Taking Professional Wrestling to the Mat

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  • Topic: Professional wrestling, World Wrestling Entertainment, Sports entertainment
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Media Column
Academic Psychiatry, 25:2, Summer 2001 125
Taking Professional Wrestling to the Mat
A Look at the Appeal and Potential Effects
of Professional Wrestling on Children
Jim Waxmonsky, M.D.
Eugene V. Beresin, M.D.
Professional wrestling (PW) has gained a firm foothold in American culture and appears to be here to stay. Children comprise a large portion of its audience, much to the dismay of many parents and clinicians. Society has struggled with how to respond to their children's fascination with PW, a novel hybrid between sports and entertainment. Parents expose children to sports, thinking they will learn healthy ways of managing conflict and aggression. However, PW is not a sport. Its values are the exact opposite of traditional sportsmanship; it demonstrates to children that cheating and verbal intimidation are effective problem-solving techniques. Because PW resembles sports, children risk applying its values to legitimate sports, as well as other realms of life. Parents can prevent this association by differentiating PW from sports, and the entertainment industry can prevent it by stopping their aggressive marketing of PW to children. (Acad Psychiatry 2001; 25:125–131) Dr.Waxmonsky is a resident in the McLean/Massachusetts

General Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program and Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Beresin is the Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency Training Program for Massachusetts General Hospital/ McLean Hospital and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at

Harvard Medical School. Address reprint requests and correspondence to Dr. Waxmonsky, Department of Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, WAC 725,
55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114.
Copyright  2001 Academic Psychiatry.
There is no denying that professional wrestling
(PW) is firmly entrenched as part of modern culture.
In 1999, the most-watched cable television show
was the World Wrestling Federation (WWF)'s "WWF
Raw," which was more popular than "Monday Night
Football" with teenage boys (1). The WWF show,
"Smackdown," was the second-highest-rated network
TV show (2). PW is now shown in 120 countries,
in 11 different languages (1).
It also evident that many children, both boys and
girls, are drawn to wrestling. Fifteen percent of PW
viewers are under the age of 11 (1). Children buy PW
toys, watch their shows, practice their holds, and idealize
their values. Although there is no denying PW's
popularity, there is still great debate surrounding its
impact. Specifically, many parents, teachers, and clinicians are concerned about the message that PW
sends to children. PW has been criticized for its sex,
violence, profanity, and advertising to children. Even
such bastions of cultural morality as "Inside Edition"
have hurled stones of criticism at PW (1). In fact, criticizing wrestling has become such a pervasive social
trend that PW has incorporated it into its own plots.
The WWF has created a character called The Censor,
Steven Richards. The Censor and his followers try to
"censor" (which is a WWF euphemism for beat up)
other wrestlers that they find objectionable.
Television has certainly produced shows that are
equally if not more violent and sexualized than PW.
The problem withPW, which is also one of its greatest
assets, is that it is a novel hybrid between sport and
entertainment. In fact, wrestling promoters now prefer
the designation "Sports Entertainment." American
society has never really been exposed to such a
combination before and is struggling with how to understand
it. Is PW just another aggressive "extreme"
MEDIA COLUMN
126 Academic Psychiatry, 25:2, Summer 2001
sport, such as rugby or arena football, or is it more akin
to a soap opera that features muscular men in combat
instead of hideously wealthy socialites? The answer to
this question will help determine what the potential
impact of PW will be...
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