World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

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A.J. Lee as Divas Champion.

After years of viewing the Divas (women’s wrestlers) matches as bathroom break time, it seems the time for women wrestlers to be cast in roles other than “eye-candy, crazy-person, or reality television shill” has finally come if recent social media campaigns are any indications.

Last week, the hashtag #GiveDivasaChance began trending, and some NXT (WWE’s developmental brand, with a weekly show airing on the online subscription service, the WWE Network) Divas were involved in a #LikeaGirl advertisement for the SuperBowl. This movement isn’t without its detractors, as NXT announcer Corey Graves took to Twitter to assert that the Divas don’t need a hashtag to make their own opportunities: yeah, ’cause that’s worked so well for them up to now.

This debate has emerged in the wake of WWE COO Triple H’s (real name: Paul Levesque) comments about the future of women’s wrestling on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s live podcast, broadcast on the WWE Network, a month ago. When asked about the trajectory of WWE moving forward, Levesque said, “I would like to see the women get more time and more dedication. We have a large fan base of women that watch and I think [the WWE Divas] are inspirational.” While it wasn’t until the last two minutes of the hour-long podcast that Levesque made reference to WWE’s female performers (instead calling the wrestlers “the guys” throughout the rest of the interview), it’s interesting that he thinks they should be given a higher priority in WWE when he’s arguably one of the only people who can make that happen.

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Chyna as Intercontinental Champion, the first and only woman to ever hold that title.

Austin also asked Levesque if he thought Chyna—a pioneer in the world of wrestling, both women’s and otherwise—would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. (Again, that’s a decision Levesque would have a lot of sway over.) Despite Chyna’s (real name: Joanie Laurer) status as Levesque’s ex-girlfriend, she’s also found a post-wrestling career in porn, which severely limits the likelihood of her induction. Levesque said:

“I’ve got an eight-year-old kid and my eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look at, you know, ‘there’s Chyna, I’ve never heard of her. I’m eight years old, I’ve never heard of her, so I go put that in, and I punch it up,’ and what comes up? And I’m not criticising anybody, I’m not criticising lifestyle choices. Everybody has their reasons and I don’t know what they were and I don’t care to know. It’s not a morality thing or anything else. It’s just the fact of what it is. And that’s a difficult choice. The Hall of Fame is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as, this guy had a really good career, a legendary career, he should go in the Hall of Fame. Yeah… but we can’t because of this reason. We can’t because of this legal instance.”

Surely a nod to Chris Benoit’s double murder-suicide of 2007 there, but is porn really the equivalent of massacring your whole family? In addition to having abuse allegations made against him by Laurer, which Levesque denied, he is a also good friend of Laurer’s ex-partner and co-star in that porn video who also allegedly physically abused her, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. While not a Hall of Fame inductee yet, he’s a member of the infamous Kliq, including Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall, the latter of which was inducted last year.

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All of these men—from left, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, Kevin Nash, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Scott Hall—have been accused of or arrested for domestic abuse.

Furthermore, while Benoit may never be inducted, and rightly so, it’s not like the WWE flat out prohibits the induction of violent criminals: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka is under suspicion for the accidental death of a woman he beat unconscious in a hotel room in 1983. While never charged, that investigation was reopened last year. Other criminals in the WWE Hall of Fame include convicted rapist Mike Tyson in the celebrity wing, the aforementioned Scott Hall, who has been arrested numerous times for domestic violence as well as the 1983 murder of a man in a bar, and the host of the very podcast in which Levesque made the comments that inspired this article, Stone Cold Steve Austin, a serial domestic abuser.

Recently, the WWE added a domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault clause to their wellness policy, stating that “upon arrest for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately suspended. Upon conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately terminated.” In the wake of other sporting codes’ embarrassingly lax attitude to domestic violence and crimes of a similar nature, this is a step in the right direction for WWE. The host of wrestlers who are or have been under contract to WWE with similar charges brought against them prior to this stipulation must be thankful for a time when they were swept under the rug.

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Triple H (Paul Levesque) with, from top, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Mike Tyson, who’ve both served time for assaulting women.

