WWE is in WrestleMania season, as its biggest show is almost here. But its move to Peacock is taking all the headlines, as the it's been reported that Peacock "is reviewing WWE content to ensure it aligns with Peacock’s standards and practices," and the more racist moments from WWE's history are being left behind.
These moments include Roddy Piper in blackface at WrestleMania VI and WWE CEO Vince McMahon saying the N-word while wearing a durag. And even though I never felt the need to watch these moments again in my years of subscribing to the WWE Network, I still think this seems like the wrong way to go about things. And all Peacock needs to do is look at Disney Plus (and HBO Max, too) to see the right way.
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To back up a bit, the original news of WWE's move to Peacock came in a press release this past January that declared that the WWE Network archives "including every WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-view event in history," were headed for Peacock. The only problem is that not all of those events are coming over intact — and they're taking a while.
This is the latest chapter of an ongoing story in our culture today, where huge back catalogues are being re-analyzed with new scrutiny. Jokes that flew decades ago just won't pass anymore (not that they merited their original inclusion). It's happening all across the streaming landscape.
That being said, it seems weird and arguably wrong for WWE and Peacock to pretend these moments simply never happened. Those moments will live on elsewhere online, WWE and Peacock can't simply will them out of existence.
There's another way
Disney Plus, arguably the most family friendly streaming service there is, has decided to hold onto content with racist depictions. Movies such as Dumbo, Peter Pan, Aristocats and Swiss Family Robinson are still on Disney Plus, just with two caveats to contextualize very tasteless decisions (for example, do you remember that crow in charge in Dumbo is named Jim Crow?).
Instead of removing those movies, which are indelible parts of the Disney history, Disney did two things. First, kid profiles cannot watch these films. This way, if a child wants to see them, there is an adult around to explain things. Then, before the movies play, Disney Plus airs a short message. It's not a warning, it's not a condemnation of what is about to play. The message reads:
"This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.
Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe."
And this would have probably been a better way to handle it. Peacock has parental controls, which forces you to input a PIN number once you pass above a certain limit. WWE's content has recently moved to try and be more family friendly — the phrase "the PG era" is synonymous with John Cena — so older events with inappropriate content could get a higher rating.
How much is Peacock going to say no to?
A similar interstitial message to Disney's would also arguably be a better look. This is an important step to take because acting as if WWE never did racially insensitive things may take a wrong turn down a bad pathway. And, yes, I'm presenting a slippery-slope argument.
Yes, Peacock can delete every time Vince dropped the N-word on camera. It's not that hard (Hulk Hogan did this with Gawker Media). But where does it end? Do you also remove the questionable race-based decisions the company did over the years?
What about the Black tag team named Cryme Tyme? The decision to make Ghana-born Kofi Kingston adopt a Jamaican patois? Or how Triple H told challenger Booker T (who is Black) that "People like you don't deserve to be World Champion," and then still beat him at WrestleMania, as if validating his point?
Oh, and what about Eddie Guerrero? Does the Latino Heat superstar's whole "lie, cheat and steal," gimmick get wiped away because it treads on inappropriate grounds? If you decide to erase these moments, and the matches and storylines that surround them, you're also erasing the contributions of wrestlers of color — which is not the right way.
That said, removing one or two things here and there isn't a terrible idea. Disney even knows this itself. Song Of The South, a 1946 film that's more associated with racist content than anything else, has never seen the light of day on Disney Plus. And it probably never will.
Removing content isn't always best, either
Just look at how Hulu removed the "Mixed Blessings" Golden Girls episode where two characters had mud face masks on. The argument for taking the episode down is that this could have been seen as blackface.
The backstory is convoluted and simple, as many sitcom stories are. In short: Lorraine's mother (Virginia Capers) is upset because Dorothy (Bea Arthur)'s son is white and her daughter is black. And when Blanche (Rue McClanahan) and Rose (Betty White) meet Lorraine's mother for the first time, with these face masks on, they say "This is mud on our faces. We’re not really Black."
And that was not insensitive at all. Hulu's decision to take this episode down, much like the WWE segments flying off of Peacock, didn't emerge from any public outcry shouting that these bits should not survive. These edits were done out of corporate sensitivity.
Admittedly, Peacock is NBCUniversal's service, and they'll host what they want to. But the decision to go into business with WWE is a complicated one, and requires a reconciliation with the past.
Maybe they'll come to their senses
HBO Max provides a good example of how this could all end right. The service removed the film Gone With the Wind from its archives, only to add it back with proper context.
TCM host Jacqueline Stewart addresses the issue at hand, saying that Gone With the Wind portrays "the antebellum South as a world of grace and beauty without acknowledging the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery, upon which this world is based."
The best person from WWE to deliver such a message is likely Chief Brand Office Stephanie McMahon, who has her own particular history in controversial on-screen content. Wrestler Chris Jericho — the good guy at the time — would scream that McMahon was a "nothing more than a filthy, dirty, disgusting, brutal, skanky, bottom-feeding, trash-bag ho!" That, surely, doesn't fit modern standards and practices. Neither does the storyline wherein rebellious antihero Triple H seemingly drugged a young Stephanie to wed her at a Vegas drive-thru chapel. Confusingly enough, McMahon would later ally herself with Triple H, and reveal that she was in on the "drugged" wedding all along.
McMahon herself could present a message to audiences that explained how these plotlines happened and they weren't the best idea then, and that rather than hide from their past, WWE will acknowledge what it's done in an effort to move on. That, seems like a much better way to package a long, complicated and often offensive history, rather than just click the Delete key and say "that wasn't us."