A look at the moral implications of smoking being depicted in professional wrestling.
Like most wrestling fans, I wasn’t watching the TNA Pay Per View last night. Somewhere in between being anxious for the Royal Rumble, being excited for the February UFC PPV (especially the Bader vs Jones match up), and watching my Green Bay Packers defeat the Eagles (Go Pack Go!), it must’ve slipped my mind. That said, I damn sure checked Wrestlezone.com this morning to learn what I had missed. Matt Hardy debuted and beat RVD? More slipshod booking designed for cheap excitement and zero direction.
But tell me this – what in God’s name was Jeff Hardy doing with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth?
Listen, I get it. WWE is going the PG route and cleaning things up (language, partial nudity, for example) whereas TNA is trying to be the ‘edgy’ promotion with its mild expletives and violence. That’s their marketing strategy – differentiation. It makes sense. But at the same time, you have to draw a line with some things, and smoking should be one of them.
1. In almost any arena in almost any state, smoking is illegal to begin with. Fans are told not to smoke prior to the event, it is printed on the tickets, it is on signs outside. Most arenas have designated outdoor smoking gates where those in need of a nic-fix can go and breathe in each others filth. It’s your right as an American citizen to die a slow death while simultaneously contributing $4 per pack in tax revenue. But how TNA was able to portray smoking in the arena after explicitly telling fans not to is sickeningly hypocritical. And I understand that the cigarette may have been a prop, and that fans can go see a broadway show that depicts smoking, but that brings me to point #2.
2. TNA is still packaging its product as "professional wrestling" as opposed to WWE’s "sports entertainment." At least it seems that way, I’m no expert on TNA. But they’ve historically packaged their wrestlers as ‘athletes’ and looked for fans to react to them as such. In that same vein, why TNA would want the champion of its promotion to be seen heading to a major title defense doing one of the things that most hinders long-term athletic endurance baffles me. When The Sandman smoked in front of 250 laid off truck drivers back in ECW in Philadelphia (couldn’t resist), it made sense, because he wasn’t a professional athlete coming to the ring to wrestle and submit another professional athlete. He was a dude who busted himself open with a beer can and battered opponents senseless with a kendo stick. Hardy is supposed to be the top guy in the #2 promotion in US Wrestling and he’s got a smoke in his mouth.
3. If this is another way for TNA to take Hardy’s real life addiction problems and turn them into part of his character as a "life imitates art" angle, then it’s even more deplorable. Dude has real demons, get him help, don’t send him out this way. If Hardy did it on his own volition, stop the match and strip him of the title.
4. Hardy has FANS. Young ones. Probably the only reason Hardy got the run he did in WWE was because he still managed to connect with young fans thanks to his vivid colors, high risk maneuvers, and fun ‘against all odds’ persona. Some of those young fans may have followed him to TNA, and now their hero is smoking on his way to the ring!? How irresponsible is this?
I try to give my readers a little bit more than just wrestling chat, preferring to juxtapose the fake world of professional wrestling with REAL cultural issues. A few months back I railed against fans who thought John Cena should turn heel, and I did so by comparing him to Tim Tebow and other guys who are who they are as much on their clean image and community influence as on their athletic talent. I have to invoke Tebow once again. Many football experts don’t think Tebow can make the transition to a decent NFL quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still this humble, hard working, all-American kid. The Broncos recognized that when they drafted him, and while they may not have gotten Peyton Manning’s arm or football IQ, they got a kid who won’t derail their franchise with drug use, attitude, or (paging Plaxico Burress…) guns.
We don’t know if Tebow will be a GOOD quarterback. At least we know he’ll be a GOOD citizen and a GOOD role model.
With TNA, we get neither. It doesn’t look like TNA, as currently constituted, will be a particularly GOOD promotion. The least they could do is take the high road with how they depict their talents. Shoving a cig in someone’s mouth – your champion for that matter – reeks of desperation and classlessness.
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Chris "IrishCanadian25" Fitzpatrick