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Saturday, July 09, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- WWE Crosses All Remaining Lines of Decency by Exploiting Terrorism for Profit
(Note: The opinions expressed about Vince McMahon in this article are just that--- opinions--- and are not meant to be taken as anything other than opinions. Everyone has a right to their opinions, and mine happen to be extremely strong after being thoroughly offended by Thursday night's Smackdown broadcast.)
I have never been so ashamed to be a fan of anything in my life as I am ashamed to be a fan of pro wrestling right now. The instantly infamous "terrorist angle" on Thursday night's episode of WWE Smackdown is the lowest and most disgusting thing Vince McMahon has ever done.
To say that it was tasteless would be a huge understatement. And make no mistake about it, this would have been among the more tasteless things in the history of television under any circumstances, even if London hadn't been attacked by terrorists on July 7th, killing dozens of people and wounding hundreds more.
The fact that WWE chose to air the segment rather than editing it off the show on literally the same day as the biggest terrorist attack in England since World War II only makes it more reprehensible, and makes what I believe to be Vince McMahon's exploitation of terrorism for profit all the more apparent.
The Foundation of the Hassan & Daivari Characters
For those of you who haven't seen it, WWE has presented two Arab-American characters for many months, whose names are Hassan and Daivari, and they are presented as people who we should all hate, with no Arab-American "good guys" to counter-act them. Never mind the fact that neither of them are actually of Arab descent (Hassan is Italian and Daivari is Persian).
The portrayal of the Hassan and Daivari characters up to this point has been offensive in many ways, topped off by Stone Cold Steve Austin (in a babyface role designed to elicit cheers from the crowd) recently saying in a line that was scripted by the WWE creative team, "I see sand people!" while looking at Hassan and Daivari. Racial slurs are nothing new on WWE television, sad as it may be.
Up to this point in the Hassan and Daivari storyline, WWE has always had the plausible deniability of claiming that Hassan and Daivari are just "normal Arab-Americans" who are angry and disillusioned because they feel that they have been unfairly discriminated against since 9/11. If WWE's stated premise of the characters was ever remotely similar to what WWE presented on-screen, maybe some good could actually come out of the storyline, as opposed to the worst-case scenario of WWE simply making money off of 9/11 and exploiting people's fears.
The way that the Hassan and Daivari characters have developed in recent months, WWE has sent the following message loud and clear: "Not all Arab-Americans are terrorists... but even the 'good ones' will 'turn bad' and become violent threats to society because they will feel that they are being discriminated against!" The portrayal of the Hassan and Daivari characters in general has been shameful.
WWE Crosses a Different Line with the "Terrorist Storyline"
WWE crossed an entirely different line on Thursday night, above and beyond what they have presented up to this point. WWE essentially dropped all pretense about Hassan and Daivari simply being people who feel wronged by the system and who are just "regular wrestling heels who happen to be Arab-American."
What WWE did on Thursday night was present Hassan and Daivari as terrorists, complete with what I and many others felt were simulated aspects of suicide bombings, beheadings, and martyrdom for terrorists. WWE wrote and filmed what was essentially a simulated Islamic Jihadist terrorist attack, and then they chose to air it un-edited on the same day that real terrorists killed real people in London.
Here's a basic summary of what happened. Daivari, who is kind of like Hassan's sidekick, was put in a one-on-one match against The Undertaker, who is a long-time babyface in WWE and who hardly ever loses. Daivari was nervous about the match beforehand, but Hassan convinced him that he needed "to make a sacrifice for the greater good of our mission."
Daivari ultimately lost the match in a one-sided manner. Daivari was left laid out and supposedly "unconscious" by The Undertaker, in a way that I and many others felt simulated how a suicide bomber is dead after carrying out a suicide bombing attack (you'll understand why I feel that way in a minute). Instead of being upset with this, Hassan stood at ringside calmly and looked happy, with a smile on his face.
