Thursday, August 26, 2004

Smackdown the Vote

Regarding my post yesterday on the political implications of professional wrestling, a couple of astute observers of the scene have chimed in.

First, John Hawkins from Right Wing News has an insightful post on the lessons politicians can learn from professional wrestling crowds and their reactions to various hyperbolic characters (a description that equally applies to grapplers and campaigning politicians). Excerpt:

...wrestling fans, particularly American fans tend to be very nationalistic. You will never go wrong talking up America or waving a flag around. Furthermore, the WWE made a big show of supporting the soldiers in Iraq.

On the other hand, there's no easier way to gin up "Heat" than to trash the US as villains like the Iron Sheik, "The Russian Bear" Ivan Kolov, and the latest annoying foreigners, La RĂ©sistance (they're French, but shocker there, I know) have proven.

Application: If you can point out to people how people like Ted Rall, Michael Moore, & Noam Chomsky trash America, you will permanently turn people off to their ideas.

I also received an email from Josh Almas, a professional wrestling aficionado. He applies the skills of a journalist and historian in this fascinating look at the background of the wrestler JBL and his political implications.

I just read your article on WWE superstar John 'Bradshaw' Layfield (JBL) and it's possible reflection on the Presidential race. As a Republican and an avid pro-wrestling fan (I hold a BA in History and Political Science, and have traveled the country to attend WrestleMania (the super-bowl of pro-wrestling) each of the last four years), I thought I'd point out a few things.

Overall I was impressed by your analysis, and researching, a lot of bloggers wouldn't have done the research to find out that Layfield has a background as an investment analyst for CNBC, or the details of his termination. Although Layfield's time with CNBC was short-lived, he had previously served in a similar role with Fox News Channel for a much longer period of time.

However there were a few points in the article that contained mistakes and I thought I could shed some light on these points.

Taking it from the beginning MFSM recounts Layfield's use of the phrase "God Bless the United States of America" to end his speeches. MFSM is correct that this phrase has been met with great hostility from audiences. However, what he fails to inform you of, (or perhaps was unaware of himself,) is that fact that Layfield uses this type of language when performing before crowds in Canada. Such was the case this past week when JBL used the phrase at a show taped at Hamilton, Ontario. Prior to using the "God Bless" phrase as a sign-off JBL had riled up the nationalist fervor of the Canadian crowd by referring to Canada as America's "little sister," saying he was better than them because he was from the United States, and saying that they shouldn't boo this because, "we protect you."

Insulting Canadians and playing up to anti-Americanism in Canada just like goose-stepping in Germany, is, in wrestling vernacular, referred to as "cheap heat." Layfield in his is no stranger to this practice, his Buchanan-esque anti-immigrant railings were a part of his character when he was feuding with Mexican-American WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero. Now that he has moved on from this feud with Guerrero, JBL only pulls out the anti-immigration part of his character when performing in areas with large Hispanic populations. When performing in the Northeast he emphasizes his Texas heritage, but when performing in Texas he proudly proclaims that he now lives in New York City and had to leave Texas to become wealthy.

This reliance on "cheap heat" stems largely from the fact that Bradshaw is generally not liked by the fans (and by not-liked I mean not only in a "we don't love him" way, but also in the "we don't love to hate him" way). Never an accomplished singles-wrestler JBL was given his new character and immediately pushed into a headlining role this past April, due to the departure or injury of an astonishing number of main-event superstars. The fact is in the eyes of most fans JBL as a main-eventer has been a huge failure. WWE continues to push him, and has even made him WWE World Champion because they simply don't have much of a choice right now on Layfield's Smackdown! brand.

You cite an article by Phantom Lord talking-up the potential of the gimmick to be a success. I have never read anything by this particular columnist before, but know he is not one of the more well-respected wrestling columnists currently writing on the Internet. However since that column was written in mid-April most of the potential seen by Phantom has not been realized due to general fan disinterest for the character of JBL. (Interestingly enough, Phantom also gets it wrong on the other new gimmick he discusses, "Special" wrestler Eugene Dinsmore. While JBL has floundered as a main-eventer Eugene quickly was embraced by the fans, and although he was intended as an under-card wrestler recently found himself in a main-event feud with Triple H, who due to his status as Vince McMahon's son-in-law always is able to attach himself to the WWE's hottest stars.)

A couple other notes to touch on.

The mock political commercial that MFSM references is a pretty accurate portrayal except for one huge problem. The commercials targeting Foley had nothing to do with John 'Bradshaw' Layfield. They were part of a storyline between Foley and Randy Orton, those commercials even ended with a "Paid for by friends of Randy Orton" tag.

WWE, much like Major League Baseball is divided into two distinct leagues, referred to as brands; Raw, and Smackdown! Each brand has its own TV shows, announcers, referees, title belts, and wrestlers with very little cross-over between the two brands. Both Orton and Foley are a part of WWE's Raw Brand, while Bradshaw is a part of Smackdown! Moreover, the fake ads in question ran in December, when JBL was still beer-drinking Bradshaw of the APA (a gimmick which actually did last for the better part of five years). The description of the ads is accurate, however, and it is worth noting that the program between Foley and Orton was instrumental in building up Orton's character to the point where he has just recently won the World Title for the Raw brand, and is in the midst of turning face (becoming a good guy).

Although Bob Mould did indeed spend a period of time as a writer for World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and WWE did indeed buy WCW in January of 2001, Mould has never, to the best of my knowledge, been employed by WWE. The last word in WWE writing is and has always been Vince McMahon, and while McMahon does indeed employ a team of writers lead by his daughter Stephanie, the buck stops with him.

The JBL push in particular has been identified by insiders as something of a pet project of Vince's. (Hence the top of the card status despite general fan apathy, nobody could back that type of a push except the boss.) But I don't think this is a part of some project by McMahon to advance liberalism. While he has never publicly announced his political affiliation, the North Carolina born-and-raised McMahon certainly doesn't look like a Democrat to me. Consider that this past December McMahon personally led a WWE tour to perform live for the troops in Baghdad. Additionally a quick search on the Federal Campaign contribution database through Newsmeat, shows that both Vince and Linda McMahon (Vince's wife and WWE CEO) have generally, though not exclusively, supported Republican candidates.

In conclusion, while I more than anyone, would love to be able to draw political understanding from the world of pro-wrestling, I think that JBL is not such a case. If anything I would say that it just goes to show that the concept of an Evil Capitalist Republican wrestler isn't nearly as hated as WWE bookers seemed to think it would be.

Wow. I'm confident in saying that ends the debate about what the JBL phenomenon really means. Now Man From Silver Mountain can go back to watching WWE Smackdown! with an untroubled mind. I wish all controversial issues were so easily resolved. (Easy, in that someone else did all the work).

Maybe we can get Josh to investigate this whole Kerry in Cambodia mess and get that solved once and for all. Until he does, you can catch more of Josh's work at his home site and he's involved with another site called

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