“It Doesn’t Matter”: WWE and Saudi Arabia
I have been a life-long fan of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). And yes, I am acutely aware of the ridiculous nature of this simulated sport. Professional wrestling is predicated upon the idea that you suspend your disbelief: you know what you are seeing is predetermined. Yet, you pretend that it isn’t. As an inveterate viewer, it has sometimes felt like I was also suspending my better judgment, moral sensibilities, and general intelligence. Nevertheless, I love it and have never been embarrassed to say so. With that being said, I have never regarded the WWE as a paragon of virtue, throughout the years I have been privy to some of the most distasteful and puerile acts ever committed to television: a wrestler simulating sex with a corpse – his opponent’s dead girlfriend; a wrestler who moonlights as a porn star having his prized member removed by the Yakuza, and an elderly woman giving birth to a severed hand (yes, you read that correctly!). What I did not expect, however, was the WWE becoming the propaganda wing for a murderous theocracy that flouts human rights and suppresses individual freedom.
In April of this year, the WWE signed a ten-year deal with Saudi Arabia – reportedly worth $450 million. They were to take part in the modernisation project “Vision 2030” spearheaded by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Viewing their debut show, ‘The Greatest Royal Rumble Ever’, it was abundantly clear this was not professional wrestling in any normal sense: it was a cynical exercise in propaganda. During the four-hour long broadcast, viewers were treated to a series of videos that featured wrestlers extolling the virtues of the young reformer affectionately known as MBS. Smiling Saudi women were shown driving – a recent freedom bestowed upon them by the benevolent prince. This contrived imagery was juxtaposed by the complete lack of female WWE athletes, who were not permitted to take part in the event; and the Saudi women – who in accordance with the kingdom’s patriarchal and infantilising law – were only able to attend if chaperoned by a male family member. The WWE themselves are currently promoting a “women’s revolution”, which is their attempt to, rather belatedly, portray their female stars as equal to the men. The aim of this initiative was to exercise the demons of their own misogynistic past: up until a decade ago, the women were primarily showcased in “bra and panties” matches. This show revealed a sickening level of hypocrisy.
The critical response to the WWE/Saudi relationship was initially muted, but that was about to change. Weeks before the company were scheduled to hold a second event in the kingdom, lurid details of the murder of dissident Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi came to light, with the crown prince himself implicated. Their relationship now drew significant attention. One would imagine that the show would be quietly cancelled. Apparently not. The WWE’s official statement simply noted that they would “monitor the situation”. A number of state senators from both the Democratic and Republican parties attempted to intervene, remonstrating with the company to, at the very least, postpone their plans. This fell on deaf ears. Their intransigence on the issue is unsurprising given the fact that Linda McMahon – the wife of the WWE’s CEO Vince McMahon – is the Administrator for the Small Business Administration in President Trump’s cabinet. It appears the only way the company would cancel the show would be in response to direct orders from the President himself. This seems highly unlikely, by credulously accepting the Saudi explanation of events, Trump has displayed a clear desire to absolve the crown prince of this heinous crime.
Whether this show goes ahead or not, it will be impossible to suspend my disbelief any longer. The WWE has acted as useful idiots for a murderous and repressive regime by accepting their blood money. For a company that has frequently traded in loose morals, this is a new low. I feel embarrassed to be a fan.