Porn, politics and women after wrestling

1024px-10-2-10tammylynnsytchbyluiginovi2
Sunny at the Big Apple Convention 2010. Photo: Luigi Novi.

Let’s talk about porn and wrestling.

If you know me, that’s not the sort of opening line you expected. Porn doesn’t normally feature on my “list of topics on which I regularly dwell”, but when you ponder on the world of pro wrestling – and more specifically, women therein – as much as I do, it becomes an unavoidable subject. There’s a lingering and almost surprisingly deep connection between the two industries.

I think there must have been a time when I would have felt bad for Sunny. She’s a WWE Hall of Famer, known as “the original Diva” – the ur-text for an idea of womanhood that’s entrenched in the company brand, but increasingly derided by the fans and even the talent themselves. She was also never particularly known for her wrestling ability, but then that was the whole point of the “Diva” idea as it was conceived: up to about 2008, a bra and panties match would have been preferred, but bitch-slapping and hair-pulling were among the generally approved Diva moveset until very recently. The upshot of this is that to fans, especially now that she’s retired and her star has faded somewhat, most of Sunny’s notoriety comes from her sexualised character.

I don’t really know much about her career post-WWE, but it seems that this legacy has formed its basis. She has been offering exclusive Snapchats and Skype conversations for her (paying) fans for a while now, and now we’ve found out that she just sold her Hall of Fame ring for $100,000 and a porn film.

What follows here is not a judgment, moral or otherwise, on either Sunny or the porn industry. What interests me is how WWE handles this, because it presents the company with a very clear problem: by its own logic, Sunny should no longer be in the Hall of Fame.

The company is deep into a PG era, with family audiences – which are responsible for buying a huge chunk of merchandise – taking priority. This means it won’t take the simplest route and just loosen up about what consenting adults do with their bodies and careers. Which is all well and good, unless pretty much all of your historic and many of your current performers have skeletons leaping out of their closets every five minutes.

So the Hall of Fame, the one night of the year which is entirely devoted to WWE’s past, can be a politically tricky affair in which Vince McMahon tries to balance genuinely influential and significant wrestling figures with the potential PR disasters they could create. For example, the Fabulous Freebirds are widely agreed to be a shoo-in for this year’s intake because they’ll go down well in Texas and were hugely influential, although WWE would be insane to even try promoting the legacy of guys who walked to the ring under a Confederate flag right now.

Suffice to say, it doesn’t always get it right. Yet up to now, there’s been one major political omission that everybody understood, even if they didn’t agree. I’m talking about Chyna – the first woman to enter a Royal Rumble, a game-changing performer who pushed boundaries with her very un-PG dominatrix gimmick and held the Intercontinental Championship, and who also happened to become a porn star after she retired. By any wrestling-related measure, she deserves to be in the Hall of Fame (I’d argue far more so than Sunny), but politically it was never going to happen. Triple H (Chyna’s ex-fiancé) told Stone Cold Steve Austin as much.

What do you do? If you accept you need to be consistent, do you take Sunny out of the Hall of Fame? Or do you finally acknowledge there’s no reason to keep Chyna out? Or, do you ignore the whole affair and ignore the accusations of double standards?

It’s not like WWE is unused to such accusations. Look at X-Pac. The ex-boyfriend with whom Chyna made her infamous first sex tape has a track record that makes for interesting reading to say the least. Yet he made up with Vince and Triple H and has somehow managed to redeem himself. He isn’t in the Hall of Fame, though he may be a future contender, at least as part of the stable DX. But he’s deep enough into the company’s good graces that he appeared at Wrestlemania last year.

And of course, there’s the infamous Hulk Hogan, who was pulled from the Hall of Fame and cut out from the company not for the sex tape he made with his best friend’s wife, but for the racial slurs he was heard making on it.

There are a lot of politically sticky entrants to the Hall of Fame for a range of reasons – look at the recent resurgence of the case against Jimmy Snuka. But it’s hard to deny there’s a sexual double standard at work with Chyna already, and before Sunny made her porn film it was one WWE seemed happy to ignore. Now we’re in a strange new world where there’s a Hogan-sized precedent for pulling people out of the Hall of Fame, which opens up its options to the point where people can legitimately ask what decision the company will make.

But perhaps the lesson for WWE is not to create “problems” it can’t handle. Chyna and Sunny were heavily sexualised during their in-ring careers; they were among the most extreme examples of two different eras where woman were treated like sex objects so they could be marketed to a very specific male audience – a problem I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. When they retired, it wouldn’t surprise me if their fan bases had preconceptions of what they should expect from them (or at least want from them), and this eventually paved the way for careers which present a PR nightmare for WWE.

Whether or not porn represented a career choice either woman consciously chose and/or wanted, I don’t presume to speculate. But I do think that if WWE is going to be so strict about what women do with their bodies when they no longer work for them, perhaps they shouldn’t have exploited those bodies in such a manner while they did. They certainly don’t have the right to criticise women who choose to use their own sexuality in their careers, when they were perfectly happy to use that sexuality to make huge amounts of money.

I very much doubt that this has been a factor in the ‘Divas Revolution’, and the general shift in the presentation of women going on within the company (especially among the NXT women). If anything, Triple H probably just wants to give his daughters something better to find on YouTube. But as it seems that the link between sex, porn and women’s wrestling is gradually being dissolved, I hope that if Sasha Banks or Bayley ever chose to make a sex tape, it wouldn’t keep them out of the Hall of Fame.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s