Blogs > Cliopatria > Unprofessional Wrestling

Apr 7, 2005 3:08 pm

Unprofessional Wrestling

Ralph Luker usually keeps all of us up to date on campus speech controversies. So I am rather surprised that I apparently have the following scoop: This past Tuesday, the College Republicans at the University of Connecticut invited Jim Hellwig, better known as face-painted pro wrestler “The Ultimate Warrior” to speak at their school. But students in attendance were shocked, shocked when, instead of comporting himself like a proper professional wrestler, the Ultimate Warrior launched into an angry, incoherent tirade.

Students started heckling Hellwig when his remarks turned (allegedly) racist and homophobic. The Ultimate Warrior (who, I’m sure all our readers will recall, bested Ravishing Rick Rude in a steel cage match at Summer Slam ’89) only got angrier, and eventually campus security had to shut the event down.

The UConn College Republicans have apologized for the incident, but Warrior (my Chicago Manual tells me it is correct to drop “the Ultimate” after second reference) appears unrepentant. In a memo “from the desk of Warrior,” he dubs the UConn Republicans “spineless” for not tagging off to come to his defense, and calls his critics the “World Class Crew of Crybabies.” (Which is ironic, because I’m pretty sure the WC3 took on the Hart Foundation in Wrestlemania 4.) Civility waxes and wanes at Cliopatria, but I suppose we may count ourselves lucky that neither David Horowitz nor Michael Berube are (to my knowledge) masters of the Top Rope Frankensteiner or the Guerilla Press Bodyslam.

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David H. Noon - 4/18/2005

No, this appears to be his own beautiful creation. To paraphrase Rob (who was responding to a remark I made on his blog), that would be a really good bumper sticker.

Now, I know what patchouli oil smells like — and Warrior's right, it's rancid — but how exactly do we describe the smell of "burnt flag?"

Jason Nelson - 4/8/2005

Mr. Luker,
Im not sure one of your revisions of what I said is even close to the truth. I am not calling you a leftist, I am simply suggesting that some of the "many others that disagree with" me no doubt are left of center or "leftist".

I dont feel like going through the rest of your misleading restatement of my argument right now...I have to go to work and feed pizza hungry Americans. I was simply saying that professors do have an influence on the way students think, they have a captive audience in their classrooms. The same students you are educating are making these educated decisions about whom to invite. Not only do you want the floor in the classroom, but also now you want to purify the quality of discourse after class. Your are a conservative, the type with elitist tendencies. Have a great weekend, and nice try to pollute my argument by restating a straw man, which you totally obliterated.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/8/2005

Where do I even begin or should I? Well, let's see: 1)faculty members are both male and female; 2) you seem to want to hold faculty members accountable even if they are excluded from the decision-making process; 3) you seem conflicted about whether its more important to get "conservative" speakers on campus (and thus welcome the wrestler) or whether quality should be a factor (resolve that one in your own head for yourself); you interpret my call for quality control as serving a "Leftist" bias. I remind you that I am _a Southern, white, evangelical Protestant Republican_. People of my type don't often get confused with a "Leftist." But you do have your mind made up, don't you?

Jason Nelson - 4/8/2005

Mr. Luker,

Since academia is made up of predominately left of center thinkers, even not a few leftist, no doubt many who read my comment do disagree with me. I would have it no other way.

It is a short step from "insisting on quality" to controlling all content that is invited to speak at universities. I understand that the politically correct left is used to chilling free speech under the auspices of the greater good, but a spade is a spade. You are getting dangerously close of wringing out the remaining political liberty that students still have at universities by desiring to tell them who they can and cannot listen to, who is intelligent or who is not intelligent. Since one of the general jobs of professors at universities is to facilitate thought of their students, I have to ask an obvious question. How bad are professors failing at this task if their students do not have the sense to be able to tell the difference between who is an intelligent or worthless speaker? Isn't this problem of the inability of students to choice "wisely" or "thoughtfully" really laid at the feet of the men entrusted to impart such "wisdom" and "thought"?

It seems to me some would like it both ways.

