America needs a progressive alternative to toxic masculinity and rural communities need options that truly resolve the issues of the working class. Adam Page, a world champion pro wrestler, former educator, and part of a rural farming family, could be a model to look to.
I explain how the CM Punk and Adam Page feud as well as Punk’s heel turn are driven by differences in ethical approaches as it comes to leadership as well as the lessons from this story for cultural and social movement leaders. Adam Page sticks by his values and the true culture of his movement, not by the culture of the good old boy’s club or how things have always been done, does what is right regardless of allegiances, and he is not afraid to call out people who have let “the world get into” them. CM Punk is a legacy leader who may have forgotten his punk values along the climb to success and may be letting the past get in the way of his ethical thinking. This may be as true in kayfabe as outside of it.
Insidious ideologies have long spread through American life starting with disillusioned young men, but the positive masculinity of athlete-activists like the AEW World Champion and self-proclaimed “Anxious Millennial Cowboy” Adam “Hangman” Page holds the key to change that by inspiring inclusive attitudes, activism, strength, and personal change.
My most comprehensive review of Adam Page and his social impact is my article entitled:
Insidious ideologies have long spread through American life starting with disillusioned young men, but the positive masculinity of athlete-activists like self-proclaimed “Anxious Millennial Cowboy” Adam “Hangman” Page holds the key to change that by inspiring inclusive attitudes, activism, strength, and personal change.
First, a personal story and some recent history
I remember what I thought was a bit of a strange question while I was in my Law and Politics class at USC discussing the 2020 Presidential Election. We were discussing which primary candidate was best for the Republicans. As someone who worked in minority and youth outreach for the Tea Party before coming to the left, I gravitated toward talking about who would gain sought-after minority votes. After my analysis, my professor, a Fox News Democratic analyst, asked something to the effect of “Who would be best for whites? Are we going to ignore them?” This remark caught me slightly off guard as I had not thought of it before. Of course, I had a response that any of the candidates would do well. Little did I know this quick remark was foreshadowing one of the most toxic political shifts, or shall I say societal heel turns, in American history.
White people in rural areas who were an afterthought and only given good outreach by those with bad intentions, specifically using people with real hardships to push a fake, racist narrative, wound up changing the outcome of the election and setting the narrative with the leader of their faction, Donald Trump, now being the leader of the free world. As part of this, on social media, disaffected predominantly young white males via platforms like 4chan predominantly set the digital discourse around issues of politics and culture toward having a distaste for people of color, women, and other disadvantaged groups based on their own hardships and on self-development ideologies created by digital agitators. These agitators went by names like “Men’s Rights Activists,” “National Sovereignty,” all the way to seemingly innocuous “Pick-Up Artists” and even bodybuilding influencers. With a perfectly artificially formed image of everything these young men wanted to be, they asserted that those who argued for changing the true systemic causes of disadvantaged communities’ problems were weak, beta, and SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) who just whine. Because real, strong men assert themselves as the better race, more deserving of basic resources than others, and blame disadvantaged people for any failures (yeah, right).
It is imperative to understand that politics is highly based on personal philosophy and intolerant reactionaries have exploited this to create an all-encompassing philosophy that appears to show personal development results related to the specific problems faced by demographics that can be converted to their ideology. Self-help ideas and how deeply they are to penetrate the mind of adherents can lead to a different perception of economic standing, the way a worker should be treated, and what creates health, hence changing issue perspectives and then decisions at the ballot box. Along with spreading political ideas using the platform built by this “help”, they can turn concepts like strength, self-reliance, and community into support for destructive political actions like the January 6th coup attempt.
I left the conservative movement shortly after Trump’s election, realizing more and more each day the degeneration of the movement and my inability to create change from the inside as I had tried to for years prior, even as a board member of Tea Party Youth. Later, realizing my fear is what held me back from making the change fully sooner and with moreconfidence and the influence of the right people, I completely abandoned the ideology and am now generally in the leftist category. The people I met in the movement were very nice and we’re trying to do the right thing, but never quite got around to the ways I wanted to create change and were lacking resources that were poached off after Trump’s election.
