Friday, January 24, 2014

Faces of the Pro Wrestling Heel #3 - Salute to Foreign National Anthems

When it comes to being a Pro Wrestling bad guy, there really are only a handful of character options.

You can be a conceited prick who cheats... effeminate guy...

...a fat or otherwise hideous giant monster...

...or a dastardly foreigner.

Dastardly foreigner is always a great way to go if you're trying to get a crowd of American Pro Graps fans to wish bodily harm upon your person. There's nothing Americans hate like someone who isn't from America, but still has the audacity to love their country of origin.

However, what truly brings the evil foreigner act to the next level is the use of a foreign heathen tongue. Nothing incites waves of boos from Pro Wrestling fans like someone speaking a language other than American English into a microphone. 

Take, for example, the early days of Swiss Superman Antonio Cesaro's WWE career, during which crowds were expected to hate a charismatic, polished, freakishly powerful and athletic Renaissance man simply because he wasn't from here and spoke five different languages.
He can easily communicate with people from all over the globe? Boo! At least now WWE audiences are supposed to hate Cesaro because he's not from here and is legally trying to become a citizen.
But the all time greatest example of this approach to Wrestling Heeldom is Nikolai Volkoff, a barrel-chested, fur-hatted Russian patriot who rose to prominence during the height of the Cold War for insisting on singing the Soviet national anthem before his matches, to the crowd's great displeasure. As is often the case with Evil Wrestling Foreigners, Volkoff was actually only playing a Russian patriot on TV for heel heat, as he is in real life a Croatian of mixed ethnic background (his mom is Russian). 

As a general rule, if someone is playing a character of a given ethnicity on a wrestling show, odds are they aren't really that ethnicity (which makes their amazingly stereotypical portrayals of cultures other than their own all the more hilariously racist). 

Rowdy Roddy Piper is a great example of this - a Canadian by birth who plays a kilt-wearing Scotsman on TV. Weirdly enough, a lot of the times when someone on an American wrestling show is portraying a nationality other than their own, the performer is usually Canadian.

For some contemporary examples, take Santino Marella and Jinder Mahal - both are Canadians by birth, but play a "Whasamattawittayou" Italian and a Turban-Wearing Indian on TV, respectively. Of course - much like Volkoff and Piper - both men have ancestors who are the nationalities they play on TV, so their vaudeville acts are somewhat justifiable on paper. 
What? His grandfather was from India! Of course he has snake-charming abilities!

But those two are characters we're not really meant to take seriously, so if they come off as stereotypical jokes, that's pretty much the point. Volkoff, although he eventually became a one-note joke towards the end of his career, was actually an upper card act in his prime. He fought "Real American" Hulk Hogan for the WWF title on numerous occasions, but of course could never topple the hot-dog-colored Western superpower.   

That's because the whole point of Volkoff's act was to reinforce the crowd's opinion that patriotism is only justified in American Wrestling if you love America. Had Volkoff come out, sang the Soviet anthem, then soundly beat Hogan for the title, that would be like saying the USSR was better than America. Fuck that.
Of course, eventually the Cold War ended and America entered into a new phase of unprecedented political correctness. Now, not only did we not have another country to make into an easy target of hate, but it became kind of a shitty thing to make fun of someone just for being from somewhere else. So WWE had to rethink their approach to the tried and true formula of the Evil Foreign Heel. 
This led to interesting twists on the trope like Muhammad Hassan, an Arab-American character who was sick of being seen as a terrorist by his ignorant fellow Americans because he totally was not a terrorist (until he became one a few months after his debut once they ran out of original ideas).

But Volkoff's foreign national anthem schtick? That was an easy joke that never got old. It just needed an ironic twist so it could survive past the Cold War. Hmm, Cold War, that gives me an idea. 

