WWE & Patriotism: Their Most Odd Moments Throughout History

We all saw doubletake-inducing news last week that The National Medal of Honor Museum, a museum in Arlington, Texas that exists for "honoring and preserving the history of the highest military decoration awarded for valor in combat", would be partnering with WWE to create visuals and media for the museum's storytelling experience.  It's a strange combination for any number of reasons, not the least of which is WWE has a shaky track record with patriotic presentations at best and a highly questionable one at worst.  With that in mind, let's take a look at some of WWE's most odd attempts at patriotism as we try to imagine what they'll create for this solemn museum.

WWE's Most Odd Attempts At Patriotism Throughout Their History
Hulk Hogan, after defeating Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania VII, courtesy of WWE.

The Undertaker – A Patriotic Deadman

WWE's Most Odd Attempts At Patriotism Throughout Their History
The Undertaker's patriotic attire going into the 1993 Survivor Series, courtesy of WWE.

The Undertaker has always been a hard sell as far as wrestling characters go, but thanks to decent storylines throughout the years and especially thanks to Mark Callaway's steadfast devotion to the character, Taker became one of the all-time iconic WWE superstars.

But what happens when you take a creepy, gothic, undead mystical monster and have him take pride in his country?  Awkwardness, you get awkwardness.  And it was indeed awkward at the lead-in to the 1993 Survivor Series when "the Deadman" officially joined Lex Luger's team of "All Americans" to take on Yokozuna and his team of "Foreign Fanatics" at the pay per view event.

Taker opened his trenchcoat to reveal the United States flag lining the inside and then cut a promo about American pride, still in his grim deadman voice, mind you.

The "Real American" Music Video

WWE's Most Odd Attempts At Patriotism Throughout Their History
Hulk Hogan in the "Real American" music video, courtesy of WWE.

At the onset of "Hulkamania", Hulk Hogan and the WWF debuted a new theme song for the Hulkster, replacing Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger, which he'd been using since co-starring in Rocky III.  This new song would of course be Rick Derringer's immortal classic, Real American.  And to accompany this instant hit, WWE gifted us one of their greatest camp accomplishments in history, the Real American music video.

The imagery here is stunning, opening with J.F.K.'s iconic inaugural speech and then transitioning to baby pictures of the Hulkster, with star wipes that almost make it look as if he were born from the flag.  We see the Hulkster grow and learn to play guitar, something that would of course help America win the Cold War.

From there, it's a virtual onslaught of "oh my god!"  We see a Power Rangers-sized Hogan rocking out (or barely playing, depending on how closely you're watching) on a guitar as he towers over iconic American settings.  We see arguably the most childish editing in motion picture history, as when the lyrics sing of "crashing down", we see that literally happen with footage of a building collapsing.  We see magic folks, pure magic.

Then we are treated to images of the founding fathers and other monumental historical figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr., all juxtaposed against Hogan.  It would be an amazing bit of humor if it weren't for the fact that we know Hogan and Vince McMahon actually believed in what they were putting up there.

The Pièce de résistance of the video comes towards the end when set against footage of protestors burning the U.S. flag in some foreign country, Hogan stands there holding a picture of Muammar Gaddafi, the former Lybian dictator, and crunches it up in his hands, before then ripping off his shirt and flexing.

The Real American music video is an amazing watch for any number of reasons, but it is indeed a moment where WWE did patriotism in an incredibly odd way.

The First SmackDown After 9/11

WWE's Most Odd Attempts At Patriotism Throughout Their History
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon on the 9/13/2001 episode of SmackDown, courtesy of WWE.

WWE has often been criticized for their gung-ho "the show must go on!" practices, such as the night of Over The Edge in 1999 when Owen Hart died live at the show, or more recently with the company's powering through with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A time when they received a hefty amount of this brand of criticism was on September 13, 2001, only two days after the largest terrorist attacks on the U.S. in history, when WWE refused to cancel an episode of SmackDown and instead went forward with a live edition of the usually pre-taped show.

To give you some frame of reference if you are too young to remember those grim days following 9/11, there was nothing on TV except news coverage.  Every sports league paused, every entertainment industry production stopped; it was a literal ghost town on television.  And there were reasons for that.  Not only were we in a state of shock and horror after witnessing something we assumed could never happen to us, but there were genuine security concerns as well.  No one knew what could or would happen next and with that in mind, every major U.S. institution was willing to hit the brakes for a moment and wait for guidance from law enforcement.  Everyone except for WWE, that is.

They forged ahead with a show that they felt was a big patriotic "rah-rah!" display of American bravery and pride, complete with an opening speech by Vince McMahon and the return of the red, white, and blue ropes.  But as a viewer, it was an incredibly uncomfortable two hours of wrestling.  There was this haunting feeling of "this doesn't feel right" and a knowing inside that despite their patriotic dressing of this, WWE was forcing this show to fruition for financial reasons.

