We can’t hinder our Jinders any longer, folks.
So, we’re in the midst of the “New Era” of WWE: we’ve got a bunch of incredibly exciting fresh talents, some of the best wrestlers in the world actually being treated as such, and getting huge opportunities, and we’re seeing some unprecedented chances being taken with guys and gals that would have, in times past, never had been taken; so why the hell is the product so boring right now?
Obviously, that’s kind of a subjective statement, but it’s a sentiment that seems to be reverberating throughout the WWE fan base right now. Well, the problem’s pretty simples in my eyes, at least to a point. Basically, while the talent’s new, the booking’s…well, its old, painfully old, in fact. How old is it? Well, let’s take Jinder Mahal for example, shall we? Jinder recently pulled off one of the most insane upset wins of recent memory, unseating Randy Orton to become WWE’s first ever WWE Champion of Indian descent. A move like this feels like it should be re-invigorating the product, getting people excited and buzzing about what will happen next…except its not because, for some reason, WWE’s decided to just make Jinder Mahal the latest in the long line of incredibly shitty “evil foreigner” heels. And just saying that alone, I bet you could probably script Jinder’s promos line for line.
And really, that’s the problem: new guys, old ideas. The whole “evil foreigner” shtick, to be clear, has never really been good, to say nothing of how blatantly racist and xenophobic these gimmicks invariably are. But there are far more reasons while the “evil foreigner” should be gone in the “New Era” of WWE besides, y’know, the whole “blatant racism” thing, and a move like that alone could do wonders for not just Jinder Mahal, but every other wrestler who would ever be likely to get saddled with this profoundly shitty gimmick.
So, submitted for your approval, a few compelling reasons to ditch “evil foreigners” for good.
REASON #1- “EVIL FOREIGNERS” ARE REALLY, REALLY, BORING
Okay, this point seems like it should without saying, but part of the reason “evil foreigners” need the boot is that it’s a really flat and profoundly dull character archetype. In a time where fans are as picky and demanding as ever, it’s really amazing something like the bland “evil foreigner” archetype still flies.
To whit, let’s actually take a look at Jinder Mahal’s character for a moment. So, what do we actually know of Jinder Mahal? What’s he about, what actually drives this disgustingly jacked Indian man to do what he do? Well so far, we know he thinks people only boo him because he’s Indian. We also know that Jinder reckons America sucks pretty hard (not an unpopular sentiment right now, unfortunately). And…that’s it, pretty much. Compare this to his opponent Randy Orton, what do we know about him? Well, from his more recent Smackdown promos alone, we were reminded of his family’s history in wrestling, and thus his deep connection to wrestling. Randy also spoke fondly of his grandfather, and his admiration for him and how disappointed he’d be by Randy’s failure. Randy is ashamed and frustrated of dropping the ball against Jinder even moreso as a result of feeling like he’s let his lineage and family down, and thus is more motivated than ever to win his title back. In one promo, we’ve got a clear sense of Orton’s history and motivation, and what’s driving him.
Jinder responds to this by…saying America sucks. Cool, Jinder, cool. Where’s Jinder’s motivation? Where’s his history? We have no sense of Jinder as any kind of actual person beyond this cartoonish layer of blatantly xenophobic anti-American sentiment. It basically hamstrings everything Jinder will do going for because he has nothing else to work with. And I say this knowing full well Jinder himself is trying hard to make this whole thing sound way less dumb than it is, but he can only do so much. I’m not saying Jinder needs to be portrayed as sympathetic necessarily, but he should at least be understandable on some level. It’s basically impossible to invest in a character when you can’t understand them on any fundamental level that is in some way connected to reality.
But such is the plight of anyone with this kind of gimmick: it has no room for depth and complexity because it is, by its very nature, predicated on being as surface-level as possible to draw that visceral knee-jerk hyper patriotic sentiment. And if Jinder’s rhetoric about people assuming the worst of him because he’s Indian sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s the exact same thing Muhammad Hassan did.
