You may remember that my first column for this website was called “Inches From The Mainstream”– if you missed it, it was recently rerun in the Newsletter as a “classic column”. And so it should be. In it I discussed Vince McMahon’s desire for the WWE to be taken seriously as a mainstream commercial/entertainment company in its own right, and suggested that he was thwarted in this by his own staff writers-the WWE’s racist, sexist, tasteless angles having no place in the modern corporate world.
The column was written at the time of the Katie Vick saga, when things were particularly bad, and nothing has really plumbed those depths since. Until now.
The character of Eugene is offensive. No matter how much the WWE brass tries to pass it off as a triumph for the human spirit. No matter how often his wrestling ability is shown. No matter how many times The Rock validates him. Eugene is there so that we can laugh at his misfortune.
The character has been specifically written as mentally challenged. It’s a mark of the WWE’s lack of rigour that they haven’t bothered to research what that mental problem might be. The fact that it is so “non specific” strongly suggests that the management are interested in the effect such a disability will have, rather than the character-the entertainment value, not the reality.
To disability groups this must be galling. To mainstream corporate America it must be embarrassing. To fans, it should be appalling.
It really doesn’t matter how the character develops-he has been presented first as a figure of fun because of a disability. Even if we laugh with him through his successes (putting one over on an established heel, for instance), we are still essentially laughing at him because he’s different – because of his disability. Once you start, you can’t go back.
It’s playground bully behaviour. But then, the WWE has never really grown up. When they mention their “cartoon” style, they really mean that they haven’t progressed past the simplistic prejudices of fear. Wrestling celebrates the standardised perfect body, and when people don’t conform to that, they are liable to be ridiculed. Now, I’m willing to believe that the WWE is not intentionally racist, that it’s just the by-product of lazy writing – but the business/entertainment world that Vince constantly courts won’t see it like that.
The stereotyping of Tajiri and Funaki as jabbering Oriental fools, and the Guerreros as barrio boys who lie, cheat and steal is racist whether it is meant fondly or not. And at the other end of the spectrum, the redneck, rightwing JBL is racist too.
The way the WWE (and wrestling in general) use women is also offensive. By seeming to insist that they have breast augmentation, the women are conforming to a male
standard, they are literally created by their masters. In the crazee world of ‘rasslin’, all conventionally good-looking women are presented as sex-crazed bimbos who exist merely to show themselves off to men. Now, I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed the odd evening gown match or bikini contest in the past, but when I take an objective view and look outside the squared circle, is it any wonder that wrestling is often regarded as an embarrassment?
There is an undeniable Jock atmosphere in wrestling. To want to pump up your body is to look for an improvement in self-esteem, an extension of power (and I should know, I do it). It’s also to hide inadequacy. Denigrating somebody because they happen to be a different size, shape or colour displays a fear of that difference. Non-conformists are scary, and fear of the unknown is the basis of prejudice throughout the ages. Eugene lets us cover up our inadequacies by laughing at his – we are allowed to place ourselves on a higher plane than him and forget about our misfortunes for a moment.
This is not a new issue, and I am sure the WWE would use the supply and demand argument. The audience demand it, so they supply it. It’s a tricky one. If the crowd didn’t lap it up, every week, it wouldn’t be so prevalent. But do the fans laugh because they really want to see it, or because it’s familiar and so convenient? I would suggest that fans will generally take what they are given, and although they should speak up if something bothers them, the WWE should challenge them and break the prejudices, which have been strengthened year upon year. Anybody looking in may be led to believe that the WWE don’t want to change them.
I understand that to buck the status quo takes guts. But ironically, the WWE have done it withRico. I suggest that the man-hungry gay character was meant as a one-joke angle, but his openness with his sexuality puts others on the defensive. It attacks their prejudices both in the work and in the locker room. Rico asks us to take him exactly as he is, and with the ultra-conservative Charlie Haas to play with, he is bucking a major trend. Adrian Street was camp, but was never quite so sexual. The writers even seem to be suggesting that if Haas succumbed to Rico’s overtures, he may be less tightly wound, and consequently a better person for it.
This is a prejudice breaker; even if I suspect the WWE have done it rather by mistake. It should run and run. The brass should take this as a lesson. Playground bigotry is never attractive. Racism and sexism even less so.
Perhaps Vince McMahon can think on that tomorrow whilst he’s vainly scanning the daily papers for a mention of his pride and joy.