From the very beginning, professional wrestling or pro wrestling as a sport activity has attracted attention of many nations over the globe. Its unique combination of athletics and theatrical performance astonished and pulled in numerous audiences. Later, professional wrestling grew into an independent genre of entertainment, which formed a brand new multimillion-dollar industry. Today, it is one of the most popular amusements, which are generally available as a live pro wrestling show attending or wrestling TV show watching.
However, many people forget that such activities do not only entertain. They also do harm. Their negative impact on human psyche makes people change their idea of good and bad behaviors, which directly leads to violence. Nowadays, attending and watching such entertaining shows have become usual for adults, and even children and youth. That's why, the issue of effects caused by wrestling television show watching has arisen and become urgent.
This research paper defines and analyses particular effects on children, teenagers, and youth violence, which have been caused by watching of World Wrestling Entertainment TV shows. On the basis of various researches done by sociologists and psychologists as well as surveys done by school teachers, the paper explains how wrestling TV programs influence the behavior of children and what consequences are possible. It also examines a possibility of further researches and the most effective ways of solving the given problem.
The Issue Background
In the last two decades, professional wrestling has started to grow in popularity. Today, it is broadcasted in more than 30 languages in 145 countries of the world. Almost 35 million people watch World Wrestling Entertainment TV programs in the USA every day. This industry grows bigger not in years, but months. The total of its revenues amounts to millions every year.
World Wrestling Entertainment is a leading company in media industry, which is recognized all over the world. It comprises various businesses, which create, design, and deliver original content fifty two weeks a year to a global audience. In general, WWE is committed to family friendly amusement on its TV programming, digital media, pay-per-view, and publishing platforms (World Wrestling Entertainment, 2013). It is the leader in television ratings, licensing revenue, and live event attendance.
More than 14 million people in the USA view WWE programming each week. “Raw” and “SmackDown” are two core top-rated cable television programs of the WWE company that catch attention of people. These are focused on professional wrestling performances for entertaining. About 75 per cent of the WWE audience who takes time to view such TV shows is 19 years old and older. 23 per cent of the audience is under 18 years old. It is almost one fourth of the total amount of viewers, which gives a plain understanding that wrestling programs are already popular enough with children and teenagers throughout the US.
The popularity of professional wrestling has grown for two reasons. At first, over two decades ago wrestling was labeled as a “legitimate” sport. It meant that it was a kind of contest in which a result of match was not predetermined. In the course of time, many people who watched wrestling matches started to question a genuineness of results and hostility between wrestlers. At that moment, the industry was trying to find a balance between wanting to be conceived as a legal sport and wanting to amuse people with scandalous storylines. The conception of legitimacy suppressed the ability of this sport to be presented as a special type of “theater”. In order to change the situation, Vince McMahon, the leader of WWE company, stopped representing professional wrestling as a legitimate sport. Moreover, he publicly accepted that all match results were predetermined. After this, wrestling popularity started its intensive growth. Coming results demonstrated that viewers of WWE TV programs did not mind sport legitimacy. All what they wanted was entertainment.
Another reason for the growing wrestling popularity lies in effective target marketing. The WWE company actively targets males aged 19 to 35 with their disposable incomes. It is done by the industry in the way of rising amounts of violent content because this is what attracts them the most. WWE programs include scenes of oral sex and baring breasts by female divas in the ring, the use of different things that could be considered as weapons, for example, metal chairs or thumbtacks. Blood is another attribute of wrestling performances. It is no need to say that such sexual and violent scenes are forbidden for children to watch, but what happens now is the opposite.
Partly, the World Wrestling Entertainment company also targets children, teenagers, and youth. It gets profits from partnerships with companies through the worldwide licensing program, which allows to create wrestling associated toys and video games that are sold to children. All the WWE licensed products are available at the biggest retail stores including Target, GameShop, Kmart, Tesco, and Wal-Mart. In order to be more particular, just in 2012 “WWE '13” has sold over two million units of video games, and, in general, since 1999 there have been sold more than 60 million units, which has generated $1.8 billion in revenues. (World Wrestling Entertainment Company, 2013). The WWE also gets profits from kids who attend live wrestling matches. So, as a matter of fact, the targets of WWE are two demographic segments, one of which is children and teenagers aged 12 to 18, and it continuously keeps encouraging them to turn on into more violent WWE night programs.
