Someone asked me what professional sport that I thought most resembled American politics. Was it a team sport like football or baseball or an individual sport like golf or tennis? Did it depend on raw power like weightlifting or was finesse more important like in figure-skating? Without hesitation I said, ‘professional wrestling, of course.’
When I was a child, one of my father’s various occupations was that of a wrestling promoter. I couldn’t have been four or five years old when he used to take me down to the Sportatorium on Industrial Blvd. It was a huge, gray corrugated steel building surrounded by liquor stores and drive-in hamburger joints. Six nights a week the place would be packed with a rowdy working-class crowd whose smell reminded me of the circus only with more beer and testosterone. The place was always charged with wild exciting energy and I loved the way the ring microphone would drop down and the ring manager’s voice would echo in the giant room against the metal walls and the moist heady breath of the crowd. And then the sweaty men grunting and slapping each other with great theatrical smacks that launched sprays of spit and sweat that sparkled in the klieg lights. It was pure spectacle, pure show biz.
I knew that nobody really got hurt because I had the run of the locker room and I had been introduced to the fighters in their civilian clothes and saw them laughing and drinking together and deciding who was going to win. I was told pointedly that the whole thing was a big fake and not to take it too seriously when I saw a chair being broken across someone’s back because it was a phony chair. In short, I knew that wrestling was rigged even before I got the sad news about Santa Claus. But even though I was in on the illusion, the matches still thrilled me and I got as worked up and stood on my chair and shouted at the bad guys like the rest of the fans.
This is the exact way that I relate to politics. I know it’s rigged and that the outcomes are not as important as the show, just like in wrestling. The fans at the Sportatorium didn’t know my dad. They didn’t know that he helped choreograph the fights and also picked who would win or lose. In essence he owned the match but nobody ever saw him counting the tickets and taking the money backstage. The crowd was there for the entertainment. They either didn’t know or didn’t care who was pulling the strings. They would bet money on those fights as if they were actually fair contests. They were totally involved in the charade. Those gullible fans remind me greatly of the folks I see watching Fox News today and naively accepting Glenn Beck’s fantasy interpretations of history.
Politics and wrestling are both much slicker shows than they used to be, more believable and awash in money, but they still thrill the fans who imagine that their cheers or votes count for something and have an influence on the outcomes. Meanwhile the promoters still divide the money backstage. The politicians, like the wrestlers, are simply employees of their empressarios, hired to put on a good show. They are dancing monkeys.
As we approach the mid-term elections the political antics will more approximate those of the WWE. There will be cage-fights and tag-team grudge matches and debates. The crowds will sweat and cheer, the candidates will bounce on the ropes. But the day after the election, gas will still be too expensive, your job (should you be lucky enough to have one) still won’t pay enough, your taxes will be too high, theft and corruption will still bleed our social systems and the poor will get poorer and the rich will get richer. And the promoters will still split the ticket money backstage.
During my days at the Sportatorium, my favorite wrestler was named The Zebra Kid. He wore a black and white mask and supposedly spoke not a word of English (thus he could credibly ignore the referee’s admonitions.) He broke all the rules and suffered and grunted gloriously. In real life he had a Master’s degree in English literature and was writing a romance novel. The Poet’s Eye sees that things are not often what they seem in wrestling or politics, but the show is always a thrill.
And though my pockets have a hole
I feel content within my soul
I’ve been sincere with all the customers encountered
I can’t complain, I’m rich in love
And I must thank my God above
Though it’s money that will make the monkey dance
Yes, it’s money that will make the monkey dance.