Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Celtic Warrior and the Jamaican Sensation (from Ghana)

We've heard time and time again that wrestling is a reflection of society, a representation of popular public opinion.  Saying that wrestling is racist, then, is really just calling out the American public.  While I don't disagree that the WWE proliferates some racial inequalities, the examples chosen by Joy Taylor for her article, "You Can't See Me," or Can You?, are extremely poor representations of those inequalities.  Sheamus and Santina Marella seem to be her prime examples of non-American white males who can't be champions because they are not true Americans.  I don't know much about Marella, but I do know a little about Sheamus.  Sheamus is not World Champion, not because he is Irish, but I think because his character cannot compete with the current upper card.  His character is not as dynamic as, say, John Cena's, nor does he garner near the same popular support as Cena.  He could probably compete at the top of the card for a match or two, but would quickly become stale as the face of the company.  Sheamus is a strong mid-card player, and that has nothing to do with his ethnicity; he just fills that role best.

Reading Taylor's piece made me want to come up with a good counterexample to her argument (the argument that the WWE sometimes neglects to push wrestlers based solely on their ethnicity).  Two wrestlers came to mind: Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston.  Neither Dolph (a Caucasian male) nor Kofi (an African American male) are World Champs, nor will they likely ever be, despite their talent as wrestlers  (though Ziggler has held the Championship twice:  once for 11 minutes, 23 seconds in 2011 on a technicality, and once for 69 days in 2013 as a result of a Money in the Bank cash in).  They are the kind of guys that can do well in a low card or a high card match.  They can be used in any feud and they can pull it off well.  They won't be put in the title position because their characters can be utilized in so many other ways, like by helping others make their way to the top.  While putting people over might not be as fun or glamorous as being the Top Dog of the business, Dolph and Kofi (and Sheamus, for that matter) are great at it, which keeps them away from having a consistent top card spot.

To credit Taylor's case, I can't think of many popular and successful non-white wrestlers (with the notable exception being the Rock). That may be because non-white wrestlers with the WWE are stereotyped into ethnic categories (i.e., "being Asian is his gimmick,"), or it might just be based on a lack of talented non-white wrestlers in the WWE.  The question, I suppose, is whether the WWE just chooses not to push non-white talent, can't find highly talented non-white individuals, or simply chooses not to hire potentially successful non-white wrestlers.  If you can factually answer that question, you'll be able to truthfully say whether the WWE is or is not racist. 


Sam Ford said...

The fact that the Jamaican sensation is from Ghana is a great example of how wrestling sells on stereotypes, to be sure, but I agree that her examples are problematic. To say Santino, who is a comedy character, is only held back from the world title by his ethnicity seems strange, as does talking about how Sheamus is both a heel and unsuccessful because he's too white. Certainly, WWE has marketed heavily on his ethnicity and his look. But, on the other hand, Sheamus has been world champion with their second-tier world title (the old WCW belt) and has held numerous other titles in the company...and has main evented many PPVs. He's also currently and has long been a face. This is one of the issues with academics who have valid points but try to cherry-pick a certain point and time or set of examples to construct their argument and, in the process, I think lose their larger, valid this case that there is very much an invisible racism that still exists, even when you try to remove some racial markers from the screen...

Gary said...

In answering Melissa's question, I think if WWE had the minority talent they would push it, because it would bring into the fold that ethnic group. Case in point, in the older MSG days, Bruno Sammartino.