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Would you classify WWE Raw as sporting event? Reality TV? Physical melodrama? It’s hard to define Raw and World Wrestling Entertainment’s other incarnations (SmackDown on myNetworkTV and ECW on Syfy) as anything but what they are: professional wrestling in all its cheesy, scripted glory. The history of WWE stretches back some 50 years and has spawned such stars as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and one-time Minnesota governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Raw, WWE’s flagship brand, features wrestling’s newest golden boy, John Cena, and a host of other beefy brawlers who, week after week, pretend to hammer each other senseless before going home to lift some more weights.
WWE Raw normally unveils its cavalcade of pumped-up pugilists for just two hours at a time on USA. Alas, I chanced upon a rare three-hour, triple-brand episode stuffed with more over-the-top action than you can shake a metal folding chair at. Three hours. It’s a wonder I wasn’t leaping over cubicle walls and pile-driving editors by the time I was through.
The “episode” featured WWE’s official draft, wherein wrestlers from all three WWE brands (Raw, SmackDown and ECW) climb into the ring and fight for picks: The winner earns his brand a pick—a wrestler, ostensibly chosen at random—while the loser leaves empty-handed. Brand-specific announcers go into reveries of ecstasy when they learn what wrestlers their brands have picked up. “This is the most powerfully pivotal night in the calendar year for the WWE!” announcer Jim Ross crows.
Of course, everyone should know by now that professional wrestling is about as authentic as a videotape of the prophet Ezekiel. WWE outright admitted it several years ago, which makes its continuing popularity all the more mystifying to me.
Oh, sure, from what I saw April 14, there’s some melodrama at play, with some skin-shallow themes of honor and family and vengeance making a few waves in and out of the ring. And there’s no question that, scripted or not, most of the wrestlers we see are as athletic as all get-out. Shawn Johnson doesn’t flip as much as some of these guys.
But to my eye, the action feels pretty redundant. And I have a hard time getting involved in a fake sporting event, particularly one in which the end results are so obvious. I figured out who’d win all the matches often before the opening bell sounded, and I have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen over the next couple of weeks, too. Really, professional wrestling is just As the World Turns for the testosterone set.
Granted, Maryse isn’t carrying Randy Orton’s love child or anything, but the simulated wrestling is pretty violent. People are punched, kicked, choked, flipped, twisted, jumped on, clotheslined and thrown out of the ring—not the sort of moves you want replicated on grade school playgrounds. Simulated cheating also runs rampant. And all these supercharged feuds make the foreign policies of North Korea look almost gentle by comparison.
Men sometimes wrestle in next to nothing (Batista’s neck muscles cover more territory than his wrestling Speedo), and female wrestlers seem to have been chosen strictly for their bust size.
The three hours I watched contained at least one f-word, perhaps two. Wrestlers also let loose with a handful of milder profanities (“h‑‑‑,” “d‑‑n”) and misuse God’s name.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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