Monday, September 18, 2006

Professional Wrestling and international discourse

Professional wrestling has been popular for as long as I can recall. One of my earliest memories is of visiting my grandmother at her house one evening as her brother, my Uncle Steve, sat in a chair in the living room (my living room, now) and watched two wrestlers leap and bounce all over the grainy black & white television screen. (I think one of them might have been Chief Jay Strongbow.)

I always found professional wrestling kind of repulsive, even as a little kid. Worse than the antics in the ring - which in those days often featured quite a bit of blood, real or fake, I don't know - were the antics out of the ring: oversized musclebound freaks (well, they weren't always so musclebound way back then, more often just sort of fat) getting in each other's faces and shouting at the top of their lungs. Threatening, playing dominance games, putting on a show for their viewers.

A few years later I noticed kids in the school playground behaving the same way: getting in each other's faces, screaming, putting on a show for their classmates. Pretty pathetic.

In the last ten or fifteen years I've watched American politics devolve into pro wrestling theatrics. Morton Downey Jr., Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews, the Sunday Squabble Shows. Whoever can yell the loudest and hit their talking points the fastest wins. There is no sense of decorum, or propriety, or rules of engagement or anything. Just a bunch of meatheads screaming at each other.

So why should anyone expect religious extremists to behave any differently? Earlier today a group claiming to be linked to al Qaeda issued a warning to the West. As reported by CNN:

The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, issued a statement on a Web forum vowing to continue its holy war against the West. The authenticity of the statement could not be independently verified.

The group said Muslims would be victorious and addressed the pope as "the worshipper of the cross" saying "you and the West are doomed as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere. ... We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (killed by) the sword."

This in response to the pope's quoting (in a speech at a German university nearly a week ago) passages from a 14th-century emperor who expressed great contempt for Islam. If it weren't absolutely necessary to take any such threats seriously, and if it were not for the fact that this threat, in its specific wording, plays right into the darkest wingnut fantasies, the comments would sound hilariously like this classic (and utterly obscene) rant from Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.*

So, what to do? Well, moderates of all sides could hide away in their bomb shelters and let their extremists duke it out, yelling and threatening and posturing for their fans until they finally get around to beating the crap out of each other - which would be fine, if it were just the extremists fighting the extremists, but we all know that things never go that way.

Or maybe the moderates can rise up and tell the extremists to shut the hell up and sit the hell down. In America we tend to treat our extremists like a crazy old uncle who happens to have some cash and some guns - you never know what they're gonna do, but you hope to hell it isn't going to be done to you. In the Islamic world I have no idea what the moderate population is up to, other than holding their tongues and letting the radicals grab the spotlight. There are moderate Muslims out there, right? Well, people, it's time to stand up and be heard. Your religion is being hijacked by a small group of terrorists. Time to storm the cockpit and wrestle the controls away from them. Once you're the ones speaking for Islam, maybe we can have a meaningful dialogue rather than a bunch of in-your-face posturing and shouting.

Until that day, I have a message for the radical extremists - especially the ones who want to do violence and kill lots of people on the other side in the name of your God. And that message is this:

You are the ones who are the ball-lickers.

*True story: this movie opened right around September 11, 2001, and this threatening rant was part of a fake website that was created as a tie-in to the movie - it only later developed into an actual website. In the days after September 11, Hollywood specifically was placed on high alert, more so than Los Angeles in general. Cars were searched as people went to work at studios, mirrors were run across the undercarriages to check for hidden dangers. No one knew why, what specific intelligence led to these heightened precautions for movie studios. Perhaps it had something to do with the al Qaeda plot to kidnap iconic American movie stars, where one of their primary targets was Russel Crowe - much to the New Zealander's annoyed amusement. But I prefer to think it was a fictional character's rant full of vague threats on a fictional website that tied in to a pretty funny movie that caused all the discomfort for the folks working at movie studios in Hollywood.


anne said...

Soooo, let me see if I get this.

Mujahedeen Shura Council said this: "We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (killed by) the sword."
because they are mad that the pope said this: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." which was a quote taken out of context to begin with.

Ummmm...I understand?

I agree with your take on it. And I especially like the part about the crazy old uncle.

Anonymous said...

So Islamic extremism is the fault of professional wrestling. That would be a funny take ... if you were kidding. But you weren't. Not only that, there's a subtle racism there, in which you assume that the swarthy Muslims take their cues from us.

Bill @ IB

D.B. Echo said...

Bill, once again you've fired off your criticisms - two criticisms, in this case - in response to an argument I did not make. I have drawn parallels between Professional Wrestling, schoolyard showdowns, political posturing, and religious extremism. I have not drawn a straight line indicating a linear relationship. If you have connected the dots, that's your prerogative, but now your questions are yours to answer.

The weird thing is, the original title of this post was "I blame Professional Wrestling"...which I abandoned after I wrote the post and realized that there was no way to seriously draw a link there. I doubt that al Qaeda press releases are that influenced by American popular culture, but I don't know for sure. I'm positing parallel development, convergent evolution. I'll leave the simple-minded imaginary causal conclusions and the racist inferences to others.