11 June 2015
The American Dream is Dead
He was a fat old wrestler and he'd been a fat young wrestler, and when he didn't call himself "The American Dream" he was offered to the public by the WWF as a fat, middle aged incarnation of the "Common Man." Virgil Runnels renamed himself "Dusty Rhodes," invoking not just the hero of the 1954 World Series but an archetypal drifter, his notion of a working-class hero. It was impossible to see this fat man as anything like an athlete -- he beat people by using a "bionic elbow" -- but he was just the sort wrestling fans wanted to see beat all the arrogant types who played heels in the ring, the ones who drew heat by affecting superiority to both the man across the ring and the people in the seats. I watched wrestling a little in his heyday, when I was a kid, and I found him kind of disgusting. I suppose I was realizing then that I wouldn't be a wrestling fan for long. Pro wrestling is a lower order of power fantasy than comic books. Looking at comics, an unhappy reader could imagine becoming powerful and handsome like the guy in the Charles Atlas ads and taking revenge on all the bullies of your past. Wrestling fans skipped the part about becoming handsome and athletic; their dream was to get their revenge -- vicariously, of course, -- as they were, as Dusty Rhodes was. I don't think this is an exclusively American dream, and it's arguably less of a dream here than it was, now that most of the hero wrestlers are as chiseled and preening as only the heels used to be. But I bet if Dusty Rhodes could come back for a night, waddle into the ring, and hit that bionic elbow on whoever the champ is now, the marks would still pop for him.