I Ain’t Nothing But a Punk

I just celebrated my birthday. I was born back in 1976, a year that, arguably, also birthed the movement of punk. In this entry, I’ll look at what it means to be punk – and it may surprise you, even possibly inspire you.

When I mention “punk,” it may instantly conjure images of mohawk hairstyles, piercings, tattoos, and Doc Marten’s boots. And yet I’m going to explain how, even though that’s all well and good, punk itself is about much more than those things, nor does it even have to include them.

For many years since I was born, particularly during a period of intense bullying, I have been subjected to all kinds of insults – the gentler ones I can repeat here including “asshole,” “tosser,” “fatty,” “nerd,” “geek,” “freak,” “psycho,” and, by North American partners’ ex-husbands, “little English prince,” “duke,” and, yes, “punk.” As you’ll have guessed, I co-opted “duke” long ago, but I’d never ever thought of embracing the “punk” tag until recently.

I have an older brother and sister, both of whom remember punk’s rise because they were approaching their teenage years at the time of its explosion; my brother, and my sister’s best friend, both embraced the punk culture at the time and have still done so since – even if their appearances have changed, they’ve still attended punk concerts to this day and remained staunch supporters of everything it’s all about.

So what is it all about? Well, the thing is, punk isn’t about the stereotypes of punters at punk rock music gigs. It isn’t even just about the music. When we talk about punk, we’re really talking about an ethos.

Writer Jon Savage has explained punk as a “bricolage” of many post-war youth cultures in the Western world ‘stuck together with safety pins’ – but a key influence was the Situationist International, the group predominantly comprised of Marxist, anti-authoritarian, avant-garde artists and intellectuals of the 1960s. As I wrote about in my book Pissing in the Mainstream, while Sixties hippies let their long hair down and wore soft flowing threads while preaching “free love,” punk responded to what was often seen as the failure of Sixties “flower power” to change the system by shaving their hair off or putting it upwards in mohawks, sporting hard-edged clothes complete with safety pins, studs, or spikes, and flipping gender stereotypes and norms completely – punk women cut off their hair and stomped around in boots and pants, while punk men sported eyeliner and wore kilts or even skirts.

While the Sex Pistols image was guided by their Situationist-influenced manager Malcolm McLaren, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, and visual artist Jamie Reid and, stateside, The Factory (Andy Warhol’s art studio) spawned many punk artists, it’s important to recognise that the punk scene in general has always been very organic, with an emphasis on a more working class, grassroots, do-it-yourself approach, bands publishing their own music, retaining control over their own work, rejecting major record labels, and railing against larger institutions and those who “sold out” by working with them.

This has transcended beyond just music, to include the art and fashion industries, as well as print: zines have been a prime example of the punk ethic, made independently by ordinary people and distributed almost like political pamphlets to undercut the elite narratives and provide an undercurrent of information at a grassroots level. The punk approach can be applied to almost anything.

I’ve known many people – family and friends included – who I had assumed were punk due to their appearance or taste in music, and over time realised I was making the same ignorant judgements as many other people…and that, in fact, I was probably the biggest punk I knew.

One fine day in 1988 my mother met me at school and, as we were walking home, sensing my fatigue at the incessant bullying I’d been subjected to yet again, asked me a question: ‘What if I told you,’ she began, like Morpheus offering a choice in The Matrix movie years later, ‘you never had to go to school ever again?’

Yes, thirty years ago, the least punk-looking person in the world, my mother, became my first true punk role model by defying the education authorities and, despite being threatened with legal action, pulling me out of school to teach me at home.

This process of “teaching” generally consisted of my mother literally letting me spend most of my days learning whatever I wanted to learn, as long as I could hit a few milestones set by curriculum books along the way. While my dad was working hard operating a fork-lift truck to shift pallets at the glass factory, we went for walks to take notes on nature, we visited libraries and museums, we drew and painted together; learning was almost disguised as unstructured fun – organic and enjoyable. My brain was like a sponge as a result. This “holistic” approach has been partly embraced by the Finnish school system itself (and as a result has some of the most successful education results in the world). But most countries around the world still stick to the same old ways of doing things.

In retrospect – likely largely as a result of my home schooling – the punk ethic has influenced my entire life.

I joined and subsequently quit numerous college courses. I dropped out of my media degree with just a few months left and flew off to the United States – an absolutely disastrous adventure, I came back to Britain and took a welfare-to-work role at an arts centre, that in turn led to a job in the youth service’s multimedia department; when that was shut down, I raised funds to continue its work outside of the auspices of the council and got my old university drop-out buddies to help me make a movie with forty local young people about life in their neighbourhoods.

I then wrote, directed and produced my first independent documentary, Get Over It, to a jam-packed Showroom cinema audience who gave it a rousing ovation while I was so shy that I sat in the bar the entire time talking to one of my fellow drop-outs even while people whose lives had been affected by the film’s subject matter were waiting outside the screen hoping to talk to me, seeming like I had my head stuck up my backside when the reality was I was simply so painfully awkward with the attention, and never satisfied with my own work – because after all it wasn’t “professional”; it was made on a shoe-string budget and I wasn’t a qualified, experienced, or professional filmmaker. I’d soon realise (and accept) that really didn’t matter.

I made another film, Escape from Doncatraz, this time embracing the “B-movie” vibe and turning this critique of Blairite surveillance state, border controls, and fear of invading aliens into a sort of sci-fi style, post-modern documentary, premiering at the post-modern Kitchener City Hall in Ontario, Canada, where I had moved over to and, complete with Anglo-Canadian accent, actually hosted the event. I was still uncomfortable with the attention, despite (or because of) the standing ovation the film received.

I’d gambled everything I ever had on my venture over there and, much like my move to the States a few years before, it proved disastrous, except this time I had much more to lose. Basically, I lost everything, including my independent film company back in Britain that was seized by my colleagues in my absence, and every penny I had. I ended up out on my arse before managing to go and live with family on a Spanish island for several months. So, I self-published a book, Soon To Be Banned, which was simply essentially a collection of all my blog posts ever, most of which criticised the powers that be. To my amazement, it actually sold a fair few copies, so I started working on an entirely original book about (funnily enough) how we have to change the mainstream culture rather than just rail against it – titled Pissing in the Mainstream, and bringing in friends to help put it together, fact-check, and design the cover, it did nowhere near as well, sadly: one of the very few copies ever printed and sold was bought by yours truly, and it’s on my bookshelf! Gah.

I again came back to Britain, returning to a country by now subjected to “austerity” and thus leaving even fewer scraps of grant funding for me to grab to make another film. So, with my partner Jane Watkinson, I utilised crowd-funding to make Return to Doncatraz, which provided an exposé of austerity itself as an excuse for powerful people to sell off public services to the private interests that financed them. Despite several people encouraging me to host another screening, I simply premiered it online mere days before the general election, and rather than a few hundred people, it reached a couple of thousand.

By this time Jane was integral in supporting me to start up a brand-new digital media company, and we then worked together to also create the only socially progressive, independent women’s football club we knew of, AFC Unity, and actually legally incorporated it as a not-for-profit company. As Jay & Jane, we are absolutely flat broke but trying to do something radically different with our lives, work with social impact over monetary rewards (and are drowning in debt as a result…crap).

But also, many of my hobbies and interests reflect this punk approach: vegan cafés, free open source software, independent comic books and films and pro wrestling, and my own fan fiction (which has been the subject of much ridicule from former friends, as well); I’ve often been drawn to things that are in many ways alternative.

I’ve known so many people over the years with more tattoos than me, who knew more punk bands than I ever could, but who still went back to their 9-to-5 jobs Monday to Friday.

And so it turns out, whether I wanted to be or not, I’m pure punk. And now pretty proud of it.


Punk Pro Wrestling and Independent Women

I’ll admit it: it seems my recent blog post about the All In independent professional wrestling show was inaccurate – I had claimed that the event drew 10,411 spectators to the Sears Center in Chicago, Illinois, which means it would have met its target. I was wrong. It actually attracted 11,263 fans. But I’m making this entry to my blog to follow up on the true legacy of that historic occasion.

It was an incredible landmark for the pro wrestling business. Sean Waltman, former WWE star, admitted, ‘It was (historic)…I’ve never seen happier customers for anything in years… not just a wrestling show but anything. I’ve never seen more satisfied customers, I’ve never seen a congregation of happier people, happy to be around other people that love what they love and they don’t have to feel foolish about it or whatever, everyone can be proud of being a wrestling fan.’ He continued: ‘I am a huge wrestling fan still, from a wrestling person in the wrestling industry standpoint, it was huge. From a fan’s perspective, it was heaven.’ Another former WWE star, “Diamond” Dallas Page, said: ‘To me, as great as ECW was, and as hot as they were, they weren’t any hotter than the All In crowd and it was was f***ing bigger. That crowd was the hottest crowd I’ve seen since 1997. And in 1997 they were ravenous. Every single person in the building. That’s what it was like at All In.’

Those are both remarkably credible claims when you consider the above are both ex-WWE stars, and both still on good terms with WWE and the people in power there. This means that some of WWE’s closest allies have acknowledged the landmark event that was All In.

Consider further the significance of the event: All In was presented as a direct alternative to WWE and took on a challenge to actually do what no one other than WWE has done in the United States for nearly twenty years: drawn a crowd of more than 10,000 people. But more than this, it was planned, promoted, and produced entirely by the key independent pro wrestlers who came up with the event: namely, Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks. There are further ramifications of this when you take note of Cody’s narrative in the aftermath of the show:

This resonated with many people even more when WWE decided to go ahead with their scheduled Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia in the wake of that regime’s latest atrocity: the high-profile disappearance and apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Of course, the whole point of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s deal with the WWE corporation is to exchange an incredible amount of money in return for, well, essentially propaganda – so, for example, Saudi Arabia, that great abuser of human rights, pay WWE what is conservatively estimated to be $450,000,000 to hold a show there (yes, the host venue is paying the promoter) and in return, WWE instruct their on-screen commentators to rave about what a wonderful country Saudi Arabia is. Usually this is part of the standard public relations approach for a WrestleMania show held in, say, Orlando, Florida, where WWE may receive tax incentives to promote there…but when a terrible regime as notorious as Saudi Arabia buys in WWE for the express purpose of that public relations whitewash, it’s nothing less than propaganda. It’s presenting a perspective of Saudi Arabia to a global audience that does not reflect its reality, but one which happens to have a lot of relationships with American and British business interests.

Sure, women were prohibited from performing in Saudi Arabia so couldn’t appear on the Crown Jewel show even if they’d wanted to, but WWE held its first-ever women’s wrestling Pay-Per-View show, Evolution, within days of Crown Jewel, which of course was purely because WWE are sweethearts who care about women, and nothing at all to do with additional public relations strategies to appease the audience with a token gesture.

Despite mass media attention and unprecedented criticism, even when it looked like WWE had a conscience and might cancel at the eleventh hour, they reminded us that they were solely driven by profits for shareholders, and, yes, went ahead with the show in Saudi Arabia. In an insult to injury, WWE utilised the site to finally re-introduce the racist Hulk Hogan to their storylines. What was this event – a celebration of all things evil? Geez.

Credit, then, to current WWE stars John Cena and Daniel Bryan (long known for his ethics) for refusing to appear on the show (and turning down a handsome cut of the money in the process).

But as I stated at the end of my blog post about pro wrestling alternatives a few weeks ago, we all have to go further: we have to become part of the solution, not the problem. We have to support alternatives to WWE and it’s up to every one of us to make sure we put the money where our mouth is. In that blog post, I suggested the current independent pro wrestling circuit is like a modern-day National Wrestling Alliance that WWE’s Vince McMahon so hated.

All In represents that movement, as suggested by Cody’s tweet afterwards about performers banding together, another concept hated by the union-busting mentality of Vince McMahon. But Cody’s coming steps in the next few weeks and months will determine just how serious he is about that, and whether or not he can and will put his own money where his mouth is, alongside the Young Bucks (as with any typical capitalist, Vince McMahon wants to buy them, co-opt them, and then in turn attempt to kill any rising tide against his precious business interests, as unethical as they may be).

