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The presumptive Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut is an inspiring business success who battled adversity and the competition to build an internationally recognized brand.
She is also a shlock merchant of the first order.
In this particular Senate race, Connecticut could be mistaken for Louisiana. The sitting senator, Chris Dodd, is retiring in a cloud of scandal. The Democrat vying to replace him, Richard Blumenthal, is a lifetime politico with a habit of lying about his record in Vietnam. The Republican, Linda McMahon, is the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, which is to the popular culture what the BP spill is to the Gulf of Mexico — a relentless gusher of pollution.
If decency means nothing, McMahon is the businesswoman par excellence. With her husband, Vince, she grew WWE into a billion-dollar business. The company had to fend off fierce competition in the mid-1990s, when its future looked precarious. The McMahons prevailed on the back of those timeless entrepreneurial values of shrewdness, determination, and risk-taking.
Plus, they had no standards. Linda became head of the company when Vince got indicted in a steroids scandal (most charges were dropped; he was found not guilty on another). And the WWE vanquished its competition when it entered the “attitude era,” the repulsiveness of which made steroid-abusing hulks merely pretending to do violence to one another seem like the good ol’ innocent days.
The WWE blends elements of Jerry Springer’s show, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, Ultimate Fighting, and soap opera — except it makes all of those forms of entertainment seem elevated by comparison. The best that can be said for it is that it represents the American id, although that’s a rather stinging commentary on the nation’s psyche.
The McMahons wrote versions of themselves into the plots of their wrestling opera buffa. The twisted, aggrieved masculinity represented by the “Mr. McMahon” character, played by Vince, should launch a thousand feminist Ph.D. dissertations.
Mr. McMahon makes one female wrestler crawl on all fours and bark like a dog for betraying him, before urging her to strip for her sins. The fake TV announcer has an apt comment: “This is utter humiliation. This is as bad as last week!”
In another episode, Mr. McMahon has his leather-skirt-wearing daughter — his real daughter, playing herself — dragged from the ring kicking and screaming by security. In yet another, he chokes her with a pipe. The animating spirit of all this is Hustler, without crossing over into pornography.
Linda McMahon says that she was primarily involved in the business, not the creative, side of the enterprise. She apparently had no idea what unbelievable dreck her husband, the creative genius of the family, was staging every week. Linda herself appeared in some of the skits, although — in her defense — in a relatively restrained role that only saw her kick men in the groin once or twice.
She can’t deny any foreknowledge of the pipe-choking incident, since she participated in the skit. Asked whether she’s proud of that charming moment in “sports entertainment” history, her campaign spokesman repeatedly refuses to answer. All he’ll say is that there are “parts of the program that she likes more than others.” We’ll have to guess whether she liked, say, the episodes with the insulting depictions of a mentally handicapped man more or less.
There was a time when association with something so vulgar would have foreclosed the possibility of public office. But we’ve come a long way since Harry Truman was looked down upon for being a haberdasher. Judgment and discretion aren’t what they used to be in business, entertainment, or politics, fields where profits, ratings, and success tend to trump all other values.
The WWE has been taking its more rancid video clips off the Web, and a couple of years ago it toned down its content to make it all PG-rated. If that represents a twinge of conscience, it’s welcome, if belated.
– Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.