Hassan then knelt down and did a brief "Muslin prayer," at which point five men entered the ring who were wearing the same exact kind of black ski masks that you see terrorists wearing in beheading videos on the news. The five men attacked The Undertaker and choked him unconscious with a cable wire.
As Daivari still lay on the mat unconscious from the beating he had been given by The Undertaker, Hassan entered the ring. The five masked men, who were like "terrorists" or "jihadists," all dropped to their knees in a praying position, and then Hassan applied a pro wrestling move to The Undertaker and lifted his head and shoulders off the mat to show the camera his face. Of course, his head was still attached to his body, which is the difference between this and actual terrorism. Showing The Undertaker's lifeless face to the camera as he was unconscious came across to me as a chilling simulation of real terrorists showing a decapitated victim's face to a camera.
More offensive still was the glorification of the "sacrifice" by these two self-described "normal Arab-Americans" in Hassan and Daivari. After all this was over and The Undertaker was left in the ring supposedly unconscious, the five masked "terrorist" men lifted up Daivari, who was still supposedly unconscious from losing his match to the Undertaker, and they carried Daivari over their heads in what I and many others felt was a simulation of how you often see people carrying the caskets of suicide bombers over their heads in city streets.
They walked up the aisle and to the backstage area with Daivari lifted over their heads in a way that symbolized that Daivari had "been the sacrifice" that allowed the "bad guys" to get the "good guy" in a vulnerable situation, as if Daivari was a martyr for what he had done. Michael Cole and Tazz even said on commentary that Daivari had sacrificed himself for the greater good of what the "bad guys" were trying to accomplish, which was to gain the upper hand on The Undertaker. And before the match happened, Hassan told Daivari that his "sacrifice would be rewarded." The rhetoric used was remarkably similar to the rhetoric used in a suicide bombing.
What you had here was a simulated terrorist act, only instead of blowing himself up, Daivari just got severely beaten up by The Undertaker. And instead of beheading the Undertaker while praying to Allah, the men in the black ski masks simply assaulted him, choked him unconscious with a wire, and showed his face to the camera while praying to Allah. Carrying Daivari off over their heads as a martyr was just the icing on the (incredibly tasteless) cake.
WWE's Decision to Air the Segment Un-Edited
This episode of Smackdown was filmed this past Monday (July 4th) and aired on Thursday (July 7th). It would be extremely tasteless and crass to film a storyline like this at any time under any circumstances. But they had over 16 hours from the time that London was attacked by terrorists to the time that WWE Smackdown hit the airwaves on the East Coast of the United States.
WWE could have chosen to edit out the entire Undertaker-Hassan-Daivari segment and could have just aired some of their many pre-taped video packages for ten minutes of the show (as they did for the United Kingdom edition of the broadcast). WWE could have chosen to air the Undertaker-Daivari match itself, but edit out the post-match terrorist storyline. WWE could have even chosen to air the storyline as is, but edit out the part where the "terrorists" carry away Daivari like a jihadist martyr, and that would have been less offensive than what aired. But instead of doing any of that, WWE chose to air the entire segment, on the same day in which London was attacked by terrorists.
Sure, a segment like this might draw some "heel heat," as it's called, but even if it does draw heel heat, is it really worth it? I believe in freedom of speech, but I also believe that this was hate speech and that it has no place on any kind of television, especially network television at 9:05 PM. Vince McMahon should be ashamed to look at himself in the mirror tomorrow morning, but somehow I doubt it will even cross his mind.
WWE's Misguided Views on Race, and How This Kind of Thing Hurts Their Reputation
To demonstrate how Vince McMahon thinks of Arab-American people in general, former WWE writer Patrice O'Neal told a story about that very topic, just this week on the Opie & Anthony radio show. O'Neal recalled that a wrestler who was forced to wear a turban as part of his on-air role in the late 90's, Tiger Ali Singh, came up to McMahon and said, "My family asks if you can please stop making fun of my turban because my people..." at which point O'Neal recalled that McMahon interrupted Singh and allegedly barked at him, "Shut up and put on the turban. Get out there with the stupid turban."
