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Lucha libre… ¿o muerte?

21 February 2013

I don’t know of any scholars of Lucha Libre, but what little is written seriously about the history of the spectacle suggests that it was imported from the United States, where professional wrestling featuring cartoonish villains and heroes was a popular entertainment as early as the 1930s. Imported into Mexico, it was given a meaning beyond simple mindless entertainment, with its masked tecnicos and rudos giving form and substance to cultural values and still extant myths.

Back in 2006, when the very real and moving story of Father Sergio Gutierrez Benitez — who took up Luche Libre under the guise of “Fray Tormenta” to support his own mission as a caretaker to orphaned boys — was turned into … as one Mexican commentator put it… “dumb mockery of a very bizarre sport” led to some reporting on Lucha, including this from AP reporter Julie Watson:

Professional wrestling, known as Lucha Libre, was largely the inspiration for the World Wrestling Federation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)

Given that WWF — which, while a corporate-controlled enterprise, and having, not grassroots, but astroturfed, populism, is conscious of its Mexican heritage — is … um… entering the ring on the immigration issue.

A “tea party” anti-immigrant wrestling figure named Jack Swagger has been marketed by the WWF as what in Lucha Libre would be a “rudo”… the villain in the morality play of the ring.

Swagger’s faux-manager, not so accidentally named Zebadiah Colter, sported a bushy hunter’s beard and wore a beige vest as he yelled to the crowd: “What’s wrong with America?” Colter then explained that he “doesn’t recognize” today’s America. He said he saw people with faces “not like mine” and heard people that “can’t even talk to me,” and he screamed out again to the Nashville audience and the Americans at home: “Where did all these people come from?” And then Colter, who’s used other surnames to fit his gimmick in the past, threw out some catchphrases familiar to any Tea Party observer — “We, the people” was prominent — and made a point to stress, over and over, that he and Swagger were “real Americans.” Oh, did the crowd ever boo.

Those “faces not like mine” and people who “can’t even talk to me”  in large part are those whose cultural roots are from the spiritual home of Lucha libre… but what shows the United States has changed is that they were hardly the only ones in the crowd who boo-ed the anti-immigrant message.  Yes, these cartoonish villains are corporate creations, but … with the TEA Party itself largely an astro-turfed political movement, this may actually mean that the United States is returning to it’s more traditional value of embracing foreign influences… as long as they are attractively packaged for mass consumption.

wrestler… OR… I don’t know.  What goes around comes around?  Or, maybe, the “TEA Party” types are right… that immigration is making the U.S. more like Mexico — just not the way they feared, but in ways they have been accepting for years.

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