The big Cadillac tear-asses down the road like a rampaging dinosaur.
Telephone poles fly by, barely made visible by headlights carving through a Louisiana night that’s darker than ten feet up a coal miner’s ass. The young man behind the wheel is about to shit up his back with fear for his life. He will go on to become Ol’ J.R. – Jumpin’ Jim Ross – the White Meat Babyface from Oklahoma; one of the most iconic announcers in the history of the business of professional wrestling and sports entertainment. But the young man doesn’t know that. For him, life hangs in the balance as his drunk boss, Leroy McGuirk, loads the .38 revolver and issues forth dark profanity, raging with murderous intent from the passenger seat.
All hell has broken loose.
In McGuirk’s Tri-State Territory (at the time, running through Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana; later to become “Mid-South”), an up-and-coming wrestler known as “the Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiasse has taken a shine to the old man’s teenage daughter, and McGuirk, having just found out about it, demands satisfaction. However, having been blinded in one eye years before, and the other eye growing weaker over the years, McGuirk has seen fit to dragoon the young Ross into driving him the three hundred mile midnight run to kill that sonfobitch DiBiasse and protect his daughter’s virtue…
A hush falls over the crowd at the Sportatorium in Dallas as the lights dim. The arena is hot from the crush of attendees, accentuating the scent of stale beer, cigarette smoke, and piss. A buzz surrounds those new boys who have come to town, and the crowd is eager with anticipation.
Suddenly, a note cuts through the silent darkness: the opening of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird. A man behind the curtain hits the lights. The crowd erupts, not knowing why, only that it must.
Out walk three men on their way to the ring. Buddy Roberts and Terry “Bam-Bam” Gordy menace the crowd with Michael P.S. Hayes taking point, strutting like the cocky bastard he is in a sequined robe done up after the Confederate Battle Flag. They have just changed the game for professional wrestling. Rock Music will now factor into a wrestler’s entrance, enhancing their persona and increasing their hold over an audience; the Von Erich’s, who have dominated their father’s Territory, will springboard from their already local celebrity status into the stratosphere as they now will have a worthy adversary; and the business will now witness a golden age of factions, introducing a whole new dynamic to the product. But for now, the young men with the Confederate Flag are about to put on a clinic on how to get over…
The man striding up to the announcer looks like he has no business being a professional wrestler. In an entertainment genre moving toward muscular, lean physiques, he is unapologetically overweight. He speaks with a lisp. He doesn’t possess a tremendous depth of technical moves. However, anyone who knows “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes knows that this particular man is a giant in the world professional wrestling. With his brains, heart, and guts, he has captivated millions, sold out the largest venues, and the people can’t get enough.
His red-hot feud with former protégé “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair had recently taken a wild turn as his nemesis, with the help of an early incarnation of what will become the infamous “Four Horsemen,” broke his leg with a jump from the top of the turnbuckle. The leg has healed and the time has come for him to take his revenge for the crowd.
Rhodes hits his mark as the announcer introduces him. He shakes hands. His “gimmick” or persona, is the everyman; a man who has struggled, who has known adversity, who has worked hard, who has loved God and his fellow man, and who now seeks justice. He connects to his fans by trying to speak to what they are going through themselves. Vietnam and the upheaval of the Sixties are in the rearview mirror, but their effects still linger. The verities of the past are giving way. The economy stagnates. Factories are closing as automation and outsourcing turn abstractions into painful realities. They are going through hard times. The man who is out to reclaim the title understands. He wants to take their mind off their struggles if only for a moment. He wants to give them hope.
“The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes prepares to say something that’s going to hit the viewers like a big tent revival; words which will become one of the foundational promos in pro-wrestling. He squares his shoulders, looks straight at the camera, and begins to speak…
Before WWE, there were The Territories.
From its roots as a carnival attraction, professional wrestling evolved into a world unto itself. Promoters carved out fiefdoms in which they “booked” talent to wrestle according to storylines drafted behind the scenes; drama created with the intent of putting an ass into every 18 inches of seat.
