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Values Dissonance / Professional Wrestling

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  • Pro Wrestling around the world varies according to perception and style, and wrestlers who work in multiple countries tend to adapt their style to the local brand. It also varies with time. In America, during television's infancy in the 1950s, wrestling matches were mostly just wrestling and if they weren't it involved mostly punching. In the 1980s, it began to be considered an addictive, but cheesy, soap opera. In the 1990s, talking, entrances and promos greatly outpaced matches themselves, which also tended to have even more brawling and use of weapons than actual wrestling. At its lowest point's worst, American wrestling is treated as a sideshow, at times, literally for concerts and such. Big time wrestling (read: WWE and TNA) has become increasingly scripted, with emphasis on storyline and "high spots" (big stunts and signature moves). Terminology too, as calling a pro wrestling angle a "storyline" would be considered an insult prior to 1989, when the belief that wrestling wasn't predetermined was still enforced (and still is an insult depending on how much one wants to separate professional wrestling from other types of television).
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  • In Chris Jericho's book, he mentioned a case of this during a WWE tour in Tokyo. The people behind the scenes were horrified at how quiet the audience was, thinking the crowd was dead and weren't enjoying the show. Jericho (who worked extensively in Japan before joining WWE) tried to explain how the Japanese take a more academic approach to wrestling, analyzing the match quietly rather than simply watching it and cheering. He mentioned how the brass were still uneasy about it and still piped in crowd noise for the TV broadcast. This isn't limited to wrestling, either, see the real life section of Japanese Politeness.
  • Certainly the case with racial segments WWE have done. There was once a group called The Nation of Domination, which consisted of black supremacists with rotating roster. When The Rock was in charge, he had his goons hold down Chyna (a white woman) and told Mark Henry to force himself on her, which he would've done had Shawn Michaels not saved her.
    • Even more controversial examples come from Triple H, where he and D-Generation X mock The Nation and come out in Blackface. This was followed years later by his feud with Booker T, where he says "people like him" don't win championships. It follows weeks of him degrading Booker T by calling him "nappy head", flicking money at him to fish out of the toilet, telling him to clean his shoes, and even saying he's not a wrestler but an entertainer to people like him, telling him to dance for him. This storyline was controversial at the time, even making the news, and it's looked upon even worse in present day.
  • In the 1950s, wrestling matches were commonly won by moves that modern viewers would find incredibly boring, such as the Head Vice, the Abdominal Stretch, and the Airplane Spin. One wrestling gimmick on the MTV series Wrestling Society X lampshaded this: Matt Classic (better known as Colt Cabana) who'd been in suspended animation for five decades and used all three of the above moves as his finishers.
    • The idea of matches being won with what are now exceptionally basic moves extended well into the 1980's in the United Kingdom wrestling scene. One of William Regal's earliest televised matches, as a teenager on British network ITV, ended when his opponent landed a single drop kick that knocked him down for a 10 count.
  • In the old days of wrestling, extending even early into the WWF's "Federation Years" in The '80s, most wrestling matches consisted of Jobber squashes, while matches between name talents would typically end in a time limit draw to protect both stars. In fact, a series of time limit draws was the standard build to a final decisive blow-off match, either to estabish that two wrestlers were evenly matched; or to put over a Face by having him make a good showing against a Heel, only to have the bad guy saved by the bell just before he could get the pin. Nowadays, any wrestlers who finish on a time limit draw will be booed out of the buiding.
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  • John "Bradshaw" Layfield ran afoul of this while performing at a WWE show in Germany in 2004. He jokingly made a Nazi salute (arm pointed diagonally forward with palm rigid), then goose-step marched down the ring apron. In the United States it's just bog standard Cheap Heat; in Germany, it's illegal (see more at No Swastikas). WWE came under fire for this incident, and they promptly disciplined Bradshaw by... booking him to win the WWE Championship at The Great American Bash. On the other hand, Bradshaw did legitimately lose a job he had as a TV stock analyst over the incident.note 
  • It can be pretty offensive to watch, during the nadir of WWE's women's division, the heel Divas go about their slutty antics. But older or conservative viewers are liable to get a dissonant feeling while watching face Divas behave the exact same way. Candice Michelle was particularly guilty of this: even as a face, she would sometimes plant a pseudo-lesbian kiss on other face Divas such as Torrie Wilson, deeply troubling some viewers while inevitably delighting others. Mickie James's Psycho Lesbian act also almost completely failed to get over in any way that wasn't positive, as she was never booed for an extended amount of time despite quickly dropping all her previous sympathetic traits.
