Pro Wrestling Proves The Immigration Debate Is Over, Somebody Please Tell The GOP


World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has a pretty long history of engaging in negative ethnic stereotyping. WWE’s wrestling characters have played up ethnic names and accents – from communist Russians to fight-loving Irishmen – in order to rile up their middle class audience base.

This has been particularly true in recent history with Latino characters. In the early ‘90s, the WWE had a wrestler named Razor Ramon, played by Scott Hall. Razor Ramon was a walking talking Miami Vice villain, a Cuban stereotype with a thick accent and a five o’clock shadow who was a complete bad guy. Similarly, in the early 2000s, the late Eddie Guerrero’s wrestling persona used the catch phrase “latino heat” and promised to lie, cheat and steal in order to win a match.

razor-ramon

The Latino wrestlers in WWE weren’t all bad guys, as Mexican-style luchadores like Rey Mysterio were high flying good guys who were incredibly popular with audiences.

Still, the characters who have embodied  the historically traditional American archetype – a white male – have traditionally been the hero against the dark skinned other in the WWE (even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is one of the most popular wrestlers ever, was once part of a Nation of Islam style wrestling team – The Nation of Domination – who were the “bad guys”).

Things have changed.

WWE recently reintroduced wrestler Jack Swagger after a several months-long hiatus with a brand new gimmick. Swagger, who was a high school and college wrestler, was known as the “American American” and was a mostly harmless and unmemorable character (at least as far as wrestlers go).

When Swagger returned his mostly terrible microphone skills were dealt with by pairing him with a manager, “Zeb Colter,” who claims to be a Vietnam veteran and has adapted Swagger’s previous “American” gimmick to be a mantra for anti-immigrant sentiment.

zebcolter-jack-swagger

Swagger and Colter have appeared in a series of guerilla-style YouTube videos, decrying immigration (while appearing in front of the Gadsen flag, a Tea Party favorite). This of course has earned WWE the ire of conservatives like Glenn Beck and his even further-out fellow traveler, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

So here’s the swerve.

In the past, a character like Colter would have been designed to appeal to the animal brain of the wrestling fan base, traditionally packed to the gills with knee-jerk xenophobes.

But Colter is the bad guy, and the audience is unambiguously booing him for his anti-immigrant world view. His argument, lamenting for an America in its past glory days, and whining about jobs being taken away by “illegals” would be right at home on Fox News or conservative talk radio. But the audience is booing it.

The story line has been turned up a notch now, as Swagger is scheduled to fight Alberto Del Rio, the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion (one step below WWE Champion) at the upcoming Wrestlemania pay-per-view event.

Del Rio’s character is that of a fabulously wealthy Mexican millionaire (maybe billionaire) whose extravagant lifestyle includes an exotic car he enters the arena in each week, and a personal ring announcer who introduces Del Rio in Spanish.

alberto-del-rio

Until recently a bad guy, Del Rio recently flipped into the good guy role (wrestling is really just like a soap opera, with allegiances constantly shifting).

On Monday’s edition of WWE Raw, Colter and Del Rio had a debate about immigration that really could have been ripped right out of cable news. Colter again complained that undocumented workers were taking American jobs and weren’t hard workers, while also whining about it being politically incorrect for him to refer to “illegals.”

He was booed. Loudly.

Del Rio responded by describing America as “the greatest country in the world,” which was the motivation for immigrants coming here to seek a better life for themselves.

This argument from Del Rio, coming from the Latino character in response to the right-wing xenophobe, was roundly applauded and prompted a “USA” chant in the arena.

In Texas.

(True to conservative form, Colter later complained that the moderator of his debate with Del Rio had shown… bias)

Sure, it’s a silly, goofy, over the top fake wrestling show – but it is also an entertainment vehicle that historically has had its finger on the pulse of its audience, changing itself to pander to the cultural zeitgeist of the moment.

WWE boss Vince McMahon, a modern day P.T. Barnum (and husband to a failed Republican Senatorial candidate), tends to give his audience the heroes and villains needed to attract eyeballs and open their wallets. McMahon and WWE have discovered that a pro-immigrant hero attracts applause and cheers, while an anti-immigrant villain is laughed at and booed.

The character who would be right at home between The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity is the bad guy.

Maybe somebody should tell the Republicans.

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  • dbtheonly

    Oliver,

    I don’t see the logic in making a big thing of this; while at the same time noting, “Until recently a bad guy, Del Rio recently flipped into the good guy
    role (wrestling is really just like a soap opera, with allegiances
    constantly shifting).”

    Today’s “bad guy” will become tomorrow’s “good guy” at the flip of a script.

    McMahon’s trying to make money. Nothing more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=663669914 Sean Richardson

      McMahon is doing this to make money first and foremost, absolutely.

      The question is, why is this succeeding? Why is he making money by doing this? The obvious answer is, even wrestling fans — traditionally, a demographic that overlaps quite a bit with Republican voters — are more likely to be pro-immigrant than anti-immigrant.

    • Johnny

      That said, it’s kind of an interesting turn of events that in the confrontation between Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger Monday night, the crowd seemed to be cheering Del Rio (then again, he was touting his opinion on the US being great*) and booing Swagger/Colter. I will admit to being a little concerned that things would go otherwise–professional wrestling is not the most progressive of institutions, particularly WWE (who, back in their WWF days, had none other than Rick Santorum petitioning the PA Athletic Commission to grant exemption to regulations regarding anabolic steroids**).
      In any case, it’s kind of interesting that two people wrapping themselves in the flag right now in WWE are heels (figuratively in Swagger’s case, more literally in Antonio Cesaro’s case). Maybe I’m overthinking this (then again, with pro-wrestling, any kind of thinking is probably considered overthinking), but then again maybe it’s indicative of a societal sea-change.

