I cackled at this Republican’s analysis of the reaction to Linda McMahon, wife of WWE chairman Vince McMahon, being made Donald Trump’s head of Small Business Administration.
In a way he’s right. The McMahons are geniuses. They built a multi-billion dollar empire from the ground up, and have maintained it for going on 35 years. It is worth, however, asking how.
The “small business” element of Linda McMahon’s new job title is ironic because the World Wrestling Federation was built on ignoring the age-old traditions of regional wrestling and invading people’s territories to hold shows, sign talent and take television time. As their business grew, their wrestlers did as well. Steroids were rampant, with top stars, and Vince McMahon himself, injecting. He escaped conviction after procedural errors.
In the 1990s, US culture became more aggressive and more dissipitated and the WWF entered its “Attitude Era”. Targeting young men and boys, their content began to include sex, stalking, suicide and necrophilia. The wrestling grew violent as well, with stunts involving ladders, fire and sixteen foot high cages, and a brutal repertoire of strikes to unprotected heads. This, combined with a gruelling schedule that forced wrestlers to rely on pain pills, booze and recreational drugs to live, ensured that young men, and women, died at staggering rates of heart attacks, or overdoses, or at their own hands. It was only after one-time champion Eddie Guerrero died, aged thirty-eight, that the now WWE instituted its Wellness Policy. A year later, Chris Benoit, who had wrestled through years of head trauma and steroid abuse, killed his wife, his seven-year-old son and himself.
Throughout all of this, the McMahons have been obsessed with image; endlessly combative in their relationship with media. The WWE denied that steroids were related to the Benoits’ deaths even as inquiries were ongoing.
They are not simply self-serving. As an onscreen character, Vince is the only businessman who has allowed his employees to hit him in the head with chairs, kendo sticks and a hospital bedpan. Such is the man’s nerve that he tore both of his quadriceps and didn’t break character. He is a freak.
Perhaps the McMahons do symbolise what has become of the American Dream. They have worked night and day, and risked everything, to be successful and have turned their little business in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts into a gigantic entertainment empire spanning states, countries and continents. That took talent, dedication, courage and tirelessness. But it could not have been done without disregarding tradition, truth, taste and concern for other people’s wellbeing.