I was a huge professional wrestling fan for a few years when I was a kid. Think AWA, not WWF or WWE. The American Wrestling Association was a much smaller organization than the professional wrestling empire that is on television today. It was based in Minnesota and it featured tremendous mythical heroes like The Crusher, Buck “rock and roll” Zumhofe, The High Flyers, and Hulk Hogan among others. These defenders of of all that is good and righteous in the world defended our country and squared off in the wrestling ring against an army of pure evil featuring monsters such as Andre the Giant, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, The Road Warriors, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, The Iron Sheik, Mad Dog Vachon, Baron VonRashke “The Claw”, Big John Stud, and many more. Interestingly, many of these bad guys were foreign. Some were on the wrong side of the Cold War. All of them were capable of great villainy. They stood for everything that we fear or loathe while the heroes embodied all of the virtues that we aspire to. It was melodrama on a Shakespearean scale played out by a bunch of sweaty and obnoxious muscular dudes in Speedos. In the end, good always triumphed over evil and we loved it. Then, we grew up and realized it was fake.
Somewhat like professional wrestling, the battle lines are pretty clear in the super hero movies these days. The characters aren’t overly complicated either. The narrative is easy enough for even a child to understand. Nobody cheers for Thanos the Titan as he wipes out half of the population. Nobody cheers for The Joker as he terrorizes Gotham City. Everyone cheers for the Avengers. Everyone cheers for Batman. Thanos is evil, the Avengers (though somewhat more complicated than professional wrestlers) are good. Batman good. Joker evil. We want the good guys to win, to succeed in their goals, to save the world or the galaxy or Gotham City.
I was strongly reminded of super heroes, super villains, and professional wrestling when I watched the events unfold at the Capitol in Washington D.C. this month. Here are a few other things that also remind me of these simple melodramas:
- The coverage of the election. Both sides.
- The hyperbolic statements of the candidates. Both sides.
- The debates. Both sides.
- The ubiquitous campaign ads. Both sides.
- The endless political memes and snarky commentary by my friends and family and the pundits on Facebook ,Twitter, and virtually every other online outlet for opinions.
- The pandemic coverage.
- Our standard American debates over issues like immigration, health care, taxation, abortion, vaccinations, racial equity, science vs religion, gun rights vs gun control, etc.
What do all of these topics have in common that remind me of the farce of professional wrestling? THE SIMPLE NARRATIVE we make out of them.
We, the unwashed masses, are always served the simple narrative on a silver platter. It’s easy to choose a side on issues based on whatever your friends, family, preferred news source/media platform, or favorite celebrities believe. It’s easy to choose one simple series of arguments to believe and then be done.
What’s harder is to look at and respect the nuances that fill up all of the cracks and corners of the world. It’s harder to listen to opposing opinions and have some respect for the people who hold them. Hate and rage and vilification are easy. Discussion and understanding is harder. It’s easy to shoot someone. It’s harder to honestly discuss an issue with them. How many times in the last few years have you heard someone say something like “I just can’t understand how someone can believe that!” There are people that think the same thing about what you believe.
Let’s unpack this idea a little and talk politics for just a moment.
Am I a Republican or a Democrat? Talking politics in America, those are generally the two options you’re given. It may be stated as Conservative or Liberal, but it’s shorthand for the same ideas to most people. You’d probably want to know where I stand before we talk politics, wouldn’t you? The easy path is to say “David is a (fill in the blank with a political party), therefore he believes X, Y, and Z.” Then you can quickly pull up your stance on those issues, put me in my box, and you’re done, right? Easy.
The harder, and I would argue better, approach is to not only ask me what I believe but also WHY I believe it. What are your inputs? How did you get to this spot? Help me to understand where you’re coming from. We all have histories and experiences that shape us into who we are and it’s rarely simple. And guess what? Everyone else’s opinion is just as valid as yours. Same weight. They get the same number of votes as you. (But, of course, both sides in recent elections believe that the other side cheated. Their party is the good guy, the other is the bad guy. And, we’re back to wrestling.)
It’s no shock that you think your opinion is worth more than most others. You understand all of your inputs and experiences and you can see the path that you took to arrive at this opinion. The other person’s path is hidden from you unless you engage them. Yours is hidden from them too. But, it’s easier to respond to their post with a cutting meme than to discuss the issue with them. Easy. Done. You showed them, right?