Remember old mate Muhammad Hassan? Allow me to remind you: around 2005, WWE deubts a character called Muhammad Hassan, an Arab-American man frustrated by the way that post-911 America demonises and vilifies him simply looking the way he does. See now, that is a promising character premise, right? There’s an opportunity for something nuanced and interesting there…but of course then Hassan wouldn’t be an “evil foreigner”, would he? So, eventually that nuance was stripped away- Hassan went from a heel with a justifiable gripe to literally a terrorist. Like, for real, I’m not joking, he actually had a bunch of black-clad men carry out a terror attack on the Undertaker on an episode of Smackdown. This really happened. It was so bad WWE actually had to pull the character from TV entirely in the wake of it or risk Smackdown getting cancelled.
But such is the inevitable life and death of “evil foreigner” characters- and we know every single step, and it has become truly painful to watch play out. Its just a waiting game for whichever “true patriot” it’ll be who comes along and defeats them for ‘Murica, and I’m sorry to do this, but do we really want this kind of hyper-simplistic crap in current year? Seriously WWE, its current year and we’re still doing this “all non-Americans are bad and stinky” thing…geez.
REASON #2- WRESTLERS SADDLED WITH “EVIL FOREIGNER” GIMMICKS NEVER REALLY BENEFIT FROM THEM
So in my first point, I noted how the “evil foreigner” gimmick tends to ultimately always lead down the same singular narrative path- one that concludes with the aforementioned “evil foreigner” getting trounced by the designated Mr (or Mrs) USA, such as it is. As a result, it pretty much guarantees that any momentum a wrestler might actually get going with this gimmick is almost exclusively short-term, since the story demands that they inevitably have to lose and lose often very decisively. Now, the tale of Muhammad Hassan above is a pretty good example of this particular dynamic in action, but let’s look at a more recent example, shall we?
Throughout 2014, Rusev proved to be something of a surprise hit. Backed up by the Ravishing Russian Lana, Rusev became one of the more compelling acts at the time, helped along by his strong in-ring work and surprisingly above-average charisma and mic work that carried Rusev out of the territory that so many monster heels flounder in. He was also, during this time, working his now rather infamous “Evil Ruskie” gimmick (which would have been rather…interesting if it were ran now). Despite how ridiculous the whole thing was in practice (doubly so when one considers Rusev is fucking Bulgarian, but whatever), it did a lot for Rusev. For close to a year, Rusev was not only a massive heat-magnet, but also he was also winning match after match in fairly decisive fashion and started looking pretty fantastic. He picked up the United States Championship in this time, and actually did a lot to elevate the belt.
But, as I said, where the “evil foreigner” reigns, there is always a brave patriot to cut them down in decisive fashion. In this case, it was John Cena.
And so it was, after Rusev’s year of dominance, John Cena, at Wrestlemania 32 no less, felled Rusev in a move that pretty much everyone saw coming. But it wasn’t just enough for Cena to beat Rusev at ‘Mania; the next three months were just Rusev being handed one defeat after the next- his image as a legit monster shattered along the way. And while Cena would go to make the US Championship the most entertaining thing on Raw for that entire year to follow, Rusev’s momentum was sapped into oblivion when he was shunted into what would turn out to be the worst thing on Raw that year, a dreadful love rectangle between himself, Lana, Dolph Ziggler, and Summer Rae. Since then, Rusev has never truly recovered from that particular trouncing- he’s had some ups and downs, but never anything like what he had in that first year.
Now, in pointing this out, it might sound like I’m suggesting that Rusev should have beaten Cena, which I’m really not, since it would have made no sense for the story being told. If Rusev beat Cena, it would have made as much sense as if Ivan Drago just beat and murdered Rocky in Rocky 4 at the end instead of Rocky winning. But therein lies the issue with this kind of storyline- win or lose, most storylines can do wonders for all involved, but the one-sided and jingoistic nature of the angles built around “evil foreigners” necessitate them being destroyed completely and utterly to reinforce the greatness of ‘Murica. One top of that, these storylines also only ever really work in the short-term and not much further- once he was stripped of the easily-despised Russian patriot gimmick, so too was Rusev stripped of any heat that came with it, and he was back to square one.
And that, in a nutshell, is what sucks so hard about saddling great wrestlers with these shitty characters and gimmicks: they get built up purely to get knocked down with no thought for the longer term of their careers. And I don’t know about you, but I think Handsome Rusev deserves better than all that, and there’s plenty of other guys who do too.
