Wednesday, December 16, 1998
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
WWF wallowing in the dirt
A few years ago I abandoned the World Wrestling Federation when their gimmicks got to be ludicrous for their own good. A wrestling dentist...a crazy clown and his miniature sidekick...an evil Bob Backlund...what the hell's going on?
This was clearly an organization that was peddling its wares to the youngsters, which is fine, but not something I found particularly appealing.
Recently I have found myself drawn back to the WWF-more out of curiosity as to how they regained their status following years of wallowing in the depths of sports-entertainment mediocrity-and I'm horrified at what I'm seeing.
Scantily clad women clawing at each other, pimps, gay bashing...this isn't professional wrestling, it's the Jerry Springer show masquerading as professional sports.
The subtext of these angles is bad enough, but the fact that the WWF is still aiming itself at children with toys and dolls and video game tie-ins is something that we should all find disturbing.
First off late me state that I'm not some religious fanatic concerned about the arts leading to the moral decay of society. I love wrestling (the more extreme the better), horror movies (the gorier the better) and politically-charged punk rock (the more profane the better). But what concerns me are the values and negative stereotypes being instilled and perpetuated by the WWF's curious (im)moral code in the name of entertainment.
You really don't have to look much further than the past few weeks of Monday Raw telecasts to understand what I'm talking about. Racism, sexism, homophobia play key roles in the majority of angles.
For several weeks straight, the Godfather has proudly proclaimed that "Pimpin' ain't easy" and has become a fan favourite. So here we have a black man playing a criminal and abusing women to get cheers...just like real life, right?
The WWF's other black characters are either pathetic jokes (D-Lo and Mark Henry) or second rate losers in the JOB Squad (Too Cold Scorpio). The other female characters are used as either bait or get into scraps to thrill the horny adolescents and dads watching.
Meanwhile, some of the biggest heels are made out to be gay. At the November SkyDome card, Too Much (Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor) would routinely seek comfort in each other's arms and eventually ended up in a doggy style position after a botched attempt at a finishing move. OK, what year is this? As so many people are finally becoming accepting of same sex relationships, the WWF would have it reduced to some kind of fundamental evil. And unfortunately the kids are buying it.
There's nothing more disheartening than going to a card and hearing a nine-year-old boy yelling "faggot!" at the competitors and knowing that kid is probably going to carry that misguided attitude with him for the rest of his life.
I suppose there's hope.
I, for example, spent a lot of time, probably too much time, watching slasher movies and I'm not a mass murderer. Hopefully that kid won't become a gay basher.
But the difference between movies and wrestling is that the films were so obviously not real, wrestling for some kids is real life in much the same way as football or baseball. It's also interactive theatre and encouraging kids to boo the dumb black guys or those who exhibit homosexual tendencies is not the same as watching zombies disembowel people.
Part of the problem from where I sit is the WWF's inability to clearly differentiate good from bad. In their world good is bad and bad is better. The feuds offer no redeeming qualities of sportsmanship or of a bad guy paying his due...in fact there are no bad guys anymore...no black and white, just shades of dark grey. A gun-toting, beer swilling, white trash lout is the most popular hero in the WWF while a wealthy man of Indian descent is among the biggest heels.
What's wrong with this picture?
Why not have clearly defined good and bad that doesn't depend on a character being non-white or flambouyant? Good and bad guys come in all races, colors and sexual persuasions why not have some gay or black heroes? Remember when Harley Race, Ric Flair and Magnificent Don Morocco were the bad guys just because...?
I'm not ignorant enough to suggest the WWF invented the racist or homophobic heels. Pro wrestling has a history of making Russians and Iranians or Gorgeous George and Austin Idol the bad guys, but those were different times.
Up until the late 1980s, wrestling was a guilty pleasure for adults who would presumably know better, they might jeer Gorgeous George or Ivan Koloff, but were mature enough to know what was real and what was staged. Things are different now as the WWF, to its credit, has made wrestling huge business. But in doing so, they made it a family affair.
Many parents who started watching WWF during the Hulk Hogan days would probably be horrified to see what was going on in the federation these days.
If the WWF wants to abandon the kiddy angles, fine. It should also have the decency to stop marketing toys and video games to children.
Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling has it right. I don't really find anything appealing about it's tame approach, but at least it's fair. The heels are dickheads and the heroes are virtuous. There are Latino villains (LWO) and Latino heroes like Konan who teaches that gangs are bad.
And ECW, which is the best of the big three, has never been for kids. Plus, it has black heroes like New Jack who beats and bloodies white heels...good for him!
The defence the WWF likes to throw around is that it's up to parents to keep an eye on what their kids are watching and censor objectionable material. I agree that's where most of the responsibility lies. But the WWF has changed the rules in mid stream from a bastion of family-oriented entertainment to a haven for softcore porn and hate. If it intends to continue with this approach, it should stop marketing itself to children.
TSN, the Canadian carrier of Raw is right to put the disclaimer on before the show to warn of the content.
The WWF has every right to operate as it wishes and say what it wants just as I have the right to write this column and warn people of what a nasty place it is.
And just as I have the right not to watch Raw or any of their pay-per view specials.
So to Vince McMahon and WWF my television remote and I have just one word for ya!
Stuart Green is a journalist from Toronto, Ontario. During the day he can be found covering the political beat and community issues for the Guardian and Mirror newspapers. In his spare time he writes for various music magazines and is an accomplished musician formerly with the band Crawl. Stuart can be emailed at email@example.com