The effectiveness of propaganda over time is attributed to its ability to be disguised so politely and so completely, that through sheer palatably it has been able to shade a whole population’s views without them even knowing, and in most cases, being entertained. Widespread propaganda was achieved most successfully during World War Two, where no facet of the media was left unmodified to portray the enemy as a point of ridicule or hatred. Although the Nazi party has always been painted as the biggest offender, blatantly creating films juxtaposing images of Jews with diseased vermin and medically justifying the operations undertaken in concentration camps, the Allied Forces are equally responsible for doing the same. Among the more conventional forms of propaganda, such as newsreels, posters and the like, similar sentiments were hidden in the most unlikely of places. The most unlikely being the series of Disney produced animations in which no other than Donald Duck plays a clumsy Nazi, complete with swastika emblazoned armband, who comes undone by the Allied Forces. This was obviously an attempt at embedding the All-American ideals to the young generation.
Unlike the Disney example however, other relics of the propaganda age still remain in our society today, now seen as just another part of the entertainment field. Captain America, the defender of the truth, justice and the American way, was first created as a figurehead, not unlike Uncle Sam, for the American war effort. His continued battles with the Red Skull and his Nazi flunkies were simply a reflection of what the population was lead to believe was happening on foreign shores. Nowadays, Captain America is a mainstay in the comic realm his roots in propaganda long forgotten.
Comic books are only one among several forms of the media that include leftovers from the war years that are now seen as avenues of pure entertainment. One other is professional wrestling. Strictly speaking, professional wrestling developed almost autonomously from the sideshow alleys of traveling carnivals, but it has been modified over the course of its popularity to simultaneously create patriotism as well as exploit the preexisting patriotism created by its predecessors and news outlets.
Currently recognised as one of America’s favourite past times, wrestling has made itself a staple in contemporary family life, and therefore influences the values of all the families watching. It uses this sugarcoating to feed us bite-size pieces of propaganda that we don’t know we’re digesting. The most blatant device used to achieve this is the “us” and “them” mentality that acts as the basis for many feuds, creating a cultural division between the typical All-American babyface and the foreign evil. Characters such as Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, Lex Luger, Kurt Angle, and early Steiner Brothers were all presented as the pride of the nation, forcing the audience to side with them over their opponents, or risk being plastered as unpatriotic.
The symbolism of the stars and stripes is exploited most often during times of the global unrest, The Cold War, the recent military distress in the Middle East, the characters playing upon the audiences desire to unite under any American beacon of hope available, embodying the battalions of heroes defending the country overseas. This binary construction is typical of the characterisations seen in the propaganda of the mid twentieth century as a means of getting the audience on side with the Allied Forces.
Alternatively, a tradition in the squared circle has been topical foreign heels, which take advantage of current conflicts between other cultures by representing a radical and dramatized depiction of the enemy. Through sheer obnoxiousness compared with the impossible perfection of American babyface, such foreign heels prey upon the embedded paranoia in the audience; becoming stereotypical shooting targets misrepresentative of the true enemy. The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff and Ivan Koloff, are poster boys for characters used due to conflicts of the time, such as the Cold War, providing seemingly unbeatable opposition that the American male dispenses with regardless. A metaphor for what the audience was lead to believe was occurring overseas. More recently the character Muhammad Hassan, a somewhat untraditionally self aware foreign heel, was introduced to capitalise on the animosity between America and the Middle Eastern nations, and became one of the biggest heat drawers in recent memory. Strangely, this superficial and somewhat misleading depiction of the Arabic population was curbed by the television station, leading to his “death”. Such a backlash, which has seldom occurred to similar characters in the past, is reflective of professional wrestlings archaic values in reference to racial tolerance, ones no longer shared by the politically correct population.
Lately there has been a less than subtle patriotism push in the WWE, trips to Iraq, free broadcasts to soldiers, and the emphasis on the military contingent in the audience. This has only happened since the conflict began in 2001, and is an attempt to rekindle some of old American family values wrestling was once seen with before the sexual Attitude era. The use of patriotism being the easiest way to achieve this, once again using the concepts and tools of propaganda as a way of connecting with the audience.
The fact that this blatant patriotic ignorance has done nothing to deter international fans is testament to the responsible way its handled. One would think that if nationalities such as the Canadians, the Japanese and the English were routinely berated unashamedly, such people would be at pain to watch an episode, let alone devote a whole area of their interest to it. This suggests that the audience is more educated than non-fans give them credit for, the audience knows that professional wrestling is no different than an athletic sitcom and hence see no reason in getting offended by it. In fact, the groups that tend to recognise the unbalanced wartime values are the groups who watch wrestling from an objective standpoint, the networks, and the television critics. If what they say is correct though, and professional wrestling is maintaining cultural hatred in society, the promotions aren’t doing a particularly effective job if the fans can pass off the propaganda as tongue in cheek.
It’s accepted that the use of mild propaganda by professional wrestling associations isn’t to instigate further cultural division, but, in dividing racial icons into pigeonholes of “good” and “evil” with no grey area, the children who draw their values and attitudes from the world around them, may grow up with the idea that only “good” race is America, developing a misconception about other countries. A fair assessment if one was to solely judge on the “population” of the WWE. And although television programs should be allowed to embellish the truth in the hunt for entertainment, the way in which the propaganda is packaged, in this case as an integral part of American life, mean that the opinions expressed are packaged as an accepted part of family life also.
In saying this, it does seem rather blind to dub professional wrestling as contemporary propaganda, although it does however utilize similar dynamics and methods to sensationalise cultural distinctions. Such angles and characters don’t create social unrest, but instead act as a fictional outlet for the population to live out their dreams and hopse. The American hero acting as a symbol of faith and hope in a time where heroes are flawed, dishonest, or being defeated, and the “enemy” being overcome inside the ropes becoming a victim of that faith and hope. Professional wrestling will and always has been about escapism, hence the choreographed nature of it and why its “fakeness” doesn’t deter people from watching. People want it to be preconceived, people want to see the outcomes they want to see, people are drawn to the predictability that “good” always wins in the end. Chances are that an over-the-top Arab, or stereotypical Russian “bear” will have no influence on the audience’s opinion of the race as a whole, and if it does, such people would influenced to a greater degree by the lopsided news broadcasts who present their opinions as the truth rather than entertainment, whereas the WWE has and always will be closer to cartoons than the Nazis.
As always, if you have any feedback, questions, suggestions, etc, send them my way at TheButchershopColumn@hotmail.com.
Over and Out