Date of Award

8-2020

Degree Type

Report

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

English

Committee

Eric Morales

Committee

Lynne McNeill

Committee

Dustin Crawford

Abstract

This paper examines the shifting portrayals of Pacific Islanders in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) across three generations. As both a popular and historically racially problematic venue, WWE’s politically incorrect programming has played an underappreciated and under examined role in representing the USA. Although many different groups have been portrayed by gross stereotypes in WWE, this paper uses the family of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson—the Samoan Dynasty—as a case study. The WWE originally presented Pacific Islanders using the most offensive stereotypes, and the first two generations of the Samoan Dynasty had to “play Indian” or cosign onto gross representations of their people to be recognized by American audiences unfamiliar with representations of Pacific Islanders. I argue that the first generation mentored the second generation, who expanded their cultural footprint in the WWE, establishing a launching pad for Johnson’s superstar movie career. Using a “Pioneer, Settler, Opportunist” framework adopted from criminal justice, I explore how Johnson benefitted from the work of the generations of his family members that came before him. These three generations demonstrate how the WWE, as a unique venue of political incorrectness, allowed a place for the Samoan Dynasty as “persons” to create and promote harmful “personas” as part of a successful bid to slowly transition their performance away from “playing Indian.”

Share

COinS