Sunday, October 26, 2014

Protecting society from the evils of wrestling

Katherine Lowney's article "Wrestling with Criticism" and Nicholas Sammond's chapter "Squaring the Family Circle" (in Steel Chair to the Head) both address how organizations frequently see professional wrestling as a scapegoat to societal ill. The irony Sammond points out on page 136 is that the WWE's rise in popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s was in large part by mimicking reality more closely, not by pushing the envelope compared to other forms of entertainment. This contrasts considerably with the view within the wrestling industry, where the the product evolved from a largely kid-friendly (some say cartoonish) structure in the 1980s to a more PG-13 format.

Attempting to play moral defender, groups like the Parents Television Council (PTC) commonly cite little to no evidence linking their target with violence, crime, or other ills. Nor is wrestling alone as a target here. Media watchdog groups complained about how impressionable youths listening to Ice-T's "Cop Killer" would contribute to violence against cops despite a long history of violence referenced in music beyond rap. What I found particularly interesting is Lowney's assessment of how the WWE was able to use irony and satire as one means to challenge the PTC. Unlike other targets, the WWE had multiple weekly television shows to showcase indirectly their narrative of the PTC (through the characters of Right to Censor/RTC) as anti-constitution, conformists who enjoyed others suffering. Lowney identifies that the WWE had a clearer means to repeat their framing both to would-be supporters and a generally audience than the PTC could ever hope to attract. This contrasts cases like Ice-T, where means to confront opposition to "Cop Killer" was largely limited to debates on news shows.

The authors, especially Salmond, also address the inconsistency of groups condemning wrestling as a corrupting influence. If it's the vulgarity or the violence against women, then why are dramas in prime time or the NFL getting a pass? Even Vince McMahon himself addresses this in terms of the lack of guns and knives in his product. This inconsistency also reminded me of the short-lived ban by MTV of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" in 1992, despite the station routinely playing songs referencing drug use, gangs, and violence against women ( a point Sir Mix-a-Lot was quick to address).

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Sammond and Lowney's analyses certainly complement one another looking at how WWE occupied a controversial space in the pop culture landscape in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sammond's point is that wrestling was particularly offensive not just in the particulars of the subject matter it covered but, more fundamentally, in what it had to say about the nature of society in general. While Freedman and others have talked about how wrestling attacked the ideals of free market capitalism and the government's ability to regulate it (perhaps appealing to both the Marxist and the libertarian in the process but destroying the narrative of those organizations who maintain the current status quo), Sammond argues that WWE is attacking something far more fundamental: the family.

Meanwhile, Lowney looks at "how they do it." We'll watch some examples of WWE's use of societal parody today...of the more overly political nature. But I hope this gives us some good fodder for our discussion.