But as with many corporate mainstream products, there’s a cultural backlash, an alternative presented – and as I mentioned before, the more stale and soulless WWE becomes with its shallow, mass-produced ethically bankrupt brand, in an era where young people are perhaps more progressive and savvy than ever before, the more appealing, and hip, and cool, become the alternatives.

Independent pro wrestler Chuck Taylor summed it up beautifully: ‘I like punk rock music, and to me WWE is Nickelback. I know they’ve got loads of fans but that’s not cool to me. I want to go to a small venue in south Philadelphia and I want to watch a punk band play in front of 400 people that want to be there, that love it, that love every song. That’s cool to me. I don’t like mass-marketed stuff.’ He went on to add: ‘I think it’s like anything else in wrestling: when it’s bad, it’s really bad. Some of their stuff is borderline unwatchable and that’s coming from a lifelong wrestling fan. But when they do something right with their production and everything else, it’s fantastic. That’s not me kissing their butts trying to get a job because they’d never sign me in a million years.’

I’m pleased to say that – having over the last three decades attended WWF/WWE shows in just three venues (in Newcastle, Manchester, and my own city of Sheffield) – just last night I too had chance to put my money where my mouth is and, here in Sheffield, attended only my second ever independent pro wrestling show, the Queen of the Ring event presented by Southside (the first being a PWA show in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada almost exactly ten years ago).

Queen of the Ring featured women who I’ve followed for so long on social media and constantly marveled at their characters and moves and matches, kick-ass women like Glaswegian “hardcore daredevil” Kay Lee Ray (who brawled with Millie McKenzie in the crowd, right in my very row!), badass fighter Killer Kelly, tattooed reigning Queen of the Ring Kasey Owens, the hilarious howling Kris Wolf, and vegans Veda Scott and Kimber Lee, with the latter few at various times standing at their own merchandise tables meeting and greeting fans, posing for photos, and selling their very own cool and edgy t-shirts with superb artwork that made you feel like you were part of a punk movement (naturally, one of these merchandise tables would be used as a weapon in the main event, as eventual winner and new Queen of the Ring, Shanna, even with a bloodied nose, slammed the revelatory Millie McKenzie right into it. The fact the show was held in an area of The Corporation nightclub complete with bar and standing area with chanting punters with pints, piercings and hoodies, only added to this punk rock vibe.

A birthday present from my partner Jane Watkinson, seated beside me in the second row, I thoroughly enjoyed this event in a way not felt since I first discovered the unique entertainment presentation that is professional wrestling almost thirty years ago. I felt like a little kid again. You could feel the energy in the event fueled by promoters who you felt had so much riding on an indie show like this; that energy translated into passion from an audience who wanted to help it succeed; and, of course, that energy was exhibited by these incredibly strong women getting by on their own merits (no men were on the show at all on this night), and the final match was enacted by the two performers as though their lives depended on it (and you could very well, in that moment, believe they were putting their lives on the line with the high-impact intensity of the moves they executed all over the place) – they performed as though they were in front of 10,000 fans or even 100,000 fans, on worldwide television…that’s the effort they put in and the belief that they performed with.

The performers had passion, yes, but, as mentioned, were still approachable; they talked to their fans, like my favourite rock bands did after gigs before they made it big and “sold out.” Yet at the same time, these independent women (pun intended) were in charge of their own lives: freelancers, they arrange their bookings, travel from city to city, and oversee and personally sell their own merchandise. That’s as punk as you can get.

This blend of independent promotion, punk ethic, and empowered women, made me want to catch a Pro Wrestling: EVE show even more when I can get down south to one of their shows. Southside’s Queen of the Ring event not only whetted my appetite for some feminist action, but also confirmed my suspicions: that this down-to-earth personalised pro wrestling offering I preached about in my blog post on the subject is actually more enjoyable: you feel part of the show in addition to supporting the alternatives. What’s to lose?


V For Vendetta is the Greatest Movie Ever Made

It will no doubt seem a bold claim to argue that V For Vendetta is the greatest movie ever made. Most people think of Citizen Kane, The Godfather, or even Pulp Fiction when such discussions on film arise. Naturally, this is a subjective piece, but I’d still ask you to humour me and bear with me as I state my case.

Of course, spoilers may follow.

V For Vendetta was originally a graphic novel by Alan Moore, released in the 1980s as a response to Thatcherism in Britain, designed to be a warning of the threat of fascism if radical right-wing ideology goes unchecked, telling the story of the anonymous anarchist “V,” who wears a mask bearing the likeness of Guy Fawkes to embark on a campaign of terrorism against the elites.

The Wachowskis, still basking in the massive success of The Matrix, grabbed the rights to adapt the story for the screen, and it’s a good thing it was them, with all their immense talent as well as influence: fresh from the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent stifling of pro-peace voices, and right in the midst of the “War on Terror” and the rise of the surveillance state in both the U.S. and the U.K., I was sat in a cinema in 2005 when I first saw a trailer for the upcoming film and my jaw dropped. Its subject matter seemed positively incendiary at the time.

As is often the case with the often-brilliant but always-eccentric Alan Moore, he wanted nothing to do with the big-screen adaptation of his material, despite the Wachowskis and their director of choice, James McTeigue, paying respect to the source material while importantly revising it for a different medium and a different era.

I cannot stress enough how brave it was for the Wachowskis to present to mainstream movie audiences a terrorist as the central protagonist, V. Nonetheless, throughout the film and its marketing (“Freedom! Forever!”), they constantly ask us to consider if one person’s terrorist can be another person’s freedom fighter – and history has shown us that this can be the case, time and time again: Nelson Mandela was considered a “terrorist” by Thatcherites who at the same time supported General Augusto Pinochet’s military aggression and overthrow of a democratically-elected socialist government in Chile, beginning on September 11th, 1973, and leading to the murder of at least 3,000 people.

V For Vendetta presents a vision of the near future in Britain, where the threat of terrorism has allowed into power radically right-wing elements of the Conservative Party to introduce greater erosion of civil liberties, imposing curfews and sweeping surveillance of the population, suppressing protest and targeting immigrants, Muslims, and members of the LGBT community, all while waging wars overseas. Prominent members of the elite are shown to particularly benefit from this regime’s approach and are, as a result, targeted by V, who was incarcerated in one of their detention centres, tortured, and, in an experiment gone wrong, disfigured yet imbued with heightened abilities before escaping the camp. Having gone into hiding, V plotted out his vendetta and a quest to overthrow the brutal regime in control in Britain, concealing his features under a Guy Fawkes mask. On one of his missions, he meets Evey Hammond, and the two become irrevocably linked.

In 2005, V For Vendetta provided hope for anti-war activists and progressive people everywhere that there was still media that vented their fears, their hopes, as well as their dreams of a better world – while identifying and highlighting the threats at large.

Ironically, one of the members of the film crew was one Euan Blair, the son of British Prime Minister Tony Blair – who massively contributed to a culture of anti-immigration sentiment, with profit-making prisons used to detain people indefinitely, obsessions with border controls and ID cards, and a massive surveillance state with more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in the world at the time.

Ahead of its time in many ways, V For Vendetta addressed the control of media and the business influences behind that, in addition to pharmaceutical companies and corporations generally profiteering from war and terror (and, yes, the “War on Terror”). It showed how scapegoats are used to allow these interests to get away with their actions – whether this be ethnic minorities, or anyone else not fitting the white, conservative, nuclear family: in a scene that invariably reduces me to tears on every single viewing, the character of Valerie Page, a lesbian, points out that different became dangerous.

Valerie’s acting background and letters to V while incarcerated inspire him to use theatrics and illusion on his crusade. Evey tells him, ‘Artists use lies to tell the truth; politicians use lies to cover the truth up.’ This is just as true with this very fictional film – the meanings and messages of V For Vendetta are what truly make it. And they are delivered so expertly by the filmmakers and the actors themselves.

Hugo Weaving acts under the mask throughout the whole film, yet we sense his emotions through the subtleties of his performance. In the graphic novel, artist David Lloyd actually changed the appearance of the Guy Fawkes mask for certain parts of the story, but the filmmakers did not have this luxury, only able to rely on lighting and camera angles – which speaks volumes of the acting as well, since the mask never once changed in appearance, even when it feels like it does.

Natalie Portman actually adopts an effective English accent for the character of Evey, complete with glottal stops, and adapts her performance bit by bit as Evey goes from dis-empowered media minion to empowered young woman who ultimately decides to complete V’s mission for him – because, he says, the decision on the future is not his, but that of the people who inherit the brave new world as a result of that upheaval. It’s a message about choices, decisions, and democracy that Tony Blair’s Labour had to understand too late, learning a lesson the hard way when its mass membership themselves chose Jeremy Corbyn as leader of their party and pushed for even greater democracy with him chosen to represent them. It also reflected the rising discontent among a young population that, later, resented the rise of UKIP, Brexit, and Donald Trump.

Evey’s evolution begins after V utilises the power of illusion to force her into making a crucial decision herself: after being subjected to torture techniques, and faced with demands to surrender information about V and his vendetta, Evey realises that Valerie’s message to V – and delivered to Evey as it had been delivered to him – was true: integrity is all we have; it might be just an inch of us, but it is worth more than our flesh and blood and bones and even life itself. Sure enough, Evey decides she’d rather die than give up her integrity, and is at that moment liberated. After realising it was all just a trick by V, he guides her to the rooftop so she can have more air, and, her head now shaved, is essentially born again, baptised; ‘God is in the rain,’ she remembers being suggested by Valerie.

Interestingly, V’s own post-torture liberation was by fire, not water, after being held in room five, symbolised by the Roman numeral “V.” This is typical of the consistent and clever symbolism throughout the movie, with inspired aesthetics: Smears of blood on walls form a “V”; V himself brandishes his knives in a “V;” the hands on Big Ben form a “V.” But the filmmakers don’t stop there: Many musical themes in the film’s score form the letter “V” when the notes are connected dot to dot. The name Evey is pronounced E-V, with E being the fifth letter of the alphabet, V being five in Latin, and Y being the twenty-fifth letter (5 squared). When V first meets Evey, his speech is full of meaning and clever references – and the total number of uses of the letter “v” in that monologue is…you guessed it, fifty-five. On the mirror that Evey cleans are revealed five words: “Vi Veri Vniversum Vivus Vici” (“By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe”). I could go on and on about the layers of depth and meaning in the story, its script, and in each scene, but there are already many articles available about this.

The other performances are either ingeniously cast and/or performed: Stephen Fry is a gay man in the closet also trying to utilise art and humour to satirise the powers-that-be; Irish Stephen Rea is Inspector Finch, whose parents were Irish and whose investigations lead him to a journey of self-discovery; John Hurt, who played Winston Smith in the film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, is cast with superb irony as the “Big Brother” and central antagonist of the film, High Chancellor Adam Sutler.

But the story even exposes greed and power for what they are: party leader Peter Creedy, looking to seize Sutler’s position for himself, has his own dark desires exploited and used against him in the film’s finale that features one of the greatest action sequences ever seen on film, partly for the reason that – at a time when cuts were frantic and action seemed about fast pacing over everything else, with often no rhyme or reason or purpose to the violence – McTeigue uses slow motion to demonstrate just how it is possible for V to kill his adversaries before they have time to reload the guns, which is crucial.

‘Beneath this mask there is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof,’ V tells “Creepy” Creedy before finishing him off.

And that’s the main message of the film.

In addition, the mask is a symbol itself: when the people arrive at the Houses of Parliament at the end, yes, they each wear the mask to represent their togetherness…but they then all remove them upon reaching their destination, showing that despite their unity, they are also individual people – unique, important, valuable. Even those who have died in the film’s story are symbolically represented in this scene, which is literal and easy to spot if you look for it.

However, V still kills people. He considers this a necessary evil to end the cruel regime, claiming ‘Violence can be used for good,’ yet by the end admits he is a monster. But the monster was created by the ‘monstrous’ things that the oppressors did to him, and that supports his belief that ‘Every action creates an equal and opposing reaction.’ And of course, all of these contradictions present discussions and debates for the audience, without telling us what to conclude.

