Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Politics of the Fore Arm Smash

For the last few weeks, our correspondent Man from Silver Mountain has been getting nervous about the upcoming Presidential election. He's a Bush supporter and he thinks things are looking bleak. But it's not the polls that bother him. It's not news from Iraq or updates on the rate of job creation or even the endorsement by Bright Eyes that haunts him. What has him near despondency is what he sees while watching professional wrestling.

Apparently there's some guy on WWE parodying a rich Texas Republican and the crowd hates him. MFSM comments:

An update on my theory that W will lose because bad guy wrestlers are imitating him. One was wearing a suit and a cowboy hat, complaining of high taxes and ending his speeches with the phrase, "God bless the United States of America." The people boo him and throw things at him.

The plot has developed to the point where he is now pretending to take out advertising to smear his opponent. The ads are a parody of a well known Bush ad campaign. The "ad" starts like this (Mick Foley is his opponent and the name of the show is Hardcore): "Mick Foley claims to be a Hardcore legend. But let's look at the facts: Mick Foley . . . "

It goes on to accuse Foley of various non Hardcore legend offenses before concluding with: "Mick Foley claims to be a Hardcore legend. But in reality, Mick Foley is a little p-word."

I'd personally like to see W use that last line in his advertising.

Foley himself was on Air America's morning show this week. It is kind of funny to hear pro wrestlers talk about their scripts. He claims to have actually dreamed up the smear campaign against himself. He also pointed out that politicians have been stealing from wrestling for years. "CNN's Crossfire is really just an old wrestling interview."

Does MFSM have reason to worry? Professional wrestling is an excellent barometer of the mood of the middle and lower socio-economic strata. And I've never heard of a wrestling crowd turning on a true blue, flag-waving son of the South. Could this be evidence of a growing anti-Bush backlash among the blue collar heartland?

Short answer, probably not. Remember, this is professional wrestling we're talking about, where the crowd reactions are played like a Duane Alman guitar solo. Google research shows the much hated cowboy hat wearing wrestler in question is a masterfully conceived and well executed heel (heel, in pro wrestling parlance, meaning predetermined villain). He also happens to be the WWE Champion of the World. Goes by the name JBL or Bradshaw. Real name is John Layfield. His history:

John Layfield first appeared as Justin Hawk Bradshaw in the mid 1990's as the tag team partner of Barry Windham in The Blackjacks. Bradshaw was then 'sacrificed' by The Undertaker and became an Acolyte, alongside Faarooq and shortened his name to Bradshaw. After this 'dark side' gimmick, he turned face as a cigar-smoking bar-brawler. This gimmick was an evolution of the Acolyte gimmick and continued his teaming with Faarooq as the Acolyte Protection Agency (or the APA). Their motto: "We need beer money."

Based on that timeless, universal theme, it's hard to believe that gimmick didn't last. But Layfield has moved on and his current shtick is based on being an obnoxious rich guy. According to some observers, it is an act that could become a ratings bonanza:

Despite what others are saying, I think [WWE Chairman Vince McMahon] has struck gold with him. Here you have a big bad republican capitalist who happens to be a wrestler. It's a thing of greatness. The skit last night where he offered $1,000 to a kid who could wax his Limo's hood in a minute brought me back to my childhood and the good old days of The Million Dollar Man screwing over someone at the last second so he didn't have to pay them. That my friends is great heelwork and because of that, it's going to be a very good year for JBL.

So JBL's persona isn't so much playing on ideology, as it is playing on the issue of class (and classlessness). This is a time tested rasslin' crutch. Making him a Republican is a new wrinkle, which leads me to wonder if the promoters of WWE may have a political agenda of their own. Or maybe it's the bias of the script writers. Could this story line be the product of former Twin Cities punk legend, now liberal activist and professional wrestling script writer, Bob Mould?

If you're going after the arrogant RICH in this political season, you wouldn't necessarily have to make him a Republican. Making him a hypocritical Massachusetts aristocrat, who wears lycra shorts with a daisy zipper and blames his body guards for every loss he suffers would seem to work just as well. You could even have him flip flop between being a heel and being a hero, depending on the situation. It would be brilliant satire.

Making Bradshaw a Republican does have one thing going for it - accuracy. John Layfield is a Republican in real life, scheduled to appear the Republican National Convention next week. He's a successful investor, author, and former investment analyst on CNBC. Although that last position was terminated early based on this episode, during a match in Germany:

Three weeks after announcing it had hired WWE wrestling bad boy John "Bradshaw" Layfield as a financial analyst for the network, CNBC said yesterday it was shocked to learn that JBL was in fact a WWE bad boy and it sacked him for doing the Nazi goose step and stiff-armed salute during a World Wrestling Entertainment match in Munich.

In Layfield's, defense he was in his villain character, doing a routine guaranteed to rile the Teutonic masses to rage (at least we'd hope it would profoundly offend them). Desperate partisans on the Left may latch onto this as supporting evidence in their Bush = Hitler quest. But they'd be wrong. According to the Washington Post, Layfield's persona is based on a Bush opponent from the 2000 election:

"Most of my promos are straight out of Pat Buchanan's run for election. That's where I got it from -- preaching against immigration, the fact that they're teaching in Spanish in public schools, and I say 'Spanish' with a despicable look, like I want to throw up. I got all of this from Pat Buchanan."

All things considered, it probably doesn't make sense to have this guy showing up at the Convention next week. There's already a bad precedent set with Pat Buchanan antics at Bush nominating conventions.

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