Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Paul Heyman's Wisdom: How Professional Wrestling Can Help Us to Understand the 2014 Midterm Elections

The Republican Party is a "babyface" territory. The Democratic Party is a "heel" territory...and that is why they lost.

I am still reflecting on the Democratic Party's thrashing by the Republicans in last week's midterm elections. The postmortem suggests that the historical pattern of a sitting President losing off year elections combined with general voter discontent about "broken" government to give the Tea Party GOP control of Congress. As I wrote here, given the extreme racial animus of the White Right, and its pull over a good segment of the white voting public, Obama's skin color also served as a negative coattail.

The Democratic Party's choice to run away from Obama ceded priceless territory and initiative to the Republicans. The latter broke the government by abandoning the common good in an effort to delegitimate the United States' first black president. The Republicans and their propaganda machine created a narrative that Obama was a failure, and is a toxic presence in the White House; Democratic candidates fell into their trap by pursuing a strategy which validated the lie.

One of my favorite, and most popular (in terms of traffic) essays is "Forget Boxing: The 2012 Presidential Election is More Like Professional Wrestling".

I believe that the analysis offered there is both analytically correct as well as novel in presentation.

In total, the suggestion that professional wrestling is a type of model for understanding, and a powerful lens through which to observe, American politics in the age of the corporatecracy, inverted totalitarianism, and spectacle remains compelling.

But, how does it explain the American 2014 midterm elections and the way that the Republicans destroyed the Democrats?

The macro level claim that the parties are the "territories", the "bookers" are interest groups and the Deep State, and the candidates are limited by a relatively predictable script that the public is trained to respond to as they boo or cheer their favorite hero (the face) or villain (the heel) while the announcers (the media) frame the in-ring events applies to the 2014 midterms. The rules of the game that is politics as professional wrestling have not changed in the 2 year period since I first wrote "Forget Boxing: The 2012 Presidential Election is More Like Professional Wrestling".

The decision by the Democrats to be defensive rather than aggressive in their electoral strategy against the Republicans requires that a minor addendum be added to the model.

Obama is not the equivalent of Brock Lesnar--a part-time world champion who only appears on TV when necessary. Lesnar is a dominant force of nature, one who is so powerful and vicious that while currently cast in the "heel" role by the WWE, could easily become immensely popular with the fans.

Obama has let himself be cast as the hapless champion, he or she who serves a caretaker role until a more exciting star can be given the reigns of the company.

Brock Lesnar is currently managed by Paul Heyman.

Heyman is one of the smartest, gifted, and most intelligent "talkers" in the history of professional wrestling. He is a also a serious student of professional wrestling's history. It is in this latter capacity that Paul Heyman's wisdom both describes why the Democrats lost in the 2014 midterms, and what they must be mindful of going forward, as they position Hillary Clinton as their candidate in 2016.

During a recent edition of the Stone Cold Steve Austin podcast show, Heyman explained that professional wrestling has historically been organized around "heel" and "babyface" territories.

[His comments begin at approximately the one hour and 11 minute mark of episode 146.]

The World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment was/is a babyface territory. The main hero/protagonist is the center of the narrative. The public pays money to watch their hero--be it Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, or John Cena--triumph against the villains. The main face character dominates the story lines. The public is invested in the lead babyface, the hero, "the man himself" who will be "the flag waver for the company". As Heyman explains, in a babyface territory the brand of the company is based around the hero.

The National Wrestling Alliance/World Championship Wrestling were "heel" territories. The story revolved around the villains and how they were going to punish, hurt, and derail the main babyface and hero. The public was entertained by watching the "bad guys" and their efforts to stop the most popular babyface in the territory. In a heel territory the villain is on top and the hero is on the bottom.

[The Tea Party also fits within Heyman's model. They are ECW; star-making is all that matters; when booking a story line you hide the weakness and play to the strengths of a given wrestler; spectacle is the goal.]

With the exception of Obama's election and the honeymoon period in 2008, the Democrats and the supposed "Left-wing" corporate media have operated as a heel territory. The focus is on the Republicans and the Tea Party extremists. Obama, while having the power of the presidency and the informal platform that is the bully pulpit, has been reduced to a secondary player relative to the efforts of the Republican Party to oppose him (and the general will of the American people) at any cost.

Candidates for lower political office distance themselves from a President who they perceive to be unpopular. However, that tactic is doubly disastrous when the narrative around a party's own President of the United States, has been built around amplifying the attention paid to the opposition--in this case the heel faction known as the Republican Party.

By contrast, the Republicans are a babyface territory. With the exception of how candidates distanced themselves (in some ways) from Bush I and II, the American Right-wing exercises a high level of party discipline in how they build their narrative around a "babyface" character.

It is true that the babyface centered storytelling of the Republican Party, and its media, may involve mythmaking and distorting the historical record to elevate Ronald Reagan to the level of deity, epistemic closure to transform Palin into a viable candidate, or giving their base a belief that Romney actually had a reasonable chance to win in 2012 because the public opinion polling data was somehow "skewed".

But ultimately, the Republicans are a babyface territory because they build a sympathetic story around their candidates and mobilize their public to support them.

