WWE should learn from their History, Not Erase It
While WWE was making history featuring the first two Black women in the main event of Wrestlemania earlier in the month, NBC employees were simultaneously scrambling trying to erase some of that history.
Entertainment in 2021 is calculated. People are now meticulously trying to tiptoe around offending anybody to avoid cancellation. WWE is no exception. They are now a publicly-traded company, decades removed from the heinous “ATTITUDE ERA,” and now cater to a younger demographic with their TV-PV rating. They have countless sponsors and routinely advertise their “Be a Star” campaign, shredding itself of everything that the WWF used to be. Following the Benoit tragedy and the reemergence of the steroid conversations that ensued, WWE moved into the 2010s with caution. Transforming from the blood-filled, swearing, chair swinging wrestling of old into the work-rate dependent, acrobatic wrestling of today. It was a lot of steps to get where we are today, and it would be unfathomable for WWE to erase the steps, or missteps, that brought us here.
In a move ahead of its time (released before Disney+, ESPN+, and other network-driven streaming services), WWE took a gamble and launched the WWE Network. The network was a bold, innovative, strategic move to put all WWE’s content, past and present, on one streaming platform. It single-handedly almost put an end to their Pay-Per-View business while also giving fans a platform to see all of their favorite wrestling moments, matches, Wrestlemania events, and footage from the now-defunct ECW and WCW. The WWE Network allowed us to relive so many iconic moments in high definition, like Hogan slamming Andre, The Giant, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin spraying the Corporation with a Beer, or The Undertaker throwing Mick Foley off the Hell In a Cell cage. The network also gave people access to the many racists, misogynistic, homophobic, and downright tasteless storylines from the past, present for the world to rewatch.
With the benefit of hindsight, the WWE Network was a first of its kind. A streaming platform specifically for one channel or brand. However, Just seven years after its launch, NBCUniversal bought the rights to the WWE Network for a billion dollars over five years, and the network will be moved to NBC’s streaming service “Peacock.” NBC Universal will review 17,000 hours worth of WWE content and will edit or censor historical moments to ensure the content aligns with Peacocks standards and practices as it transitions to their service.
Now, hopefully, nobody will miss the incredibly dreadful, tasteless segments WWE has produced over the years, or should I say Vince McMahon has produced. It’s actually amazing Vince McMahon has never been canceled. The man once told then WWE Champion John Cena to “keep up the good work,” then ended the complement with a cringy yet energetic “My Ni**a!”. Another time McMahon told his storyline “apprentice,” female wrestler Trish Stratus to strip and get down on all fours to “bark like a dog” in the ring.
Yes, these moments are real and disgusting. And in no way should have ever been conceived to be disguised as entertainment. And that isn’t scratching the surface of WWE and their regrettable angles.
But, it’s a slippery slope; you delete one thing, how don’t you delete another? Rather than neglect their history, NBC PEACOCK should throw up a disclaimer, citing some of the moments that may contain content that viewers may find offensive but will still present the content in its original form to preserve history. The question becomes, should history be whitewashed out of sensitivity and potential backlash? Or leave it there to be discussed and learned from?
This idea wouldn’t be foreign. The classic “Gone With the Wind” was briefly removed from HBO-Max, only to return with an introductory disclaimer. Hell, even the iconic “The Muppet Show” was subject to ridicule and has a disclaimer on Disney+.
Wrestling is in a better place now. Surely not the product itself, but the business and wellness of the wrestlers are in better situations. So long are the days of “bra and panty” woman matches and racist remarks to get shock reactions. Those moments will not be missed. But instead of removing the offensive content, it should be archived as a reminder- a reminder signifying just how much the company has grown. Not only the WWE but mainstream media and society have grown with it.
Harry Todd is a student at Morehouse College