The Year of the Forsaken

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, in the first film of the popular saga (Cinema Image)
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, in the first film of the popular saga (Cinema Image)

rocky he has always been a good fighter. He hits like hell and he’s never had his nose broken. The problem is that he has never had a breather. He lives in a hovel and rarely takes off his cut-out gloves. But lightning strikes and Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world, gives him a title shot. “This time”, says the usurer who employs rocky as collector,luck may be on your side”.

We are the Rocky of this World Cup“, said Walid Regraguifootball coach Morocco, invoking the saint of the helpless at the end of what has been the year of the helpless. His team was not the only one that surprised in the tournament. Saudi Arabia beat Argentina; Japan a Germany. But the intrepid Moroccans were the kings of the underdogs, beating the Belgians, Spanish and Portuguese, three of the favourites, to become the first Arab and African team to reach a semi-final. (In the stands, some Iranian fans, helpless in a declining nation, booed their country’s anthem and wept.)

Morocco demonstrated an essential truth of the modest: they can win even when, technically, they lose, as the Spartans did in the thermopylae and the Finns against the Soviets in the “winter war”. rocky loses on points against believebut he proves to himself, and to the world, that he is more than just “another bum from the neighborhood”. If you haven’t seen it yet, look for the clip of Sofiane Boufal, Moroccan midfielder, dancing with his mother on the pitch. It is the dance of a champion.

The fictional underdogs haunted two of their usual on-screen environments in 2022. One was the workplace. In “severance”, some office workers were struggling to break free from a dark dystopian company. “Slow Horses” portrayed a group of veteran spies, sunk but not quite. In “the white lotus”, American tourists with more money and libido than common sense were being rinsed by a couple of Sicilian prostitutes. In “sadness triangle”, meanwhile, the sinking of a superyacht turned a minion with survival skills into a lord.

The other helpless habitat -as always and everywhere- was the family. “bad sisters” featured a battered wife and her officious brothers. The musical adaptation ofMatilda”, the revenge fantasy of Roald Dahlwill be released soon in Netflix. It is true that Matilda he has magical powers that most underdogs lack. But it is also a classic product of what psychologists have called “desirable difficulties”.

Based on this idea, Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his bookDavid and Goliat” how the difficulties of childhood can sometimes fuel resilience and resourcefulness, leading to Matildas of the world to outperform their gifted peers who “inherited an excessive amount of psychological health”. The underdog, observe Gladwell, you can feel liberated that you have nothing to lose. “Really do not care“, He says rocky about his expected beating. “Before I was nobody”.

It’s not just the ride from the bottom up, wilder and more exhilarating than the shorter climbs, that makes these stories so exciting. Underdog heroes and heroines are not limited to overcoming obstacles or defeating adversaries. The best and most soulful beat out a whole rotten system. They hold out the hope that force – or reputation, power and influence – will not always prevail; that even if the rules are rigged, the game can still be won. They suggest that life is not predetermined. Create your own destiny.

The amazing 2022 feat involved an actor, but he wasn’t acting. Volodymyr Zelensky confronted a nuclear invader with the camera of a smartphonerhetoric and guts. Ukrainian civilians lay down in the path of Russian tanks. In his book Gladwell argues that even though he brags like a wrestling villain, it was always likely that the burly Goliath lose to a nimble shepherd, equipped with a sling and those five smooth stones. Unconventional tactics, he notes, often trump heavy weapons.. Similarly, in ten months of war, the guts and inventiveness of Ukraine they have come to seem like formidable assets.

But the contest looked much less even when Russian forces crossed the border in February. The losers’ resistance songs became the soundtrack of the year: a rendition of “let it go” for Amelia Anisovychaged seven, in a bomb shelter in kyiv; Andriy Khlyvnyuka Ukrainian rock star, dressed in uniform and singing “Chervona Kalyna” (“Red viburnum”), a hymn of defiance, in front of the Cathedral of hagia sophia.

In other words: in the end, the loan shark is wrong about Rocky. His story is not about luck, but about justice. The most inspiring underdogs get only what they deserve. They just needed a breather.

© 2022, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.

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