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WWE concerned about media backlash after Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings

WWE's PG-Rating is here to stay. Partly because it's a useful fact to point to whenever there's media backlash to onscreen violence, which is currently a hot button topic due to the recent mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in WWE's home state of Connecticut.

Wayne LaPierre would have blamed WWE for the Sandy Hook shootings too, if he had thought about it.
Wayne LaPierre would have blamed WWE for the Sandy Hook shootings too, if he had thought about it.
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

Ten days ago, a shocking tragedy occurred in WWE's home state of Connecticut, as a young man shot dead his mother with a rifle, and took her semiautomatic firearms to Sandy Hook Elementary School, which he used to kill 20 children and six staff members before committing suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head when he heard the police start to arrive.

In the Dec. 24th, 2012 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer reported there was concern within WWE management that the incident would lead to criticism of the company for marketing a violent product towards children, due to the belief in some quarters that such onscreen violence led to the perpetration of these terrible crimes:

"There was a lot of concern at TV that the incident in Newtown, CT, in some form could affect the product because there is the belief there will be an anti-violence media backlash, particularly when it comes to shows that draw a kids audience, and Vince McMahon told some people he expects to be targeted for the effect wrestling has on children, and to fight back with charity work and pushing the idea it’s family entertainment to put smiles on faces."

So far WWE hasn't been caught up in that backlash, (likely because the shooter may not have been a wrestling fan, reportedly preferring violent shooting games like Call Of Duty instead), and have handled their response to the incident shrewdly.

In a classy move, before the TLC pay-per-view started on Dec. 16th, WWE tolled their ring bell 26 times, and had a moment of silence to commemorate all the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.

The next day John Cena appeared on MSNBC's Today program to promote WWE's Tribute To The Troops special and deftly handled a question about how WWE tries to avoid encouraging the culture of violence that exists in the United States today through its PG-Rating:

"PG has to do with the content and although I have a black eye to show for my conflict last night, we are openly an entertainment company. We brand ourselves as an entertainment company. And we want families to enjoy the entertainment - the stories of good vs. evil, the stories of letting the audience be entertained with us.

In the past, when it wasn't so publicized that we were entertainment, often-times kids would see what we do and try to emulate it at school or at home. We are open in a campaign about: 'We are professionals. Don't try this at home, school, or anywhere.' But, you can come and enjoy the stories, and the content of the product is family-safe."

Smart answers like these to the media is a large part of why Cena remains the company flag-bearer and has no threats to that spot.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), once they came out of hiding on Friday, unsurprisingly blamed everything except guns for the killings, including violent movies, video games and music videos, of course; whilst advocating for armed security in every school in the nation to prevent such shootings from ever happening again. Apparently, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun". Though being British, I have to really question why it should be so easy for the bad guys to get guns in the first place, especially such powerful ones capable of mass slaughter in a matter of a few minutes.

The speech by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre was so out of touch that it went down like a lead balloon with the Connecticut politicians we became familiar with here at Cageside Seats when they battled Linda McMahon. Chris Murphy was absolutely disgusted when he heard LaPierre's contributions to the gun debate:

"Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript. The most revolting, tone deaf statement I've ever seen."

His U.S. Senate colleague Richard Blumenthal was equally as dismayed by the NRA's response:

"The NRA's statement is sadly and shamefully inadequate. The American people are demanding real change to make our nation safe, and the NRA's proposals fail to offer any real protection from violence. NRA members in Connecticut are writing and calling me to say that the NRA does not speak for them."

Linda McMahon, if she was in power, probably wouldn't have been so tough on the NRA, given that she fully supported the Second Amendment right to bear arms and opposed any restrictions to those rights.


Editor's Note - This article has been mildly edited to remove mention of the name of the perpetrator, or much about him whatsoever. Here are a few wise and heartfelt words from Anderson Cooper which reflect our reason why and focus on the victims of this tragedy:

We would also like to follow up this post with these thoughts from Roger Ebert:

"Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, "that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what about ‘Basketball Diaries'?" she asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?" The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy."

In closing, we would like to stress that the viewpoints contained within this post and this editorial note may or may not reflect those of CSS staff members, or of SBNation as a whole.

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