In the last few years, the WWE has undergone a dramatic policy change. With The Attitude Era long over and with no serious competition to worry about anymore, the company has decided to calm down on its most controversial ideas: no more guys attacking women, no more sexually charged promos and storylines, no more choking with objects, no more chair shots to the head, no eye gouging (or a referee will DQ you) and no blading (accidents can’t be helped, of course). Without a doubt, this is probably the safest period for wrestling, creatively speaking, since the early days of Television. With a few exceptions, there’s very little in the way of offensive content now. Even the occasional dips into sex and potty humour are pretty tame.
But something has been bothering me lately. If you’ve watched Monday Night Raw at any point since 2010, you’ve probably noticed a lot of movie promotion. The WWE has a film division and naturally likes to showcase its upcoming releases for its TV audience. Not that long ago, these were strictly PG/PG-13-rated movies featuring numerous members of their roster. Here are some examples: Legendary (John Cena), That’s What I Am (Randy Orton), The Chaperone (Triple H), Knucklehead (The Big Show).
However, in the last month alone, three new titles have been relentlessly pimped on the WWE’s longest running prime time TV show that aren’t for young audiences: The Marine 3: Homefront (starring The Miz), Dead Man Down (featuring InterContinental Champion Wade Barrett) and The Call (with David Otunga).
What do they all have in common? They’re loaded with gun violence and they’re all rated R. In the United States, an adult 21 years or older can accompany filmgoers 16 and under to see these kinds of films at the cinema. (In the case of Marine 3, the adult would just have to rent it or buy it for them since it’s a straight-to-video release.)
In Canada, an R-rated movie means no one under the age of 18 would be allowed in. Fortunately, all of these titles are rated 14A here which means young teenagers 14 and up can see them on their own.
As a 37-year-old man, I’m not generally upset to see R-rated film trailers on TV. What I am perturbed by is WWE’s blatant hypocrisy. Lately, it has taken great pains to explain its revised, family-friendlier content to advertisers (who it greatly covets to boost its bottom line), the media (who it depends on for coverage) and their audience (some of whom may have tuned out during The Attitude Era and are just now starting to come back). So, why are they advertising violent R-rated movies during a PG-rated wrestling show?
If you look at what else WWE Studios has to offer in 2013 you’ll notice this isn’t a temporary game plan. The horror film, No One Lives, which stars “The Funkasaurus” Brodus Clay, is rated R. (Check out this link to get a sense of the content.) 12 Rounds: Reloaded, which has Randy Orton replacing original star John Cena, is also rated R. The prequel Leprechaun: Origins, with Hornswoggle, hasn’t been classified yet but based on past entries in this franchise, it would not surprise me if it, too, was slapped with an R. Expect a tedious ad blitz for all three very soon.
Last year, the WWE excessively advertised The Day and Barricade, two horror films, on its weekly programming not to mention its numerous DVDs. Although the latter got a PG-13, the former was assessed, you guessed it, an R. Even if you go back to 2010 when a number of wrestlers made cameo appearances in that stupidly unfunny MacGruber movie you’ll learn that it also was rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America.
So, what’s the big deal?, you’re probably wondering. Who cares if any of these movies get a free plug on a WWE TV show?
If only it was a single mention.
Anyone who’s watched Raw in the last month or so will tell you that Dead Man Down, Marine 3 and The Call are constantly talked about by the commentary team. Trailers are played a lot, even scene snippets. An admittedly funny bit involving Kane and The Call star Halle Berry was shown recently. The Miz never shuts up about Marine 3 nor do his rivals. Up until recently, there was even an angle involving Sheamus ragging on Wade Barrett’s lack of screen time in the Dead Man Down promos. Barrett approached the ring on one broadcast bragging about the film’s Top 5 debut. Raw even showed highlights of the red carpet for the film’s premiere.
In this space in 2010 I noted the WWE’s pitiful attempts that year to expand its reach by putting its talent in movies, two of which were dumped on DVD literally weeks after their theatrical run. While it’s commendable that their partnership with major Hollywood studios is once again getting their films exhibited on more big screens (as they did prior to the new PG era) for potentially longer stretches of time, why aren’t they making more family-friendly fare that mirrors its programming?
Look, I don’t want to sound like a complete square here. I love well-made theatrically released movies regardless of their classification. But I’m an adult now, not an impressionable child, and I abhor inconsistencies. This idea that a PG-rated wrestling company can get away with routinely advertising violent R-rated titles from its film subsidiary to its family-oriented TV audience without anyone noticing this rather glaring discrepancy is pretty galling.
Besides, any precious time taken away from the build to WrestleMania 29 is really bad for business and just plain dumb.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 16, 2013