You probably don't watch professional wrestling, but you might have heard of the recent tragedy involving Chris Benoit. Google News reports over 2,200 stories on it as of tonight. This isn't really surprising, as horrific crimes are often the subject of intense media attention, even when there is no new information to report.
I can't say anything about what happened. I am a fan of pro wrestling, but I can't say that I have any particular insight on why someone who seemed completely normal would snap and kill their family and themselves. However, I am totally fascinated by how the mainstream media is approaching this story. They seem to have no concept at all about what they're reporting on.
Vince McMahon canceled Monday Night Raw this week and instead aired a tribute to Benoit. The WWE only knew that Benoit and his family had been found dead, so there was no reason to think that Benoit himself was responsible. All of the people associated with the tribute talked about this man who was their friend, who they respected, and who they would miss. Throughout his career he had made a lot of friends and won a lot of respect for being a talented wrestler. I'm not trying to defend him, only to explain why the WWE gave him a tribute - no one would have ever thought he was capable of what he did.
Now the WWE is on the defensive, because there is no easy explanation. They issued a statement commenting on the media's speculation on how steroids played a role in the incident. I would link to it for you, but the WWE has taken down all reference to this from their site. You can, however, check out the Today's show site and see the video of McMahon's interview with Meredith Viera.
I was all about Meredith when she replaced Katie Couric. However, now I have to say, I think she's just as dumb as Katie. She quoted their press release, which said that steroids were not and could not have been involved in this crime. Now, that's a little strong, but if you had read it, you would understand that the point was that this was not a crime caused by "'roid rage." Whatever caused it, it wasn't sudden, uncontrollable rage. Meredith wasn't quite getting that. McMahon said "There was no way of telling this man was a monster. No way of knowing that whatsoever. He was a mild-mannered individual." She responds with "In anyway does pro wrestling contribute to the creation of monsters?"
Really, Meredith? This is what you're asking? Not, were there any indications that he was unwell or if he did anything out of the usual or any other question of any relevance. No, you have to ask if McMahon is creating monsters.
Here's my revelation: Professional Wrestling is to men what Romance Novels are to women. Millions of people enjoy both and yet the mainstream media and just about anyone you run into will deride them as stupid and providing unrealistic expectations in people. Romance novels are accused of creating unrealistic expectations in their readers (which implies that romance readers are so stupid that they base their expectations of reality on the novels they read)*. When someone hears you watch wrestling, they usually says something along the lines of "you watch that? It's so fake." Yes, I know it is fake. When you watch Law & Order, do you think that the murder victims are really dead? Do you think Uma Thurman is really a karate expert and can hold her own against 88 ninja-like assassins?
Mainstream media has the hardest time understanding this. It's entertainment, it's right there in the name. It is essentially a soap opera played out in and around a wrestling ring. The athleticism is real (for most wrestlers, anyway, I have no explanation for Mick Foley's continued presence. He looks like a flight of stairs would kick his ass), but everything else is fake. When they punch each other, they pull the punches. When they're in a "submission hold," they're really just resting. Sometimes, they really get hurt, because it is a dangerous job. I mean, you can't fake jumping off of a thirty-foot ladder. You can learn the best way to land, but gravity doesn't pull punches.
In the article on the Today Show site, they mention Mr. McMahon's recent "death." They talk about how the WWE publicists "claimed" the FBI was investigating it. Um... hello, Today Show? It's FAKE. It's a story! The WWE website is an extension of the show. It's like Margene's blog on HBO's Big Love site. Margene doesn't really exist. "Mr. McMahon" is a character played by Vince McMahon, and his death was part of the story. McMahon doesn't frequently do interviews and whatnot, so you never see him out of character. It's still a character.
To suggest that pro wrestling creates monsters is not only stupid, it's insulting. We know what we're watching is fake, it's only the idiots who think they're too smart for it who think any of it might be real. They're entertainers. They are playing characters. The entertainers who work for the WWE aren't that different from boxers, high school/college/Olympic wrestlers (actually, Kurt Angle, who now wrestles for TNA is an Olympic wrestler), fencers or any other athletes who participate in sports where the goal is to physically dominate your opponent. No one suggested that boxing creates monsters when people found out that Mike Tyson was beating his wife. It is generally acknowledged that Tyson is a little crazy and he wasn't seen as a reflection of the sport as a whole. So why the insanity over professional wrestling?
Mr thinks that this may be the beginning of the end of professional wrestling. That every bad thing anyone ever associated with wrestling has ever done will start to come out and USA will be forced to cancel it. I hope he's wrong. I hope they find out what happened to Chris Benoit so that the many people who looked up to him and called him a friend can find some closure. But I really hope that this one person - who, it seems to me, clearly suffered a severe psychotic break - doesn't define and bring down all of professional wrestling.
*There are many other stupid things that people accuse romance novels of, but I think this is most insulting to the millions of people who read romances.