To Levesque’s point, it’s easy enough to find out any of this information with a Google search. In the wake of the podcast, the first page of Google results yields nothing about Laurer’s adults-only post-WWE career. (Granted, you’d have to prefix Tyson, Austin et al.’s names with their respective crimes for those results to appear first.) If Levesque is as close to Hall, Waltman, Austin, Tyson (he and Shawn Michaels, as D-Generation X, inducted him into the Hall of Fame) and even Floyd “Money” Mayweather, who is also a serial woman abuser who was recently denied entry to Australia because of this, surely his children have met them. Why, then, is it so hard to talk to your children about Laurer’s choice when you associate with convicted criminals? Presuming Levesque and his wife, WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie McMahon Levesque, have told them about the substance abuse problems Hall’s had of recent, they can talk to them about the travails of what you can find online. In this day and age, it’s never too soon to start.

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Some of the cast of E! reality show, Total Divas.

It wasn’t so long ago that WWE unapologetically traded on the sexualities of its female performers such as Sable, Stacy Keibler and Laurer herself. Total Divas, the E! reality show charting the lives of eight WWE Divas, could arguably be said to be doing the same thing. And there’s nothing wrong with a woman using her body to her benefit if it’s consensual and she gains pleasure from it. What Levesque is saying, whether consciously or no, is that using women’s sexualities to sell a product is fine, as with the WWE’s mid-to-late 2000’s trend of Divas posing for Playboy, but getting pleasure (presuming porn was pleasurable for Laurer) from them is a no-no.

In addition, this promotion of legitimately dangerous and criminal men over women such as Laurer (it should also be noted that Laurer’s been charged with domestic violence against Waltman) indicates that despite Levesque’s lip service, the WWE prioritises bad men gone by over its current female roster. WWE may profit from the Divas’ physicality, but it’s dropped the ball when it comes to protecting them physically. For example, Debra Marshall (then Williams) was under contract to WWE when her partner Steve Austin, also under WWE contract, beat her. Debra was never again to be seen on WWE programming while Austin is still lauded as one of the greatest performers of all time.

So to #GiveDivasaChance may finally indicate a change in consciousness coming from wrestling fans but comments from within the company such as Graves’ and Levesque’s show that insider perceptions of women in wrestling still have a long way to go, baby.

Related: Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Pop Culture as a Feminist.

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] The Choice to be a Total Diva.

[Bitch Flicks] Body Image on Total Divas.

[The Work of Wrestling] The Women Warriors of NXT.

[Pyro & Ballyhoo] Full Joanie “Chyna” Laurer Shoot Interview.

[E! Online] WWE Star Kevin Nash & Son, 18, Arrested for Domestic Violence After Fight at Home.

[The Morning Caller] Grand Jury to Review Death of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Girlfriend.

[Fox Sports] Ramon Charged with Domestic Violence.

[The Smoking Gun] Stone Cold Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[WWE] Talent Programs & Policies.

[Deadspin] The Trouble with Floyd Mayweather.

[Herald Sun] Floyd Mayweather’s Visa Application Rejected by Australian Authorities.

Images via The Outhouses, Jobu’s Rum, Shitloads of Wrestling, Zimbio, Sabrina Brand, Pro Wrestling.

Blogging & Jogging & True Blood: When You Realise You’re No Longer Passionate About Everything You Used to Be.

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The title of this piece comes from my friend April, who once summed up my life as blogging, jogging and True Blood(ing).

Four years later and True Blood is off the air, I’m focusing more on freelancing than the vitality of this blog and I’ve given up jogging the streets of Melbourne for the elliptical machine inside the four walls of a gym. My life can probably better be summed up by the three W’s, as my mum recently coined it: work, writing and wrestling. It still ticks many of the same boxes that April’s analogy did, but it shows how much I’ve changed and where my priorities now lie.

I’ve come to the realisation that many of the things that I thought defined me for the past five, ten and even fifteen years I no longer identify with.

For example, last month I had a story published on TheVine about my disillusionment with past heroes, specifically Mia Freedman, who had been my life role model for a good ten years.

