Oliver Lee Bateman examines one of the most poignant interviews in pro wrestling history, Dusty Rhodes’ “hard times” monologue about working-class masculinity.
Man, take two minutes and really study that promo. I make a modest living researching and writing about this garbage, this fake ludicrous bullcrap, yet in all honesty so little of it is transcendent and so much of it is beneath our contempt. But watch this performance and imagine you’re watching it from the perspective of a little kid in 1989 watching a VHS tape from 1985. It starts slow. You’re focusing on the man’s purple scarred-up forehead, his marceled hair, his tea shade glasses, his pink shirt with the neck button that won’t close around his capacious double chin…how could you do anything but direct all of your attention to “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes?
You’re transfixed, under Rhodes’ spell. For the first seven years of your life, you’d watched a fat man scream and shout in your house, so this kind of performance fits around your brainpan like an old shoe or an old jock strap or an old pair of jeggings or some other tortured simile. Then it starts to build. At 1:00, Rhodes bellows that there is “no honor among thieves.” Your father was probably saying something similar while his business, and by extension his life, melted around him. On we go to 1:10, when Rhodes starts with this “hard times” stuff. Yes, you know from “hard times.” Your life is nothing but hard times, so that’s très relatable.
“A computer took yo place, daddy,” Rhodes says around 1:40 or so. Then comes a flirtatious taunt: “I admit I don’t look like the athlete of the day is supposed to look…my belly’s just a little big, my heinie’s just a little big, but brother I’m bad. There were two bad people. One was John Wayne, and the other is right here” Holy cow. There’s an appealing toughness to this boasting, something that makes it seem like more than just empty blather directed at the marks who contentedly paid to see the show while Rhodes got compensated to be the show. He was worth every penny.
At 2:20, Rhodes extends his hand and tells you your hand is touching his hand for this “gathering of the biggest body of people in the universe.” It doesn’t make any sense, yet it’s undeniably brilliant. Dusty Rhodes is the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour, etc. …he could get away with reading the phone book and you’d still adore him. He has to go “over” Ric Flair, even though he never really will, not in an honest 1-2-3 manner that will end with anything besides some ridiculous screwjob that will wind up with Flair retaking the belt and Rhodes redoubling his efforts to win it. Now the coda: “I’m proud of you and thank God I have you.” Are you, Dusty? Are you really? Gosh, that means the world to me.