Leave your knee-jerk reactions at the door and think about the following ideas:
Were all of the German soldiers and citizens during WWII Nazis who wanted to exterminate Jews and take over the world? Of course not. Most of them were like most of us. They were told a simple narrative about the enemy and they did what they were told to do. The Japanese were the same. The British and Russians and Italians were the same. We were the same. Most people just want peace and prosperity. They don’t want to take part in genocide or war. But, we are all born into our circumstances and formed and controlled by them to some extent. Nazis were heroes in Germany and every institution in their society backed up the idea that they were engaged in the righteous cause. Our soldiers and citizens had the same experience here. If you had been a young man or woman born into that world, you would have fought alongside the others. Again, it’s easy to go along with the masses. It’s harder to be an individual and arrive at your own conclusions and especially when you’re surrounded with propaganda. They were surrounded then and we’re surrounded now.
Next topic: Truth or bias?
Let’s discuss our perverted President. You may be thinking of Donald Trump when you read that, but I could also be talking about Bill Clinton, couldn’t I? What is the truth about Donald Trump and Bill Clinton? They are virtually the same guy. Bill and Donald are both perverts. They both presided over booming economies that ended as they left office during a storm of crisis. Both had impeachment trials. The facts are that they are both adulterers, they are both guilty of sexual harassment, and they are both neck deep in shady business dealings. Many people love and hate them. One is a Democrat and one a Republican. I would argue that there is very little real difference. I have friends who would defend one of them and murder the other one if they could get away with it because of their party allegiance without ever thinking that they’ve been manipulated into holding conflicting beliefs. My friends, this is professional wrestling. We cheer the person that we see as the good guy and we boo the villain. That’s the simple narrative that we’ve all fallen for at one time or another.
The events that occurred after the George Floyd incident in 2020 and the events that occurred at the Capitol the week before the inauguration of 2021 are either riots or protests depending on your view. Conservatives made fun of the media as they reported on “mostly peaceful protests” while American cities burned, people’s lives were destroyed or ended, and the divides in our nation grew. Liberals did the same as the events at the Capitol unfolded. They went on to be called a coup and an insurrection. In both cases, the situation was WAY more complicated than those simple narratives. There were real issues being protested in both cases. There were politicians on both sides inciting violence. There were hundreds of thousands of good people standing up for their beliefs in both cases. Buildings were attacked and damaged. There were bad actors in both cases that did terrible things. Your bias informs your commentary on them. Your bias simplifies it and makes all of the participants either good or bad. Your bias scapegoats one organization, one candidate, one race, one occupation, or one party. Your bias is the path that leads to the simple narrative you’ve fallen for, but you can step back and look at the facts. You can be consistent regardless of the party or person. You can grow up and stop believing that our professional wrestling masquerading as political discussion is real. It’s not. We tend to get bogged down in simplistic arguments and beliefs that only add to the problems that make life worse for everyone. Rioters are rioters regardless of their motivation. Protesters are protesters regardless of their cause. Rioting is not protesting. Protesting is not rioting. In both instances, rioting and protesting happened, there were good and bad law enforcement actors involved, and both sides saw their actions as justified and the other’s actions as criminal. This is not consistent. There are facts and truths and problems that should be acknowledged by both sides.
Side note: Watch the excellent documentary “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix if you haven’t already. The social media algorithms use our biases and tendencies for their profit and as a side effect they fuel the hatred, misunderstanding, and divide. They must be stopped. You must stop them. That starts in your mind.
As I’ve written before, I love the idea of America. I love freedom and our constitution-based representative republic that the founders gave us. But, in truth we’ve become an oligarchy and the power brokers and wealthy people in our country are the ones that have a seat at the table and the rest of us are given the crumbs of the simple narrative as our standard of living and values continue to decline year after year and as we fight with, dehumanize, and belittle each other.
I believe one of the ways out of this mess is consistency. If we could all generally agree on a set of standards, as our ancestors generally agreed on Christian/Biblical standards, and then hold our leaders and institutions to those standards, things would change. Right now, we tend to hold our opponents to a set of standards, but our allies get a pass. That’s inconsistent and intellectually dishonest. If Donald Trump is pervert, so is Bill Clinton. If Barrack Obama is praised when he’s nominated for a Nobel Prize, Donald Trump should be too. If Brett Kavanaugh, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, or anyone else is accused of a crime like sexual assault, they should be investigated. If The Fighting Sioux mascot for the University of North Dakota is offensive, then so is The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame or the Minnesota Vikings for that matter. If it’s wrong for one, it’s wrong for all regardless of political affiliation, race, income, or any other factor. If your team cheats to win the game, it should outrage you as much as the other team cheating to beat your team. Let’s be consistent and reintroduce a little sanity to these issues.
Learn to disagree and be respectful. If you can’t, at least be quiet. Work for the causes you believe in, but not at the cost of vilifying those who oppose you. You do your thing and let them do theirs. If you can’t treat them with respect, at least you can keep your mouth shut. This includes your social media mouth. Be a good person, regardless of your circumstances. Be consistent. Love the idea of America. And, for God’s sake, stop believing that professional wrestling is real.