Once again, it’s Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts and the Boston Marathon has run it’s course. See what I did? “Run it’s course.” How fun.
Since it’s a day to feel patriotic and pride in one’s country, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on what “patriotism” means in pro wrestling. It’s definitely an undeniable factor, as much as it’s been warped and mutated throughout the years.
As shamelessly as WWE panders to the American spirit, the classic red, white, and blue clad hero struggles to thrive in the modern professional wrestling landscape. Far removed are the simplistic days of Hulk Hogan, Jim Duggan, and Lex Luger; where waving Old Glory high above your head was all that was needed to get your character over. These days, jaded wrestling fans don’t take kindly to being patronized by forced patriotism. While a guy like John Cena wears the American flag and support for the troops quite literally on his sleeve, many wrestling fans won’t be so easily swayed. Into the 90s, fans started to turn on the straight laced American hero. Sophomoric and rebellious personalities like the nWo, D-X, and Stone Cold Steve Austin became the new faces, and an Olympic hero like Kurt Angle became a joke. In the 80s, Angle would have been matched up with foreign villains the likes of the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff; but the irony of the Attitude Era brought a backlash to his babyface patriotism.
While Kurt Angle may have been respected, his corny persona incited “You suck!” lyrics to be added to his theme song by the audience. But it all worked out, as it became a classic character. One would think that with this irony, foreign powers would somehow flip to being faces as well. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Anyone from outside of the U.S. was still booed and considered a heel for the most part. Even in the absence of overwhelming patriotism, pro wrestling’s inherent xenophobia was still present. It’s just an easy, automatic way to get heat; whether they be middle eastern, Japanese, British, or America’s greatest of foes: Canadians; the WWE universe is always eager to root against a foreigner.
In the mid-2000s, in the early throes of the war on terror, a new Muslim-American character was presented to pro wrestling fans. On of the most fascinating social experiments, Muhammed Hassan, debuted in WWE. Sure, Hassan was painted as a heel, but his message was one of reason. Taking stage in the center of the ring, Hassan would speak about how Muslim-Americans drastically became victims of racism since the events of 9/11. He spoke on how just because he looked different and had different beliefs, he was chastised by so called American patriots. How he was a true American, and was just trying to prosper in this great country of ours, but prejudice had sullied his experience. One would like to think that the American wrestling audience would listen to a rational man and show some sympathy for someone fighting for his basic human rights. But no. To little surprise, the fans played right into what was essentially trolling and exposing their own ignorance; and it was as entertaining as it was depressing.
Now in 2017, there is a glimmer of hope in a young Pakistani cruiserweight named Mustafa Ali. Although he’s mostly seen on 205 Live and the occasional segment on Raw, he is a Muslim-American babyface. Pure of heart and full of in-ring proficiency. It’s uplifting to see a sports entertainer who might be seen by a kid from that part of the world. Someone to admire and look up to as a role model, and not see him portrayed as a villain. Once again, I would like to think that if given more of a spotlight, he wouldn’t be turned by WWE Creative and (mostly) the WWE Universe into an evil foreigner. But we can only be so optimistic.
Formerly, capitalism was the driving force behind selling a superstar as a foreign heel. What can be done? It sells tickets. But what happens when WWE truly becomes “World” Wrestling Entertainment and begin selling to foreign markets? They start to sign wrestlers from other countries with the best intentions in mind. WWE’s first Chinese Superstar, Bin Wang, debuted in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania. Presumably, he will be a face, considering WWE in trying to break into the Chinese market.
More and more languages are being added to WWE events, as they boast announce teams from Brazil to Germany, Saudi Arabia to Japan. So don’t be surprised to see some new international superstars who, for maybe the first time ever, will be portrayed in a positive light. Whether it’s out of the kindness of their hearts or just to take advantage of fans from across the world, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve been able to chant “USA! USA!” for long enough, to the point where we’ve become bored of it. It’s time for some other countries and pro wrestling fans from across the globe to feel patriotic.