  • The subject of man-on-woman violence is something of a Cyclic Trope because of this.
    • Up until the 1980s, it was taboo for a man to even so much as threaten a woman, be she a fan, a wrestler or a valet. While comedian Andy Kaufman once had an act where he would wrestle a woman, the objective was never to injure the woman; this was more for showmanship and to sell his act to a male audience. The changes came in the late 1980s, when Miss Elizabeth — the valet (and real-life wife) of Randy Savage — was shoved by the Honky Tonk Man, had her wrist and ankle broken by various heels, was slapped by Jake Roberts (after being made to beg for Savage's well-being), had her name sullied by Bad News Brown, and was constantly threatened, all to the outrage of the face-leaning announcers; at one time, André the Giant grabbed Elizabeth's hair and was planning to brutally injure her, but Roberts — several years before he himself slapped Elizabeth — stopped the whole thing. While Elizabeth was a face, the face-leaning announcers would invariably cheer when the heel Sensational Sherri was knocked around, usually by the Ultimate Warrior[!]. At the same time, heelish announcer Jesse Ventura condemned Sherri being beaten up but blamed Elizabeth when she was in danger. (Even Bobby Heenan, during This Tuesday in Texas, was shocked when Roberts slapped Elizabeth, sure that a DDT would follow.)
    • During the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was common to see men beating up women. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was known to give the Stunner to multiple women, including Stephanie McMahon, Linda McMahon, Chyna and Stacy Keibler, all to loud cheers of the audience. But when both Kurt Angle and Umaga brutally beat up Maria during two different matches, and later, when the 7-foot-3 The Great Khali began choking the life out of Ashley Massaro and shaking her like a rag doll to the point where she began bleeding from the mouth, the fans were outraged. Between this and their attempt to clean up the product post-Chris Benoit led to all man-on-woman violence being banned. With feminism having a resurgence in support throughout the 2010s and far greater social awareness of issues like domestic violence and sexual assault, this would no longer fly today.note 
    • Mocked during Jeff Jarrett's heel phase in the late '90s, where he became outrageously sexist and kept shouting at women to literally Stay in the Kitchen, "barefoot and pregnant." It eventually led to a Crowning Moment Of Awesome when the entire female roster ran out and kicked his ass.
    • And even the way some of the women were treated in the PG Era - where intergender matches all but vanished overnight and mixed tag matches had the iron clad rule that if a man tagged a woman in such a match then the opposing woman automatically entered the ring (in the video games at the time, a male wrestler even striking a woman would get an automatic DQ). Women wrestlers were even treated as automatically weaker than the males - AJ Lee did a storyline where she was left comatose for weeks after the Big Show accidentally running into her, Beth Phoenix said in a promo "we're girls" expressing fear of being attacked backstage and female heels would exploit male faces Wouldn't Hit a Girl - which comes across as extremely sexist as of WWE's taking women's wrestling more seriously and having a little more intergender action towards the end of the 2010s. They were contrasted with Lucha Underground, who freely had intergender competition happening even from the first episode.
    • Ever since the WWE Divas Division was rebranded as the WWE Women's Division back in 2016, the WWE has stopped doing sexualized matches such as bra-and-panties matches, pillow fights, costume matches and bikini contests due to a combination of the #MeToo Movement as well as WWE's desire to treat its female talents as equals to their male counterparts.
  • A well-known incident happened between Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper during one of the latter's "Piper's Pit" segments, where Piper tried to make Snuka "feel at home" by offering him coconuts and bananas (Snuka, born James Reiher, is of mixed Melanesian and European descent) and calling him a "monkey." It's been referenced many times over the years to the point where the WWE can now comfortably parody it without causing any offense.note 
  • The big issue in recent years has been the furor over unprotected chairshots. Knowing what is known now about how they can cause concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), any new fans to professional wrestling will probably wince when they look at hardcore matches from the WWF's Attitude Era or, God forbid, ECW. (Ironically, the wrestlers in much more violent promotions that proceeded them, such as FMW and W*ING, still knew to protect their heads and nobody thought less of Kanemura for it.)
