Moral Outrage


August 30, 2013 by Colin Kelly

It’s interesting how things change.

This week, 10 years ago, the outrage currently directed at MTV for this performance from Miley Cyrus was directed at Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment for putting things like this on television.

What’s truly disturbing about the Trish Stratus WWE clip is the reaction from some of the young members of the audience. One young lad, who looks about 12 years old, is clearly seen bouncing out his seat with excitement shouting ‘yes’ as Trish is subject to treatment most of us would consider degrading.

That should worry you.

And at the time, it worried lots of people. But at the time, Vince McMahon defended the programming, insisting it was part of a storyline, a ‘soap opera’ where in the end Trish exacted her revenge, and if parents didn’t want their children to watch they should simply switch off or change the channel.

McMahon, in this excellent interview with Bob Costas, also explained the edgier elements of programming were shown well after 9pm and sometimes after 10pm and that in any case, they proved extremely popular with a large section of the public.

So why isn’t he airing programming like that now? Why has the WWE dramatically cleaned up its act, deliberately embraced PG programming throughout all its output and now finds itself regularly criticised by some fans for not being edgy enough?!

Some have put the change down to Vince’s wife Linda and her attempts to become a US Senator. Association with a highly controversial product was thought by some to be damaging her efforts. That may be part of it.

But I think the truth is more basic. The cleaned up WWE sells.

Just as 10 years ago the shock, sex, extreme violence and controversy was popular, now, things have changed.

And the family friendly WWE, under the leadership of Vince’s son-in-law Jean-Paul Levesque is trying to become a brand with values similar to Lego.

Since its national expansion in the mid 80s, the WWE has done whatever it takes to win. McMahon destroyed the old style regional promotion system, some of his wrestlers used steroids to enhance their physiques at a time when the drug was legal in the United States and a few continued to use them after they became illegal.

When the time came to introduce drug testing and use more natural bodies, that’s what we saw on WWE programming.

WWE then became embroiled in a fierce competition with Ted Turner owned WCW. Key WWE talent defected, ratings declined and Vince McMahon was up against it.

He did what he had to do in order to survive and at the time, he responded to market demands for an edgy product.

During this period, Owen Hart died after a stunt he performed went wrong. Several wrestlers and former wrestlers died from the effects of drug abuse. And in 2007 wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife, son and then himself.

Why he did this remains unclear. There’s some speculation drug use may have played a part, others have suggested a series of concussions obtained throughout his in ring career may have caused some brain damage.

We’ll likely never know. And in any case, there are many examples of drug users and concussion victims who have never exhibited anything like such violence.

What is clear is that today’s cleaned up WWE is a safer, more family friendly environment with a clear vision and good leadership. It knows what it is and where it’s going and is never in the media for anything other than positive reasons.

MTV on the other hand, is attracting revulsion.

At best, Miley Cyrus was trying too hard last Sunday night. At worst, well, watch it again and be the judge.

History has shown that when large entertainment companies embark on a relentless drive for ratings and edgy content, there is a cost associated with this. Often, that cost is human.

When wrestlers step into the ring they accept a certain amount of risk and potential damage to their bodies. If they choose to take illegal drugs they know this risk increases. And a good employer, like WWE, which as well as testing and punishing talent who abuse drugs, now offers to pay rehabilitation costs for any current or former talent who wants it,  helps keep those risks to a minimum.

10 years ago Vince McMahon said he wanted his organisation to be subject to no more or no less scrutiny than other forms of entertainment and sports pointing out that there were examples of drug use in the NBA, NFL, soccer and throughout the music and film industries.

Yet at a time when people were calling for McMahon’s head, these organisations were pretty much allowed to do what they liked. There was never any moral outrage and no calls for action against them.

Well here we are a few years on. Vince and his product are rated PG and MTV and Miley Cyrus are veering close to R-18.

What’s going on behind the scenes and what will happen next? Will there be a human cost?

What would we end up seeing on screen if, for example, performers at music industry award shows were subject to mandatory drug testing?

And is ‘family friendly’ best for business these days? And if so, why hasn’t someone told MTV?

One thought on “Moral Outrage

  1. Lou Pickney says:

    Without WCW or ECW to push WWE for viewers (and TNA isn’t a viable threat), the perceived need to have an edgier product has diminished. Moreover, the Senate race by Linda certainly motivated WWE to adjust to having a cleaner product, but it also opened doors to opportunities that weren’t there before — opportunities that would disappear if the product returned to an edgier form. Luckily, WWE has hired some great workers (Punk, Bryan, Cesaro, Ambrose, Rollins, Del Rio) in the past few years and mixed in some talented veterans (Christian, RVD, Jericho, Mysterio) to have enough guys to be able to put on entertaining matches even within the confines of the WWE infrastructure.

    Vince still runs his talent into the ground with the nonstop touring and almost no time off, so don’t be fooled that there isn’t a human cost being paid. With the drugs, there were too many wrestlers dropping dead (it’s incredibly eerie to see the list of pro wrestlers under age 50 who have died in the past ~20 years) and after Benoit, the focus was intensified considerably. Something had to change — and it did.

    As for MTV, the network is almost entirely irrelevant in relation to the music world anymore. It’s making big money on the cheap-to-produce amateur improv billed as reality television, so it’s not as if it’s aiming for a highbrow audience. And while the VMAs are a relic of a bygone era, it’s not like the show has a particularly “family-friendly” history itself. All of the outrage over what happened has given MTV a ton of free press, which I suspect was part of the goal from the start.

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