The Art of the Heel

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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59 Responses

  1. Avatar Mark Van Heusden says:

    All good and fun, until it isn’t. Acosta can handle it, Trump can handle it and the crow can handle it, but what happens when Trump has a bad day and decides to crank his rally rhetoric up a notch or two? Or Acosta doesn’t play ball and reacts somewhat aggressive to the crowd? Or a group of drunk Trump supporters decide that chanting is fun, but breaking some bones is more fun?

    The question is not if this will go wrong, but when and how horribly wrong. You can’t control the mob.Report

    • Correct, as I touched on in the piece that type of environment is only a mistake or two away from going bad in a hurry. We’ve had violence at these rallies before, but mostly pushing and shoving, the incident in Fayetteville of punching, and a few others. That lack of worse might well be more luck than design but long may it hold. I share your concern though that it wont.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Mark Van Heusden says:

      Or when the eye of the mob lights on a civilian, someone who doesn’t float in the protective bubble of celebrity.Report

      • The other analogy I toyed around with is the black Friday shoppers. If things continue to devolve eventually these rallies, like black Friday shopping, may only be attended by those wanting and expecting chaos and trouble.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

          The analogy I was thinking of is football hooligans, but ones without a full understanding of the sport they’re stabbing people over. And the most popular player on their team is cheering them on, which I think is an experiment that hasn’t been done before.Report

    • I agree the Trump vs Acosta is a side show which is why I took this approach to it . Trumps main focus at all times is Trump, and the news medias favorite thing to cover is their own importance, which makes these things the perfect meeting of subject and medium for both. And while they are doing it, there is precious little coverage on vastly more important things being ignored.Report

    • The comment suggested that a problem with the analogy is that at the end of the day in the wrestling world, the heel and face go home and are entirely different people, doing harmless (or even helpful) things. In the Trump/Acosta world, the face goes home and guts environmental regulations and attempts end-runs around Congress that would add half-trillion dollars to the deficit. One’s the show; the other’s just a sideshow.Report

      • Idk, I saw and replied to it without problem. I’m on mobile maybe that makes a differenceReport

        • And I initially saw it while it was in moderation. At some point later the text disappeared. There’s another comment a bit farther down this thread where only half an edit seems to have survived, even though the system showed me the entire edit while the comment was in moderation. My intuition is that now that the moderation system is grabbing way more comments than it should, it’s exposing a previously unknown bug — maybe in the moderation code, maybe in some other code — involving multiple execution threads accessing the database.Report

  2. Avatar Pinky says:

    Could you compare and contrast this with the way that President Obama dealt with Fox News and Rush Limbaugh? I’m not arguing BSDI, but I offhand think that there are some interesting similarities and differences.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Pinky says:

      I think it’d be interesting for you to expand on it. My own vague recollection was that Obama generally ignored Right Wing Entertainment/Media entirely; was pretty detached from that kind of political advocacy and that his aloofness in many areas served him quite poorly.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Pinky says:

      I think it’s an interesting question that I think bears exploring. If my own memory suffices Obama largely ignored the Right Wing Entertainment/Media most of the time; hell a lot of the time he seemed to even ignore the main stream media. It certainly lent him a certain aloofness/dignity but he ceded a hell of a lot of messaging opportunity by being so detached (and arguably scornful of that kind of politics) and both he and his party paid dearly for it.Report

  3. Avatar Maribou says:

    @kolohe @michael-cain

    Just a note that I have no idea where the heck your comments went – they were like this when I first looked at the site this morning.

    Have asked @will-truman if he knows what the system is doing… *kicks tires in the meantime*.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    CNN is obviously a capitalist enterprise. They are in the business of selling news/information to make money. My long-standing opinion is that there is no real need for 24 hours news networks*. Kolohe has noted that a lot of them work on the old news radio format. I.e., they report the same things over and over again throughout the day. A lot of stories you see on cable news networks are more fit for local news. Stuff like Balloon Boy and one story I remember catching on CNN many years ago, a bear roaming the backyards of suburbia somewhere.