Also in recent months, I’ve started to warm to artists such as Taylor Swift and Kanye West who I thought were overrated and obnoxious in the past. (More to come on this.)

And a few weeks ago I was listening to Triple H, who’s long held a place in my heart as my favourite wrestler, on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast and his ignorant words about gendered double standards in World Wrestling Entertainment blew me away. (More to come on this as well).

These pop cultural points may seem frivolous, but they inform larger changes. Where once I would defend Freedman to the death and damage friendships over my hatred of Swift (more to come on this), I just don’t think those convictions are worth it anymore. Furthermore, as a single woman who’s only accountable to herself, I always prided myself on being someone who wouldn’t do things she didn’t want to do, but now I find myself sticking out predicaments that aren’t necessarily making me happy as a means to a much more satisfying end, but I just wish that end would come sooner. (Again, more to come on this.)

Of course this is all just a part of growing and changing as a person but it is giving me anxiety akin to a post-quarter life crisis that makes me want to pull a blankie over my head and tune out the world. (I’ve already had a pre-quarter life one so I can recognise the all too familiar feels.) I know I’m not making perfect sense here, but hashing these issues out on the page helps remind me why I consume and produce.

Tavi Gevinson talks about the “pop culture tools” that aid her in crises like mine but what happens when everything you had in your toolbox don’t quite fix things like they used to? I don’t necessarily have the answers yet. I’m taking comfort in reading short stories, personal essays and memoirs, for example; an inkling that wasn’t there before.

I think the main take away from this identity crisis is that I really want to consume things I can relate to or that can enhance my view of the world. It just so happens that those things and that view has skewed so that what I once held dear no longer cuts it.

Related: Hustle, Loyalty & Respect: Where I’m Taking My Career in 2015.

Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Pop Culture as a Feminist.

In Defence of Mia Freedman.

Taylor Swift: Perfect Victim.

Tavi’s World at Melbourne Writers Festival.

Catching Up on Women-Friendly Media.

Elsewhere: When Your Heroes Let You Down is it Time to Wave Goodbye?

Image via Rookie.

Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Popular Culture as a Feminist.

Recently, a friend questioned why I listen to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast when he’s a known intimate partner abuser. He makes a fair point, as I have shunned Sean Penn and Michael Fassbender movies and R. Kelly and Chris Brown’s music (not that I really had an interest in them to begin with) because of their woman-hating ways. But by the same token, I listen to 2Pac, John Lennon and Prince despite knowing their histories of similar assaults.

I replied that you can’t watch, listen to or read anything these days where the creator and/or their characters haven’t committed a crime or moral transgression. There’s Woody Allen, Game of Thrones, Michael Jackson and, to varying degrees, Bryan Singer, Fassbender and Halle Berry of the current X-Men film.

A lot of the pop cultural morsels I’ve mentioned above I first consumed before I knew about their creators’ wicked ways. I got into professional wrestling and all its problems, rap and hip hop and their misogynist lyrics, and the Beatles and MJ as a teen whose feminist ideals were in their infant stages, but by no means as staunchly militant as they are today. It’s easy to make the conscious effort not to consume products made by artists whose questionable morals you’re already aware of, not so much when you’ve already got a passion for them. (I’ve had conversations with people in recent weeks who did not know about Singer’s rape allegations nor Fassbender’s violent streak; their inner torment about liking something made by someone reprehensible [or at least someone who’s committed reprehensible acts] was evident in their pained, conflicted responses.) When I pointed this out to my abovementioned podcast friend, he asked whether that meant I thought I was exempt from examining the issues with famous men being rewarded for their transgressions just because I happen to like the stuff they produce.

“Absolutely not,” I replied. But by the same token, if we were to avoid problematic pop culture, we’d never leave the house!

I think the most important thing is not to make excuses about the problematic pop culture we choose to consume. I can’t say if I’ll continue to listen to Austin’s podcast but if I do I’ll be sure not to be hypocritical about it. No excuses here.

Related: Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [The Smoking Gun] Stone Cole Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[Lipstick Alley] Flashback: Sean Penn Beat Madonna for 9 Hours in 1987; Charged with Felony Domestic Assault.