The Democratic Party needs to follow Heyman's observations, and in doing so to transform themselves into a "babyface" territory where Hillary Clinton is the main attraction, and all of the stories and programming revolve around her cleaning up the mess--what a weaker face (Barack Obama) was unable to accomplish--against the wicked  heels that are and is the Tea Party GOP.

The public desperately wants to cheer a hero. The Democratic Party needs to package Hillary Clinton as their lead babyface and an indomitable leader that not only their base (the "marks" who will vote for any Democrat) but that Independent voters (the interested yet casual fan) will support.


balitwilight said...

Interesting observations and funny analogy to professional wrestling. I would argue that pro-wrestling is more dignified and authentic than American politics. Seriously though, the carnival entertainment that comes to my mind is the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Senators. They only look like they are competing a game - but they are really just paid entertainers working for a fixed outcome.

The Democrats and Republicans are both wholly-owned subsidiaries of the American oligarchy and its relentless neo-liberal program. Republicans have an easier message to conform to the program of that oligarchy. Democrats like Obama seek the same ends - but their historical brand is more conflicted with the program. This leaves one party that can be full-throated in its own advocacy while the other appears (!) strangely feeble and conflicted. The reason that Democrats like Obama lose mid-terms is that voters in midterms pay more attention to the policy - and the Democrats are either incongruent or incoherent (intrinsic to their phony brand). In contrast, Presidential elections are still overwhelmingly identity-driven (rather than policy-driven), so it is easier for the Democrats to exploit demographics and branding.

Either way, the Harlem Globetrotters always win and the Senators always lose. (Democrats and Republicans just switch uniforms from time to time).

Like any Republicans, Barack Obama and his Democratic party - and the truly awful Hillary Clinton - are just administrators for the neo-liberal oligarchy and the endless war machine of American imperialism. It's hard to get people to cheer for oligarchy, but you can always count on a majority to wave on The Troops! (TM) as they Protect Our Freedoms! (TM) from those hordes of Muslims.

Camilla Cracchiolo, RN said...

I do love it when you get going on wrestling. I knew nothing about wrestling until I read your blog. I love it what a fan of it you are: always the best way to learn is from fans. "Forget Boxing" is also one of the best political articles I've ever read.

Miles_Ellison said...

The fact that American politics can be explained by professional wrestling script templates says volumes.

chauncey devega said...

Well if I can win one person over the life long hobby then all the better. Thank you for the kind words.

chauncey devega said...

All the world is a stage.

chauncey devega said...

Even more troubling when one knows the Globetrotters origins as one, if not the most, elite group of basketball players in the world--consigned to clowning because of Jim and Jane Crow racism.

balitwilight said...

And I didn't even notice the irony while I typed that analogy. It is instructive how, in American culture, you cannot turn left, right, up or down without bumping into racism. Every damn cultural reference point. Truly, half the story has not been told. Thanks for pointing that out.

Buddy H said...

As a life-long comedy nerd, I'm posting this brief clip from a 1940 Bob Hope comedy. Strangely prescient dialog:


Buddy H said...

And the dead come back:


SW said...

"Strangely feeble". So true. As you allude to, when something like the Democrats' defense of their Senate majority seems "strangely feeble", you are almost inclined to think that it's on purpose. You touch on one reason it may be on purpose. D's and R's are one in the same, working for the same neo-liberal empire.

A more hopeful (though perhaps less realistic) is that D's are playing the long game and are ok with losing the Senate majority because it consolidates all of the left's power into the White House, such that President Obama can pursue his political agenda (as center-right as it is), without dilution from Harry Reid.

It may also make the R's obstruction more naked in that they control both the lower and upper House, and so bring on the legislation for Obama's consideration. Perhaps the D's are banking on the fact that if any legislation is sent to the President's desk, it will be extreme and more fully expose the right's dearth of ideas in time for 2016.

SW said...

You are spot on in the right's ability to build their narrative around a babyface character. It's interesting and frustrating to watch as the corporate media, including MSNBC aids and abets the development of the right's narrative. Just last week Chris Matthews was touting Joni Ernst as a "rising star" in the Republican party. I will not be surprised in the least to see her trotted out for the Republican primary, or at the very least tapped as a vice presidential running mate. Lord help us.

SW said...

And let's not forget how complicit the corporate media is going to be in drumming up this impeachment narrative. Typical operation in heel territory I suppose.

chauncey devega said...

That is the hustle. The Democrats are not the American left...they are the slightly left wing of a 2 party system that is dominated by the Right-wing and the neoliberals.

kokanee said...

re: "Truly, half the story has not been told."

No doubt, a reference to:

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

kokanee said...

The Republican Party is a "babyface" territory and the Democratic Party is a "heel" territory...In neoconfederate Jesusland.

In liberal and progressive circles, President Obama and the Democratic Party are a "babyface" territory and the Republican Party is a "heel" territory with a slew of evil villains: the Koch brothers, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Donald Trump among others.

The Democratic Party is paid to lose and in that sense it makes them a "heel" territory. For the most part though, President Obama and the Democrats didn't deliver the goods. It didn't seem right to reward bad behavior but one cannot vote for the "evil" Republican Party either so they just stayed home.

"And all the men and women merely players"

kokanee said...

Message To Democratic Party: It’s Time To Face Reality