Ultimately, V For Vendetta gives us a happy ending, ‘as only celluloid can deliver,’ according to V himself. And in the end, the mask used in V For Vendetta ended up being adopted by Anonymous, and Occupy protesters, who Alan Moore embraced on the street, saying it made him proud. But whatever he thinks about the movie adaptation of his graphic novel, it was V For Vendetta, the film, that popularised that mask that we see in so many places today. The social and cultural impact, then, of V For Vendetta, the motion picture, has been significant. The mass audience it reached was essentially only possible by its medium, and in turn revitalised interest in its source material written by Alan Moore, boosting sales of the book and highlighting his work in general.

So yes, V For Vendetta is about ideas. It’s about integrity. And it does what it can, in the constraints of a two-hour Hollywood movie, to popularise some incredible concepts at a time when few dared to tackle them at all.

V tells Evey that ‘a revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.’ He’s paraphrasing anarcho-feminist Emma Goldman as he stands in his “shadow gallery,” an underground hideout with collections of music and art reclaimed from a government drunk on power, and control, and censorship, having banned so much art that, in its very own abstract nature, questions the world we live in and opens it up to interpretations and even, yes, differences of opinion, like this very film itself. When V and Evey dance together, it isn’t just about them; it’s a symbolic rebellion, and a celebration of that art; that creativity and freedom.

Aleida Guevara, daughter of another infamous freedom fighter, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, said that to be a true revolutionary, you have to be a romantic. And this story is a romance: it avoids the clichés around “man-falls-for-woman, woman-falls-for-man,” and so on, and instead makes it a tale about something bigger than that, and much more romantic: ideals, and ideas for a better world. V represents us all, Evey points out in the closing scene, and her love for him represents her love for her father, her mother, her brother, her sister, her friends, people she didn’t know, people marching in the street in masks, and, yes, Valerie, too. It transcends gender and sexuality and smashes through the compartmentalisations and dehumanisations presented by the oppressive antagonists in this film, and in our world today, and reminds us of our humanity, and how another, better world is possible.

I think that’s what Aleida Guevara meant when she said that. And I think that’s what this film reflects: true romanticism. It’s revolutionary.

So, enjoy the romantic beauty of V For Vendetta. I have – and will – again and again.


Pro Wrestling Alternatives: Are We All In?

It may come as no surprise to you that professional wrestling started off in fairground fighting contests alongside strongman competitions, and as its popularity grew with its dangers, fight fixing became more prevalent along with it – the matches had predetermined outcomes based on what would be most compelling for audiences to come back again the next time the “carnies” were back in town.

Throughout most of the 20th century in the United States, the National Wrestling Alliance oversaw this travelling roadshow through a regional network of local promoters who held events in specific territories, based on handshake agreements and semi-formal committees.

The NWA’s “world” champion, of course, went from territory to territory (sometimes even outside the United States), headlining each show by taking on the region’s top star, and this formula worked very well, especially when the villainous heel champion either used skulduggery to come out on top (and then get beat up after the bell to please the crowd), or lost by running away, or getting disqualified for cheating so that the crowd favourite won but still failed to take the title (belts couldn’t change hands via count-out or disqualification, since pins and submissions were considered more decisive victories).

Of course, sometimes the local hero won the belt, but the storylines often worked best when the heroes chased the villain, and crowds flocked to shows in the hopes he’d finally receive his comeuppance. But which hero was deemed worthy of taking the title was largely decided by the NWA’s committee, based on the territories, upcoming storylines, and the applicant’s attributes. Would crowds still come along in droves to see a hero who keeps winning? These were all important considerations for those booking the events.

The son of events promoter Roderick James “Jess” McMahon, Vince McMahon held his own territory, the WWWF, in the north-east, including New York City’s Madison Square Garden, which was key to him promoting legendary champion Buddy Rogers in New York, where they preferred a popular hero defending the title against various villains, a formula that worked well for them. When, in 1963, the NWA decided Lou Thesz would be the one to dethrone Rogers as NWA World Champion, McMahon withdrew the WWWF’s membership of the NWA, feeling Thesz was unworthy and less of a draw for their following in New York. McMahon declared Rogers the “WWWF World Champion,” and he was publicly presented the brand-new belt on the explanation that he won a tournament in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (which of course was not true, but without the internet at this time, and everything taken at face value, who would ever know?)

Nonetheless, Vince McMahon agreed to continue promoting the WWWF in the north-eastern territory only, so as not to step on the toes of other NWA-affiliated promoters, and that he did, throughout the 1970s. As the 1980s approached, he then handed over the WWWF to his son, Vince McMahon Jr, who oversaw the change in name to WWF and introduced an Intercontinental Championship, its first champion being Pat Patterson, who – you guessed it – became titleholder after apparently winning a tournament in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil!

Vince McMahon Jr maintained the relationship with Madison Square Garden for a third generation, promoting history-making shows there, with the WWF World Championship centre stage. However, he also reneged on his father’s promise, and aggressively encroached into NWA territories, using his winning formula, its resulting financial success, alongside some risks and a whole lot of luck, to put NWA territories out of business. Vince McMahon Jr hated the NWA, seeing them as a cabal, and genuinely saw himself as the underdog in his fight for pro wrestling dominance (and ethics aside, he was).

After the success of WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden, and further follow-up money-making Pay-Per-View events, Vince enjoyed incredible success, the fan favourite formula still working well for him throughout the 1980s, with Hulk Hogan fighting villainous stereotypes like “evil” Japanese fiends, and, in slightly more up-to-date nationalism, Soviet henchmen, and Iranian sheiks. Hogan’s “Real American” song rang out through Madison Square Garden as he vanquished threat after threat in the Reagan era. Vince, meanwhile, made millions, as WrestleMania became a household name and annual tradition on Pay-Per-View television. In order to avoid sporting regulations, Vince broke “kayfabe” (the pro wrestling equivalent of the Magic Circle) by giving away business secrets in court and happily explaining the planned, predetermined nature of pro wrestling to convince authorities that the WWF should not be subjected to the same scrutiny as other legitimate sporting events.

One NWA promoter who was still enjoyed great success was Jim Crockett, who presented a more traditional “kayfabe” product and promoted stars popular in the south – such as Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair – and was considered the primary showcase for fans of the NWA. After the huge success of his televised Starrcade events, Crockett decided it was time to offer Pay-Per-View shows as well, and he booked a slot for Thanksgiving in 1987. Vince, meanwhile, told the cable companies that he was going to hold a second annual Pay-Per-View event too, on that very night, called the Survivor Series. The PPV companies accepted the proposal, since pro wrestling fans could enjoy two offerings on the same evening. However, for Vince that wasn’t good enough, and the cable companies had clearly missed his original point: citing the huge success of WrestleMania, Vince made it clear that if they aired Crockett’s Starrcade, they could never have WrestleMania ever again. Almost all PPV networks caved in and refused to offer Starrcade on their broadcast schedule, and this resulted in financial disaster for Crockett.

Nonetheless, Crockett went back to the cable companies and reasoned with them to have another opportunity – one without Vince’s sabotage. They arranged an exclusive slot for Crockett to present Bunkhouse Stampede on PPV, and all seemed well. However, Vince then decided he was creating a third major annual show that would take place on that very same night: the Royal Rumble. Being unable to air it on PPV was fine by him, because he simply showed it on regular television, essentially free of charge. Unsurprisingly, most pro wrestling fans chose to watch the free show rather than the PPV, and Crockett was financially ruined.

While up for sale, Jim Crockett Promotions did enjoy one last bit of revenge against Vince: By the time WrestleMania rolled around again in the spring of 1988, airing as usual on PPV, they offered a special Clash of the Champions event for free on television, taking a chunk out of WrestleMania’s PPV buys and bloodying Vince’s nose.

Billionaire Ted Turner then bought Jim Crockett Promotions later that year, renaming it World Championship Wrestling, or WCW – designed to be a direct competitor to Vince’s WWF. Pro wrestling fans debated on who was the true champion: WCW’s NWA World Champion (more often than not Ric Flair), or Vince’s WWF World Champion (usually Hulk Hogan).

The 1990s saw this war rage throughout the entire decade.

In a coup, Ric Flair showed up on WWF television with the NWA World Championship belt after contract negotiations with Turner’s people broke down and Flair walked out without dropping the title to anyone (almost unheard of at the time). Yet Vince never promoted a Flair-Hogan high profile match, believing nobody in the northeast hotbed or even on PPV wanted to see it.

Turner’s response to Flair leaving and taking the NWA belt with him was to create the WCW World Championship, with its own brand-new belt, and put in charge of WCW one media man named Eric Bischoff, who was able to lure Hulk Hogan away from the WWF to WCW, with help from Turner’s millions. By this time, the NWA was an afterthought: it was all about the WWF and WCW, each with their own exclusive champions, neither affiliated with the NWA.

Vince came up with the weekly show, Monday Night Raw (“uncut, uncensored, and uncooked”) on the USA Network. Bischoff audaciously responded by creating Monday Nitro on TNT network, going head-to-head with Vince’s show. Incredibly, WCW started beating the WWF in the ratings war.

Vince’s response at this time was to claim Ted Turner had a vendetta against him because Vince had refused to sell the WWF to him years before, and claimed Turner was unfair and unethical, and wanted to put the WWF out of business, ‘a monopolist’s dream,’ claimed Vince. He even created a character on his show called “Billionaire Ted” to parody Turner.

And yet this kind of tit-for-tat business competition and aggressive expansion from WCW seemed to reflect Vince’s own efforts against the NWA when he first got into the pro wrestling business. Vince’s trailer park roots and carny promoter heritage are rarely mentioned, as he’s presented himself as a Greenwich businessman who promotes “sports entertainment,” rather than “wrasslin’” (he even asked his TV show commentators to refrain from using the terms “wrestler” or “belt”). He was enamoured by showbusiness, loved nothing more than getting Hollywood celebrities on his shows, and made numerous attempts to succeed in business ventures outside of pro wrestling, almost all of them failures. The more he attempted to run away from carny pro wrestling, the more he was trapped by it.

By now the NWA was solely made up of regional territories with little or nothing to do with the WWF or WCW. One of its promotions, Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW), in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, gained a cult following by offering something completely different: Mexican and Japanese talent with extreme athleticism, alongside extreme violence, bloodshed, and racy storylines. This affiliate organisation, too, would break away from the NWA, presenting itself as a fresh, modern alternative to both WCW and the WWF, a departure from tradition (including the NWA) and, under brilliant manager/promoter Paul Heyman, renaming itself Extreme Championship Wrestling. Impressively, ECW became the distant third.

Meanwhile, Lex Luger, initially pushed in the WWF as the next Hulk Hogan by Vince McMahon Jr, defected to WCW, appearing on Monday Nitro after deciding not to renegotiate his contract with Vince as had been expected. Alundra Blayze, the WWF’s Women’s Champion, also left in similar circumstances, taking her belt with her to Nitro and dumping it in a trashcan on live TV. WCW even enquired about finally holding a show at WWF’s old stomping ground, Madison Square Garden, who refused due to their loyalty to Vince. Yes, WCW’s Eric Bischoff was as aggressive and merciless as Vince ever was, relentless in his attempts to sabotage the WWF and win the war between the two.

Using Turner’s millions, Bischoff next had his sights set on WWF star Bret “Hit Man” Hart, a legit-tough and cool, charismatic Canadian athlete who did most of his talking in the ring and who was able to fill the vacuum left by Hogan’s departure (and later Flair’s return to WCW). Bischoff offered ridiculous money to Bret, who instead decided to remain loyal to Vince, even for less money, since Vince was still offering him millions of dollars per year, and a 20 year contract: 3 as a performer, 17 as a backstage advisor. Bret seemed to care more about loyalty, values, and credibility than a few million more dollars in the bank.