Between recruiting, developing, and managing talent; dealing with legal and commercial entities; and to say nothing of navigating the undercurrents of a violent and secretive business, professional wrestling became something that was one part circus, one part mafia.
Over the decades, the business churned in and out of the Squared-Circle as promoters, wrestlers, and Territories themselves rose and fell in the entertainment landscape of the postwar world. Wrestling promotions cropped up from Canada to Japan as the genre grew, however, it was America that dominated the industry.
And no one did it like they did in The South.
In a 2009 roundtable discussion on WWE’s Legends of Wrestling, Michael P.S. Hayes said:
I will state right now that without Southern wrestling…it was the most influential part of our business and still is today. The creativity that was necessary for running weekly, the entertainment value – and that is with no disrespect to your Bruno Sanmartinos, your Don Leo Jonathans, your Superstar Billy Grahams – they didn’t have to put it out every week and change it up like Southern wrestling. Southern wrestling was exciting…I see the influence time and time again.
The more intense schedule and drive for greater creativity was in part due to the hard reality that Southerners were often far more poor and rural in relation to audiences in Northern Territories. Operating in highly urbanized areas meant access to crowds with a fair degree of disposable income, and promoters could rely on booking talent for a handful of venues and expect a decent return at the pay window.
In The South, this wasn’t the case. Territories were far more spread out, with talent having to put on a match at an Armory for a crowd of a few hundred, load up in a rental car, and haul ass to make the next town in order to do it all over again. Though this meant less money, something was happening. The matches possessed a freedom and intimacy that no one could ever experience at Madison Square Garden. “The Boys,” had time to ride up and down the road together, drink beer, and talk about “The Business.” People loaded up the kids to drive to town to cheer for a stranger they’d come to see as family. Talent could feel the crowd in all its raw immediacy, and with that closer bond between crowd and performer, pro-wrestling in The South became a laboratory for magic.
It was “KATIE-BAR-THE-DOOR!” Men beat the hell out of each other with bull-ropes. They wrestled bears. Crowds lined up to see a “Texas Death Match.” Feuds caught fire, embroiling Territories in high drama, and if a Heel (villain) got enough heat, police would have to escort him out of the ring so the crowd didn’t kill the sorry sonofabitch for what he did.
There were deep connections between people and place, and by God, The promoters and talent knew it. They crafted their stories to fit the audience, and in The South, Babyfaces (good guys) meant tough, salt-of-thee-earth men with an accent, and maybe symbolic costume flourishes like jeans and cowboy boots, or overalls, or flags, all of which told the audience on some level that they were like them (or how they wished they were). Likewise, Heels meant portrayals of some no-account trash from somewhere else; perhaps a crude chickenshit bully or a loud jet-setting Urbanite playboy. If they really wanted blood (and to draw big money) they might play to ethnic or national sentiment. In the same way Territories just after WWII or in the height of the Cold War sometimes favored using Nazi or Russian Communist Heels (or perhaps a certain Iranian), a Texas Territory might book a Mexican Heel, and in The Deep South, where audiences often remained informally segregated for quite some time after Integration, promoters had few qualms about playing to very real tensions between Whites and Blacks.
However, that is changing and has been for some time.
As someone once said, “American politics cannot be properly understood without a working knowledge of professional wrestling.” The same homogenizing impulse that marks the globalist Leviathan is all too clearly reflected in the costumed drama revolving around a 20X20 Squared-Circle, showing for all to see the truth; that because we know it is fake, pro-wrestling becomes one of few things we can count on as being real. It is “the play within the play.” It is the canary in the coal mine. It is the funhouse mirror offering up an image of who we are, were, and might become.
Reflecting the growing Managerialist world in which it operated, pro-wrestling has followed a familiar trend. What began as something local or regional, became nationalized by a class of professional people with an ever increasingly specialized technical skills-set, and once established there, set their eyes on harnessing their national base to propel them to global hegemony.
