AS I SEE IT 4/19/2001
Yet another chapter in the media sensationalism of professional wrestling began
First, a 14-year-old Queens boy was arrested on Tuesday in the death of his 10-year-old stepbrother, who prosecutors claim was "asphyxiated when the older boy put him in a 'hold around the chest until the deceased's eyes rolled back.'"
This afternoon, even my local ABC affiliate in Philadelphia was making connections between this death and the Lionel Tate case, and questioned if it should make parents wonder about children watching wrestling.
Two small problems.
First, the boy who was killed was actually the wrestling fan. He apparently wore Steve Austin shirts and watched WWF wrestling.
Second, despite the best attempts of the media to show otherwise, from what neighbors have said on numerous New York City news source; it appears that what occurred was actually a tragic case of roughhousing between brothers, and nothing to do with "wrestling holds".
But don't let the facts get in the way of a good story....or a good headline.
New York City newspapers and websites screamed out headlines like "Teen Charged In Wrestling Death"...."Investigators Ask If 10-Year-Old Queens Boy Died While Play Wrestling"..."Wrestling Death?"
And I can't wait until Phil Mushnick's next column gets printed. No doubt, Vince McMahon will again be blamed by Mushnick for everything from this child's death to corrupting the morals of children to global warming.
The next example comes from a murder case in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where 33 year old Albert Serrano entered a mental hospital and murdered three patients and one nurse during a 40 minute rampage. He had initially been arrested a week prior to the incident for an assault on a stranger in the facility waiting room, then admitted after it was found due to the fact that he may have been threatening suicide.
During statements from Serrano and his girlfriend, it was indicated that Serrano "wanted to be a professional wrestler and a professional boxer."
"So, you put that in combination with the types of injuries that were now seeing in all the victims..." St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara Mascara said.
Mind you, there is no actual relation between what Serrano "wanted" to do and the murders that did occur at the facility. One might as well say that if I wanted to be a golfer when I was five....that I can compete with Tiger Woods at the next PGA tournament.
But there you are again...in the headline..."professional wrestling" and murder.
Then, if that weren't enough, on Wednesday night, a heavily hyped special report was featured on CBS News on "backyard wrestling".
The introductions to the piece thunder out terms like "a troubling trend...why teens are beating each other to a pulp...and why their parents aren't stopping them..."
The usual and predictable scenes of kids using barbed wire, stop signs, 2X4s and the like were featured, as were teens bragging about how they've been injured.
No doubt L. Brent Bozell will soon be deliberately fuzzing the clear distinction between what these teenagers are doing and what the WWF's and other trained professional do....or blaming them for making these backyarders want to do it; as he has on previous occasions on his PTC website.
The obvious question is why these knee-jerk reaction by the media? Why is there this attention to anything that may or may not actually have the slightest relation to professional wrestling?
While it's true that with the recent mainstream media exposure and increased revenue (for the WWF, at least); that the wrestling industry could expect a certain degree of negative press, it seems even more reasonable to ask this question:
Why does it seem that it's acceptable to treat wrestling as if it's society's "dirty little secret"...that it's not a legitimate form of entertainment...and therefore anything can be said regarding it and anything can be tied to it, relevant or otherwise?
Another way of looking at it was brought up by Al Isaacs in a great editorial in his Wrestling SCOOPS E-newsletter on Wednesday:
"...I once had a journalism professor who explained to me that people will get passionate about an event that they can put a face on and perceive they have some measure of control over.... Wrestling is the face of the enemy. It's rock and roll, and sinful thoughts, and non-conformist aggressive behavior tied up in a slick package.
Somehow just watching it taints us. Anything that is perceived as negative that we may do in our lives, be it accidental or on purpose, no matter what the reasoning or motive, can all be traced back to our choice of entertainment on Monday nights.
Society has already passed the point where people no longer take responsibility for their own actions. Now as a group it doesn't want to blame individuals either. It makes for a better story on a news magazine show, and a quicker soundbyte. Who has stock footage of this kid shaking up other people, but there's a whole mess of tape with kids busting light tubes and 2x4's over each other's heads in the backyard. It's much easier to just point at a scapegoat and say 'there's your real villain'.
Forget the fact that the judge tossed out the entire 'wrestling defense' in that recent juvenile murder case out of Florida. Because I assure you most people have forgotten that detail. Bob Costas did. The damage was done and that Pandora's Box is permanently open for the next defense attorney, and the one after him, and so on. And you and I? We're just accomplices, harboring the criminal on a weekly basis.."
Connected with that is the related conception that wrestling fans refuse to fight back, or can't be bothered to do so.
There are hundreds (and occasionally thousands) of people who have been involved in contacting the Parents Television Council and their political allies, by doing preventive maintenance e-mails and telephone calls to WWF advertisers. Those fans have been a tremendous help. I hope Vince McMahon and his employees appreciate their efforts to the degree they should.
But there are far, far more fans who don't or won't get involved.
Those fans think what we do is political, and would rather have those of us online write about why the Hardy Boyz push has been derailed so quickly. The truth be known, I had a column for this week on that very subject half written before I read the two items mentioned above, and saw the backyard wrestling piece on the CBS Evening News on Wednesday night.
So it's become clear that as long as these stories are written, as long as the mainstream press continues to stigmatize each and every wrestling fan reading this and other wrestling websites and newsletters, the subject will have to keep coming up.
God knows the media will keep bringing it up, whether the truth gets in the way of their good story or not.
We'd better start doing the same.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)