Carl Patrick Burkart - 4/8/2005

I think that Dr. Chamberlain is right about the lack of alternatives. However, if I were a student whose student fees went to pay the Ultimate Warrior to come speak, I would be angry that I was subsidizing the kind of circus that people can watch on TV any day without University sanction or financial support.

Dani Schwartz - 4/8/2005

I loved Warrior's line in his response to the UCONN apology that most of his critics were dirty hippies who smelled of "patchouli oil and burnt flag." That is one of the funniest phrases I've read in a while. Has anyone heard this phrase before as a way to impugn patriotism? Or was it the creation of Warrior?

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/8/2005

I see the problem but I don't see a regulatory proposal that does no harm than good.

For example, one could limit the groups that could make invitations to those that are not political and are focused on areas of study.

But what would we get: speakers invited by students in clubs related to busineess administration, political science, , anthropology, sociology, ethnic studies, queer studies, , women's history, medieval history, white studies (why not?).

That won't be political, will it?

So ok, we kick the students out. Then we can have faculty from the same discplines. Ah but some people on this blog have said they don't consider ethnic studies a discipline. Should they be barred, then, because they are political and business administration is not.

That won't be political, will it?

Folks, as far as the authority to invite speakers is concerned, the horse is out of the barn and the barn has burned down.

Oddly enough, there is still an option. It would be more faculty who are concerned about this actually involving themselves with these groups, as advisors, contributors, participants. What percentage of those who are unhappy with the speakers do so?

Carl Patrick Burkart - 4/8/2005

I don't think it is a free speech issue either. Refusing to hand someone a microphone is not silencing them. However, there is a real and difficult issue--how to regulate the speakers invited to campus in keeping with the core mission of the University without unduly restricting viewpoints.

Jason Kuznicki - 4/8/2005

To my mind this has nothing to do with free speech. It has everything to do with a coarsening political climate and a very bad choice of speaker. And I trust that the freedom of speech allows me to opine on this choice.

Bryant Durrell - 4/8/2005

The Ultimate Warrior is an entertainer who has gotten into the business of expressing political opinions. I don't take him seriously, but I don't take him seriously because he's a loon. Doesn't have anything to do with his profession.

Yeah, pro wrestlers are in the business of portraying over the top characters, mostly. Still, when you get right down to it, they have about as much right to express political opinions (and speak on campus) as do actors.

Carl Patrick Burkart - 4/8/2005

This is a really interesting issue. Clearly Universities have an interest in creating an intellectual environment that doesn't devolve into the equivalent of professional wrestling. The problem is how to do this without limiting ideas and opinions. If student activity funds or other University funds were used to bring the Ultimate Warrior or even Ann Coultor (sic) to campus, that seems to me to be a misuse of funds. However, having the University intervene directly seems liable to result in even greater disruption due to the protests, the involvement of FIRE, national news coverage. Perhaps a faculty advisor should have to sign off on all invitations. A professor might be less willing to associate her reputation with professional wrestlers and their pundit counterparts. If a group couldn't find a faculty sponsor, they could still bring in a speaker, but would have to raise their own money by charging admission or getting donations. Any other ideas.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2005

Very interesting, Rob. But is it healthy? I suppose my concern is that students may come to believe that this is what education is really about -- learning the poses and holds and slogans -- so they can become warriors in a process that it is no longer distinguishable _from_ World Wide Wrestling or kabuki. I suppose that there's still enough of the old _in loco parentis_ mentality in me that when a student group pays a wrestler to campus to expound on his political insights -- or even invites a Horowitz or a Moore or a Churchill -- my reaction is to think about wasted money and to think that somewhere there needs to be someone who insists that guest speakers in an academic community ought to offer something deeper than mere showmanship and if that's all they have to offer, then the event ought to be promoted on those terms. If it's to be kabuki or wrestling, students ought to be told that so that they don't confuse it with what the life of the mind is about.

Rob MacDougall - 4/7/2005

[oops, I cut off the second half of my comment...]

Now that I think about it, I’m often reminded of wrestling when campus politics, or the blogosphere for that matter, really heat up. Not only because the debates are angry and loud, but also because they are staged. Or at least they feel staged to me.