As technological developments such as mass media and the automobile came into their own, small wrestling promotions formed a series of loose confederations, the largest of which being the National Wrestling Alliance. With the onset of cable and satellite-based programming, The Territories fell by the wayside as they competed for the more lucrative high ground until Vince McMahon’s WWF (now WWE) achieved a monopoly in all but name.
This year’s WrestleMania opened with the following statement
You’ve come from all around the world. All walks of life. All in search of that feeling. That emotion. That one thing that takes your breath away and leaves an impression that lasts forever. The time has come once again to gather for that universal rush. Now, buckle up and let yourself go. Give yourself up and let the moments take you where you least expect; in a worldwide convergence on the ultimate thrill-ride.
Here we see the hand of Dildolech.
All references to anything local or particular have been scrubbed to enhance marketability. There is only the undifferentiated mass of humanity. McMahon no longer even owns the company his father created, with WWE having become a publicly traded enterprise in the Nineties.
Anyone seeking to enter the business no longer pays dues in a Territory and works their way up. They may run in an Indie-outfit, but to make real money, more often than not, they just go to Florida to try out and be trained by the company. For those who make it, their promos and interviews are all heavily scripted to hit the right note of drama without offending “progressive” sensibilities or jeopardizing relationships with sponsors or shareholders. And while today’s performers are far more impressive physical specimens than their predecessors, the control required to achieve that betrays an important tell.
Pro-wrestling been tamed.
People legitimately feared Harley Race and “Bruiser” Brody. They identified with Dusty, believed that “Hacksaw” Jim Dugan was a patriotic sonofabitch, and that “Macho Man” Randy Savage just might be crazy. “The Iron Sheik” really talked that way, and Jake’s snake wasn’t fake. Ric Flair could stand in a custom made suit and tell the world he’d be at the Marriot after the match, and brother, you better believe “Ring Rats” showed up to find out about “Space Mountain.” Who didn’t like “Hillbilly Jim?” Who didn’t want to see “Stone Cold” give some Jabroni a “boot and a Stunner?”
While times change and fans of all forms of entertainment remain sentimental about the champions of their youth, there is no denying that something vital is gone. To manage an empire of any sort requires ever-expanding mechanisms of control. The level of money and resources involved demand efficiency and predictable outcomes. Whatever you brought with you must be laid upon the altar of “continuous improvement,” which is to say, “the guys with the spreadsheets.”
This creates an environment that is inherently hostile to anything creative, let along real. Aside from the Undertaker’s retirement, one of the few truly noteworthy things WWE has done recently is a series of short videos featuring Southpaw Wrestling. The series is a parody of a 1980’s Southern Territory, the highlight of which is Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows portraying over-the-top former tag-team partners from the era engaging in an intense feud. (Note: both Anderson and Gallows are criminally underrated, and if WWE had a lick of sense, they’d unleash them.) Though it is all tongue-in-cheek lighthearted satire (complete with mullets), because of the fact the series is based upon something actually rooted somewhere, there is more authenticity in that spoof than in most Monday Night Raw episodes.
And here we come to it; Southern culture and iconography are skeletons in pro-wrestling’s closet (much in the same way they are for the Managerialist Class). The Business liked Southerners’ money and loyalty just fine when the industry was trying to find an audience, but now that it has an eye on tapping into the global market (John Cena isn’t studying Mandarin for his health), it can’t remove the traces of The South fast enough.
Because of The South’s fundamental role in the development of pro-wrestling, many characters were explicitly rooted in some form of Southern identity. The aforementioned Fabulous Freebirds decked themselves in Confederate regalia for years. However, when Hayes was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame, his career montage had been sufficiently sanitized. (Even Austin, who once asked Paul Heyman about “the Jewish monopoly” to his face, said “piss on the Confederate Flag” when addressing the possibility of it hindering Hayes’s chances of being inducted. As an Austin mark, I can only pray for his soul.)
