Clinton, Bush, et al. They’re not hacks, they’re pro wrestlers
The marks of new are a highly evolved form, and watch wrestling shows with a self-awareness that perhaps was absent at their inception
‘Outsiders’ versus the ‘establishment’; ‘hacks’, ‘real’ progressives, no more of the same… These are some of the terms that have saturated the 2016 Presidential race so far. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, what is clear is that authenticity – or at the impression of it – has had a renewed value in politics. This is true not only in America, but across the world: in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn, a progressive in the same mould as Bernie Sanders, took the helm of the Labour party that once delivered Tony Blair, and across Europe parties such as Syriza and Podemos continue to gain support and enter office.
As a politics junkie on the move I tend to keep up to date with election news online, and the anti-establishment narrative couldn’t be more pronounced in the independent media. Cenk Uygur’s The Young Turks is a favourite with a mixture of humour and serious analysis – and y’know, I’m one of those whippersnappers that likes hearing naughty words in the news – but there’s something I feel the independent or ‘alternative’ media is missing in their discussion of establishment candidates. Although we have seen the likes of Jeb Bush exit the race early, and both primaries seem destined to become 1-on-1 matchups between an ‘establishment’ and an ‘outsider’ candidate right to the wire, the mainstream still resonates among large portions of the electorate. The truth behind this is much more complex than some of the alternative media tends to allude to, it cuts right to the core of what we deem politics and politicians to be.
I’ve been working on an academic journal paper about Pro Wrestling and the avant-garde recently, and I can’t help but see a lot of parallels in what I’ve been discussing and the current political climate. Crudely, it could be said that the relationship between politicians and their supporters mirrors that of the traditional pro wrestling performance and its audience: fans are divided into “smarks” (smart marks), who watch with a knowledge of wrestling’s stage-managed nature, and “marks”, who would typically watch with naivety. This certainly rings true when considering the analysis of establishment rhetoric in alternative media, which is resoundingly one of disbelief, “just how can people lap this stuff up from those hacks!?”
Certainly there is an issue of legitimacy and authenticity among politicians, which rightly is a point of interest for outsider news sources; indeed, they serve an important role in offering an alternative to corporate media hegemony. But this sense of disbelief felt among outsiders about mainstream voters perpetually invokes in my mind an MMA fan barking at fans of pro wrestling, “don’t you know it’s fake?” The marks of new are a highly evolved form, and watch wrestling shows with a self-awareness that perhaps was absent at their inception. To cast aside the broader spectrum of reality and fiction is a necessary function of enjoying a wrestling match, just as it is with any form of theatre or TV drama, and to try to re-impose such a reality on someone who has already ignored it deliberately can only serve to alienate them from you.
For many, like in wrestling, the character of a politician is something that has already been established. For them, the measure of a good politician is determined within the boundaries of what a politician is expected to be, and this is something that TYT has actually discussed directly. The problem is that wrestling and politics, whilst similar from an actor-audience perspective, are not the same, and the latter affects the lives of citizens whether they believe in its performers or not. The only way to avoid perpetual alienation from mainstream voters is to re-define politics as legitimate in spite of its performance narrative, and whilst this may be boosted by the success of alternative candidates in this election – although Trump is essentially repackaging the notion of assumed authenticity as a performance attribute in the traditional sense, and to great effect – ultimately an election of such prestige and hype is unsuitable for beginning such a transition.
The re-definition of politics into a competitive sport, rather than a stage-managed one, will have to be done first on a micro level: from city councillors to town legislators. The biggest task for opponents of political hacks will reach beyond 2016, to carry their momentum forward into every corner of America’s democracy.