Today’s Episode: Stand Down
I haven’t written a standard, non-NXT-related column since December of 2009, when I was ruminating over the death of Eddie Fatu. Over the last eleven months, there have certainly been enough interesting things to talk about that I could have carved a column out of one of them, whether it was the rise and fall and rise of Bryan Danielson in the WWE, or the NXT invasion, or Bischoff and Hogan’s activities in TNA, or the retirement of Shawn Michaels. But, for some reason, nothing has really inspired me to analyze and explore. I suppose that I was content with being, along with Logan, the “NXT guy,” even though the job has now turned from a curiosity to an abomination. In fact, with the new online-only NXT, I haven’t seen the full show in three weeks. I hope to get back to it, even if it involves having to watch it on Hulu a few days later, out of an odd sense of duty if nothing else.
Regardless, that’s not why I’m here. That’s not why I’m writing this column.
WWE’s recent “Stand Up for WWE” campaign has not so much piqued my interest as it has raised my ire. It bothers me. I’m offended by it. I wanted to talk about why.
Everyone understands the “why” of the campaign’s existence: WWE has had its image besmirched, allegedly without any basis in facts, by politicians who have been using the product as fodder for attacks on the image of Linda McMahon, senatorial candidate. Thus, WWE is defending itself, and is asking the fans to raise their voices in passionate rebuttal against the invading hordes.
In other words, WWE is trying to send its blindly-following idiot army into the trenches to shout down those who would dare to express factual information regarding the behavior of the company during Linda McMahon’s tenure there. Politics is a dirty business, an unfortunate truth that isn’t news to anyone, and it should have always been expected that Linda McMahon’s senatorial run would turn the spotlight onto some of the less pleasant aspects of the business and the company.
Full disclosure: I don’t live in Connecticut, and I’m a moderate to liberal Democrat. My views don’t exactly sync up with Mrs. McMahon or her opponent, Dick Blumenthal, but that’s fairly immaterial. Ultimately, my interest isn’t in a political debate regarding the two of them but, again in the spirit of full disclosure, I am hoping that Mr. Blumenthal manages to defeat Linda McMahon this November.
That being said, WWE, in a video that boots up immediately upon accessing the company’s main website, asks its fans to come out with, and I quote, “the real facts regarding WWE. And we ask you to join us in responding to these malicious attacks against the company and you, our viewers.”
First of all, the fans are the least likely source of factual information regarding the product that anyone would be likely to find. Keep in mind that a few fans probably still believe that wrestling is real, that Santino Marella is actually from Italy, and that Jeff Hardy has never had a drug problem. WWE does their best to actively hide information from the WWE Universe, so requesting that they defend the company with “the real facts” is perhaps the most absurd statement that they can make. Kayfabe isn’t what it used to be, but it’s not completely dead to every die-hard fan out there.
Most fans of anything are casual fans, and WWE is no different in this regard. Most fans know that the company puts on a product that they enjoy more than they don’t, and so tune in to most of the television shows that the company puts out. That’s about the extent of their knowledge. Certainly, they know what WWE tells them: that the Divas are smart, sexy, and powerful, even though nobody quite knows what that means, especially when the most successful and well-pushed Divas on the roster are emaciatingly skinny mean girls who call well-proportioned women like Natalya and Mickie James fat, ruining body images of any young female fan foolish enough to watch. Subsequently, they know that the women on NXT are jokes, and are there primarily to be mocked by the exclusively-male hosts of the show.
The company’s treatment and perception of women aside, fans also know that WWE does a lot of charity work. John Cena spends a great deal of time working with Make-A-Wish Foundation, as do many other WWE Superstars. Fans also know that the company has done a tour of Iraq for nearly every year of the war, entertaining the troops until they all come home. It goes without saying that these acts are noble and admirable, even if they can be attributed to being little more than good public relations.
But what else? WWE is quick to point out that their television product is rated PG, making it more or less safe for families and children. However, it should be noted that the PG rating was not the case during most of Mrs. McMahon’s tenure there, as she left the company only a few years after this programming decision was made.
In fact, that’s the part of this that is strangest to me: all of WWE’s most controversial storylines and programming were during a time when Mrs. McMahon was heavily involved in the day-to-day productions. WWE is more than welcome to make its case that they’re a responsible company in terms of their programming, but it’s widely recognized by everyone that they weren’t during their boom period, their “Attitude Era,” where Steve Austin was flipping everyone off, and HHH was saying the word “shit” on pay-per-view, and Mick Foley was cutting people with barbed wire while Stacy “The Kat” Carter flashed the audience and Sable wore a bikini top made out of paint. When WWE was crucifying Steve Austin on television, and Stephanie McMahon was being called a brutal, bottom-feeding slut every week, and HHH was pretending to have sex with a dead body, and Vince McMahon was making Trish Stratus bark like a dog, Linda McMahon was working for the company every single day. True, she wasn’t writing the storylines, and likely could not have cared less about what was happening on television, but the fact remains that she had no problem putting financial gain far ahead of moral choices or any level of social responsibility.
That’s the point that Linda McMahon’s opponents are making, and that point is valid and fair. Those are the attacks being made on WWE. There are questions about the legality of certain elements as well, but I’ll leave it to better men than me to quibble about those.
In fact, here’s one of those better men analyzing a number of the allegations made about WWE and Linda McMahon.
And this all brings us back to Vince McMahon’s request for the WWE Universe to step forward and defend the company from these “vile” and “inaccurate” attacks. Ultimately, it is this ludicrous action that I find to be reprehensible, trying to goad fans into shouting their support in an effort to drown out any dissent. Linda’s WWE career was bound to be fair game when she decided to run for the U.S. Senate, and this feeble attempt to save face is both pathetic and ill-advised. If WWE really wishes for their masses to speak up, which they will across Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, it may well end up being one of the worst things that they could have asked for. After all, a few bright writers aside, professional wrestling fans are not known for moments of well-thought out statements or blinding eloquence. Many can barely spell the names of the wrestlers that they claim to adore, and have never met a piece of punctuation that couldn’t be ignored, aside from the exclamation point, which will be added frivolously to the end of every sentence.
WWE fans are an interesting breed, to say the least, and we “Internet Smart Marks,” we members of the “IWC”, are little different. Despite the excesses and insanity of the Attitude Era, it was that time that millions of current fans, including us, were drawn to the product, and it was then that many of us felt that the company was hitting its creative stride. We hated some of it, naturally, but Steve Austin is arguably the biggest draw in wrestling history, and he was guzzling beer and stunning women, all at the same time that The Rock made an abundance of references to female genitalia under the guise of “pie” and we loved every second of it. That’s kind of my point.
Just because you like something doesn’t mean that what you like is always right. I can watch WWE knowing that they treat their workers like cattle, forcing them to purchase their own health coverage at exorbitant costs, or calling them independent contractors when they are told where to work, when to work, who they are working with and that they can’t work anywhere else. I watch it, and I love it, even when it’s bad. I’m a WWE fan. I’m a hypocrite and a contradiction. And, sad to say it, I’m probably one of the smarter ones.
Am I really what you want on the front lines?