This past week, Jerry “the King” Lawler collapsed and almost died while commenting on a wrestling match live on television.
That name might not mean much to you unless you grew up in eastern Arkansas in the 1970s, like I did. Memphis wrestling, which was televised every Saturday morning, was bigger than the Razorbacks, who were televised about once a year. Where and when I grew up, Lawler was the king — second, in the Memphis area, only to Elvis.
Professional wrestling has, shall we say, evolved. Today it’s a profane, inane circus. What we watched back then was a circus, too, but it looked a lot more like a fight than today’s version, and a lot of people believed it was real.
Back then, there was never a question for whom we should cheer, and cheer we did. The bad guys were dishonorable cheaters. The good guys cheated, too, but usually after a series of outrages no Southern man would be expected to endure.
Such was the case with Lawler. Inevitably he would be losing, absorbing blow after blow until, inspired by the crowd, he suddenly would become impervious to pain, rip off his shoulder strap, and punch his opponent until the guy had gotten what he deserved. Technically that was a rules violation, but no one minded. I remember gleefully jumping up and down in the den as I watched justice unfold.
Those guys were brilliant emotional manipulators, but eventually all of us average citizens realized that it had to be fake – that no one actually fights like that and that the world is rarely made up of such obvious heroes and villains. Looking back, I can’t believe we all fell for it, but then, I was a kid.
I wish we would do the same with our politics.
We may think we’re more sophisticated than those old school Memphis wrestling fans, but are we? We’ve allowed the two parties – and their political professionals and media blowhard allies — to manipulate us into accepting their good guy/bad guy version of events. And when someone’s the bad guy, well, punch him in the face.
All’s fair in politics and wrestling, right? Except for this: We don’t have elections every two years just to watch a show and see who wins. We have elections so that representatives in Washington are forced to participate in a national discussion with ordinary citizens.
That discussion involves issues that are hard, with hard choices. The correct paths are not always obvious. Of course, voters must eventually pick a side, but the varying points of view — Democrat, Republican, etc. — usually are at least partially legitimate and deserve more respect than would be given a wrestling villain. I guess there is a “right” way, but we’re not going to find it here on earth, so it’s more important that we have a functioning, problem-solving democracy than it is that we make sure the bad guy doesn’t win.
How we elect our officials is as important as who we elect. While it may have been OK for Jerry Lawler to “illegally” punch someone in the face, it’s not OK for a candidate to mislead the public or to cast aspersions on an opponent’s character. In wrestling, we know all that nonsense is fake. In politics, it’s real, and backed by billions of dollars. We shouldn’t accept that kind of integrity lapse and manipulation, even from “the good guys.”
As of this writing, it looks like Lawler will pull through. He is said to be talking and making progress. However, he probably won’t be punching anyone for a while.
Talking and making progress, and not punching anyone. Our democracy could use a little of that, too.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at Arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org