World Wrestling Entertainment tapped into the mainstream once again.
This time the Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger characters are creating a buzz, especially within the pop culture and political landscape of radio, television and social media.
Colter, the television persona, is an outspoken conservative. He manages the All-American American Swagger, and they discuss the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and illegal immigration during their promos.
Swagger, the bad guy (heel), challenges Mexican-American wrestler Alberto Del Rio, the fan favorite, for the World title at WWE’s WrestleMania 29. So to sway the crowd against Swagger even more, WWE introduced Colter, who is former wrestler Dirty Dutch Mantell.
Mantell, a Southerner, served as a manager, too, in the mid 1990s in WWF (now WWE) for the Blu Brothers, two giant twins who later became Don and Ron Harris in TNA Wrestling. Then known as Uncle Zebekiah, he also managed Justin Hawk Bradshaw, who later became JBL, an arrogant capitalist American who also played the illegal immigration card in a feud with then WWE champ Eddie Guerrero, another Mexican-American.
So it’s not the first time WWE or pro wrestling brought pop culture, political views and stereotypes into a storyline.
WWE Monday Night Raw commentators Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler joked that Colter and Swagger receive “fan mail” from conservative radio talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh.
Though it is a scripted angle on a television show — something WWE’s been doing for decades — Beck criticized WWE and its fan base for this latest storyline.
WWE extended an invitation to the talk show host and political commentator to appear live this Monday on Raw (8 p.m. EST, USA Network) in response to the Beck segment that aired on TheBlaze TV on Thursday. According to WWE, in the segment, Beck references WWE as “stupid wrestling people,” when criticizing that recent WWE storyline involving Del Rio, Colter and Swagger.
Those fans include authors, actors, artists, athletes from all sports, broadcasters, celebrities, coaches, comedians, doctors, firemen and women, lawyers, media, military, movie and music and television execs, paramedics, police and singers.
WWE fans hail from all walks of life around the world.
WWE is giving Beck the opportunity to address its 14-million weekly viewers and its global fan base, as he believes WWE is offending its “conservative” fans.
WWE Raw is a scripted TV show.
Following Beck’s critique, WWE issued a statement on Friday.
“Similar to other television shows and feature films, WWE is in the entertainment business, creating fictional characters that serve as protagonists or antagonists. To create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines. WWE is creating a rivalry centered on a topical subject that has varying points of view. This storyline was developed to build the Mexican-American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE’s large Latino base, which represents 20 percent of our audience.”
For decades, pro wrestling groups utilized pop culture, politics, society and stereotypes in their storylines to generate positive and negative crowd reaction toward their wrestlers.
Basically, there is a good guy and bad one. Although the traditional mantra of wrestling good guy and bad guy changed — especially with the advent of the Attitude Era and the nWo along with earlier turns of rugged wrestlers like Bruiser, Crusher, the Road Warriors and the American Dream Dusty Rhodes — having a bad guy wrestler (heel) badger a good guy wrestler (babyface) by criticizing or mocking his beliefs, culture, family, family heritage and/or manhood is the norm.
Much like Saturday Night Live does, WWE satirizes pop culture, anything topical from celebrities to politics to sports. WWE’s Monday Night Raw and SmackDown are scripted television shows. The company brands itself sports entertainment, combining athleticism with action, comedy and drama. WWE even has its own movie studio.
With its Colter/Swagger ticket, WWE is jabbing the Tea Party movement, which is generally considered partly conservative, partly libertarian and partly populist.
Ironically, the name Colter is similar to Coulter as in Ann Coulter, a real-life outspoken conservative who has supported the Tea Party (sometimes).
Coulter, a well-known political pundit, was anti-Linda McMahon during her run for Senate in Connecticut. McMahon, the wife of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, was a high ranking executive with WWE before venturing into the political arena.
Ann Coulter is an outspoken conservative who can rile a crowd. Zeb Colter is an outspoken conservative who can rile a crowd.
Zeb Colter also has some Ted Nugent tendencies. Nugent, a rock-n-roll musician, is another strong conservative, who when bearded Colter resembles. Isn’t Nugent a WWE fan?
This isn’t the first time pro wrestling implemented pop culture and politics into its programming.
WWE had some fun with impersonators of President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
Can you smell what Barack is cooking?
The company also booked a Donald vs. Rosie match during their high-profile war of words.
Pro wrestling’s objective is to entertain, and to do that, bookers, creative and promoters devise angles piquing the interest of fans.
After World War II, those portraying German wrestlers in American wrestling rings were the bad guys (heels).
Killer Karl Krupp, Hans Schmidt, Karl Von Hess, Fritz Von Erich, Waldo Von Erich, Baron Von Raschke. They strutted using that German goose-step with stiff arm salutes.
