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  March 5, 1999

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Messages confusing to kids
As if the violence wasn't enough, pro wrestling superstars have added sexual suggestion and questionable language to their repertoire as role models.

By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
  A group of eight-year-old boys congregated in my basement the other day and one of them loudly shouted: "What do you want?''
 And then everyone responded in unison: "We want head!''
 This alarming piece of noise created one of those moments of parental concern.
 "Do you guys know what 'head' is?'' I asked the youngsters, trying to be stern and hold in my laughter at precisely the same time. AL SNOW
 "Sure,'' one of them said boldly. "Head is Al Snow's doll. He carries the head around with him.''
 Head, in this case, isn't what Monica Lewinsky was talking about on television the other night, even if it sounds like it.
 Al Snow, for the record, is a WWF wrestler with an act. He holds up this scruffy-looking head of a doll to the crowd whenever he works and shouts: "What do you want?''
 And the crowd, without failure, shouts back at him: "We want head!''
 It's all in the name of good fun. Unless you happen to be a parent of a youngster who can't get enough of WWF wrestling. Unless you happen to be concerned about the mixed messages of sexual language, sexual stereotyping and violence that so pervade what used to pass for children's programming.
 The WWF used to be a cartoon show with live character actors. There wasn't a whole lot of difference between Fred Flintstone, Ralph Kramden and Hulk Hogan. There were good guys and bad guys in every episode, playing their ever-changing parts in this sports and entertainment series of soap operas. The plots may have changed but the show ostensibly remained the same.
 Not any more. My 11-year-old's favourite expression is "Suck it.'' He learned that from watching the WWF. He just doesn't say it any more. He knows the gestures. Kids his age and a whole lot younger walk around the school yard these days with their arms crossed with the symbol of Degeneration X, a wrestling conglomeration of the spiritually challenged, doing the Suck-it thing.
 Time was, if you let your kids watch wrestling on television, the only thing you had to worry about was whether one of your children was going to try to put a sleeper hold on another kid in the neighbourhood. That wasn't necessarily a good thing, either. Violence was one issue. Now, there are other issues.
 Language. Sexual stereotyping. Sexual innuendo. So many messages, so many of them confusing to kids who already are forced to grow on an unfortunate fast track.
 A recent study at Indiana University found shocking amounts of profanity not all that hidden in the weekly WWF Raw programs, which are shown Monday nights on TSN and repeated again on Tuesday, not coincidentally, after school. The show begins with a warning, which is how the WWF people apologize for their change of direction, but it hasn't cut down on its audience. The audience, in fact, has increased.
 In a 50-program sample taken at Indiana University strictly from the Monday night shows, the number of sex-related instances was nothing short of astounding.
 There were 128 episodes of simulated sexual activity of one kind or another.
 There were 434 times when people either said a sexually charged slogan or displayed one in a sign.
 There were 157 instances of wrestlers making obscene gestures of one kind or another.
 There were 1,658 instances of wrestlers or managers pointing to their crotch. In case you're not doing the math here, that's almost seven crotch-points every half-hour.
 The other night I watched WWF Raw and I should let you in on my built-in prejudice. I'm an old wrestling nut. I used to produce my own wrestling magazine and I have written for others. I grew up on The Sheik and Lord Athol Layton and Gene Kiniski. When I worked in Calgary, I became friendly with the famous Hart family, which has produced some of the better performers in recent years.
 But all I seemed to see on WWF Raw were breasts. Large breasts. Artificially enhanced breasts. Women standing by their male wrestlers all dressed up like they've just walked off the pages of a Penthouse shoot and into our living rooms.
 A confession: I will continue to watch the WWF from time to time, partly because I'm interested, partly because I want to see what my 11-year-old is watching.
 As for my eight-year-old, he's on the outside looking in and not at all happy about it. He can't understand what he's watching and I'm not prepared to explain it to him.