Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Foreign and Domestic Policy as story lines



What I found absolutely fascinating about Campbell’s Professional Wrestling: Why the Bad Guy Wins, was his comparison to the wrestlers and politics. This ties in with Tim’s blog about the foreign menace, but with a somewhat different spin, that of America’s foreign and domestic policies and how wrestling capitalized on this.

Campbell mentions Jeffrey Mondak found that wrestling popularity cycles peaked during periods when political events encouraged feelings of isolationism and nationalism (p. 128). During periods of isolationism, we had wrestling villains who came from Russia and Japan such as in the 1950s when Americans had a bitter taste in their mouths about WWII.

During the bombing of Libya, and the Beirut hostage crisis, and the Cold War, nationalism was brought forth, and The Iron Sheik vs. Sergeant Slaughter matches were extremely popular.

Another example of Campbell’s philosophy is in 1992, when our economy was a major concern of Americans, as well as domestic affairs. Again the evil villain was the Japanese super-sized Yokozuna. Wrestling fans were subconsciously blaming the Japanese for being a key player in the economic trade wars, such as steel price dumping during this time frame. Yokozuna was well primed to even use a sneak attack on Jim Duggan (his opponent) by throwing salt in his face, punishing him with a banzai drop, and covering his body with the American Flag. Of course, Duggan was played as the American working hero and a family man, and felt he let down his country.

Another example was Kamala, the Ugandan Giant, who initially was a heel, but became the babyface when American helped free Somalia from savage warlords. Campbell mentions how wrestling promoters choose their heroes and villains from simplified interpretations of American foreign policy (p. 130). These analogies are just classic.

5 comments:

Timothy S. Rich said...

Gary, I'm fascinated by this role of the foreign villains mimicking world events. Certainly part of it is for an easily identifiable foil for any face wrestler. It does not require an elongated backstory on screen for a visceral response. I'm not sure the shelf life for many of these roles, especially as wrestling moves from the territory system to a national product.

Unrelated, Mondak, a political science professor, wrote that piece I believe while a graduate student at Indiana University. Wooo!

Gary said...

How cool is that. This just stuck out at me, the cycles of types of heels vs the cycles of our political isolationism and patriotism. It would be really interesting for some additional study in this area given our current political situation. Who knows what McMahon will come with for the next super evil heel. Hey, how about a Wall Street Banker or "radical extremest."

Sam Ford said...

The question of the degree of irony involved is a good one. To what degree do we imagine these characters existing as an obvious stand-in or foil for international tensions, or how much are they tongue-in-cheek? It seems that WWE wants to build Rusev up into an absolute heel, but there's also a true over-the-top element of "Shuh-Tap" from Lana that is meant to be exaggerated and performative. WWE also has to ride that line between playing on national tensions and also not being seen as capitalizing off them in too controversial a way--which got them in trouble during Desert Storm and again post-9/11 with some storylines they moved forward with...So it gets back to that question of the degree of camp fans are reading into the show, as well as the degree of camp the writers and performers intend...

Timothy S. Rich said...

I was quite surprised by the Rusev/Lana characters precisely because such characters have been rare since 9/11 (and were increasingly rare in the 90s). I seriously doubt that even a character like the Iron Sheik would be attempted much less pushed to such an extent today.

Marshall Metcalf said...

It's not surprising at all that Pro Wrestling peaks in popularity when it's relating to politics. It's one thing that all Americans can relate to. Even if we don't keep up with politics, we all usually know the main aspects of it. We hear it every time we turn on the news and even during small talk. Therefore, we can all usually relate to the topics of the stories that the wrestlers are enacting.