The WWE/F and pro wrestling has always held a mirror up to society and the current state of politics since storylines and characters became more and more emphasized. In particular, sports entertainment has consistently capitalized on some form of xenophobia and/or racism from the American flag waving of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, to the American flag waving of Hulk Hogan, and yes, to a lesser extend, the American flag waving of Lex Luger. And they would compete against, oh, any old evil foreigner. The Iron Sheik or a traitorous Sargeant Slaughter added fuel to an ongoing Middle East conflict. But no nation we were ever actually at war with would suffer the wrath of American might like our greatest nemesis: Russia... apparently. The Russian villain has been well represented by the likes of Nikolai Volkoff to the Bulagrian (close enough) Rusev, with some Vladamir Kozlov sprinkled in between.
The U.S. would usually overcome any foreign power, but as politics change, our primitive and cartoonish perception of other nations changes with it. We find ourselves in a more globally connected time and what were formerly our foreign foes became likeable babyfaces. Current wrestlers, like Cesaro of Switzerland, has an undeniable ring presence. Japan’s Shinsuke Nakamura is on track to becoming the most over WWE Superstar on the roster once he bumps up to Raw or Smackdown. These days, an accent doesn’t automatically make you a heel. And with so many new fans all around the world, a narrow worldview doesn’t guarantee you a cheap pop.
Last week, Monday Night Raw went up against the first Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And if you were switching back and forth, you may not have noticed a difference. This election and pro wrestling currently share the same psychology. On one side, we have a bombastic, offensive, self-centered loudmouth. Your classic heel. Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, and Donald Trump all get the same kind of heat. They’ll call an audience member fat and stupid, and rather than change the channel, you just want to see this guy get beat. And it’s no surprise. Donald Trump is a lifelong wrestling fan, a friend and barber of Vince McMahon, the only person to host back to back WrestleManias (4 and 5 at Trump Plaza), and a bona fide WWE Hall of Famer. The typical heel antics are entirely intentional. Any wrestling fan can see Trump taking a little Rick Rude and mixing it with some Ted Dibiase. As some may recall, The Million Dollar Man was based on Trump’s cocky, wealthy 80s entrepreneur persona, after all.
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On the other side, you have a cleancut babyface in Hillary Clinton. While she may seem to represent change, she is also very much by the books. She makes sure she has the right look and says the correct keywords to pander to her demographic. Clinton is the John Cena and the Roman Reigns of this election. But if Hillary paid attention to the ebbs and flows of pro wrestling as much as Trump, she would know that older wrestling fans are rebelling against this kind of political coddling. Fans don’t respond well to someone being shoved down their throats. The American fan now enjoys someone who is always being held back. We want someone who never gets a fair shake and is constantly oppressed by the Authority because they don’t fit a certain mold. The underdog is very much “in” this season.
How else would you explain the popularity of a guy like Bernie Sanders? The perception of someone being deprived of reaching their full potential reaches the working class hero in all of us. At a time when WWE was pushing John Cena, CM Punk was the Voice of the Voiceless. At a time when The Authority was seemingly holding back Daniel Bryan, the Yes Movement brought him to the promised land. And after an attempt to make Roman Reigns the top dog, an indie darling, Kevin Owens finally gets the prize he was fighting for.
If this were 80s wrestling, Hillary would handily defeat Trump. I’m not saying this is a metaphor. Public perception remains a constant throughout time, whether it pertains to politics or pro wrestling. The problem Hillary faces, is that this is 2016. A rebellious revolutionary or a cool heel is going to grab the audience’s attention much easier than the classic American babyface. Hillary is a company guy (gal?). Trump’s hateful and insulting rhetoric makes him the cool heel. And Hillary should have realized that. Cool heels have been getting over since the NWO in the mid-late 90s. Hell, Bill might as well have been The Rock. A smooth talker with sexual overtones? Come on, Hillary. Don’t you know what makes a Superstar in the New Era?
Trump’s popularity may baffle some, but this phenomenon should be a simple concept to most wrestling fan. Hillary isn’t being the current archetype that fans want to cheer for. If only the DNC had watched more wrestling. Hillary needs to be repackaged if she wants to ensure victory in November. She’s going to have to cut some great promos. Break the fourth wall a little. Shoot on Trump and take away all the good heat he’s getting, because as of right now, Hillary isn’t getting over with political smart marks.