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professional wrestling in America today. Specifically, it will include the question: does pro-wrestling cause violence in children? Pro-wrestling is a violent sport, and one of the most popular in America today. Many people in the public and the media question whether pro-wrestling, especially popular with children, causes violent behaviors in them. There are many documented cases of children's violence being caused or aided by actions they saw pro-wrestlers make on television, and it seems quite certain that children are certainly influenced by the violence they see during pro-wrestling matches.
Does Violence in Pro-wrestling Cause Violence in Children?
Professional wrestling is one of the most popular sports in America today, and it is clear by watching only one or two bouts that it is an extremely violent sport. One writer notes about the current massive popularity of pro-wrestling, "America's latest cultural obsession lies in the wrestling ring, where the likes of Sting, Triple H. And "Stone Cold" Steve Austin have become testosterone-amped heroes for the young and old alike (Billups 2). The entire sport is built upon the centuries old theme of "good vs. evil," somewhat like a medieval jousting tournament. They are filled with the pomp and ceremony of a medieval tournament or a Roman gladiator contest before each match, and this all builds up to the match itself, which contains enough violence to keep any latent masochist happy for at least a few hours. Many other media experts have compared the matches to carefully choreographed "soap operas," with everyone understanding the eventual outcome, but needed to watch what happens just the same. Jim Twitchell, a University of Florida professor and author notes, "The genre is soap operas, and they have these little crescendo stories leading up to a climax of violence'" (Billups 2). If the genre is soap opera, the medium is violence. Pro-wrestlers taunt each other with sexual innuendo; break chairs over each other's backs, and throw their opponents head first into the mat or completely out of the wrestling ring. These men (and women) are completely adsorbed in causing bodily harm to their opponent, and this lust for violence trickles down to the audience.
The many fans of pro-wrestling (and there are many) do not think the violence is "over the top" or out of control. Doug Martin has been a fan of professional wrestling for many years, and totally understands its current popularity. He says there is a "constant search for new subcultures to enliven our entertainment diet.' Wrestling fills that void nicely, and its broad appeal is not unlike the intense popularity of NASCAR," he continues (Billups 2). Fans also say they know the moves are choreographed, but that is one of the reasons they love the sport. "That's just the point, wrestling fans say. They love the grunting moves and choreography for the same reason: Everyone knows they're orchestrated" (Butters 8). People tend to see the bouts as elaborate play-acting, not real life, and so, they do not lead to more aggressive behavior, if anything, they lead to more time spent in front of the television watching another World Wrestling Federation (WWF) sponsored event. (The WWF is the agency which sponsors and supports professional wrestling.)
It is easy to see, by watching any professional wrestling event, that the audience at these events is predominantly young, and they are quite aggressive, even in the stands. The fans may love the pomp and circumstance of the event, but they also eat up the sexuality and violence that each match offers. It is clear the wrestlers enjoy creating havoc in the ring, and the fans come out to watch it, there is no other ultimate point to the matches. They may be soap opera and fantasy for some, but for many, the wrestlers are their role models, and they want to emulate them in their own lives.
It is a well-documented fact that professional wrestling attracts a predominantly young, male audience. Jim Twitchell wrote the advent of cable television helped bring wrestling to the masses, and helped create an even young audience.
Still, it was not until the advent of cable television that an adolescent audience could be assembled. The audience which attends the bouts is not at all the audience which watches at home. The standard joke among wrestlers used to be: "What has 14 teeth and an IQ of 50? Answer: The first 10 rows at a wrestling match." The home audience, however, is every advertising man's dream -- predominately males between twelve and sixty years old. Little wonder that ESPN, the male network nonpareil, has taken to broadcasting its own brand of wrestling under the rubric of a sporting event (Twitchell 250).
Another writer also notes, "Dave Meltzer, who operates the San Jose-based 'Wrestling Observer Newsletter,' says 30% of wrestling's audience is between the ages of 12 and 18" (Butters 8). Clearly, wrestling attracts young adult males as part of its main audience, and the role models they watch on television easily influence these young adults. Many experts in both media and violent behavior believe that continued viewing of violence in televised wrestling matches is a major concern, and it can adversely affect children, causing them to be more violent in their behaviors toward each other, and even toward adults. Many educators are worried, as reporter Andrea Billups notes,
That has many educators concerned that students who like wrestling - and they make up a substantial portion of the viewing audience - may transfer the behavior they see glorified in the ring to the way they treat their friends and classmates, said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in West Lake Village, Calif. (Billups 2).
Parents are worried too, and many support mounting opposition to the violence of wrestling, including boycotting products advertised during pro-wrestling matches to bring more notoriety to their cause.
While many educators and parents seem to think watching televised wrestling matches creates more violence in their children, many others find their children are mature enough to recognize the difference between the reality of violence and the fantasy portrayed during wrestling matches. Michael Cunningham, a professor and father of two young sons said, "Some young people are able to recognize the distinction between entertainment in wrestling and what is permissible behavior in specific locations and real life'" (Billups 2). Children have more sense than we often give them credit for, and most understand that violence is society is unacceptable, while violence in a controlled setting, such as a wrestling ring, is quite another thing.
The debate rages on about whether any form of violence in the film or on television creates violence in those who are watching. Many cite that we live in a more violent society today anyway, regardless of the media. However, our society has always been violent. One expert noted, "The prominence and success of physical violence in the organization of mass entertainment throughout history -- gladiator games, bull fights, dog fights, boxing matches, 'action' movies -- suggests a widespread attraction to violence, whether for catharsis, excitement, thrills, or sexual arousal" (Jackman). Therefore, professional wrestling and its' inherent violence is nothing new, it is simply the continuation of a long history of violence in our society -- violence which has all contributed in some form to our current social fascination with gore and violence in our films, video games, and television shows. If anything, the violence in professional wrestling is so choreographed and unbelievable to be laughable.
Unfortunately, many highly publicized cases actually point to children being extremely motivated to violent behavior by viewing televised pro-wrestling matches. Probably the most publicized case was the Florida case of Lionel Tate, a 13-year-old who killed a playmate with moves he had seen on televised wrestling matches. He was convicted of the murder. Violence is defined as "behavior by persons against persons that intentionally threatens, attempts, or actually inflicts physical harm. The behaviors included in this definition are largely included in definitions of aggression" (Jackman), and this aggression is overly apparent in children who watch televised wrestling. Numerous studies show the drastic increase in violence in children because of viewing violent entertainment. One writer notes,
There have been 1,000 published reports on the impact of TV violence. The National Institute of Mental Health says there is overwhelming evidence that violent entertainment causes violent behavior. For example, homicide rates doubled within 15 years after television was introduced into specific areas of the United States and Canada (Rueter).
The opposition to the relationship to violence and televised wrestling admit there is a certain amount of violence, but again, that children can discern it is a fantasy, rather than reality, and that is part of the fun. Certainly, advertisers, who make millions of dollars through their association with professional wrestling, are some of the first to decry the accusations of violence in the sport, because they stand to lose millions of dollars in sales of their products. However, there is strong evidence to show that many children simply…[continue]
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