[TMZ] Girlfriend Fears Inglorious Basterds Star.

[Village Voice] Read the “Stomach-Churning” Sexual Assault Allegations Against R. Kelly in Full.

[MTV] Chris Brown Police Report Provides Details of Altercation.

[Lipstick Alley] Why Isn’t Tupac Remembered as a Rapist?

[Listverse] Top 10 Unpleasant Facts About John Lennon.

[Daily Mail] Sinead O’Connor Talks About Punch Up With Prince.

[Vanity Fair] Mia’s Story.

[Jezebel] Game of Thrones, Sex & HBO: Where Did TV’s Sexual Pioneer Go Wrong?

[Wikipedia] 1993 Child Sexual Abuse Accusations Against Michael Jackson.

[Slate] What We Know So Far About the Hollywood Sex Ring Allegations.

[People] Collision Course.

[TheVine] Can a Feminist Love Professional Wrestling?

[TheVine] Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.

[Social Justice League] How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.

Movie Review: Green Lantern*.

 

When I met my brand new roommate Eddie about a year ago, we bonded over Green Lantern, amongst other things.

I’m not a huge fan of the comic book series, other than the fact that Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively are in the big screen adaptation, released last Thursday in Australia to the similar lacklustre reviews it received in the States. My only exposure to the superhero before I met Eddie was that he was professional wrestler Gregory “The Hurricane” Helms’ favourite superhero, revealed by his Green Lantern symbol tattoo and the t-shirt he gave Stone Cold Steve Austin during his “appreciation night” storyline back in 2001.

Even though I wasn’t super keen on the latest version, especially after seeing the previews (why must every movie be about aliens?! Super 8, Thor, Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens… Perhaps some fodder for a potential blog post…?), we’d bonded over it.

Going into films with low expectations usually winds up with me enjoying it much more than I thought I would, and this was true with Green Lantern.

As the comic book nerd to rule all comic book nerds, Eddie pointed out some holes in the plotline and amalgamations made especially for the movie that don’t exist in the comics, like Reynolds’ Hal Jordan’s nemesis Hector Hammond being able to read minds by physical contact after contracting the powers of Paralax.

As a non-comic book nerd, I thought some parts of the movie weren’t resolved, like Jordan getting beat up in a parking lot behind a bar he was having drinks with Lively’s Carol Ferris at, but nothing coming of it (Carol coming to his rescue, the cops arriving, any arrests being made) apart from being the catalyst for Hal to use his willpower, the energy that the Green Lantern Corps use to fight space crime and whatnot.

I was initially excited about Lively’s role in the film, but she’s as boringly saccharine in this as she is in Gossip Girl. The only part of the movie where I see a glimmer of potential in her acting abilities is when she is approached by Hal, in his Green Lantern costume, and exclaims, “You think I wouldn’t recognise you because I can’t see your cheekbones?!” It was both funny (perhaps the funniest part of the movie, which isn’t saying much) and the closest Lively’s ever going to get to an Oscar nomination any time soon.

Considering Green Lantern was one of the most anticipated premieres of the year, it failed to live up to the hype. Not only was its release date almost two months behind the U.S., which is unheard of these days, Reynolds was supposed to attend the Melbourne and Sydney premieres, but pulled out at the last minute. (We were going to stalk him at Jam Factory!)

A sequel has been greenlit (get it?), which is promising, as the Green Lantern saga has a lot more to offer. Three more human Lanterns, a black Superhero, a heel turn (sorry, wrestling speak; good guy turns into a bad guy) from one of the main characters, the scene that sparked the Women in Refrigerators feminist movement. Let’s hope the second instalment brings some of this to the table.

*It has come to my attention that I give away too much in my movie reviews, so the asterisk will now serve as a blanket *spoiler alert* from now on.

Related: Super 8 Review.

Thor Review.

The Problem with Serena van der Woodsen.

Elsewhere: [Women in Refrigerators] Homepage.

Image via IMDb.

Movie Review: The Expendables.

