Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Problem with the WWE's Mae Young Tribute

Too often, Young was the butt of jokes, or the co-butt of jokes like the relationship she had with Mark Henry
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WWE has been running their Mae Young tribute package on every show since the iconic wrestling figure passed away last week. Every time I see it, I am touched by sadness. Though she lived a full life, her passing is still sad in that she was such a titan of the industry, and she was seemingly beloved by everyone who had come into her life.

But each time I watch the video, I start to feel some other emotions that have nothing to do with Young, but with the company who employed her in her twilight years. I get a bit angrier each time when I see a video dominated by footage of Young as mostly comic relief. Granted, I don't think much video footage of her days as the toughest wrestler on the planet and a pioneer in women's wrestling exists anymore. But I get the feeling more people are going to remember Young as the woman who birthed a hand or showed her "puppies" on pay-per-view (prosthesis or not) rather than one of the most titanic figures in wrestling history.

Of course, comic relief by itself isn't bad, and wrestling needs a healthy dose of funny. Even though great comedy usually comes from people laughing with the players involve, I understand in wrestling when someone occasionally has to be the butt of a joke because of something he or she has done in the ring. However, I can't remember a single time when Young was inserted into a story for comedic value when she wasn't the punchline, and most of the time, she seemed like said butt only because she was an old woman. Old women acting saucy is one of the most tired and overused tropes in any b-grade comedy found in theaters or on Netflix.

Similar to how anyone who isn't a cis, white, straight male is treated on WWE programming, Young oftentimes didn't get to be more than a stereotype. At the very least, why couldn't WWE put her in a situation where she'd be the one laughing at another punchline instead of always being the one used at the expense of someone else? The obvious answer is that she may have wanted it to be that way. As a veteran of the business since before World War II, Young more than anyone else in wrestling knew what the value of being carny as fuck meant. Stories were told of her getting physical with other performers who'd deign to ease up on her. She wanted to get put through tables or eat the hardest clotheslines she could. Presumably, she probably wanted to be the one doing all the gross shit that WWE heaped into her tribute video in lieu of anything else she may have done.

But just because she wanted to be the butt of the joke doesn't mean WWE had to oblige her all the time. Young wasn't the only one whose image was on the line in these vignettes. Whether she knew it or not, she was a pawn in WWE's institutionalized misogynist machine. The company doesn't care about women, even if they're elderly and in possession of a resume not even WWE's biggest historical stars could dream of having.

Even now, as I've been beaten over the head with how much Young was the joke instead of one of the ones telling said joke, I hesitate to get too angry. In addition to being constantly reminded of the bad humor, I'm reminded that despite it all, Young was universally beloved by seemingly everyone in the company. No matter what, she gave herself to the McMahons, and the McMahons seemed to treat her well as a person. Sometimes, relations between family or close friends belie all conventional expectation.

While I didn't like how heavy the emphasis was on her comedic exploits in that video, WWE had to address them. No matter what anyone says or does, Young performed in those skits, and they remain indelibly linked to her. I just want so badly for someone within the company to speak up so in the future, women, whether they be mammoth figures in the history of the entire art like Young or current roster members now like Summer Rae for example don't just get treated with this broad brush that is reserved for those who aren't privileged enough to be born with male genitalia.