All us boys in Miss Sullivan’s sixth grade class at St. John the Evangelist School in Watertown, Connecticut worshipped professional wrestling.
Sure we served in the altar boys and studied the Catholic history like Saint Jerome and his dingy cave, but the real heroes at recess, during lunch, before school, on the bus home, were WWF superstars like Jimmy “Superfly” Snooka and his towering jump from the third rope.
We loved the heroes and hated the villains that Linda and Vince McMahon and their fledgling WWF entertainment empire pitched to our young minds.
Pretending to be those characters, we acted out scenes inside the ring, sometimes in fun, sometimes with real animosity and struggle. My cousins and I, we re-enacted Hulk Hogan vanquishing the Iron Sheik, an easily detestable Iranian stereotype.
As a warm-blooded American boy, you hated to see the Iron Sheik win a match on a Saturday morning using the Camel Clutch.
Once the Sheik got his opponent face down on the mat, the Sheik would sit on the victim’s back, place the victim’s arms over the Sheik’s thigh and scoop the victim’s chin with both hands, rendering the opponent breathless and unable to move. The bell would ding. Victory.
My cousin Mickey taught me how escape the Iron Sheik’s loathsome Camel Clutch. Mickey would make the Camel Clutch hurt, but ease up enough so that I could break out of it.
One morning at St. John’s three-story brick schoolhouse on Main Street, my neighbor and classmate Jason Palomba managed to lock me into a modified Camel Clutch before class, before Miss Sullivan arrived and told us to remove our chairs from on top of the desks.
Jason and I kind of got along, but I think we were quarreling, and he made it hurt, nor did it feel much like playing. I didn’t like being bullied. Thanks to Mickey’s lessons, I used my leg strength to stand up, and in the process, crashed Jason into a few desks, knocking the chairs onto the floor.
No harm, no foul, right? It is only kids playing pro wrestling? If we didn’t have pro wrestling to emulate, we still would have found ways to taunt each other, right? It’s human nature. Boys will be boys.
In seventh grade, Mike Catuccio and I wrestled our way into a similar blunderbuss, and we knocked the space bar and a few keys like “R” and “?” off the now old but then high-tech TRS-80 computers.
The principal, Sister Lorraine, who didn’t wear a habit with her short, black curly hair, told us it would cost more than $80 to repair the keys. To seventh graders with paper routes, we understood that was a lot of money.
But Sister Lorraine never asked us or our families to pay for the damages we caused. Maybe she understood that neither of our families could have paid it, and that we were lucky nothing worse happened.
I’d say we learned our lesson, but I think it was a few weeks later that Scott Mandy and I gave Christian Bondhus a wedgie to end all wedgies. Christian tucked his shirt into his underwear. Big mistake.
Boys are rough and tumble. Did WWF make us youth more prone to violence? Watching the wrestling matches on television sometimes made me cringe at the pain the wrestlers apparently dealt with.
We argued on the school bus about whether or not pro wrestling was real, about whether or not Rowdy Roddy Piper and Bob Backlund and Jesse the Body Ventura really hit each other that hard.
How could you act out some of those body-shaking blows? How could Jimmy “Superfly” Snooka jump from the highest turnbuckle in the ring, land on his opponent and only pretend to hurt him?
My sister “Superfly-Snooka-ed” me once, jumping from the top of the bed onto the floor, and we both didn’t feel very good afterwards.
The pro wrestling fan-zines my friends would pull out on the playground showed men with expressions of genuine pain when the folding chairs hit their backs, or when the blood gushed from their foreheads from getting hit against the steel bars of a steel-cage match, or when they writhed on the concrete floor of the arena after being thrown out of the ring.
To me, those photos settled the debate over fake or real. You cannot fake that kind of violence. The violence was real, even if was toned down by stunt-man tricks. And I didn’t really like it. I preferred political rock like U2, Berke Breathed’s “Bloom County”, Bill Waterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” and BMX bicycles.
I’m sure I earned more stitches and cuts and bruises from riding bicycles than from emulating pro wrestling. Yet pro wrestling is a larger, more acknowledged cultural force that BMX bicycles ever were. If for no other reason that I have never seen a pro bicycle magnate spend $50 million to buy elected office.
So when I read how WWE – formerly known as WWF – is attacking journalists who label WWE’s content violent or pornographic, I think McMahon’s money is trying to convince us day is night, black is white, war is peace.
WWE uses violence, even if it claims it is family entertainment. The NFL claims to be family entertainment, but no one would for a second say the NFL is not violent.
Violence is part of human nature. We are a destructive, animalistic species, although our better halves try to eschew this barbaric instinct. More often than not, our politicians pay lip service to peace while feeding our bloodlust.
I am laboring through Les Miserables, by the great French citizen Victor Hugo. Of the 1,450 pages of Les Mis, hundreds of pages contain at least one act of violence, and many appalling descriptions of the human condition.
Hugo was elected to the French Constitutional and Legislative Assemblies in 1848. While he didn’t finish Les Mis until 1862, Hugo’s previous short stories about condemned killers portrayed violence and gore.
If France’s Second Republic elected officials like we do, his opponents may have called Hugo a purveyor of violent entertainment, someone not worthy to sit in an august French chamber of the people.
Hugo, though, was a human rights activist who employed the violent reality of 19th century France in his writings to achieve the political aims of ending violence. He sought to abolish the death penalty, and he advocated for the universal right of education.
One cannot say that Linda McMahon is such a citizen. Her use of violent entertainment only inspires young boys like myself to behave thusly. She’s never written a masterpiece of literature that calls for an end to child poverty.
But for a moment, let’s imagine that Linda McMahon decided to sell herself to voters not on her business acumen, but on her ability to use violence to achieve aims.
America is a violent country. As Dr. King said, my government is the largest purveyor of violence on the face of the planet. McMahon, then, is a born leader for this country.
In an honest world, Linda McMahon’s use of violence in entertainment qualifies her for a position in the United States Senate. She knows how to portray pain and suffering as inconsequential to victory at any price. And she knows how to profit from this.
Consider that Congress just voted to eliminate the restrictions on the U.S. government from using propaganda on the American public. In a rider attached to the latest Defense Authorization Bill, a Texas Republican has sought to allow the U.S. government to broadcast propaganda to her citizens. It waits Senate approval, and Presidential okay.
McMahon would surely vote for this, and perhaps be able to help consult on how to convince Americans that war is good for them. War is peace, she would say.
If we openly acknowledged American Empire with President Obama’s Kill Lists, drone attacks and growing surveillance state, we would say McMahon is more qualified that Chris Murphy or Chris Shays or Susan Bysiewicz to conquer and pillage foreign lands and subjugate Americans at home.
Perhaps we might even be a more sincere electorate if we admitted the American Corporate Empire is best run by snake-oil salespeople like McMahon.
But, we Americans like to maintain the myths of middle-schoolers. We like to see ourselves as a heroic people, God’s exception to barbarism on the planet, a populace that only uses just war to perpetuate democracy and human rights.
Thus, we Americans must maintain the illusion that McMahon’s masterful use of violence to manufacture millions in profit disqualifies her from holding public office.