      * It’s sort of an interesting turn on the “All-American face”, although I do think that there’s a case to be made that the people who decided to immigrate to the US would not have done so if they did not have a net positive opinion of the US.

      ** On the grounds that professional wrestling was more entertainment than sport. Then again, Vince McMahon has been somewhat insistent on that as well (calling his athletes “superstars”, saying to Ted Turner that he was in the entertainment business, etc.)

  • http://sonic.net/~ckelly/Seekay/mtbwelcome.htm RepackRider

    Vince McMahon noticed that the teabaggers reacted violently and publicly to any perceived slight. Gee, what happens if I jerk this chain? Did you see that? Heads exploded all over the country! Everyone is talking about the WWE.

    Now he is letting them publicize his event among what would have to be seen as the GOP base, WWE fans. For free. The wife may be a moron, but Vince McMahon is a publicity genius.

  • 16shellsfroma30aught6

    Slightly OT, but all respect to Eddy Guerrero, one of the all-time greats. Scott Hall was a pretty good worker in his day before the boozing got the better of him.

    On topic: I’ve always had a kind of morbid respect for Vince McMahon’s willingness to pander for a buck. He is unpretentious and makes no bones about being a businessman first and last. Fans my age or older remember Sgt. Slaughters Iraqi defection and the Hulkster drapiing a US flag over him before hitting the leg drop.

    Mcmahon is certainly shrewd enough to see how well an anti-immigration villain can get over with modern fans, reportedly a fifth of whom are hispanic. Even more so in heavily Latino Texas. Still, the pandering is going in the right direction, following demographics, and that is horrible news for the bigot party. I give it three presidential cycles before Texas goes blue.

  • flobflo

    Maybe someone should tell Linda….

    • Johnny

      Apparently during the primary for the 2010 election she ran in, there was a video by an opponent of hers that showed her kicking JR in the groin while showing ways she was metaphorically doing the same to the Republican Party. Plus, in 2012 she was trying to associate herself with Obama. I have a feeling that any alliance she had with the GOP would be one of convenience.
      (For that matter, “The Alliance of Convenience” would be a funny idea for a wrestling stable.)

  • The Dark Avenger

    Dennis should compete under the name, “The Whiny White Guy”.

    • http://twitter.com/wetcasements James

      Nah, he’s far too chickenshit to ever step in a ring.

      • The Dark Avenger

        All mouth, no cattle? That would be our Dennis to a T.

        • Benthedailybanter

          Guys, please stay on topic and stop flagging each other’s comments. It’s getting silly now. Come on. It’s great having the back and forth on the commenting section but please remember that other people want to share their thoughts too and get turned off by the incessant name calling. I know you’re good guys – so just respect the space. Thanks, Ben.

          • The Dark Avenger

            I’m sorry I compared Dennis to a meth-spree Honey Badger.

            It’s totally unfair to Honey Badgers on a meth spree.

          • Benthedailybanter

            Hey man, please take this seriously. I don’t want to stop you guys commenting, but this is getting out of hand.

          • The Dark Avenger

            k, ty.

      • Dennis

        Tough talk from a guy who left this country and now whines about and trashes it on the internet from 7,000 miles away. Classy of you, Jaims. Really brave, too. You’re not a whiny white guy chickenshit at all.

        • The Dark Avenger

          You’re the one who comes here whining because Ollie isn’t ‘fair’ to trash-mouthed conservatives like you, Dennis.

          • Dennis

            Never said that, and you’re violating Ben’s commenting Rule #3 that you cite so often, every time you need bailed out of an argument you’re losing badly in. The same rule you cite when you go tattling to Ben for protection when your feelings get hurt.

            Interesting liberal tactic, DA. If you don’t mind being a weasel.

          • The Dark Avenger

            Let’s remind you what rule #3 is, Dennis:

            3. Keep it relevant. While discussions obviously go off track, please don’t use the forum to discuss private issues. Anyone trolling will be blocked and banned from posting on the site.

            Your conduct here isn’t a “private issue”, Dennis, but your mentioning of James being overseas is, obviously, since that has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

            Thanks for helping me clear up who is being the weaselly one here, Dennis, aka “The White Whiner”.

            :-)

          • Dennis

            Yeah, DA, your first two unprovoked attacks on me that came completely out of the blue were both relevant to the blog topic, both right on track, neither were private issues, and none of it was trolling. Weasel.

          • The Dark Avenger

            Sorry, Dennis, but where James lives and why he lives there aren’t relevant to this thread, and that’s why your comment was deleted.

            You’re not starting out well this morning, so keep up the good work!

            You’re living up to my nickname for you, just like a puppet moving to my commands.

            Dance, puppet, dance!

          • Buzz Killington

            My irony detector just exploded.

          • The Dark Avenger

            Some people don’t know what irony is, but they can tell you that 5 pages isn’t enough room to describe what they do for a living.

    • Dennis

  • http://twitter.com/DOriginalDonald Donald Paluga

    Maybe Vince should have told somebody to get a cab for Swagger.

  • http://twitter.com/SugaRazor Razor

    As I’ve always said, politics and pro wrestling really aren’t that different from each other. One features two-dimensional characters shouting at each other and pretending to fight, the other is pro-wrestling.

    Great read, Oliver… nice to see someone – anyone – in political media not immediately dismiss wrestling and its role in our culture.