This may just be the detachment of the expat talking, or the fault may lie somewhere in my wiring—I’d accept that. But I sometimes have trouble believing that our hard-line pundits really believe all the things they are saying. The more polarized political discourse in this country becomes, the more it evokes a kind of ritual posturing. Like kabuki theater or the WWE Smackdown. The gladiators on each side strike their poses, spout their signature catch phrases, and flex their biceps. The crowd works itself into an appropriate frenzy. And if a fan gets caught up in the moment and hurls a pie, who’s to say that it’s not all part of the show?

Rob MacDougall - 4/7/2005

Thanks for the comments, all! I guess I agree with Oscar here in that I think students should be free to invite anybody they please to speak. But I’m also with Jason K. in doubting the sincerity of anyone who invites the Ultimate Warrior to campus for “thought-provoking discussion.” (I have an image in my mind of mortified student organizers clucking their tongues, saying “I never expected this sort of behavior from a pro wrestler!” and “if we’d wanted this kind of controversy, we’d have invited Larry Summers!”)

Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2005

Hear! Hear!

Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2005

Jason, What I don't want is for ideologues of either left or right to anything like exclusive control the decision-making. That would mean, I suppose, that I wouldn't want you to be the arbiter. But there should also be some insistence on quality. One of the reasons that our public discourse has become so coarse is that people come to believe a David Horowitz or a Michael Moore are _worth_ hearing. I've heard them both; they're not. There are thoughtful conservatives -- a David Brooks or an Andrew Sullivan -- who are worth hearing. And, by the way, your constant attacks on me get a little old. Go attack someone else. There are lots of people who disagree with you.

Jason Kuznicki - 4/7/2005

I have very mixed feelings about the recent spate of hecklings. Heckling and pie-throwing are never appropriate. But I can't help but think that the speakers are in a sense part of the problem too. Political discourse has coarsened tremendously these last few years, and it seems that the people on BOTH ends of the recent pies are to blame for this coarsening.

Do I think that campus groups should be making decisions about who is of sufficient "quality" to invite to speak? Absolutely. No question at all.

They should choose people that they know will be thoughtful and civil in their comments (and of course, they should choose people who agree with or in some way speak to their ideology). But anything worth saying can be said calmly and politely, even if it is a direct call to revolution.

By contrast, we have this obvious hypocrisy from the College Republicans:

We brought Warrior to campus because we wanted to host a thought-provoking discussion from an individual who, given his celebrity status, would appeal to a broad range of students.
Bullshit. If you want a thought-provoking discussion, you invite George Will. If you want a loud, obnoxious tirade, then you invite a professional wrestler. The only thing I can't figure out is why the result was such a surprise.

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/7/2005

No one asked me, but I'm pretty willing to let students have a free hand. Most of the time, the results are pretty good and stuff like the wrestler is rare. Besides, in a country that has elected Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarnzegger to high office can we really say that the invitation was all that weird?

Jason Nelson - 4/7/2005

Mr. Luker,

Who do you believe ought to be making the decisions regarding who is of sufficient "quality" to be invited to speak at a university? The same people who decide who is of sufficient "quality" to teach at one? Or perhaps you would be more comfortable if all speakers were cleared by you?

Seriously, I wouldn't have gone to see "Warrior". Perhaps you are correct that the quality is declining. My response is: so what? This is the price of liberty. I see no reason complaining about something that can only be corrected by the coercion of others and the imposition of one person or group of people's values upon all the rest. Do you have a suggestion to cure the disease or are you simply complaining in a way that clearly communicates that you feel you are superior to so many others?

I know that the primary reason you posted the comment was so you could take a backdoor snipe at your buddy Horowitz. Have you really thought through the implications of this position? You asked the question, Who makes the decision? So I will ask, without holding my breath for your answer, Who do you believe SHOULD be making these decisions?

Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2005

Rob, You may have seen that Horowitz is the latest pie victim. Somehow, I think that a part of the problem is the quality of speakers who are getting invited to appear on campuses these days. Who makes those decisions? Why would anyone think that a professional wrestler has something to say that students need to hear?