Thursday, May 11, 2006

Go the distance

Jocks and artsy types tend to clash. While I consider myself a big sports fan, I often was picked dead-last for sports in elementary school, so I tend to side with the artsy folk when it's one versus the other.

But in Philadelphia, where there's a debate about where to mount a statue of the title character from "Rocky," I have to side with the jocks.

Anyone with any appreciation for pop culture knowledge revels in that image of Rock triumphantly running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sly Stallone, who donated the statue, favors "a prominent location" like the museum, but officials from the museum and the city's art commission are among the most vocal critics because they're worried about the statue's commercial nature and artistic worth, according to ESPN.

"If a film about Donald Duck in Philadelphia comes out, do we put a Donald Duck statue in our park system?" whined the city's park commissioner, clearly missing the point. "Rocky is fine. But other films have relevance, too. Where do we stop?"

We stop at Rocky, of course. Duh.

Does any movie better define the grit and determination of the people of Philadephia? (Well, this movie does that too, but in much more depressing fashion.) The character of Rocky embodies achievement in the face of great adversity, in ways that a cartoon duck has yet to experience. Few non-superhero characters, set in any city, better emblemize this spirit than Rocky.

In addition, whether Philly residents like it or not, when outsiders think of their city, they think of cheesesteaks, "Rocky," recently cursed sports franchises, and Boyz II Men -- probably in that order. And since no one outside of Geno's would want to mount a sculpture of a giant hoagie next to the Ben Franklin Museum (mmm... hoagies), I'm all for the statue that would launch 1 million "Adrieeeeen" imitations from frat boys, grandmothers and toddlers alike.

I'll admit I don't even like boxing or the movie that much. But I know how much of a transformative, motivational power it has on people who live in, and nowhere near, the City of Brotherly Love.

I also admit I have a tough time arguing for the artistic merit of either the statue or boxing. But I think the great irony lost on the artsy folk arguing against the statue is that 1976's Best Picture is art that inspires emotion, passion and adrenaline for Philadelphia Museum of Art visitors, who might otherwise not race to climb the 99 steps and wonder what to do after they catch their breath.

Should we really discourage museum visitors who know more about Mr. T than Toulouse-Lautrec, who fear El Greco more than Ivan Drago? The city must permanently install the statue of Rocky atop the museum steps. There's no better embassador for both art and sport.

Then again, "Rocky VI" hasn't been released yet.