Word has it that commentator Glenn Beck has taken on the WWE, feeling that an upcoming bout is an insult to the Tea Party. Apparently, one Wrestlemania duel will be between the aristocratic Mexican, Alberto Del Rio, and Jack Swagger, “The American American.” Swagger’s current line is that he wants all immigrants to go home and defeating Del Rio is one step in ridding the U.S. of such undesirables. In Beck’s view, the WWE should stay out of politics and not offend his audience by attaching the Tea Party to such a racist position.
Ay, ay, ay. Where to begin?
First, Glenn, courtesy of my wrestling-loving in-laws, I have a short history lesson for you. Once upon a time, they tell me, the WWE was the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation. During the 1980s, their shining star was Hulk Hogan. Hogan carried an American flag when he came to the ring as his theme song played, “I am a real American/ I fight for the rights of every man.” He wasn’t the only hero wrapped in patriotism. The alleged former Marine, Sergeant Slaughter, came to the ring as the “Marines’ Hymn” played. His archenemy was the Iron Sheik, an American-hating Iranian. Not only did these two represent that geopolitical conflict, the Sheik’s tag team partner was Nikolai Volkoff. During the Reagan era, Volkoff came to the ring carrying the Russian flag and forced audiences to listen to his rendition of the Russian national anthem before his matches.
The 1990s, if I got the story right, were called the Attitude Era. Professional wrestling had always thrived on grudge matches built up by ringside blowhards yelling about their virtues and the nastiness of their opponents. The Attitude Era was when the bad guys were management in general, WWE owner Mr. Vincent T. McMahon in particular. That was the anti-authority era when the champions like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin stood against the powers that be, which, now that I think about it, is rather a Tea Party point of view.
All along, I understand, what happens in the ring is only incidental to all the circus story lines that happen ringside, in the locker rooms, and apparently even the parking lots outside sporting arenas. Grudges and vendettas are built up over months and based on personalities, former relationships, sometimes ethnic backgrounds, you name it. In other words, any context you can imagine that would inspire a fight has been used, and likely used many times, including politics.
What amuses many is the fact that for most of his career, the colorful Alberto Del Rio has not been a hero. He arrives at the ring driving expensive cars, plays mariachi music, is introduced by his personal announcer in Spanish, and has constantly berated the audience for our not being up to his superior standards of manliness, a typical stance of WWE baddies. Heck, he even ran over Santa Claus last December.
In the other corner, Jack Swagger has been around for a while but demonstrated no color at all. Until recently, he was a protegé of manager Vickie Guerrero whose gimmick was being booed whenever she tries to speak, bleating out, “Excuse me!” That was Swagger’s problem, he had no gimmick. Well, he has one now: being anti-immigrant. So if both gents are baddies and neither is a hero, who does the audience root for? These days it’s hard to tell, as this week’s villain is next week’s saint.
And that, Glenn, is what the WWE is all about. Gimmicks. What would surprise me is to learn you aren’t aware of this and not simply playing along. After all, as Del Rio and Swagger aren’t the draw a Hogan vs. Andre the Giant or The Rock vs. The Undertaker might be, your angry denunciations are absolutely perfect advertising for this year’s Wrestlemania. In fact, everything about your complaints – style, tone, word choice – is virtually identical to a backstage proclamation by an angry wrestler unhappy about whatever they’re unhappy about that week.