6 Insanely Tone-Deaf Ways The WWE Addressed Serious Issues
Despite the torture pro wrestlers put themselves through to make their fights seem real (and the times their fights actually are), most people don't take the WWE very seriously. Well, Vince McMahon does. He believes wrestling is the perfect medium through which to tackle complex societal issues, and here are six examples of him trying to do exactly that ... and failing spectacularly.
The WWE Stages A Disastrous "Gay Wedding"
Billy and Chuck were a villainous tag team back in 2002. Over time, they started to act affectionate toward each other. They bleached their hair and started wearing matching red tights. Chuck wore pigtails. They hired a personal stylist. Fans were supposed to laugh at them because of their possible homosexuality. It was this question mark surrounding their sexuality that drove their stories. Sort of a Sam and Diane, "Will they or won't they?" drama, but with luscious abs and dick baskets.
Subtle by WWE standards.
But when the characters openly confirmed they were gay, their poncing wasn't really funny anymore. It was more ... what's the word? Mean? Bigoted? Erotic? Whatever it was, it was a bad idea. Especially when Chuck proposed to Billy and they agreed to get married in the ring, in front of thousands of heckling rednecks.
Your wedding flowers are some ivy wrapped around a wrestling ring like barbed wire?
Are you guys sure you're gay?
In honor of wrestling's first gay wedding, the WWE teamed up with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. These poor fools had obviously never watched a wrestling show before they endorsed their decision to air Chuck and Billy's marriage. GLAAD thought it would be a groundbreaking event, and consulted with WWE for two months to ensure the ceremony would portray gay relationships positively.
We can't over-emphasize how little of the show they must have watched.
When the ceremony came, the fans booed furiously. It was as if their boos had been training their entire lives for this one moment. When the reverend asked if there were any objections, the WWE's resident pimp tried to lure the men back to heterosexuality with the promise of lady parts. As if that wasn't stupid enough, Chuck and Billy then brought the ceremony to an end, revealing their whole gay relationship had been a publicity stunt.
And they weren't done. The reverend ripped his face off to reveal he was the evil Eric Bischoff the whole time! Wait, what?
Sorry, gay couples. If this man married you, your marriage was never valid.
Note: In Alabama, this caption works under any photo.
Now unmasked for no real reason, Bischoff invited his goons down to the ring to destroy everybody. So, to be clear, the fake gay wedding endorsed and advised by GLAAD ended up being mostly conversion therapy before it became a joke, a trick, and a fistfight. GLAAD was pissed, and rightfully so. They severed their relationship with the WWE.
A decade later, GLAAD and the WWE mended ties. Unfortunately, less than a week after that, commentator Michael Cole called a co-worker a homophobic slur on Twitter and John Cena cut an insulting promo insinuating that The Rock was gay.
We expected more from a man who gets called a Fruity Pebble and takes it as a compliment.
The WWE Introduces "Disabled" Wrestlers, Beats Them Mercilessly
In 2003, WWE signed a one-legged wrestler. Well, through a misunderstanding, they damn near signed two one-legged wrestlers, but this is the story about the only one-legged wrestler they meant to hire -- Zach Gowen.
When Zach won a match to earn a full-time WWE contract, it was a triumph of the human spirit. The storyline was simple and self-evident every time fans saw a one-legged man backflipping onto another man's head: Anyone can achieve their dreams.
And if you're a wrestling fan, your dream has probably been
stomping on Vince McMahon's head at some point.
But the writers ran into a problem. Their roster is filled with titanic, larger-than-life characters, made that way by carefully constructed storylines and carefully administered steroids. They would look pretty weak losing to 80 pounds of plucky spirit but mostly torso. So Gowen lost. To everyone. And, as it turned out, watching a man with a disability being repeatedly smashed into a puddle made people uncomfortable.
When Brock Lesnar threw Gowen down a flight of stairs while he was in a wheelchair, it was so messed up they cut it from the program when it was rebroadcast in the U.K.
"You think we should have him drive to his mother's house and piss on her, or do you think shoving the
injured, disabled man's wheelchair down the stairs will be enough to show he's bad?"
