From the Grotesque to the Sublime, WWE’s Gothic Superstars: Part 2
“Through hellfire and brimstone…. It’s the Big Red Machine … Kane!”
Although Jim Ross’ official retirement earlier this year sets the odds against us ever hearing this line spoken again live, it’s still one of the more iconic ever recorded by the legendary announcer, and more certainly the most memorable in Kane’s long list of elaborate descriptions and monikers.
This one line encapsulates so many of the important qualities we’ve seen from Kane’s characters in its various forms: the infernally searing presence; the sense that he’s less a rational, calculating human being and more a machine operating on eco-unfriendly rageoline; and the fact that he, well, wears red. Over the years, the Big Red Machine’s emphasized some monikers over others, has changed his character alignment and emotional range, and in that time and through those changes he’s given us a plethora of different stories and characters to explore through the Gothic lens.
We all know the story about how The Undertaker had allegedly burned Kane and their family alive, which ‘Taker countered by accusing Kane, a pyromaniac, of the deed, before finally conceding that he had actually started the fire to set up a heel turn. For the Undertaker character, this was a secret that must have haunted him throughout his adulthood, manifested finally in the form of his fiendish half-brother. Like the heartbeat in “The Telltale Horror”, Paul Bearer’s reminder of Kane’s imminent arrival was the nagging guilt taken flesh that finally culminated in The Undertaker’s destruction by the hands of the monster he’d carelessly created. However, I don’t think it does it justice to wrap up this description with a bunch of literary allusions. Although there are probably other parallels to classic Gothic works I could draw, here there was something nuanced, elevated by the unique craftsmanship of professional wrestling. The effects, the posturing, the larger-than-life battles – these all set a stage that was much more than two men trading blows over a girl or a title or whatever other plot device; they became two superordinary figures, two avatars of cruelty, death and in Kane’s case, the reckless intent of fire, dueling on a stage that shook with the weight of their blows.
Years later, Kane would explore this relationship with his half-brother again, this time serving a premise perhaps more grounded: Kane was tired of being in The Undertaker’s shadow. He believed he was the superior brother, favored by the devil himself. Even Paul Bearer would return to show his favor for the younger son. Eventually, he did manage to put his older brother in the ground, and for a while not only was he one of the most dominant forces on TV, he was also a recipient of critical acclaim by the wrestling community.
Kane may not have always been The Big Red Machine, he may not always have stunk of hellfire and brimstone, he may at times have even been cuddlier than threatening, but in this storylines, in those perfectly sublime stories where two supernatural beings are pitted against each other, he’s more than just Glenn Jacobs. He’s a product of the Gothic in wrestling.
Nicholas LeVack is a junior English creative writing major and media studies minor whose interests include writing, wrestling, video games and occasional outdoorsy things. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.