By Grant LaFleche, The Standard
Sunday, July 26, 2015 8:22:58 EDT PM http://www.wellandtribune.ca/2015/07/26/heroes-villains-and-figure-four-leg-locks
So there it was, written in bright letters glimmering on the back of the grey sweatshirt, printed above a Star of David.
"You got Jewed."
It actually took my brain a minute to process it. Was I really seeing that? I know it was a local professional wrestling card, so you're not exactly expecting Shakespeare. But a blatant anti-Semitic slogan on the back of one of wrestlers?
It's 2015 after all. In Canada! This doesn't happen.
But it did. There it was, as plain as day on the back of a wrestler who goes by the handle "The Good Jewish Boy" and whose "manager" called "The Rabbi" wrapped himself in an Israeli flag.
No one in the audience really seemed to mind that much.
Of course, there was a time when I would not have batted an eye either.
As a kids growing up in Calgary, my brother and I loved professional wrestling. Although truly lowbrow entertainment, wrasslin' was a big deal in 1980s.
Hulk Hogan might be a pariah now after his racist diatribe was made public, but back then he was a titan.
And in Calgary, home of the Hart family - including Brett "the Hitman" Hart - wrestlers were nearly royalty.
We religiously watched WWF and the local show called Stampede Wrestling, hosted by sports broadcast Ed Whalen — a kind of Canadian Howard Cosell who, when two wrestlers collided in the ring, would shout "and there is a malfunction at the junction!"
In those days, wrestling was basically simplistic morality plays in speedos and boots. Heroes fought villains who always, eventually, got their comeuppance.
What we were too young to grasp then was the awful racial undertones that oozes from professional wrestling's pores.
Villains were almost always "the other". The foreigner. The racial minorities.
The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff were ethnic caricatures of America's nemeses of the era— Iranians and Russians. Most African American wrestlers were one step away from minstrelsy, with characters like Kamala, a war painted cannibal who was a weird cross of Andre the Giant and Shaka Zulu and spoke only through grunts.
Racial jokes and insults were pretty common. I distinctly remember Jessie "The Body" Ventura referring to black wrestler James "Koko B." Ware as "Buckwheat" and routinely throwing racial slurs at latino wrestlers.
By contrast, the heroes were generally white, blue collar all-American types.
The obvious racism of the genre didn't sink in until long after I stopped watching it. When I did see the occasional show, it was still low-brow, but the racism of the past seemed to be eclipsed by a more general and stupid banality.
So when I was sent to cover Crossfire Wrestling's Bring the Fire IV show on Sunday at the Merritton Community Centre, it was a reintroduction to professional wrestling.
The show was a deliberate throw back to the 1980s in style and tone, complete with soap opera like stories and, as it turned out, the racial stereotype in Tomer "The Good Jewish Boy" Shalom.
True to old-school wrestling stories, Shalom the villain loses to the hero. But he didn't lose because he was a walking anti-Semitic caricature. He lost because he was the villain, and he was the villain because he was the ethnic other.
The show was billed as a family friendly event, so I'm not sure why embracing the racial stereotype of the Shylock, of the "shifty Jew", was thought to be acceptable.
I asked Chris LaPlante, the man behind Crossfire wrestling and Shalom’s opponent Sunday night, if he thought the tagline was, in fact, racist.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
It was a visual cue to identify Shalom as the match’s villain.
“Tomer, who is Jewish, calls himself ‘The Good Jewish Boy’. It’s a character he takes with him to all sorts of independent wrestling shows,” LaPlante said. “So he is called ‘The Good Jewish Boy’ but the, when he comes out on his sweater it says ‘You got Jewed’. It is a way to show he cannot be trusted.”
Cheap and easy theatrics, perhaps, and common to pro wrestling since its inception.
But this wasn't comedy or satire. It didn't have a larger point like, say, All in the Family once did.
It was just old school, if unthinking, racism.
There were a lot of kids in the audience Sunday and one can only hope they were, like I was once, too young to understand the ugliness at work in that character.
(To be fair to LaPlante, he said if people find it offensive, he will ask Shalom to not wear the sweater at future Crossfire events.)
To those who are apt to dismiss this as harmless fun, I’d ask you to imagine if you were a Jewish Canadian in that audience. Ask yourself if, in any other forum, this would be acceptable.
The zeitgeist has changed considerably since the 1980s. We know better than we did then, and such racist portrayals of people just isn't acceptable.
Niagara should be better than that.
Things were not going well in the ring for Chris LaPlante.
He was getting tossed from one ring post to the other, and no matter how many times those at ringside shouted encouragement, he could not turn the tide of the battle.
LaPlante looked finished.
Trapped in that most iconic of professional wrestling holds, the dreaded figure-four leg lock, his face was a mask of pain. But just as all looked lost, he reversed the hold and his villainous foe, Tomer “The Nice Jewish Boy” Shalom gave up.
Of course, the outcome was never in doubt. The match at the Bring The Heat IV event hosted by Crossfire Wrestling on Sunday drew about 200 people to the Merritton Community Centre.
The event marks the beginning of a busy season for LaPlante and other local wrestlers.
“We’re looking at doing a show a month,” said LaPlante, from Port Colborne, who runs Niagara-based Crossfire. “We have wrestlers from all over Niagara and Ontario. Today we have a guy who is actually from Israel.”
He said Crossfire shows are throwbacks to professional wrestling’s heyday.
“We try to put on a show for the whole family. You can see we have a lot of kids in the audience, so we want to do something that is entertaining for everyone and doesn’t involve women taking their tops off or that sort of thing,” he said.
“Wrestling is entertainment. And if you have good story lines, good characters and good action in the wrestling, people love it. So that is what we are trying to do.”
Wrestling characters are usually basic archetypes — heroes and villains whose outlandish behaviour identifies what role they play.
In his own match, LaPlante played the role of hero — the local boy out to make good. He raced into the ring to cheers and rock music.
Shalom was the bad guy, known in wrestling as “the heel.”
His character, harkening back to old-school wrestling villains like the Iron Sheik or Nikolai Volkoff, plays to ethnic stereotypes. His manager, known as The Rabbi, is draped in an Israeli flag and on the back of Shalom’s sweater, above a Star of David, was the phrase “You got Jewed.”
The hero was stalwart, even when his opponent had the upper hand. The villain was cowardly, escaping the ring when he wasn’t winning.
LaPlante said as Crossfire holds more shows, fans get to know the characters and come back to see the next plot twist.
The Bring The Five IV event also featured wrestlers from Cambridge, Niagara Falls, Toronto and Rochester, N.Y.
LaPlante said most wrestlers cannot make a living at it, so they practice and perform part-time, although some of them do get tryouts for bigger events including those hosted by the WWE.
For more information go online to www.crossfirewrestling.com
By Grant LaFleche, The Standard
Sunday, July 26, 2015 8:22:58 EDT PM
This is the exact report at http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/07/31/lafleche-racism-unacceptable-in-any-genre
Owner and CEO of Crossfire Wrestling™
As Owner of Crossfire Wrestling I do not want to do anything politically incorrect. This news story came out after our sold out "Bring The Heat IV" Event. Grant LaFleche's story sparked debate amongst The Crossfire Team. Debate about Freedom Of Expression and Freedom Of Speech.
To our Facebook Friends and Crossfire Community. What is your opinion? Do we fire Tomer Shalom or do we bow to the pen of a reporters opinion? Let the comments begin. In fairness to LaFleche feel free to comment on our Facebook page or his page for positive comment or spark for debate.