The Forgotten Minority
October 14, 2003 by Mark Rose
For years the wrestling business has used minorities. Sometimes they have been exploited. They're usually given terrible stereotypical gimmicks. When used right they have become huge draws for the business and really helped the WWE gain strong ratings within a minority group whether it be Italians, Hispanics/Latin Americans, African Americans, or even women. I was sitting back thinking about the positives and negatives of pro wrestling's protrayal of minority characters with the WWF/WWE in mind since they have been the biggest game in town for quite some time.
Bruno Sammartino won the WWWF title in 1963 and held the title for 8 straight years and helped the precursor for Vince McMahon Jr's WWF draw HUGE numbers on the east coast not only with a strong Italian-American audience but Bruno was popular with everyone at that time. Latinos have also strong representation over the years with some positive role model characters like Pedro Morales, Tito Santana, and most recently Eddie Guerrero. Native Americans have had wrestlers like Chief Jay Strongbow and Wahoo McDaniel to look up to. Women have had stars like The Fabulous Moolah (yes i know Moolah was mainly a heel but she's a legend in everyone's eyes), Wendi Richter, Chyna more recently wrestlers like Trish Stratus as positive representation. African American wrestlers weren't pushed well in the beginning but have always been great crowd favorites like Bobo Brazil, Junkyard Dog, Rocky Johnson, Tony Atlas, the first black world champion Ron Simmons, and more recently with Booker T. The wrestler who has perhaps transcended the business in terms of popularity more than any other before him, The Rock, is half black and half samoan. I know there is several other minorities I haven't mentioned and I know that there have been wrestlers of these minorities that have not been portrayed in a positive light. There was only one minority I could think of that has NEVER had proper representation. Only one minority that has never had a hero. Only one minority that is given the absolute worst treatment in pro wrestling in terms of how terribly embarrassing they make the characters giving them the worst stereotypes. To the best of my knowledge they have never had a face representing them. I'm talking about a non-visible minority, homosexuals.
I personally trace wrestling's first gay characterization back to Gorgeous George in the 50's. Yes I know George never ever said he was gay but if you don't agree open your eyes. Pretty robes, bobby pins in his hair, a prissy attitude, a butler with him spraying perfume in the ring. Exotic Adrian Street took this to a new level with a more drag queen approach to a gay character and was actually more bisexual with the addition of Miss Linda. Adrian Adonis was perhaps wrestling's first "openly" gay character when he "came out" in the mid eighties to become the pink wearing "Adorable" Adrian Adonis. WWF debuted Goldust as a gay character in the mid 90's and gimmicked him similar to Adrian Street with a valet Marlena. Billy and Chuck, wrestlings first gay couple, were pushed as tag team champions with their ambigously gay gimmick. The most recent example of a gay character is another Adrian Street knockoff in the form of Rico with his valet Miss Jackie. Pat Patterson a former WWWF star and currently a huge part of WWE's creative team as a Road Agent is the only openly gay person I am personally aware of in the wrestling business. I won't even start with lesbian angles since pretty much all of the time they have been used solely for sex appeal for heterosexual men.
All of these gimmicks have a few things in common. They exhibit gay stereotypes like wearing flamboyant or pink clothing, being very perverted and strange, and acting very effeminate and prissy. Part of but not all of the draw of these characters is the heel heat they get from straight and homophobic fans wanting to see a homosexual get beat up by a straight guy. Yes I know those characters have often had angles where they would say or do things that drew heel heat that had nothing to do with being homosexual but the point is the homophobia of wrestling fans is part of that draw. They have done the same sort of thing with other minorities exploiting white america's fear of their stereotypes but never have gays had a truly positive representative to be proud of. Has there ever been a gay character working as a face? Not that I personally recall. Goldust is perhaps the closest thing but when he's working as a face the focus is shifted off of the gay or even bisexual nature of his character. Billy and Chuck were successful but the gay community really considered the WWE's failed gay wedding angle with the two as a major slap in the face. Would a strong gay character who didn't fit the stereotypes work as a gimmick in the WWE? I'm hardly an expert I really don't know if a) the fans would actually cheer for a gay character or b) would they ever even try.
Would it work as a draw? Will and Grace is the most popular show on TV with mainly gay characters in the lead roles. This week Will and Grace drew a rating of 11.3 and was viewed in over 12 million households. In case you're curious WWE's main programming RAW and Smackdown last week did a 3.4 and a 3.6 for a combined 7.0. That's right Will and Grace drew more viewers than RAW and Smackdown combined. Since I doubt that the entire audience for Will and Grace was entirely made up of 12 million gay people obviously there is a large audience of straight people who have no problem with positive gay characters on TV. Maybe they aren't the same folks who watch WWE or even the same target demographic but hell maybe it's something to try to build on. Will and Grace isn't even the only show with positive gay characters doing well. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is a cult hit, HBO's Six Feet Under is a tremendous critical and commercial success and one of the main characters is gay, one of my personal favorite shows of all time HBO's OZ had a lot of gay characters and not just forced gay prison sex. Two of the main characters involved in the main story arc of the series were gay. In my own personal opinion I think the idea of a strong gay character would not only help the WWE with some positive attention, it will also draw in some new viewers. I also think another positive that would come out of it is that some not so open minded people may become more tolerant of homosexuals. I'm not saying all wrestling fans are homophobic jerks, but if some are changed by something like this it's an added bonus.
by Mark Rose <--- The ambiguously gay columnist..
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