In Rambo: First Blood - the first, definitive Rambo movie - we see how Anglo-American society relates to men – especially white, working class men. In the first first scenes, Vietnam veteran John Rambo is seen approaching a small town.
From the first, Rambo is made to feel unwelcome by the town’s Police Chief. Soon, he is imprisoned and savagely beaten for virtually no reason and, after a daring escape, hunted down by the authorities like an animal.
If these themes were mere fantasy, they would not have stroked the deep chord they obviously did. Throughout the Anglo-American world, John Rambo became an instant, sympathetic archetype for working class, disenfranchised males. Though expressing a distinctly American experience, Rambo's impact was universal.
Rambo immediately became a mythopoietic icon of Anglo-American culture because he summates post-feminist male experience. His utter rejection by society expresses the offhand vilification of the Anglo-American male. Rambo is a fallen war hero: someone who is ‘pulled out of the hat’ when his martial valour is needed, then vilified when his immediate utility is exhausted. This ‘redundant workhorse’ syndrome characterises Anglo-American attitudes to men in general. Unwelcome in the normal course of things, men are tolerated only as a necessary evil occasionally needed as expendable cannon fodder. Moreover, the offhand contempt and even hatred aimed at Rambo by the institutions of social authority (Courts, the Police and politicians) perfectly illustrates Anglo-American attitudes to men.
The events in Rambo coincided with the Hungerford massacre in the UK, wherein a sexually, economically and socially disenfranchised male called Michael Ryan stalked the streets of an idyllic English village, shooting sixteen people down with a variety of firearms before blowing his own head off in the secondary school he had attended as a boy.
Predictably, media hacks and apologetic psychologists argued that Rambo had directly inspired the massacre. However, it is far more plausible that the movie provided an imago of identification for festering resentments that already existed in Ryan’s psyche, legitimating his grievances and easing any last inhibition to their violent expiation. Most discussion focussed narrowly on the space between Ryan’s ears, omitting the all-important post-feminist factors that might lead an Anglo-American working class male to such behaviour: sexual disenfranchisement; economic exclusion; constant vilification in the media; discrimination before the law. All of these themes are addressed in Rambo, which explains the character’s iconic power and resonance.
It is fallacious to consider myth as a dead, ossified cultural construct. Mythic narratives emerge continually from the cultural nexus. Indeed, the contemporary era must be considered especially rich in myth, since the electronic media and the Internet are ubiquitous conceptual oceans across which symbols and narratives collide with unprecedented fecundity. We live in a culture abounding with legendary riches. And John Rambo is one of the most resonant archetypal characters to have emerged in recent years: his plight highlights the ‘male crisis’ currently afflicting men across the Anglosphere.