AS I SEE IT 6/28: Rewarding a PR nightmare

by: Bob Magee Well, so much for any concern by Vince McMahon regarding any public relations issues regarding John Layfield.

Last night, WWE went ahead with what one would assume were existing long-term plans...and incomprehensibly went ahead and rewarded John Layfield for creating a PR nightmare via doing a Nazi salute and goosestepping in Munich, Germany by putting the WWE World Title on him at the Great American Bash last night in Norfolk, VA in a bullrope match (done in the fashion of a Russian chain match with the winner touching 4 turnbuckles).

In a Dusty finish, Guerrero had been awarded the match, but Kurt Angle came out and demanded a video replay, which showed Layfield's shoulder touching the last turnbuckle a millisecond, and Layfield thus had the belt put on him. The finish killed the live crowd for the main event, the Undertaker "Cement Crypt" match against the Dudleys. The vast majority of the crowd literally sat on their hands for the rest of the evening.

Previous to last night's events, I'd been getting a few people who, believe it or not, have attempted to defend John Layfield's actions in Munich, asking me if I know that:

  • John "Bradshaw" Layfield is a wrestling character, and "Bradshaw" isn't who John Layfield really is.

    Yes, I'm aware of that. I also know about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, too.

    Now...although the argument is always made that the best characters in wrestling take a part of a real-life individual's own personality.

    Does that make Layfield a Nazi? Of course not. But it does mean that he did something very stupid, and particularly so given where and when he did it.

    I think that the issue most people have, after the fact of Layfield's having done it in the first place, is that he hasn't had the sense, nor has WWE, to apologize for making the mistake. Worse still, he's been creative with the truth concerning it and people's response to it.

  • The numerous newspapers (as well as wrestling sites) who've discussed his incident in Munich aren't correct that what he did is considered illegal....because John Layfield tells them so.

    German law does NOT protect the use of such symbols as "artistic expression" if the presentation does not "educate anyone" and "might endanger public safety".

    German law goes so far as to require such things as a World War II video game depicting the SS troops of the time are required to submit different graphic depictions for the "SS" symbol within the game as found here (and this is just one of many that have had to do this in Germany). Video games certainly would be termed a form of entertainment.

    Somehow, I think it'd be pretty safe to bet that John Layfield using such a salute to get crowd heat doesn't exactly rate as "educational". Whether or not it "might endanger public safety" can be interpreted differently by different people, although for a crowd not expecting such a salute and goose-stepping, as opposed to a crowd watching a historical drama, which would reasonably expect depictions of such behavior, one could make the argument that it could create such reactions.

    German law is so restrictive on the depiction of Nazi symbolism that Germans cannot legally purchase nor can they publish copies of Mein Kampf, nor publish/distribute pro-Nazi literature of any kind. They cannot watch Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will", a classic documentary/propaganda piece of the Hitler era (which I've seen myself) in a public theatre, nor march publicly in Nazi regalia (including vintage jackboots and SS helmets).

    There is apparently an argument among German legal scholars suggesting that the cases in which these laws are actually enforced are decided by whether or not the depiction of such symbolic speech is propagandistic in intent, as opposed to not being so. No one in their right mind suggests that Layfield was trying to encourage the fans to become Nazis...which may be what kept him and WWE from having to deal with legal issues.

    Then there are Layfield's own arguments that what he did was protected speech, cited in his column on WWE.com, among which are:

    ď'Hoganís Heroes' (a TV comedy set in Germany during World War II) would be allowed to air there because they are entertainment."

    Hogan's Heroes did air in Germany. But the "Seig Heil" references by Colonel Klink or Sergeant Schultz were dubbed over. This was taken to such a point of absurdity that when Klink, And Schultz raised their arms and said "Heil Hitler" in the original version, the dubbed German version would sometimes have them saying something ridiculous, such as "the wheat grows this high" cited in this article.

    I find it interested that in the same article that John Layfield complains that sportswriters and online wrestling writers are trying to censor him, he says the following: "...We have a great country, but we have some real idiots who should just shut up, Michael Moore being one of them. Spend some of your time talking about the good things that our armed forces are doing."

    Now I respect that honest people can disagree about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, understandable with such a politically charged documentary; but for Layfield to suggest that someone that HE doesn't agree with ought to just "shut up"...just shows that it's a matter of whose ox is being gored here...not some defense of his right to free speech. He wants the right to free speech, but doesn't seem to want Moore to have the same right that he asks for.

    Despite what some people wrote to me, I didn't suggest that Layfield ought to be fired by WWE. Nor did I suggest that CNBC ought to fire him. But the lack of any apology by Layfield...and the fact that WWE had an apology posted on its website for only so long as to attempt to keep Layfield's CNBC job (and then pulled it)...shows that WWE and Layfield still have to realize that what he said and did was offensive to many people.

    Not to mention that putting the WWE Title on him was the wrong thing to do...as now the individual nominally representing one of WWE's two "brands" has been seen by tens of thousands of people worldwide giving people in the birthplace of Hitler's hate machine...a Nazi salute.

    Not exactly the best way for people to think about your entertainment company.

    Until next time...

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    If you have comments/questions, or if you'd like to add the AS I SEE IT column to your website, I can be reached by e-mail at bobmagee1@hotmail.com)