Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wrestling, Like Wu-Tang, Is for the Children

If WWE is truly all ages, then why isn't El Torito featured more prominently at a time when kids can watch?
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Children's entertainment gets a bad rap in the "nerd" community, mainly because it has a reputation of being "dumbed-down" and therefore, not as worthy as something with brains or with a deep story. This idea is patently false, especially since Avatar: The Last Airbender and Steven Universe, among other shows, movies, and other media, are ostensibly for children and are smart, well-crafted, and thematically accessible for children and adults alike, and since blatant pap like The Big Bang Theory is marketed to adults and yet contain pandering character archetypes and dull, unlayered stories that are on par with the most rudimentary of children's programming like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. The point is that no show is truly a "kid's" show or an "adult" show just because of its appearance or its network. Granted, not everything is for children; I wouldn't in a million years sit down with my kids to watch Game of Thrones right now, but the graphic violence and use of rape as a villain-building crutch are without a doubt adult themes.

Game of Thrones should be the exception rather than the rule in entertainment. Pandering to children is about as good an idea as pandering to any group, but pandering is a shitty practice no matter who the target is. One doesn't have to present his or her piece of media in the overly-saccharine, baby-voiced stereotyping that governs what is "children's" programming. Any story, theme, or character archetype can be presented in a smart, three-dimensional, and even sometimes edgy manner that is accessible for viewers of all ages. When children can be in the audience, then that entertainment form truly has cultural relevance. They are the new lifelong fans minted at an early age, and they have something more that they can share with their parents or guardians. And for the graduates of the Darren Rovell School of Robotic Fiduciary-Obsessed Automatons out there, those kids often make their parents spend more money on them at shows than they would on themselves. No reason exists that at least 75% if not more of entertainment produced should be accessible to children.

As a form of entertainment, wrestling certainly is far better when the kids can come along and watch. The art's roots are entrenched firmly in the carnival scene. Who goes to carnivals? Families do. No matter how adult or edgy various promotions have gotten over time, wrestling has always been about people fake-fighting each other with gaudy, exaggerated motions and in colorful tights with over-the-top stories. This kind of demonstrative entertainment is the kind that catches younger attention spans. It is tailor made for children.

That reason is why I'm so baffled as to why so many promotions listen to the vocal minority of fans who want their product to be as toxic and unwelcoming to children and families as possible. I can understand a percentage of companies who provide an adult product. Juggalo Championship Wrestling, for example, is a company that should cater to adults because that Juggalo lifestyle has nothing kid-friendly about it. Not saying that is bad or good, but it's what the Insane Clown Posse has fostered. One out of four or five indie companies can afford to have that kind hyper-sexualized, ultraviolent atmosphere, but it's hard to say which ones should and which ones shouldn't.

But when a promotion like Chikara is the exception and not the rule among the indies, then the scene has problems. When at least three of, and if not all four major, televised promotions are questionable for anything younger than teenage consumption, the scene has problems. People complain that WWE's TV-PG rating is ruining it, but the more ruinous path is that it barely adheres to that rating if at all. Sure, the prolific cursing is down, and women are treated a minuscule level better than they were in the Attitude Era, but it's still insanely problematic towards non-male performers. John Cena, the ambassador to the children incarnate, is a shitty role model, and other for-kids characters like Brodus Clay or currently, El Torito, get barely any television time on RAW and Smackdown.

Of course, the fact that RAW and Smackdown pretty much are the main avenues for distribution is a huge problem as well. Kids generally don't stay up late enough to see either show go to its conclusion, and WWE has no distribution deal for a weekend morning or weekday afternoon show that is marketed towards kids. It's like WWE wants to put on a show for sponsors that it is an all-ages show, but it still wants to market to the crowd that flocked to arenas 15 years ago during that short period of time when the company yanked pro wrestling away from younger people and catered directly to the testosterone-fueled, devil-may-care 18-34 male demographic almost exclusively.

TNA right now has yet to aim for a rating that is less severe than TV-14. Ring of Honor without a doubt caters to an older crowd. Forget the hostility towards women in the live crowds and in the booking, and the lack of crowd policing that allows grotesque chants (that may or may not have curse words in them) to proliferate. Its main sponsor on its Sinclair Broadcasting Group is Beta Prostate Blocker, and you know kids aren't taking that. Lucha Underground, even with its gritty exterior and sometimes gruff themes, may be the closest thing to being for the kids that any major televised program could be. When the mainstream only has, at best, a 25% inclusion rate for all ages, then it has a fucking problem.

People, both the vocal fans who shit all over anything kids like and promoters and producers, need to realize that including children is the best way to go for the future of the industry. A wrestling angle can be edgy and hip and still appeal to all ages. For example, what fan wouldn't want his or her children to get immersed in the Daniel Bryan story leading up to WrestleMania XXX? The Summer of Punk II might have had a sharp edge to it, but what part of a disgruntled employee threatening to leave the company with the title is too heavy for children to process? If Cena cut all the misogyny and hyper masculine bullshit out of his promos, his "Monster of the Month" style of feud building would have been the perfect hook for kids to watch. None of this is rocket science.

It's far easier and more worthwhile to cater to a fuller audience than a niche. Adults-only is the most boring niche I can think of anyway. When kids are at the shows, chanting, cheering, and having a good time, everyone wins. I don't know why this is so hard to process for the bull-headed, but in the year 2015 of our lord Bryan Danielson, it's the total state of things.