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Juice Robinson said on Dynamite earlier this week as he pulled out a roll of quarters that he had something MJF would “really like.” The implication, of course – with the smallest thread of (im)plausible deniability – being that Jews “really like” anything related to money.
Juice wrote MJF’s Jewish last name on the roll quarters for extra emphasis, in case anyone didn’t get the initial “hint” that antisemitic stereotypes were in play here. When’s the last time MJF was referred to in any way as “Friedman”? He’s called MJF, Max, and Maxwell Jacob Friedman, but unlike Seth Rollins and Kenny Omega and Brian Danielson, his last name isn’t said much.
AEW’s cannon includes MJF’s background being taunted by kids with antisemitic taunts. Those stories of his childhood trauma included those kids throwing coins at him as they shouted epithets at him. (Not part of AEW cannon, by the way, is that Juice’s favorite foreign object of choice is a roll of quarters; that’s been a thing for him outside of AEW, but until Tuesday, that wasn’t established as “his thing” to the AEW audience.)
So let’s reasonably stipulate to the fact that this is overtly an angle built around a heel using antisemitism as a weapon to hurt MJF.
Where does AEW go from here?
The argument in favor of continuing this angle (which 6 out of 10 said should be halted in our Twitter poll earlier today) is that MJF will give Jewish fans everywhere a feeling of cathartic satisfaction and retribution when he “knocks Juice’s teeth down his throat.”
In a typical wrestling angle, that’s how it works. Heels say and do dastardly things and the justification is that in the end, the babyface gives the heel his or her comeuppance. (See the Triple H-Booker T storyline for a shameful counter-example.)
If that’s enough for you to justify a pro wrestling angle incorporating antisemitic aspects, especially when a Jewish wrestler is authoring and steering it, I can respect that as a point of view even while I disagree with it.
Personally, I don’t think it’s good for business to incorporate such a sensitive topic into a pro wrestling angle. This doesn’t mean a wrestler can’t celebrate or accentuate what their Jewish faith and heritage means to their identity. What it means is I don’t think pro wrestling companies should be in the business of trying to tell the tale of antisemites (or those who pick at the scabs of antisemitism in Jewish wrestlers’ pasts) to sell tickets and draw ratings. It’s too sensitive of a topic to feel appropriate to be dealt with the way pro wrestling deals with disputes, even in the hands of the most forward-thinking, sophisticated storytellers.
There are a couple of issues I just can’t get past that come from this type of approach.
For one, why does AEW stand by as a company and continue to employ – in the storyline world – a wrestler who taunted another wrestler with hurtful, hateful stereotypes that have been used to justify violence and mass death of a whole category of humanity? Wouldn’t AEW – as would the NFL or a Hollywood studio or TV network – immediately suspend that person for such antisemitic taunts? Or outright fire them?
AEW is a simulated fighting league, and the idea that they’d continue to provide a platform for someone using such tactics is outlandish and makes AEW – and Tony Khan, the on-air leader – look like they’re downplaying or tolerating such tactics. The fact that it’s actually scripted isn’t pertinent to the narrative structure of the fictional world AEW’s wrestlers exist in on Dynamite, Rampage, Collision, and PPVs. In that world, Juice should be suspended or fired for what he said, not put in a match to get “beaten up” as a way to sell tickets and PPV buys.
Second, what’s next for Juice? If MJF beats him in the ring, does Juice just hit reset and go back to being seen as a wacky entertaining secondary heel act yucking it up with cartoonish behavior with Austin Gunn? Is taunting a Jewish wrestler the way he did something viewers are expected to just feel is “dealt with sufficiently” because, ultimately, he loses a match? To me, that seems ridiculous. Are fans ever going to be asked to cheer for Austin Gunn, Colten Gunn, or Jay White, who continue to associate with someone who used those tactics to mess with an opponent? Will announcers have to brush past their ongoing association with someone who employed those vile taunts?
Former longtime PWTorch columnist Pat McNeill quipped on Twitter: “Do the twist ending where Juice accepts the Jewish faith and has to skip Rampage to go to temple.”
He was joking, but something like that might be one of the few ways for AEW to not look awful for continuing to give a platform to Juice in their storyline-based simulated fight league world going forward.