REASON #3- “EVIL FOREIGNERS” ARE NOT REALY ALL THAT MARKETABLE
WWE is many things these days, but it’s pretty clear that it’s a business first and foremost, and in many ways, Jinder Mahal’s big push and title win is a business decision first and foremost. With India becoming one of WWE’s biggest growth markets, it makes perfect sense to try and capitalize on that by giving someone of Indian descent a big-ass push- all well and good so far, right? Here’s the funny thing though: Jinder’s a heel in the West, but in India, he’s a face. Now, this isn’t a new phenomena- see Bret Hart’s weird “heel in America, face in Canada” push of 1997- but as far as actually marketing a guy like Mahal goes, it does seem to present a great deal of difficult to reconcile conflicts.
Like for example, merch. Jinder has merch now, and that’s great, but how precisely does WWE think its gonna sell? I have no doubt that it’ll go like hotcakes in India (as I’m sure they do too), but what about in Western markets, especially the United States? Does WWE really think that the blatant stoking of xenophobic sentiments with Jinder’s rather bland anti-American rhetoric will actually sell to American audiences? Sure, WWE has one market cornered, but they’re essentially cutting themselves out of fairly significant one in the process. This isn’t even predicated on Jinder being a heel as such. Their have been plenty of heels over the years who have been very marketable and have played well with audiences- AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Bobby Roode, Seth Rollins, hell even Braun Strowman (so much so that fans started wondering where his merch was)- so its not unfeasible that Jinder’s character could be developed in a way that it really catches fire even as a heel.
But such is the problem with “evil foreigners”- how do you sell a character to an audience that is designed to be a middle finger to them on just about every level, and not in the strictly entertaining sense of that idea? I would suppose the logic that drives this kind of thing, especially wherein the old mate “evil foreigner” is concerned, is that people will be clamoring to see them get shut up- but that doesn’t always actually prove to be the case in certain circumstances. When Cena felled Rusev as mentioned above, the crowd actively cheered for Rusev. When WWE way back when decided to run an incredibly controversial angle for Wrestlemaina 7 that saw then champion Sgt. Slaughter become an Iraqi sympathizer at the height of the Gulf War, attendance figures tanked, and they had to move the show to a smaller venue to cover for it (and yes I’m aware Sarge isn’t an “evil foreigner” as such, but he was an “evil foreigner sympathizer”, and its functionally the same thing). “Evil foreigners” might do well at drawing heat, but heat doesn’t always translate to sales- there’s even a chance Jinder’s big push actually hurt Backlash, not helped it.
There are other factors at play that one can point to as well as far as Backlash’s numbers not being great- Randy Orton being a stale, un-engaging champ, Jinder’s push itself being rather slapped together and sudden, and just a generally underwhelming card- but even with those taken into consideration, the whole “evil foreigner” shtick is still an incredibly hard sell in the long term, and sometimes not even a good sell in the short term either.
Y’know, with all the incredible talent that WWE has on its hands right now, the product as a whole should be fucking amazing…but its not. For as much talent as the performers might have, they’re being completely hamstrung by archaic and decrepit booking and story telling that causes that talent to get lost in a shuffle of stupid gimmicks and lame angles.
The “evil foreigner” is as endemic of this as anything else, and even if ditching these kind of characters won’t make thing significantly better, it’ll certainly be a step in the right direction. Hell, even WWE themselves seems to acknowledge this on some bizarre and apparently completely lacking in self-awareness level: Mustafa Ali over on 205 Live is a man of Middle-Eastern descent whose baby face shtick is often met with coded references concerning his “breaking down barriers” and “disproving stereotypes” from the commentators, which seems to be some kind tacit acknowledge that even they think this “evil foreigner” stuff is really lame now- but then again there is Arya Daivari with his “arrogant rich Persian” thing is on the same show so…err…equality? Hell, Jack Swagger not too long ago was rocking a “Real American” gimmick built on xenophobic rhetoric about immigrants…and was a heel. I mean, what is happening with this, seriously?
Look, the point I’m making her is that Jinder Mahal and countless others deserve better than being type-cast as lame, one-dimensional villains for over-zealous patriots to boo out of venomous xenophobia, and we as fans deserve better than to be insulted by WWE believing people will still mindlessly eat this crap up (though spoiler, turns out we do)- so do everyone a favour, WWE, and kill the “evil foreigner” gimmick once and for all.