Lutz's Blog: No long-term future in new Jack Swagger character
By Jeffrey Lutz
I've been hedging all week away from my initial thoughts about the promo the debuting Zeb Colter (a/k/a Dutch Mantell) gave in support of Jack Swagger last week on Raw. So many people have expressed intrigue over Swagger's new direction that part of me figured I must have been completely wrong about disliking it.
I'm stubborn, though, so in many ways the positive opinions have only strengthened my resolve against the act. Even though WWE itself seems to be hedging by producing a toned-down version of the same promo on Smackdown that didn't include overt racism, I still don't see money, controversy or long-term hope for the Swagger character. He became the number-one contender Sunday for Alberto Del Rio's World Heavyweight championship, and my doubts are stronger than ever.
If WWE permanently returns the edge (read: bigotry) to Colter's and Swagger's character, it won't work for any audience. WWE writing on hot-button issues often falls in between the tastes of the largest segments of its fan base. The product becomes too mature for the children WWE targets but unable to break new ground on a sensitive issue that would be compelling to older fans.
Parents don't want to answer questions from kids about the unfortunate realities of racism, especially when it comes from a wrestling show that doesn't have the depth or social awareness that will further their education on the topic. Fans my age will roll their eyes and pick apart the storyline.
What is the end game for Swagger and Colter? Are they trying to rid WWE of all minority characters? Are they building a time machine to travel back to the 1980s, where America-hating heels had simplified character traits but still infuriated fans? Unfortunately for WWE, its audience has become more sophisticated and fans won't boo Swagger and Colter over comments designed to be inflammatory but ones they could hear anywhere else on cable.
Colter's verbal abilities can only help Swagger, but it seems they're traveling toward a dead end. Colter needed substance in his first promo, but the "close the borders" rhetoric is tired on news shows that cover such subjects. On a wrestling show, it wreaks of desperation for a character that seemed to be going nowhere before a new personality was implemented.
Racism is not a wishy-washy, read-between-the-lines viewpoint, it's an extreme one. WWE can't contribute anything new to the conversation on racism, so that facet of the Swagger-Colter act should be scrapped and forgotten. Judging by the Smackdown promo, that may be happening, but Colter and Swagger won't have anything left besides scaled-back versions of the parts of their characters that had people talking last week.
From a storyline standpoint, I also don't see much hope. If the end of the World Heavyweight Championship feud is designed for Rio to put Swagger in his place, what place is that supposed to be? My experience is that the mind of a racist can't be changed. If and when Del Rio beats Swagger, are Colter and Swagger going to have an epiphany that leads to a change of heart?
Their feud should not be predicated on racism. A winning streak by Swagger longer than three or four matches and his increase in aggressiveness is more threatening to Del Rio than a bigoted attitude and it doesn't offend much of the audience.
Del Rio should go the way of Booker T and Teddy Long, two African-Americans who ignored Colter's prejudice and judged Swagger on his in-ring merits. Maybe they thought they were putting Antonio Cesaro in the Elimination Chamber, since Cesaro is playing an Anti-American character successfully.
There are too many unanswered questions for me to be on-board with Swagger and Colter. I'm troubled that when Swagger returned from an extended absence, his character showed no hints of a new fire that happened to include racism. Suddenly, he shows up with a manager and a sharper evil side. That's not character development, it's poor planning. And I still don't know the difference between a Real American and an All-American American.
A championship contender can't be contrived. Six months ago Swagger was a stale character with a bad haircut and no direction. Will new ring gear, a new haircut, new facial hair and a new, racist manager vault him to the top? I just can't believe it.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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