Why I don't watch WWE anymore, for people who don't watch wrestling...
October 20, 2018
Okay, there is way more to say about this than I'll say here. (Note to self, you know how you've been trying to think of something to write another book about?) One thing I do think though is that it is possible that pro wrestling is the sleaziest business in entertainment. There may well be things I'm not considering but I'm pretty sure it's worse than, say, the porn industry.
The monolith in pro wrestling is WWE, I've watched it consistently since 1990 and now I don't. This is at a time where they arguably have a higher standard of in ring action than they've ever had, so why now? I think the real queston is, why did it take me so long?
So, the phenomenom of #metoo has changed the world over the last couple of years. The industry I work in (Stand up comedy) is one of many that has asked serious questions of itself recently but most of the focus has been, understandably, on Hollywood. WWE is incredibly lucky that it has escaped this microscope mostly. I think that could be changing.
Professional wrestling is, by its very nature, a secretive business. A code exists known as kayfabe, which means, at a basic level, that people outside of the business don't find out how things work. It's a code that is dying out somewhat due to the internet but it was crucially important to the wrestling business for many years. After all, if people found out it wasn't real, wrestling would surely die.
This turned out not to be the case but what it did mean is that wrestling, by its very nature, attracts the seedy, the secretive. It attracts con artists. It attracts good people too of course because it's a lot of fun but, my word, the bastards it attracts...
It wasn't until I really started thinking about it that I realised that the problems are systematic rather than a few bad apples, so how can I continue watching it?
Recently, WWE entered into a ten year contract with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This will make them a LOT of money. A LOT of money. So much money that, for example, it has been worth the PR nightmare of being paid to provide PR for one of the most dangerous regimes on the planet. The first of these shows was titled 'The Greatest Royal Rumble' and was the last WWE show I watched.
It was horrific. Truly horrific. The house of Saud sat at the front with thousands of men behind them with a few women allowed there under chaperone while WWE bombarded us with PR videos about the "Beautiful City of Jeddah" and Saudi's move to becomming a more progressive country all while it's ruling party commits genocide in Yemen.
The WWE is usually such a PR machine, it works with a lot of charities and unquestionably does a lot of good. Not for good reasons necessarily but they do good none the less. As daughter of WWE kingpin Vince McMahon and future head honcho in her own right Stephanie infamously tweeted "Philanthropy is the future of marketing." This rare faux pax highlighted their plan. After years of being viewed as icky outsiders, their PR work infiltrated the mainstream, to the point that her mother Linda, is a part of Donald Trump's government. Incidentally, it shows how poisonous Trump is that despite him appearing on WWE TV many times, being a member of their Hall of Fame and being a family friend, they NEVER mention him on TV now. And they usually mention anything that links them to success.
A lot of their good PR in recent years is centred on their 'Women's Evolution'. A lot of it is simply window dressing in terms of presentation but it is also true that female performers (Formerly known as Divas and valued mostly for their looks) are now given a bigger spotlight than ever before. It's still not ideal, you are still going to be featured more heavily as a blonde woman than you are as a black woman but it is definitely better.
However, at the event in Saudi Arabia, no women were allowed to perform (Sami Zayn, a male Canadian/Lebanese wrestler was also noticably absent), nor, is it expected that they'll appear on any of the other shows.
They do have the first women only pay per view show very soon where they pat themselves on the back for the changes they've made (Changes which they only needed to make because of choices they'd made previously) only weeks after they return to Saudi Arabia.
Only this time they return with the world paying more attention. This time they return after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi which has been heavily linked to the same Prince that is paying such huge money for WWE to promote the regime.
I suspect they'll try and bluff it out, indeed they've already tried to spin it as them trying to improve things for the people of Saudi Arabia. Maybe they're making so much money from this that they no longer need to be as concerned by PR.
This is the end point for me. I'm done with them. I came close a few years ago, when they devoted a whole show to Jenny McCarthy's harmful anti-vax nonsense (Under the guise of 'curing' autism) which enraged me but I was back after a few weeks.
So far so political but what about the Me Too stuff?
It wasn't til I started thinking about it that I realised quite how grim it is. First off, you may not know this but groupies (Already a grim term) are known in wrestling circles as ring rats. Honestly! Youtube that for some horrific stories that are told as though they're funny.
If I could give a truth serum to one person it would be Vince McMahon. He's a fascinating person, apparently so competitive that he gets annoyed when he sneezes. He's an amazing performer too. Absolutely amazing.
But he's done some things. Even onscreen, look up 'Trish Stratus Barks Like A Dog' and feel uncomfortable. He pitched a story where he would be revealed as the father of Stephanie's real life child, there is also a video from WWE TV of him leering at his daughter's breasts.
Offstage though, he is terrifying, he knows where the bodies are buried because he buried them.
The accusations fly fast. The alleged rape of ex-referee Rita Chatterton, the ring boy scandal (Terry Garvin, Mel Phillips and Pat Patterson where fired after the alleged molestation of young boys procured to help set up the ring, Patterson was soon rehired and, as Vince's trusted right hand man, was later inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
There is the Jimmy Snuka story. Where the popular wrestler pushed his partner, Nancy Argentino, out of a hotel window to her death. McMahon spoke for him under police interview while Snuka played his TV character of a bemused island savage. It never went to trial. Years later, the case was reopened, it looked like big news was coming. Instead the ailing Snuka was declared to ill to stand trial and he died soon after.
