I didn't expect to write this. I was working on something else. Like usual, it was a positive column and one that I hope would make people smile. Then I watched Smackdown. My mood changed. My desire to write something positive gone. All I could think about was this terrorist angle they showed on Smackdown.
If you watched Smackdown on Thursday in America, this is what you got at the start of the show: "In light of today's tragic events in London, parental discretion is advised when viewing tonight's episode." - 07/07/05 Smackdown on UPN, 8pm.
What they SHOULD have said: "What you are about to see is irresponsible, vile and disgusting. We apologize for being so damn stupid by running an angle like this."
In case you missed the actual angle, here's a summary from WWE.com:
"Hassan watched calmly as Daivari quickly lost a match with Undertaker, who tombstoned Hassan’s manager. But Hassan had a plan as five masked men, a few of them with clubs, attacked Undertaker, choked him out with a wire and then left him gasping for breath as Hassan jumped in and placed The Deadman in a Camel Clutch."
Vague, huh? It's what you'd expect them to write. It's not like it's a big deal to them. To get a better idea of what went down, know that Daivari was hesitant, but Hassan told him he was a sacrifice for the cause. Remind you of anything? Not just London, England this past week but September 11, 2001 too. The five masked men were not just masked men. They were dressed like terrorists, and yeah, they had masks on. Their pants were what terrorists wear. When the one dude choked Undertaker out with the wire around his throat, the visual was very similar to one of those decapitations you might have seen on the news that was sent by terrorists when they killed an American soldier. WWE.com's recap also left out the part about how Daivari was carried off like he was some martyr. Oh, must have been a mistake, right?
My issue isn't with WWE editing out the angle in their American broadcast. My issue is with this angle being done in the first place. My gripe is with somebody in WWE offices thinking that this whole idea was a good one. In their defense, they taped Smackdown on Monday, which was before the terrorist attacks in England. To me though, the problem isn't that it happened right after what went down in England. The problem is that it reminded all of us of September 11. It played with our emotions in a way nobody needs to have them played. This was the whole fear with the Hassan gimmick in the first place. Instead, WWE played it a different way. They didn't say he was a terrorist. He just hated the prejudiced against him. So now what's their excuse? He got tired of never going anywhere, so he decided to act like a terrorist? Weak. Very weak.
To the people who are going to tell me that this is just wrestling and we shouldn't take it seriously, think about this. Wrestling, or in this case specifically WWE, is not to be viewed on the same level as a good drama TV show like 24 or CSI. Those shows aren't filmed in front of 10,000 people. They're in a closed off, private location. WWE is sports entertainment, as they like to say. It's a live, action adventure show that is scripted, but has more "real" element to it than a scripted TV show like 24. When Keifer Sutherland goes on Conan O'Brien's show he talks about "my character Jack Bauer." When Big Show (aka Paul Wight) goes on O'Brien's show he doesn't say "my character Big Show." To most fans, he IS Big Show. Right or wrong, that's how WWE portrays these people. Fans, and I mean everybody, know Keifer Sutherland is Jack Bauer. Fans in general don't really know the difference between Big Show and Paul Wight because we have no relationship with those wrestlers. You and I, the smart fan, may know about these people, but I believe we're in the minority. At least WWE thinks we are.
I don't blame Hassan, Daivari, Undertaker or the five indy wrestlers that played terrorists in this. I blame Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon and whoever is a part of their writing staff. I blame them for thinking up this angle. I blame them for disrespecting all of those people who on September 11, 2001 or any other day where they lost a loved because of terrorists. What do you think the terrorists wore when they hijacked those planes on that September morning four years ago? Don't know? Watch Smackdown. That's what they wore. See, to me, the issues isn't about London, England in July 2005. It's about September 11, 2001 and every single day that has come since then when our world has been changed by the acts of these cold hearted, calculating, son of a bitch terrorists. For WWE to play on that emotion is low, even for them. Lord knows they're already low.
This is nothing new. Go back to the Sergeant Slaughter angle in 1991 when he turned on America, claimed Iraq to be his home and was given the world title because of it. You think he'd have ever be a world champion without doing that? Hell no. He didn't have the look of a babyface champion. He main evented major shows in NYC and all over the world, but not as a champion. As a character he threw his morals away, he went against his better judgment and he played the role of traitor because of the money, the spotlight and the prestige that went with it. They did everything to get him cheap heat, including lighting the United States flag on fire. Of course, he ultimately lost the belt to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VII and the gimmick soon faded away with nobody in WWE ever bringing up that he was a traitor. He's always the American hero to the fans of today even though he was never bigger than when he was the Iraqi sympathizer. I guess when you own everything you can re-write
Now, after all of this, I ask myself what do I do about it? What can I, Joe Fan, do about being upset by this angle? Should I boycott all WWE programming? Nah, I don't feel like it. Should I just boycott Smackdown? Maybe. I had a better idea. I was planning on going to three WWE shows over the course of a month. The first was Great American Bash in Buffalo, the second was a house show in London, Ontario and the third was a Smackdown taping in Toronto. Now I'm not going to any of them. I had tickets to the latter two, but I've sold them back. I don't want them. I'm not going to pay my hard earned money to support a company that would do an angle like this for the benefit of ratings. The ratings that it won't get. The attendance figures that it won't draw.
World Wrestling Entertainment is at fault for doing this angle in the first place. People placing the blame on editing or lack of editing are missing the point. Doing this terrorist act to begin with is the biggest mistake of them all. I hope WWE catches a lot of heat for this. I hope they are forced to offer apologies. I hope that they do it without being told to. They should know better.