Gowen's WWE career ended with a whimper less than a year after it began. There was no victorious endgame -- he was simply manhandled by larger, more-legged men until he was fired. It ended up being about as inspirational as a pizza restaurant going public with its hatred of gay people.
Luckily, a short time later the WWE tackled disability in a more mature way. With a man named Eugene.
"HI MY NAME IS EUGE- hold on. Vince, do you really think
we should be doing this? THIS?"
Eugene was a character played by wrestler Nick Dinsmore that was meant to be mentally disabled. Not slow or punchy or dingy -- Eugene was fully mis-chromosomed. He couldn't dress himself, carried teddy bears, and was not capable of understanding things like boners or physical assault. As a concept, it was easily 30 years too late and nearly everyone's reaction to Eugene was some variation of, "I can't fucking believe they're doing this."
"Wha!? Dey's offended!?"
This was a show that began every broadcast with a disclaimer to "not try this at home," and they introduced a character with the mind of a child who defeated bullies by copying the moves of his favorite wrestlers. And the thing about wrestling is that it's hard to get a grip on the unironic. It's all a weird combination of silliness, stupidity, theater, and actual danger being run by people who have proven to be legitimately out-of-touch and crazy. So, while Eugene was a lovable character, it was hard to know if his bosses meant him to be a comment on political correctness or a, you know, super funny retard joke. So the fans turned on the concept. It led to uncomfortable scenes where thousands of people cheered for the bad guys as they pummeled poor, helpless Eugene.
"No, stop cheering! I'm the BAD GUY! I'm killing a special needs person!!
What's wrong with you people!?!"
Eugene was finally retired as a character in 2007, a mere three years after no living person could believe it was a thing they were actually still doing.
The WWE Takes On Racism
Throughout WWE's history, they've embraced performers of all different colors -- everything from the deepest tans to the most vibrant oranges. But when it comes to showcasing black wrestlers, they don't have the best track record. Take Charles Wright for example. He played three different characters during his run in WWE: a voodoo practitioner, a gang member, and a pimp. The complete black pop culture experience, all wrapped up in one man!
Oh, so a black man can't be an offensive stereotype? Now who's the racist?
But in the late '90s, during the height of the wrestling boom, WWE decided to address the issue of racism within the company. Ron Simmons was the first black champion in WCW history, and after he jumped ship to WWE he was eager to become the first black champion there as well. He founded the Nation Of Domination -- a group loosely based on the Nation Of Islam -- to help him further his goals.
"Wa-Alaikum-Salaam, my brothers."
The Nation Of Domination wanted to end racism in professional wrestling and for black performers to get championship opportunities. Those seem like noble goals, right? The problem was that these were the bad guys. Which meant their enemies, the "good guys" were literally fighting to keep the black man down.
After their locker room was vandalized with racist slurs, McMahon still acted like they were out of line to say there was racism in the company. In one famous comedy segment, the rival group D-Generation X came down to the ring in blackface to make fun of them. Blackface. In 1998. And here's what's crazy: Fans loved it.
Finally, white guys have a voice.
So, did the Nation Of Domination achieve its goals? Actually, one of the group's members would go on to become champion: a half-Samoan, half-black wrestler known as The Rock. He seemed to fall completely off the map after that, though.
Last known photo.
Aside from Rock, there has been no other black WWE champion in the company's history. And while counting the lack of somethings is usually an irresponsible way to judge something's racism, the number of black wrestlers stuck playing stereotypes like street thugs, jive dancers, and gospel singers proves it's still a problem. Which means the WWE had its own civil rights movement it scripted itself, and in it the black man still lost.
Can you dig that, brotha!
The WWE Attempts To Help America Cope With 9/11
Immediately after 9/11, sporting events across America were canceled to give people time to mourn. The WWE went a different direction. On Sept. 13, the company hosted a live SmackDown show in Houston, where they paid tribute to those who had passed. Normally, WWE handles global conflict by dressing one of the wrestlers like America's enemies and telling them to insult the crowd's local sports team. So when it came time for them to attempt a genuine, heartfelt tribute, it was a little ... awkward.
