Recently AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan feuded over the WWE championship. Daniel Bryan played the earth loving heel out to destroy capitalism and AJ Style the all American down home hero. AJ Styles repersents what WWE likes in a champion and not in the muscular way. He’s American, he’s conservative and he’s white. Style’s homophobia and conservative views are not part of his character but it is part of who he is as a person and in wrestling today there is no difference. That’s true from the bottom of the card to the very top. In America the final boss in wrestling, sometimes stunned, sometimes wounded, but never defeated is the business that runs wrestling itself.
There is a long history of story lines around capitalism. Dusty Rhodes talked about hard times when fighting the incredibly wealthy Ric Flair. When Dusty made his transition to WWE his appeal to the working man was pounded down into his “soul” and dancing abilit. Dusty vs Ric was a lower stakes version of working man vs wealthy elite, something that at the time was a bit too real for the cartoony WWF. They finally gave their own version of it in Steve Austin vs Mr. McMahon. A distilled version of the “aw geeze I hate my boss” line of thinking that brought us Dilbert and Office Space and a whole lot of nothing else. Then at his peak Steve “shook hands with the devil” and joined up with his hated boss. "Fuck you got mine” in the form of a heel turn.
At the turn of the century there was an embrace of the billionaire boss. These were people who had it figured out. We might have hated them but we had to respect them. We loved The Apprentice. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates feuded for our love. They made hard choices (like cutting away at our workers rights) while raking in the dough for themselves. Whenever Vince McMahon, the racist, sexist billionaire owner who pals around with President Donald Trump (who once appeared as the good guy in the “Battle of the Billionaires”) comes out people bow down to him. Even more for his younger, cooler, son in law who comes decked out in iron crosses. In the furthest reaches of the stadium queer, black and female fans have to deal with the contradictions of their love of the art form and the horrible spectacle in front of them. In the back the wrestlers of those minorities have to deal with the fact that this might be the only place to live their dream, in a corporation that does not care at best and hates them at worst.
The machine that they are in breaks their body until it is useless. That is true for many jobs from sports to games to fast food. Here, like everything in wrestling, it is blown up to it’s most extreme. Careers can end on live TV and you can pay $9.99 a month to see it happen on any one of your devices. Wrestling in America mimics the time, from the excess of the 80s, the aggression of the 90s, the blind patriotic violence of the 00s and as we arrive in the 10s we are seeing wrestling eat itself to keep itself going, along with anyone small enough to get in its way. As corporations destroy our world so do the characters of wrestling destroy its own.
I know WWE is bad, just like I know Google, Twitter and Amazon are bad. That is the machine I live in though. I walk out of my apartment every day to see the Microsoft and Amazon buses carrying the people who are the reason for why the apartment rent. I can’t even blame some of them. I know some of them and they are just like me. I work for a multi-national corporation too. Trying to survive in a world that does not care if we exist at best and doesn’t want us to exist at worst is daily life.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been drawn to the latest WWE championship story despite my body wanting to flee. Kofi Kingston has been put down for the majority of his career as a joke, forced to do an accent that wasn't his to be a character. He grinned and bore it and now 11 years later he gets his first one on one shot at the top prize only for it to be taken away by Vince McMahon. McMahon tells Kofi that he appreciates his hard work but he just doesn’t deserve it and isn’t qualified enough.
It’s no mistake that the wrestler chosen to take his place is the white Kevin Owens. Someone shamed for his physique by the like of McMahon even he is shown above the pecking order of Kofi. Just as the AJ feud played with his real life views this one does too. Of a black man stuck in a racist company and realizing that he can’t succeed when the billionaire can decide to take everything from him at a moment’s notice. That speaks to the people like me, a character and a real person both wondering why he even sticks around here anymore. He hates it and the man that runs it but he has to play by their rules because they own the game. There is no escape other then to survive on in the face of apathy and hatred. That’s real. That’s wrestling.