In William C. Martin's article "Friday Night in the Coliseum" (The Atlantic, March 1972), the author uses the setting of a Friday night wrestling card in Houston to highlight face and more importantly heel archetypes. Starting with Baron Von Raschke, a Nazi-themed wrestler, Martin highlights two common "Foreign Menace" types: the Japanese and the Russian characters. Like Von Raschke and similar Nazi-themed characters, both the Japanese and Russian characters invoke threats, past or present, to an idealized American image. Both also remain largely one-dimensional (the Japanese as "sneaky" but often technically proficient; the Russians as simple brutes). Why such enemies who disdain America choose to compete in an American sport is largely unexplored by the audience (a point Martin references), but provides an easily identifiable and morally repugnant opponent for the American face.
As international events unfold, similar themed Foreign Menaces are evident, most notably the Iron Sheik after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. But largely left unresolved by Martin or the other readings is what to do with such characters once the Foreign Menace is no longer emotionally salient to the audience. I use the example in my International Relations course of what to do with Soviet wrestlers, which were a staple for nearly every promotion in the 1980s, when the Cold War ends. The WWF with Nicolai Volkoff and WCW with Nikita Koloff simultaneously repacked both as Lithuanian, now free from the shackles of the Soviet Union and able to be mentored by Americans well versed in democracy. Many of the others simply retired or faded into obscurity. Even the Iron Sheik was briefly repackaged as the Iraqi Col. Mustafa during the first Gulf War, ignoring that Iran and Iraq fought a bloody war from 1980-88.
|Volkoff (actually Croatian)|
|Koloff (actually from Minnesota)|
Which nationalities work as a "Foreign Menace" also requires greater attention. Foreigners from the UK may be heels, but they are rarely portrayed as a menace. Rather, they commonly play the role of what Martin calls "Titled Snobs and Pointy-Headed Intellectuals". Finland's Tony Halme briefly portrayed an evil Finn in the WWF (Ludvig Borga) in the 90s to luke-warm reception at best. Similarly, despite the proliferation of Soviets during the Cold War, portrayals of "evil" Chinese or Vietnamese were virtually non-existent while Cuban bad guys were useful foils sporadically. Portrayals of Middle Eastern characters post 9/11 were rare and comparatively tame compared to previous menaces, perhaps due to changing acceptance of stereotypes but also concern for the wrestlers themselves. Furthermore, while characterizations of "savages" from "deepest, darkest Africa" were common at least through the 1980s (e.g. Kamala, Abdullah the Butcher) and have largely disappeared since, these characters do not seem to fit the role Martin envisioned for the "Foreign Menace".
While the "Foreign Menace" archetype may be less common today, one needs to look no further than the WWE's Alexander Rusev to a modern rendition, where a minor repackaging of a Bulgarian brute to an agent of Russia's President Vladimir Putin appears to have greater resonance with American audiences.