"I won a gold medal. Also, USA! USA! USA! But, mostly, gold medal."
The company still heralds it as one of their proudest moments, but many at the time felt it wasn't their place. No one should start their 9/11 speech with, "You might know me as the guy who hit a woman with a chair to cheat my way to the Intercontinental Title. And tonight I'm here to help put a national tragedy into perspective."
Throughout the show, wrestlers gave their thoughts on the tragedy in pre-taped interviews. And as it was for everyone in the country, it was a random flailing of unprocessed shock and emotions mixed with uncharacteristic reverence. A nice way to put it is that nobody had anything particularly insightful to say. At least until Stephanie McMahon's interview.
"If you can believe it, I'm a billionaire heiress and I'm about to
make this 9/11 shit all about me."
Stephanie told the world that when her family was under attack, it only made them stronger, and America would now be made stronger too. Oh, and to be clear, the "attack" on her family she's talking about was her father's trial for steroid distribution. The interview was removed from reruns of the show, as it made Vince's daughter look like a self-absorbed moron. Comparing your dad's steroid abuse to 9/11 would be insulting even in a world where he was drug-free. Oh, and to be clear again:
Comparing this 69-year-old man's steroid abuse to 9/11 is the 9/11 of stupid comparisons.
The WWE's 9/11 commentary didn't stop there. In 2004, WWE pushed a character named Muhammad Hassan. He and his manager, Daivari, were villains who hated Americans, but it wasn't as dumb as you think. They hated Americans because they had spent the last few years being treated like crap because of the color of their skin. They had justified criticism of how Arab-Americans were treated post-9/11 and were surprisingly nuanced villains. Right up until they weren't ...
For instance, this is an Italian man.
Very quickly, Hassan's character became a terrorist caricature. In one misguided segment, Daivari went into a suicide match against the Undertaker and Hassan did some kind of prayer ritual to summon five masked men -- it was kind of bizarre. The writers may have mixed up witchcraft with Islam, but religious inaccuracy wasn't really the problem. The problem was it going on the air on the day of the London bombings.
"While the world recovers from this unspeakable act of terror, please enjoy this childish skit about ...
well, magic terrorists cheating in a fight against a zombie. We ... shit, we shouldn't have done this."
There Have Been Multiple Addiction Storylines Starring Actual, Real-Life Addicts
One of the biggest reasons for the high death rate among wrestlers is addiction. And who could blame them? The narcotic painkillers alone would do it. Imagine getting thrown off a ladder one night, waking up the next morning to hit the gym and travel 200 miles to get thrown off a taller ladder before hitting the gym, traveling 200 more miles and getting thrown off a much, much taller ladder. That's how Satan designs punishments for murderous ladders, not what the human body was designed to do.
So, it's obvious why the WWE might want to address the elephant in the room. But, as with most other issues, they've traditionally handled this delicate topic with all the finesse of a coked-up Hulk Hogan.
"DRUGS!? DRUGS ARE LIKE AN ELEPHANT PENIS AND A TIDAL WAVE
HAVING A BIRTHDAY PARTY IN SPACE, MEAN GENE!"
Thus, Road Warrior Hawk's real-life problems with alcohol were implemented into his storylines in 1998. He'd collapse drunk outside the ring, and it created friction between him and his tag team partner, Animal. Alcoholism is one of those things that can be treated lightheartedly right up until you run into someone suffering from it. And since Hawk did suffer from it, he carried that fun-ruining context around with him every time the WWE tried to turn it into a wacky pro-wrestling storyline.
The point is, he didn't appreciate having his personal demons aired in public, at least not in a campy medium that punctuates dramatic beats with blows to the head with a folding chair. The drama finally concluded when he climbed on top of the big screen and tried to commit suicide. Another wrestler climbed up after him to talk him down, but inevitably pushed him off instead, because wrestling. Both Hawk and Animal quit as a result of the story.
Having to endure "oh, what a lush" jokes every damn day probably didn't help, either.
A decade later, the WWE decided to approach addiction from a different angle in a feud between CM Punk and Jeff Hardy. Punk is famous for living a drug-free lifestyle. Hardy is famous for being high as balls for much of his career. He's been fired from two wrestling companies and once turned up for a championship match in such a wretched condition that they had to cancel it immediately after it started. So how did WWE mess this story up? They ... kind of made it seem like the addict was the hero.
