Can pro wrestling, a medium with a history of bare-faced antagonism towards leftist politics, exist under socialism?
I think it’s contingent on the degree to which wrestlers and others in the business identify with the working class.
It’s a spectrum. On one end, you have Zack Sabre Jr, who speaks out against neoliberalism and recently raised money for the ACLU. On the other, you have Matt Striker, who was, as I was writing this, using Twitter to mock the reporter assaulted by Greg Gianforte, a Montana Republican who was subsequently elected to Congress, and speak against a living wage for fast food workers.
Where there isn’t wrestling, people will create their own. I’ve seen enough lips busted on trampoline frames to know this. Whether or not we can develop a class consciousness within this industry will determine whether we have to start from scratch or if that knowledge, training and character that we identify with pro wrestling now will be preserved in this new iteration.
This isn’t to downplay the irrevocable influences on wrestling that socialism would have. They are substantial, perhaps even drastic. Still, I think they’re necessary to ensure that the compassionate, sustainable future we advocate for is extended to wrestling (a thing many leftists love, often despite ourselves).
Longer Careers, Shorter Title Reigns
Whatever shape the political apparatus of a socialist America takes, it’s safe to say that industries and business will be run as worker co-ops, directed and managed democratically by the workers. There’s no reason wrestling would be the exception.
With the abolition of rent and wage labor, the incentive to grind your knees down on multiple house shows a week will be low. And everyone will be involved in local committee projects anyway; they’ll need those knees to build houses and plant arugula.
How would you book yourself if you were focused on longevity? More tag matches, triple threats, battle royals. More chances to do spots and wow crowds while getting a few breathers in the corner.
Those add up to a longer, if less illustrious, career. Legacies like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Kazuchika Okada are the result of a singular vision focused on capital. Titles, if they exist, could become a means of collective recognition of labor and talent.
In theory, at least. If you, say, had a habit of defecating in your co-workers gym bags in the previous regime, you’re probably gonna be voted to lose. A lot.
The Tag Title Will Become The Top Title
The structures of wrestling reflect our values. The “great man” babyface perceives that being himself, by himself, reflects American ideals of individualism, distrust of teamwork, and frustration at the weak-willed, ineffectual governing apparatus that exists only to fetter their attempts to win custody of their adopted son.
A collectivist wrestling company living in a collectivist society will reflect that in its booking. An example of this would be CHIKARA’s Campeonatas de Parajas, a tag title that preceded its equivalent of a world title by 5 years; I see a correlation in the increasing prestige of a “top singles title” with the CHIKARA brand’s transition from that of a local, community-supported “indie fed” to a destination for indie talent from all over the world.
It’s possible this will extend beyond tag teams, and that wrestling promotions will break out into rival factions of varying alignments, like NJPW has right now. For one, it accurately reflects political discourse in a multi-tendency, big tent organization like the DSA.
On that note, it never fails to crack me up to see Bullet Club, a faction formed to antagonize a homogenous, xenophobic society with multiculturalism, in the Twitter avatars of white nationalists.
A Return To Rasslin’
Wrestling has long run on a particular cycle of acquisition. The big companies see a trend in the smaller that they want to appropriate, and then buy up all the wrestlers they can who fit that trend, incorporating it into the “mainstream style” and forcing the remaining indies to find something new. CCK subtly references to this occurring to the new “British style” in their recent promo for PROGRESS.
Without this engine of imposition, the need for a rapidly developed diversity of hyper-specialized wrestling styles will be low. And some wrestlers, a demographic that leans hard to the right, will just quit the sport entirely. Less knowledge to be passed on to wrestlers who work less matches and travel less.
That will facilitate a return to basics. More rasslin’, more catch-as-catch-can, more literal amateur hour.
I think this can be good. Part of what makes Lucha Underground, Hoodslam and Party World Rasslin’ beautiful is their ability to reach people who don’t necessarily identify as wrestling fans by focusing on crafting their own narratives and culture instead of maintaining a certain fluency in current wrestling trends. Another part: they make Jim Cornette mad.
The Revolution At Ringside
What does it mean to distribute wealth? A capitalist might say “It’s whenever I have $2 and you have $0, you take $1 from me to make it even.” Which isn’t inaccurate.
A more fleshed out realization of it (in the simplest terms) would be if, whenever you have $2 and I have $0, I take that $1 while we work to abolish the things that require money (rent, lack of food access, etc) and then the money, now evenly distributed, is worthless.
So, in an economy that is in the process of, or has even completed the destruction of currency, who gets the best seats in the house? Maybe it’s the workers. Maybe it’s the syndicate or commune that collectively own the stadium.
I like to think that, if we use the Marxist axiom of “from each according to their ability to each according to their need,” we could start giving those ringside seats to the people who need them most—kids, seniors, disabled people.
Whatever we decide, it means some tall asshole in an nWo shirt who refuses to sit down can’t block your view and ruin the show. We call that “improving material conditions.”
In Soviet America, Ref Bumps You
Pro wrestling referees are the definition of “failing upward.” They’re prized for their incompetence, cowardice and impotent biases.They largely exist to prevent the face from achieving their goals or enact justice on heels.
This is what people like Vince McMahon and your neighbor who watches too much Fox News thinks about institutions who want to hold people to “playing by the rules”: weak-willed, easily circumvented, and unable to do what’s necessary to bring the ill-willed to heel.
The process by which we achieve socialism in America would fundamentally change this systemic perception of justice. A bloodless grassroots revolution could lead to referees being heroic mediators who desperately try to keep carnage from all sides from boiling over.
An authoritarian vanguard could mean referees who impose order through force. A multi-tendency revolution could lead to sectarian refs endlessly feuding over slight variations of ideology.
Not all of these outcomes would necessarily make the product compelling. That’s the bad news.
The good news is the abolition of wages means there’d be no one to sell contraband t-shirts to, so Earl Hebner can have his job back.
In a capitalist system, projects and institutions exist according to their capacity to generate (and/or extract) capital. If socialism is enacted in the United States, it will fundamentally change the social contract and conditions by which industries and institutions function. Anything you want to preserve amidst such a sea change needs a plan of adaptation.
If the thought of adjusting pro wrestling to accommodate a socialist society fills you with disgust or rage, I think it’s worth interrogating whether your attachment is actually to wrestling or to the society it reflects (before you answer: remember, we are revolting against that society).
Whatcha gonna do, comrade, when the proletariat dismantles the systems of exploitation running wild on you?
Jetta Rae is a writer and organizer based in Oakland. She runs the leftist food blog FRY HAVOC and can be found on Twitter.