Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Homophobia In Professional Wrestling?

There's a rapper called Brother Ali who, after a wave of teen suicides relating to gay bullying occurred, took to his active Facebook account and said that he had been "part of the problem." Ali had released a few lyrics on his song "Champion" in which he said:

You need to get the dick out your intake
You toilets in a gay bar, never gettin your shit straight

The song is most assuredly a battle song and thus bringing down the opponent's sense of manhood is a useful asset. I sometimes think that non-rap fans aren't aware of the battling element of hip-hop and when reading such lyrics think of it in a ballad context, in which those lyrics really resemble what the person thinks in their heart of hearts. Nevertheless, on his most recent album US, Brother Ali goes full circle and makes this song about homophobia, called "Tight Rope:"

Daddy was a preacher, momma was a Sunday school teacher
Big brother, football squad leader
Now far be it for you to disappoint or displease them
Your just being what you feel you see in
That mirror every time you peer in
Swallow the tears inside that empty feeling
Her boy terrified to let the world in
He has girlfriends but doesn't want a girlfriend
He retreats inside himself
Where he lives life itself in secret
Daddy says people go to hell for being
What he is and he certainly believes them
Cause there ain't no flame that can blaze enough
To trump being hated for the way you love
And cry yourself to sleep and hate waking up
It's a cold world y'all shame on us

The evolution in Ali's lyrics I think represent his role as a Muslim influenced preacher rapper, along with his being Albino, a lifetime difference that may make it easier to empathize with minorities.

This leads in to a discussion about a whole other male dominated genre of entertainment - professional wrestling. While very different, pro-wrestling is similar to hip-hop in that various men can be seen battling one another and taking down each other's manhood. Naturally, homophobic slurs pop up in that process. Kit MacFarlane, a writer for Pop Matters, wrote a lengthy piece about this. It stood out to me because the writer does give ovetures to professional wrestling for historically having some of the most charismatic entertainers this country has ever seen - Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, The Rock. These guys are really talented:

In fact, I’d argue that it’s vital that professional wrestling is given a much larger place in media analysis, not only in order to point out its numerous problems, but also in order to examine those elements that make it an exciting art-form and that, if properly handled, could make it a great one (I’ve tried to do so previously, discussing an exciting and greatly-loved match between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker, the long-lived performer Ric Flair, and the potential of relative-newcomer TNA to move away from the WWE’s disgraceful approach – something they’ve more than failed to live up to).

McMahon rails against the cultural image of wrestling as a lesser entertainment, while continually establishing it as exactly that. Before wrestling addresses the enemy without (the mainstream media) they need to deal with the enemy within: the fact that wrestling is a product that touts its own irrelevance and cultural bankruptcy at every conceivable turn.

WWE is getting beat out in ratings by the UFC, a competitive fighting sport which does what professional wrestling does without the baggage. Professional wrestling is a bit of a bizarre phenomenon when you look at it closely, a sort of postmodern replacement for the circus. Just like the circus, it's full of weird shenanigans and nothing short of total political incorrectness. I haven't seen elephants show up in matches, but midgets certainly have.

As someone who watched professional wrestling alot as an adolescent, I'm not going to defend the use of homophobic slurs. I'm in agreement with Ali's criticism. Friends and I, who had no homophobic opinions at all, often called each other "fag" with the worst vitriol. Recent events, which I think have been shaped by the increasing use of racially harsh rhetoric in mainstream culture, have made me look at this differently and reach Ali's point of view. Having grown up in a manner that made all sorts of things about me different, I can imagine that "faggot" and other words must have a sting that the users of the words aren't even aware of.

When it comes to professional wrestling, however, there is alot of highly questionable stuff, and with adult retrospect in place homophobia is just one of them. During the 1990s, skits occurred in which Stephanie McMahon, Vince's daughter was crucified in the middle of a ring by the Undertaker, and another in which the same Stephanie McMahon was kidnapped by Triple H (her real life husband), drugged and taken to a Las Vegas drive-through wedding chapel unconscious. If the most questionable thing that is now going on at WWE is homophobic slurs, they've certainly toned down the content. Professional wrestling has often marketed itself as a "soap opera for guys" and something with that description will most certainly not be politically correct.

I haven't caught "faggot" being dropped while I have been watched WWE. I have only generally been watching the clips in which Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is back in appearance. However, I personally noticed that the content is toned down from what it once was. There was one skit where The Rock screams at a little child dressed as John Cena and makes him cry, and a small part of me thought "that is hilarious" while another part of me thought, "You douchebag. You are laughing at a grown man screaming at a kid."

Most importantly, it is worth noting to the writer Kit MacFarlane what the context of the homophobic comments by John Cena and Michael Cole are. On WWE now, Cena and Cole are both "heels," or bad guys, feuding with the more popular Rock and Jerry Lawler respectively. Their homophobia fits with their overall character, which is an unlikeable sort of man who is trying desperately to assert his manhood. This dynamic is really, really important to take into account in professional wrestling, because the heels are meant to do and say things that are unlikeable.

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