"People relate to me, Punk. Little girls trying to put on their mother's makeup for the first time ...
guys who pass out at frat parties ... everybody!"
The feud was promoted as Punk's drug-free lifestyle versus Hardy's "living in the moment," but Hardy seemed so proud of his destructive behavior it started to feel like cheering for him was endorsing drug abuse. When Punk bragged that he had never been to rehab, Hardy triumphantly retorted that he had never been to rehab either -- he handled his problems by himself. If he was expecting cheers, he was disappointed. If there's one thing no one thinks is cute, it's addicts bragging about how they don't need rehab. Try it for yourself at home!
Jeff Hardy, presumably on the set of his Sabrina The Teenage Witch porn parody,
solves all his drug problems by himself.
Punk eventually beat Hardy in a match that forced him to quit -- a storyline designed to give Jeff some time off to rest. Unfortunately, this also gave him time off for his "living in the moment," and he was shortly arrested on charges of prescription drug trafficking and possession. The moral of our story is this: When casting the part of a junkie wrestler, you don't necessarily have to use one who is an actual addict. That's what acting is for! Otherwise fans see the guy getting put in cuffs on the news and think, "Man, that dude never breaks character!"
The WWE Confronts (Actual) Wrestler Deaths
We've talked before about the tragically shortened life expectancy of professional wrestlers. So it's only natural that the WWE should try to address some of these deaths in their programming. But they were handled as clumsily as Sid Vicious trying to stammer through a promo.
When Eddie Guerrero died in 2005 of heart failure, the WWE held two tribute shows to honor his memory. In a series of interviews, his friends and colleagues paid their respects. It was all genuinely moving, but things unfortunately did not stop there.
"Rey ... amigo. If I ever die, promise me you won't incorporate my real death into some kind of cartoonish, fake storyline."
"What? I don't speak Spanish, dude."
Eddie's friend, Rey Mysterio, vowed to win the World Heavyweight Championship and dedicate it to Eddie's memory. It was pretty cheap for the company to use a performer's death to promote a storyline, but it was even cheaper when Rey's enemies started mocking the recently departed to rile up the crowd. For example, Randy Orton claimed Eddie was burning in Hell. Again: This guy died in real life.
This wasn't just offensive to the fans, either. Imagine being a performer and finding out you were supposed to go out and mock your actual dead friend in front of the world.
But if Guerrero's demise was handled poorly, Paul Bearer's was a total shitshow. Bearer was the manager of the Undertaker (get it? "Paul Bearer"?) and controlled the undead wrestler with a magic urn. The character survived being buried alive in cement, but in 2013, William Alvin Moody, the guy who played him, died of a heart attack.
Sorry, mourners. There is no context where this GIF isn't a delight.
Undertaker paid tribute to Paul Bearer on live television but was attacked by CM Punk. Punk stole Bearer's urn and mocked him relentlessly over the following weeks. In one infamous segment, Punk's manager impersonated Bearer before Punk dumped the urn on the Undertaker and smeared the ashes across his face. Viewers flipped. So, if you were wondering where the line is for wrestling fans, there you go: It's rubbing human remains on another wrestler's face while they're still warm. Well, and the gay marriage thing.
If Billy and Chuck had rubbed ashes on each other's faces instead of exchanging vows,
it would've been mass riots.
It's the same problem as with the addiction storylines, only magnified times 10. A wrestling storyline based around an actual dead person is like stabbing someone during a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a broken, confusing mix of fantasy and reality. But WWE fans should be used to it by now. After all, this is the same company that once aired a segment where Big Boss Man crashed the funeral of Big Show's father, hitched the casket to the back of his car, and dragged it and the hysterical, grieving son into comical funeral history.
If you weren't a pro-wrestling fan before, we're guessing you are now.
For more on wrestling from Cracked, check out The 5 Greatest Unscripted Disasters in Pro Wrestling and 5 Things We're Begging to See Changed in Pro Wrestling.
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