WCW and especially the WWF began to emulate ECW’s extreme “crash” TV product, in a bid to outdo each other and win over audiences on Monday nights. Bret Hart’s antagonists, D-Generation X, led by Shawn Michaels, publicly urinated, played strip poker in the ring, and encouraged female fans to flash their breasts, while Texan loner “Stone Cold” Steve Austin came in from WCW via ECW and guzzled beer, used colourful language, and beat up corporate “suits,” initially as a villain but then becoming an antihero as working class fans related to him and lived vicariously through him literally giving his boss the finger and walking off drinking a Budweiser. With Austin’s popularity skyrocketing, Bret was instead juxtaposed as his foil. While Americans cheered on Austin, Canadians backed Bret. This stoked a tribal nationalistic feud that still allowed Bret to remain an upstanding role model in his native Canada, where he was nothing less than a national hero. Capturing the ECW vibe, Bret and Austin fought at WrestleMania in a fantastic encounter that saw Bret pummel a bloodied Austin after the bell before the American crowd, solidifying their opposite positions as hero and villain on different sides of the border.

But with the cult following of ECW and its incredible influence on pro wrestling, and the unexpected popularity of DX and Austin, Vince decided they were the future of the WWF, not Bret, and that Bret would not offer a return on the investment from his massive contract that gave him guaranteed downside pay and creative influence, even as a wrestler. Austin, after all, was a WCW reject, a young up-and-coming workhorse who had been hungry for opportunities in a WCW full of Hogan’s old friends way past their prime and getting by mostly on name value. Vince realised it was the younger stars like “Stone Cold” and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that needed to be centre stage in the WWF, and informed Bret that, with funds so tight at such a crucial time in the ratings war with WCW, he was happy to release Bret from his contract so he could take Bischoff’s outstanding offer and join WCW.

Yet Bret, the WWF World Champion at the time, was still reluctant to leave, and only agreed while insisting to Vince that, in his showdown against Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series in Montreal, Canada, he be allowed to come out of the match victorious at the PPV, before dropping the belt on TV later on in the United States, before going to WCW. Burnt by Lex Luger and especially Alundra Blayze, who infamously took her WWF belt with her and threw it in the garbage on Nitro, Vince was paranoid, unable – or unwilling – to trust Bret, demanding he lose to Shawn in Montreal before Hart’s own fans (when Shawn had defeated “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith in a title match in Birmingham, England, the fans almost rioted, threatening to attack DX and throwing trash and other objects at them). Bret utilised his creative control, and again insisted that he beat Shawn in Canada, then drop the title in the States before leaving. Vince reluctantly agreed.

In what became known as the infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” Vince marched to ringside during Bret’s title match with Shawn and – as Shawn held Bret in his very own Sharpshooter submission hold – demanded the referee call for the bell and declare Shawn the winner and new WWF World Champion. Shocked, Bret looked around and saw the faces of the conspirators who agreed to work together to dethrone Bret: Vince McMahon Jr, referee Earl Hebner, and Shawn Michaels, who alongside his DX ally Triple H, avoided a legitimate beating by swearing to Bret that they weren’t in on it, and the finish was as much as a surprise to them as it was to him (they later admitted were lying, and were in on it all along). Vince wasn’t so lucky: Bret confronted him backstage and punched him in the face so hard it lifted Vince up in the air off his feet, leaving him lying in a heap. It was Bret, not Austin, who legitimately fulfilled the fantasy of the working man or woman: he knocked out the boss.

The following day, Vince, complete with black eye, broke character and, appearing before cameras, famously said ‘Bret screwed Bret,’ claiming he was left with no other option than to force a different match outcome to the one agreed because Bret was rejecting a ‘time-honoured tradition’ of dropping a belt before leaving a promotion, even though Bret was outwardly willing to do so at a later date. This from a Vince McMahon who, years before, welcomed Ric Flair on to his own TV show carrying the NWA World Championship belt he had never dropped before arriving in the WWF.

Again, the rules are different for Vince. His WWF went on to destroy the overpaid, stale superstars of WCW anyway with a product heavily influenced by ECW, a libertarian politician by the name of Lowell P. Weicker Jr on his board of directors as the ultra-conservative Parents Television Council targeted WWF advertisers in protest at the sex and violence, only fueling the WWF’s rebranded image as controversial, edgy, must-see TV – helped further by the rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and his inevitable storyline feud with boss Vince McMahon, who was now harnessing the hatred of the fans for the “Montreal Screwjob” by playing the evil boss with relish for the cameras.

When what was left of WCW was sold off on the cheap to Vince McMahon himself, he gave a speech about mercilessly and ruthlessly choking out his competition, knocking Ted Turner, and conveniently forgetting his complaints about Turner’s “monopolist’s dream.” Classless as ever, Vince was a sore winner, and again the more he tried to avoid being perceived as a carny promoter, the more he fulfilled the persona of one. He hired Hollywood writers to create pro wrestling storylines when they knew nothing about pro wrestling. The product suffered as a result and has remained stagnant ever since.

By this time, Vince McMahon the Monopolist had put WWF Entertainment (or WWFE) on the stock exchange, and had his wife Linda court favour with politicians so as to avoid those pesky regulations again. Part of this plan to “go public” was to raise funds for the XFL, Vince’s latest non-wrestling venture that joined all of his others in complete failure. When challenged legally by the World Wildlife Fund for use of “WWF,” Vince spun his defeat in the courts as a cool campaign to “Get the ‘F’ Out,” renaming the WWFE simply “WWE.”

With Weicker off their board, and a rehabilitated PG product to appease their shareholders, the McMahons instead pumped money into the Donald Trump presidential campaign, betting on some healthy returns on the investment once he made it to the White House. He did, and promptly made Linda part of his administration, proving their investment paid off. The McMahons now had direct influence in the White House, a dream come true. Meanwhile, with Trump’s tirade against protesting players in the NFL, Vince re-launched the XFL as a strict, anti-protest American football league. Again, Vince is a conservative carny redneck promoter just the same.

The WWE product, meanwhile, has remained corporate and stale with not a single rival in sight. While WWE business interests make more money than ever, its TV ratings are by no means awe-inspiring, and Vince’s formula has become outdated as he refuses to hand the reigns over to the next generation. ‘I’ll die in the chair,’ he claims. You’d better believe it.

But meanwhile, the nonsensical storylines, product placements, corporate WrestleManias high on glitz and low on quality, have all, perhaps inevitably, over time created an opening in the pro wrestling market.

Fans who wanted the actual athleticism to do the talking with such realism as to make suspension of disbelief almost effortless have sought solace in New Japan Pro Wrestling, which has been around since 1972 and is being expanded globally by its newest CEO, the worldly-wise Harold Meij. Those who wanted a Stateside alternative to WWE with a more sporting “code of honour” received refuge in Ring of Honor. Those who wanted comic book characters and storylines that were actually well-written and consistent enjoyed escape in episodes of Lucha Underground, featuring high-end Robert Rodriguez production and stars from Mexican lucha libre and beyond. Those who wanted talent that WWE rejected, missed out on, or have yet to discover, found comfort in Major League Wrestling. And those disappointed in the pro-Trump world of WWE who wanted more modern, progressive alternatives have run riot in the feminist punk product of Pro Wrestling: EVE, who threaten to “piledrive a fascist.” And of course there’s Impact Wrestling, which after years of mismanagement and misdirection attempting to copy WWE as “Total Nonstop Action”, have been revitalised under the guidance of brilliant minds like Don Callis, an intelligent, articulate former wrestler rather than a Hollywood writing reject.

All of these offer something for every fan, and all completely different to WWE, and remarkably refreshing. Essentially, this growing network of “independent” pro wrestling promotions has superseded the National Wrestling Alliance. Many still have agreements, and work with each other. You’ll see Matt Striker on MLW, as well as Lucha Underground. Lucha Underground’s Johnny Mundo is Johnny Impact on, yes, Impact. Impact’s Don Callis commentates for NJPW, as does Kevin Kelly, who worked for ROH as well.

But whatever happened to the NWA itself since the days of Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair? Well, the NWA carried on as a smaller organisation since the WWF, WCW, and ECW all each abandoned it, and was recently bought by Smashing Pumpkins rock star and pro wrestling fan Billy Corgan. And it just hit the headlines yet again: Cody, son of Dusty Rhodes, captured the NWA World Championship at one of the most important pro wrestling shows in history.

Some of the highest-selling pro wrestling merchandise today is that of the Bullet Club; Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega, all of whom many would argue are the biggest stars in the business (not a surprise, when you see the tacky, uncool t-shirt designs put out by WWE who must have the same designers as they had when they started). These stars have worked for many of the aforementioned promotions and just this past weekend made history, and not just with Cody’s title win.

Last year, someone on Twitter asked pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer if he thought a promotion like ROH could fill an arena with 10,000 fans, to which he replied ‘not any time soon.’ Cody Rhodes replied: ‘I’ll take that bet, Dave.’ Cody and the Young Bucks set about organising an independent pro wrestling show themselves, called “All In,” at the 10,000-seat Sears Center in Chicago, Illinois. Since it was designed to be a one-off show, it was open to almost every non-WWE pro wrestler on the planet whose current contracts and agreements allowed them to appear. Even former WWE star Chris Jericho – who has appeared at NJPW shows in Japan and had reportedly promised Vince he wouldn’t appear on any non-WWE event Stateside – showed up at All In. For the record, there were 10,411 fans in attendance, the show was a critical and commercial success, and there is already talk of a follow-up event. All In was the first non-WWE pro wrestling show to take place before a crowd of 10,000+ people for nearly twenty years.

Because of the success of All In, there is clear evidence of a strong appetite for an alternative to WWE. Even WWE knows this, as evidenced by their own recent actions. Rumour has it Vince will attempt to secure the services of several Bullet Club stars, which would not only capture some of that magic, but also stifle the competition. And it is competition. Everything starts small. There is a huge demand for these alternatives to a WWE product which is worse than it’s ever been. For all their millions of dollars, their product is style over substance, and people demand more. Yes, almost all of these fans will still watch some WWE and even attend WrestleMania (why do you think WrestleMania matches get booed?) But at the same time, more and more WWE fans are also headed in the opposite direction, seeking alternatives – and this flow means the tide is rising.

ROH and NJPW recently announced they were teaming up to host a “G1 Supercard” show at Madison Square Garden. Yes, the Madison Square Garden. During WrestleMania weekend – that time when pro wrestling geeks from all over the world converge in one place with a passion for all things headlocks and histrionics.

While Vince has been busy re-branding his WWE – he demanded his people stop calling WrestleMania “the granddaddy of them all” because he felt it made it sound old, and almost entirely stopped promoting shows at good old Madison Square Garden, instead using the modern Barclays Center in Brooklyn – ROH and NJPW approached Madison Square Garden at an opportune time. With Vince clearly disinterested in the venue, the arena agreed to host G1 Supercard. This news was huge.

However – you guessed it – Vince seemingly got in touch with Madison Square Garden and reminded them that they had an agreement with the McMahons going back three generations, of course. For years, as with many other arenas, Madison Square Garden were held to an agreement by WWE that no other pro wrestling company could hold a show there within so many months of a WWE show (and sure enough, WWE kept repeatedly rolling through town frequently enough that literally no other promotion could have chance to use that arena). Of course, these days – and with seemingly no competition in sight seemingly capable of fully utilising the Madison Square Garden space – Vince had waning interest in the venue, and has barely held shows there compared to years past. But now, suddenly, with the G1 Supercard threatening to sell out the arena and really shake things up, Vince seemed to plead, ‘What about our agreement?’ And yes, Madison Square Garden appeared to buckle under this bullying. The show was suddenly, it seemed, off.

But there’s another big business interest involved. Sinclair Broadcast Group, who now own ROH, also happen to run forty-three Fox affiliate TV stations that are airing WWE’s weekly SmackDown show. That’s a large chunk of the WWE viewing audience. With Sinclair Broadcast Group ready to take action, suddenly WWE issued a public statement: ‘Madison Square Garden are, of course, free to work with ROH however they want.’ And the G1 Supercard was back on.

This is an exciting time in pop culture. For all the wonder and magic offered by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s part of Disney, who also own the Star Wars franchise. In pro wrestling, WWE – despite Vince McMahon Jr’s alternative facts – have monopolised the business for almost twenty years, and it’s not even a good product. It’s not Rogue One. And Infinity War it sure ain’t. No, WWE is akin to a Battlefield Earth, shall we say. It’s great to see so much more on offer – driven by intelligent, ambitious entrepreneurs, chief executives, and presidents with their fingers on the pulse – all offering something different, something better. If you’re even remotely interested in the stunt-work world of professional wrestling, check out some of them when you get chance, and be a part of the solution rather than the problem.