Summing up what has been said above, professional wrestling offered before and keeps offering a potentially harmful product for children, teenagers, and youth. Attention to the situation, which has been created owing to WWE TV show watching, was reflected and discussed in the mainstream press when a terrible accident happened with a six year old girl. She was killed by her playmate in the moment when he was trying to imitate the moves he had seen on professional wrestling TV programs (Macintyre, 2001). After this event, Parent's Television Council has shown a vocal stance against professional wrestling. It encourages consumer boycotts against companies, which advertise on WWE programming. Moreover, the number of other cases in which a kid got injured or died in the result of imitating pro wrestling dangerous moves is large enough for us to take measures in order to stop it.
Place of Ethics in Pro Wrestling's Targeting of Children
Ethical evaluation of targeting strategies is easier to provide through examining them from teleological and social contract theory perspectives. There are two sets of theories, which comprise the study of ethics. The first one is teleological ethics, also called ethical egoism, or utilitarianism. It is defined as theories of ethics, which state that the rightness of an act is always determined by its logical end. In other words, teleological ethics gives attention to the consequences of behaviors, actions, and attitudes and determines their worth. Deontological ethics is the second set of theories, which state that certain actions can and should be divided into right and wrong regardless of their consequences.
Traditionally, ethical evaluation is made in a way of using both teleological and deontological principles. Nonetheless, prior interest in ethical issues in target marketing usually takes a teleological perspective. According to the teleological principles, an ethical evaluation of professional wrestling's targeting of children, teenagers, and youth must be examined through a detailed analysis of its potential negative consequences on the development of the behaviors and attitudes of those of them who consume it.
Social contract theory is another effective way of making ethical evaluation of targeting strategies. This theory states that companies and society are linked. Every company exists and produces goods and services only through a close cooperation and commitment of society (Dunfee, 1999). It tells about an existence of a social contract for business that provides legitimacy if there is consent of those who are affected by this business.
At this point, the professional wrestling industry along with society holds each other responsible for the condition of their mutual cooperation. As well as the theological theory, this perspective also calls for a detailed analysis of professional wrestling's targeting of children regarding its effect on behaviors and attitudes of children, teenagers, and youth who consume it. This aspect fully represents a component of the societal condition.
Along with theological and social contract theories, a great amount of literature on ethical targeting has been focused on consumer vulnerability and product harm. Consumers are defined as vulnerable if among others they are more susceptive to economic, political, psychological, or physical harm. Basically, this is because they have a set of characteristics that bound their ability to offset external influences and support their well-being. Unethical targeting strategy is considered to increase when the target market's vulnerability and product harm increases too. At this point, there is a strong necessity to examine the ways of the potential psychological and physical harm that can be caused by WWE TV program watching and the extent to which children, teenagers, and youth are particularly unprotected to one or another type of harm.
Potential WWE Effects on Children, Teenagers and Youth Violence
When talking about effects on children, teenagers, and youth caused by professional wrestling TV program watching, we have to realize that this way or another it leads to different levels of aggression that suddenly appears in their behavior after WWE TV program viewing. Aggression can be defined as a type of behavior, which inflicts physical or psychological harm including implicit or explicit threats. In other words, this is any action performed with the purpose of diminishing someone or something in a physical, psychological, emotional, or social manner.
Research examining the effect of watching TV shows with violent content on aggression generally established a moderate relationship between them. A meta-analysis of experimental studies on aggression and media violence showed medium effect size. Other studies concluded that watching WWE TV programs was related to increasing aggression. Further, many studies examined the effect of the WWE TV show watching by children in particular and its effect on their aggression and established a causal relationship between them (Murray, 2008). However, a direct causal relationship between viewing professional wrestling and an increase in aggression has not been proven by any study, although a correlational study by DuRant stated that the frequency of watching WWE programs was related to violent behaviors, such as threatening to hurt someone with some kind of weapon or directly hurting someone with it (DuRant, 2008).
There are two major findings, which are relevant to professional wrestling in the literature of the past thirty years. These findings particularly relate to the effect of TV violence (in this case WWE programs) on aggression. The first one is taken from social learning theory, which states that watching such programs on TV or attending its live events increases a level of aggression towards other people through imitation and learning.