Even the Indie circuit isn’t safe. Ring of Honor’s Briscoe Brothers wore red hooded sweatshirts bearing the Confederate Flag a few years back, and an SJW shitstorm of “wow-just-wowing” ensued. Bloggers and commentators couldn’t denounce them fast enough, one such writer stating:
The Confederate battle flag has a long and unfortunate history in professional wrestling. The rebel flag has been worn by the Fabulous Freebirds, the Godwinns, the Briscoe Brothers and many others. They’ve painted their faces with the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia. They’ve worn it on sequined robes and trunks. Some have even fashioned it into masks. And it’s time to stop.
Let’s get this out of the way: There is no place for the Confederate flag in professional wrestling, and there never was a place for it. There’s no place for it in our popular culture or outside of a government building. Now, 150 years after the war, the Confederate flag remains a symbol of racial prejudice, the enslavement of black people and the South’s treasonous secession from the Union. It’s meaning has never never twisted — it stands for a heritage of hate, resurrected in the 1940s and 1950s in opposition to the civil rights movement and desegregation. White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, have embraced it because, let’s be real, it’s always been about white supremacy.
And yet, every wrestling promotion has sanctioned its use, allowing its performers to don the rebel flag. WWE? Guilty. WCW? Guilty. Ring of Honor? Guilty. The list doesn’t end there. It’s practically been everywhere, from the heights of WWE to the indies…
Wrestling has a racist history. It’s never been the most sensitive entertainment form, lagging behind on race, gender and sexuality. It’s pushed xenophobia, homophobia and sexism. pushing xenophobic and homophobic storylines. The defense is either “It’s just wrestling” or “It’s just a TV show.” It doesn’t have to be. If fans don’t demand better entertainment, we won’t get better. Now is the time to demand it because wrestling promoters can’t erase the sport’s past, but they can and will write its future.
In the face of The Great Purge’s march through pro-wrestling, some may argue “today’s audience is more sophisticated.” Such sentiments are the hallmark of a decadent society. As the arts and other forms of entertainment become ever more elaborate, detached, and insincere, people yearn for authenticity and to see the world made new. Are we not witnessing this?
There is something in the genre that bespeaks exhaustion. “Kayfabe” (the illusion) is dead. Likewise, combat sports like MMA over a far more realistic product. This isn’t to say WWE is not long for this world. It is a billion dollar industry with fans all over the world. However, it has become the victim of its own success and can no longer do the things that must be done to truly move people. How can talent get heat as a Heel without Catladies getting the vapors and calling for resignations and boycotts? Without heat from a Heel, what obstacle is there for a Babyface to overcome? Who wants fungible heroes?
In the end, pro-wrestling is a business, and that which matters above all else for those in its employ is “drawing money.” Herein lays the heart of a great many of our problems. “The revolution of mass and scale” created a situation in which we outsourced our pastimes and cultures to strangers, and they sought to profit from it and manipulate us. (In an interesting “shoot” interview, Mid-South’s “Cowboy” Bill Watts observed, “One thing I understood about wrestling…you could influence people’s thoughts to believe what you wanted them to believe.”) We all had fun in this arrangement for a very long time. However, now, at “the end of history,” we are left far from our roots and wondering what happened to our identity.
Military historian Martin van Creveld has said that “the guerilla way is soon to overtake the conventional way.” We may be witnessing this at work. The old Territories are not coming back for pro-wrestling, but perhaps leaner and meaner outfits unconcerned with the whims of shareholders or the PC Comintern may find other ways to do things far more innovative and authentic. Perhaps the genre may die out all together.
So it is with our empire. Perhaps it may fade away suddenly like the Soviet Union. Or it may linger yet for a very long while and outlive us all. Either way there is no future for us in it. To thrive, we must first reclaim our identities and free ourselves from the habit of obtaining our sense of who we are from strangers just looking to make a buck.
After that, we can “retake everything.”