    • Conversely, many fans of the Attitude Era find today's wrestling to be embarrassingly unrealistic and stopped watching it for this reason. Back then the suspension of disbelief was fine as long as you imagined that, like boxing, they WERE hitting each other hard and it just didn't look like it. These days, punches land about 6 inches away from the opponent and somehow still knock them down.
  • Back in the old days, throwing another wrestler over the top rope was an automatic DQ. WCW was one of the last mainstream promotions to enforce this and actually made an angle out of it, when main eventer Lex Luger threw midcarder Buff Bagwell over the top rope - and Bagwell immediately demanded his win via DQ. He got it, and the rule was afterwards officially removed from the rulebook due to being antiquated.
    • What made this rule particularly absurd is that it's going to happen every time anyway whenever a wrestler gets clotheslined against the ropes, unless he/she "skins the cat."
    • During the "NWA invasion" angle in the then-WWF, this was among the rules that were in effect in an NWA title match which were known as "NWA Rules." Another one of those rules was that going up on the top turnbuckle would initiate a five-count where afterwards one would be disqualified if the competitor did not come back down.
  • "Badass" characters in wrestling are often seen drinking beer as part of their gimmick ("Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The APA, and The Sandman spring to mind). This is because in the US, drinking is supposed to be an "adult" thing, and the young audience will assume this indicates the character is rebellious. However, said wrestler is usually drinking Budweiser, which to people in the UK is considered quite a weak beer and would have very little effect on one's personality. This would certainly not be enough to turn you into the fighting machine writers would have you believe it does. Coupled with the fact that many people in the UK (and Europe) start drinking at home when they are around 13 or 14, the overall effect is of the character trying too hard to be cool.
  • Really, the Attitude Era in general (roughly 1998 to 2001) compared to today's WWE, which is still edgy but comes nowhere near the gleeful subversiveness of the Attitude years. The aforementioned race angles, and heels (or even faces) hitting women on purpose and getting cheered for it are just one part of it, as it even featured Satanic rituals. The company has attempted to clean up their product in particular following Chris Benoit's double murder and suicide and Linda McMahon's Senate campaign, and is thus trying to pretend that the more... offensive bits of the Attitude Era never happened.
    • One of the worst side effects of the Attitude Era was how almost EVERYONE got turned into a Draco in Leather Pants, and you had to be truly evil, despicable or, in the case of Jeff Jarrett, physically incapable of getting over in the first place, not to become "cool."
  • Vince McMahon is a fairly hardline conservative, and whenever a feud even touches politics (which, admittedly, happens only rarely), he books the conservative as the face. Problem is, his target audience has shifted left politically since the 80s and now skews fairly liberal (being primarily middle-class Americans ages 15 to 25), which makes things like this in-ring debate on the Iraq war seem, well, silly.
    • Somewhat subverted with JBL's 2004 feud with Eddie Guerrero, which had JBL going to the border to personally kick out illegal immigrants, and Jack Swagger's heel run, which took popular conservative idealogies and turned them into cartoonishly exaggerated villainous versions. However to some people, he and Zeb were right.note 
  • Foreign wrestlers (or American wrestlers billed as foreigners) are usually booked as the heel, and nationality was usually played up as part of the gimmick until very recently. Villainous nationalities included German, Russian, Japanese, and - somewhat ironically, as the best technical wrestlers in the world have come from there - Canadian, particularly French-Canadian, who are sometimes even treated as straght-up French. However, when these characters would wrestle before crowds in their homelands (or supposed homelands), they would as often as not be booked to win the match, and gain wild applause from the audience despite still being heels! (Jerry Lawler referred to these incidents as "Bizarro World.")
