Sunday, August 18, 2013

The WWE Has A Gay Wrestler

Fred Has Issues
The fellow on the left is Darren Young. Well, that's not completely accurate; the fellow on the left is the pro wrestling character named Darren Young. Young's a heel, which is to say, the wrestler the crowd is supposed to hate, and as such, he's got to be egotistical, ill-tempered, contemptuous of the crowd, and if need be, deranged. Anything, really, to get over, because if the crowd isn't howling for his blood and wanting to see him get a comeuppance, he's at risk for being unemployed. It's a living. A strange living, but a living.

Now the guy who *plays* Young is, according to Wikipedia, a guy named Fred Rosser. (Good idea to change the name, Fred.) Rosser is 33, from Union, NJ (hey, a Jersey guy), a former college football player, and a legit 6'-1" and 239 pounds.

At which point, provided you are still reading this, you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and wondering why I know something about a middling pro wrestler.

Because, well, a couple of days ago, in an interview with TMZ that has been bubbling its way up through the sports blogs I check, Rosser revealed that he's, well, gay.

Which makes him the first guy to do this job, actively, to admit that in public. And makes for a pretty amazing litmus test for a publicly traded company (i.e., the WWE) whose audience is more and more staggering (20 million a week, according to recent numbers) in an era of time-shared audiences. Seriously, there's something like 8 to 10 times the number of people watching the fake fights than, say, "Breaking Bad." Let alone stuff like regional regular season baseball games.

For the record, the company and several of its performers have applauded the move, and none have chastised him for it. Which is, of course, giving the story more legs than the initial interview.

So, what happens now? The most likely course of action is that nothing much will change for Young / Rosser. He was Just A Guy before, he can be Just A Guy now; no reason at all to get into what's going on with his life outside of his job. Rosser is, of course, not the same guy as Young; there's no reason for the former to be the same as the latter.

But the thing about wrestling is that it's a crowd-driven deal, and many in the crowd want to conflate the actor with the role. If the audience decides to make Rosser's orientation an issue, or chant something regrettable in unison... the company isn't going to be able to just ignore it. Somewhat less likely but still possible, the crowd could mark out for the guy, and make his current character story line untenable. Having him turn "face" (hero) after this, or having others feud with him because they hate his orientation... well, it's playing with fire, but that's kind of what they do, really. And could get them a lot of free PR, as well as hatred from people who would seem, demographically, to be part of the paying audience.

One final point on this. Equality and tolerance and progress are not best measured by things like, say, when a wealthy state or area does something nice, or when the upper crust behave more humanly. Rather, it's when the second through fourth tier come around to do something decent, and flyover country and blue collar majorities choose something different.

Fred Rosser decided, either through professional opportunity, fatigue over hiding his true self, or just not wanting to lie an interview, to bet that his audience and his career would not be adversely impacted by admitting his orientation.

It's an interesting bet in 2013. And probably on the winning side of history, and not a story at all, say, in 2020.

You can call him courageous, or calculated, or contrived, or naive, for the decision.

But in the end, what really matters is what his employer, and if they allow it, his audience, thinks.

And no one really knows that right now.

Which just might make this the biggest story ever told, by a company that says it tells stories all the time, but didn't plan this one at all...

Editor's Note: In his first appearance post-news, Young got a win with his tag-team partner over a much infamous heel team, working as a de facto face and enjoying the strong cheers from an Anaheim crowd. No mention was made of  his interview, there were no chants about his orientation, and he had a pretty prime position at the end of the show in a scene with a lot of extras. All things considered, I call it Progress.


snd_dsgnr said...

Did you see the segment on The Colbert Report on Wednesday about a small town in Kentucky with a gay mayor that just passed a "fairness ordinance" prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation?

It's well worth tracking down if you haven't (I know it's on Hulu). Really made me rethink my preconceptions about "country" people.

DMtShooter said...

Saw it; great segment. Progress is everywhere.

Ads In This Size Rule