This type of angle, as altruistic as MJF intends it to be because of the larger story arc and his belief in the benefits of raising awareness of this type of bullying, just isn’t a good fit for pro wrestling’s environment. It’s best left to books, movies, and TV series where the antisemite is written off in the final chapter and doesn’t just continue to exist in the narrative, shouting a different brand of insults at the next babyface/protagonist/hero he feuds with. This type of issue is better left in the hands of a writing team who vet the entire story with a diverse mix of people who make sure it doesn’t come across, unintentionally, as forwarding or propagating Jewish stereotypes in a way that offsets or undercuts the intended message.
(Pro wrestling also doesn’t have full control of how the story is told on air, because sadly, they can’t rule out fans in a live audience siding with Juice and expressing that. That could lead to further issues AEW didn’t consider when launching this storyline.)
I have saved until the end the biggest reason this angle should have been scratched before Tuesday – because of the horrendous mass murders of Jews in Israel last weekend. Tensions are higher than they’ve been in that part of the world in decades, people are dying every day in battles stemming from those attacks, and threats against Jews have increased around the world as a result.
Continuing with this storyline, even if it was conjured up and planned before the attacks in Israel last weekend, is an egregious error in judgment. It could have significant impact on AEW’s business, especially if our Twitter poll is anywhere near reflective of the larger fanbase, with 60 percent thinking they should stop this right now. Nearly half of those voting in favor of stopping the angle indicated that the storyline shouldn’t only be discontinued, but AEW should apologize for it.
As PWTorch contributor Mike McMahon pointed out on Twitter/X today, pro wrestling promoters have halted storylines that were built around sensitive world issues before. The Muhammad Hassan character debuted more than two years after 9/11 and the character was scrapped after the London bombings. Vince McMahon’s limo blowing up and the implication being he died in the explosion was never mentioned again after the Chris Benoit family tragedy.
People keep bringing up Muhammad Hassan in regards to the Dynamite angle. Not defending the character but there are key differences:
1. He debuted in 2004. Not the Tuesday after 9/11. They did use 9/11, which was gross.
2. The character was scrapped after the London bombings.
— Mike McMahon (@TorchMcMahon) October 14, 2023
I do want to be clear: An error in judgment doesn’t mean MJF, Tony Khan, and anyone else who went along with this decision on Tuesday or have defended it since have anything but good intentions. I don’t think there’s any anti-Jewish sentiment that went into green-lighting or defending this, although I’m sure that exists, sadly, elsewhere in some defenses of this angle. (Reference: Israel-Hamas fighting sparks fears of hate crimes in U.S.) It’s just a bad call, and the right move is to admit that, apologize, and move forward.
PWTorch columnist Rich Fann and I spoke at length about this, and compared it to the infamous Booker T-Triple H angle, on this week week’s Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcasts Flagship episode. Listen HERE.
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Should AEW continue on with the angle where Juice Robinson incorporated antisemitism into his taunts of Jewish babyface MJF? #AEW
— Pro Wrestling Torch (@PWTorch) October 14, 2023
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(Wade Keller is the editor, publisher, and founder of Pro Wrestling Torch and PWTorch.com. He has covered pro wrestling since 1987. He studied journalism and economics in college, interned at a major market broadcast news station (KMSP in Minneapolis/St. Paul), worked at KFAN radio for two years in the 1990s, hosted the “Ultimate Insiders” DVD series with international distribution, hosted the “Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast” on Podcast One and now on Spreaker, and has been a guest on the Steve Austin Podcast dozens of times as an analyst (nobody has been a guest with Austin more times). He has broken major pro wrestling stories in five separate decades and has interviewed some of pro wrestling’s most influential names in their longest insider interviews including Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Lou Thesz, Jesse Ventura, Jon Moxley, Jim Ross, Eric Bischoff, Bill Watts, Paul Heyman, Jim Cornette, Goldberg, Steve Austin, Vince McMahon, The Rock, Kevin Nash, and over 100 others including more than a dozen ex-WWE creative team members. He was inducted into the Tragos/Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015 for “Excellence in Wresting on Professional Wrestling” in a class with Beth Phoenix, B.Brian Blair, Greg Wojciechowski, Jim Londos, and Matt Lindland. He continues to cover pro wrestling here at PWTorch.com and on the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast.)