“Being offended doesn’t make you right.”
Screenshot: WWE

Aside from its concessions to Saudi Arabia as part of a larger business deal with the murderous gulf autocracy, WWE’s recent programming has been as apolitical as it has been in ages. It’s the sort of thing that’s more notable in its absence, but the promotion’s classic xenophobic and jingoistic storylines are gone. Donald Trump, who is in the WWE Hall of Fame and was once a semi-regular presence, has not been referenced in years, which Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer has reported is a move the promotion has made because it doesn’t want to alienate its heavily left-leaning, black, and Latinx fanbase. The fact that WWE’s former CEO, who is the wife of the current CEO, is a member of Trump’s cabinet is never mentioned, either. The only trace of the current political moment, in terms of storylines or rhetoric, has come from the former of developmental/NXT roster member Dan Matha, who routinely goes off on “soy boys” and the like on Twitter and when cutting promos. Even then, Matha is in developmental, is not doing the gimmick on TV, and is at least a heel, which means he’s wrong according to wrestling logic. This is an overstated and overheated moment, but WWE has mostly seen fit to steer clear of its particular manias while doing its usual overstated, overheated thing.

That seemingly changed Monday night on Raw.

The backstory here is this: Becky Lynch has taken to calling herself “The Man” in interviews, which is a play on Ric Flair’s “to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man” catchphrase and part of her feud with his Flair’s daughter, Charlotte. (Lynch is largely written as a heel, but universally beloved by fans and cheered loudly at every show, which has upended the usual dynamics.) Ronda Rousey, who is theoretically good guy in this binary, has mocked Lynch for working as a flight attendant, among other jobs, during her hiatus from fighting to recover from a series of head injuries; last week on SmackDown, Lynch took exception to that, and seemed like anything but a heel. (Lynch also called the former UFC champion weak-minded, in what was seemingly an indirect reference to Rousey’s past of retreating from public for months at a time after her MMA losses.) Monday, on Raw, Rousey explained that she hadn’t been disrespecting what Lynch did to make a living, just noting that she had trained from childhood to be a combat athlete and Lynch had not. Well, at least until she then took off in a frankly weird direction:

“Becky can dish it out, but she sure isn’t that good at taking it. Becky, you are so hypersensitive. You’re not just ‘The Man,’ you are the millennial man. You are the skinny jeans-wearing, v-neck sporting, avocado toast-munching, winged shoe-wearing, millennial man. With a bubble-wrapped ego and a porcelain self-perception. Someone needs to tell ‘The Man’ that I am not Charlotte Flair, Raw is not SmackDown, and being offended doesn’t make you right.

So you can put the violins away, ‘champ.’ You’re not Oliver Twist, and I’m not some trust fund baby golden child, OK? Every fan that I got has watched me sweat for every single ounce of their respect. They’ve watched me bleed for every little inch of progress. They’ve watched me mourn every single setback. And I sure as hell didn’t pour my heart and soul into changing the meaning of ‘fight like a girl’ so the leader of the women’s evolution could call herself ‘The Man.’”

Advertisement

Anyone who has spent time monitoring contemporary stupid internet political arguments knows that Rousey’s promo was close to a full bingo card of right-wing troll rhetoric about left-leaning millennials. The mention of avocado toast, a dumb and dated meme that’s less about a trend in breakfast food and more about millennial lassitude? Check. Check. A lightly repackaged version of Ben Shapiro’s idiotic “facts don’t care about your feelings” catchphrase? A rundown of what was considered stereotypical “hipster” fashion in 2007? Check. It’s lorem ipsum text comprised entirely of Tomi Lahren promos.

(WWE has not responded to a request for comment on if the Raw segment was intended to be political in nature.)

The politics of Vince McMahon are no secret. His record is heavy on Republican donations and he has the dubious honor of being the biggest donor ever to the Donald J. Trump foundation. When called to account for continuing to do business with Saudi Arabia after the country’s murder of a dissident journalist, WWE gave the same basic answer that President Trump had when questioned about arms sales to the country—WWE’s answer had to do with potential effects on their 2018 guidance for stockholders, Trump, who was direct, just said that the deals were too much money to pass up.

Advertisement

Rousey has claimed to be a Bernie Sanders supporter, but her actual politics have been something of a moving target. A few weeks before her first UFC fight, she tweeted a link to one of the earliest Sandy Hook school shooting conspiracy theory videos and then defended her action when called out in the replies. Her manager talked in circles to try to mitigate the damage and UFC president/vocal Trump supporter Dana White backed her up, saying that “people are fucking pussies is the problem.” Even as Sandy Hook truthers have become a legitimate safety concern for victims’ families, Rousey has declined to apologize, or even walked back the tweets.

Rousey’s defiance and success have made her something of a pop feminist icon; her “don’t be a do-nothing bitch” catchphrase didn’t age terribly well, but it had a moment. On the issues, though, Rousey has not been particularly inclusive or informed. She has insisted that transgender identity is a “decision,” and specifically contrasted trans athletes with the intersex athletes she had competed with and against in judo, whom she said dealt with “something they didn’t choose.” She once crudely referred to the since-retired trans female MMA fighter Fallon Fox as having “tr[ied] hormones, chop[ped] her pecker off.” (It’s worth noting that, even when not forth on less politically charged issues, Rousey has always just kind of been a weirdo. Perhaps most infamously, she dismissed legitimate criticism of her uninformed sex advice—“If you need lube, then you’re being lazy”—as just a bunch of female sex researchers being “gritty kitty bitches” who were jealous of her because “you’re working with a sandbox.”)

Advertisement

Independent of Rousey’s personal track record, her promo felt like someone—her, the writers, Vince McMahon, or some combination—trying out a message by trotting out some familiar politically coded rhetoric. As with many of Rousey’s promos, it didn’t land terribly well. But the subtext certainly came through loud and clear.


David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.