Hogan Doesn’t Know Best

Terry Bollea rode the wave of professional wrestling’s 1980s boom as Hulk Hogan, headlining World Wrestling Federation shows on MTV and hanging out with Cyndi Lauper and Mr T as “WrestleMania” took off and became an annual American tradition. Wearing red and yellow and walking to the ring to the sounds of Rick Derringer’s “Real American,” he told his young followers (or “Hulkamaniacs”) to say their prayers, and eat their vitamins (and of course he offered his own brand of vitamins too).

Unthinkable in today’s fast-paced world of 24/7 pro wrestling networks and short attention spans, Hulk Hogan held the WWF’s World Championship for four whole years until, in 1988, he was finally dethroned due to fiendish cheating from a host of villainous characters, including Andre the Giant, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, who – the story goes – had bribed match officials. Nonetheless, this only increased sympathy and support for the Hulk Hogan character in the predetermined match-ups, and he’d go on to regain the title just over a year later, with good triumphing over evil once again.

However, Hogan’s ill-fated appearance on Arsenio Hall’s show arguably began his fall from grace. The awkward interview suggested that it wasn’t, in fact, vitamins he had been taking, but steroids. The entire WWF got caught up in the drug scandal, and the WWF’s owner Vince McMahon was indicted by the FBI, barely escaping a prison sentence himself.

Hogan jumped ship to the WWF’s rival, the rising WCW, but despite this change of scenery, and audience, his popularity waned. Co-opting the unfavourable crowd responses, he reinvented himself, cleverly aligning himself with other ex-WWF stars who were younger, hipper, and cooler than him, and “invading” WCW; Hogan dropped the red and yellow for an all-black biker wardrobe, shades, and a beard, and became the leader of the faction calling itself the “New World Order” of pro wrestling. Fans loved to hate him as he took short-cuts to survive against WCW’s heroes. Despite his age, his injuries, and the resulting limited ability, he was back on top of the business yet again by the late 1990s.

Still, nothing stirs up innovation quite like adversity, and despite losing his established stars, Vince McMahon was busy creating fresh, up-and-coming characters like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, with cutting-edge storylines to go with them. WCW, meanwhile, ran out of ideas beyond the “New World Order,” and lost momentum, the “NWO” superstars and their guaranteed big-money contracts still needing to be paid even as revenues declined, and WCW began to collapse under this weight. Hemorrhaging millions of dollars, WCW was put up for sale on the cheap by its parent company looking to cut its losses – and ironically it was McMahon himself who swooped in to buy it.

Despite himself being partly responsible for the decline of WCW – leveraging his creative control to stay on top and ensuring those close to him had all the best spots on the show even at the expense of younger, better talent – Hogan’s own “brand” survived yet again. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the WWF (by now known as WWE after being taken to court by the World Worldlife Fund). He’d even harnessed the power of nostalgia, as well as the cheap junk-food formula of “reality” television as the star of “Hogan Knows Best,” helping his daughter, Brooke, launch her own showbusiness career as a result.

Gawker then revealed Hulk Hogan spouting racism, via transcripts of its tapes.

WWE promptly removed him from their Hall of Fame listing as the news spread of Hogan’s vile prejudiced remarks. Mattel refused to produce Hulk Hogan action figures. Hulk Hogan merchandise was removed from the shelves in major stores such as Walmart and Toys R Us. But the news of the scandal took on a life of its own, and has done ever since, to the point where Hogan’s peers, fans, and critics all too often discuss the incident without actually addressing the words used. Because Hogan’s diatribe speaks for itself:

On the topic of Brooke allegedly offered financial support for her music career from a black billionaire while being linked with his son, Hogan went on a tirade:

I don’t know if Brooke was f***ing the black guy’s son…I mean, I don’t have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, f***ing n*****s…I mean, I’d rather if she was going to f*** some n*****, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n***** worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player!…I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking n*****.

– Hulk Hogan

Yes, it’s hateful stuff. It’s sickening.

Since that time, while business interests have kept a safe distance from Hulk Hogan for public relations purposes, discussion has continued on what he represents; his reputation; his aura; his mystique. Many people saw him differently, of course, while others – including black wrestlers who worked with him – said this is the first time they had noted any hint of racism from him; some even claimed he stuck his neck out for them at a time when it was tough to get ahead in pro wrestling as an African-American star, and Hogan had pushed for them to be his headline opponent in storyline matches. Beyond this, many have downright denied Hogan is a racist – despite Hogan’s own admission of ‘I am a racist.’ Incredible.

The brilliant businessman behind the Inside the Ropes venture, Kenny McIntosh, covers many pro wrestling topics on his outstanding podcast, and on a recent episode alongside probably the best-ever pro wrestling writer Fin Martin, he tackled the racism controversy as Hulk Hogan begins to attempt to rehabilitate his image in the public eye. McIntosh made the superb point that many people are perhaps in denial about Hogan because they have a nostalgic view – and this can cover both his fans and fellow wrestlers, too. But many more, present-day black WWE stars – from Mark Henry, to Titus O’Neil – do not seem to have a view clouded by nostalgia; they are stars bravely speaking out and saying that Hogan’s words were racist, offensive, and hurtful, and are not easy to forgive.

Hogan’s own opinion is that he was “in a dark place” – that mysterious, mystical location all celebrities claim they visited when they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. Most decent human beings, of course, don’t suddenly become racist just because they’re having a bad day. Again, Hogan’s exact words were ‘I am a racist.’

When Hogan was finally invited by WWE suits to a recent show, he had the opportunity to address the current roster to express regret for bringing their business into disrepute. Reportedly, Hogan began his speech to the other stars by telling them to be careful what they say in case they’re being recorded. Immediately, this put off the likes of O’Neil (who expressed his disappointment publicly) because Hogan seemed to be saying he was more regretful of being caught, than by what he did.

What McIntosh and Martin intelligently suggested were that Hogan should have actually had a meeting behind closed doors with the black wrestlers of WWE and simply listened to them. Because clearly he doesn’t have any grasp of the seriousness of the offensive views he expressed, whether caught on tape or not. This is a great idea.

The problem here is that WWE are driven by public relations, not values. They’ll allow Hogan a platform to help him repair his reputation, they’ll promote women into positions of prominence on their shows, and anything else with a money-making opportunity attached to it, but they still hold shows in Saudi Arabia where women wrestlers are prohibited, and fund Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in return for a position of power in his rotten administration.

Intersectionality is driven by values committed to opposing all forms of oppression, understanding the way these separate issues link with one another.

With that in mind, an interesting point raised is that, according to McIntosh, O’Neil apparently wore an Ultimate Warrior t-shirt in homage to the man who had died after enjoying a successful pro wrestling career yet who was, as I’ve examined before, a raging hateful homophobe. Despite being best friends with his on-screen tag team partner Darren Young, one of pro wrestling’s first openly gay stars, O’Neil was at ease wearing a t-shirt bearing the image of the bigoted Ultimate Warrior. Martin, who while editor of Power Slam magazine had helped raise awareness of the homophobic campaign Warrior had embarked on, acknowledged the hypocrisy in this.

But the trouble with all this is that, as McIntosh and Martin suggested, it risks becoming a discussion amongst white people, and while any decent white person should be offended by racism, ultimately the buck stops with black people, and it’s those voices that should be heard – especially by Hogan.

McIntosh thankfully acknowledged the issue with white privilege, albeit claiming many of us Caucasian folks have been utilising our white privilege by claiming Hogan is a racist, when that must be turned on its head, because most of the narrative on the internet has been white people saying Hogan isn’t a racist – and that is a far more important and dangerous reflection of white privilege that McIntosh could have (and indeed should have) highlighted. Again, Hogan didn’t just use racist language (rather than “racial” language as McIntosh put it – there’s an important distinction); Hogan said, ‘I am a racist.’ Let’s not forget his exact words, which included ‘n****’ repeatedly: racist – not “racial” – language.

The issue here is that McIntosh talked about “separation,” where you can respect an artist for their work, without liking them as people. So how far does that reach? If McIntosh can, for example, enjoy the works of the right-wing libertarian Clint Eastwood, or the accused sexual harasser Kevin Spacey, but not, I’d assume, the songs of paedophiles Gary Glitter and Ian Watkins, or the architecture of Nazi Albert Speer, isn’t that the same kind of hypocrisy?

No, a boycott of an artist’s work must be consistent for all of us (yes, including O’Neil, although he perhaps feels more established now so as to use his influence for causes he can fight for at this point in his career). But artistic boycotts aren’t just commercial: taking in the works of lyricists or screenwriters or playwrights with intolerant, fascist views is to open yourself up to their artistic expressions and even their perspectives and prejudices. Media is manipulative by nature.

So until such a time as Hulk Hogan actually cares enough to spend time with black people, understand their history, their culture, their views, and why he was so very wrong – and works to highlight the importance of causes like Black Lives Matter – then we’d all do well to boycott any companies he’s involved in. And, yes, WWE comes top of that list.


Why I Don’t Have a Proper Job

‘So what is it you do again?’ I think that’s the most frequently asked question presented to me. And it’s always tough to answer, but I generally cite I’m a social entrepreneur, since I’ve been involved in founding several non-profit companies over the decades, and a community coach, because I manage a socially progressive, independent women’s football club and facilitate media and technology workshops – which I approach with a passion for alternative ways of learning, outside of set course structures and outcomes, and a focus on the process of personal development, with empowerment being key.

That probably won’t come as a surprise to those who know I was pulled out of school at the age of 11 due to being a victim of bullying, and was taught at home by my mother. The upshot of that was that I subsequently struggled in structured learning or work environments where I couldn’t come up with my own system of operating – something my wife Jane Watkinson reminds me about regularly, and perhaps a reason why I dropped out of university and haven’t yet worked in a traditional 9-to-5 job.

Yes, my childhood was far from ordinary. I grew largely reading books because I didn’t have to, scribbling ideas for a fairer society, and drawing sketches of superheroes, professional wrestlers, female bodybuilders and football players. I got chance to stay up late watching old movies, from German Expressionism to classic 1940s films featuring Katherine Hepburn, who I loved, and James Stewart, but also the B-movie horror of Edward D. Wood, Jr, largely regarded as “the worst filmmaker of all time.” This clearly gave me no fear of making shitty movies myself, as I’ll come to in a bit.

My brother was nine years older than me, my sister twelve years older, and my mother and father, when they had me, were in their 30s and 40s, respectively. I didn’t have anyone my own age to spend time with, and the home education movement was still in its infancy (we had angry education officials visit us many times to complain about me not being in a school and threatened to have my mother put in prison; eventually she began hiding behind the sofa with me when we knew they were coming – yes, my parents were both quite anti-establishment, also telling me many stories of questioning authority).

So, instead of friends in the school playground, almost everyone around me was much older than me and that was my education in the subject of history in many ways. I found out about 1940s democratic socialist politician Nye Bevan, who I also got a kick out of because he shared my birthday of November 15th. He once said, ‘The purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away,’ and that statement struck a chord with me. What’s more, the Jimmy Stewart movie It’s a Wonderful Life stated, ‘All that you can take with you is that which you’ve given away’ and that galvanised my belief that we’re all here to play our part in positive social change.

I just wasn’t sure how.

For a time my teenage self planned on donning a cape and fighting injustice as a masked adventurer, until my mother found out and expressed disappointment in the plan, which promptly put me off. My mother was always very tolerant of many of my weird and wacky interests, but rightly drew the line at me swinging from rooftops looking out for the little guy. So instead, I tried to make my way in civilised society – with great difficulty.

Without school exams to sit, my mother got me going for my GCSEs at nightschool and college at the age of 14 (she put a false birthdate for me of July 15th, which is still found on my certificates and which would mean today is my birthday, yay!)

The college careers advisor suggested I take a job at McDonald’s, then when I explained my main reason for rejecting that prospect, mocked my vegetarianism and my hope to work in the media (I’d go on to become a vegan, and, yes, work in the media, so f*** him, and f*** anyone like that who tries to ridicule your dreams).

