From a very young age (about 3-4 years old) I had a fascination with what was then known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). I used to have a book with all the wrestlers in it and could identify each one along with their hometown, signature move, even birthdays! I have no clue how I got into it, but over the years I got hooked. I grew up watching legends like Mick Foley, Bret Hart, Kane, Steve Austin and so many others and although I’ve moved on from my wrestling addiction, I still tune in every year to watch the biggest event in WWE (renamed for legal reasons) calendar – WrestleMania.
I never really know the story lines and lately I barely even recognise all that many faces – so long ago was my infatuation with the ‘sport’ – but something really troubled me this time around. So much so that it led me to do a little more research. What I found and realised from my years of watching WWE is that it is nothing short of brainwashing, xenophobic, American propaganda – and believe me, I don’t chuck such allegations around lightly!
So back to my experience watching WrestleMania a few months ago – all was going well. It was the usual setup; fighters stepped in the ring to take on other fighters, they grappled, jumped in the air a bit, did a signature move, someone was pinned and it was all over. This continued for a while until it got to one of the main events. This was a fight between John Cena (who you may know from the Hollywood movie ‘The Marine’…but probably not) and a supposedly Russian bloke called Rusev. It doesn’t take a genius to join the dots and note that relations between the USA and Russian are not the best right now, but it somewhat worried me when the Russian bloke approached the ring holding a huge Russian flag whilst standing on top of a Russian tank.
Naturally the crowd all booed him and hence booed what was made out to be the living embodiment of Russia by the scriptwriters over at the WWE. What was really interesting however is that the guy playing this character Rusev (Yes kids, WWE is not real) is actually Bulgarian and originally fought as a Bulgarian character, however as things between the USA and Russia got a bit politically tense, they needed a Russian antagonist to drum up animosity towards the Russians from the millions of red-blooded American WWE fans and those from around the world. Yes you’re right, this may all be a bit of a stretch and it’s just some light-hearted fun at the expense of the Russians right? What might be seen as an act of propagandist aggression is if they were to put a picture up of Vladamir Putin on the huge screen and had the whole crowd boo? Surely you can concede that something like that might be seen as propaganda? Ladies and gentlemen…exhibit B:
You really can’t make this stuff up! It got me thinking and I’ve come to the conclusion that the WWE is at it’s very core, is used as a tool to progress the ‘us vs them’ narrative and breed a generation of xenophobes that will celebrate and tolerate America and only America. All portrayals of foreigners in the WWE are gross stereotypes, pushing forward the agenda of ‘otherness’. Here are a few examples:
I remember Kamala from my wrestling books as a child. He was supposedly from Uganda, an ex-bodyguard of Idi Amin and came into the ring with tribal face-paint, a spear and a shield…oh and he was a cannibal. To quote his Wikipedia page, ‘the character was a simple-minded Ugandan cannibal. He wrestles barefoot and in a loincloth.’
Regal spoke really posh English, loved the Queen and was an all-round annoying guy. Although his portrayal was not as extreme as that of Kamala, he was regularly booed, hated and mocked by the crowd as well as other characters. Below you’ll see him refer to a Japanese wrestler (Tajiri) as his ‘houseboy’
This guy was an acrobatic wrestler who spoke in an overly exaggerated Japanese accent (despite his ability to speak English perfectly) and was never really taken seriously. In the video below you’ll see him and the Japanese custom of bowing as the butt of the joke. Incidentally, he gets beaten up by an American Olympic gold medalist for this. But that is just a coincidence.
The Iron Sheik and Sgt. Slaughter
I’m going to end on this one, because I simply can’t go on! You may or may not have heard of The Iron Sheik. He was a wrestler supposedly from Iran who came into prominence shortly after international relations between the USA and Iran began falling to shreds in the 1980’s. Another character called Sargent Slaughter (an All-American hero who walked around in full army camouflage and a cigar in his mouth) who was unsurprisingly loved by WWF fans, naturally engaged in a fierce rivalry with The Iron Sheik and eventually beat him at Madison Square Garden in-front of a sell out crowd. Finally here’s a fun little extract from Sergent Slaughter’s Wikipedia page. He returned to the WWF in 1988 “resuming some of his past feuds with the likes of Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissey, the Iron Sheik, and Col. DeBeers.” Colonel DeBeers was incidentally a pro-Apartheid character who was known for his extreme vocal racism. Here he is refusing to fight with a black referee:
The further down the rabbit hole I went, the more instances of propaganda and xenophobia I found. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the memories I have from watching WWF as a child, but I fear for the thousands (or millions) of fans who obliviously watch the show without being aware of the subtle brainwashing that is taking place. I didn’t want to even get into the racial stereotyping of African-American characters and don’t expect a follow-up article on that topic, because frankly these guys have done it better than I ever could.