What Does It Mean For Armenian Visibility in Young American Pop Culture?
BY KATE SPALLA
Seth Rollins has been called “The Undeniable Future of WWE” and he was named World Wrestling Federation (WWE) World Heavyweight Champion at Wrestlemania 31, but he’s less often recognized as an Armenian-American. Born to an Armenian father he never met, Rollins took the last name Lopez and was raised by his mother and stepfather. He’s spoken in scant media about his Armenian heritage.
Nationalities often inform wrestlers’ characters like Rusev, a Bulgarian who hails Putin or the Uso brothers who roll into the ring with Samoan chants — and some viewers criticize the industry for using such simple stereotypes — but for wrestlers like Seth Rollins whose characters don’t hinge on their nationalities, the question remains whether it is more or less important to be recognized for one’s background.
This is not to say Seth Rollins’s character needs to be presented as Armenian in the ring. He has more freedom to develop an intricate story that’s free of hookups. In less than a year, Rollins turned on his tag-team The Shield and went solo, aligning with The Authority to plow past WWE Champions John Cena and Brock Lesnar. Seth Rollins’ plot centered on power, paving a more direct route to success than a nationality-based storyline may have in the same amount of time.
Aside from character strategy, it seems worth noting in a broader societal sense that Seth Rollins is Armenian. This would be partly helpful as WWE mends its diversity issues, but especially in light of the Armenian peoples’ genocide survival. It’s important for continuity and cultural preservation to establish that people of Armenian descent have lived and thrived to do great things in the world after the early 20th century Armenian Genocide.
Like many entertainers, Rollins’s deservedness is questioned at times. He won his title by cashing in a sort of voucher briefcase he once earned, and that owed him any near-future title he desired. And Rollins was recently the subject of a scandal involving leaked private photos. But precisely like the successes of many other Armenian entertainers, Rollins’s achievements symbolize via blood and lineage that generations of Armenians have strengths contributing to global culture. Seth Rollins is an incredibly talented athlete and performer, and he’s quickly becoming one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling. The WWE universe would not have Seth Rollins if the genocide had taken his ancestors’ lives.
It’s possible Rollins feels removed from Armenian culture and that would be understandable. He was not raised in an Armenian home. A person is not obligated to any identity if he or she does not feel comfortable or connected enough to express themselves in such a way. But Rollins seems to comfortably admit he’s Armenian when asked, and it’s certainly special for Armenians to celebrate one another’s successes. If we recognize Rollins’ Armenian heritage, it can only help our culture’s advancements.
Kate Spalla is a part Armenian writer living in New York City with her cat, Pizza who is also part Armenian – at least she thinks. She has written about live music review, professional wrestling, politics and more across publications such as Time Out New York Magazine, mtvU.com, and Examiner.com.