After dropping out of my media degree where I’d made some incredible, awe-inspiringly awful films, I was put on a welfare-to-work programme at an arts centre and got my first freelance work through that – in event organisation and videography, and I teamed up with another drop-out to create an independent community film company; we engaged over forty young people in creating their own feature film to reflect their lives in South Yorkshire. But after seeing Michael Moore’s documentaries I knew non-fiction was something I really wanted to do, and I did so, starting with Get Over It, about the post-industrial population of South Yorkshire being constantly told to “get over it” after their major unionised industries were shut down and replaced by retail.

Given my driving motivation was to do something positive in society, with this combined with my own idiosyncrasies I began to find it increasingly difficult to talk about myself over the years – often to my detriment as a I failed to defend or stand up for myself sometimes – and writing this blog post is part of my way of getting past that, especially in the hopes that doing so will provoke thought about our society and our roles in it.

When I gave a talk to his media and journalism students as austerity measures were being introduced and Education Maintenance Allowance was being scrapped, University of Huddersfield lecturer Bruce Hanlin kindly told me afterwards, ‘You provoked more questions (than usual) from students – (that) might be because your ‘alternative’ and varied way into the media might look more realistic at a time when the established media are in retreat and job opportunities at a virtual standstill.’ That was a relief: Talking to students as a university drop-out who went on to work in the media was very tricky!

Over the years my work has led me to many public speaking engagements, and with issues to passionately talk about I’d never had difficulty with them until I was interviewed for “My Life So Far” by Rony Robinson on BBC Radio Sheffield. I’d partly hoped I’d be able to highlight some important issues, and partly intended to try and tackle my aversion to talking about myself or my feelings. Funnily enough, Rony had me all choked up when he caught me off-guard posing me with the question of if I’m so keen to empower others because of the powerlessness I felt in my past. Ouch! Right in the heart, dude.

Interviewed by Rony Robinson from Jay Baker on Vimeo.

But this is why I marvel at so many people who do so many good things in life just, well…because. I often ask social justice campaigners I meet what got them active, a little envious of their stories – they got involved in a local campaign and it went from there, or they and their fellow workers went on strike (or, in my wife’s case, simply becoming a sociologist!) – because Pop Psychology 101 suggests, yes, I simply became passionate about social justice because I was bullied as a child in the 1980s. Pffft!

In his brilliant book Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman states, ‘Countries with big disparities in wealth also have more bullying behaviour, because there are bigger status differences’ and then goes on to cite the term ‘psychosocial consequences’ from Professor Richard Wilkinson who, alongside Kate Pickett, told me when I interviewed them both for my documentary Return to Doncatraz that ‘inequality really took off under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and sort of plateaued after that.’

Return to Doncatraz, as the title suggests, was a follow-up to another documentary I made, Escape from Doncatraz, which actually premiered at Kitchener City Hall in Ontario, Canada, where I got my first-ever standing ovation (presumably because they thought the British expected one rather than the documentary being all that good). I ended up over there starting up a media company with my first wife, who was a Canadian, after I’d spent considerable time with her there beforehand and my UK film company’s committee had shut it down, blamed incomplete projects entirely on me, and transferred its assets to sister companies they were running – which then made my time in Canada an all-or-nothing scenario with nothing to go back to. That kind of pressure never helps, and my then-wife and I separated, with her literally tearing up the plans for our own venture that my visa was dependent on, and I ended up homeless there, although – thanks to some fantastic friends – escaped rooflessness; sleeping in spare rooms, on floors, or in basements for weeks and then months back in Europe, staying with family in Spain. Again this was a time where I failed to effectively stand up for myself or defend myself for a fear of being too personal, or being negative, but the intentional damage inflicted on me and my reputation by a few individuals in both Britain and Canada was long-lasting yet humbling, and a valuable lesson that changed my character for the better. It’s also made me far more resourceful, better at choosing friends, less bothered about external validation, and more grateful just to have a home.

By the time I’d returned to the UK, David Cameron was claiming cuts in public services were able to be replaced by the third sector, his “Big Society” that I initially thought may be a chance for me to succeed with fresh social enterprise ideas but which turned out to be a way of, in most cases, funding those who were already running successful start-ups. My luck had largely run out. Although I was never one of them, born and raised in a mining town in a house literally split down the middle due to subsidence from the coal mines beneath it, I’d previously enjoyed success in both Britain and Canada partly because people thought I was better-educated and from a better background than I actually was: my demeanour and accent were developed not by school but by growing up consuming media and travelling and living around the world. Because I had taken advantage of this misconception, I feared anyone knowing about my failures – the sleazy real estate guy in American Beauty said, ‘In order to be successful you have to project an image of success at all times.’ And whether we admit it or not, so many of us buy into that. But now I understand that being poor is not the same as being unsuccessful. As Rutger Bregman also states in Utopia for Realists, ‘Poverty is not a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash.’

So I’ll be honest: Since my return to the UK in the era of austerity, I’ve yet to earn more than even a quarter of what I was earning beforehand (I’ll leave it to your imagination how much that might be, but rest assured I was far from rich before!) But in the years both before and after that life-changing experience, I’ve spent thousands of pounds of my own money on documentaries, business premises for social enterprises, and other good causes. Again, not because I’m somehow simply a kind-hearted good human being like the above-mentioned types, but because, if I’m honest, as you can see…I don’t really know any different. This is what I do.

I’m in my forties now and people still ask me when I’ll get a proper job.

But when I see, through Libre Digital, dozens of older people setting up their own long-term IT support group with the skills and tools given to them via the FreeTech Project, or documentaries hitting 3000 hits in three days just before an election via SilenceBreaker Media, I want to keep doing this. When I see over a hundred women playing soccer through AFC Unity when they never had the opportunities nor the environment to do so otherwise, and raising nearly 1000kg of food for local food banks, I want to do more. And when my wife and I not only work together on the above but also focus on helping other creatives, community groups and independent businesses at affordable rates via Jay & Jane, I don’t know what else I could be doing that’s so rewarding. I’ll never have a big house or car, or many if any holidays, no savings, and probably no pension. But all you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.


Kap-tain America and Black Protest in Sports

When we think of sport being adopted as a forum for political causes, we more often than not conjure in our minds the image of African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the 1968 Olympic medalists’ podium, raising their fists during the playing of the United States national anthem – a gesture of strength and unity for those fighting for human rights, they said.

If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.

– Tommie Smith

Controversial at the time, their act has since become synonymous with the empowerment of historically oppressed people, and a symbol of inspiration for millions. They were also concerned, they said, about the way a certain world-famous black boxer was stripped of his title…

From a heritage of slavery, Cassius Clay rejected his family’s slave name of Clay, becoming Cassius X and then – after joining the Nation of Islam – “Muhammad Ali.” Rival pugilist Ernie Terrell still insisted on ignorantly referring to him as “Cassius Clay,” so in his fight with Ali, Muhammad famously pummeled him while asking, ‘What’s my name?!’ and calling him an “Uncle Tom.” Muhammad Ali then went on to sacrifice his boxing career for a court battle as he resisted being drafted to fight for the U.S. in Vietnam, declaring, ‘I got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Vietnamese ever called me a n***er!’ Threatened with imprisonment over his resistance, he simply stated, ‘So what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.’ With mass protests against the military campaign in Vietnam – an unmitigated disaster for the U.S. elites – decades later few even attempt to defend it, in the same way few now defend the opposition to the civil rights movement at the time.

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me – I’d join tomorrow.

– Muhammad Ali

But the civil rights movement has long been oversimplified as a single-issue cause of the legendary Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, when in fact his commitment to social justice naturally reached into the realms of trade unionism, and American culture today generally holds him in high regard while at the same time cleverly omitting the fact he was assassinated while supporting striking sanitary workers. Like Muhammad Ali, he was also vocally opposed to the military involvement in Vietnam.

The creation of communist threats around the world was important for the military industrial complex: weapons manufacturers make millions from war, and peace doesn’t boost profits for their shareholders (this is why the military industrial complex sponsors presidential candidates). The insanity of this is represented by how the U.S. and the U.K. both permit arms sales to human rights violators such as Saudi Arabia, who in turn support the latest threat: ISIS.

Our government officials wear poppies at the same time as neglecting armed forces veterans, using them instead to promote and justify military aggression overseas for – in the case of Afghanistan and especially Iraq – resources such as oil. The rise of militarism and flag-waving is not a coincidence, and the rise of the “Tea Party” and Donald Trump in the U.S. and “Britain First” in the U.K. are a product of this: rampant nationalism within an increasingly militaristic culture, where in order to care about your country – or better yet, your armed forces – you have to support your government’s military aggression overseas that so often put brave servicemen and women unnecessarily in harm’s way, even if it provokes terrorist attacks on your towns (in fact, the terrorist attacks help too, because in turn, they promote nationalism and militarism).

Suppose somebody asks, ‘Do you support the people in Iowa?’ …It’s not even a question; it doesn’t even mean anything. And that’s the point of public relations slogans like ‘Support Our Troops,’ is that they don’t mean anything, they mean as much as whether you support the people in Iowa. Of course there was an issue: the issue was, do you support our policy, but you don’t want people to think about the issue. That’s the whole point of good propaganda, you want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. But its crucial value is it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: ‘Do you support our policy?’ And that’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.

– Noam Chomsky

All of these violent atrocities in the West, as well as overseas in bombing campaigns, certainly put sports into perspective, and as we can see, several athletes have realised this and used their athletic platform to raise awareness on issues far more important than a sporting contest.

In the wake of a disproportionate amount of police brutality towards African-Americans in particular, including murders, the last few years have seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers would turn out to be embroiled in controversy surrounding the cause, despite society long since redeeming the likes of Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Muhammad Ali, all of whom began a battle continuing to this day: it’s the same one Colin Kaepernick is fighting.

As is no secret, the Pentagon takes millions of dollars in taxes from struggling American citizens to pay for bombing campaigns while people at home struggle to pay for healthcare or education – and they get away with it because of the culture of fear, and the perpetuation of the perception of threats from overseas. But what is less known, is the fact that – to further boost militarisation and nationalism in American culture – they went directly to the NFL.

That’s right. Pentagon officials reached into their deep pockets to strike a deal that would be laughable if it wasn’t so cynical: they paid between $60,000 and $1,000,000 to initially 14 teams to have them pause before the start of their games so they could sing the anthem, fly the flag, and – yes, you guessed it – “support our troops.” Yes, as Chomsky suggested, who wouldn’t want to support their troops? It’s unquestionable. And that’s what the Pentagon intended by striking at the core of apple-pie American culture: get the American people associating even their favourite sports with nationalism and militarism. And, as we have seen, it has largely worked.

Hence such a bizarre backlash – despite all history has shown us – against Colin Kaepernick when he decided to drop to one knee during such flag-waving ceremonies. The media quickly confronted him about it, and he was quick to articulate his actions.

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

– Colin Kaepernick

The San Francisco 49ers had a change of Head Coach, and the regime change saw “Kap” released from the team. Usually, a quarterback of his stature would have been snapped up by another franchise pretty much immediately. But it didn’t happen. And apart from the same kind of white racists over in the U.K. who called soccer player Eni Aluko ‘bitter’ for challenging racism while being dropped from the national team, most people began to believe this ongoing free agent status was simply because Kap had openly opposed the establishment, albeit by merely taking a knee during the national anthem.

Yes, having the teams observe the anthem was a recent phenomenon in the NFL, but even so, as NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy stated at the time, ‘Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.’ So of course, it’s not like this was even that much of a deal at all.

But the culture had changed: Pentagon money had meant that the rules of the NFL or even of the flag itself were irrelevant – they had successfully created a nationalistic, militaristic culture where people were outraged over something as simple as taking a knee, even if it wasn’t breaking any rules – they were angrier about this than they were about black people being slaughtered in the streets of the United States by officers of the law. Think about that for a moment.

That absurdity is the greatest possible victory for fascists in the Pentagon and in the White House.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.’? You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag – he’s fired.’

– Donald Trump

Of course, the amazing and inspirational women of basketball have been protesting injustice for quite a while longer. Recently, protest has been increasingly prominent amongst their male counterparts, as well – but without the same outcry provoked by American football, something some feel is due to the different audiences attracted by the sports.

Oh, (Colin Kaepernick) is being blackballed. That’s a no-brainer. All you have to do is read the transactions every day, when you see the quarterbacks who are being hired. He’s way better than any of them. But the NFL has a different fan base than the NBA. The NBA is more urban, the NFL is more conservative.

– Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors Head Coach

Pentagon bribery doesn’t hurt, either.

Those around the important, bold and brave Black Lives Matter movement all seemingly unanimously embrace Colin Kaepernick for standing up (or kneeling down) for the worthy cause – including his own brilliant awareness-raising Know Your Rights initiative – but have different thoughts on the prospect of an NFL team finally hiring the excellent quarterback, from what I’ve gauged from the internet the last few months:

In the midst of his legal action against the NFL, some worry that Kap signing for a team would be part of a compromise where it would disprove the claims of being “blackballed,” and potentially contain him (if that’s possible), while subjecting him to further abuse if he continued protesting; others feel his message would be uncompromising yet amplified if he was part of an NFL team, and would be a vindication of his efforts, taking his standing and his protests to another level of prominence, perhaps even expanding the movement even more to the mainstream.

From the excellent “Superheroes In Full Color”

There are indeed pros and cons to both. But just as Muhammad Ali simply wanted to take part in high-profile boxing competition while in his own prime that was stolen from him because he stood up for what was right, Colin Kaepernick is still an American football player who keeps training, and simply wants to play. He deserves to play. Whether he’s a more effective activist as an official NFL player, or outside of the NFL, remains to be seen – but if he does get signed by a team, they will, on principle, enjoy my support, providing they set him loose to both play, and protest, with freedom. I’ll be buying the merchandise, just to prove a point of popularity.

As history has told us, sport means nothing without principles, but is at its best when it retains them, free from the vested interests of war profiteers and corrupt politicians. In fact, its enjoyment for all of us is heightened when its participants stand up for fairness on and off the playing field…otherwise, you’re just cheering for a jersey.


The England Women’s Team Represent White Privilege

Women’s association football in England is finally starting to recover from the FA’s fifty-year ban (banned because it wasn’t ladylike – whatever the heck that means) but with its catching-up to the men’s game come the growing influences of profit, patriarchy, commercialism, and corruption.

While the stateside tradition of “soccer moms” and girls in cleats led to the U.S. national women’s team reaching incredible heights, they’ve had to form a movement to reap the same benefits as their male counterparts, who were paid more despite being less of a draw.

In England, meanwhile, the massive crowds women’s football matches were pulling abruptly ended when the FA banned them from any sacred football league ground in 1921, a ban only lifted in 1971 after pressure from UEFA and England’s post-1966 feelgood football fever, meaning the women’s game, at the time under the WFA, had an even longer way to go here in England. While the first-ever men’s international match was between England and Scotland way back in 1872, the public wouldn’t see the female equivalent until exactly one hundred years after that, as Sheffield’s own Eric Worthington led the England women to take on and defeat their own Scottish counterparts. Tom Tranter then took over as manager until 1979, replaced by Martin Reagan, who guided the team through the entirety of the 1980’s. After that came Barrie Williams and John Bilton, until the team was officially sanctioned by the FA, who were able to co-opt the national women’s game, assigning managerial duties to Ted Copeland (yes, the same Ted Copeland who went to coach football in Saudi Arabia, that leading abuser of women’s rights).

But while Copeland’s star player Hope Powell would be chosen as his successor, the appointment of a black, female, and gay manager was likely to be less about progress within the traditionally conservative FA, and more about, well, apathy. The FA concentrated its energies so much to the men’s game that it changed managers of its national side every couple of years or so, but Hope remained in charge of the national women’s team for a staggering fifteen years – yes, with an impressive 52% win ratio, though still less successful than Glenn Hoddle, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello, and even Roy Hodgson, none of whom lasted more than five years, never mind fifteen!

But as the women’s game – and with it, naturally, the national team – became more popular, and more commercialised, attention and expectations grew. In 2013, the FA got their man, Mark Sampson, to carry out their football aims in true England style: conservative, defensive, negative – and sexist, condescendingly referring to Fran Kirby as “mini-Messi,” the tennis equivalent of which would be to call Serena Williams “mini-Murray.” Meanwhile, as the FA’s public relations campaign, Respect, was putting out videos emphasising etiquette and proper conduct from grassroots coaches, Sampson was throwing tantrums at referees, to the point where he ripped his shirt in a fit of fury during the 2017 Euros – and the football establishment, commentators, and Sampson himself were laughing it off. What a character! It’s all in good fun if you’re the national team’s manager, eh? Those grimy grassroots volunteer coaches must surely remember to do as they’re told by the Wembley Stadium elites, not do as they do. Forget that the same coaches forced to sit through Respect videos are just as, if not more, likely to spend their time watching national team managers like Sampson. This once again proved that the Respect campaign, for all its positive messages, could never be genuine or heartfelt – it was just a CSR technique from the same old hypermasculine, hypocritical FA. This isn’t my opinion; this is a fact based on their ease with Sampson’s behaviour while (albeit rightly) constantly condemning grassroots petulance.

As if these warning signs weren’t enough, Nigerian-born Eniola Aluko, a long-time star England footballer and lawyer, said she felt ‘undermined and belittled’ by England staff, claiming a chuckling Mark Sampson had expressed hope that her visiting family would not bring Ebola with them from Nigeria. After making the claims, she was promptly deselected from the squad, and paid £80,000 by the FA to ‘avoid disruption’ in the run-up to a Euros competition where England’s “Lionesses” were considered favourites, having been the dominant European team in the 2015 World Cup. Eni Aluko, with 102 caps for England, was forced to watch from the sidelines and television studios, unable to help her team as England’s negative football fell to the positive, pro-active, high-pressing and beautiful Barcajax game of the Netherlands, the eventual winners and by far the best team in the tournament. As the England women pursued the level of the men, so they also adopted their seemingly doomed, pessimistic approach.

Further allegations emerged, including a mixed race player from South London being accused of having a criminal past as part of another Mark Sampson training ground “joke.” And yet existing England players – some even represented at one time or another by legal eagle Eni Aluko – said very little. When they did speak publicly about the allegations, it was to portray themselves as the victims. Captain Steph Houghton complained that the allegations ‘hit the squad very hard.’ Meanwhile, Jodie Taylor stated ‘Mark Sampson has been great for my career,’ as though that was all that mattered let alone even relevant to the serious allegations, adding that the squad had been ‘brought together’ by the allegations against him. This was all after Eni had appeared on television interviews in tears, yet these women stressed how difficult it all was for them and their manager, as if Aluko’s revelations were a challenge to women’s empowerment rather than a crucial defence of it.

That right there is the definition of white privilege: they believe that, since their manager has been great for their individual careers, the claims are an inconvenience for them – a difficulty, even – and one that unites them around the man with the power to crown a woman a “mini-Messi.” Not once has any one of them, it seems, stood up with any integrity to lend support for their former teammate and ally (and a lawyer, no less) who has spoken out about the racism and bullying she has been subjected to.

Yes, every one of us – even those with Sampson’s attitude – are innocent until proven guilty. But the team’s rallying round him acted as though he already had been proven innocent, in the midst of very serious claims from one of their former teammates who had even helped them negotiate their own contracts with the FA. They were standing up for the system, for all the things they cited as important: their careers, their tournament, their lifestyles – a warning like no other that women’s football, in wishing to become as mainstream as the men’s game, needs to be careful what it wishes for.

As I write, allegations continue to emerge. There’s an old saying: ‘If you don’t think white privilege exists, congratulations, because you’re enjoying the benefits of it.’ I’m sure Mark Sampson, and possibly even the FA bigwigs themselves, genuinely believe they aren’t racist – individually or institutionally – simply because they are so out of touch it is unbelievable. White privilege is so inherent among them that they can’t even recognise what would be offensive and what wouldn’t.

Regardless of what happens, they’ll keep hiring people like Mark Sampson, or Glenn Hoddle (you know, the ex-England manager who claimed disabled people were being punished for sins in a past life), and they’ll keep them in place until the next scandal forces them into the public relations exercise of removing that person. They can’t help themselves, because even if someone’s offensive bigotry is listed on their resume, it seems they wouldn’t even see anything wrong with it until somebody like Eni Aluko pointed it out.


Is the News Really Faker Than Wrestling?

Donald Trump might be President of the United States, but he’s a really bad businessman. That’s a well known fact. He inherited a fortune of between $40 million and $200 million – and then blew most of that. Of course he got ahead with financial assistance from his father, but he also got by with a little help from his friends. While his Trump Plaza Hotel, Casino & Convention Center was another white elephant, things might have been much worse without event promoters like Don King taking a gamble of their own and hosting shows there.

Another promoter who took such a chance was Vincent K. McMahon, Jr, the professional wrestling guru who had successfully taken his own father’s north-eastern promotion and gone national, running roughshod over regional promoters who had for years held gentlemen’s agreements to host the “World Champion” against their respective area’s top stars, but never cross over or encroach on each other’s patch. This ruthless ambition, coupled with a desire to take pro wrestling from smoky bars and into arenas of smoke-and-mirrors, led McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation to become a global phenomenon, in 1987 culminating in “WrestleMania” at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan, where Hulk Hogan faced Andre the Giant, billed at 7’4″ tall, before what McMahon’s WWF announced to be a “world indoor attendance record” of 93,173.

Upon learning that it appeared Hulk Hogan, who left the show as “World Champion,” earned more money than every other wrestler on the event combined, Jesse Ventura attempted to set up a wrestlers’ union, an idea promptly extinguished by McMahon himself after none other than Hogan ratted them all out to protect his own position. Making it in Hollywood alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Predator and The Running Man, Jesse joined Arnie in the political arena, but not before first using his Screen Actors Guild membership to claim royalties from his WWF commentating duties.

Despite the success of WrestleMania to the point where it was able to fill stadia, McMahon agreed to stage not one but both of his follow-up WrestleMania shows – in 1988 and 1989 – at the Trump Plaza, which held less than 20,000 spectators. Donald Trump was so pleased by this that he sat in the front row, right at ringside, at each of the events. Trump and McMahon remained trusted allies as a result.

What’s more, breaking the age-old Magic Circle-style code known as “kayfabe,” Vince McMahon went against wrestling tradition and admitted to the State of New Jersey Senate that, of course, all matches were predetermined and that shows were not sporting contests but simply entertainment (a word that you’ll notice became more prominent in Vince’s publicity as the years progressed). These admissions removed the scrutiny and taxation faced by other athletic promoters, something Vince’s wife Linda had been battling with for years while running the business behind the scenes.

Yes, if you hadn’t guessed, pro wrestling was officially “fake.” And the grudge matches and publicity stunts weren’t the only fictitious part of the whole presentation: Andre the Giant’s height and even WrestleMania’s success itself had been embellished – it turned out that there were not, in fact, 93,173 in attendance at all, as explained by Dave Meltzer, who has for years largely been the only serious and widely-respected documentarian and critic of pro wrestling:


So from that front row seat where he’d sat through hours upon hours of heroics and histrionics, staged fights and scripted challenges, Donald Trump learned from pro wrestling how to perform, how to gain notoriety, and how to throw away any factual basis to his threats, promises, or claims while garnering attention – hence running The Apprentice and using Vince’s line ‘You’re fired!’ on mainstream media. To truly test this knowledge and showmanship, he joined McMahon in his own storylines in 2007 and Trump took to the stage of WrestleMania where the two wagered their own infamous hairstyles on their respective chosen charges, with wrestler-turned-Celebrity Deathmatch star Steve Austin playing the role of the Mills Lane-style special guest referee.

Vince McMahon lost, getting his head shaved. But he didn’t mind public humiliation as part of the show; after all, he had nothing else left to prove.

Fellow billionaire Ted Turner, owner of CNN, TNT and TBS, so begrudged Vince’s refusal to sell the WWF to him that he threw everything from his other successful ventures into the wrestling organisation he did acquire, WCW – even if it meant losing Pay-Per-View revenue by putting top main event marquee matches on Monday nights, up against the WWF’s flagship show. By the time AOL Time Warner bigwigs came in to take over Turner’s businesses, they realised WCW was leeching off the other initiatives, so sold it off from Turner’s empire – ironically, to none other than McMahon himself, meaning he’d bought Turner’s wrestling company, rather than the other way around.

