Spring 2017 – America and the world suddenly seem to teeter on the brink of self-destruction. Suddenly that isn’t hyperbole, or premonition, that is our day-to-day reality. After handing a Conservative majority government the keys to Brexit, US voters rose to the challenge of out-doing British stupidity in spectacular fashion, electing a Cyril Sneer impersonator as their Commander in Chief. Who saw that coming? Well, everyone knows I love telling people I told them so – and last year I did tell you so. One year on, I’m back in the Norwich Radical to continue my own personal streak. The signs were all there to be read, if you knew where to look – and well, if you don’t know where that is, let me spell it out for you! As WrestleMania goes, so goes the nation.
those who have lived the past two decades being ignored by a capitalist elite have so readily pegged their hopes to a third-generation millionaire who might be not different in substance, but has an irreverent style and rose-tinted vision of a “great” past that they hark back to.”
Last year, before Mania 32, I wrote that in the absence of a Daniel Bryan-archetype – a grass-roots fighter pushed to the top by the collective will of the fans – WWE’s turn to Shane McMahon, son of wrestling tycoon Vince, to represent “anti-establishment” sentiment reflected 2016’s “‘Donald Trump moment’ – that those who have lived the past two decades being ignored by a capitalist elite have so readily pegged their hopes to a third-generation millionaire who might be not different in substance, but has an irreverent style and rose-tinted vision of a “great” past that they hark back to.” Well, here we are – like Shane O’Mac, Trump technically lost (if you think an election should be won by civilian votes) but still used his privilege well enough to get what he wanted. While I’d stop short of claiming “It Was Mania Wot Won It”, it certainly vindicated prior claims that like any other form of narrative story-telling, WWE has the cultural and political zeitgeist of its environment running through it. It can be read as an indicator of the state of the nation; a key to the “common sense” assumptions and ideologies that structure our every-day lives – a riddle of the Sphynx for the modern age. So, with that in mind, what clues to the coming age does WrestleMania 33 have to reveal?
The wrestling year following #32 has, I would contend, mirrored the steady decay of global society more generally. With a top-card suddenly under siege from phenomenal new talent including human bowling-ball Kevin Owens and the fourth-wall smashing AJ Styles both taking on major roles in the roster, and troll-king Seth Rollins returning from long-term injury, WWE seemed set to move forth with exciting new talent and ideas at its helm. Then Bill Goldberg, a 50 year old part timer, returned to the company – and it became apparent Vince and co were doubling down and banking on the old world in order to sell a video game (WWE 2k17 is Goldberg/Brock Lesnar themed, which just so happens to be this year’s Mania main event).
the world’s premiere wrestling federation is parodying the world’s premiere super-power, both in danger of stagnation in what should be the dawn of a new era of radical, enthralling new characters and angles
That has not gone over particularly well with fans. Having been invited to invest emotionally in fresh characters – and especially after the events of the pay per view Fastlane, where Kevin Owens was not so much thrown under a bus as an antique steam-engine, being ‘crushed’ by Goldberg on day-release from the retirement home in 30 seconds – many feel betrayed, in favour of cheap gimmickry to pull in casual fans for main events. You know, the way Radicals feel when centrist elements sabotage their political movements via Party bureaucracy for the sake of ‘electability’. So, to recap, the world’s premiere wrestling federation is parodying the world’s premiere super-power, both in danger of stagnation in what should be the dawn of a new era of radical, enthralling new characters and angles – the elite of both having opted instead to hark back to a glorious past that never actually existed (the glory of America’s history of racial, sexual and class discrimination speaks for itself, while the dictionary definition of “inglorious” has a screen-shot from the original Lesnar vs Goldberg next to it).
As a result, this past year since #32 has seemed so mired in the prospect of the Apocalypse – maybe not the literal end of the world, but the end of a constructed world-view – it might have seemed more appropriate to have hosted a “two go in, one comes out” murder tournament in the Thunderdome, rather than sunny, indecisive, Florida – but the state-come-turkey-voting-for-Christmas seems to have authored the on-coming doomsday, so perhaps it is appropriate after all. Of everything at WrestleMania 33 though, one match sums this up. This inevitable, earth-shattering conflict that can no-longer be held off by simple rabid patriotism, misty-eyed nostalgia, or Trumpism’s intoxicating blend of both.
To grossly misappropriate Gramsci, while the old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters – so who better to main event than the Eater of Worlds himself? As I said two years ago (and yes, I am aware of the irony of preaching against the toxicity of nostalgia while writing self-referentially – but since you arm-chair critics loved Trainspotting 2 so much, you can just deal with it) Wyatt is a “figure who not only embodies the insanity of his own surroundings — but perceives that insanity — the horror within a world of contradictions. “
It’s been a tricky two years for him since then – including a nightmarish 2 minute “match” against The Rock last year – but there’s something in the air right now that just made his rise to the most prestigious belt in the company inevitable. At Mania, he defends the WWE Championship against Randy Orton – another icon of an era in wrestling that won’t let go of the sport. And that really is the perfect main event for 2017 – a summary of the pivotal moment that we find ourselves in in the world. The establishment have finally given up even putting on a human face before heading up bring-your-insufferable-offspring-to-work-in-the-White-House-day. As the US stares into the oblivion of a 4 year Trump-family Presidency, while the UK gazes into the void that is a Tory-led Brexit, we are presented with two apocalypses. Either the world will end figuratively by ending their ways of live, or the world will end literally and by their hand. By embodying a caricature of their horrific ideology, Wyatt is a satircal monster to battle that end — to shake us from our slumber, and make us aware of the horror around us, and inside us and our heroes.
So to conclude for one more year; a prediction. If Bray Wyatt wins at WrestleMania, it will signify a sea-change in popular consciousness – and while ageing has-been wrestlers may return, and bull-necked, swivel-eyed alt-Nazis might cling to the halls of power this time next year, they won’t be anything like as secure as they are now; tangible positive change could be in the air. As determined as WWE’s ownership might be to have their favoured conservative narratives come out on top, capitalists with the longevity of Vince McMahon have to acknowledge when change is in the air – and are smart enough to cash in on it, no matter how friendly they might be with the incumbent POTUS. If Bray Wyatt wins, it might be a sign that we can be the authors of an Apocalypse worth surviving – rather than hapless specs of ash to be blustered about by somebody else’s nuclear winds.
Jack Brindelli (@JackBrindelli) is a radical writer & film-maker bred and born in Norfolk, and is a University of East Anglia graduate and former world heavy-weight champion.