When he died, WWE played a tribute video. They assumed that people didn't know the story. The uncomfortable looks in the crowd suggested a lot of people did. Kayfabe is falling, it can't protect for ever.
Yet, when Vince appears, the crowd still goes wild. That's charisma for you I suppose.
Oh, also, when legendary wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife and child, WWE played a tribute show that night. Indications are that they had a pretty good idea what had happened before the show aired.
Benoit's wife was Nancy Sullivan who performed, most famously, as Woman, albeit outside of WWE, she'll have been very able to tell you how awful life can be for women inside of wrestling.
Even in the last week, former WWE perfomer Shelly Martinez has come out with allegations about sexual assault she suffered at the hands of the late Umaga in about 2007.
It's a strange thing that almost all of the big stars in wrestling have either provably done terrible things or been accused of such (Not The Rock by the way, he seems to be a decent man). Ric Flair, perhaps the most decorated wrestler of all time, is unbearably sleazy with every indescretion laughed off as 'Ric being Ric'.
Hulk Hogan's racism is well documented, there are other rumours about him that I won't bring up because they simply can't be true. Can they?
'Stone Cold' Steve Austin was found guilty of assaulting his wife Debra, one of the conditions placed upon him was that he couldn't drink alcohol. One of the main points of his character was that he'd drink beer in the ring after his matches. The next show he did after his sentence was served, he drunk beer on screen and, when Stacy Keibler didn't want to drink any, he performed his famed finishing move, The Stone Cold Stunner, on her to wild cheers.
Remember, as an entertainment medium, this decision was either taken or approved by WWE, nobody stepped in to point out that it might look iffy.
Legendary wrestler and commentator Jerry 'The King' Lawler has a very famous prediliction for much younger women. He was accused of raping a 15 year old in the mid nineties. The charges were dropped after she admitted to fabricating some of the charges. How did the WWE deal with this? Well, they spent much of the next 20 years joking about how much Lawler 'likes them young' every time a woman turned up on screen dressed as a schoolgirl. Which was a lot.
It goes on and on and on.
Recent news of current star Randy Orton 'inducting' new writers by making them shake hands with him after after he played with his penis with the threat he'd get them fired if they don't. Shawn Michaels and his then partner Marty Jannetty slipping date rape drugs into girls drinks. Jannetty (My very favourite wrestler as a child) posted on facebook a few months ago, asking if it was okay to have sex with his daughter now he'd recently found out she wasn't actually his daughter as they'd wanted to for years but had resisted.
Even the people who are regarded as nice are troublesome. Nobody in wrestling is as beloved as Bobby Heenen. EVen he though, tells a story in one of his books about a tag team made of identical twins who would have sex with a girl and then change twins without her realising. He told this as a funny story, rather than, you know, a rape.
And look at this story from Tatanka's wikipedia page, where, at best, Kevin Nash and The Undertaker don't seem to have reported a rape, in Nash's own words, they only really left because they are so tall they'd have definitely been easily identified:
'Tatanka was suspended on Aug 30, reportedly as a preemptive measure for being named in a lawsuit to be filed by a woman stemming from an incident in Anaheim, CA following a WWF event in late 1994. According to sources, the woman mentioned above was said to be drugged, sodomized and her head shaved on only one side leaving the other side of her hair there. Kevin Nash reiterated this story in an interview with Kayfabe Commentaries.The woman was having drinks with him and Undertaker the night prior. When the wrestlers were leaving the hotel the following morning, Nash noticed that she was seated in between two police officers. The hallway was smeared in blood. She had half her head shaven as she was crying, reporting the incident to the officers. In the interview, however, Nash presumed the person who did this was Jimmy Del Ray because of stories of Del Ray & that this was his m.o. During representation by Tatanka's Attorney the facts shown that Tatanka was not involved in the incident at all and Del Ray was fired from the company and Tatanka's suspension was lifted and returned back with full-pay to the active WWF roster. As Kevin Nash noted in his interview, he knew that Tatanka was not involved at all but had only been around Jimmy Del Ray that night, which caused Tatanka to also be named and unfairly suspended.'
But it did seem for a while that things might change, the assumption was that, once Vince died, things would get better. This year they announced a match called 'The Fabulous Moolah Memorial Women's Battle Royal'. Fans were furious, Moolah was a multi year women's champion who, for many years, ran women's wrestling as a cartel, pimping out her wrestlers to promoters and keeping most of their money. Twitter was aghast and WWE relented and removed her name from the title.
things COULD be changed. Until Saudi Arabia. There's no way back now, they're bad guys now. with no hope of salvation if there ever was any. They make so much money from that regime now that nothing can change.
There's loads more too, we have barely even got onto the racism...
The good thing is, there are other options for wrestling fans. Streaming services for companies throughout the world are plentiful and affordable. New Japan World is about 6-7 pound a month, and, while it's not the stuff I grew up on, it's fun (And there are other things that can suit any taste around) but it's still problematic. They have Michael Egin under contract for example which I could hugely do without (He may have covered up a rape from one of his students and definitely urinated on a woman without consent) and they've recently hired Shingo Takagi, who, if you don't want your day spoiled, don't google his name with the word monkey. And well, the more you read about the Japanese young lions training system the less you want to know.
Fucking hell man, all of entertainment is slime isn't it?
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!