One word aptly describes the sport of professional wrestling: hypermasculinity.
Wrestlers train intensely, eat a specific diet and use body-enhancing supplements to achieve the perfect male physique. They are likened to Grecian and Roman gladiators who exemplify the standard of masculinity. Those standards include rejecting “lesser” masculinities.
Recently, however, GLAAD—the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation—has criticized the sport for this rejection, stating that bullying is likely to result. Their complaints came as a result of John Cena’s anti-gay remarks in his raps toward The Rock. GLAAD believes that wrestling can help to stop bullying of gays and lower suicidal rates in the teen gay population.
One major question arises, however: What role does a hypermasculine sport play in anti-bullying campaigns?
Though GLAAD decided to pick a bone with WWE over Cena’s raps, a number of inherent contradictions exist.
First, in line with its hypermasculine underpinnings, wrestling has had a history of promoting anti-gay lifestyle. Cena’s recent raps are not the first reference to contain anti-gay speech; many of his raps when he used the rapper gimmick spoke negatively of the gay lifestyle. A few months back, during his feud with The Nexus, Cena used a very anti-gay term to describe the group.
Additionally, Cena is not the first wrestler to promote anti-gay agenda. In fact, many of wrestling’s top superstars have spoken disparagingly of the lifestyle. Bret "The Hitman" Hart used the lifestyle to scathingly attack Shawn Michaels, a tactic that would help to jump-start their real-life feud.
Throughout its tenure, starting in 1997 WWF and ending in WWE, DX, a wildly popular stable, made constant references to anti-gay behavior. On numerous occasions during its tenure, the group mocked the lifestyle as a way for Shawn Michaels to taunt the crowd.
During its 2006 run, HHH frequently antagonized their opponents by accusing them of engaging in homosexual activity.
During the Attitude Era, both the WWF, with its Billy and Chuck fiasco, and WCW, with its HLA group, mocked homosexuality.
Prior to the start of the Attitude Era, Jerry "The King" Lawler accused an effeminate wrestler, Goldust, of practicing homosexual behavior, which prompted a beating from Goldust onto Lawler for the accusation. Several characters have addressed the lifestyle in a negative light.
Secondly, wrestling is a sport that is based on the idea that a face character must stand up to a heel character. This very notion contradicts that of anti-bullying messages, which prompt a child to seek the help of an authoritative figure when their peer is not nice to them.
Can a sport, whose very nature opposes the campaign that GLAAD is promoting, honestly support the campaign?
Additionally, forcing someone to accept one’s way of life can be perceived as a form of bullying in its own right because it’s a manipulation tactic.
So GLAAD might come under attack for doing the very thing the organization is trying to fight against.
The goal, rather, should be to understand why WWE and wrestling, in general, promote an anti-gay culture and then address the nature of the sport.
An inevitable conundrum will arise in doing so, however. The nature of the sport—hypermasculinity—is what draws many people to wrestling in the first place.
As I stated, analyzing this situation simply led me to more questions. Ultimately, GLAAD is implying that WWE contributes to bullying and suicide rates in the gay community.
Is that a fair assessment when bullying and homosexuality both existed prior to the inception of the sport of wrestling in the U.S.?
It must also be noted that suicidal ideology is not a normal psychological state of mind; it is a symptom of an underlying problem—namely depression—and must be taken very seriously.
Should WWE be blamed for suicidal rates in gay teens, when teens who are gay and don’t watch the product commit suicide as well? That seems like a hefty charge and an inaccurate one, considering that gay teens are not even the target demographic for the sport.
GLAAD’s attempt to resolve the problem in the gay community is respectable; however, their efforts may be useful in another arena (pun intended). Forcing a company to adhere to an ideology that opposes its very nature seems futile.
This is not the first time GLAAD has complained about WWE’s hypermasculine ideology. Will this new attempt be any different?
The main question remains unanswered. Can a sport truly honor a commitment to go against…itself?