  • In America, working stiff or No-Selling your opponents offence is considered extremely unprofessional unless done for a good reason, e.g. to build up some "hardcore" credit or put someone over as a monster, and is to be done only with your opponent's consent and/or instructions from management. In Japan, where wrestlers have a more relaxed schedule and more time to recover between matches, working stiff is not only allowed but encouraged by many promotions, and many wrestling schools teach students not to sell for anyone who isn't legitimately beating them up. This can lead to problems when wrestlers trained in one country cross over to the other.
  • Once during his tenure in the WWF, Jim Cornette shot a promo bemoaning both the WWF and WCW tendencies towards "sports entertainment" rather than actual wrestling. He promised to bring in actual wrestlers to show what wrestling really is. This led to the "NWA Invasion" angle.
  • Going back even to the 90s, Kayfabe was still heavily enforced. For example, the cast of GLOW had to stay in character whenever they were out in public - and Faces and Heels couldn't be seen together. Professional wrestling these days tends to acknowledge that the wrestlers are only playing characters on TV. It's more unusual to find a wrestler doing an interview in character (One notable exception to this, though, is Twitter, as many Superstars will use their Twitter accounts to extend their feuds and characters beyond what they can in their limited TV time. See Fandango and Summer Rae playing up their Kayfabe breakup for an example.)
    • The Curtain Call Incident where the members of The Kliq broke Kayfabe at a house show to hug (before two members went off to WCW) resulted in Triple H getting punished. These days the attitude is that house shows are Canon Discontinuity and something only counts if it happens on TV. It's not uncommon for workers to wrestle in a different role (as in a face works heel) if WWE wants to test them for a potential turn - or if they don't have anyone else to work with.
    • Malia Hosaka was intended to be brought in as a Rocky Balboa underdog from the crowd to challenge Ivory for the Women's Championship. They dropped the angle when people recognized Hosaka from a couple of WCW appearances. Not likely to happen these days when it's virtually impossible for any indie wrestler to be completely unknown.
  • Masks used to be incredibly common in the American wrestling and still are in Latin American Wrestling, especially Mexico thanks to the legendary careers of The Masked Marvel, The Blue Demon, El Santo, Atlantis, Mascarita Sagrada, Místico etc, the ever popular mask vs mask wager and The Reveal that follows. In America, though, masks fell out of favor in the so called "Rock N' Wrestling Era" when wrestling was crossing over with other forms of media such as movies and cartoons, leaving wrestlers to think masks would hamper their marketing value even though they never stopped Mexicans from getting movies or comics. However, with the rise of the internet, masks started making a small comeback in the 50 states as they were one of the surefire ways to force a gap between professional and private life, helping keep the mystique of The Gimmick. Kaiju Big Battel and Chikara in particular ran with this.
  • The Fabulous Freebirds, a Power Stable active from 1979 to 1994, were know for using the Confederate battle flag as a symbol for the group. By way of background, they first started using it while feuding with the Von Erich Family in WCCW - the Von Erichs were proud Texans, while the Freebirds were associated with Georgia. Both teams flew their state flags to highlight their rivalry and at the time the Georgia state flag included a Confederate flag. Eventually, the Freebirds decided to just use the battle flag, since they liked the way it looked. During the 2010s, the flag fell out of favor with much of the American population after it was co-opted as by a resurgent white supremacist movement, especially when it was revealed that the man who murdered black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, embraced the flag as a symbol of racism. Michael Hayes, the original leader of the Freebirds, stated in a shoot interview in 2016 that it never occurred to them that some might find the Confederate flag offensive. While there are those who do not consider the Confederate flag an inherently racist symbol, no modern wrestling promotion would court controversy by putting it on TV.