    I am starting to wonder whether our current era of bad feelings is a product of both BS jobs and Amusing Ourselves to Death. Many people work long hours at jobs that might not need as such. We work long hours for a variety of reasons that are deeply cultural and hard to unpack. Part of it is our Calvinist heritage. Some of it sheer necessity. I work in a co-working/shared office space. The company we lease from as a front desk person to handle mail and other issues through out the day. You need someone at the desk but he or she is rarely busy from 9-5 so I see them on their phones a lot. This is fine but we need stuff to fill the down time and create dramas like the ones you mention here.

    I don’t know if my theory is fully correct. I’ve noticed that a few people (usually libertarians interestingly) like to claim that the divisions are being manufactured and people really agree more and/or the stakes are much lower. I don’t think this is true. I think that social politics really matter to people with strong intensity. Like you mentioned, I have my biases and side I support but I also think social politics leaves very little room for compromise. There is often no moderate/compromise stance on abortion, LBGT rights, gun control, birth control access, racial justice issues, etc.

    But the thing about a lot of posts like this is that they seem to imagine a world where Trump is very popular. He is not. He has never cracked 45 percent in polling and this is remarkable considering the strength of the economy. He has a base of hardcore supporters but lots of people loathe him. Kevin Drum pointed out yesterday that the college-educated, white, female Republican is basically a highly endangered species and this is largely if not entriely because of Trump.

    https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/08/quote-of-the-day-college-educated-republican-women-are-extinct/

    But on a lot of blogs and a lot of the media, there is this idea that Trump is going to become massively popular any day now. I find it interesting that a lot of the media especially TV media and old-school newspapers does not want to discuss the massive unpopularity of Trump.**

    Of course the GOP does control Congress and the Presidency and the response to Trump’s unpopularity might be that it doesn’t matter until it produces a check on the GOP.

    *I think that 24-hour news networks could be great at long-form investigative documentaries/reporting but no one would watch this and it would not sell adverts.

    **Places like Slate and Vox will discuss and write about Trump’s unpopularity. I don’t know if this is because of partisan affiliation/different audiences and/or as net publications they don’t believe in the rules of “objective” journalism as practiced by CNN and paper publications. I think Vox had an essay on how it is time to discuss Trump’s massive popularity.Report

  5. Mark Kruger Mark Kruger says:

    Yes, we need to worry about the crazy makers. Of course we should all turn it down a notch, and it is fair to point out this current media monster was created mostly by ourselves.

    Great article. My take is about the same:

    1) It IS designed to be theater. These people shout and holler because they see it as such. The comment most often heard from the MAGA crowd about trump rallies is that they are fun and entertaining. A venue where you can let out your darker angels is in keeping with human traditions from jousting and the Colosseum to a Yankees vs. Red Sox game.

    But….

    2) It’s playing with fire. Unlike the WWE or Fenway there are real things at stake here. This mob isn’t whipped up to root for a wrestler. They are being whipped up as a prelude to action or support of an agenda. The agenda itself can be argued as politics – left vs. right, economics, IR etc. But the use of the mob in service to that agenda is dangerous. If it continues it’s only a matter of time before the crazy makers do something irreversible.Report

  6. Avatar fillyjonk says:

    I dunno but I begin to think about what some “prepper” type I read once who said something like “Don’t go stupid places and don’t hang around stupid people” if you want to avoid trouble. I think political rallies, unfortunately, in our polarized times, more often than not run the risk of rapidly becoming a “stupid place.”