So, if you have watched WWE in recent months and thought to yourself that Vince McMahon just doesn't seem to understand or care about race relations, you're not just imagining things. After the huge backlash stemming from the "terrorist storyline" on Thursday night, WWE removed all video of the segment from its web site, but WWE still chose to air the segment once again (and still completely un-edited) at the beginning of WWE Velocity on Saturday night.
I think WWE might actually be hoping to get some negative publicity on this from the mainstream media, with the theory being that any publicity is good publicity because it gets your brand name out there. What WWE still doesn't seem to realize is that exactly this kind of thing is what hurts them so severely in the advertising world. There's a reason that advertisers are willing to pay more for a commercial on a UFC TV show with a 1.7 average rating (or NBA, or NHL) than for a commercial on a WWE TV show with an average rating of 3.8.
It's because other sports organizations don't have a long and storied tradition of sleaze. Other sports organizations get more money because they have prestige and are not perceived as bottom-feeding trash. It used to upset me that the whole corporate world and advertising community thought of pro wrestling like that, but now I have a much greater understanding of why they feel that way.
Vince McMahon's Very Recent History of Exploiting 9/11
Vince McMahon is no stranger to directly exploiting 9/11, as just a few weeks ago following a tasteless intro to WWE Raw on Memorial Day, I wrote the following on this very blog:
"I'm surprised that none of the top pro wrestling writers (other than Bruce Mitchell) have expressed much in the way out of outrage about the Memorial Day intro from this past Monday's episode of Raw, which was narrated by Vince McMahon. I think it should just be common decency that you don't use images of 9/11 to get across a message about a war, whether your view is pro-war or anti-war. Regardless of your viewpoint, images of 9/11 should not be 'fair game' to further whatever your agenda might be.
For Vince McMahon to use images of 9/11 to get across his pro-war agenda was lacking in any taste or class, and that's coming from someone who considers himself to be a 'pro-war-in-Iraq' person. There is no direct tie to say, as McMahon essentially did in the presentation of images, 'Well, 9/11 happened, and so we had to go to war in Iraq.'
You could certainly say that 9/11 happened and so we had to approach the war on terrorism in a different way for the rest of time from that point forward, but that's a more complicated point to make and I guess it's easier for McMahon to simply say, '9/11 happened, so we had to go to war in Iraq.' Even the most zealous of pro-war people would not try to say that with a straight face, and the Republican party has never outright said that, which just shows that Vince McMahon doesn't really follow politics or the news.
One might have already suspected a lack of perspective by the fact that the fake office of Smackdown's storyline general manager, Teddy Long, has framed pictures of two men prominently displayed: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Vince McMahon... because, you know, they're both on the same level as far as people that we should all look up to.
This kind of thing harkens back to the memory of Stephanie McMahon, on the live episode of WWE Smackdown that aired on September 13, 2001, saying that 9/11 was just like that time the federal government tried to go after her father. Yes, thousands of innocent people dying, and the feds charging Vince McMahon with steroid distribution are on the same level or are comparable in any way. That's a really wide world-view, Stephanie.
As usual, any message that is 'in support of the troops' from WWE is, in fact, simply exploiting the troops to further WWE's own agenda, make WWE look better, give WWE good publicity, etc. Anything good that Vince McMahon has ever done 'for the troops' (like the two Christmas in Iraq shows) is out-weighed by his exploitation of the troops, and the fact that there is grossly excessive 'self-patting-on-the-back' for anything good that he does."
How Do I Really Feel About Vince McMahon, You Ask?
In addition to what I feel has been exploition of 9/11 and American troops, Vince McMahon is the same man who continued the show when a wrestler died in his ring doing a stunt that he was pressured into doing (according to "Broken Harts" by Martha Hart), and McMahon has spent a significant amount of time in the past six years revisiting that night by having many "The show must go on!" kind of moments on TV after worked injuries to various wrestlers.
