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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Wrestling With Stereotypes
July 25, 2005 by Andrew Lee


On July 8th, 2005, there was a tragic bombing that occurred in London that was linked as a terrorist attack. As sad as it is to say, terrorist attacks have become a rather familiar concept in today's society. It has occurred often enough for people to develop stereotypes about terrorists and about what ethnicities they are. It is unfortunate that on the same day as the London attack, a sketch on "WWE Smackdown!", a wrestling program, was seen as a terrorist attack and offended a large amount of people.

The WWE, a major wrestling organization, as well as UPN, the broadcast network the program aired on, have both received a fair amount of negative press from the media. The result of the negative response led to UPN withdrawing the two Arab American characters from their television programming.

The sketch involved an Arab American wrestler praying, while five men in ski masks attacked a "good" wrestler after he had won a wrestling match. Afterwards, the five men in ski masks carried the fallen Arab American wrestler (the loser of the said match) over their heads as the sketch came to a close. Don Kaplan, of the New York Post, wrote about the sketch. In his article, Kaplan stated that there were, "images of Arabs in ski masks carrying a fallen Arab wrestler over their heads after he had 'sacrificed' himself, evoking imagery similar to a suicide bomber's funeral."

It was articles such as these that motivated people against the wrestling program and ultimately resulted in the removal of the two Arab characters. However, when one reads articles such as these, they are stating more than the actual occurrence. The article invokes images that were not apart of the sketch. Don Kaplan stated that they were "Arabs in ski masks", which is not true since their identities were never revealed. Kaplan also states that the fallen wrestler had "sacrificed" himself, when in actuality he was simply the loser in a wrestling match.

By using these images, Kaplan is using the media to enforce a nasty Arab stereotype that is already embedded in to our social thought. And as we see in UPN's actions, these enforcements of Arab stereotypes have led to discrimination. Mark Magnus and Shawn Daivari, the wrestlers who portray the Arab American wrestlers Hassan and Daivari respectively, have been discriminated against by UPN's actions. A professional wrestler on a national scale needs national exposure to be successful in his or her career. By being taken off of television, Magnus and Daivari, are losing that exposure, which does affect their careers in some way.

Since the negative response from the media, the WWE has tried to defend their right by stating that the attack from the five men is "a tactic used by other Superstars(wrestlers). The WWE also states that "because these henchmen wore masks and camouflage pants, and because Hassan (one of the Arab American wrestlers in question) is of Arab descent, some viewers may have leapt to the conclusion that these henchmen are terrorists." With these reasons, the WWE refuses to change their storyline or characters because they feel that UPN's actions, as well as the negative response from the media, are unjustified and unfair.

I am a fan of professional wrestling and have been for a long time. As a fan, I will be the first to say that I can see how the sketch was offensive and how the public could relate it to terrorism, but I can also say that the media was wrong in quickly relating the sketch as a terrorist attack. In the WWE storylines, Hassan is not a terrorist character. Hassan is an Arab American wrestler who "believes that since 9/11, he is being treated differently by his fellow Americans because of his Arab background." Because of his beliefs, the character Hassan "embrace(d) his Arab roots, further estranging him from his fellow Americans." Not once has the WWE storyline indicated that Hassan had terrorist ties; he is simply an Arab American wrestler. Because he is an Arab American wrestler, the public and the media have generalized him as a terrorist and his attacks as terrorist attacks. It may be hard to see, but this is a stereotype (an overgeneralization of a group of people that is inaccurate) that we have for Arabs in America. Many people who would read this may say that they view Arabs in this way because of safety measures, but that does not justify this conclusion. A stereotype is a stereotype regardless of the race or ethnicity it is about. If stereotypes are left neglected, they can lead to prejudice once it becomes a negative character trait used to justify hate. Once it has led to prejudice, stereotypes can then lead to discrimination or worse.