Though I managed to find my own ideas to an extent (Page has helped me as well to grow and be better), many young men had nowhere to go. Anxious millennials who struggled with relationships, self-doubt, and economic troubles searching for answers wound up with these agitators hoping for change and instead landed in the chokehold of Trumpism. They did not identify with the mainstream mental health or self-care approaches. They didn’t want to merely hear “you’re oppressed and just have to wait for someone else to help you to make it better” or “you’re already too privileged, so step down and concede.” Instead, they knew deep down they needed a way to show their strength, to become a champion in their chosen area of endeavor. And various intolerant influencers and their ideologies claimed they knew the way, all while secretly and openly degrading their followers and inspiring disdain for the people around them.
These influencers’ ideologies are not limited to white people; they spread to persons of color, most notably Latino men, some of whom have a concept of “machismo” that can align with certain intolerant attitudes, contradicting typical political communication thought about minority groups. I myself am half-Latino and know firsthand that this group is nowhere near the monolith it has been perceived to be. Ideas pushing the general narrative in the direction of antagonism are spread from the most vulnerable to the whole of the population, men and even some women, quickly through hyper-speed online connection-making, relatability to core consumers, and humor.
A Word on Intersectionality
The concept of Intersectionality has been misconstrued from its origins with Black scholars trying to explain the hidden ties between people with different experiences to create a “point system” of oppression that is supposed to re-value one person’s experience over another based on how oppressed they are on this scale. This is not how Intersectionality actually works. The correct application is to find common ground between those in different groups terms of identities, relationships to institutions, and forms of oppression experienced. Part of the rise of intolerant ideologies among certain subsets of minorities is because proponents of them ignore the false “point system” or “Oppression Olympics” method of Intersectionality and build connections among people in different groups who have intersectional links in their experiences, unconsciously acknowledging the very system of analysis they rebuke. These ideologies are spreading like wildfire in second-generation minorities who share similar issues to young white people. Understanding people with a truly intersectional approach allows us to see how personal philosophies and life experiences across categories of people translate to political thought and building communities, both for good and bad.
Hangman Enters The Ring as the Face of Millennials
Adam Page, who hails from a farm in rural Aaron’s Creek, VA, has a story of redemption that has had wrestling fans raptured in awe for years. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech University at age 19, has experience as a teacher of graphic design and journalism, and is an accomplished Tag Team Champion wrestler in the nationally televised All Elite Wrestling (AEW) organization. As such, Page has the full package intellectually, creatively, and athletically. He has much reason to be hopeful, but much like many young men he has had his struggles. There are many detailed analyses of Page’s storyline journey by people who have more wrestling expertise than myself, such as this multi-part series but basically he has struggled to gain acceptance from his fellow wrestlers, been taken advantage of and demeaned by so-called friends who promised to help make him into a star in the sport, and had some victories such as his Tag Team Championship with his current adversary Kenny Omega but also devastating defeats in pursuit of an AEW World Championship.
He has taken many years to develop as a wrestler, more than many would have expected at his skill level, coming so close to victory but falling just short of it, leading to an Imposter Syndrome of no longer recognizing his potential. Other wrestlers have remarked that he often performs poorly under pressure and this failing has compounded his anxiety to the point where he became notorious for self-medicating with copious amounts of alcohol. This slow-burn cycle of being hyped up, ready, then failing, and being abandoned by friends as the journey got rough is all too familiar to many Millennials, and especially those seeking help in the pits of the Internet. This archetype of a person who seems to have done everything right but cannot get ahead is the exact kind of person exploitative groups seek, but Page has stayed steadfast when encountering those who wanted to harm him. Demonstrating this, he has not even formally joined his current team within AEW, The Dark Order. Page’s story has touched me personally as someone who got a head start after graduating college at 20 only to have so much time eaten up by a bad injury and having the wrong people around me, and am still trying to fully find my way at 25.