    • Similarly, when The Undertaker joined Lex Luger's team of All American Faces for Survivor Series 1993, he unveiled a thirteen-star "Betsy Ross" flag. In Kayfabe, Undertaker was an undead zombie from the Old West, meaning that was the flag of the USA when he was "alive".note  In the present day, the Betsy Ross flag has been associated with some American extremist groups, also courting controversy.note 
  • Muhammad Hassan and the Mexicools (Psicosis/Super Crazy/Juventud Guerrera) were gimmicks created in the mid-2000s when concerns about Islamophobia and anti-Hispanic racism, while prominent among the most liberal Americans, were relatively low with the public overall. Hassan was an Arab-American wrestler angry at his country for he and his peers being stereotyped as terrorists after 9/11, while the Mexicools were a stable of Mexican luchadores angry about how Mexican-Americans were often seen as little more than blue-collar laborers. Both Hassan and the Mexicools were heels, meaning the audience was supposed to boo for them and support the racism they were aggrieved about. Americans have become far more liberal surrounding racial issues since then, and because of that, many find it far harder to root against them nowadays. Making matters worse is the fact, by the end of their runs, they both devolved into the stereotypes they were supposed to be calling out: Hassan started to send masked men that eerily resembled Islamic terrorists to attack his opponents, leading to his character being killed off after the July 7, 2005 London terror attacks, while the Mexicools turned face shortly afterwards and completely dropped the aspect of them mocking the Mexican laborer stereotype to become stereotypes themselves.
  • During the 'Diva Era' in the mid-late 2000s, WWE would often have Halloween costume contests and some of the costumes worn would probably raise some controversy in today's days of cultural sensitivity. Victoria, for example, wore a sumo wrestler costume at the 2007 Cyber Sunday event, complete with stereotypical Japanese accent. Mickie James's Braids, Beads and Buckskins costume teeters on the edge (since Mickie does have prominent Native American heritage), and commentator Renee Young (who is white) wore a similar costume in The New '10s and got lots of attacks on Instagram because of it.
  • WWE was often quite fond of Divas using Slut-Shaming in promos against each other. This isn't a problem when it's heels doing it, since they're meant to be in the wrong - but having faces do it too definitely looks uncomfortable from today's perspective. Case in point - in Nikki Bella's feuds with Carmella and Natalya respectively, both of them were heels and attacked Nikki over her relationship with John Cena. Nikki's part in the angle was to prove that she earned her achievements on her own. Fast forward to 2018 when Ronda Rousey slut shames Nikki for being in a relationship with John Cena - and she was meant to be the face, yet came across as a Designated Hero because of it. The only difference between Ronda's comments and the previous two was that the crowd was expected to cheer them.
  • Japanese wrestling tends to vary more drastically in tone and presentation from promotion to promotion, especially in regards to leniency with rules than its counterparts in Anglo sphere and Latin American wrestling. American fans who are used to an instant disqualification upon the use of a weapon and a strict ten-count as soon as a wrestler leaves the ring (some like ROH have a twenty count) are often shocked when NJPW wrestlers hit each other with chairs and fight for minutes outside the ring without even a stern word from the referee, especially after being told New Japan is one of the more "serious" feds. It is serious in the sense Japanese promotions consider a disqualification or countout a dishonorable way to win, and New Japan's way of dealing with this from the 2010s onward (and a few times before) is allowing almost anything outside the ring, where countouts don't begin until a wrestler is incapacitated. Even in the case where a wrestler brings a foreign object into the ring, the ref will do everything in his power to get it away from the offender instead of disqualifying him. All Japan Pro Wrestling traditionally took a more "real sports" approach by trying to prevent such shenanigans ahead of time, while FMW was in fact WAY more relaxed than New Japan ever was, but in the 2010s New Japan was arguably Japan's only major promotion, besides maybe IGF or Dragon Gate. Dragon Gate's faction war driven chaos was seen as an antidote to the stagnant MMA crossover wrestling cards that once plagued New Japan and were still going on in IGF, leading to the style being aped by New Japan and also imitated by some other Japanese feds trying to get the same renewed interest New Japan was enjoying. But by no means all.
  • Wrestling promotions in the current age that refuse to book women are often looked upon with hostility and viewed as sexist (just look no further than to Ring of Honor who, despite being otherwise well-regarded for their product, got a lot of flak during the years it was male-only). The same doesn't apply to Japan, where promotions are either male-only (puroresu) or female-only (joshi puroresu), and female promotions have outdrawn male promotions in the past (All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling was a bigger draw than its male counterpart in The '80s). This can be held down to how, in comparison, there have been few American female-only wrestling promotions to reach mainstream notabilty. In fact, when New Japan Pro-Wrestling toured America in 2018 and a petition popped up demanding they book female wrestlers, said petition faced backlash not only from other wrestling fans who thought they were being disrespectful to puroresu tradition, but from joshi promotions themselves.
