Why Angles Involving Race Must Have a Payoff
Every so often in the wrestling industry a promoter sees fit to run an angle where race is the centerpiece. These angles have been going on for decades in the wrestling industry. In the 1980's the Mid-South wrestling territory had a young lady named Linda Newton under their employ. Newton was a sexy siren to say the very least. She was discovered by Dick Slater at a local strip club and apparently, he liked what he saw; this beautiful mocha colored, African American woman. She was promptly given the name Dark Journey and paired with Slater throughout the territory. During this time the Mid-South was not known for its racial tolerance so of course they were naturally booed anytime they stepped into a wrestling arena. They were harassed and received multiple death threats all because Dark Journey was a black woman who was paired with a white man. It was a real simple formula; white man + black woman + Mid South = Heat.
The wrestling industry is infamous for going to the race angle when they have run out of ideas and the creative juices have seemingly stopped flowing. The September 23rd edition of TNA Impact made it pretty clear that Dixie and co. were perhaps pursuing a race angle with The Pope and Eric Bischoff. As The Pope marched angrily to the ring and demanded to be in the title match at their upcoming Bound For Glory Pay Per View, he stated that both Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy did not win their tournament matches, yet they are in the title match and he is not; In addition, after Bound For Glory RVD is the first in line for a title match. Bischoff replies to Pope “I hope to hell you’re not accusing me of what I think you’re accusing me of!” With that small exchange between Pope and Bischoff, the seeds of a race angle were planted. Perhaps we are in for Eric Bischoff as a prejudice, prick of a boss or Pope as a stereotypical, angry militant black man.
I understand that this is professional wrestling and while I whole heartily believe that using race in wrestling story lines is an extremely cheap way to get heat and completely lacks creativity, I do understand the convenience of it. It's not that I am against race angles because I am not, however, I do feel that if a company is going to utilize such an angle then there needs to be a satisfactory payoff. What do I mean by this? Allow me to give you the following example:
In 1992, Ron Simmons was on a quest to be the first African American World Heavyweight Champion in professional wrestling (not counting BoBo Brazil's unrecognized reign in 1962). Prior to Simmons match with Vader for the title, he had an altercation with Vader's manager, Harley Race. Jesse Ventura was interviewing Simmons about his aforementioned quest when Race came out and interrupted. He told Simmons to be an "errand boy" and deliver a message to Sting on behalf of the World Champion, Big Van Vader. Simmons then tells Race in so many words to do it himself. Race, a former 7 time champ himself, then tells Simmons that when he was World Champ he had a "boy" like Simmons that carried his bags; essentially implying that since Simmons is black all he is good for is carrying bags and running errands.
Eventually, Simmons would get his shot at the title when Sting got injured and Simmons (ahem) "won a raffle" to wrestle heavyweight champion, Big Van Vader, in Sting's place. Vader and Simmons worked very hard in their match and the end result was Simmons scoring a powerslam on Vader to win the title. Was race used to trigger the storyline and add an element of drama to their match? Yes, it most certainly was but the end result was Ron Simmons winning the title and the record books showing him as the first black world champion. Say what you want about the head booker of WCW at the time Bill Watts, but he realized giving the title to Simmons was the right thing to do. I know that it is often said that Watts himself was prejudice and that he gave the title to Simmons for political reasons, but in any case, he did what was right for business at the time. (Of course he would lose to Vader some 5 or 6 months later but, fortunately that is never talked about). If you are WCW, and you are going to subject your audience to having to listen to Simmons being mocked and berated because of his race, then he damn well better win the World Title.
Fast forward to 2003, WWE took a different approach. On an episode of Raw, Booker T wins a Battle Royal on to receive a shot at HHH's World Title at Wrestlemania. In the weeks leading to Mania, HHH cut some of the most racially charged promos WWE television has ever seen. It was enough to make David Duke hide his head in shame. While he did not explicitly refer to Booker's race, he did tell Booker T that "people like him" didn't win world titles and that he needed to go back to the streets. He then proceeded to tell Booker T "dance for him" to "carry his bags" and made fun of his "nappy" hair (some four years before Don Imus used the word to describe the Rutgers Women's Basketball team). After weeks of this type of torment from HHH the stage was set at Wrestlemania 19.
The culmination of this tumultuous feud was ready to take place. Over 50,000 fans were waiting and starving to see Booker T take it to this guy who used racially charged innuendo every chance he got. 50,000 fans would be disappointed, however, because Booker T did not win his match. That's right, Vince McMahon forced WWE fans to sit through weeks and weeks of Booker T taking a plethora of racially driven verbal abuse only for him to NOT win the title. Had Booker T fulfilled his destiny at Wrestlemania 19, all of the verbal thrashings out of the mouth of HHH would have been worth it... or at least tolerable. Instead, fans were forced to sit through that and there was ultimately no payoff. Booker T, a former 5 time WCW World Champ before it was purchased by WWE, would not win the title again for another four years and by this time he was the villainous, King Booker.
My point is simply when race is used there should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS be a payoff. It makes no sense for fans to have to sit through racially laced promos for there not to be a solid endgame. In a perfect world, promoters would think of more creative ways for bad guys to get heat instead of using race. However, if you are going to use race, at the very least don't make it be in vain.
If Eric Bischoff starts spouting off racial slurs toward the Pope the endgame should be that Pope wins the TNA title. If TNA forces the Pope into playing a Black Militant character the Pope should still win the title, and ultimately lose it to a wrestler who represents the opposite of what a radical militant represents. It is apparent that as of this writing, the WWE does not believe in any of their African American wrestlers enough to make them world champ. TNA is in a unique position to give The Pope, a man who the fans are already solidly behind, a meaningful World Title run. It is up to TNA not to drop the ball. At the end of the day, as juvenile as a race angle is, when it is done with a solid payoff there is always a sense of gratification.
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