Because of the war, Japanese-billed wrestlers like Mr. Fuji, The Great Kabuki, Kendo Nagasaki, Mr. Saito, Mr. Sato, Prof. Toru Tanaka, Tojo Yamamoto also took bad guy personas in America.
American democracy and freedom stood tall against Communist Russia. So American promoters booked the Russians like Russian Bear Ivan Koloff, Russian Nightmare Nikita Koloff, American traitor Krusher Kruschev, Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov as heels.
When U.S. President Ronald Reagan enticed Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev to end Communism — and he eventually did — shaking hands in a sign of unity in 1985, wrestling once again imitated life. The American Dream Dusty Rhodes teamed with the Russian Nightmare Nikita Koloff in 1987 as the Super Powers, and fans loved it.
The Cuban Assassin Fidel Sierra elicited quite the response from American fans who chanted, “USA, USA, USA.” Those chants fueled many American wrestlers in their battles against the foreign heel opponents.
The Iraqi War, the war against terrorism, Middle Easterners Iron Sheik, Skandor Akbar, Gen. Adnan Al-Kaissie, The Sheik, The Grand Wizard, Muhammad Hassan, Tiger Ali Singh with Babu.
Proving their acting chops, those mentioned above made you believe they were German or Japanese or Russian, but in real life, many were Americans playing a role. Baron Von Raschke is actually James Raschke, who was born in Omaha, Neb. and served in the U.S. Army. Russian Bear Ivan Koloff is James Parras, born in Montreal. The late Prof. Toru Tanaka is Charles J. Kalani, Jr., Hawaiian-born.
That type of angle has proved very lucrative for the wrestling companies and wrestlers. It makes fans spend money to see their American hero defeat the foreign heel.
WWF took it one step further with a controversial political angle in 1990 which infuriated fans worldwide.
Back stabbing your tag team partner or mentor, joining forces with a heel manager or berating fans are ways to develop a heel turn. Fans become so angered that they rally around any opponent of the turncoat.
Sgt. Slaughter, the WWF TV character, betrayed not only his fans but also his country. Slaughter, a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marines Corps and a true American hero, criticized his country (in a scripted storyline) and became an Iraqi sympathizer, joining heel manager Gen. Adnan Al-Kaissie and Col. Mustafa (Iron Sheik).
Talk about feedback. Imagine if social media was present during those times.
As the political situation in the Middle East grew tense, WWF decided to have Slaughter support the Iraqi cause in 1990, building a title match against American hero Hulk Hogan. The angle worked, and the fan favorite Hogan defeated the “traitor” Slaughter for the WWF belt at WrestleMania VII, making the company a lot of money.
Slaughter, the TV persona, later apologized for his actions and words, and fans sided with him again in his battles against Col. Mustafa and Gen. Adnan.
When apartheid took center stage in the 1980s, Missouri-born Edward Wiskoski transformed into Col. DeBeers, a South African racist persona, angering fans worldwide.
In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, African American stereotypes were commonly used by promoters. Also, British, French, Irish, Indians, Italians, Polish, Samoans, for decades pro wrestling incorporated the stereotypes of each ethnicity.
Chief Jay Strongbow, the late Joe Scarpa, was actually an Italian from Philadelphia. Another quality acting job from this athlete. Fans believed his Indian roots.
WWE today features Wade Barrett (England), Antonio Cesaro (Switzerland), Santino Marella and Sheamus (Ireland). Their heritage is true. Marella, real name Anthony Carelli, is a Canadian-Italian. He once wrestled as a Russian shootfighter, but in his over-the-top Italian gimmick in WWE, he adds comedic genius to the show. Carelli, who speaks English very well, is very funny as Marella.
Humor is part of WWE’s sports entertainment formula.
Pro wrestling introduced feminine male wrestlers such as Exotic Adrian Street, Adorable Adrian Adonis, Chuck & Billy, Goldust, Rico and of course Gorgeous George.
Pro wrestling featured cowboys (Black Bart, Blackjack Mulligan, Bobby Duncum, Cowboy Bob Orton, Smoking Guns), redneck types (Dick Murdoch, Dirty White Boy, Stone Cold Steve Austin), religious personas (Brother Love, Reverend D-von with Deacon Batista, Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan) and psychologically questioned (Killer Karl Kox, Bugsy McGraw, George the Animal Steele).
Fans believed in the storylines back in the day. Pop culture with social media changed that landscape. Now fans know it’s a scripted show.
Will it still push the envelope? Does it cross any line? Is it entertaining?
Well, like with any movie or television show, to each his own.
• Pre-Zeb Colter
Mantell worked behind the scenes for TNA Wrestling where he took women’s wrestling with the TNA Knockouts Division to new heights from 2007-09.
Away from the ring, Mantell is Wayne Keown, a Vietnam War veteran and proud family man.