Pro-wrestling and the Tea Party, together at last

The men in the WWE aren't just grappling with each other -- they're grappling with the soul of the Republican Party

Topics: The Classical, GOP, Wrestling, wwe, Linda McMahon, vince mcmahon, Republicans, ,

Pro-wrestling and the Tea Party, together at last
This originally appeared on The Classical.

Karl Rove’s on-air meltdown during Fox News’ election-night coverage might have been one of the greatest pieces of political theater in recent years, but behind it was a very real struggle for the center of the Republican Party. Rove had always held the radical view that the party should adapt to changing demographics and maybe stop making a point of hating Latino immigrants so outwardly and vehemently, and the expensively manufactured quasi-populist Tea Party movement disagreed. And now that we know the Tea Party is really only good at holding up Congressional legislation, the party is changing, and we’re seeing Rovian types scrambling to hold up guys like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz as potential leaders of anything. Obviously, this has all been crazy fun to watch. But I’d argue that the same struggle, playing as it is in WWE rings, is even more fascinating.
The Classical

For a few generations now, Connecticut’s McMahon family has controlled the WWE. McMahon matron Linda McMahon has run for Senate as a Republican twice, and she’s lost spectacularly both times, culminating in the bizarre spectacle of her most recent concession speech. Linda spent a bit of time attempting to throw in with the Tea Party, but the McMahons are, at heart, old-school Northeastern business-class Republicans. If the religious right mattered that much to them, they wouldn’t have booked the Undertaker to crucify Stone Cold Steve Austin on their TV show 14 years ago. And until a couple of weeks ago, the family’s strongest statement on their Party’s dissolution was a Daniel Bryan/Kane sketch that ineffectually made fun of Nate Silver. But now we’ve got Zeb Colter, which is something different.

***



As a WWE wrestler, Jack Swagger has never amounted to too much. He’s a towering blonde corn-fed Okie with impressive collegiate wrestling credentials, and the company once made a decent go at transforming him into Kurt Angle when Angle left for TNA. He had some fun matches on the WWE’s doomed ECW reboot, and there was a brief and unmemorable run as World Heavyweight Champion, but in the past few years Swagger has mostly only gotten TV time when someone’s had to lose to a bigger star. He’s serviceable in the ring and a vast blank on the microphone, and that’s not a combination that leads to great WWE success. And a few months ago, he made some vague statement about needing to find himself and disappeared from WWE TV completely. The great wrestling critic Brandon Stroud wrote a serialized novella during that absence, imagining Swagger on a John Carter-style mission to Mars. But as far as the WWE was concerned, Swagger was actually off being jumped into an isolationist militia somewhere.

Swagger returned about a month ago, suddenly dominant and now referring to his ankle lock finishing move as the Patriot Act. And shortly after his return, he introduced a new friend, a feverish proselytizer named Zeb Colter. Colter, with his Yosemite Sam mustache drooping over his survivalist beard and his all cargo everything, looks like the very picture of an amateur border patrol enthusiast. Judging by his speeches, he’s a single-issue nutball. He wants the immigrants gone.

Colter is actually Dutch Mantel, an old-school Southern wrestling bad guy who knows how to sell this poppycock because, you get the idea, he actually believes at least a little piece of it. His new stage name manages to mock both Ann Coulter and Uncle Zeb, the hick character he played for a while in the 90s WWF. Zeb has a bit of a mysterious backstory; like Mantel, he’s a Vietnam vet, and he fought alongside Swagger’s father, fighting for an America that he no longer recognizes. WWE audiences being what they are, there’s always a remote chance that they’ll start cheering his rhetoric. But thus far, the company has been doing an excellent job presenting him and Swagger as clear-cut bad guys, to the point where Glenn Beck called out the company for parodying his own self-parody of a viewpoint. (There’s now a minor one-way feud going on between the WWE and Beck, with WWE sending camera crews to Beck’s office and attempting to force him to show up on Raw, and Colter even breaking character for long enough to assume a moral high ground.)

With Zeb around, Swagger no longer has to talk; he just has to destroy people in matches and loom behind Zeb during speeches, occasionally shouting. “We! The People!” He’s pretty good at both of those things. The Colter/Swagger duo comes across most clearly in a series of deliberately crude YouTube videos, with both of them standing against shitty wood paneling, Swagger scowling while Colter reels off talk-radio talking points. But Swagger is now being presented as an absolute threat. Earlier this month, he scored a flukey pin against dominant star Randy Orton to win a deeply entertaining six-man Elimination Chamber match, which made Swagger the #1 contender for the World Heavyweight Championship heading into Wrestlemania.

His opponent at the company’s biggest annual show will be the Mexican wrestler Alberto Del Rio, presented as a foreign aristocrat until a few months ago, when the company realized that maybe their most prominent Latino wrestler shouldn’t be a complete dick. As a grinning babyface, Del Rio’s been a revelation, as his recent series of successful matches against the behemoth Big Show has made clear. And now Swagger and Colter, of course, are claiming that a Mexican wrestler shouldn’t be the champion in an American company, and Del Rio is (somewhat disingenuously) calling the U.S. the greatest country on earth because it gives someone like him a chance. At a certain point, this stuff writes itself.

But in knowingly incurring the wrath of Beck and Coulter, the McMahons are making their own centrist-Republican stand, throwing their goofy fictional lot in with Del Rio’s only-in-America platitudes, and with Rove and the assembled forces of establishment Republican orthodoxy. When the McMahons make political stands through their characters, they’re usually blasting impossibly easy targets: Russia, Iran, those who would censor WWE programming. But here, they’re taking clear and deliberate aim at a viewpoint that a decent chunk of their fans might hold. They might even be hoping to change minds, to make the world a safer place for a third Linda McMahon Senate run, or for, at least, the philosophies that the failed runs represented.

Last week, Mississippi police arrested Swagger after a WWE show, charging him with DUI and marijuana possession. The WWE has lately been taking wrestler drug use seriously, and offenses like that would usually get Swagger jerked off of WWE TV for weeks, maybe even fired. I wanted to write this piece last week, but I held off because I thought the arrest would gum up the plans. That didn’t happen. Swagger and Colter were back on WWE TV this Monday, as if nothing had happened. That’s a clear sign that the McMahons really, really want to tell this story. When the fight for the soul of the Republican Party takes the form of spandex-clad grapplers, it means fascinating things are happening on your TV, and that maybe you should pay attention.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>