On the Folly of Trump’s Wrestling Gif

On Sunday July 2, 2017, in his Twitter war with CNN, the president of the United States dropped a gif meme like an awkwardly-aimed missile, in which footage of him pounding on Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 23 was altered so that McMahon’s head is the CNN logo. Behold:

It’s so bizarre to be writing about this. I shouldn’t be surprised after the recent trajectory of increasing surrealism in the Trump storyline—the orb, covfefe, Reality Winner, the attack on Shakespeare, this has been the stuff of Alice In Wonderland lately!—but Trump’s wrestling gif feels like I’m suffering from a creeping solipsism. I’m part of a school of thinkers who have been rambling into our bullhorns about the explosive implications of politics in wrestling and wrestling in politics for some time, but deep down I never really thought our ramblings were more than hypothetical, a game of watching metaphors and coming up with the most clever interpretations. But here we are in 2017, and my hypotheticals have manifested into the strangest of concept monsters with shoot global consequences. Wrestling and politics have officially fused now, in a vision of dystopian magical realism that seems tailored for me personally.

I don’t actually think Trump intended this as an incitement to literal violence (though it is certainly prudent for CNN to receive it as such). I tweet wrestling beatdown gifs to illustrate non-violent concepts all the time. I think it’s a poorly crafted attempt at shaping the political narrative, a metaphor to keep his loyalists engaged and enraged, a diss to assert that Trump is sticking it good to CNN with his press conference heel tactics. This may be a little confusing for those inexperienced with wrestling narratives, because it’s NOT A VERY CLEVER MEME. It’s a boilerplate cry for a cheap pop in the style of the Attitude Era. Wrestling fans know how to recognize a surface level storyline gag that fails to understand its underlying political significance, and we also know how to roll our eyes at the shitty booking and move on. But Vince McMahon as CNN proves to be such a trainwreck of concepts that CNN is rightfully questioning whether Trump is threatening them with violence, and perhaps even violating Twitter’s terms of service.

A sharp parody account that pretends to chronicle Vince McMahon’s increasingly geriatric and demented google search queries nails the problem with Trump’s CNN-as-McMahon gif:

In these two tweets, Vince McMahon Googles does a fine job of satirizing the logical mess of this gif. If Vince McMahon, Trump’s ally, is cast as CNN, Trump’s enemy, what does THAT mean? What role does Vince McMahon play in the code of this message? Everything has become so strange it seems reasonable that the old man might wonder: does this alter the course of Vince McMahon’s own meta-narrative, kayfabe or otherwise?

So the Trump-beating-up-CNN metaphor ultimately collapses in on itself with Vince McMahon, Trump’s loyal friend, cast as his biggest media adversary. It makes no sense in its bigger picture, thereby becoming a simpler message, one CNN is wise to receive as a potentially volatile Trumpist agitprop effort, considering a reporter was recently shoot bodyslammed by a politician, IRL and literally.

CNN’s Jim Acosta also tweeted this:

I’m sure Acosta’s Twitter mentions were swamped with wrestling’s outraged coming to its defense with gifs galore and all sorts of clever vitriol, but I like to think the CNN anchor wasn’t pulling a “You know it’s fake, right?” on us. I like to think this tweet represented a lightbulb moment, like Acosta’s train of thought was going something like this: Wait, you call us fake news. Wrestling is fake. You’re the real president using footage of a fake event you really took part in, a fake event that pretends to be real, in order to accuse us of being fake news? So what’s real here? Is anything real anymore? Will anything every mean anything again? 

Let’s get past our trigger that causes “wrestling is fake” to feel like a personal attack on our fandom. I choose to read Acosta’s tweet not so much a judgement on wrestling’s authenticity, but as the articulation of a sudden postmodern thought spiral that cuts straight to the problem of real vs. fake in the Trump era: What do we assume is authentic and true? What is actually authentic and true? Can something be true but inauthentic, or fake but authentic? Acosta’s lightbulb tweet was a moment in which he suddenly grasped kayfabe, he just didn’t know how else to express it besides using the dreaded “f” word.

I propose we reclaim the word “fake” and own it. Because you know what? Wrestling is fake, and its fakery is authentic. In the Fake News Era, wrestling is now a mirror illuminating the fact that politics is fake, the media is fake, America is fake, and our whole lives have been arguably fake. The only way to ever find authenticity in this whole mess, my fellow existentialists, is to quit turning a blind eye on all the rampant fakery and stare it coldly in the face.


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