When I was a teenager, my life revolved around two things: baseball and professional wrestling (or rasslin’ as it was often called in the Mid-South territory). My first taste of this soap opera-esque, synchronized display of faux violence was when my parents took me to the Oman Arena (or The Jackson Coliseum as it was known in the 80’s) one Friday night to watch Jeff Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, “Superstar” Bill Dundee, and the rest of the good guys (babyfaces) match up against Tojo Yamamoto, The Mod Squad, and The Nasty Boys and the other bad guys (heels) of Mid-South Championship Wrestling (rasslin’).
Not too far into the match card that night, I climbed on top of a chair to get a better view as The Nasty Boys made their way to the ring. The Nasty Boys were just as bad as their name made them sound – graffiti splattered t-shirts cut off at the shoulders, mohawks that cascaded into matching rattails, and arms the size of tree trunks. I took my cue from the rest of the crowd and booed my young heart out. I screamed at those monsters as the good guys waited for them in the ring. At one point, one half of the Nasty Boys made eye contact with me and slowly raised his middle finger in my direction. What was I supposed to do except reflect the gesture right back to him? And, so I did – a small, skinny middle finger stuck high in the air long before Stone Cold Steve Austin was doing it. I felt like a badass until my mom yanked my shirt from behind and jerked me down in my seat, the stack of papers she was grading flying all over the place. From that night on, I was hooked.
Saturday nights watching Ric Flair style and profile on the TBS. Monday nights watching the NWO run roughshod over WCW. And, on the other channel, my personal favorite – Bret “The Hitman” Hart (no relation) – locking in the Sharpshooter for victory after victory.
As much as I liked the entertainment value of the heels, I was always a fan of the babyfaces – Hart, Lex Luger, Sting, and the Macho Man. The plight of the babyfaces almost always coming up short against the heels kept me coming back to the television week after week after week. But something started to change in the mid 90’s – the crowds started cheering for the bad guys. My world was turned upside down.
There’s an old saying that art reflects life. Now, I’m not saying that rasslin’ is art, but I’m not ready to say it’s not, either. What I do know is that pro wrestling started to reflect the anti-authority vibe that permeated the 90’s. From Cobain’s grunge to Death Row Records’ arrival into the mainstream, the 90’s were fraught with a wave of anti-establishment popularity.
If one wrestler personified the rebellious nature of the larger society as a whole, that wrestler was Stone Cold Steve Austin. For readers who weren’t blessed to have professional wrestling as part of their childhood, Stone Cold was a beer swilling, middle finger waving, ass kicking machine who was hell bent on making everyone’s life miserable. In other words, if Stone Cold were to have wrestled in any other generation, he’d be a heel with a capital H. But in the 90’s, he was a god.
In early 1997, Austin found himself in a feud with longtime good guy, Bret Hart.
Hart was a Canadian hero and an internationally renowned world champion for the World Wrestling Federation. He stood for values like a strong work ethic, fairness, and respect. He put his famous sunglasses on a different young fan who sat ringside at these events. Everybody loved Bret…until they didn’t.
Stone Cold and Bret locked into a rivalry and were scheduled to settle their differences in a submission match on wrestling’s biggest stage: Wrestlemania.
Leading up to the event, Bret Hart started to show signs of frustration with the crowd’s response to their anti-hero, Austin. Bret wondered aloud during interviews why crowds would cheer a roughneck like Austin – why they would celebrate someone using profanity and a one finger salute. By the time the match rolled around, Austin and Hart found themselves on the precipice of a mid-match double-turn with Austin turning into the babyface and Hart becoming the heel.
At the end of the match, Austin laid in the middle of the ring – passed out in his own blood – as Hart celebrated the victory while the entire crowd booed him mercilessly. The double-turn was complete. Stone Cold was the hero; Hart was the villain.
If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with local news, that’s a very fair question. Let me try and pull all this together.
From the beginning of this mayoral campaign season in Jackson, there have been signs of tension between candidates. At Ray Condray’s initial announcement, he leaned into a few narratives of conflict in regards to the incumbent, Scott Conger.
