Monday, July 18, 2005

Something to Offend Everyone

I never watch wrestling, but I have a fondness for the WWE after it smacked a cool million and a grovelling apology out of el-Brent Bozell for his defamatory writings. But I'm not sure I buy the WWE's explanation for this bit of business:

World Wrestling Entertainment recently found itself in the position of defending the psychological and cultural nuances of one of its characters after a particularly ill-timed episode of "SmackDown." The episode featured an Arab-American character named Muhammad Hassan, and it ran on July 7, the same day as the London terrorist attacks.

The seven-minute segment included a group of Mr. Hassan's henchmen, wearing ski masks and camouflage, who ran into the ring to beat up the Undertaker, a popular wrestler and Mr. Hassan's rival. The same men carried the body of Mr. Hassan's sidekick, Shawn Daivari, over their heads, evoking a martyr's funeral. Mr. Hassan then came into the ring and choked the Undertaker. Although UPN, the Viacom subsidiary that broadcasts "SmackDown," ran a crawl across the bottom of the screen warning viewers of the potentially offensive content, many still complained.


"We did everything we could to advise people that there might be material that might be offensive to some people," [WWE spokesman Gary] Davis said. "The real problem is the perception of viewers watching that segment." Mr. Hassan, he explained, is not a terrorist, but an angry, disillusioned Arab-American, embracing his roots after experiencing racism from other Americans since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. (Mr. Hassan's real name is Mark Copani and World Wrestling identifies him as Italian-American.)

Perhaps I'm too cynical, but does the WWE usually engage in such subtle cultural analyses? The guy's portrayed as a villian, and his "henchman" wear terrorist outfits. That's not exactly the kind of portrayal designed to garner sympathy for victims of racism. And wrestling fans aren't known for their discernment.

Perhaps "the Undertaker" is meant to personify corruption in the modern funeral industry, and Vince McMahon's the 21st century's Jessica Mitford.

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