This is the same man who recently sent a not-so-subtle message to the WWE locker room when he said on TV to Randy Orton, who is not as overly-muscular as he usually is due to the fact that he is recovering from shoulder surgery: "My God, what's wrong with you? You look anorexic! You need to gain some weight!"
How does he think Randy Orton and other wrestlers are going to "gain weight"? Maybe the same way that many wrestlers "gained weight" when Vince McMahon adopted a policy in the 1980's and early 1990's of primarily pushing huge, overly-muscular freaks... a policy that I personally believe contributed years later to the deaths of some of those same wrestlers, many of whom died due to the side effects of the aforementioned "weight gain techniques."
Vince McMahon has (self-admittedly) cheated on his wife many times... he dressed his daughter up like a prostitute on national television to make money by pushing her as a "slut character" when she first turned heel... he exploited the first Gulf War in the early 90's to make money with heel Iraqi characters... he just this week laid off a female wrestler who is five months' pregnant and who said she had been told just weeks earlier that she would be taken care of during and after her pregnancy because WWE was supposedly a "family organization" that supported its employees (ahem, "independent contractors") having families... the list of deplorable things that Vince McMahon has done could go on and on.
More than anything else, it is racism that first comes to my mind when I think of Vince McMahon. Through WWE television, he has consistently presented Asian characters as essentially being little children without much in the way of mental capacity... he has presented Mexican characters as being liars and cheaters... he has replicated every negative stereotype about African-Americans that ever existed, in addition to inventing a few new ones... and now he has topped it all off by presenting Arab-Americans in a way that seems to say, "Even the 'good ones' are still terrorists!" while simultaneously appearing to be trying to exploit terrorism, and those who have died in terrorist attacks.
I love the entertainment form of pro wrestling, but I also firmly believe that the man who controls 95% of it in the United States is a slimeball if there ever was one. Unfortunately, watching the only national competition, NWA-TNA, in order to protest WWE would be like someone protesting Exxon-Mobil by smearing one's self in horse manure.
WWE is the only real national choice for pro wrestling fans in the United States, and no matter how much any individual wrestlers may thrill or entertain me, my enjoyment of any pro wrestling match in the future will always be tempered by the fact that I will always have the belief in the back of my mind that the person pulling the strings behind the scenes is, to put it bluntly, an immoral scumbag.
Three Additional Reviews of Thursday Night's Disgraceful Display
In addition to sharing my own personal opinions on Vince McMahon and the new low that he reached this week with the "terrorism storyline," I also wanted to present excerpts from what I felt were the three best reviews of Thursday's Smackdown show that I have read.
The Pro Wrestling Torch's James Caldwell wrote:
"... WWE [previously] defended their use of the Hassan and Daivari characters based on a 'forward-thinking' concept of exploring both men's struggles as Arab-Americans trying to fit into America. But this is WWE we're talking about. There's no way WWE was going to uphold a commitment to sensitivity in staying away from the obvious terrorist angle. Now, they've taken the easy way out by resorting to terrorist overtones that further cement the fact that no matter what WWE tries to play off as a commitment to sensitivity, they will find a way to take the easy way out and settle for a convenient way to draw heat.
Even completely separating the variable of terrorist attacks in London on Thursday morning, the lines fed by Vince McMahon to Tazz prior to the Daivari vs. Undertaker match were absolutely insensitive... It was wrong on so many levels. By implying a suicidal sacrifice in taking out innocent people for the good of a higher goal, WWE moved away from responsibility to just plain carelessness...
I can't think of another form of mainstream entertainment more driven by a misguided quest for White America's manifest destiny than WWE. There's Michael Cole being fed the line, 'I just like white rice,' when [Asian character] Melina entered the ring. There's the constant barrage of storylines based upon racism and the irreverent portrayal of various ethnicities. Whether it's just plain fear of races other than Caucasians or something very insecure in their mindset, the McMahons continually feed the perception that WWE will resort to any cheap and insensitive storyline to build heat..."