The lasting images of the show will be the solo videos from the WWE superstars, where they each looked into the camera and reflected on what they were thinking/feeling following the attacks.  Most of them were solemn, respectful, and honest thoughts from the wrestlers that were probably similar to the things we were all thinking and saying at the time.  And then there was Stephanie McMahon

In a still to this day jaw-dropping rant, one that WWE has tried to wipe from existence, by the way, Stephanie McMahon somehow tried to equate the 1994 federal steroid trial with her father to the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Just try to think about that.  Try to see where she's coming from.  You can't, can you?  Well, now you know how some people felt watching WWE push forward with a show only two days after 9/11.

Wrestlemania VII

WWE's Most Odd Attempts At Patriotism Throughout Their History
Sgt. Slaughter vs Hulk Hogan, courtesy of WWE.

Alright, so, you know Sgt. Slaughter, right?  The wrestler whose entire existence is defined by his proudly being a United States military man.  The guy who was so synonymous with being an amazing U.S. soldier, that they actually made him into a G.I. Joe.  Yeah, so now imagine that guy turning his back on America and joining sides with a country that we are actually at war with, all so that Hulk Hogan, the muscle-head surfer dude, can look like the "real" American hero next to him on the WWE's biggest stage.  This was Wrestlemania VII.

Slaughter turned on America and instead became a soldier of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator.  This was an unfathomable event for fans and actually generated some of the most intense heel heat in WWE history, due to America being involved in the Gulf War with Iraq at the time.

After defeating The Ultimate Warrior at the Royal Rumble, the same night Hulk Hogan would win the titular match, thus setting up a Wrestlemania battle between the expatriate Slaughter and the "real American" Hogan.

WWE didn't shy away from any of the real-world comparisons to the match and heaped as much red, white, and blue onto it as humanly possible, all leading to the Wrestlemania main event, where of course, the Hulkster was triumphant and won the belt from the evil Iraqi Slaughter, before running around the ring waving old glory to end the show.

This was always a strange one, as it was both arguably distasteful to incorporate a real war where people were dying into a fictional wrestling storyline and also an odd bit of character assassination to get Hogan over.  If they really wanted the U.S. vs Iraq story, why not just use the already well-established Slaughter as the hero representing America?  It would have been more logical than having this guy who bled red, white, and blue turn on America and join a foreign dictatorship for no real reason except the see-through one of making Hogan look even better.

The Scott Steiner/Chris Nowinski Debate

WWE's Most Odd Attempts At Patriotism Throughout Their History
The Scott Steiner/Chris Nowinski Iraq War debate on Raw in 2003, courtesy of WWE.

The WWE is home to a lot of things.  Insightful, well-thought-out debates on American foreign affairs are not one of them.  This was a hideous mistake they made on the April 14, 2003 episode of Raw, wherein some very weak attempt to be edgy/pound that blind patriotism drum, the company held an in-ring debate (moderated by Jerry "The KingLawler, of course) between Harvard University Graduate/young wrestler Chris Nowinski and pro wrestling's poster boy of intelligence and vocabulary, Scott Steiner on the recently-launched U.S. invasion of Iraq.  It went about as well as you can imagine…

Nowinski played the "heel" here, by being opposed to the military action in the Middle East and arguing now-widely agreed with points about America not needing to invade any foreign government that they don't agree with, our reliance on foreign oil, and the faults of the George W. Bush administration.

Steiner, wearing a chain-link mesh headdress, then provides a retort that was frighteningly stupid, even considering his surroundings.  He provides a rant on America being the best, free speech, assholes, terrorism, revenge, and The Dixie Chicks, all of which can of course be found in any highly-regarded dynamic political debate throughout history.

And as Steiner basically reads off conservative bumper stickers, the crowd goes wild for it, cheering him as their hero and booing the cautious intelligent guy out of the building.

The whole thing ends in violence (not as violent as the Trump/Biden debates, but still pretty raucous) and we are left with a segment that has aged as poorly as anything WWE has ever produced.  There are truly few moments in WWE history that can be looked back upon as more purely ignorant and stained by the truth of time than this one.  It was bad then and my god is it worse now.

So that's what I've got for you folks.  I know there are countless other incidents or things WWE has done that involve patriotism (or their warped view of it) that are either completely laughable (Mr. America) or have aged as something incredibly foul (any instance in their long history of "scary foreign guy" racism).  Here, I tried to focus on the ones that have stood out to me or that I think some people may have forgotten about over time.

I hope you enjoyed this trip down WWE memory lane!

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About Ryan Fassett

As a lifelong fan of movies, comics, wrestling, and collectibles, Ryan is excited to share his thoughts on all of it with you. He is also an active filmmaker and published comic book writer, along with being a connoisseur of soda.
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