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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
March 5th, 2015