clinton defended rocking the vote by, well, Rocky-ing the vote: “When it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit. I never give up. And neither do the American people.”

“Perhaps the analogy was inevitable,” the AP wrote. Perhaps it was. Clinton was in Philadelphia, after all, and Rocky is the city’s most famous export save Ben Franklin and the cheese steak. And he does embody the “fighter” spirit with which Clinton is branding herself. But analogies make double-edged swords: they can either work in a candidate’s favor, elevating him or her with the buoyancy of nostalgia (Obama/JFK)—or they can fetter a candidate with the weight of sour memories (Obama/Carter). Either way, though, they tend to stick. But Clinton was trying to control her own metaphor—to paint herself as the fictional hero who, when she gets knocked down, gets up again (you ain’t never gonna keep her down!). And the media generally didn’t buy the Balboanalogy. Instead, they mocked it.

“No, Hillary, You’re Creed, Not Rocky. That’s Your Problem,” the Huffington Post’s Linda Keenan wrote. The New York Post made classically good use of its Facility with Photoshop to mock the comparison. Slate’s Chris Beam pointed out the unflattering similarities between Rocky’s psyche and Clinton’s:

He doesn’t care if he wins—he only wants to prove that he can survive the onslaught and do some damage in the process. He keeps on fighting for himself, his fans, and his country. Even his closest advisers couldn’t convince him to get out of the ring.

Even Ted Genoways, the esteemed editor of The Virginia Quarterly, got in on the action:

Okay, laying aside the fact that this reference is thirty years outdated, it’s a very strange comparison to make. First, did Clinton see Rocky? Yes, Rocky fights bravely to the end—before he loses. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to rally the crowd.

But, stranger still, Sylvester Stallone—you know, the star and writer of Rocky—has already endorsed McCain.

Regardless of what you think of the Rocky analogy, we’d point out that, at this down-but-not-out stage in the game, “rocky” might not be a word the Clinton camp would want to be associating with itself. But will Clinton throw in the towel? Will she need to? We’ll find out soon enough; for better or for worse, our seats are all ringside.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.