On May 12th’s episode of Dynamite, Cody Rhodes delivered a controversial promo. Some fans found it inspiring, though it seems the majority were left fairly confused. The basis of the promo’s controversy lies in Cody’s patriotic rhetoric, and his nationalist attacks on his opponent, the English Anthony Ogogo.
Pro wrestling has an ugly history of using American nationalism to make “heroes,” such as the “real American” Hulk Hogan. The flipside of these hyper-nationalist characters is the xenophobic caricatures of foreign invaders, such as Muhammed Hassan (an Arab played by an Italian-American), Nikolai Volkoff. One of the most recent examples of this trope is Rusev, the “Hero of the Russian Federation” who would dedicate his victories to Vladimir Putin (Even though Miro, the man behind the Rusev character, is Bulgarian).
Going back to this trope in 2021 is a questionable decision at best. First, it’s irresponsible for any form of media, especially in combat sports, to showcase nationalism. The polarized, volatile political climate we live in at the moment means that any political promo could light a social media powder keg. Second, American nationalism has come to be associated with the racist, xenophobic far-right. Whether Cody intends to or not, appealing to patriotism is appealing to this crowd. In a company that likes to tout its inclusivity, this is a poor decision.
Patriotism Is Not Popular
The first words of Cody’s promo were “I know it’s rather out of style,” referring to patriotism. Cody was right, but he failed to explain why patriotism is so unpopular. Last year, CNN observed this trend:
“While young Americans still care deeply about the people in their country, they identify as far less patriotic than their counterparts did two decades ago — a 30 points difference to be precise. During [the aftermath of 9/11,] our last moment of collective national tragedy, the country seemed united in its belief in itself, with 92% of young Americans identifying as patriotic. Today, only 62% feel the same.”
I would guess that if the same study was done in 2021, after the chaotic awakening of last summer and in wake of the US-funded genocide in Palestine, that 62% would be even lower.
Still, let’s ignore all the moral issues with hyper-patriotism in the 21st century. The fact that patriotism is unpopular makes it a questionable method of getting a babyface over with the audience. Then again, it really depends on what audience Cody is trying to garner support from. Certainly, it is a beautiful thing to honor his dad’s memory by fighting under his name, but Cody needs to keep in mind that the gungho patriotism that Dusty Rhodes embodied is not at all the same as the nationalism that predominates 2021.
What Does it Mean to Dream?
Every action has an equal opposite reaction. As Cody alienates himself from a large portion of his audience, that audience feels drawn to his opponent, Anthony Ogogo. And there is a pull as much as there is a push, as well. Ogogo arguably embodies the idea of the American Dream more than Cody does.
The American Dream, that social mobility is only determined by one’s heart and perseverance is shown through Ogogo’s journey to the Olympics and his path to AEW. He’s the son of a Nigerian immigrant who honed his craft of boxing until he reached the 2012 London Olympics. There, he was able to win a bronze medal while dealing with the near-loss of his mother to a brain hemorrhage.
The hardships continued for Ogogo. He’s nearly went blind as a result of the inevitable head trauma that comes with boxing. To this day, Ogogo is 78% blind in one eye. Though he’s unable to box at the same level now, pro wrestling has presented itself as a new dream to capture. From this lens, Ogogo is an underdog story that draws admiration like a magnet.
Ogogo’s personal beliefs are also a stark contrast to those associated with the patriotism in Cody’s promo. For instance, Ogogo is a proud ally of the LGBTQ community. In 2019, Ogogo officiated the wedding of his sister and her wife. While this was before his appearance in AEW, it’s nevertheless making him favorable to fans, particularly younger and LGBTQ fans. These fans, also, really don’t care as much about national differences as past generations. To them, translating the American Dream to a British man is not as much of a reach as it may seem to older generations.
Ogogo and Cody are set to collide on May 30th at Double or Nothing. AEW will likely continue to build Cody as the babyface he’s been since the company’s conception. Ogogo, on the other hand, will most likely continue to act like a British supervillain from the 80s. What AEW needs to be aware of, though, is that fans’ sympathies will be split. One definite possibility is that Ogogo’s progressivism will make him more popular with younger fans, especially when these fans are presented with the options of Ogogo and the patriot Cody Rhodes.
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