  • At Royal Rumble 2005, WWE Tough Enough winner Daniel Puder was subjected to a legit beating during the Rumble match at the hands of notorious backstage enforcers Hardcore Holly, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. This was a punishment for Puder daring to actually fight back against Kurt Angle in a shoot match (after Angle had shoot on another Tough Enough competitor, Chris Nawrocki, legitimately breaking his ribs), with many backstage believing the rookie had ideas above his station. Essentially, WWE aired a public hazing live on PPV in front of millions of people worldwide. In the "Be A Star" era, that would never happen, as WWE have worked hard to bury their long history of backstage bullying and hazing.
  • This is what cost Jim Cornette his job for the NWA Powerrr show in 2019. The show had been building up some attention online for its throwback presentation of modern stars in a 1980s-style studio wrestling setting. Sadly, Cornette took that too far in the eighth episode where he tried to make Trevor Murdoch sound tough by bringing up a line on "He's the only man who can strap a bucket of fried chicken on his back and ride a motor scooter across Ethiopia." It didn't seem to occur to Cornette that a joke that may have sounded funny in the 1980s or '90s wouldn't go over as well in 2019. A massive backlash on social media forced the show to be taken off YouTube to edit the line out. Cornette resigned within a day and many wrestling blogs stopped covering the series. While some were fans of Cornette who saw him as a scapegoat, the argument was still that a pre taped show should have had that edited out before airing, showing that even his supporters were okay with his old joke staying in the 1980s/90s.
  • This is arguably the basis of Jim Cornette's loathing of Kenny Omega for wrestling a match with a nine-year old girl in the Japanese based World Wonder Ring STARDOM. Even if Japanese audiences might have enjoyed the match, most Americans would find a grown man wrestling a little girl to be extremely weird, if not creepy (not to mention completely kayfabe-destroying when the kid successfully pulls off a pro wrestling move on the grown man). World Wonder Ring STARDOM, for whatever reason, thought a "satire" of grade school angle that also started off parodying Tiger Mask's Kid-Appeal Character status by having the school kid being beaten up by Yuziki Aikawa, otherwise a face wrestler, wearing a replica of the tiger's mask until the kid survived via time limit draw, was an appropriate cool down match. But this didn't completely destroy kayfabe because the crowds considered previous matches where Aikawa was beaten to a swollen and bloody pulp, particularly her "due paying" experience from Nanae Takahashi, allowance for a little fun before more such matches, not to mention having a celebrity like Aikawa in the ring at all was something of a Dancing Bear. Omega agreeing to participate in this angle may or may not have been looked at as sympathetically, but the live crowd did little more than laugh at him when the kid still got a time limit draw. It's not like Omega has to worry about getting over it in what's usually an all women company anyway, and the male companies didn't seem to hold it against him. In the US, The World Famous Flee Market castigated Omega for participating even before Cornette became aware, and even more sympathetic parties like ROH used Omega's Kid's Fight participation as fodder for angles, such as Omega's feud with Adam Cole.
  • Because of the death of Kayfabe, many younger fans tend to be shocked when they see footage of the John Stossel/David Schultz incident or the Vader incident where both wrestlers physically assaulted interviewers who suggested wrestling was fake. Although such questions are still considered in poor taste, very few, if any, wrestlers today would likely go to such lengths to protect Kayfabe; more likely, the wrestler would simply end the interview.
  • Akeem the African Dream, fka The One Man Gang. Where to begin? Initially conceived as a parody of Dusty Rhodes' Pretty Fly for a White Guy character, Akeem was a jive talking white man who dressed in a dashiki, was billed from "Deepest Darkest Africa", entered the ring to jive music and danced around. He was managed by Slick, a black "hustler" character who was as close to a pimp a WWF could get away with protraying in the early nineties. Slick transformed him from One Man Gang to Akeem in a ceremony in Harlem involving tribal music played on a boombox and African warriors with spears and warpaint dancing around a flaming oildrum. For so, so many reasons, that would not fly today.


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