Katz Files: IS WWE Wimping Out?

The Katz Files – Arnie Katz

Is WWE Wimping Out?

The Kingfish Arnie Katz examines the dangers of WWE’s aggressive move to gain a “PG” rating.

Shakespeare might’ called WWE’s behind-the-scenes changes “The Taming of the Shrewd.” If there’s one thing you can say about Vince McMahon it’s that he is shrewd. Sadly, it looks like we can now say that, in this case, he is zigging when he should be zagging.

What’s Happening?

WWE has recent made a number of moves and decisions calculated to move its TV shows from a “TV-14” to a “PG” rating. They’ve censored the language, toned down the action and made little changes like renaming John Cena’s finisher, formerly called the “FU,” the “Attitude Adjustment.”

The idea is to make WWE “family-friendly” entertainment. This is such a miss-guided concept that it raises the question of whether blandness could put pro wrestling out of business.

This is not the first time that WWE, inventor of the rubber “barbed wire,” has tried to tame wrestling. It hasn’t done very well for them in the past and, I propose, it isn’t going to work much better this time, either.

What is Pro Wrestling?

It all comes down to the essential nature of the pro wrestling show. Action, stories and athleticism are the main appeals, but there is also a lurid, colorful, larger-than-life aura that has always enveloped wrestling.

“Cleaning it up” and “making it family friendly” strike directly at this appeal. We want wrestling to be a little wild, a little over-the-top. We don’t want it to be safe, pure and dull. Take that away from pro wrestling and what’s left is simply not going to pack the same appeal for current and potential viewers.

The Knoxville World’s Fair of the early 1980’s is a clear example of what happens when high-minded people squeeze the fun and naughtiness entirely out of something that had always had such features (Little Egypt, Sally Rand). The fair practically bankrupted the city and fell far below expectation.

Of course there were other reasons the Knoxville World’s Fair flopped, but sheer, energy-sapping dullness certainly played a role.

As a long-time resident of Las Vegas, it all reminded me of what happened when well-meaning mayor Jan Jones tried to make Glitter City in a “Family Resort.” It sounded great; Vegas would increase tourism by getting families to come here with their kids instead of Disneyland or Six Flags.

That’s a terrific plan with only a very few things wrong with it:

1. Most people do not come to Las Vegas for a family vacation. If they have kids, going to Vegas means a little vacation from them, too.

2. What brings people to Vegas stays in Vegas. Here’s a hint, though: we have legal gambling, 24-hour bars and pliant women. These are distinctly adult pleasures.

3. Disneyland and Six Flags are a lot better for kids than Las Vegas. Vegas has a great concentration of adult activities with little, beyond “babysitting” stuff for kids, while true family-oriented destinations have a huge range of activities for the youngsters.

4. People want Las Vegas to be an adult playground.

Put them all together and they spell “marketing disaster.” It took the arrival of current major Oscar Goodman and “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” to bring the city back to its full potential.

Miss-reading the Climate

The Janet Jackson split-second exposure on a Superbowl broadcast, shown fleetingly in a long shot on the telecast, triggered a field day for would-be censors. It gave a very small number of people with great fears and big mouths the chance to bully TV and radio into limiting what we can see and hear to what they would like to see and hear.

We’ve had ridiculous limitations placed on language and situations ever since that overblown incident. People have used it as an excuse to attack our precious freedom of speech.

For a while, they were successful. During that period, WWE pretty much held the line on the content of the wrestling show. If anything, they made it a little more violent and sexy than it had been a few years earlier.

Now the tide is turning in the opposite direction. We have a progressive new President in Barack Obama and much of the country is taking its cue from the new chief executive.

People are starting to push back against ridiculous censorship. They are questioning the wisdom of letting a few people with extreme views dictate what all the rest of us may enjoy.

So now, after it stood with the Abused Minority that has now, again, become the majority, WWE is jumping shop to get on what we can only hope is the losing side in the eternal battle between liberty and oppression.

You’d think that WWE doesn’t know that, should its dubious new allies win, one of the first things they would do is get rid of that Nasty Pro Wrestling Stuff. And it wouldn’t matter whether it was clean or lurid; those folks don’t deal in facts very much. They already know all the answers, especially the ones for making the rest of us “behave.”

A Final Thought

WWE needs to reconsider its recent change in policy. There is no chance that they will gain an audience among the censorious, self-appointed guardians and every chance that they will serious erode their present audience.

In the long run, it is better for pro wrestling to be pro wrestling. That is, it should remain true to the values that have made it such a dynamic part of our popular culture.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Internet’s liveliest daily wrestling column. I hope you’ll come back and join me.

And, please, bring your friends.

— Arnie Katz
[email protected]
(2/6/09)