    Mob mentality is scary. It’s bad enough when people on social media decide to gang up on someone; it’s worse in meatspace where there might be fists and feet and even weapons. The problem with people like Trump and Acosta playing up the sideshow for eyeballs and attention is kind of like the kids who try moves they see on wrestling, not knowing that wrestling is fake, and getting hurt: someone’s eventually going to take all the noise and bluster way too seriously, and someone’s going to get hurt. I wouldn’t feel AS bad if it were the person taking it all too seriously, but all-too-often in those cases, innocent bystanders wind up hurt. And I’m not willing to put my face between some angry person’s fist and an innocent bystander, as much as I seem to get called on to be a “peacemaker.” Shoot, even at work, when I’ve been called on to “peacemake” between two people merely arguing over intellectual turf, they wind up turning on ME…

    Some days I am profoundly pessimistic for the future of our culture, and sadly there aren’t even really any Territories left to “light out” for if stuff gets too bad….Report

      • the problem with comments showing up as blank is you don’t know if the commenter is playing along with the glitch, or if they said something really clever or good that you want to read, or if they refuted one of your points in a particularly devastating way.

        Until/unless this shows up I am going to worry I said something very stupid and refutable that I am unable to realize I said it…Report

        • Avatar Maribou in reply to fillyjonk says:

          @fillyjonk FWIW, this one of Chip’s was briefly caught in moderation before it got approved and then broke, so I read it, and while my short-term attention span has gone through about a million other things since then, I remember it being sympathetic to your feelings and at least partially in agreement with you.

          Definitely wasn’t a scoff comment.

          (I remember more about feelings than I do about words.)Report

          • Avatar fillyjonk in reply to Maribou says:

            I was joking; I assumed it wasn’t a scoff comment. But at times I have said stuff that turned out to be tone-deaf and I didn’t realize it.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to fillyjonk says:

              I was hoping the blank post read more as “enigmatic” but in truth, I was mentioning something to the effect that for most of us alive today, America has been such a place of stability and ever increasing liberalism, we can get lulled into thinking this is just a natural arc of history.

              When in fact there isn’t such a thing, and no magic sauce that keeps America from sliding into authoritarianism.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One of the problems with wrestling is the Philadelphia problem.

    You have a babyface and a heel in Philly, you’re going to find yourself surprised that they’re cheering the heel and booing the babyface. (I think it has something do to with “authenticity”.)

    What this basically means is that you have to book extra careful if you’ve got a PPV in Philly… but it also gives you a little bit of leeway. Are you tempted to have one of your put-upon babyfaces finally crack his façade and give a promo where he tells everybody what he *REALLY* thinks? Put it in Philly! Are you going to have a match that ends in a non-finish where the heel comes out looking really good to set up for the rematch? Put it in Philly! Are you going to turn a babyface heel or turn a heel babyface? Well… maybe do that one in Madison Square Garden.

    There’s also the problem of heel vs. heel matches or, to a lesser extent, babyface vs babyface matches. There’s nobody for the crowd to root for in the former and nobody for them to root against in the latter (there are a handful of really good babyface vs. babyface matches, though… but they’re few and far between… they really only work when you’re either Passing The Torch or when you’re setting up a heel turn and want to establish that one of the good guys has started being tempted by the various shortcuts available to him).

    There’s also the problem of the smart mark. He’s the guy who has been watching the show long enough to say “dang… that is some quality heeling!” when he sees the heel do something particularly devious. (Chris Jericho, back in the WCW days, grabbed a pro-Jericho sign out of the hands of a fan and ripped it in half. He then yelled “DON’T PATRONIZE ME!” That’s some quality heeling.) This can result in jaded fans rooting for the heels (who are allowed to be interesting) more than they root for the babyfaces.

    Put all of these dynamics in a pot at the same time?

    I give you Jim Acosta.Report

  8. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Great post. Reading it reminded me of the early days of cable news when the “breaking news” chyron was always on display 24/7 because a young white woman had gone missing. It became a running joke. There’s even a Wiki page about the phenomenon. But the takeaway from that era of cable news was that the extent of the coverage, and the breathless sense of urgency expressed by the anchors and reporters, was entirely disproportionate to the importance – the newsworthiness – of the event. The presentation, the reality being conveyed, just wasn’t real in any meaningful sense except as, and this is key I think, an appeal to pure emotion. It was almost entirely theater, or even *entirely* theater if you believe that good theater always has a bit of truth at its core. Fast forward thru blogs, the proliferation of websites, the rise of alternative media outlets (way back in the day I was a big fan of Raw Story since it covered news other outlets wouldn’t even touch, now not so much), on thru attracting users merely to sell their info, the monetization of eyeballs, clickbait and hot-takes, weaponized memes and so on, and what you get is a media and political culture where the signal is the substance, the performance is the reality, the WWE is truer (more real) than our politics.

