WWE’s Smackdown, or any pro-wrestling show for that matter, are full of representations of reality. In a lot of cases it’s safe to say the pro-wrestling is just reality turned up to 11. One good example would be the rivalry between ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon. The evil boss Mr. McMahon is always doing Stone Cold dirty which was relatable to so many people and represented a lot of their realties. So many people wished they could flip their boss the bird, give them a stunner, and stomp a mud hole in their ass and walk it dry.
Another way that Mr. McMahon is a good example of the representation of reality is the differences of economic class. Mr. McMahon is a billionaire and was not afraid to remind fans that he was filthy rich. McMahon used this tactic as a way to garner heat from the fans and become the most hated heel in the company.
Over the years they way that gender has been represented on Smackdown has changed through out the years. In fact, the original idea for Smackdown was that it was going to be an all women show. However, the state of the WWE’s women’s division in 1999 was not strong enough for an all women’s show. From 1999 up until about 2016, women were seen as eye candy that would appeal to the male demographic. During this time most of the women matches didn’t go longer than five minuets and from time to time there would be bikini contests and dance offs. But, in WWE’s defense that’s what the demographic they were shooting for wanted to see. Over the past three years there has been a women’s evolution in the WWE and women are now seen as legit competitors and no more are the days of the bikini contests.
When it comes to the issue of race, the WWE stays away from storylines that involve race and rather focus on an individuals wrestling ability. For example, the current main storyline on Smackdown is Kofi Kingston and his pursuit of getting a WWE Championship match against current champion Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania. Whenever Kofi is about to secure his title match at Wrestlemania, Mr. McMahon comes out and rips the title match out of Kofi’s hands. It seems like an easy storyline for this situation would be for Kofi to claim that Mr. McMahon won’t let him have a WWE title opportunity because he’s black, but the backlash from a story like that would not only hurt the company but Vince McMahons reputation. Instead they have to come up with a more creative storyline and I think what they are doing is absolutely fantastic and its all thanks to Daniel Bryan. Kofi is being told that he isn’t getting the WWE title match because he is a “B+ Player” and that he is under sized, which is everything that Daniel Bryan was told when he was fighting for a title match at Wrestlemania 5 years ago. Now the “New” Daniel Bryan, who is a heel, saying that to Kofi is so hypocritical that it makes you hate Daniel Bryan, which is what a heel is supposed to do. However, if you look at the story subtextually, you can see the story of an African-American who has worked his ass off for 11 years and finally earns the big match he has been fighting for overcoming all the odds. It’s truly an inspiring story for young African-Americans saying if you hang in there and work hard nothing will stop you from reaching your goals.
However, the Smackdown of today is a lot more politically correct than the Smackdown of the early 2000’s. On the April 8th, 2004 episode of Smackdown, there was a segment that consisted of John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield (JBL) patrolling the American/Mexican boarder and chasing a family of Mexican Immigrants back to Mexico. Now, at the time JBL was a heel so this was meant to be offensive in order for JBL to garner heat from the fans. 2004 was also a different time. It wasn’t even 3 years after 9/11, it was the height of the war in Iraq, and America was a little over protective at the time.
The WWE does know when a storyline goes too far and crosses a line and becomes offensive. In 2005, The Undertaker was beginning a feud with Muhammad Hassan who was an Arab American wrestler. Hassan’s real name is Marc Copani and he is actually Italian and not Arab. Hassan was set to be the most hated wrestler in the company and was going to be extremely anti American. There have been many anti American wrestlers throughout the years and they’ve proven to be very successful heels. So, Hassan was set to feud with The Undertaker, and on the July 7th, 2005 episode of Smackdown, Hassan had a group of masked men attack The Undertaker. At another time this would be seen as a normal attack from behind beat down that occurs frequently in wrestling. There were just two big problems. One, the men were dressed as terrorists, and two, this took place on the same exact day as series of terrorist suicide bombings in London that killed 56 people. Back in 2005, Smackdown aired on Thursdays and was taped on Tuesdays, so any correlation between the two incidents was completely coincidental. The storyline was quickly scrapped and Hassan’s career unfortunately never recovered.
Probably the best episode of Smackdown that features representations of reality is also one of the most emotional episodes of Smackdown. On September 13th, 2001 Smackdown broadcast live from Houston, Texas following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. The show opens with Vince McMahon standing in the ring giving a very inspirational speech saying we will continue our normal lives and we will not live our lives in fear. The episode of Smackdown is more meaningful since it was the first public assembly of its size since 9/11.