Bad attitude: WWE’s ill-conceived strikes against media criticismWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Bischoff, the figurehead of WWE’s flagship show, “Raw,” took to the ring on September 9, 2002. He announced to the thousands in attendance and millions watching at home that the show would feature an exciting and revolutionary new segment on this night — live, in front of the world, they would showcase what he labeled “H.L.A.”
“Hot lesbian action.”
Roughly an hour later, Bischoff returned, and introduced two women. They were given no names — the on-screen graphic simply (and ludicrously) identified them as “The Lesbians.” The two young ladies proceeded to kiss each other deeply, strip down to their bra and panties, and generally engage in a soft-core makeout session in front of a crowd of wrestling fans — adults, parents, kids of all ages.
Then, apparently because the segment hadn’t been tasteless enough yet, Bischoff called out two large wrestlers who were named “Three Minute Warning.” They proceeded to assault the two young women for no discernible reason, leaving them unconscious as the show went to commercial.
Reaction was swift and outraged. The networks that aired the show, TNN in the U.S. and TSN in Canada, along with TNN’s parent company Viacom, expressed their disgust at the segment to the media. WWE’s reaction was not exactly contrite: Within one week, the company announced plans to release an “H.L.A.” T-shirt.
It was far from the first questionable segment in the company’s history. Fans had been witness to a female character suffering a miscarriage, another being forced to walk on all fours like a dog (in her bra and panties again, of course), angles involving male performers being hanged in the ring, a character accusing another of necrophilia (complete with a graphic “re-enactment” of the event) and much, much more.
Segments like these were what inspired columnist Chris Powell of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer in Connecticut to write a column recently on once-and-again Senate candidate Linda McMahon — WWE’s former CEO and spouse of head honcho Vince — in which Powell compared WWE’s business to pornography.
Powell exaggerated for effect, but his point is not without merit. What is porn but an effort to appeal to the basest of human instincts for profit? Until 2008, WWE’s modern productions had frequently reveled in perversity, leaving many wrestling fans — myself included — wondering what any of it had to do with presenting the art form we loved.
The modern WWE, on the other hand, took great umbrage to Powell’s comparison, immediately pointing out how its product now sported a “TV-PG” rating and threatening Powell with legal action if he didn’t retract his remarks immediately.
Of course, all that did nothing but kick the hornet’s nest. Powell himself wrote another piece in response, pointing out many of the company’s most over-the-top segments, and making the obvious argument that just because the show is rated TV-PG now doesn’t erase what happened before that. Many members of the Connecticut media expressed their support for Powell, as well, giving the McMahon campaign a dose of negative press it can ill afford.
As of this writing, WWE has yet to actually file suit against Powell. Linda McMahon herself said in a statement that she had no connection to the company’s actions. “Yes, I’m still married to the chairman, but really what WWE does, it believes is right for it to do for its own business, is totally what it’s doing.”
It is hard to swallow the idea that WWE’s extreme response to Powell had no connection to McMahon’s Senate aspirations. It wouldn’t be the first time the company has made moves with politics in mind — as many have pointed out, WWE’s sudden shift to family friendly programming was conveniently timed to coincide with the plans for Linda’s first Senate run.
Whatever their motivations, it is definitely a good thing that WWE no longer feels the need to inflict such ridiculous and offensive segments on their audiences as the ones outlined above. But if their reaction to Powell’s criticism is any indication, the company could stand to grow up a little, as well.
Vince McMahon and his storytellers have frequently placed a toe on the line of good taste during the history of their company, taking advantage of one of the greatest tenets of our society: Free speech. It would benefit them to consider that factor again before threatening legal action toward such a piece of criticism. It’d also be a benefit to make sure company headquarters Titan Towers isn’t made of glass before chucking a few legalistic stones out of there.