posted and written by Caroline Picard

While sitting around a table last night I learned that Adrian Balboa has a real burial plot at the Laurel Hill Cemetary. It blows my mind–particularly when it’s in a cemetary with other, ‘real’ dead people and particulary when Adrian’s shows no distinction, i.e. that her death would be fictional, as compared to the surrounding others. Instead the existence of her headstone hypothesizes that the death of a fictional character is as legitimate as the death of any other person. And of course any number of jokes could be made (vying for the rights of such marginalized and culturally diminished characters as Popeye, or Allen Bauer (Splash), or arguing that Pessoa’s heteronyms are as independently vital as anyone else, perhaps deserving to vote etc), yet at the same time it says something, I think, about the culture we live in, Adrian’s character and Philadelphia. Or more importantly, who Rocky speaks to.

In the latter aspects–her character and her audience, she probably gets more visitors than any number of the other graves–in other words, it’s likely that the Laurel Hill Cemetary would get more visitors (and possibly income?) because of her, and therefore it would be in their best interest to play along, so to speak.

And Rocky has always been a point of pride for Philadelphians. Sylvestor Stallone had a life-size model of himself (as Rocky) fashioned from bronze. He donated this to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to be installed at the top of their stairs–they tried to refuse it, South Philly took it and set up the stature in football stadium, there was much outcry, the museum relented and put the statue at the base of the stairs by way of compromise. Meanwhile, people are running up and down those stairs all hours of the day, whether to excercise (as Rocky did), or as tourists to pretend to be him. And why not, he’s the one that wasn’t supposed to be famous, the one who had been overlooked most of his life, a child of circumstance, talented but generally going nowhere (except by a fluke intervention of chance).

So. It makes sense that people would identify with Rocky. It would make sense that they’d identify with Adrian as another kind of hero–after all, Cambden is right across the river. A town where 44% of the city’s residents live in poverty, the highest rate in the nation. As of 2006 the median household income was of $18,007. A few years ago, Cambden closed the public library and opened a prison! Its shocking, especially when one imagines the history of this part of the country, its roots of decadence and colonialism. So again, no wonder Rocky is a hero. (His posters still litter the streets of the Italian Market–purchasable at any number of establishments, most of which otherwise sell food and sundry goods).

Ok. But. As far as how it relates to our culture, this for me is the most interesting point. I feel like something profound happens when a culture is moved to perform burial rites for a character. It says as much about the importance of said character as it does the meaning of death to the culture. It is as though death itself is treated as a kind of fiction or surface, one unequivocally significant to ideas as to material. Or, in another way, to the surface of a person (i.e. the role Talia Shire played) as it would Talia Shire. While that might seem to legitimize the surface in one sense, it undermines the idea of an authentic self.

Similarly, when Michael Jackson died there were all kinds of rumors that his death was a hoax–a celebrity stunt for publicity, where, like Elvis, any number of sigtings would ensue until he eventually put out another album and went on tour to throngs of disbelieving fans. Here again, there was an element of disbelief around death. The idea of celebrity (and capital) seemed almost to rise above and against death. In such a way that, had Michael Jackson survived (looking peculiar but ageless) our cultural experience of death would have changed drastically.

I think about this stuff because I can’t help feeling like death and mortality are two primary and fundamental extenuating circumstances that afflict and inspire humanity–defining the way we see ourselves and define ourselves in the world. While such a view is as tenable as the application of any other critical view (i.e. feminist theory, marxist theory, etc), it highlights such instances as these. Which is always pretty exciting.