Last month, after four decades at the helm of World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon announced his retirement. Given the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations against him, the news looked like a victory for decency. But in professional wrestling, nothing is what it seems.
cMahon is no longer the multimedia company’s chairman and chief executive, nor will he play his character on WWE programming. But he remains the largest single shareholder, reportedly controlling 80 percent of shareholder votes.
This confusion is appropriate. After all, McMahon made his billions by breaking down the wall between fantasy and reality. But this latest twist in its long, bizarre history is a useful lesson in the difference between genuine political victory and a tantalizing illusion of victory.
“Professional” wrestling has never been a legitimate sporting competition; The results of the wrestler’s fights are designed to ignite the passion of the audience. This fact was formerly obscured by an informal code called “Kayfabe”. That meant never breaking character in public. Wrestlers who acted as “babyfaces” or good guys could be fired on the spot if caught sinning. “Heels,” or villains, were not seen doing random acts of kindness.
McMahon broke the code in the second half of the 1980s when he admitted that all games and storylines were planned. By legally putting itself in the same category as the circus, it was able to escape the sway of state athletic commissions, which for decades had collected taxes and enforced safety regulations in pro wrestling.
But his greatest political innovation didn’t come in a lobbying campaign. It originated in the wrestling ring.
In the late 1990s, McMahon decided to make himself the main character in his own program. He became a superhero named “Mr. McMahon”: a sadistic, greedy, womanizing billionaire who angered fan-favorite wrestlers. The character bore an uncanny resemblance to the real Vince McMahon, but always with a protective layer of irony.
McMahon generously mixed truth and lies until the two became indistinguishable. If you were a fan, you either got tickled by the spectacular confusion, or you became obsessed with picking apart what was real and what wasn’t. In any case, you have consumed the product. Anyway, McMahon won.
Even if you don’t follow wrestling, these themes may sound familiar.
Donald Trump grew up watching the wrestling programs run by Vince’s father, and he remains a fan of the art form — and of McMahon.
They’ve known each other since the 1980s, when Trump “hosted” two episodes of McMahon’s annual WrestleMania extravaganza near his Atlantic City casino. Trump even engaged in a rivalry with Mr. McMahon in 2007, culminating in a WrestleMania appearance where he shaved McMahon’s bald head.
Trump’s WWE journey wasn’t just an education in how to be a wrestling heel. He learned how to capture the attention of an audience and let his enemies’ accusations make him more powerful, skills that would allow him to win the 2016 election.
Trump’s rise to the Oval Office brought McMahon’s revolutionary anti-ethics to the highest ranks of power. It has now become common to refer to politics as kayfabe, whether the illusion plays out in staged debates between dueling paid commentators on cable news or in the careers of a generation of conspiracy-theory-spreading Republican politicians.
But there is a way out of the hall of mirrors that kayfabe depicts. Rather than trying to judge the drama, look for who really benefits from a particular system. Once you figure out where the power lies and uncover the intent behind the spectacle, you’ll know what you’re up against – and how to fight back effectively.
McMahon’s resignation is proof. The new WWE co-bosses are a McMahon loyalist and McMahon’s daughter. If the company is sold, McMahon could make a fortune.
It’s worth approaching the latest twists in Trump’s story with a keen eye. The spectacle of his prosecution, whether federal or in Georgia, would be enticing. But the real victory would be the hard work of protecting the US electoral infrastructure state by state and county by county.
The heels win at every turn. The babyfaces are shameful embarrassments. Nobody knows what to believe. We may be living in Mr. McMahon’s world. But we don’t have to accept his rules.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/a-greedy-billionaire-who-loves-antagonising-people-why-pro-wrestlings-supreme-baddie-seems-familiar-41880803.html A greedy billionaire who loves to piss people off…why pro-wrestling’s biggest villain sounds familiar