Had he not worn a bow tie, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan probably wouldn’t have uttered his famous phrase about “defining deviancy down.” Instead, he would have said we were lowering the bar. Or that we were in a race to the bottom.
Choose your cliché. They all fit Linda McMahon, the ex-CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment who is giving the people of Connecticut 50 million good reasons – the number of dollars from her own sleazily accumulated fortune – to elect her to the United States Senate.
Connecticut insiders tell me that McMahon is a decent “retail” politician; she knows how to work a room (perhaps especially when it’s filled with fellow fat cats). I don’t doubt it. Successful electoral candidates come in all sizes and shapes. Not all of them are larger-than-life figures like Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger – or like Linda’s husband Vince.
As an outsider who has been watching the quarter-century-long stranglehold of the McMahon family on American popular culture, I have felt from the beginning that one thing, and one thing only, could derail her candidacy. And that one thing isn’t the wholesale distribution of YouTube clips in which the McMahons make asses of themselves. On the matter of taste – for which, as they say, there’s no accounting – Linda has airtight, postmodernist inoculation. If there’s anyone who understands how to turn populist victimhood in her favor, she’s the one. Politicos who fail to appreciate this first principle of political jiu-jitsu should be assigned to read their Edward Gibbon before returning to campaign coverage.
The McMahons’ Achilles heel is their history of presiding over a mega-profitable industry, oiled by their political connections, with a statistically, actuarially impossible recurrence of death among its tightly-controlled talent. The body count has spiked on WWE’s watch. The death pandemic has been enabled, if not stoked, by WWE’s business model.
Whether such fundamentals are grasped and executed by the Connecticut chattering class – currently caught up in the conventional metrics of the horse race between McMahon and Rob Simmons for the Republican nomination – remains an open question. So far the in-state stories that I’ve seen have mostly focused on dueling heel/babyface interviews between the carnies who no longer like the McMahons, and the WWE legal pot who calls the kettle black.
Last week ESPN.com had a report on the new study of the brain of WWE wrestler Andrew “Test” Martin, who died at 33 in March in a drugged-out stupor. Predictably, WWE discredited the research of the Brain Injury Research Institute in West Virginia.
Not quite as predictably – as this blog revealed yesterday – WWE lied in the process. According to the company’s statement to ESPN, it had been asking for the test results of the case of another wrestler, Chris Benoit (double murder-suicide, June 2007) “for years and has not been supplied with them.”
In fact, WWE’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Maroon, had an in-depth meeting with the directors of the brain institute and their lawyer, at their headquarters, on October 1, 2008. So far not a single mainstream outlet has picked up this story.
Not to worry. Between today and the key dates of the 2010 election season, another performer associated with WWE will almost certainly croak in his 20s, 30s, or 40s, and the McMahon machine will proceed either to ignore it or to put out more misleading information about it. Though we don’t know who and we don’t know when, experience suggests that you can practically set your watch by the phenomenon.
Over time, we’ll find out how the most crucial factor in the success of the Linda McMahon candidacy plays out. That factor, quite simply, is how aggressively the Connecticut media step up to the plate or, alternatively, participate in gift-wrapping the packaging of Teflon Linda.