The WWE's weekly Monday-night extravaganza rolled into Dallas yesterday. It was, as you'd expect, the typical ridiculous collection of men in mind-blowingly tight shorts trying to wind up the crowd ("You've got as much chance of beating me as Tony Romo has of winning a Super Bowl"), lowbrow insanity (a man who had recently had a hip replacement being beaten around the hip with his crutch) and spectacle (the stage set was a magnificent piece of work, and several weighty gentlemen around me nearly had heart attacks at a lot of the fireworks).
Now: Wrestling, like any good soap opera, functions on good guys and bad guys. The WWE creates "gimmicks" for each wrestler to express a certain part of their character's personality and push them broadly toward good or bad. Then, when these men wrestle each other, we are more invested in the result, regardless of whom we're rooting for.
There is a rich history of gimmicks like this, and they are often ridiculous. At this event, one bad guy's gimmick was that he was a lawyer, and another's gimmick seemed to be entirely based around his possession of a mustache (accompanied by an entrance video that depicted him combing his mustache and audience chants of "CODY'S MUSTACHE!"). So far, so ridiculous.
Two new characters, however, are different. They have the all-or-nothing gimmick that they are far right-wing activists, Tea Party animals who give speeches about illegal immigrants coming to America to take jobs and cause general mayhem for brown people.
This could be done in a ridiculous style, to make them almost cartoonishly bad, but instead the speech-maker, Zeb Coulter, is given a full five to 10 minutes, relatively unopposed, to give a speech that even Fox News would balk at. At one point he called a Mexican wrestler a criminal -- to his face. This isn't something I was prepared for. I sat there agog for some time, wistfully recalling an era when bad guys were pirates or repo guys or just liked hitting men with chairs a little too much. (The other, Jack Swagger, does the Mexican-punching.)
Presumably the WWE feels that its most successful gimmicks reflect aspects of our lives we are familiar with. Nobody likes lawyers or men who regularly comb their mustaches.
Indeed, we are all aware of people who consider all immigrants to be dangerous criminals who are ruining America. But aside from whether or not this is an appropriate or well-thought-out gimmick (I'm not so sure), it is clearly outside the usual good-guy/bad-guy dichotomy presented by pro wresting, designed to draw in maximum publicity. And it is absolutely working.
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Is it strictly WWE, though? I can't think of a comparable gimmick in its history. Controversial gimmicks of the past, like when Sgt. Slaughter fought the Iron Sheik during the first Gulf War, were more clearly defined and limited in their scope. We are used to our bad guys being more cartoonish. I think my favorite bad-guy move ever was when the Big Boss Man invaded the funeral of Big Show's father, and towed the coffin away on a chain, while the Big Show clung to it, wailing.
That's the sort of balls-to-the-wall insanity I want from wrestling, and from my bad guys. How clearly defined is that bad guy? He towed a guy's dad's corpse away, because that's just the sort of guy he is.
I just don't want to hear a speech about how Mexicans are criminals on my night out. Clearly, the right-wing-guy-who-wrestles-Mexicans angle is getting the WWE big press, but it's just nasty, and it's not WWE.
In other words: We need more guys with mustaches.