Just as in our current political state, when alleged leaders rise and claim to be our answer, but occupy alignment contrary to the common man, they must be questioned and exposed.
Photo: AEW, WrestleTalk
Note: Greyson Peltier's columns discuss the fight to Change The World, through the lens of kayfabe, and present a progressive perspective.
I walked into the AEW Dynamite show in Los Angeles on June 1st somewhat defeated, as a loyal supporter of Adam Page, carrying a sign saying “Adam Page Changed My Life,” not feeling represented in a sea of CM Punk fans. Then something unexpected happened, a strong, confident man spoke up against the authorities and the systems that harmed my hero. He had the resolve and the power to right the wrongs I felt, or so it seemed. He took actions that resulted in backlash, actions that many did not understand at first. However, after speaking to their needs while still sneering and demeaning them, the fans cheered him, just as he was being cut off from launching his coup attempt and AEW leadership attempted to de-escalate. I almost cheered myself, but knowing who this man was, I questioned. I did turn around to my fellow fans and expressed how I thought maybe he had changed. Maybe this former oppressor was turning to our side. Maybe he could be part of a coalition seeking to write the apparent power and balances and economic injustices that were occurring within the AEW universe. However, I knew that all was not what it seemed. On my ride home, I felt how the dynamic in that crowd at The Forum could be compared to the arenas of civic and economic life. I then termed MJF’s behavior, and that of others like him, including one specific WWE Hall of Famer, “Heel Populism.”
Heel populists are enemies in disguise, very strong figures, both physically and economically, often as entrepreneurs, sometimes with real or fake depictions of muscularity, or with stories that make them seem like they came from nothing but became this great person who is now better than you. They have achieved the dream, they appear perfectly polished, the epitome of wealth and they make their wealth and power their identity. They are someone you look up to. They may cloak themselves in ideals of social responsibility, even come from an oppressed background, and show themselves to be a solution to our time’s greatest challenges, sometimes the things that you want to talk about but never can. But they do so in a very lofty way that is beyond your everyday experience. Even acting in an erratic manner, they show a level of courage and success that is unexpected. Using the best Firms in the country, the Heel Populist is able to defend against all attacks and show the unimpeachability, even in the face of the most serious charges of malfeasance (which they claim are persecution), reserved for the most powerful. They rise in crisis and especially in vacuums of leadership. But instead of making you feel welcome and comforted, they make you feel scared to not acknowledge them but strong along with them if, and only if, you join forces with them. They are often leaders of cults of personality, think what you may of this word choice. Think of hustle culture peddlers and Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) salespeople.
However, all their hype is just that, it is not reality. As political commentator Rick Smith says, they "sell you the shiny thing, and then at the last minute loosey you every single day by yanking it away," which as Sami Zayn would say, is not very Ucey. When the true hero and leader arises, however, because you were sold this bill of goods, you may not want to accept them. Why would you take a common man, rugged, unpolished, in a hoodie, when you have the well-coiffed epitome of having money, sexual appeal, and most importantly, the recognition of your power by the dominant capitalistic system, even if by fear? Even as they show such power, they still claim to oppose a “New World Order" or some other construct of oppression, whomever they are, and as such to be fighting for you. With all of these "new" ideas and potential, why would you cheer someone who is accused of having too much deference to femininity and who shows vulnerability, pouring his heart out about all he has lost, when you can take the masculine leader you secretly wanted to be, who is sitting in a skybox confidently in luxury?
“Are we not good enough? Are we not brave enough?...Or is it all a dream” - Rise Against
But in the Senate election in Pennsylvania, John Fetterman eventually prevailed, a man much like Jon Moxley, who had a legacy of fighting for the people of his state and exposed the truth of the polished, made-for-TV, inauthentic opponent he had in Dr. Mehmet Oz, who only recently moved to the state before the election. Someone who shared their weaknesses and flaws, kept fighting even through health circumstances, even when they should be resting and recovering. The Democratic Party and its embrace of women’s rights kept toxic masculinity at bay and achieved unprecedented success for a midterm election. But this was largely because the people learned their lesson about the importance of true representation of all people in the citizenry under President Donald Trump.
As to MJF, Moxley laid bare his intentions on this past week’s Dynamite, stating he shows fans “this perfectly curated version” of himself. with “prepared speeches, curated opponents,” while actually having no victories in the last six months, and instead of this alleged paragon of strength, he sees an insecure “man filled with fear.” On the Countdown to Full Gear, Moxley breaks MJF's connection to the working-class fan by saying that he "calls himself a pillar even though he has no idea what it feels like to have any weight on his back." However, like Northeast voters in districts that previously went for Biden but flipped to Republicans potentially due to current concerns over economic concerns that these candidates could care less about in reality, I am afraid the AEW movement has not yet learned it’s lesson about strongman leaders, their false claims, and the devil in Heel Populism. So I believe MJF will prevail at Full Gear, but like what happened after the 2016 election, this will hopefully galvanize the AEW movement to return to its true values and make plain how they have been subtly threatened. Then under fire we can become truly strong enough not just to Make AEW Great Again with a “generational talent,” but to finish what we started, to Change The World.
To be continued…
Greyson Peltier is the host of The Fixerpunk Podcast, a communications consultant specializing in social impact and political advocacy, and founder of consulting firm Off Speed Solutions. He has been on both sides of the political aisle and has worked for multiple organizations. Peltier holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California and has been featured by media outlets like Vice, ESPN Radio KLAA, USA Radio Network, and Street Fight Radio.
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