 

When I first expressed interest in seeing The Expendables, those who don’t know me well wondered why. But those who do know me well, know that I’m not as traditionally feminine as I appear to be.

My dirty little secret is… I love wrestling. I haven’t watched it in about six months, because my body corporate doesn’t allow cable in my apartment building. But I’ve been devoted to World Wrestling Entertainment for almost ten years now, and anyone who is remotely familiar with the product will know the name “Stone Cold Steve Austin”. And anyone remotely familiar with the action-hero line-up for The Expendables, will know that “Austin” is one of the names that appears alongside “Stallone”, “Lundgren” and “Schwarzenegger” on its poster.

While there is a storyline per se (The Expendables, a group of elite mercenaries, are commissioned to overthrow a Latin American dictator, General Garza, on the island Vilena in the Gulf of Mexico. Whilst there, writer and director Sylvester Stallone’s character, Barney Ross, meets their contact Sandra, who turns out to be Garza’s daughter, and makes it his own personal mission to rescue her from the tyranny of her father and her country, and in turn, open his mind and heart. Gag me.), it’s so badly written that I didn’t even know that Jason Statham’s (my new action hero crush, BTW) character’s name was Christmas until a friend mentioned it to me days later!

But the reason movie-goers flock to a film like this (as opposed to Eat, Pray, Love, which opened the same weekend as The Expendables) isn’t for its storyline. My fellow patrons at the cinema were a primarily male audience, obviously into action films, weaponry, fight scenes and professional wrestling. Jet Li, UFC fighter Randy Couture, former NFL player Terry Crews (who is one of my favourite comedy/action actors, and was relegated to cheap one liners and blowing stuff up in favour of more screen time for surgery-damaged, pillow-faced and drawn-on-facial-haired Stallone) and Austin got the best pops from the audience, especially when those actors were utilised for their talents, with Li taking on Dolph Lundgren’s character Gunnar Jensen in an entertaining fight scene, Crews throwing an explosive as if it were a football, and Couture and Austin pulling out their street fighting skills/wrestling mat moves (Figure Four leglock, anyone?) in the final scenes.

I definitely know my wrestling trivia, but as far as action films go, The Longest Yard (another Austin/Crews collaborationgo figure), The Fast & the Furious and The Scorpion King are about as far as my knowledge extends. So I asked my friend and fellow Expendables-watcher, Eddie, to point out his top five throwbacks to the great action films of the ’80s and ’90s, which this film is meant to emulate.

1) At the start of The Expendables, they are taking down The Pirates. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the past decade’s most successful action film franchises, in which the leads are played by pretty boys Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom; a far cry from the rough and tumble action heroes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s era.

2) “The Stormtrooper Effect”: Garza’s henchmen have their faces painted as they go into battle with The Expendables. This is known as the Stormtrooper effect, where the enemy’s face is obscured so as to help the audience deal with them being killed off by our incomparable heroes.

3) The Expendables all wear different hats (Li’s character Yin Yang in a baseball cap, Couture’s Toll Road in a bucket hat, Ross and Christmas in black military-style berets) so that the members of the audience with a lower IQ can tell them apart during the fight scenes. And let’s face it; with a movie like this, the majority of its audience tend to lean that way.

4) As the team is descending on Vilena for the final showdown, Ross switches their plane’s controls to autopilot, and from there on in, the rest of the film travels on autopilot also. That’s funny; I thought the whole film was travelling on autopilot.

5) In the closest scene to character development, Mickey Rourke’s character Tool divulges to Ross his inner torment about not saving a woman when he had the chance to, and encourages Ross to go back for Sandra. Similarly, when Christmas discovers his ex-girlfriend has been beaten by her new boyfriend, Christmas ambushes said new boyfriend and his friends on the basketball court, bringing the beaten ex along for the ride. The whole movie, disguised by boys club banter and blowing stuff up, is about a man’s desire to save a woman. It’s most guys’ dream to be the knight in shining armour, as Stallone and Statham are here, and come to the rescue. Sure, this is a dated and highly sexist ideal posits that it’s a biological truth ingrained in most men.

Certainly in the man who wrote and directed The Expendables, wouldn’t you think?