It has been proved that children will show more aggressive behavior because of aggressive models they see in professional wrestling TV programs. The given result appears whether the model is a filmed human model, a live person, or a person dressed as a cartoon character in a movie (every model is applied to professional wrestling performances). In this particular case of professional wrestling TV shows, it could be considered as the following: children view professional wrestlers as behavioral models and start to imitate their gestures, language, behaviors, and manners.
School teachers who made surveys found that students often imitate the aggressive types of behavior and use rude language of professional wrestlers whom they watch on WWE TV programs (Bernthal, 2003). For example, 28 per cent of them stated that they observed children who imitated a form of “body slam”, 23 per cent of them saw how children were hitting and kicking others. Another important thing was the fact that children tried to imitate dangerous wrestling moves, such as “clothesline” (when one wrestler hurls another one into the ropes using his arm to hit his competitor in the neck), “piledriver” (when a subdued wrestler who is held upside down has his head driven down) etc.
The second major finding considers that wrestling TV watching tends to make a desensitizing effect on children. Many wrestling fans often claim that the content of WWE programs is not particularly aggressive, for example, sexually or physically. Both adults and children state that all professional wrestling shows do not contain any more violence or aggression than movies or dramas do. It was the main defense of the WWE company owner, Vince McMahon, which he gave against strong criticism of his product.
Now, on the basis of the facts defined above, we can state that there is an obvious link between TV violence (WWE TV programs in particular) and aggression in behavior of children, teenagers, and youth. A set of contextual factors strengthens this relationship and some of them are present in pro wrestling. Children, teenagers, and youth are more likely to learn from models who are attractive. It has been shown that kids as young as 4 years old can easily define who good guys are and who bad guys are. Certainly, the WWE industry shows professional wrestlers as good and attractive characters. However, the point is that the meaning of good in this context is different and cannot be followed by children and youth.
Aggressive behavior increases among kids if violence is perceived as justified. In the analysis of pro wrestling TV programming, Tamborini finds out that professional wrestling portrays violence as justified more than other TV genres do. For example, almost every wrestling event consists of aggressive responses to shame. In the context of professional wrestlers who react to injustices against them with aggressively expressed language and behavior, this aggression may look very attractive. Nevertheless, it cannot be treated as accepted and normal (Bernthal, 2005). Moreover, research showed that children who watched professional wrestling TV shows, tended to answer in a more aggressive way to shame.
Every professional wrestling show presents a use of various weapons. This factor also increases the learning of aggression. Wrestlers hit each other with kendo sticks, stop signs, steel chairs, and other objects. Another thing is that they are thrown on mats and beds of tacks and hit with baseball bats. Watching such performances will surely make a negative impact on the behavior of children, teenagers, and youth.
Humor is also shown in the context of violence in the WWE television programs. It is another way of increasing the learning of aggression. For instance, Baron found that nonhostile humor reduced subjects' aggression towards people while the exposure to hostile humor obviously increased it. The major reason for this effect lies in the following: humor fosters an emotional desensitization to violent actions leading the viewers to perceive violence (aggression) as greatly less serious and respectively less violent than if there is no humor present at all. Like the presence of blood and weapons, humor has become more and more prevalent in professional wrestling and is quite regular on the WWE programming. It cannot be considered and accepted as a normal phenomenon when violence and aggression, which are fully presented on the WWE television programs (“SmackDown” or :Raw”), take place with humor as an all-time companion.
Every single professional wrestling match ends with rewarding a winner. At first sight, there is nothing bad in this. However, when we watch how a wrestler wins, how violently he acts, and what moves he performs towards his opponent to succeed, we start understanding why rewarding in this genre of entertainment should be considered as a potential negative factor, which increases the learning of violence. Wrestlers are rewarded for aggression and violence with audience approval, wins, and championship belts.
When children, teenagers, and youth watch such rewarding ceremonies, they see that people like and approve violent actions. They see it as a way of getting attention of others, being noticed, being the first, being a winner. That' s why, the next thing that they are going to do is to try to imitate the same moves as wrestlers do in the ring with a hope and belief of becoming the first and the best among others. Children do not understand that this is a kind of game and it cannot be played in a real life. All what they see is other people who are satisfied when a wrestler acts in a violent way towards his opponent.
