War and wrestling: The politics of submission

BY GARRY GRUNDY

MORE BAD NEWS FOR President Bush: a Pew Research Center poll revealed George W. Bush’s overall job approval rating has dropped to a dismal 43 percent, down from 56 percent in mid-January. Even more telling is the fact that only 40 percent of Americans approve of the way the Bush administration is handling the conflict in Iraq, with 53 percent of Americans outright disapproving.

But Dubya should rest better on those warm Crawford nights knowing the World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (formerly known as the WWF – World Wrestling Federation) is supportive of him and his war on Iraq.

What the Spike TV network (née TNN) has proclaimed to be the most watched cable program in primetime – WWE has shown unwavering support for our troops in Iraq. From Kurt Angle’s shout-outs to the American troops to fleshy male and female bodies colliding on the mat amid “God Bless America” and bombs over Baghdad; since April 2002, WWE continues to “beat all primetime broadcast television programs among male teens, and ranked second versus broadcast primetime among men 18-24 years-old” according to a WWE CorpBiz report to investors.

Good news for the president’s war efforts. Less useful, though, for his re-election efforts.

Triple H – the most hulking and intimidating of WWE wrestlers (and competing for the WWE Heavyweight Championship on April 18) – has been consumed with gratitude, informing all wrestling fans where he stands on this second Iraq War: “To all the troops in Iraq – thanks for your willingness to serve and to go into harms way and to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction and to bring freedom to the people of Iraq. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.”

Unfortunately, it is not prayers, but masculine energies that drive the decisions of the industrial world – a particularly striking contrast to the agrarian world from which civilizations sprang. Where once nurturing and the capacity for patience in managing human relations were the key to human adaptability, that is no longer the rubric for success in our seemingly sterile information age: Americans have come to worship raw, unbridled, masculinized power – perhaps best typified by our lurid national intrigue with the politics of submission.

Be they as Passionate as Mel’s Christ or as raw as Dubya’s War, the WWE and their depictions of grappling male bodies that mimic what we might imagine to be a deviant sexual confrontation have idiosyncratic and widely popular appeal. And though these images boast a decidedly homoerotic undercurrent that can be stimulating at best – awkward and funny at worst – it is the politics of submission that prove to be the great equalizer.

And you thought America had gone metrosexual…

On the contrary, the World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. has put its money where its mouth is and gotten behind this war of Dubya’s, sending WWE superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and “The Big Show” to Camp Victory in Baghdad and Camp Udairi to show their support for the troops. Camp Udairi is a jewel in the desert, barely 15 miles from the Iraqi border. The camp measures 10 miles square, surrounded by two man-made ridges of sand laced with barbed wire. And though the dimensions of the camp read like a small prison (e.g. Tent City, Arizona) – shirtless male wrestlers and their scantily clad female cohorts frolicked about in an effort to soothe the anxieties of those in service to America – replacing the need for coherence and security with visceral sex appeal and well-choreographed displays of male power.

A nation saddled by intra-psychic conflict – and an insecurity that goes back to an emasculating September morning – America is a nation that still hungers for vengeance; a vengeance that, like wrestling, could accommodate the desire to engage in the politics of submission. Violent. Decisive. Conclusive. Submissive.

One – two – three…slaps on the mat; “Mission Accomplished!”

However, this new appetite for war and submission politics are in need of better management, as it may be rubbing off poorly on our young servicemen and women. The Miles Foundation, a support group for military sexual assault victims, said 83 servicewomen stationed in the Middle East have reported being raped or assaulted in the last 18 months. Others certainly remain silent. In at least two cases, multiple victims reported having been attacked by the same soldier, said Christine Hansen, executive director of the Connecticut-based group. Most interesting though, Hansen indicated that the sexual assault numbers had been especially high at Camp Udairi.

Submission politics are a 24/7 concern for our armed services. Forced to deal with the daily images from Fallujah, and to filter those experiences with the savage yang of America’s violent-media-propaganda machine, it is no wonder the casualties of Bush’s war also include our own against our own.

But the Chairman of WWE’s Board, Vince McMahon, could never have predicted the success of WWE Raw and Smackdown as complimentary goods to the winds of war: The War on Iraq has paid off for WWE investors as the stock has nearly doubled since Dubya drew America’s attention to Iraq. Last April, the stock was trading at just around 8 bucks a share and now it hovers under 16 dollars a share. Any good investor knows that when a society has taken away real options for kids (e.g. education, health care, jobs) and instead showers them with images of Marines slaying dragons in commercials reminiscent of “Grand Theft Auto” – it’s certainly a sound investment – this war and wrestling business; they tell these boys that war is brave and glamorous and sexy; we tell them that we are proud of them when they do go and protect our freedom and security; they tell them lies as to why they are there and when they are coming home. These are the politics of submission; politics that – unlike wrestling – are for real.

Let’s just pray our troops know the difference.

Garry Grundy’s column appears bi-weekly.

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