WWE's "Russian" Characters Referenced The Malaysian Airlines Crash

On last night's WWE pay-per-view, Lana and Rusev, playing Russians—or at least Russophiles; they're not totally clear on the details— made reference to Americans blaming Russia "for the recent current events."

It was a not-particularly-subtle reference to last week's downing of MH17 in eastern Ukraine, most likely at the hands of pro-Russian separatists. And if you are surprised that WWE would bring up a fresh tragedy or a geopolitical sore spot just for some cheap heat, you've probably never watched pro wrestling before.

Last night's segment wasn't particularly offensive but for its laziness. Wrestling does current events poorly, and almost always as a substitute for real character development. Using outsized national or ethnic or racial stereotypes to define a wrestler is as old as the headlock, but usually only goes irreversibly south when the writers don't bother to flesh out the personas beyond a single defining characteristic. To this point so far, Lana (an American who spent much of her childhood in Latvia) and Rusev (a Bulgarian) don't have motivation beyond wanting to prove that Russian culture is superior to America. In wrestling parlance, those are gimmicks, not characters.

That sort of thing can work in the short term, at least until people are forced to actually think about the unpleasantness of international relations, but it can be very bad for those wrestlers' careers if there's nothing else there. Despite not being Arab, Mark Copani played an aggrieved Arab-American named Muhammad Hassan whose storyline evolved into one with all the signifiers and dog whistles for "Muslim terrorism." Outrage from sponsors and advertisers after the 2005 London bombings kept Copani off TV and more or less forced him into retirement. WWE going to the MH17 well—if ever so tentatively—isn't going to end happily for anyone, least of all for the wrestlers themselves.