It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING.
1. Wait…don’t go. Please. Don’t just see that the theme for today’s KEYS is wrestling and just give up on them. Jose knows that professional wrestling is low-brow entertainment with limited appeal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything important to say about American society. In fact, it offers important information on how we feel about "candy asses," zombies and scantily clad women. Actually, today’s KEYS isn’t really about wrestling at all. (Note: This KEYS is about wrestling). It’s really about social justice.
2. Wrestling has a rich history of ethnic and racial stereotyping. Until the end of the cold war, Russian wrestlers were all brutal Stalinists. Long after World War II had ended, Japanese wrestlers were still sneaky. And Iranian Olympic Bronze medalist the Iron Sheik, emerged shortly after the hostage crisis and became perhaps the most evil man in all of wrestling. Hell, there were even evil New Zealanders named the Sheepherders who hated Americans for taking their family farms. (Note: Later known as the lovable Bushwhackers.) But all of these wrestling characters had something in common. They hated the U.S. and wanted bad things to happen to us. Yes it was low brow, and stoked jingoism and perhaps even bigotry, but at least it was this odd sort of morality play where we hated them because they wanted to destroy our country. (Note: Or pretended to anyway.) Today, it is different.
Following September 11, a lot of wrestling fans hoped that the WWF (Note: Jose will never call it the WWE. Screw the World Wildlife Fund.) would not cynically use a national tragedy to advance story lines. After all, during the Gulf War, GI Joe hero Sgt. Slaughter became an Iraqi sympathizer (along with the Iron Sheik, who somehow went from being Iranian to Iraqi.) Eventually, Sarge was allowed to be an American again rather than face treason charges. Go figure.
Jose tends to expect the worst from wrestling, but was pleasantly surprised when the WWF did not work 9-11 or war angles. An episode of Smackdown (Note: Jose thinks) was one of the first public events after 9-11 and featured wrestlers breaking character and talking about their feelings and U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist leading the pledge of allegiance. It probably shouldn’t have been canceled, but it wasn’t offensive or exploitative and it was honest.
Needless to say, this exercise it good taste couldn’t continue forever. Recently, the WWF has introduced an Arab-American wrestler named Muhammed Hassan and an Arab manager, Daivari. In an earlier time Hassan’s gimmick would have been that he was an evil Arab who is sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and wants to destroy the U.S. That would have been very, very bad…it would have been horrible. This is worse.
Hassan doesn’t want to destroy America, he’s not from Saudi Arabia or Iraq, he’s from Michigan, and his complaint is that he is stereotyped and persecuted for being an Arab-American. So rather than being hated, because he wants to destroy us. He is hated because he wants to be one of us. He is hated because he has the gall to suggest that Arab-Americans are as American as anyone else, and should not have their civil rights constrained.
Hell, he even brings data to the table. In what Jose is sure is a first for pro-wrestling, Hassan urged fans to go to http://news.cornell.edu to look at a survey saying that 44 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government should curtail some civil liberties for Muslims. Can you imagine Hulk Hogan urging fans to look at a Princeton study indicating that 25 percent of the population suffered from Hulkamania while only 15 percent was afflicted by Macho Madness?
This is really bad. This is as bad as it would have been if the famed Midsouth wrestling association where Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman feuded had developed an African-American character in the 60s who was hated because he demanded the write to vote or desegregation. (Note: Of course the WWF, has a nation of Islam knockoff complete with a bow tied manager called the "Nation of Domination," not much better."
All of this is especially terrible in light of the fact that the WWF does morale tours for the troops in Iraq. Can you imagine the reaction if the Iraqi Wrestling Federation had an American character who went out and talked about how great torturing Arabs at Abu Gharib was. Fox News and Drudge would be all over it.
3. What Jose would like to see is an increase in the number of instances where professional wrestling supports social justice. One of the few good examples is Col. DeBeers. DeBeers was one of the most hated wrestlers in the old American Wrestling Association because his gimmick was that he was a bigoted, pro-apartheid South African wrestler. Sometimes he would even refuse to wrestle black opponents. Jose remembers him going on vicious, bigoted rants about blacks and AIDS as fans poured garbage down on him. It was refreshing to see stereotypes being put to good use.
But what Jose especially liked about this loathsome character was that he used took the name of South Africa’s despicable DeBeers diamond cartel. Jose really, really hates the cartel. Not only has it supported apartheid, fueled diamond wars around the world and driven up the price of a relatively plentiful commodity, it invented the idea that an engagement ring should cost two months salary out of thin air. That’s right. They made it up.
"How else can two months salary last forever?" Hellooooo….international star registry.
But their marketing is so good, that they have actually convinced people that this is some long standing tradition. In fact, they almost convinced Jose that if he ever wanted to get engaged, he should quit his job and find something for minimum wage for a couple of months just to bring the cost down. Okay, so maybe the Col. DeBeers gimmick didn’t bring down apartheid or break up the cartel, but at least it made a few more people aware that there was something bad going on in the world. Jose wants to see more of this. In fact, next week on WWF RAW, Jose demands to see a new character named "The Million Dollar Man" George Steinbrenner.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING.