This week in my intro philosophy class we’re talking about Plato’s Apology, famous for being Plato’s interpretation of Socrates’s trial in Athens, at which Socrates was condemned to death by a jury of 500 Athenians. It represents Socrates’s speech in his defense against charges of corrupting the youth and impiety, and contains some of Socrates’s most famous lines, such as ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. (Free version available here: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html)
Last night when re-reading it, I couldn’t help but think of it in terms of a wrestling promo given in front of a crowd (perhaps it’s because I had Monday Night Raw on in the background!). It got me thinking about the things Socrates says, and what we’re supposed to think of them.
Usually we think of his speech here as a heroic defense of intellectual integrity in the face of power and oppression, and thus see Socrates as a classic good guy, or babyface.
But, there are many moments where he could equally be viewed as a heel, or bad guy. He tells the audience not to interrupt him. He claims to have been chosen by the Gods, and constantly reminds everyone of how the Oracle at Delphi said that there was no-one wiser than him. He humiliates his accuser Meletus by brutally exposing the flaws in his argument in front of the whole 500-strong jury. He is at times achingly arrogant, saying that executing him would harm the city of Athens more than himself, as it would lose his talents. He also, as a counter-proposal to the punishment of the death penalty, proposes that he should be given free meals for life (this enrages the jury to the extent that more people vote for the death penalty than voted for his initial guilt).
Much of this reminded me of Charlotte Flair as the ‘Queen’ in WWE. In the run up to WrestleMania 35, Flair claimed to be the ‘chosen one’, though not by the gods of Ancient Greece, but by the gods of WWE, the McMahon family. She claimed to be chosen as she was the best, and, despite the heat this generated, there was an element of truth to it. Like with Socrates, the claim was hard to dispute, but it was the constant self-avowal of it that made it a heel thing to say.
Flair also had a history of winning a lot of matches and championships, just as Socrates had a history of winning many arguments. Many opponents had come and go, and all had been vanquished at some point. No mercy was shown to them. Flair was able to back up the claim to be the best not just by being the ‘chosen one’, but by a demonstrable record of success, and she never missed an opportunity to remind everyone of it (much like Socrates…!).
Moreover, just as Socrates said that the city of Athens should be thankful to have someone like him, Flair demanded respect and gratitude from the ‘WWE Universe’ for gracing it with her presence, and making the shows better.
For Charlotte, these were all seemingly clear heel moves, giving us a character that should be booed relentlessly. But, curiously, in the last week, she has been positioned more as a babyface, after being attacked by the newly-heel Bayley and Sasha Banks.
While her character has not changed, she gets more positive reactions because of who she’s fighting against. The arrogance and ruthlessness now takes on a new form: it is no longer a decisive reason to boo her, and can even now lead to her being cheered for doing the same things as before because of who she is up against.
This takes us back to Socrates. Remember who he’s speaking to in the Apology: not us, the readers, but the jury, the 500 wealthy men of Athens. Maybe they are the heels here, as they are the ones trying to silence reasoned and informed debate in order to protect their interests. The fact that Socrates is displaying arrogance towards them may exonerate his behavior as it appears to us, just as Charlotte’s arrogance and ruthlessness takes a different tone if directed towards heels.
It could be, then, that there is no babyface and heel behavior as such, and instead all that matters is who the behavior is directed at. This may disrupt the classic idea of babyfaces and heels, though, where the babyface never sinks to the heel’s level, a view that Socrates himself seems to endorse: in the dialogue Crito, for example, he says that one shouldn’t act unjustly, even if one has been treated unjustly.
Alternatively, we may be tempted by the idea that thinking in classic pro wrestling terms of babyfaces and heels is just too simplistic to capture the nuances of the characters involved, much as perhaps real life is perhaps too complex to apply neat moral principles to (explored further in my book Philosophy Smackdown). As Charlotte Flair herself puts it, maybe: