THE OBTUSE ANGLE The Double Rape of Raw August 24, 2003 by Jeb Tennyson Lund OnlineOnslaught.com/CitizenScholar.net
I think this week's Raw might well rank as one of the worst ever if not the worst to date. Sure, that sounds dramatic and maybe a little crazy. But ask yourself, what do you remember from the Katie Vick episodes of Raw besides the Katie Vick segments? Can you remember anything else?
That's where this episode earns its place in the Hall of Shame. Because after you rant until you're blue in the face about Eric Bischoff beginning the "rape process" with Linda McMahon while on national television, you still have two or three other things to complain about. Namely: Rosey's epic battle with a cat, Kane and homoerotic subtext, and even Test ignoring eighty years of progressive women's history.
Retrospectively, the Katie Vick episodes were almost admirable. Sure, they featured an incomprehensibly disgusting expulsion of creative waste, but that waste was contained, singular, focused. With this week's episode, the good things were contained, singular and focused: the main-event angle bracketed the show, wrapping a sliver of goodness around a scattershot array of fetid conceptual ejaculate.
I've touched on some of these sentiments in my Raw Recap, and Rick and others have expressed their complaints about the show admirably. But some important matters went unsaid especially about rape and I believe they bear some attention still.
Cat Beating Slapstick humor is good fun. The best slapstick couches itself in a context where harm doesn't really exist. Oliver Hardy beats Stan Laurel, or Moe beats Larry and Curly, but they're all alive in the end. Even if they wind up the worse for wear, they always return in another episode. Almost all slapstick features pain, but when slapstick is done best, that pain is minimized or impermanent. The pain or cruelty become unreal, leaving the humor shining through.
Many years ago, Gary Larson drew a Far Side cartoon that I, and many others, thought was absolutely hilarious. It was called "tethercat." Two dogs are playing tetherball, but there is a cat on the end of the string instead of a ball. The string is shown swinging around the pole. One dog has hit the cat, and the other dog is staring at the cat, his tongue barely creeping out of his mouth as he stands in total concentration.
Thousands of people hated it. Larson was bombarded with mail about how he had depicted animal cruelty. He analyzed the problem as this: the dogs will play tethercat forever. Buy a Far Side collection, open it to that comic, and BAM! There the dogs are, playing tethercat. Close the book, put it away for fourteen years, open it, and there they are, still playing tethercat. Larson admitted that there was no way he could draw another panel that showed the cat scratching the dogs, defending itself or walking away, later, dizzy but unharmed. That's why people were mad.
But where Larson could get away with the comic (and where WWE can't with the cat segment) is in terms of absurdity. Dogs don't have opposable thumbs and hence can't mine ore, smelt metal, create a pole, harvest jute, make string, capture a cat and then tie it to the string. And why wouldn't they just eat the damned cat anyway? Larson was being funny by showing a situation beyond reality. WWE was unfunny in the here and now.
People kick, toss, smack, torture and abuse cats everyday. People are evil. People have free will, a conscience and restraint. And that cat, in that WWE segment, was brutally beaten against a tree, surely severely wounded and probably killed. All of this happened within line of sight of its ostensibly innocent and caring owner.
Now, I know the cat wasn't real. The message, however, remains. This girl's cat was beaten; we saw it; we were supposed to laugh at it. We'll never see a follow-up segment where it turns out to be just fine. Our only knowledge of the cat is one of pain and violence. It's funny, right? (The fact that the cat went for Rosey's neck is no excuse: anyone who's spent any time around cats knows that cats that don't know you can often scratch or bite you if you pick them up. That's what cats do.)
Like all bad slapstick, the pain or injustice shone through the humor, not the other way round. Because the segment wasn't funny.
There are two other reasons to hate this segment. The first is unoriginality. The whole skit stole heavily from There's Something About Mary. Its awfulness was recycled. (Also, in that movie, the dog was a vicious little animal and was shown in such a terrible light that the violence could almost be said to be its fault. The movie has a defense that the skit doesn't.) The second is that the skit was stupid to begin with.
After all, Rosey is a superhero in training. If WWE wanted to go with slapstick, why not have him never rescue the cat at all? He could keep trying to climb the tree and repeatedly fall down. He could crawl out on a limb, and then the camera could show the branch snap beneath Rosey as he pitches to the ground. (Simply show a shot of him from behind, as he edges out across the branch, then dub in a cat shrieking as the branch breaks. The audience would see no violence of any kind.) Top either situation off with the cat bounding back to the little girl, of its own volition, unharmed. That would have been slapstick without consequence, especially when Rosey came out moments later for his match.
After all, isn't the joke supposed to be that Rosey is incompetent but likable? Isn't he a poor superhero? Can he not fail without murdering something? Stupid segments of no comedic value and nasty segments in which pet-loving viewers are appalled will not help his character in the least. Rosey the Dumb Oaf possesses more general appeal than Rosey the Dumb Oaf Who Beats and/or Murders Children's Pets. Let him be mistaken without being deadly. Otherwise, he's just some cat-murderer.
Test v. Elizabeth Cady Stanton in a Grudge Match Originally, I was going to dismiss "Test and Stacy" as stupid and unnecessary. And it's certainly both of those things. But, after a point, as stupid and unnecessary intensify, they grow to become offensive. That's this angle in a nutshell.
The "let's staple some sort of character onto Test and hope it sticks" experiment has been going on for four years now. For almost all of that time, it hasn't been working. As a consequence of employing a wrestler with the lowest-common denominator of detectable personality, WWE's best and brightest decided just to give him a lowest-common-denominator angle.
After all, crowd heat doesn't come much cheaper than abusing a pretty woman and being proud of it. But this particular story has been going on for over three months, and you can chart the progression from stupid, to stupid-and-unnecessary, to offensive on a month-by-month basis. It's time to give up.
Audience reaction to almost all these interactions has spiked with Stacy; or, more accurately, with the part of her that sticks out in the back. Test's heelish antics have garnered scattered boos, most of which have dissipated in one-tenth the time it takes for the cheers and catcalls to die down after Stacy bends over. Test isn't the driving force, here: Stacy's ass is.
I long ago forced myself to accept that for every one moment in which a woman validated or defended herself in the WWE, there would be four more in which she'd be forced to oil up, bark like a dog, or wrestle a stuffed puma in a bowl of rendered hog fat. Stacy in many ways epitomized the "WWE Woman," that strange artificial sex-creature powered by the intellect of a potato.
Artificial or no, she doesn't deserve such illiberal and illegal cruelty. Stacy has gone from manager and girlfriend to pure chattel, some strange agglomeration of services and property that can be traded in an open market. She's no longer human: she's a wallet or scarf or some other accessory. And for what? For the legions of fans ready to cut Test's throat? For the thunderous echoes of animal hatred shaking the arena and momentarily cowing Test's character?
No. WWE objectified a woman, as always, for a purpose. That purpose has not been fulfilled. As the goal recedes further out of reach, the method has proved unsound, untenable and unwatchable. WWE has responded by escalating the same tactics, hoping they'll finally work. Each failure brings with it more scarring consequences and more escalation of the same tactics. "Test and Stacy" is the WWE's Vietnam.
Three months ago, Test was an ignominious and barely compelling clod, and he's no different now. Yet his actions grow ever worse. Before, he was a bad boyfriend. Then he was an aggressive pig. Now he tells Stacy to turn her face away "because no one's looking at that anyway." Worse, he pimps her out for lap dances. And the crowning pointless insult is that he does it for two of the wrestlers on the roster who verge most on homosexuality. Speaking of which....
Kane and RVD: The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name Forget that Kane had trouble lighting the matches. Forget that the gasoline was of a color and thickness most commonly associated with overly sugared cherry Kool-Aid. Forget that Kane didn't burn RVD because he doesn't want to do what "they" want anymore "they" presumably being the hometown pro-RVD and anti-burning-RVD crowd. Wrap your mind around that one.
No, the crowning glory of this segment was the thick air of homoeroticism in it. Kane hangs RVD from a hook, by his bound hands. RVD's fit body hangs defenseless before Kane. Kane plays with him, teases him, abuses him and gags him. That's just the physicality of the situation.
Then remember that RVD and Kane were once good friends; that RVD sought to open Kane up, to bring out his emotions; that RVD and Kane fought sweatily side by side; that they confronted the whole negative world together. Now Kane hates RVD for trying to make him something he's not and never can be. Doesn't this sound like the angry result of a horribly closeted and self-loathing Kane taking out his aggression on the man who told him he loved him and then came on to him?
If you follow it literally, it's just an adequate wrestling angle. But, if you really want to, you can see it as the great postmodern gay wrestling love story. And what better place to tell such a story than in such an already perverse, false, guarded, make-believe and (above all) queer atmosphere as a wrestling show? Kayfabe is another version of "in the closet," at least in terms of leading a double life. It's just "in the closet" with work attached.
Come on! It'll be great. Let's do this. I can hear the commercial voice-over for RVD and Kane now: "In wrestling, everyone wears masks not just those burned in a fire set by their undead brother. And sometimes, those who wear the darkest masks are those who love the most." Mariah Carey can do a cover of a Motorhead song for the angle's "theme." It'll sell like crazy, which would be odd for RVD at first, but I'm sure he could learn.
Okay, so even if you weren't watching that torture segment and expecting Kane to spontaneously lick RVD's cheek, it was still terrible. After all, RVD's singlet doesn't cover enough flesh to prevent him from actually being burned. So we knew immediately that Kane wouldn't set him ablaze. Also, we know that RVD will probably play an important role at the pay-per-view, in some match or another. Consequently, not much was going to happen.
There are other logic holes, too. For instance: where did Kane take RVD? Was it the dungeon in Grand Rapids? Why didn't anyone watch the TV just as Shane did, earlier and realize RVD was in trouble? Why didn't Stone Cold save one of his wrestlers, especially since he still wants to beat Kane senseless for what happened to JR? And was Bischoff involved in this in any way?
We got a vaguely homoerotic torture segment that was predicated on a pretty bizarre premise already. It was conducted in an atmosphere of unbelievability, simply because we knew RVD could not be burned both for special-effects and storyline reasons. It was capped off by a contradictory and out-of-left-field resolution. It was insulting to the audience, from beginning to end. It should never have happened.
Rape I don't want to preach, but it's hard to avoid absolutes and harsh impatience with such a subject. It's no wonder that when Dusty the Fat Bitter Cat (yes, that's a real columnist) was approached to try writing for the WWE, management said that sample scripts featuring murder or rape were not permitted. And it's a great wonder why the WWE has not only run a show featuring murder and necrophilia (a form of rape), but has also recently featured a show with possible attempted murder (burning JR) and possible rape.
Of course, on this last matter, I'm addressing the segment with Bischoff and Linda McMahon.
The standard complaints apply to this segment. It didn't need to be done in this way, since the storyline could have been advanced by other means. It was excessive. It was heroically moronic. Bischoff forced himself on Linda in front of a camera, recording his crime. The cameraman didn't help Linda. Why didn't Linda threaten to fire Bischoff? Why did she react so calmly when he came in the house? How did he get in the house?
These are all good complaints, and they serve to underscore how bad the idea and execution was. What they don't do is show how unspeakably horrifying it was.
I don't want to go into a long disquisition about rape. I know most people don't want to read one, either out of prior knowledge, boredom or a resistance to being lectured. All I know is, the older I get, the more people I meet who have been raped. When I say, "people," I mean men and women. People.
I'll restrict myself to a brief anecdote. In college, I had long-term relationships with two women who had been raped. They were both bright, funny, friendly women, not fans of drama or histrionics. Neither told me about their assaults for a long time. Both were prone to being sad at times a condition I chalked up to Egomaniacal College Student Syndrome. One evening with the first girlfriend, we wound up jokingly tussling on the floor, tickling and pinning arms, each theatrically saying silly "I'm going to beat your ass" things. At one point, I pinned her arms under my knees and said something along the lines of, "You're pinned; I've got you." Immediately, she turned ashen and started hyperventilating, then started screaming to get out, be let up, let me go let me go let me go.
It was after that that she told me. It had been years. Yet even a joking and caring circumstance could incite the worst and direst responses from her. A joke from someone deeply trusted was mortifying. Imagine what would have happened if I had the same sense of tact as Vince McMahon.
Again, I don't want to moralize. I find most moralizing excessively irritating. Yet, in this case, I think the WWE deserves nought but scorn. The spokepeople at the WWE have often defended and applauded their forays into "real" storylines and drama. In doing so, they've relied on the self-congratulatory notion that they are doing their fans a service by not talking down to them and instead confronting them with real and delicate issues. This ignores the fact that they often confront their viewers with real and delicate issues in ways that are so one-dimensional as to be an insult to the most rabid non-cosmopolitan fans.
Trusting the WWE with a delicate issue is like giving a one-armed motorcross rider a Fabergι egg to hold during a race and hoping you'll see it again. You're a fool if you assume any good can come from the enterprise. When a company can bungle something so simple as the return of an incredibly popular wrestler, they should not be trusted to present a dramatization of rape amongst two hours of suplexes, light comedy, hedonistic promos, fireworks and the dread threat of haircuts.
These people found a way to insult rape victims and anyone who knows that rape is not funny, not interesting and not an idle topic.
Strip away the wretched dialogue and acting. Strip away the plot holes. Strip away the legal and filmmaking implausibilities. Strip away the shame of missed opportunities for characters. What you are left with is one of the most dehumanizing things that can happen to someone. And it was relayed to you by a company that thought corpse-raping was marketable and that an extended comedic colonoscopy segment the following week counted as an apology. And it was relayed with the same pride and chest-puffing aplomb.
Morally, socially and personally, the concept of the Bischoff-Linda segment should have made you want to vomit. And the way it was executed should enrage you.
Consider that the Chief Financial Officer for a multi-million-dollar company could not react to an employee in her house. She stood mute or befuddled, like a grandmother given a universal remote control and asked to prerecord a satellite broadcast. Linda McMahon, a women of demonstrable business and public relations skills was shocked into silence.
Worse, this determined woman threatened to call security, reached for the phone, then allowed herself to be escorted away from her only potential lifeline by a gentle hand on her arm. (This also assumes that Linda was too stupid to realize that she was still on a live satellite feed and could get help from that service.) She allowed herself to be lectured and hear her son threatened with grievous violence. When she reacted physically, a man subdued her by pinning both her arms behind her back with his left hand. And she stood, stupidly and vacantly reacting.
If this isn't a damnable insult to intelligent women or even women with average athletic ability and basic fight-or-flight instincts I sincerely don't want to know what is.
Finally, Bischoff forced himself on her, embraced her, then stood back. Linda's left arm was free. She did nothing. No attempt to slap him. Nothing. This is a woman who has, in real life, managed a formerly billion-dollar company, a family and a lecherous often-sued and sometime-prosecuted husband. This is a woman who, in storylines, has also managed that company, restrained her husband and daughter and son, reinstated wrestlers, managed general managers, named new CEOs and even escaped from forced sedation in a mental hospital. Yet she silently and frozenly bore Bischoff's gross verbal, visual and physical violations without the slightest real defense.
Intentional or not, the WWE message here is clear: women are pliable weak inanimate inarticulate toys, easily cajoled or forced by any man who has the determination to do so. If they're not pretty toys like Stacy Kiebler, they're expensive toys like Linda. Dance. Don't turn around. No one's looking at your face. They're looking at your butt either because it's shapely or because there's a wallet in there.
There is no excuse for this portrayal.
The first argumentative escape is that the WWE has done sexual-harassment (or implied rape) angles in the past, with DX and others. Try again. Just because it happened once and was appalling doesn't mean that it's okay the second, third or fourth time around. And if you didn't think it was appalling then, I wonder why you're still reading this.
The only other argumentative escape is that Linda might ally herself with Bischoff. Yet, if she planned to side with him all along, it's insulting that a woman of her intelligence and self respect allowed herself to be part of such a display. Why wouldn't she let insinuation, a closed door or a cut-off camera feed convey the same story? Why would the mastermind cheapen herself?
But that's ignoring the fact that the WWE has always managed to inspire its writers to new lows with each lowered ratings point. It would come as no surprise to find Linda side with Bischoff because he wooed her with his manly determination. He might give her "more attention in the bedroom than Vince has given her in years." Thus, we'll find that his forced kiss and Linda's whimpers were like so many Roger Moore as James Bond kisses: the poor combative woman couldn't stop her idiotic brain from fighting and insulting him long enough to realize that all she really wanted was stilted coerced sex from some saggy-throat-wattled blowhard. And the forced sexual encounter won the silly bitch over.
Whatever outcome we get, we still saw the beginnings of rape. A clumsy, stupid and offensive portrayal of rape with no more artistic merit than a steaming clump of feces with an American Flag toothpick in it served on an Elvis Presley commemorative plate. Dress it up however you like. It was abhorrent and reprehensible. If you can find any excuse for it, you're either a gifted optimist or a repugnant shithead.
Raw Katie Vick was imaginary. We never met her. She wasn't a person we had seen many times, nor the CFO of a major company. And she was the focus of probably the only memorable bad segment on the shows in which she was featured. This Raw has no excuse.
If you have the discipline to forget the revolting treatment of Linda McMahon, you will have probably used up so much self control that everything else will seep in. Test continued his months-long crusade against Stacy Kiebler's right to not be beaten or forced to do things against her will. Rosey beat a cat to death. And, just to make sure the complete surreality of this show escaped no one, Kane strung up RVD in some asinine bondage ritual that featured gasoline, slaps, gagging, mental abuse and eventually stranding him somewhere.
If this wasn't a monument of awful, I defy someone to tell me what is.
I can't help but remember that story a few months back about WWE hiring a guy specifically to keep track of continuity and believability within storylines, and then firing him a month later after he complained too much.
"When this bogus term alternative rock was being thrown at every '70s retro rehash folk group, we were challenging people to new sonic ideas. If some little snotty anarchist with an Apple Mac and an attitude thinks he invented dance music and the big rock group is coming into his territory, [that's] ridiculous." - Bono, 1997