Before I tuck into this piece, I want to get out of the way the fact that as a pro-wrestling/sports-entertainment show, I really didn’t enjoy WWE’s Crown Jewel very much. The set was amazing, the pyro was insane, and the spectacle that is World Wrestling Entertainment was in full form, but the show itself wasn’t great.
The booking was puzzling, the matches were so-so and the main event, featuring Undertaker and Kane taking on Triple H and Shawn Michaels in his first match since his retirement eight years ago, was a slow-paced and awkward affair. Taker is slow. Kane is slower. Shawn almost killed himself with a moonsault and Hunter was hurt in the first five minutes, so he wrestled the majority of the match with only one functioning arm.
The quality of the show was especially low when compared with the fantastic women’s Evolution event the week before. While one was a celebration of wrestling, the other was a reminder that the main roster WWE product has gotten quite stale of late.
But that’s not what I came here to say. I’m putting fingers to keys today because I believe that despite the controversy in doing so, the WWE did the right thing by going to Saudi Arabia and putting on a show.
Why the controversy in the first place? Well, Saudi Arabia is not the kind of country you can spend much time talking about before you get into some pretty nasty details about their culture, attitudes toward women and actions on the world stage. Most recently, the gruesome murder of a journalist has brought discussion of the Saudis to the forefront, even as they try to present themselves as a changing society, adopting Western attitudes and embracing Western culture… like the WWE.
I want to make sure I say that I agree with every single criticism of the Saudi government and of the culture that empowers it. I find the full-body covering of women to represent a dark, sexist attitude that has no place in modern society. I believe that any culture that treats anyone as a second class citizen because of their gender, race or sexual orientation represents a vestigial limb of humanity that needs to be evolved into extinction. I do not, in any way, shape or form, think that the men running that country are good people trying to do good in the world, and I agree that accepting money from them is on the darker end of a morally grey area.
But you know who I don’t blame for that? The people of Saudi Arabia and their kids.
They didn’t ask for the world they were born into any more than you and I did. The only difference between my kids and theirs is the dice roll of birth. Mine were born here, theirs were born there. And when I looked into the crowd while watching that show, past the front rows of men in elaborate garb sitting on couches, what I saw were really, really happy kids – boys and girls.
Now look, were there girls and women completely covered in the audience? Yes. Does it make me feel uncomfortable to see a woman wearing a full body black bag and a matching surgical mask? Absolutely. But at least they were at the show.
The little boys wearing Shield t-shirts, making X’s with the signature glowsticks tossed out by Hunter and Shawn, or the young woman holding up a sign for the Undertaker, and the thousands of people united by a “This is awesome” chant, didn’t decide to invade Yemen or murder anyone. They are just people going to a show, a Western entertainment show: the WWE.
The case can, of course, be made that of the many exports we could offer to an emerging cultural reformation, pro wrasslin’ is far from the first choice. But to that, I say: who else has the balls to go? Remember that every year, the WWE sends its performers to active combat zones to visit soldiers stationed overseas. Cynical PR move, act of patriotism, or something in the middle; the point is, they go. They travel to dangerous places to do what they claim is their mandate as a company: put smiles on faces.
Which, in this case, they certainly did.
The most striking moment of the show, for me, was not anything that happened in the ring. It was not the scale of the set or the explosive lights of the fireworks display. No, it was a lingering camera shot of a girl, probably not much older than my ten-year-old daughter, wearing clothes my daughter might wear, standing up and just vibing to AJ Styles’ theme song. She wasn’t a terrorist or an oppressor. She wasn’t dealing in shady arms treaties with the Trump White House and she had nothing whatsoever to do with 911. She was a kid at a wrestling show dancing along to a great beat. She was my kid.
Heck, she was me.
I’m not here claiming that WWE went to Saudi Arabia for all the right reasons. If it wasn’t for a big fat cheque with plenty of zeroes, there is no way that they would have waded into this thing. But they did, and I think they made the right choice.
We aren’t going to connect with the people of a place like Saudi Arabia by following the actions of their leaders. We can’t judge them by the awful rules they are forced to live by. What we can do, however, is make a connection between them and us. We can see that under the rulers are the people, people that are like us except for the ways that they are different, and behind those differences is our shared humanity. That, despite our differences and the chance of our geographical placement on the world, we can all enjoy going out to a show… in this case, a WWE wrestling show.
There is plenty to be said on this topic, and I know there are really valid reasons to disagree with what I have written here, and that is okay. But, smiling kids and people having a good time? Sorry, I’m not going to argue with that. I’m going to see my kid’s faces on the faces of the kids in that audience and imagine that, for a couple of hours, they got a taste of Western culture and that it will help fan the flames of a more open and tolerant world. I’m going to imagine that something as ridiculous as pro wrestling can help change the world for the better, even if it is just a tiny bit.
Am I hoping for too much? Probably. But why would I hope for any less?