April 15, 2012 1 Comment
[Trigger Warning for depictions of abuse]
There are some topics in society that we have to brooch with sensitivity, empathy, knowledge and just plain ol’ common sense. Abuse is one of these topics. There are such nuances and inter-connected oppressions that if you don’t know what you’re talking about, you should probably not talk and just listen.
This is one of those times.
Tuesday night, in a live version of WWE Smackdown, we got treated to a one-night return of Piper’s Pit! An in-ring show hosted by wrestling legend, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The guest on Piper’s Pit was none other than young talent, a heel named Daniel Bryan. His gimmick is essentially a cocky man who verbally and emotionally abuses his girlfriend, A.J. and blames her for the loss of his Heavyweight Championship on Wrestlemania (Yes! Yes! Yes! In 18 seconds).
The character of A.J. Lee was given a gimmick of being a female nerd. “She loves video games and comic books!,” they said over and over. WWE never did anything with the side of her character, unfortunately, and so she eventually became another one-dimensional WWE Diva with a skinny body, good looks, and marginal wrestling ability.
So this is where we are on Smackdown. Daniel Bryan talks and talks…and all of a sudden Roddy Piper mentions he likes A.J., and calls her down to the ring after playing a clip of Bryan abusing her before dumping her.
And here’s where it gets problematic. Let’s break this down, shall we?
She starts off by making excuses for her abuser, going all Joan Holloway, saying he’s such a nice guy and the clip played looks worse than it really was. Later in the video she blames herself, apologizing for making Bryan lose the title, saying she was the one who made a mistake.
SHE’S A WRESTLER! HELLO? HELLO?! If there are any group of women who shouldn’t stand for this shit, it’s a female wrestler. The point of a female wrestler is to come in and kick ass and be badass. Of course, one could say that they are allowed to be as varied with the storylines of the women as they are with the men (which isn’t that varied, but that’s another topic for another time). That’s very true. But why is it when they are being “varied” with the women’s storyline it’s always some ridiculous trope that been done a million times and paints women in an unflattering light?
Then you could say their plan is to have A.J. finally come to her senses and kick Daniel Bryan’s ass. That’s a pretty good bet. You could say that WWE is doing a novel and good thing by showing abuse and its effects on women. Because, no doubt, the victim blaming themselves and making excuses for the abuse is a real life thing that abused women do. Ya know, maybe in some way they are bringing some light to this. But, if they are, they gotta be doing it for the men in their demographic and not the women…which only make up about 2% of their audience. They sure as hell ain’t doing it for us! But, there’s no “If you’re a victim of domestic abuse please call the Help Line at…” messages at the end of the show…there’s no anti-domestic abuse campaign with the Superstars speaking on it. Nothing. So, what’s their motivation?
Surprisingly, this is the least problematic aspect of the video. He’s an abuser, he did what an abuser does. He chastises A.J. for mentioning the abuse, even though she did so to make excuses for him. And hell, it wasn’t even her that brought it up…it was Piper. But blame the woman! That’s cool. Everyone boos him…he’s the bad guy. We get it.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was the most problematic figure in this segment for me. He’s supposed to be the good guy, the Babyface in this scenario. But it comes off horribly condescending and wrong. He chastises her for being made a victim, scoffing at her when she says “Hello” to Bryan. Never once is Bryan chastised for putting A.J. in this frame of mind. It’s her fault she’s being abused because she won’t stand up for herself.
Then, he calls her “Little Lady” the entire time, which is just…really, Motherfucker? He also speaks to her in a nicer, slower, higher pitch of voice…speaking to her as if she’s a child. Telling her she’s “beautiful” “strong” and “smart.” Because gosh darnit! That’s all it takes! This little lady just has to believe in herself, and by god, this man is gonna help her do it! And why?
Because he’s a father.
I’m not being a creepy old man, I’m not being condescending, no…this is just what a father does! TOTES OK Y’ALL! FALSE ALARM! - Rowdy Roddy Piper
But, he’s not A.J.’s father. Some fathers have trouble seeing their own children as grow ups…still seeing them as their “little girl,” but that’s not what’s happening here.
He is supposed to be there to help her, but in reality would only serve to make her feel as if she’s too stupid to understand her own situation. This is the height of male privilege. To think women are just suffering from low self-esteem, to think that we are too stupid to understand our situations, to think that if we just feel valued by men then we will come to our senses and everything will be ok in the world again! Fuck therapy, fuck empowerment, fuck the cycle of abuse, fuck a family history that may normalize abuse! All we need is to be validated by a man and we can get through anything.
In men’s wrestling, the storylines are varied, but the Superstars are always manly, macho, often times good-looking, and usually they are painted as badasses…no matter what their gimmick is. Why should this not be so in women’s wrestling? Why does WWE constantly paint us as weak, stupid, selfish, conceited, man-hungry, conniving whores? Oh yeah, that’s varied alright. Varied stereotypes and tropes which all lead to the same conclusion: WWE is not a woman-friendly company.
So, what’s the motivation for this storyline? They are using the storyline as a pawn to get Daniel Bryan over as a heel. Daniel Bryan as a heel has not been working, the fans don’t buy it. So, instead of making him a face again, they up the ante and write the most offensive and horrible shit possible into his storyline to make the fans hate him. The abuse is a prop…it’s just a vehicle to heeldom. They aren’t making any larger point, or even attempting to make any larger point. In the end, A.J., a female wrestler is getting abused on TV because they want you to hate this Daniel Bryan guy so they can make more money.
It was as if this storyline was written by men who don’t understand abuse. Which is probably a pretty accurate description of what happened. Maybe with a few token women thrown in, like Stephanie McMahon, Executive Vice President of Creative, perhaps.
I wonder if they hired a consultant to educate them about abuse? Did the company make a donation to Mick Foley’s charity-partnership, RAINN? I don’t know, but I doubt it. Shame on everyone involved for agreeing to do this. You should be so ashamed of yourselves. What message does this send to the young girls and women watching your show? How dare you make abuse fodder for someone to get more fame.
There are some things in life that if you don’t understand or don’t want to discuss the nuances at play…you should just shut the fuck up.
This is one of those times.