A True Social Justice Warrior (with the muscle to back it up)
There has been a lot of talk about toxic masculinity, but I want to talk about the positive masculinity Page embodies, which is the ideal antidote here. Much of this can be seen in his redefinition of what a cowboy is. The image of a cowboy to a typical progressive may conjure toxic masculinity, conservative politics, and even the specter of racism. See Dan Rodimer, a far inferior cowboy wrestler who ran for office.I would not blame you for misjudging Page on first impression, as he is everything right-wing cowboy LARPers think they are (but really often aren’t) – big, strong, authentic, down-home, and smart. But to Page, “being a cowboy is about leaving your frontier better than you found it” and he declares that hospital ICU workers fighting COVID and protesters supporting racial justice and Black Lives Matter are doing “Cowboy S**t.” It’s also about the strength it takes to wrestle with finding the right path in life, hence his Anxious Millennial Cowboy moniker. His playlist of same name features songs extolling his new counter-hegemonic alternative philosophy of Cowboyism, with lyrics ranging from “I’m a lover but I’ll still fight,” “raising hell with the hippies and the cowboys,” “cowboys are average American people, Texicans, Mexicans, black men, and Jews,” to “south gotta change…Let the children lead the way.” He describes bad employment terms as something that you should have the “balls to do something about,” and where “there’s strength in numbers,” changing organizing from mere complaining to an appealing act of masculine pre-political strength and courage.
One of the most impressive aspects of Page’s approach is how he marvelously shows both strength and weakness. Going beyond mere mental health awareness in the PR agency-approved format, he relates deeply to the mental and societal challenges of his followers, engages in their dialect, acknowledges his own failures, and points gently to solutions. He gives monologues out in nature linking self -loathing and guilt to systemic narratives or as he says “the way the world has conditioned (you) to think, when honestly the choice was never (yours) to begin with.” His children’s book “Adam and The Golden Horseshoe” inspires kids to not chase after lucky charms to quell self-doubt but to recognize that confidence is the key to success and understand that even the best have doubted themselves.
Page shows vulnerability while showing an exceptional athletic performance level in-ring, he adopts a growth mindset while showing the ups and downs, a kind of honesty that allows for a much desired release. He directly contradicts the weak, whiny leftists narrative, which is exactly how a face (or good guy in wrestling terms) overcomes the shaming of a heel (or enemy). In the area of fitness, his Full Gear Challenge showed this as he experienced self-doubt regarding having what was perceived as an inferior physique to fellow wrestlers like PAC and took a positive approach, not just taking the shame but showing how he is making a change and sharing his journey with a positive community. He took humor in his pitfalls, poked fun at Instagram fitness influencers’ perfectly curated lifestyles, and inspired many others to make a change. What is more remarkable is he did this while also promoting body positivity, supporting eating disorder awareness, and discouraging the use of performance enhancing drugs (read the fine print, it’s worth it). This blended approach appeals more to our instinctive desire for strength than saying “just accept your body, it’s bad to try to ever change it,” “being strong is toxic,” and “getting shredded is fatphobic,” inaccurate caricatures that right-wing leaders like to impute to leftists and those who advocate for social change.
Comedy – a force multiplier
Page counters yet another key finishing move of hateful ideology heels: the good guys aren’t funny but we are so funny because we have no tact! The ability to make a meme has become as necessary as the ability to make a point in today’s politics. Comedy is one of the ways ideologies that people will intellectually reject but appeal to primal instincts can get through. Ostensibly working class, raw comedy seems to always slide in an idea that subconsciously pits you against the outgroup they want to pick on that day.
But that’s no match for Page, who has a decidedly progressive approach delivered in a fun, subtle way. His tweets, such as a recent tweet regarding Jeff Bezos’ space launch and cowboy hat usage are ideal example. He jokes “if you work piss-in-a-bottle hard for long enough then you too can watch your boss’ boss’ boss’ tax cheat boss go on a ten minute almost space vacation.” Working “piss-in-a-bottle hard” sounds like something an exaggerated hustle influencer a la Gary Vaynerchuk would say but he is pointing to the reality of the struggle for workers’ rights of Amazon warehouse employees who are denied bathroom breaks. He talks about Corona beer not causing Coronavirus, taking precautions to protect his health, and Medicare for All in one “press release” about the COVID-19 pandemic. Climate change, an issue that corrective measures against are often portrayed as an affront to down-home American living, is artfully handled through a Pokémon Snap analogy and asserting that this cowboy will proudly put some lab-grown sirloin on his plate. But he is as strong as he is funny. He encouraged fans to get COVID vaccines first by tweeting jokingly about free chicken sandwiches then by saying that fans who are not either vaccinated or wearing a mask if unvaccinated should “stay the hell away” from him and AEW events, closing with “have a blessed day” to show his kindness.
