As you’re probably aware, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed yesterday near a village in Eastern Ukraine.
Being a story that comes loaded with an extraordinary level of shock value, speculation has run rampant across media outlets across the globe.
Today, United States President Barack Obama announced that the United States had evidence confirming that MH17 had been “shot down” and that the missile that took it out was “fired from within Ukraine’s borders”.
This, added to recordings (obtained by Ukraine secret services) of Pro-Russian militants realizing they shot at the plane, makes the entire situation that much more tragic and horrifying.
I know I speak for everyone here when I say our thoughts are with the families of the victims of the crash of Flight MH17.
That said, WWE has been known for using the headlines to promote their product and this leads me to the characters of Lana and Rusev.
When they debuted, Rusev was a monster heel from Bulgaria, a nation who is under Western influence and a member of NATO. When Ukraine’s President was ousted and a new one put in his place, Russia decided it was time to annex Ukraine and, possibly, make a play for the East as well.
Shamelessly, WWE Creative decided that they’d kick Rusev’s character up a notch and book him as a Russian sympathizer. His manager, Lana, cuts nightly promos, talking up the “great country of Russia” like a James Bond villain and shows non-stop praise for its leader, Vladimir Putin.
The angle always made little to no sense to me.
Forgiving the fact that Russia has numerous human rights violations, Putin’s stance toward gays and lesbians is unforgivable.
But, there it is.
The question is this: if Pro-Russian militants took out MH17, and the capability was given to them by the Russian military, then what does WWE do with Lana and Rusev?
It’s a fair question.
If the above allegations hold true, President Putin is, by proxy, partly responsible for what happened to the plane despite his objections.
I would like to think that WWE would look at the situation and realize that they’re now in philosophically indefensible position. How does Lana continue to cut promos about Putin from here on out if everyone in the audience thinks that Russia helped shoot a passenger plane out of the sky?
I’d like to think they would cut their losses, job Rusev to Swagger, then re-brand him and put him with Bulgaria…but I’m not so sure that’ll happen after all the time they’ve invested in the character.
After all, this is a company that thrives on controversy in order to get ahead and crush any competition that gets in their way.
This is the same company who, after 9/11, chose to air Smackdown anyhow, with Vince McMahon opening the show with a stunningly bad promo, made worse by his daughter Stephanie declaring that America would “stand up to terrorism just like my Dad stood up to the government”.
In 1991, WWE pushed Sgt. Slaughter as an Iraqi sympathizer, pairing him with “General Adnan” and the former Iron Sheikh as his cohorts. The angle was so convincing that Slaughter was once denied service at a Denny’s restaurant because they recognized him and were disgusted that somebody who was a true-blue American could represent a murderer.
Even before that, Sheikh teamed with was Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov for a Russian-Iranian faction that played on America’s fears of outsiders.
And let’s not forget the recent xenophobic, racist characters like Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger which Vince McMahon claims were giant, jokey caricatures modeled after the Tea Party.
This kind of thing isn’t exactly virgin territory.
The reason I question the McMahon’s next move on Rusev is because a shift in attitude has precedent within the company.
The WWE had an Arab character named “Hassan” who, in an extremely controversial segment, prayed on stage to summon men in ski masks to attack The Undertaker in violent fashion. The segment was taped on July 4th and was ready for air by its usual Thursday slot…the day of the Russell Tube bombings in London.
Vince McMahon and WWE now had some options: they could choose NOT to air the segment or air it and edit it.
In his infinite wisdom, Vince was Vince and he decided to air the segment anyway – completely unedited – with a scrolling disclaimer that, in light of current events, viewer discretion was advised.
Media outlets were furious and UPN, fearing some backlash, pressured WWE to keep Hassan off the air after that because they didn’t want to face any further negative reaction from the public.
Because of this, Hassan cut a worked shoot where he chastised WWE for caving in fear. He explained that he wasn’t a terrorist and that he was an American, just like everyone else.
Hassan wrestled his last match a few days later and was released from the company, retiring shortly after that.
History, it seems, has repeated itself only, this time, things are slightly different.
WWE is hemorrhaging money and viewers and stockholders are already upset at the underperforming, slumping wrestling company. The last thing they want to do is lose more viewers.
Battleground is this Sunday and Rusev is scheduled to wrestle Jack Swagger. Before that, we have the Smackdown taping and Rusev and Lana are supposed to appear.
Does WWE keep the segment off of television or do they air it in its entirety, banking on the notion that the public (and their demographic) gets off on Jingoism and controversy?
And after this confrontation comes to a climax, what happens with Lana and Rusev?
WWE has a very important decision to make.