"We are real Americans and we believe in the First Amendment," say wrestlers Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger. Photo: YouTube
Remember the good old days when professional wrestlers "injured" in the ring would pretend to be injured in public just in case a fan saw them?
No? Ok. Well, take my word for it. The term of art is "kayfabe." It's the wrestling equivalent of a blue wall of silence. Omerta. That wall is very thin these days, and WWE proudly calls itself an entertainment company. No one is fooled, but the wrestlers try to keep in character most of the time, and the fans generally pretend to accept the real fakeness of wrestling. It is a confusing mental feat, but WWE makes a lot of money every year, so they're doing something right.
In the past, when WWE wrestlers have formally broken character during a show, it's because something bad happened; the real world intruded unexpectedly in a way that kayfabe couldn't cover. The death of wrestler Owen Hart in the ring 14 years ago. Commentator Jerry the "King" Lawler suffers a heart attack on air a few months back.
Now, it's something more... jovial. It's Glenn Beck.
It started on Beck's Mercury Radio Network program. WWE has a new character that Beck believes is "stupid." The character is a Tea Party take-off who taunts the current WWE world champion, Alberto Del Rio, for allegedly being an illegal immigrant. Lest you find offense at this in any way, note that in this storyline, Del Rio is the good guy, and gets cheers from the fans, and the Tea Party wrestler, Zeb Colter, is the bad guy. (Colter's bud is a veteran wrestler named Jack Swagger, another villain.)
Beck said this of the storyline:
He actually referred to George Soros and Cass Sunstein. Beck goes on to speculate that the WWE is alienating 80 percent of his audience, which he thinks "skews" conservative.
WWE responded by first inviting Beck to appear on their program. (It's the biz!)
But then they released a video, where the wrestlers in question break character and bash Beck.
WWE's reps concede that they're promoting a storyline that makes anti-immigrant politics look bad because a significant and growing portion of their audience domestically and in Latin America is Hispanic.
And here is where Glenn Beck gets his sense of WWE wrong: wrestling might not seem "progressive" to him, but wrestling fans are young. They're of the Obama generation. They like to be on the right side of history. Actually, if you look at wrestling storylines years back, you'll see how the script matches or tries to catch up with the political zeitgeist.
Beck will get some PR out of this, but WWE has Wrestlemania on April 7.
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