Moreover, it is too complicated for parents to explain their children that they cannot do the same moves towards people around as wrestlers do in the ring. The reason of such difficulty lies in the social approving of what happens in the ring because here is a traditional thought: what society approves and does is good. Otherwise, it would not be accepted and thought as normal. Therefore, rewarding in professional wrestling television shows and live events should be reconsidered in order to avoid unwanted negative consequences.
All the factors defined and analyzed above have confirmed an existence of a strong relation between the WWE television watching and the increase of violence and aggression among children, teenagers, and youth. It tells us that with every single watching of “SmackDown”, “Raw”, or any other WWE television program, children as the most vulnerable demographic segment start learning how to be violent and aggressive towards other people and, what is the worst, they start thinking and believing that it is normal to behave so.
We see that such television programs can and do teach children cognitive scripts, which later will surely have a negative influence on their social behavior. These scripts, which are formed by direct observation, are learned and represented as a guideline for future ways of behavior. Generally, these scripts offered by the professional wrestling industry, the WWE company in particular, are not that much dangerous themselves. However, we can state that the fact that these scripts are perceived as cool by children, teenagers, and youth, which is much more dangerous. Anything what the scripts represent is thought of by children and older adolescents as good. At this point, bending and breaking rules in order to succeed, acting in a violent and aggressive way, talking rude language, and looking at women only as at sexual objects should be considered as good. However, this is something that is very wrong if to put it all in real life.
In order to reduce a negative influence of the WWE television programming on children and older adolescents, their parents should take some steps. At first, they should ban their kids from watching any professional wrestling TV shows, tell them that this is not good for them, and explain why. Second, parents should shape the impact of the WWE television shows on their children because to believe that kids will never watch such TV shows is not acceptable in view of its inveracity.
The role of parents is to teach their children that professional wrestling is the anti-sport and watching it will not bring any positive results and will not teach anything good and useful for life. They have to make kids realize that this is a kind of entertainment, which basically is not meant to be viewed by them. So, there is another good way to save children from the learning of violence and aggression through watching wrestling TV shows. Parents can encourage their kids to develop other interests, which they have. For example, it could be the participation in a legitimate sport or any other stimulating activity that is based on rules.
Also, the entertainment industry should play a role in order to solve the given issue. It needs to stop aggressively marketing the professional wrestling television shows and merchandising to children, teenagers, and youth. The WWE shows should be targeted at mature audiences only. These programs should not be included in Saturday morning TV schedules. Further, the WWE merchandise should not include wrestling-related toys made for children. It does not mean that professional wrestling TV programs must be gone from TV schedules, but it will be a significant step to reducing the negative impacts they have on children if their broadcasting is be decreased.
In this research paper, many studies have been analyzed and a lot of research data presented in order to see and understand the nature of the WWE effects on children, teenagers, and youth violence and aggression. At the moment, the existing researches and studies are not enough to see the entire picture of what really happens with young representatives of the American society while and after watching pro wrestling. This genre of entertainment grows and develops as well as others and it takes new forms and features.
That's why, there is a strong need of further and more detailed research to be done. It should be constant and its data should be kept up-to-date in order to control the situation. There is a sense to make new surveys and tests among children aged 4-12, teenagers aged 12-19, and youth aged 19-29. These surveys and tests could present the missing information on the effects caused by the WWE programming, and their outcomes could bring out brand new ideas and ways of reducing the negative influence of professional wrestling on children violence.
Now, it can be seen that the extreme popularity of the World Wrestling Entertainment television shows has become the reason of the issue related to the negative effects on children, teenagers, and youth invoked by their regular watching. Many people who like and always watch professional wrestling claim that there is no more violence and aggression than in some other TV programs. Such an attitude allows their children and teenagers to freely watch pro wrestling and learn from it. This is the way how social behavior of kids transforms and gets more violent and aggressive. Those who enjoy watching the WWE TV programming and the WWE company itself do not consider the negative effects these TV shows really have on people and particularly on children.
Murray, Bernthal, Tamborini, DuRant, and many other scholars have proved in their studies that the negative impact of the pro wrestling TV show watching on children, teenagers, and youth violence is real and its further consequences could be a lot worse than they are considered to be. In such a manner, the research results draw our attention to one of the most significant media issues existing nowadays. School teachers are already able to observe how children hit and kick each other and use pro wrestling slang. That is why, it has become urgent to find a unique solution.