The Pro Wrestling Torch's James Guttman wrote:
"... It's one thing to be upset about the Hassan/Daivari gimmick. It's a hot button. It's supposed to get under your skin. That's the idea. That's not what the issue with tonight's show was.
The issue is class. This was classless. With everything that happened this morning, World Wrestling Entertainment might have been able to truly sway people's feelings about them and possibly get people to accept the Arab-American gimmick if only the company had taken the high road for once. All it would have taken was a speech at the start of Smackdown from Vince McMahon saying, 'We here at World Wrestling Entertainment are in the business of entertaining our audience. In light of this morning's tragedy in London, we felt that one of our stories might be less entertaining than originally intended. Because of the timing and out of reverence for those hurt, we are editing this segment from our show. We hope you enjoy our program and thank you for tuning in.'
No. That wouldn't make Vince McMahon the angry nutcase that goes nuts on HBO interviewers... How about having some class for a change, Vince? Something tells me you would have edited the segment out if Stephanie or Shane had been in that subway station in London. What do you think, Mac? Would one of your children joining the faceless group of victims have affected your decision? I think so.
I'm not rating tonight's show. I can't give it a fair grade based on this. Forget everything else... tonight people will remember Hassan and Daivari adopting true terrorist gimmicks on the same day that there were attacks in London. Oooh, that'll draw some heat. Then again, it'll be channel-changing heat."
The Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer wrote:
"It's nice to see that every now and then, when you forget how sleazy to the core the WWE is, last night they remove all doubt. Bluntly, the WWE as a business would be up s--t creek right now if it wasn't for business in Europe, and to thumb their nose at the company's single hottest market simply because they live in a bubble in Connecticut where there is nothing but wrestling and the real world doesn't exist, just amazes me. The fact that the company realized they couldn't air the Undertaker-Hassan angle in England shows they at least thought that much, but still, they put it on their web site anyway, needlessly, just to prove how insensitive they are.
It was bad enough airing it in the U.S., because it only seems to show wrestling fans around the world either how callous the company is, or that the company's judgment is that its fans would only care if something of the sort happened in the U.S. The fact that the angle got no heat in Sacramento on Monday when it was taped showed a misjudgment... But both WWE and UPN showed an incredible lack of class for airing the segment in wake of the events of earlier that day in London... Do you realize that when WCW was losing $60 million, they never came close to being this sleazy? Dumber, sure. But never this sleazy. And this company is still making a nice profit, so there is no financial desperation here, just a complete lack of class.
And what's the upside? Nobody is buying a PPV to see Hassan, no matter what the angle. If you can't draw money against Hulk Hogan in his first match in almost two years, you can't draw money... Trying to exploit deaths for a wrestling angle was a financial flop in 1991. Ratings were so bad on an NBC special trying to exploit the Gulf War that NBC dropped WWE programming, a gigantic blow. They had to move WrestleMania [to a smaller venue] that year because of a lack of ticket sales.
It wasn't because NBC had any qualms about taste, but simply the economic laws of the jungle. When you do a controversial angle, it is considered a success if you turn on more people to the product than you turn off. In this case, you had something that turned on almost nobody, made many feel like taking a shower, and brought needless pain to many on a day that they really didn't need that out of their entertainment.
And even if that isn't the case, it only goes to confirm the general public's negative perception of wrestling, and unfortunately, the unfair portrayal of its audience believing that they enjoy stuff like this, as the lowest common denominator. WWE should remember that next time a tennis match that does a 1.3 rating in primetime can charge more for advertising than WWE charges... or when the NHL comes back and sponsors who wouldn't touch WWE with a ten-foot pole will sign up for a sport that has horrible ratings and is coming off not even playing for a year due to labor problems... and WWE cries about how unfair life is and that the big decision makers just don't 'get it.' The problem is, they do 'get it.' The ones who don't get it really need to be looking in the mirror."