Is Wrestling _______ ?: Goldeneye

This is a little feature we like to call “Is Wrestling _____?”, where we attempt to make a connection between professional wrestling and something from the world outside of Kayfabe. Today, we’ll look James Bond and the changing face of heroic nationalism.

While July 4th is obviously an American holiday, the underpinnings of it — nationalism bordering on jingoism, alcohol and explosions — have long been embodied best by, ironically, a British man: James Bond. And for anyone whose ever been to a wrestling show, especially in the WWE, you’re very aware of the importance those three things have in the world of sports entertainment.

For over sixty years in print and fifty on screen, he’s been one of the top box office performers in the entertainment world in a run to which even Hulk Hogan can’t hold a candle. Of course, the 007 franchise has gone through boom and bust periods, seen its legacy has been protected to make big bucks at times like the main event brand it is and used to turn a quick dollar in a way that damaged the franchise nearly as bad as David Arquette’s run as champion did in WCW. But, like the professional wrestling (and WWE specifically), the Bond series has persevered through the last half century because of its emphasis on striking a perfect balance between giving viewers the things they come to see — the girls, gin and guns — and infusing them with the progressive thrust of technology and escalating action set pieces. Even the Japanese tradition of masked wrestlers is represented in the Bond mythos: the character has been played by many performers, each of whom has brought their own flair and quirks, but each is understood to be the same person and stand for the same values.

America!As the world has changed both inside and out of their countries, those values have been called into question Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond movie. And although came out in November of 1995, its thematically similar to a different action epic that had played out in the spring of ’91: the main event of Wrestlemania VII. Hulk Hogan, the Real American (who fought for the rights of every man) was gearing up to face the wicked Sergeant Slaughter for the WWF Championship. Slaughter had suddenly reemerged as an enemy of America in spite of his previous outspoken patriotism. Somehow, a man who had once been an asset on “our side” had fallen in with the enemy to achieve his goals. Goldeneye’s principal protagonist, Alec Trevelyan, had also been a patriot during the Cold War, completing undercover missions for the Crown along with James Bond.

Goldeneye and Wrestlemania VII each explored how an action franchise built on jingoistic nationalism and foreign menace could continue to function in the post-Cold War world. Russian villains were easy to create due to the massive amount of government and media propaganda that was spread from the 50s up through the 80s. Whether they were from Poland or Canada or Minneapolis, it was easy enough to take a wrestler or actor who was otherwise without any hate-able characteristics and turn them into an effective villain in your story. The Bond movies relied on this creepy accent/shaved head formula just as much as professional wrestling, and both businesses had lost a valuable tool in the kit with the gradual, anti-climactic fall of Communism.

In both the movie and the wrestling angle, the heat is on the heel because of his betrayal of national identity in the name of personal gain. How could an American Vietnam veteran side with an Iraqi dictator? How could a British Cold War-era spy side with a Russian general? Goldeneye and Wrestlemania VII both tell us that our old allies can easily become new enemies, and that without the flag to rally around, it’s easier for smart, driven men to become self-interested. The message is that vigilant patriotism must continue in a world where it’s suddenly tougher to tell who’s on whose side. We still need Hulk Hogan, even when the Iron Sheik is long gone (a point which the WWF ironically insisted upon by making the Sheik part of the angle under a different name), and we still need James Bond, even when the Commie spies are long gone.