Yesterday being one of those days where one needs to take things slooooow (know what I mean?), I came upon the last half hour of Rocky and the first half hour of Rocky II on AMC, that once-estimable channel. I have gone on record arguing that Rocky IV is a telling crystallization of certain liberal-militarist public sentiment (or hegemony) but I don't recall if I've ever written a word about the other films in the series. (And I didn't see Rocky Balboa.) I don't want to argue in favor of the Rocky movies; I don't think they're underrated. But I do think that the first two movies exhibit some small virtues that were once common in popular film, and are now exceptional.
White ethnicity, that is, working class 'whiteness' that is markedly separate from WASPishness within that larger category, seems to get no play in movies anymore. (I welcome counter-examples: this is my impression, not a categorical claim to fact.) Irish kids from Southie seem to be the rare exceptions; but semi-literate neighborhood wiseguys (Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Greek) trying to make a buck? Puh-leeze. To represent a character like this today, I feel, one would need to forestall him having charisma, and one would try to tie all his intelligence to his literacy. But Rocky is the kind of people marked by slang, local dialect, streetwise ways of not only of communicating to other people, but of conceptualizing one's own relationship to other sentient beings. The scene with the realtor in Rocky II is entertaining for this reason. Of course American English is becoming ever more standardized (but not more beautiful or learned) and we are impoverished for it, though it suits the new business mold and its functions in global commerce, where various Englishes must cohere to aid transactions.
(Let's recall, too, that Andy Rector's blog is called Kino-Slang, and he explains why in one of his very first posts...)
The entire Rocky series is a fairytale but its roots are in the working-class everyday. It's a story about proletarian self-improvement, the kinds of things about which Jacques Rancière sometimes writes. Contrast this with Good Will Hunting, which is also about proletarian self-improvement, but on a much more fantastic level. The scene in the Van Sant film where Matt Damon tells off the ponytailed grad student by overwhelming him with knowledge is pure wish-fulfilment. The janitor-bricklayer asserts himself over the upper/middle-class guy via mastery of the area conventionally held by the latter. Rocky himself jumps into the wealth, too, but it's through a different route: work hard, keep your head down, and if you get lucky, you get lucky. Will Hunting, in the Clinton '90s, first holds a job where he cleans floors at MIT—of all the places to clean—and then when he quits it, he can work construction. Bills aren't a problem. Rocky Balboa, on the other hand, aspires to a desk job (and its concomitant financial security) which he can't get, and must beg around for menial labor in the recession '70s. He gets a job hauling beef and promptly loses it for reasons of budget. Choices are made, in Rocky and Rocky II, on the basis of a dream, sure, but also in light of setting food on the table; the latter in the contemporary-liberal "working class" Hollywood fantasy is more likely to be excised from the picture, replaced with pap about realizing one's true potential, etc.
One more thing: the scene in Rocky II where Rocky's got to read off of cue cards while he's filming an ad for aftershave. "It—makes—me—smeel mainly." When he's chastised for misreading, Rocky yos his way into a defense: 'Does this stuff smell manly to you? In my opinion it doesn't smell very manly.' This is something vestigial, and something which I feel like I never see in commercial movies these days (and perhaps not in culture more generally, as refuge from billboards and big box stores is, in America, the privilege of the rich only): working-class incredulity towards advertisements and commercialism. This is different from the middle-class activism against these things, which is often couched in terms of renunciation of an omnipresent vermin on our quotidian existence, a blight on the life we deserve. Working-class incredulity comes from the perspective of the little guy knowing full well he's on the losing end of a rigged con; it's more pessimistic, maybe defeatist, but has a harder core because it's not necessarily a "political" cause.