Vince immediately portrayed the turn of events as the victory of an up-and-coming underdog against a mighty multinational conglomerate – mostly driven by his own jealousy of Turner – and given the somewhat petty, classless way Turner had gone about trying to crush the WWF, it was easy at the time to applaud McMahon for the upset. But there were other forces, too, that contributed to sympathy for Vince and Linda McMahon around this time.

WWF star Mick Foley, who hit the news for his death-defying stunts to a backdrop of fan-made signs reading “Foley is God,” wrote New York Times bestseller Foley Is Good: And The Real World is Faker Than Wrestling. In that book, he highlighted how the right-wing Parents Television Council clashed with the WWF for their increasingly mature programming content that included racy storylines and Foley’s own violent performances. The PTC was set up by L. Brent Bozell, III, son of infamous communist witch-hunt leader Joseph McCarthy’s ally L. Brent Bozell, Jr, and according to Foley’s book utilised similar scare tactics against the wrestling company, even blaming four playground deaths on WWF performances. Wrote Foley: ‘It was a strategy that has produced marvelous results in the storied history of smear campaigns. No one could possibly prove that they were not a witch during the Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. The Jewish people could not prove that they were not a cause of economic problems in Germany in the 1930s. Alleged Communists could not possibly prove that they were not communists during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. And Bozell probably believes that the World Wrestling Federation cannot possibly prove that wrestling did not play any part in those four deaths.’

The rags-to-riches WWF later humorously co-opted the campaign against them by creating an on-screen parody of the PTC called the RTC (Right to Censor), while company directors like Lowell P. Weicker, Jr – a liberal politician – continued to defend the WWF publicly in opposition to the ultra-conservative “religious right.” The McMahons eventually weathered the storm, just as they had in the 1990s when the feds targeted their company specifically for rampant steroid use, nearly putting the WWF out of business, just as Vince had been pursuing his labour of love, the World Bodybuilding Federation (or WBF).

The McMahons after their successful steroid trial defence.

But after Ted Turner’s WCW had been bought – and promptly crushed; shut down – by Vince McMahon, his rebellious streak began to arrive at its end. There was no more competition. He’d become more rich and powerful than he’d ever imagined, and the family business was suddenly becoming the monopolising ultra-corporate interest he’d criticised Turner for pursuing: stock traded as WWFE (World Wrestling Federation Entertainment), with its initial public offering in 1999, partly to raise finance for his latest pet project, the XFL, after the collapse of the WBF.

Vince was obsessed with being more than just a “carny” pro wrestling promoter; he banned from his shows words like “wrestling” to be replaced with terms such as “sports-entertainment”, “wrestlers” instead called “superstars” even if they were unknown, and screamed into commentators’ headsets to have them refrain from saying “belts” or “bouts” or “feuds.”

As an alternative to the NFL, the XFL, of course, was another failure, and admittedly the mainstream media were not without fault, with their instant ridicule of the product challenging the American football establishment, despite the fact the XFL actually inspired change in the NFL as well.

After the XFL was gone, along with directors like Lowell Weicker, Jr, the all-powerful, all-knowing yet unknown WWFE shareholders remained, and Vince’s campaign to “Get the F out” – changing the WWFE to simply WWE after the World Wildlife Fund had taken legal action on use of the acronym “WWF” – was one of his last attempts of edgy rebellion, by definition a surrender to long-established forces. Far from being diehard fans of his product, the shareholders were of course only interested in the bottom line, which meant no more experimental creativity, and no more risks. The product, to this day, has remained ultra-corporate, formulaic, and stale, full of hyper-scripted content and product placement.

It also meant no more scandals.

When mild-mannered Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit – secretly suffering from severe concussions and brain damage – shockingly killed himself and his family, while pro wrestling roving reporters like Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller were trying to draw attention to the industry’s need for better wrestler rights (something Jesse Ventura had wanted while fighting to form a union), the mainstream media instead threw investigative journalism completely out of the window and claimed steroid abuse and ‘roid rage had caused the killings, despite the fact they had occurred not, in fact, in a fit of rage but over the course of a weekend.

It didn’t matter. The feds returned, and the McMahons were back in front of them again having to explain themselves, only briefly touching on wrestlers’ rights enough to force Vince to introduce a WWE “Wellness Policy,” but stopping short of preventing them tying wrestlers into unfairly binding contracts while calling them “independent contractors” and making them pay for their own travel, injury bills and pension plans.

Vince (far right) famously rolls his eyes during Linda’s speech conceding to Chris Murphy in a race for the U.S. Senate.

Linda, meanwhile, had by this time unsuccessfully run for office more as a personal ambition, and as seemingly an annoyance to Vince. Until Vince realised he could get the government off his back for good if he had influence there.

When they found out their old oddball ally Donald Trump was now running for office himself, they pumped around $7 million into his campaign to help get him into the White House. Trump’s approach, ‘unparalleled in modern presidential history,’ was to guarantee influential positions for those willing to pay for it by putting him in power.

Almost all of these cabinet picks have massive conflicts of interest from the public’s perspective, but from their own perspective they now occupy the corridors of power for the express purpose of deregulating the business sectors in which they operate. Trump’s simply giving them dividends on their investment. When he campaigned suggesting he meant business, you’d better believe at least that much is true.

It might treat pro wrestlers shamefully, but WWE is safe and sound even though it may have no soul left. No longer innovative, ground-breaking, or risk-taking with liberals on its board taking on the McCarthyists, today it’s part of the establishment it used to rail against. In their pursuit of more money and power, they’ve been swallowed whole by a shareholder profit motive and their political allegiances, and they’re a bigger part of the problems they used to cite and complain about. Even Ted Turner opposes Donald Trump, who in turn attacks CNN. Now, Turner is the favourable anti-hero, and Vince the establishment stooge who didn’t make it on his own in the end but was bailed out and bought and controlled by investors and politicos.

Linda McMahon has been appointed Administrator of the Small Business Administration and the McMahons – and therefore WWE – have reach right into the White House. There resides a President who, true to pro wrestling live-action pulp fiction, claims his predecessors are “McCarthyists” while he himself was mentored by Joe McCarthy’s sidekick, Roy Cohn. But again, truth doesn’t matter, and if you argue with him, state your case, or even present cold hard facts, you’re labeled “fake news” – what the Nazis used to call lugenpresse to discredit evidence against them.

Trump, like the McMahons, know too well the dishonesty of the corporate mainstream media and its various agendas, but is now exploiting that in order to attack any and all evidence against himself. In many ways, the press brought it on itself, but the lies of this President are on such a scale that they threaten to provide a smokescreen over the truths we do get from mass media and journalists. It’s frightening to dismiss all of it as “fake news.”

No, the only truly “fake news” these days is that coming out of the Trump administration, you can be sure of that. In a regime targeting environmentalists, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, women and the LGBT community to name a few, they’re relying on the white nationalist Steve Bannon to handle the propaganda strategy while sending Sean Spicer to berate the press that are being kicked out if they don’t report on Trump favourably. When confronted with facts, they present “alternative facts” (also known as lies). In true Orwellian fashion, to Trump lies are truth and truth is lies – or “lugenpresse.”

Again, this is far more fake than pro wrestling, where chair shots to the head gave life-shattering concussions and supposed “superstars” pay for their own trips and healthcare costs and often end up making more money on the independent circuit. The dangers of pro wrestling are very real, but now the carny promoters are part of Trump’s administration, they don’t have to worry about that. They’ll just keep promoting Trump instead – a superstar more dangerous than Hulk Hogan, more scripted than John Cena. A superstar they helped to create to gain influence, in exchange for millions of dollars and the spirit of entrepreneurial rebellion.

They taught him how to create a show and tell a story, even if it wasn’t true or real. And now Mick Foley is finally right: the real world is faker than wrestling.


The Lie of the Broad Church

It seems like every major political party in Britain has its own identity.

The Conservatives take care of the elites. The Greens are modern-day hippies and idealists. The Liberal Democrats are whatever they feel like being at the time. And UKIP are bigots. Simple! Easy to remember off the top of your head.

But you’d be forgiven for assuming the Labour party are all about democratic socialism, I’m afraid. Because apparently, in recent history, they’re actually All Of The Above.

How is this possible, you ask? Welcome to The Broad Church™!

Yes, the term “broad church” has been utilised ever since the “New Labour” project came about, when the electoral machine that grabbed onto power three general elections in a row – hemorrhaging three million votes in the process, mind you – believed it could be all things to all people, be they small-C conservative types, aspirational folk, “looney lefties,” starry-eyed Blairites in awe of war criminals, or red dyed-in-the-wool Labour voters.

This meant Peter Mandelson was accepted with open arms. So was Alastair Campbell. And John McTernan. Even someone called Jamie Reed. All were welcome, whether they were right-wing ruthless capitalists, warmongers, pro-privatisation campaigners selling off schools and hospitals, big brother surveillance state advocates, or those who, in fact, wanted to change the party membership itself, like Luke Akehurst!

Like some of these ideas? Come on in, sunshine! Labour has suddenly become a “broad church,” don’t you know? Did you not get the memo about “unity”? You can be of any opinion and any political background you like, even if you aren’t a socialist after all!

Ah, as long as you aren’t actually a socialist. They forgot to mention that.

Groups like Progress and the Fabians are treasured and respected, while Frank Field fawned at JK Rowling and called the Momentum movement an ‘execution squad.’ While left wingers are purged, the right-wingers are invited to pull up a pew in the house where Blairism is the dying religion spreading superstition about the Labour party leader.

So, no, the “broad church” was a creation to allow money to pollute Labour like it did every other party before its formation.

That’s why they now suddenly want to even elect their own cabinet, to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, to stop him from effectively leading – even if this meant Labour kept losing to the Tories. They want anti-socialism, or nothing at all. And they’re seemingly untouchable.

The pomp and ceremony of the Commons, the Lords, once gifted land as far as the eye can see, and all of these elite systems, are all to be protected – to keep us as peasants. A cabinet elected by MPs – today instead gifted not land but safe seats in Labour “heartlands” used and abused for years – means they would wrest power away from party members; away from the working class mass majority. It’s always been done. It’s always been an oppression.

We marched against Blair’s war crimes paid for by our taxes. The government is the only product where if you don’t cough up your hard earned dough to buy it, they can come and put you in jail. They say voting is your defence, but only one of the three “houses” are elected, and even that’s done by first-past-the-post. This is all forced on us by elites.

Jeremy Corbyn is terrifying to these privileged Westminster elites. His policies are progressive, yes, but they’re hardly radical socialism in the grand scheme. The fact one of our guys became leader – and not one of theirs – is the real reason they’re rattled. It’s why they want to choose the leader’s cabinet, while having a nasty little man as Deputy Leader who is protected from another members’ vote.

We even get lectured by Ed Balls on the importance of reaching out beyond the membership to Tories – and he lost his seat to the Tories anyway and ended up making a fart of himself on TV to stay relevant so, clearly, not caring about the backing of his own members should have been more of a concern!

No, don’t ever let anyone talk to you about Labour’s “broad church” again. Don’t accept the term. Instead, see it as a major warning when someone throws that around in conversation. It’s code for “corporate-friendly” used by the hypocrites of the party, wanting to embrace elements of Tory capitalism but stopping just short of it, using the popular Labour brand to keep gaining some power. It’s why they talked a good talk during Corbyn’s leadership hassles but shat themselves at the thought of having to create another party – while others actually believed they could buy the Labour name as well!

But many, in a way, have bought it, haven’t they? They bought themselves a ticket to the promised land by wearing a red rosette in a nice safe seat somewhere, using the working class mass majority for personal gain, not for the collective interests of those people being forgotten. This is why Jeremy Corbyn is important. It’s why we can never let them demonise Momentum while there are anti-socialism types like Progress in the party, who might as well tear up their membership cards that, on them, declare a dedication to socialism.

The “broad church” is the war cry of the hijackers. Never accept it. Never fall for it. Always stand up for socialism. After all, it’s what Labour is supposed to be for.


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