Monday, September 15, 2014

Appropriate Responses and Bullying: Why the Babyface Ethic Needs to Change

Cena should be able to give Heyman some justice without threatening bodily harm against him
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Last week on RAW, John Cena laid an ultimatum to Brock Lesnar's advocate, Paul Heyman. He demanded that the WWE World Heavyweight Champion show up to the show tonight or else Cena would render physical harm to the rotund mouthpiece. The promise comes from the standard operating procedure for any pro wrestling babyface dealing with any kind of non-player-character proxy. Basically, from the Grand Wizard to Bobby Heenan, James E. Cornette to Scarlett Bordeaux, fans seem to love seeing the brawny hero manhandle a managerial type, usually one whom the presumptuous attacker has at least 100 pounds on. Being a bully is seemingly part and parcel with wearing a white hat in wrestling parlance, which is funny given WWE's past (and present?) partnership with the B.A. Star Alliance.

WWE talking out of both sides of its mouth is rarely anything new, but to be honest, the company has been stringent in telling people that what happens on the screen should not be emulated at home. That message refers more to the moves rather than the stories, but no matter what the social criticisms are of what happens on screen, the defense always goes back to WWE being stage, and people knowing that what goes on television, while right in a roundabout way, is not how society should be carried out. Then again, as more and more examples of bullying come out, both by people within and outside the wrestling industry, the reactions in defense of the bullies suggests that society has a long way to go before the idea that the strong shouldn't exert force over the weak will take hold.

Granted, the worst press has come from the National Football League. Whether the spate of spousal abuse cases or the sickening story of Adrian Peterson hitting a four-year-old child with a tree branch, pro football has an image problem. However, the recent passing of Sean O'Haire shed a renewed light wrestlers being charged with domestic violence. O'Haire, Steve Austin, Scott Hall, Necro Butcher, and Chyna are the most notable cases within the last 15 years. Furthermore, Jimmy Snuka still has not been cleared in Nancy Argentino's death, which is the all-too-common, most extreme and tragic end to domestic abuse. Yet, in nearly every case, the abuser has had far too much support than I find comfortable.

In nearly every case of domestic violence, whether towards a spouse or child, the amount of victim blaming that more often than not has a tinge of misogyny or racism to it comes bellowing forth. "Well, Janay Rice spat on Ray, so she deserved it." "Oh, Peterson was just disciplining his child." "If these women don't leave their abusers, then it's their fault for staying and receiving the beatings." "Oh, Argentino shouldn't have trusted Snuka, he is a savage, you know." "A woman beating a man? HAHA, what a pussy!"

What do those cases and those reactions have in common with the innocuous-in-comparison bullying that goes on from the good guys to the bad guys? Those excuses are way too easily transposed onto those cases of bullying, and thus make the crowd more inured to the idea that common malfeasance can and should be met with excessive force. Even in cases where NPCs get physical, like how Sensational Sherri used to attack the Macho King's opponents, is cold-cocking her really an appropriate response? In the eye-for-an-eye world of pro wrestling and without using any context, sure, but then again, walloping, say, an interfering Ted DiBiase might make sense. He's a proven wrestler who can defend himself. But Sherri? She was 100 pounds soaking wet. For someone like Hulk Hogan or Ultimate Warrior to hit her like they would DiBiase would threaten her life.

In some cases, Sherri would take the full brunt of a move, but in some cases, the good guy would show restraint, which is the truest mark of a babyface. A competitor who shows mercy to a completely defeated or overmatched opponent, even when they don't have to, shows the most honor in a story term, but it is the bare minimum required in a legal sense. To take it even further, most martial arts disciplines emphasize defense instead of offense, and for conflict dissipation to be the first step. Obviously, wrestling would be boring with diplomacy as the first option for all conflicts, but the rest of the stuff applies.

If wrestling were presented as a faux-sport in the vein of boxing or NASCAR, and wrestlers were presented as cults of personality with their own groups of fans. However, traditional wrestling, which apparently WWE still purveys, is a morality play, embedded in its terminology. Babyfaces are the good guys; heels are the baddies. If WWE is going to have good guys, shouldn't they be good? Shouldn't WWE enable responsible, emulatable behavior and not shitty, regressive attitudes?

Sure, WWE doesn't have to put on a socially responsible product - it is entertainment, after all - but more and more, entertainment outlets are being held to higher standards. Honestly, anything from which the people can derive joy should look to raise up the oppressed, the weak, and the downtrodden rather than continue ideals that perpetuate the barbaric "might equals right" status quo. That statement might seem silly in an entertainment medium based on people staging worked fights to resolve differences. However, making violence the centerpiece of entertainment can be done in an acceptable manner. Cena throwing hands with Lesnar absolutely belongs in that spectrum. Cena manhandling Heyman? Well, that action would be one way of turning someone with right intentions into a villain.

Weasels like Heyman can and should get comeuppance in ways that don't involve them getting beaten within inches of their lives. Wrestling companies, whether global like WWE or local, should start practicing better ways fulfilling retribution against their transgressions rather than bullying them.