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  April 18, 1999

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A rasslin' fan ducks the jabs
Loud and lewd, WWF is not the wrestling you grew up with

By DARCY ANDERSON -- Edmonton Sun

 As a lifelong rasslin' fan, I can't tell you how many times I've had this jab levelled at me, "How can you watch that childish garbage?''
 Well, in the minds of those who mock me, it'll likely always be garbage, but by no means is it kids' stuff any more.
 You see, the World Wrestling Federation of today isn't exactly the old Saturday afternoon wrestling show you grew up watching. That is, unless that show boasted amongst it's stable of characters, an ex-porn-star, a pimp and an agent of evil who on occasion sacrifices his opponents.
 Pro wrestling is no longer grown men running around a ring in their underwear. Now it's grown men - and women - running around in their underwear ... spewing vulgarities, gesturing obscenely and pummeling one another with really neat weapons (everything from cookie sheets to watermelons and other fresh produce to the old-favourite, a folding chair).
 Enough to make noble warriors of yesteryear like Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz shudder in disgust.
Stone Cold Steve Austin cartoon by Fred Curatolo, Edmonton Sun

 WWF owner Vince McMahon sees his weekly prime-time extravaganzas as part action-adventure, part-melodrama, part-comedy and, of course, a whole lotta cartoon.
 It ain't Masterpiece Theatre, as they say, but damn, is it fun!
 But this brash style of the WWF, which renewed my interest in the mat wars about three years ago, has also drawn a healthy parade of detractors.
 Dateline NBC, ESPN's Outside the Lines, and Inside Edition are among the high-profile news programs that have produced pieces in the last year denouncing the current WWF product.
 McMahon makes no bones about the fact that their brand of entertainment has become quite adult, but he defends his company by saying it's no different than anything Hollywood produces. And he's right.
 Prime-time TV is chock-full of programs that are just as risque as the WWF.
 This controversy hasn't weakened McMahon or the WWF one bit.
 RAW is WAR, the WWF's signature program, routinely draws more than 4.5 million American viewers each Monday night - up over 200% from two years ago. It is currently the most-watched weekly cable program in the United States and is also one of the highest-rated shows on TSN in Canada, averaging 500,000 viewers weekly.
 It's even hotter than it was during the mid-'80s when pro-wrestling first reached mainstream pop-culture.
 You can't swing a dead cat (hey, now that would be a cool foreign object for a hard-core match) without hitting a WWF superstar on a talk show or on the cover of a magazine. "Stone Cold'' Steve Austin on Nash Bridges, Sable gracing the cover of the biggest-selling Playboy in 15 years - the list goes on and on.
 And the evolution of the WWF, as McMahon sees it, isn't finished just yet. It's been said that he envisions a day in the not too distant future when he no longer must use the word "wrestling" to describe his product.
 He's almost there.
 During RAW, there is, on average, about 30-40 minutes of actual mat action out of a two-hour program. The remainder of time is packed with catchphrase-filled interviews, backstage shenanigans and a bevy of scantily clad babes.
 It all comes together to form often quite intricate and entertaining storylines.
 Critics go on to charge that the WWF seems to be marketing its product towards kids.
 Well, the WWF stresses that its prime-time product is intended for a mature audience, while it continues to produce separate Saturday morning shows that are geared towards the rugrats of the house.
 And at the risk of sounding like a shill for the WWF, parents, if you don't want your kids watching it, don't let them. It's really that simple.
 While I don't have kids, I'm quite certain if I did, RAW is one program I wouldn't be too keen on them watching.
 I, on the other hand, wouldn't be missing an episode.
 The WWF most certainly is not for everyone. It goes over the edge quite regularly and offends hordes of people every week.
 Is it further evidence of the decay of our Jerry Springer-ized society? Maybe. But I prefer this slightly less-profound way of looking at it. Mindless chuckles for a mature audience.
 Well, maybe mature isn't the best description, but you know what I mean.