Collective Populist Renegade Power via The Dark Order
After drifting through factions in the AEW universe that just used Page, he found an unexpected new home with a group that has transitioned from being a “cult” to being a force for good. After the death of its founder Brodie Lee and with Page’s influence, The Dark Order is now a leaderless movement, a supportive group of people with working-class attitudes, good humor, and a desire to climb the ladder in AEW. They remain dark and somewhat “cult-like” in terms of aesthetic but really represent positive values in a manner similar to positive hardcore punk bands. Instead of denigrating Page, using him for purposes outside of his true calling and philosophy, or allowing him to stay in a lower position than he ought, The Dark Order has encouraged him to overcome his doubt and challenge for the title of World Champion. Edgy but relatable and welcoming group identities like Dark Order can be key to attracting those prone to exploitation toward activism and success.
We need to raise up a generation of socially conscious communicators like Page who are exemplars in terms of achievement in areas sometimes considered irrelevant by intellectual theory-bound activists, like athletics and yes, cowboy s**t. Activists like Page bring into submission the fear of being emasculated by advocating inclusion and systemic change, showing the path to personal victory by building strength and using it well, but also showing how that path isn’t always smooth. The concept of sports diplomacy is widely recognized in the field of public diplomacy as a way of building connections with youth across borders and I believe it can be used internally within our nation just as well. However, as we see here, overcoming personal struggles while maintaining your integrity and driving a movement cannot be done on your own. A collective like the Dark Order is needed to empower and prevent exploitation by unsavory figures. We need people like Adam Page and groups like Dark Order for the Anxious Millennial Cowboys across America who are in search of supportive, goal-oriented, but fun and accepting people if we are to win.
Key Lessons from Adam Page’s Example
The population of young, disempowered white and second-generation minority males and who are fully immersed in online culture have considerable power now and in the future for elections and organizing, in terms of preserving electoral college shifts and setting the cultural narratives for the rest of the public. Hence, it is imperative we learn from and support popular exemplars like Page in political organizing and media practice. In creating influencer content, raising up athlete-activists, and positive communities and movements for disenfranchised young people, remember these 3 lessons.
In honor of his tag team with Preston “10” Vance and the name “Hang 10” that some used to refer to them, they are represented by the acronym SURF. (Sorry, Kenny Omega, your old surfer gimmick doesn’t hold up any longer and your championship won’t either when you go up against Hangman.)
Be Strong in every way, in terms of physical presence, communication style, and intellectual matters. In wrestling terms, cut a good promo. Don’t be afraid of masculine cues when speaking to this specific audience.
Be Understanding of the desires of your audience and Relatable to their insecurities. Their struggles may be what brings them to desire a solution or even what creates trust. Trust does not solely come from superiority and flashiness. The journey toward success politically or personally is not to be glossed over. Raw, personal, and down-home, is the way to go.
Be Funny. Humor is the sugar that washes the uncomfortable ideas down. Showing you live their normal life and not a boring, fun-less one goes a long way.
And let’s root for the People’s World Champion to gain the redemption he deserves with the AEW World Championship as we redeem our communities by doing Cowboy S**t every day.
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About The Author:
Greyson Peltier is a communications consultant specializing in social impact and progressive political outreach, and founder of Laguna Beach, CA-based consulting firm Off Speed Solutions. Prior to deciding that a leftist-libertarian approach is the best way to provide freedom to the people while serving the greatest needs of society, he was a member of the Board of Directors of Tea Party Youth and a journalism leader for Tea Party Patriots. Peltier is agraduate of the University of Southern California with honors and has been featured by media outlets like Vice, ESPN Radio KLAA, USA Radio Network, and Street Fight Radio.