    At least for some people. Not me, of course. Or anyone on this board.Report

  9. If I miss replying to anyones comments please don’t take offense, the commenting system still seems to be having some issues.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Another story I thought of as I think on Trump vs. Acosta is the old Stone Cold vs. Hitman Hart storyline.

    If you’ve never seen Wrestling With Shadows, I highly recommend it. If you are the type to dig documentaries (you know who you are), you need to see this one.Report

    • Endorse. It helps if you have a bit of the background, but it’s good on its own as well.Report

      • I endorse this recommendation also. I was only about a year into watching wrestling as an adult when I saw it, and honestly most Monday nights way more of my attention was on my novel or goofing off with one or more of our other friends who watch… well, except for when Mankind or the Rock, or better yet both, were on the TV…. and I really wasn’t interested in it as a business or a mythic foundation AT ALL. then I watched the documentary and I was like “OH THIS IS REALLY INTERESTING OMIGOSH” and thus began my journey to smarkdom…

        Wait, is that a recommendation or a warning about going down the rabbit hole?

        Either way, it’s an incredibly compelling documentary.Report

  11. Avatar Damon says:

    ” Is he biased? Of course. How do we know that? Because every human being on earth is.”

    QFT. But how many of the mainstream reporters/journalists CLAIM they are neutral. That’s my beef. Non idiots know they aren’t neutral, so don’t look me in the eye and claim you are. (I don’t know if Costa has claimed this..but most do)

    ” Yup, CNN could do more journalism and less antagonism. But that isn’t what we really want. If we did, we wouldn’t pay for the show in views and attendance.” Hey if that’s what you want, watch. I want independent hard hitting news–no commentary. Stop selling your soul for “access”–which is why I don’t watch that crap anymore.Report

  12. Avatar Maribou says:

    FWIW, while I don’t disagree about its relevance, I think something that gets lost a lot is that the individual who won that race is actually pretty atypical as wrestlers go. Outside of his persona, he is soft-spoken, thinks before he speaks, admits a great deal of nuance, and he was an elementary school teacher before he became a pro wrestler.

    I disagree with him about a hell of a lot, but despite some Highly Questionable storylines in his wrestling past (necrophilia?? really???), I have a lot of respect for him as a person.

    As “libertarian” politicians go, he’s always struck me as more sincere than most (cf https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8xphl-CyvU although since I don’t have the patience for a 1hr13min video on Austrian Economics right now, if anyone watches it and there’s something appalling I had no idea about in there, I most humbly apologize. I very much doubt there would be though, which puts him miles ahead of, say, a Rand Paul in my estimation.)

    (Now, have I deliberately been avoiding learning too much about his opinions since Trump started running? Why yes, yes I have. Is that kind of weak sauce of me? Oh, probably. But still, he’s not your average wrestling dude, in ever so many senses of the word…)Report

    • You are correct here. Glenn Jacobs has for several years been transitioned more to part time performer and has been doing lots of things behind the scenes. He had long been tabbed for management-type things as his career wound down, which is earned respect both for his acumen and people skills. I haven’t followed the ins and outs of his policy platform any further than the blanket “libertarian” stuff I caught on his clips, but he is a sharp guy with no discernable baggage so no reason he wouldn’t make a go of politics. Good for him.

      Wrestling storylines can be very poor in taste, the one you reference here is infamous and second only probably to Mae Young giving birth to a hand (no, I’m not linking it, figure that one out on your own) but holding him liable for that would be like holding an actor for performing a bad script, and we forgive them.Report

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