Monday, October 27, 2014

As I was reading through Sammond's article, "Squaring the Family Circle: WWF Smackdown Assaults the Social Body," I was reminded of the uproar caused by Smackdown gracing the screens of prime-time television. People were disgusted by the idea that this show was promoting violence and rebellious behavior, negatively influencing the nation's youths. What struck me as interesting was the following: "The audience for Smackdown [fared] best with men aged eighteen to forty-nine, garnering an enthusiastic following on college campuses, and drawing significant numbers of women...If the show reaches far more than children, why are they its imagined audience?" And I've been trying to answer this question ever since. Why does the world seem to assume that wrestling's primary audience is children when, in reality, they're not? Yes, wrestling is violent. It's wrestling. And it's really no more violent than America's beloved football. Or hockey. Wrestling just also happens to include a soap-operatic story line. Critics are also more angered by the fact that wrestling stories blatantly portray sexism and racism instead of being angered by the fact that they are simply reflecting our own society back to us. In a previous reading of Foley is Good, Mick mentions that parents will get angry at the WWE for portraying such violence before they will actually take the time to sit with their kids and explain to them that wrestling is a theatrical performance and the stories they tell are exaggerated and fictional. The bad guys are misogynistic because they're bad guys and that's what bad guys do. You have to have an unlikable bad guy. I feel as if these tired out arguments could be remedied if people would just take the time to educate themselves and their children.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Katie, you raise some interesting questions here. Why do cultural critics talk about wrestling as if it's audience is primarily children or adolescents, or even young adults? (And, presumably, largely white.) The answer is much more complicated than that.

Let's ask a different question. Why does WWE, at varying times and in some venues, describe its audience as a heavy number of children/parents, or adolescent boys, or young adult men?

As Nick Sammond points out, and as the Zeb Coulter "shoot" comments pointed out, wrestling's audience is way more diverse than that and stretches across age groups...

First, one needs to ask what the motivation of the people framing the audience is. For cultural critics like the Parents Television Council Sammond and Lowney were looking at or the NY Times critic Sammond was writing about, it's about outrage. And, while we might live in a culture now where it's no longer en vogue to say we have cultural watchdogs looking out for the rights of "the weaker sex" who might be entranced by wrestling (as happened in Dell's day) or non-white audiences (as has happened at many points in the past), children and adolescents remain ours for the "protecting." Who's going to argue that our youth don't need to be protected? So the "paternal and maternal" authorities in culture these days have only the children to focus on.

Meanwhile, WWE at times has made their diverse audience simplified, to appeal to the advertisers. "We can get adolescents and young adult men, when they watch very little TV," for instance. Or the whole marketing manufacturing process that comes along with "targeting" children with programming. In this case, it's turning the audience into a commodity. In the days when wrestling was just trying to get "asses in seats," who cares who they are. But when wrestling entered "the entertainment business" and particular television, then suddenly who advertisers were looking for became a much more important the audience had to be constructed in a different way.

Keep in mind, when we're talking about arena attendance, or WWE Network (for $9.99), or DVDs, all audiences are created equal. Each person's $$$ will spend. On the other hand, in advertising, the viewer isn't the customer; the advertiser is. And the viewer is the commodity being sold. If advertisers are looking for young adult men, WWE may focus on that audience at the exclusion of others, and may even go to efforts to downplay how diverse its audiences is in order to construct a narrative for advertisers...

As Clerc and Sammond point out in their piece today, those realities greatly affect the stories that play out on screen and the attention that is afforded to audiences outside that target demographic...which, as is the case with the area of fandom they study, may lead to supplemental fan activity and storytelling to compensate for what the narrative leaves out.