9:30-9:55: Maybe They Mean Glasgow Avenue in Winnipeg: Understanding the Canadian as foreign heel

Ryan J. Cox teaches English and Film at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, AB. His critical work focuses on the intersections of identity, nation, poetics, and popular culture. He used to watch Maple Leaf Wrestling on CHCH every Saturday afternoon and is a reformed Hulkamaniac.

The Wrestling Heel is an inherently transgressive figure; their villainy deriving from their violation of social norms. These norms in wrestling can be loosely defined and the boundaries are permeable—the narrative structure allowing for socially acceptable conditions for the face to do what otherwise might be transgressive. The key to this is that, like Gothic monsters stalking shadowy corridors and the villains in all forms that navigate the archetypal, the heel represents a threat to the social order. This means that the nature of their transgression often plays on deeply entrenched societal anxieties. These anxieties can be as simple as understanding that the heel’s ability to cheat and succeed represents a fundamental unfairness in the system, but they can also manifest as a fear of the other where the heel embodies an alterity that challenges the established social norm.

Canadian wrestlers pose a problem to this dynamic, at least insofar as it is in play in wrestling in North America. While French Canadian heels like Mad Dog Vachon, the Rougeaus, or The Mountie are comprehensible as an Other by virtue of their accents and Jinder Mahal’s work as a heel champion in WWE was built on racial otherness, there are plenty of wrestlers where their otherness is coded in more complicated ways. There have been at least 4 heel stables built around the “Team Canada” gimmick, and the Hart Foundation’s heel run in 1997 plays with this complexity. This paper, however, starts from what seems to be a simpler question: Was “Rowdy” Roddy Piper a foreign heel? Piper was billed as being from Glasgow, Scotland, but Roderick Toombs was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and grew up in Manitoba. He spoke in a Western Canadian accent but wore a kilt and played bagpipes.

This paper, through an examination of Piper, seeks to understand both how wrestling constructs the Other and features of Canadian national identity might facilitate this construction. The discourses around Canadian identity are complex and contradictory, often lacking the appearance of naturalization or coherence that mark other nations’ sense of self; is this what allows Piper (and Lance Storm, Bret Hart, The North, and others) to embody otherness?

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