Rocky/Ramboism endures on TV.

A paradox is emerging. On the one hand, we have the so-called spirit of Geneva, the recent encouraging summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev against a background of generally improved communications between the two superpowers.

On the other hand, we have the box-office-hot, media-grabbing spirit of Sylvester Stallone, personified by his movie super-patriots: the Commie-killing Rambo and the Commie-kayoing Rocky.

Vietnam War vet Rambo gave those Indochina Commies the comeuppance they didn't get from the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. And now there is the appallingly violent, stereotyped, cliched and appallingly written, performed and directed "Rocky IV."

This time Stallone sets up a metaphorical West-East clash between his flag-waving heavyweight Rocky Balboa and a sneering, steroid-powered, dirty-fighting Soviet monster who can destroy with a single punch.

Rambo refought only the Vietnam War, but Rocky goes a step further, refighting the entire Cold War to the jingoistic hurrahs of packed houses everywhere.

Prediction: There will be a "Rocky V," in which Rocky is elected to the U.S. Senate against a Commie-appeasing pinko liberal. And in "Rocky VI," he is elected President, leading to a blood-pumping finale that has him kayoing the entire Soviet Union with a punch of the nuclear button.

Well, if jingo bells play in the movies, why not on TV?

We already have a slew of Soviet-mocking commercials a la stand-up comic Yakov Smirnoff. And now coming at 11:30 p.m. Jan. 4, as part of the third edition of NBC's "Saturday Night's Main Event," a professional wrestling show, is the "U.S.S.R.-U.S.A. Peace Match" between villainous Nikolai Volkoff and patriotic American Cpl. Kirchner "of the 82nd Airborne."

Don't laugh.

The "U.S.S.R.-U.S.A. Peace Match" sounds very much like a comic spinoff from Rocky's bloody movie slugout with the amoral, seemingly indestructible Drago in the Soviet Union. Drago challenges Rocky to a match that he promises will demonstrate Soviet superiority. Volkoff has issued a similar challenge to Cpl. Kirchner, who wears combat fatigues and combat boots and parades around the ring waving an American flag.

Volkoff, as quoted in an NBC press release:

"In the spirit of the Geneva Summit, I am challenging this American warrior to wrestle, using only scientific techniques. It is my hope to show the superiority of the Soviet athlete using only peaceful means as opposed to the Star Wars brutality of Cpl. Kirchner."

Star Wars?

All right. Just like all professional wrestling, this whole charade is a gag, and for all we know, Nikolai Volkoff may in truth be an actor from Brooklyn. Funny or not, though, it's also ignorance-feeding propaganda.

Cpl. Kirchner is the World Wrestling Federation's radical right-winging replacement for charismatic Sgt. Slaughter, who defected to the American Wrestling Assn. and is now defending America's honor against another villainous Soviet, the no-good Boris Zukov.

The Volkoff-Kirchner rivalry has been thoroughly juiced. Volkoff, a 300-pound simpleton who wears a little fur cap on his skin head, refuses to wrestle before singing the Soviet national anthem. While he was singing the anthem before a recent TV match, Cpl. Kirchner answered by waving his flag.

There's "bad blood between them," as the wrestling hype goes.

Though played for laughs, such stereotypes feed a rigid Cold Warring, us-versus-them attitude that may be suicidal in the nuclear age and could lead to a dead end in East-West relations.

It's not that the Soviet Union does not have a deeply sinister side. Of course it has. Yet characters like Volkoff (who appears in person and in cartoon form on the Saturday morning kids' show, "Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling," on CBS) are not spoofs that merely exaggerate reality. They're either outright fabrications or mindless oversimplifications that falsely portray a complex world without shadings or gradations.

There are Volkoff replicas on the competing National Wrestling Alliance circuit in Nikita and Ivan Koloff and their so-called cousin, Crusher Khrushchev--all comic villains, all unethical.

I asked a friend who is a professional wrestling zealot if Volkoff were a dirty wrestler. He eyed me as if I had just alit from Pluto. "Oh, yeah ," he replied. "He's a Russian."

Cpl. Kirchner prefers to wrestle cleanly, of course.

If tradition is served, meanwhile, there is probably an excellent chance that at some point during the "U.S.S.R.-U.S.A. Peace Match," Volkoff's pal, the infamous Iron Sheik (another of those "evil Arabs"), will sneak up and hit Cpl. Kirchner over the head with a chair.

The spirits of Geneva and Stallone collide.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World