I do believe that the WWE did use real-life concerns to generate their sketches, which led to the public being able to connect sketches to current events. However, the WWE produces entertainment-based programming and generating programs based on real-life is a common practice used by other entertainment-based programs. When we watch movies, or read books, and watch television, there are often many reality-based concepts being used. When the WWE uses a stereotype, it is no different than when a film or a television show uses a stereotype. They have used racial caricatures in the past, just like other forms of entertainment have, and Hassan's character is no different. And just because the WWE uses these caricatures, does not mean that the WWE is not a conscious organization. For the past two years, the WWE has gone to Iraq to entertain the U.S. troops stationed there and is even offering their next pay-per-view to the U.S. military for free. In fact, "WWE Smackdown!", the same program that the sketch in question aired on, was the first recorded mass assembly of its kind in the U.S. after the 9/11 bombings. With this being said, I think that it is very unfair to judge and criticize the WWE about their July 8th programming. It was unfortunate that the programming fell upon the same day as the London attack, but that is not an excuse to discriminate against them. If we view the WWE caricatures in such a serious manner, we should also view caricatures in films, television dramas, and even music in the same manner, which would be ridiculous. Hassan and Daivari have as much right to be on television as the next wrestler and any other way would be UN-AMERICAN.

by Andrew Lee ..


God of Gods wrote:
I dont even know how to begin on this. What they are saying and what they have done to Hassan and Daivari is beyond rong. This is a step way beyond racism and a hugh violation of peoples rights and law. However, this is what american has become. A paranoid culture and one that is very quick to judge. This action being takeing against the two only reenforce what they have been saying all along about this country. Now i have never been a fan of Hassan and Daivari, but this i simply have to speak on their behalf. Its discrimination against an american minority, plain and simple. Hassan and Daivari are being treated as criminals when they have done absolutly nothign rong. Then again, speaking your mind in this country (usa) is becoming a crime... The London bombing had occured on July 8th, 2005. Now while Smackdown might have aired in some places around the worled on that day, you also need to relize that Smackdown is not a live brodcast! That show actully happed on July 5th, 2005. So to suggest that Hassan and Daivari are trying to symbolize terrorism because they were on the same day is flat out rong on both levels! The bottem line is that by takeing them off the air and/or not showing parts of the show because it might offend someone is a violation of their rights. What ever happened to freedom of speech and the freedom to express yourself in this country"" Or has it just become the freedom to express yourself untill someone dissagrees with you" Takeing them off is a violation of everything this country was founded on. It would appear that UPN is a bunch of sterotypical racists that are only consernd about their ratings and not the freedoms and rights of the people on their! What should be a crime is watch that network..
Michael wrote:
An intelligently written and well thought out article. Unfortunately, most NY papers like the Post are all sensationalism and their headlines usually have very little to do with the articles themselves, let along about what really happened. Have you thought about sending your article to them"
Peter Thompson wrote:
This article contradicts all that has been written about the situation, and it shows the whole thing in the light it ws supposed to be viewed in. Other popular Television shows of today show similarly themed examples of terrorism, (ie 24, Alias etc) however, they are not being taken off the air, they don't have bad press written about them for the next month. The London bombings is sad, however this is Sports ENTERTAINMENT. It's not real Life!!!!
MagiKhor69 wrote:
Very well thought out, and articulately explained column. However, I must offer one important correction. The London subway+bus bombings occured on the 7th of July, not the 8th as you mentioned in your article. Just thought I'd point that out. I hope all the media influenced hicks understood Andrew's column. Thanks man, good one!
Navinder Panesar wrote:
two words PURE EXCELLANCE and this should be sen to every paper in america because its better than the crap they write on a daily basis and you truly know what your talking about unlike those american 'journalists' who are infact racist and unable to even see it themselves but i guess thats how bush works. making people so damn paranoid that they think that every1 whoz of a differant background is a terrorist my advice is to send it in
Eric Drews wrote:
First off this is an outstanding article. It is not right the way the media is reacting to this and it provides proof to the kind of discrimination the Muhammad Hassan character has been talking about. However, I do understand why they're reacting in this manner. Wrestling will never be viewed in the same genre as TV shows and movies. Even though their is an increasing amount of "smart" fans and is advertised as "Sports Entertainment", wrestling will always be viewed by a majority as real, especially by the media. Instead of seeing Hassan and Daivari as characters on 24 as the average smart fan would, they see them in the same light that they saw Major League pitcher Jon Rocker when he made his imfamous racist remarks a number of years ago. The average non wrestling fan sees everything going on in that ring as real. And unless Vince has a press confrence and gives up the business to everyone, it will always be that way, no matter how many fans become smart. Regardless, I still believe it's wrong to discriminate against Hassan and Daivari. Great article.
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