What's a place that's Cold and most people could never conceive of really fighting in a War? 
For whatever reason, nothing comes off as more ridiculous than the idea of a staunch Canadian patriot. To this day, Canada remains the one nation that it is pretty much universally OK to make fun of, so of course it's the perfect candidate for the Ironic Evil Foreigner's place of origin. 
The most well-known example of the Evil Canadian has to be WCW-era Lance Storm, who proudly wore the Canadian colors on his gear as he embodied the stereotype of the cold, humorless, robotic Canadian. He would demand that crowds join him in his prematch renditions of "O Canada!" and even turned the WCW United States Championship into the Canadian Championship during his lengthy reign.
Canadian Strongman Dino Bravo was ahead of the curve on this one however, as he beat Lance Storm to the Evil Canadian gimmick by about a decade. For a time, he would make his entrance at WWF events to "La Marseillaise," the French National Anthem, as a way to celebrate his French-Canadian heritage. And we all know, the only thing more laughable than a proud Canadian is a proud French-Canadian.
Enter La Resistance, a bumbling faction of French Canadians (and one American who sympathized with their cause) that were a fixture of one of WWE's darkest periods, the mid-to-late 2000s.  

The team was originally comprised of Sylvan Grenier and Rene Dupree, who at first played French invaders in order to capitalize on "Freedom Fries"-era American mistrust of all things French. Journeyman grappler Rob Conway eventually joined the faction as the aforementioned American sympathizer - changing his name to Robert (pronounced "Row-Bear") Conway.  

It seemed pretty obvious at the time that the only member of La Resistance that WWE was seriously invested in was Rene Dupree, so when he split from the group, Conway and Grenier became a comic relief tag team and dropped the French imagery in favor of fully embracing French Canada. And of course, that meant they would sing "O Canada!" before their matches.

All of this led to La Resistance's most memorable moment on the January 24, 2005 episode of Monday Night Raw, which saw upper card badass gashead Batista face off against Conway and Grenier in a 2-on-1 handicap match with a spot in that year's Royal Rumble on the line. Despite the seemingly long odds against him and the fact that La Resistance inexplicably appear to have been World Tag Team Champions at the time, Batista's eventual victory over the hapless duo was never really in doubt.  

Now, let's break down this Great Moment in Wrestling Heel History. Here's a link to the full match, in case grainy GIFs don't do it for you.

Trigger warning~!
Batista enters to heavy metal guitar while a video of him screaming and flexing plays on the jumbotron, and the crowd goes apeshit. He's a cool, popular badass who looks juiced to the gills.
La Resistance enters to a corny villainous tune, waving Quebec flags above their heads.
Batista is not thrilled with their antics.

Sylvan Grenier grabs a mic and - as a proud French-Canadian athlete about to compete in a legitimate sporting competition - prepares to sing his country's national anthem. 
He gets about as far as "O Cana-" before Batista pulls a Pearl Harbor job, blasting Grenier in the back of the head with a forearm and kicking a stunned Conway in the gut.

Is it wrong to say "Pearl Harbor Job" there since Batista's part Filipino? Since they also got bombed, I guess it would be more wrong if he were the one getting sneak attacked.
Anyway, La Resistance is handled in short order as Batista dominates the World Tag Team Champs, picking Row-Bear Conway up like a child and slamming him on top of Sylvan Grenier before pinning both men in a stack. The match lasts about two minutes, tops.

See how cool that makes Batista look? You want a crowd of people to get behind someone, you have him effortlessly destroy a couple of cocky assclowns from French Canada. 

But the humiliation doesn't end there. Batista beat La Resistance so badly into unconsciousness that they remain splattered on the mat in a pile, with Conway's ass sticking conspicuously up in the air. 
Never one to miss an opportunity for forcible sodomy, Batista grabs the flag of La Resistance's beloved Quebec and plants it down Conway's colon deep enough for the thing to stand upright. The crowd rejoices, the announce team is elated, and our hero Batista salutes the flag before he struts off giggling and flexing, the coolest guy ever.

This is - honestly - about as great as pro wrestling gets. In cases like these, remember the heel, folks! Someone has to be the guy who gets violated in front of thousands of people while unconscious for your amusement! Now that's dedication to your craft.

More Faces of the Pro Wrestling Heel:

#1 - Screaming Red Velour
#2 - Showing Ass

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