Will they ever learn? No. They never learn. This is the same company that this week fired Dawn Marie after telling her that they'd pay her during her pregnancy. Then they got a change of heart. Want to have a baby and lose your figure? You're fired. Classy. That's a whole other column, though. Maybe another day.
To reiterate the point that many people are finding this angle to be offensive, I wanted to share some comments with you from other wrestling fans on this. I won't share their names, but the comments come from our forums at the Oratory and remember, they are wrestling fans like you and me. Just fans in that big crowd of wrestling fans that exist worldwide. Here is that sampling of comments that will be separate by the alternating color scheme.
"There was no excuse. I didn't watch it and was happy not to. Honestly, I like most of the people on Smackdown, but this is disgusting. They should have apologized, but more importantly, they should have never done it in the first place. It makes me embarrassed to be a wrestling fan."
"The whole thing (but especially Daivari getting carried off by the "terrorists" like a martyr) was disgusting, distasteful, and never should have been done, even if the bombings in London hadn't happened."
"It's ridiculous, insulting, and even saddening to a degree. I don't accept the arguments that "Wrestling is full of tasteless angles, so you shouldn't be shocked by anything that happens". That doesn't forgive it. No amount of money can be worth the pain it could cause to those who actually have been personally affected by terrorism. There are some things that should just never be involved in wrestling, REGARDLESS of whether the timing's bad or not...but the fact that a major terrorist attack just occurred in London makes it not only a slap in the face to their UK fan-base (and it's a HUGE slap in the face, I don't care what anyone says. It's disgusting), but also to their fans all over the world. By showing that money counts over any type of human decency, the WWE has just proven to me, at least, that they just don't give a shit. And that's not a good thing for them."
"I'm going to wait and see where this angle is going before I get overly upset about it, but right now, my feeling are that terrorist characters on a wrestling program are unnecessary. If anything, more people will become offended and stop watching Smackdown than become interested in the show because of this angle. I just hope that WWE can explain this in a justifiable manner."
"What we saw on Smackdown was almost a recreation of a terrorist execution film. The only difference is that they simply strangled the Undertaker instead of beheading him. After the Undertaker was knocked out, the "terrorists" and Hassan got on their knees and looked to the sky. Hassan yelled out something about Allah. Then they carried Daivari out of the arena as if he was a martyr.
This was deplorable and disgraceful. Terrorism is a very real issue in our times and it has no place in pro wrestling. It's just unnecessary.
Smackdown actually inspired me to check out the TNA website last night. I made sure to stream the latest episodes of Impact. I'm not giving up on WWE, but I need to see another brand of wrestling along with it. Otherwise, I might just get sick of wrestling."
"Bad taste from the WWE yet again. Two people feuding and trying to put each other out of action is one thing; but to dress it up in mock terrorist clothing is beyond the pale. I haven't seen it because I'm in the UK but I wouldn't even if I could. The Slaughter thing in 1991 wasn't as bad as that sounded; although that was such a warped idea. Good job Kurt Angle is on RAW now; if he walked out in a huff over Sandman getting crucified, what would he have done seeing this crap! McMahon is a real class act, I wonder if he'll market the first ever terrorist figure?"
"If you ask me...the segment not only should have never been aired...it should have never been thought of. It fucks up Hassan's character. It only adds to the long laundry list of Racial and Ethnic, Sexual Preference, and Gender stereotypes they've fell into. It stigmatizes wrestling, and it stigmatizes wrestling fans. It was in bad taste they should have known it. Plan and simple."
"And there goes WWE making me not want to watch right after I was thinking about it again with the Brock thing...meh, typical WWE. I'm the exact type of fan WWE needs back. Guy who used to watch, doesn't really care anymore. I AM their target demographic and this makes me embarrassed to watch."
"While some may argue whether the angle was tasteless or not, at the very least it was stupid. I wonder how much money those in the so called creative department get paid to come up with this shit and what drugs they must be taking if they think fans will enjoy it. They must live in their own little bubble if they thought no one watching Smackdown could have been offended by this even if the attacks in London had not happened."
"I don't care how awesome the visual of Taker being choked out was. If you think that's a good justification for this, there's something wrong with you.
You can call me oversensitive, you can say I'm overreacting, you can even say that as wrestling fans we should be used to a bit of bad taste every now and then... but there is always a point where you can go too far, no matter what you've done before. Whether WWE have crossed that line here only history can judge, but I think they may very well have. I have colleagues based in London with their families (thankfully all OK) and I simply cannot condone WWE allowing this to air, or even to go ahead in the first place, attack or no attack. Undertaker, Hassan, Daivari... any one of them could have gone and asked for this to be removed after they heard of the attacks so as not to be associated with it. Hell, if they had any sense they should probably have never agreed to go along with it in the first place.
WWE's moral cowardice has been exposed for all the world to see. And those who are apologizing on their behalf, and throwing justifications down for them, aren't doing themselves any favors either."
That's just a sample.
I've been a fan of WWE for over twenty years now. I grew up with that company in many ways. I never thought I'd stop being a fan, but they're doing a damn good job of making me think about it. I'll be sending this to WWE. Will they respond with anything thoughtful? I doubt it. That's another shitty thing about this whole mess. There's not a damn thing we can do about it.
This is not about timing. This is about respect and WWE's blatant disrespect for what has become a worldwide issue like terrorism. Trying to make money off of that is too much. Especially because it won't make money. Not a dime. Was this whole angle really worth it? No. No fans will be gained from it, but some will be lost. I can guarantee you that.
Vince McMahon, you've sunk to a new low. Even for you.
FYI: Here's the link to the WWE Feedback Form in case you want to provide your opinion on this issue.