Condray mentioned family values and lofted thinly veiled accusations of arrogance in reference to Conger, but Condray – to use a wrestling term – didn’t cut a full heel promo on Conger; he simply alluded to personality traits of Conger’s administration that didn’t line up with his own personal belief system.
As the race made its way through the general election, Condray had mostly kept his hands clean, but never pushed back against his supporters who had no problem slinging mud at the incumbent. To his credit, though, Condray never directly got down in the mud with them…until this week.
On Tuesday, fliers – paid for by Ray Condray – began circulating around Jackson, peeking out of mailboxes all over the city. On the front of these flyers were pictures of a drag queen (a topic that has already been legislated at the state level), a picture of potholes, a picture of a Scott Conger campaign sign with a pile of trash behind it, and a chalk outline in the shape of a body over what is presumed to be blood-stained concrete. Classy.
The back of the flier is even more bizarre.
Listed under a very unflattering picture of Mayor Conger is a litany of accusations – each followed by an asterisk. The list reads as follows:
- A city overrun with trash*
- Attempted to invest city funds in bitcoin*
- Dangerous potholes all over the city*
- Staff shortages and minimum resources*
- Our children exposed to obscenities*
- Mayor not easily accessible*
- Empty and unfulfilled promises*
- Arrogance and short temper*
*Information derived from local print media and discussions with HUNDREDS of citizens across Jackson.
If local politics was a wrestling show, this flier would’ve been Ray Condray’s heel turn. Like Bret Hart, Condray espoused his value system and tiptoed around directly calling anyone out who didn’t agree with his specific system of morality. That could only last so long, though. Ray just couldn’t help himself. Just like Bret Hart had had enough of the fans cheering their anti-hero, the pharisaical light of the Condray campaign shone through…and that light was brightened by…let me count…”hundreds of people across Jackson.”
Without diving into the asterisk laden list in detail, I’d like to point out some loaded words – words that lend themselves to propaganda.
- “Overrun with trash” – Jackson is, in fact, NOT overrun with trash. Yes, there are piles of debris and garbage at various points and locations in the city, but the city is not “overrun with trash”.
- “Dangerous potholes…” – I drive a lot all over Jackson. My daughter drives a lot all over Jackson. Not once have we had our tires flattened or our alignment misaligned because of “dangerous potholes all over the city”.
- “Our children exposed to obscenities.” – I have no idea what this means. I assume it’s the reference to the drag show that never took place in front of children, though I could be wrong.
- “Empty and unfilled promises” – Did Ray want to see Snoop Dog THAT MUCH?
- “Arrogance and short temper” – If you’re sending out fliers with intentionally embarrassing pictures of the opposing candidate, your space for calling someone “arrogant and short tempered” doesn’t exist. Try again.
When Bret Hart finally made his official heel turn and left Steve Austin bloodied in the middle of the ring, Hart went on to have one of the best stretches of his career over the next few months. Crowds responded to his presence in the ring, and the energy of their disdain was palpable. He was the perfect foil for Steve Austin who was on his way to being arguably the most popular wrestler in the history of sports entertainment. That’s where this comparison ends, though, because we’re all living in the real world.
For as wrapped up as I was in professional wrestling in the late 90’s, I always knew it wasn’t real; it was a soap opera for men. This election, however, isn’t.
I can joke about Ray’s “heel turn” and compare it to Bret Hart, but the reality of this particular situation is that Mr. Condray’s desperation led him to produce a flier that attacks a person’s moral character and seemingly goes directly against the Christian values he regularly leans on as a cornerstone of his campaign. But, the signs were there all along.
This flier wasn’t surprising to me; it was inevitable. I also believe it was the death knell for Condray’s campaign. As much as political smearing plays a role on the national level, it doesn’t track in local politics. In a city like Jackson, we all know each other. We want to see the best in each other. When a candidate sends out fliers attacking the character of their opponent, it says more about the person attacking than the person being attacked.
So, let’s take a moment to thank Mr. Condray for finally showing everyone his true colors. Now, we can get on with the next two weeks of this race and then put it to bed for once and for all.