Friday, October 14, 2011

Scenes From A Poorly Acted Wrestling Class Struggle

I know that I usually don't write about political issues, or wrestling for that matter, but some recent storyline events in the WWE making a veiled reference to the Occupy Wall Street protest movement stirred me enough to write something about it.

So you have been forwarned about the following wresting-related post.


Wrestling tells morality tales, stories where the audience generally wants the wrestlers who represent good values to triumph over those who represent evil.

In general, good values in wrestling are working class, middle America values. Honesty and integrity, working hard to get ahead and playing by the rules are for the most part what defines someone who the audience is supposed to root for. The fact that earlier in the evolution of wrestling, quite a few wrestlers had gimmicks based on their day jobs, like police officers, prison guard, an undertaker, hog farmers and the like also lends itself to this kind of interpretation.

And when you are setting up a wrestler as a heel, one of the easiest ways to do it is to simply tell the audience that they are wealthy. That wrestler doesn't even have to do anything particularly heelish on their debut. Just the fact they are rich basically sells the audience on the fact that they are on the wrong side of things.

Wealth is one of those things which is a quick way of indicating that a wrestler is supposed to think he is better than you. Cheating and underhanded tactics naturally go along with being rich, because that's how the rich stay rich, which is an argument that is well supported by the countless stories of fraud, misrepresentation and shady business practices that have arisen as journalists investigate the global financial crisis and the failure of companies like Enron and Worldcom.

Let's take a quick look at some of the wealthy characters the WWE has given us in the past:

The Million Dollar Man: Ted Dibiase is the reason I am writing article. I remember him as one of the seminal heel characters from my childhood. He was a southern character who had a black manservant, couldn't win a real title belt, so he had one made for himself and he allied himself with IRS to form Money Inc., and one of his catch phrases was "Everybody has a price." And the public was supposed to hate him, and they did.

JBL: He made a fortune on Wall Street (for real too). Part of his entrance in a limousine, and used his wealth to hire other wrestlers to protect him. Who could forget when Shawn Michaels lost everything in the global financial crisis, and JBL bailed him out with the condition that Michaels would have to do his personal bidding to help him win the Heavyweight championship. Again, a character the public was supposed to hate, and did.

MVP: Wealth, in the form of his supposedly record setting contract was just a part of this character's heel persona, I admit, but it was still one of those elements which was used to set him up as a villain. After the character's heel/face turn, his wealth was never really brought up again, instead there was a greater emphasis on his humble origins and being an ex-con and how he turned his life around.

Alberto Del Rio: An arrogant, wealthy Mexican aristocratic character who is driven to ringside in an expensive car and has a personal ring announcer. That description alone makes him a heel based on precedence alone.

Vince McMahon: Do I really need to explain this one, though wealth is again, only part of the character's heelish nature, since he also has power which he exploits to his own ends, but that is also in keeping with the general idea of being easy to hate for being himself and his actions, many of which involved money or corporate interests, though his schemes were more often than not foiled by Stone Cold, the anti-hero which was arguably very much working class. And there was the Battle of the Billionaires, which really, was supposed to be win/win for the viewing public since at least one rich person would be humiliated.

Triple H: Oh, so many reasons. He was introduced to the WWE as the Connecticut Blue Blood and though that character morphed into the Triple H we are familiar with. Again, we have a character who started as an arrogant aristocrat, married into the McMahon family and both kayfabe and in real life used that influence to his own benefit, including becoming the COO of the WWE.

Now, I left Triple H until the very end for a very good reason.

Basically the situation that was being presented on Monday Night Raw was the onscreen and behind the scenes talent taking strike action against the management of the WWE to remove Triple H from his role as the COO of the company.

The way the narrative was written and supposed to have been interpreted, in the most bizarre of twists, Triple H as a member of management was being cast as the hero while those who walked out were the villains. And because John Cena, Sheamus and CM Punk joined Triple H in showing up to compete, they were supposed to be heroic as well.

That is not the narrative that I took from Monday nights events. Triple H was a management jerk who was belittling the concerns of the talent he was in charge of, and Cena, Sheamus and Punk were scabs who were also taking shots at their colleagues who were fighting for something which benefited them all. John Cena discussed his motto, and claimed he was loyal to the company, when he should have shown loyalty and respect to his coworkers, men and women who asked him for his support and solidarity with their cause. But it was CM Punk's betrayal that I feltwas so much worse because his opposition to the walkout seems to go against everything his character has been saying and doing the past few months. He seemed like the character who would stand with not only his coworkers, but perhaps stand in solidarity with those in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In the scenario that the WWE has now created, Cena, Sheamus and Punk, three of the company's top faces are now heels along with Triple H, which would fit with nearly every rendition of strike action or walkout on television drama or in the movies, since that is how that particular kind of story is told. Management is traditionally and rightfully the antagonist in those stories.

The overall point of the segment was to set up those four figures as a team against a backstage conspiracy, but there were better, less heavy-handed ways of doing so, because even without the anti-union/protest sentiment, it was a clumsy and badly planned storyline element, since the company still had to record an episode of Smackdown and do house shows after the initial walkout, which didn't make any sense after that.

I know that wrestling is based on people who are supposed to have outspoken beliefs and who act on their individual whims, but really, having those three performers dump on their friends and coworkers because of a labor dispute tarnishes them. Even though it was a group of heels who got the ball rolling with this walkout, since most of their counterparts left with them, enough of them must have grievances to act in solidarity with people whom they have problems with in the ring.
But this whole walkout storyline has also reminded me of discussions in the past about wrestlers forming a union to protect themselves from some of the abuses they suffer at the hand of management, with some of those issues being brought up during the lead up to the walkout. The fact that John Cena, someone who is rumored to be very much against unionization of wrestling and is likely the highest paid performer currently on WWE, and Triple H, the man who will inherit at least a share of the WWE, were both standing in opposition of collective labour action in what largely amounted to a throwaway segment at this point. Pulling in CM Punk, who has had quite a push as of late, but who also has a lot of indie credibility and Sheamus, who is developing some staying power as a young superstar, is supposed to make that anti-union/labor/protest message that much more universal, but in the end, it is simply the moneyed and powerful establishment telling the masses that elitist interests, not the interests of labor or the protestors, are good.

In nearly every narrative involving issues of money, especially in wrestling, the rich and privileged are the enemies, the heels, and the audience cheers when they get their comeuppance. The current story line defies that logic in the most insulting way. Vince McMahon used his public platform and performers to tell the world his feelings about a particular political movement in a ham-fisted and ill-advised way to the detriment of everyone involved.

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