|WWE co-opting this moment is gross, flat out|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WWE TLC was known for a lot of things, but one of the most iconic images, one that WWE's Twitter account is using as a header image right now, was the "Too Sweet" between former Bullet Club members and current WWE big shots Finn Bálor and AJ Styles. The gesture was spontaneous, as pointed out by Styles on Twitter yesterday, but the problem wasn't with the wrestlers making it. They're only labor, and even if they have more control and privilege over their actions, they're still just guys acting spontaneously, making a cool moment. The problem comes when it gets co-opted by the people trying to squelch anyone else trying to use it outside the company's confines. Of course, the Bullet Club is a rebel stable based off "stealing" intellectual property to use to promote itself, so fair is fair, right? Well, not exactly. It all has to do with the scale and size of the entities involved. Assuming that the Club has autonomy from the New Japan and Ring of Honor offices, the members are true independent contractors/actors. WWE is working with the backing of its own corporate empire, one that was only partially built by the McMahon family.
The intellectual property in question, the "Too Sweet" hand gesture, feels way too ambiguous to enforce any kind of copyright on, especially seeing that it's way too similar to the metal horns popularized by the late, great Ronnie James Dio or the University of Texas' hand sign for "Hook 'em, Horns!" Kevin Nash himself said that he modeled it after North Carolina State University's hand sign. Either way, the members of the Club outside WWE could have maneuvered with legal feasibility, but the problem comes when it's time for Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and anyone else who isn't part of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group or Bushiroad Corporation to lawyer up to argue it. Basically, WWE can afford to bunker in to protect everything it owns, whereas the non-corporate defendants here can't.
The most insidious thing is that Vince McMahon did not create "Too Sweet." Paul "Triple H" Levesque may have had a hand in propagating it, but it was when he was part of labor, not when he was in management or after having married into the McMahon family. It's either a hand gesture stolen from the public domain and co-opted for purposes in wrestling or it was an item either taken from labor or worse, bought from when ANOTHER company created it. Nash and Scott Hall popularized the hand signal while in World Championship Wrestling as members of the New World Order. McMahon and his company in that case wouldn't be protecting their hard work; they'd be enforcing profits made off their mere purchase.
The dirty secret of capitalism, and of feudalism, and of any economic -ism that relies on agglomeration of resources and benefits centrally and away from labor is that hard work doesn't get you ahead in most cases. For every person who wakes up at 4 AM and works 12 hour days to get ahead and make money, one sees a hundred cases of people working 50-plus hours a week just so they can feed themselves after spending money on rent, bills, and feeding dependent parties like children and elderly boarders. You know who gets rich? Mostly people who are already rich. The wealth just circulates in the same pool of wealth for the most part. Rich people inbreed worse than how George RR Martin, DB Weiss, and David Benioff portray Targaryen and Lannister relationships in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones.
Vince McMahon didn't build WWE through his ingenuity. He took over a company from his father. He had a few entrepreneurial ideas, but mainly worked via predatory tactics — undercutting regional promotions' handshake deals with contracts, buying time on local television against them, purchasing tape libraries under market value — to make WWE into the empire it is today. Levesque and the other main inheritor, daughter Stephanie McMahon, will have done even less work to build the empire since they're pretty much taking the keys from dear old dad. Once upon a time, the people running WWE could be considered to have built their own empire, however many shortcuts they, well, McMahon took. Now though? WWE is basically squatting on the work of everyone else and playing keepaway with its relatively infinite cash supplies and legal resources.
Of course, owning all this wrestling history via tape libraries and whatever isn't enough for McMahon and Levesque, because their entire MO concerning Bálor, Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows since coming aboard was leeching off their associations with the Bullet Club. WWE filed for a trademark for Bálor Club within a year of his debut on NXT television. Styles, Anderson, and Gallows were called the fucking Club for fuck's sake. Commentators have said the letters "IWGP" in succession more times in the last 22 months than they had since Antonio Inoki invented the term that they abbreviate. I don't need to tell you how hypocritical it is, because you either already know and are mad, or you already know and have your head shoved so far up Levesque's or McMahon's asses that you can taste what supplements they consumed that day before the gym.
But that's just the difference between the haves and have-nots in society at-large, a singular case study in why capitalism allows the concentrated wealth around a select few people, most of the time only through an accident of birth. Vince McMahon himself may have once upon a time been what geezers and blue-hairs called nouveau-riche, but his money has gotten old in a hurry, especially since that money has only multiplied through predatory capitalism and opportunities for purchase that were only opened up with immense wealth. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, almost an ourobouros if you will. The fact that his company feels the need to needle individual persons (note that the cease and desist orders were sent to individual wrestlers and not Bushiroad or Sinclair) for doing the exact same things it's doing to them shows how much privilege gets concentrated with money.
Fair is a foreign concept in capitalism. No one gets a fair shake. Those with money have the tables tipped in their favor. Those without it have to overcome real odds, not the fugazi "odds" that WWE scripts for John Cena, Roman Reigns, or other top heroes to overcome. It's why no matter how tryhard and annoying Rhodes or the Bucks are, they are always in some degree of the right, especially when facing off against the megalithic corporate Behemoth known as WWE.