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Dusty Rhodes’ “friend,” Baby Doll betrays him by attacking him with a chair. She misses, he gets the chair and goes after Rick Flair
Unintentional but nonetheless cool screen shot showing Dusty Rhodes attacking Rick Flair with a chair
“Face” Dusty Rhodes hits “Heel” Rick Flair’s leg with a chair.
New York Times headline June 5, 2024
Trump sees the criminal justice system like a wrestler sees a folding chair…

Free Form Friday: The “Chairing” of American Justice

Free Form Friday is my weekly non-Bowie post. For more David Bowie, come back tomorrow for an exclusive audio interview with Bowie collaborator Tony Zanetta. You’re not going to want to miss this one. Meanwhile, please enjoy reading about Dusty Rhodes, Rick Flair and Donald Trump…

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This isn’t the first time I’ve posted about how the ethics of pro wrestling have been imported into American politics. I don’t think most political observers fully appreciate what’s happening, but I saw it on full display this week when Donald Trump and his allies vowed revenge against Joe Biden and his allies in response to Trump being convinced by a New York Jury of 34 felonies. This is justice according to pro-wrestling logic. Trump understand that. His base understands that. Everyone else who doesn’t understand that is in danger of getting hit in the head from behind with a folding chair.

I few weeks ago I posted about 20th Century French philosopher Roland Barthes’ analysis of pro-wrestling. At the risk of oversimplifying, his basic point was that pro-wrestling is a morality play in which the concept of “paying” by way of exacting a kind of eye-for-an-eye justice is predictably recreated over and over in scripted scenarios intending to provide order and predictability to the moral universe. Key to the concept is the idea that the good guy, or “face,” is justified in executing retribution against the bad guy, or heel, because the face is inherently good and the heel is inherently bad. Justice is not the fair application of neutral rules, but rather it is simply payback. Although Barthes doesn’t make this exact point, what’s really being avenged is the heel’s very existence— his nature is itself a threat to the face, who is the audience’s avatar.

I mentioned in that earlier post, which you can link to HERE, a match from the 1980s, when I watched wrestling as a teenager, between Dusty Rhodes, the heroic everyman face, versus arch-heel Rick Flair, in which Dusty attacked Flair with a chair. That act is cheered by the fans and represents righteous revenge, despite violating the ostensible rules. If you’d think that Flair is a heel because he breaks the rules, then it would follow that Dusty is not setting a very good example by also breaking the rules.

But Dusty, here is doing exactly what is just, in the ethic of pro wrestling. To start with, he is good and Flair is bad. That means, anything Dusty does is good and anything Flair does is bad. What’s more, the match in question features the very worst type of offense that happens in pro-wrestling, the type of offense that creates the moral debt that demands payback: betrayal. Dusty was accompanied to the ring by his “valet,” whose name was Baby Doll (we can save the discussion about how current Republican politics also imported its attitude about women from wrestling). For reasons that go unexplained during the course of the match, Baby Doll turns on Dusty and comes after him with a chair once he had attained the upper hand against Flair. Dusty dodges the chair, grabs it from Baby Doll and then uses it against Flair (who actually did not use the chair against Dusty at that point). The crowd goes wild! Dusty doles out justice.

The exact same thing is happening in Republican circles today. Provocateur (and convinced criminal) Steve Bannon is advocating “fighting fire with fire.” He’s not alone. The idea is that Trump’s conviction of multiple felonies came about not because he broke the law and was convicted by a jury of his peers but because Joe Biden used the power at his disposal to “weaponize” the justice department to essentially come after Trump with a chair. And that, in turn justifies Trump and Republican prosecutors to do the same to Biden and Democrats. Much as Baby Doll was not actually the same person as Rick Flair, it doesn’t matter that Joe Biden had nothing directly to do with the New York City case.

You might think that it would make sense for prosecutors, whether Democratic or Republican, to prosecute Trump, Biden or anyone else in the event that one of them broke the law. But in the pro-wrestling ethic, the law is not an objective thing that exists as separate from the whims of those with the power to use the law. The law, like the rules in pro-wrestling, serves to establish a moral framework. The rules are there to be violated, creating a context where the “bad” characters’ transgressions highlight their villainy, while the “good” characters’ justified rule-breaking underscores their righteousness and the moral imperative of retribution. This paradox explains how a “law and order” candidate like Trump can also present himself as an “outlaw” (which in this context is like “bad” meaning “good”).

The villainous Flair can manipulate the rules to his advantage, to impede his opponent in the same way “red tape” is blamed for impeding business development, or gun control laws put a “good guy with a gun” at a disadvantage versus a “bad guy with a gun.” In the latter example, we sometimes here the argument that gun control laws do not work against criminals but only law abiding gun owners, but rarely do we here that the defiance of those laws makes the lawbreaker a criminal.

Trump says, “they’re not after me, they’re after you. I’m just in their way.” This is very much like the kind of thing Dusty Rhodes would say. In that last post I linked to his “Hard Times” speech, which is famous among elements of Trump’s base and almost certainly Trump himself. It is the proto-Trumpian speech. Dusty finds common cause with his audience by comparing the “hard times” Flair brought to him to “hard times” experienced by regular people in the form of being laid off or replaced at work “with a computer.” Rhodes drew attention to his physical condition — overweight and not like an athlete is supposed to appear, but on the other hand he claimed to be “bad”— meaning badass. He compared himself to John Wayne, drawing a connection to a mystical American past, and vowed to win the championship back (again, a return to better days) from Flair for the people. The battle between Dusty and Flair is a proxy war in which Dusty stands in for the people and Flair is the embodiment of hard times. This is Trump’s message. They aren’t coming after me, they’re coming after you. I will be your retribution.

If i were Joe Biden, I’d make sure there are no folding chairs in the studio when he debates Trump.

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