Gladiators in Wrestling Tights

  Earlier this month, wrestling impresario Vince McMahon announced plans for a new professional football league. McMahon promised football with "a lot more fun and a lot more attitude." Well, if the pro wrestling he has produced is any indication of what he means by "fun" and "attitude," parents will soon have to set their TV's "V-chip" to block-out football broadcasts. Professional wrestling used to exist at the fringes of society. Most people thought it was too vulgar, beneath their dignity. But in less than two decades, McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation have turned wrestling into what Newsweek described as a "national obsession." One wrestling program, called "Raw is War," is now the top-rated show on cable TV. Another, called "Smackdown!" is the number-one show on the United Paramount Network. And success on television has translated into booming sales for wrestling-related merchandise. There are WWF videos, video games, and toys. Wrestlers named "Mankind" and "The Rock" have books at the top of the New York Times best-seller list. Little wonder that shares in WWF's initial stock offering were snatched up by investors last fall. So what's the formula? Give the crowds what they want—the more degrading the better. Wrestling promoters have long since abandoned any pretense that wrestling is sport. They market it as a form of entertainment, especially to young males, who are the target audience. The typical WWF broadcast includes lots of violence—with people slamming each other with chairs, tables, or whatever else is handy. Blood, usually fake, but sometimes real, flows freely. And there's a lot of sex. Scantily-clad female wrestlers battle each other—sometimes in the ring, sometimes in mud, or even chocolate pudding. And to keep viewers from getting bored, or changing channels, WWF broadcasts are punctuated with profanity and the more-than-occasional obscene gesture. Despite the high ratings, all this mayhem has given some advertisers pause. Coke threatened to pull its advertising from one program unless McMahon created a "PG" version of the show. Good. The smartest thing any parent can do is guide his children away from WWF broadcasts altogether. At best, such programs merely reinforce the vulgarity that characterizes popular culture. At worst, it is this generation's version of the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome. In my book Loving God I tell the story of Alypius, a student and friend of Augustine. Alypius was addicted to the games at the Arena, and he vowed never to attend them. But his friends dragged him there. Even though he covered his eyes, the frenzied cheering of the crowds drew him in; he opened his eyes, and he enjoyed it. It was addictive. This is similar to what happens at wrestling events today. No one really dies during "Raw is War," but the attraction—just as it was for young Alypius—is wrestling's appeal to the darker side of our nature. Ultimately, the only way to stop wrestling's corrupting influence is to turn the set off. And if enough people do that, by saying no to the WWF and refusing to indulge in the gratuitous violence and brutality, advertising dollars will soon dry up, and promoters like McMahon will feel the effects where it means the most to them—in their pocketbooks. And that's a step in the right direction.


Chuck Colson


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