Thursday, May 10, 2012

Opaque Intent: Wrestling and a Relationship Victory in the Ring?

By Hope Mookim


To say that World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE for short, does not exactly portray the healthiest forms of masculinity and femininity might be an understatement. To be fair, my encounters with the show have more to do with the sheer inescapability of it, and those encounters have not done much to change my mind. It’s either playing or recording on every TV in my house, and I dare not ask to be excused to eat in another room or make a peep until commercials are on. I am resigned to sit silently, staring at a wall or my dinner plate—desperately looking for anything to look at but the TV. But sometimes I can’t help but watch – with jaw dropped – some of the antics. Recently one such segment aired in which a Dr. Phil-esque session was attempted in the ring. The “mediation” was supposed to happen between a wrestler, Daniel Bryan, and his new ex, AJ Lee, facilitated by Roddy Piper.


Basically, in an earlier episode Daniel Bryan publicly broke up with AJ – in a more intimidating than tactful way. In this episode, Roddy Piper invites both parties to the ring for a discussion. When AJ enters the ring, she and Roddy Piper engage in conversation about Daniel Bryan, with AJ standing up for Daniel Bryan, who “really is a good person”. After a few minutes, Bryan has heard enough and orders AJ to leave the ring as a testament to her love for him. To Roddy Piper’s, and my dismay, she obeys and Bryan is left gloating this “victory” in the ring.
Our entire dinner table became very quiet and tense. My mother and I stared at each other awestruck.  My mother and I always like to have deep conversations about things in regular life, take the situation apart, play devil’s advocate, and examine it from all sides. This sparked one of those conversations. I’m known in my family as hotheaded and I was furious. I saw this segment as having promoted, if not instilled, a tolerance and acceptance of domestic and relationship violence. My little brother has been watching this show since he was a young child (I had NOTHING to do with that…), and I have seen how an impressionable age and this show can result in confusion about masculinity and the acceptance of violence in daily life. I wondered how many young children, and even impressionable older people, were watching this and as a result would incorporate that kind of behavior into their interpersonal or relationship schemas; this was dangerous stuff.
I was glad my mother agreed, but when we took the situation a little further we came to a new conclusion. What if this segment was the exact opposite of what we thought? Perhaps the writers were trying to shed light on relationship violence. The clip from the breakup could have been purposefully written in such an upsetting way that it generates sympathy for AJ, and thus grabs the emotion of all viewers, impressionable and otherwise. It then makes sense why WWE would create AJ as a timid young character who does not fit the general mold of the bolder WWE woman. For a bolder character, viewers may feel that she can protect herself and would not feel for her so readily (not to say bold women, or men for that matter, should be less felt for or sympathized with), but they may feel less tenderness and protectiveness towards the bolder character than the girlish and stereotypically feminine character AJ plays. In the Roddy Piper mediation, to see that AJ’s boldest moments are those in which she is standing up for Daniel Bryan, and to then have Bryan again demean her and gloat could be purposefully done to generate more hate for Daniel Bryan and more sympathy for AJ, and victims of domestic abuse everywhere.
Does this mean that WWE was trying to shed light on the horror of relationship violence, especially that of emotional abuse? Physical abuse has been thrust into collective consciousness through media coverage of cases such as that of Chris Brown and Rihanna, but emotional abuse has until now been a little less exposed though it is also extremely dangerous. But how clear was this message, if that was indeed the intent, and would the majority of viewers understand? Maybe it worked; I was seething with rage towards Daniel Bryan, more so than I was towards WWE for showing it (or promoting it as I initially believed). Maybe WWE’s intentions were good…or maybe my mother and I are just clinging to hope.
Take a look at the clip above and tell me what you think. Do you think this had a pure intent, or was a bad judgment call…or maybe both?

Hi everyone, my name is Hope and I am an intern here at Men Can Stop Rape! I am from Beltsville, Maryland and am currently a graduating senior at the wonderful University of Maryland, College Park. I am majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice and plan on going to law school.
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