Like any other media, professional wrestling has its tropes. But there are some tropes that need to leave their boots in the ring.
Since the dawn of wrestling time, tropes have existed. Tropes are a storytelling convention that can be easily recognized. When done well, tropes can still be good conventions to utilize. Professional wrestling on the larger stage has been slow to evolve beyond certain tropes, because in the eyes of many of the old guard still in charge, they worked back in their day, there’s no reason these tropes shouldn’t still work, right?
Wrong. For any medium to continue to exist and enjoy success, evolution is necessary. We’re not talking about the four-man group led by Triple H. I want professional wrestling to be better, because I know it can be, it just requires the effort to grow beyond the same old creative techniques that have been relied on for the last few generations.
Please note, that just because someone is listed as being part of a character trope, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were bad in that role.
The Evil Foreigner/The Evil Savage
You know this trope from:
- Hans Schmidt
- Nikolai Volkoff
- The Iron Sheik
- The Mounty
- The Quebecers/Amazing French-Canadians
- (Jacques Rougeau, Pierre [Carl Ouellet])
- The Blue Bloods
- (Lord Steven Regal, Earl Robert Eaton, Squire David Taylor w/Jeeves)
- The Headshrinkers
- The Wild Samoans
- The New Hart Foundation
- (Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, Brian Pillman)
- The Sultan
- The British Bulldog
- Team Canada (WCW)
- (Mike Awesome, Carl Oulette, Jim Duggan, Jacques Rougeau, Major Gunns, Elix Skipper, Bret Hart, Lance Storm)
- The Un-Americans
- (Test, Christian, Lance Storm)
- Team Canada (TNA)
- (Scott D’Amore, A-1, Johnny Devine, Tyson Dux, Jack Evans, Teddy Hart, Bobby Roode, Ruffy Silverstein, Petey Williams, Eric Young)
- William Regal
- Kensuke Sasaki
- La Résistance
- (Sylvan Grenier, René Duprée, Rob Conway)
- The Great Khali
- The Mexicools (Juventud Guerrera, Psichosis, Super Crazy)
- Lord Tensai
- The League of Nations
- (Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Rusev, King Barrett)
- Shinsuke Nakamura
- Jinder Mahal
The “Evil Foreigner” and/or “Evil Savage” plays on the worst xenophobic attitudes that too many people already have, while at the same type playing up just awful stereotypes. Taking pride in your country is fine, but we should move beyond booking and writing that relies on garnering heat just for coming from a different country.
Let’s call these tropes what they are. These tropes are racist.
“Got a couple guys who aren’t American? Can’t think of literally ANYTHING better to do with them? Just have them badmouth the US, or put some paint on him and have them speak gibberish.”
This archetype hit it’s peak in the 1970s and 1980s and should have never made it to the 1990s, let alone the modern age. Media doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
When people – young & old alike – see the evil foreigners and/or savages running the gamut of whatever stereotypes the creative team can come up with and then fall at the hands of the white American babyface, it reinforces and normalizes whatever prejudices they already have and gives them license to put that prejudice on full display in public. It’s jingoism through professional wrestling.
“Yes. You were right to hate [Evil Foreigner/Savage].” Every person who falls into this trope is booked as not just different, they attack The American Way(TM) and talk about how proud they are of their own culture.
You should be able to be proud of your culture and heritage without having that used against you as a professional wrestler, without having a flag-waving boy scout burying you. I wish creative teams, bookers, etc. could see that.
As an example, I’ve been to an independent professional wrestling show where they have a slightly tan white guy with a black and grey beard being booked as a terrorist from the Middle East. I’ve seen and heard the fans at this show say some of the most disgustingly racist things in their efforts to boo the heel.
It goes beyond poor representation, and so many talented athletes have had to fight too hard to avoid being typecast as this character. A great example is Mustafa Ali. Once billed on the independent scene as “Prince Mustafa Ali” – the former policeman, Chicago native, and practicing Muslim was billed from Saudi Arabia as typical evil foreigner heel. What kind of world are we continuing to build where we can’t do better for people creatively, where we can’t evolve beyond this trope?
Now? Thankfully, the WWE didn’t take some big steps backwards (like say for example casting an Italian-American as a Muslim, Arab-American terrorist), and Ali was lighting up the ring on WWE SmackDown at the end of 2019.
Representation matters, and we should want better from our professional wrestling. When we have gimmicks like this still on TV, it makes it look like professional wrestling can’t grow. I’m glad to see some progress on this on the bigger stages, but there’s still work that needs to be done.