A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this sporting event-meets-soap opera is brimming with non-stop physical violence, including body slams, headlocks, knees to the groin, smacks, punches, and kicks. The violence, although simulated, usually looks very real, and wrestlers are often injured during matches (though this element is played up only for dramatic effect). The series' comedic elements could convince younger viewers that this kind of violence is innocuous, while, in reality, much of it is choreographed and shouldn't be attempted by untrained people. Via dress and behavior, male and female sexuality is portrayed in an overt, stereotypical manner.
What's the story?
Every week, WWE FRIDAY NIGHT SMACKDOWN! offers two hours of larger-than-life personalities pretending to beat the hell out of each other. The show has undergone several transformations since its start in 1999, but now has a dominating presence in televised professional wrestling. Several matches take place during each show. Between the matches, different comedic sketches or promotions air to further the SmackDown! narrative. During the matches, two commentators assess both the wrestling and the dramatics associated with the participants.
Is it any good?
Each episode begins with the lower-ranked wrestlers, whose moves are so obviously choreographed and whose personalities are so relatively dull that it can be difficult for a non-fan to tolerate. As the action progresses, the characters get more compelling, and the wrestling begins to look more realistic, even though it's accompanied by over-the-top mugging at the camera and oh-so-dramatic throes of pain. Professional wrestling has an enormous fan base. As one might assume, the fans are generally young and male, though a glance into the stands at these events, which are filmed live, reveals plenty of women and children in the audience. Fans of the show -- and the genre -- say the personalities (and their intricate, soap opera-like storylines) are what attract them, rather than the fighting, though there have been reports of youths copying showy wrestling moves to tragic ends.
The invention of women's professional wrestling (the Divas) has theoretically put women on the same footing as men in the WWE, but overt sexism and exaggerated machismo is part of the game. Ladies are often used to escort male wrestlers to the ring or pose seductively by the ropes. Characters are so over-the-top that some would say they're poking fun at the personalities they inhabit -- overly macho men, most obviously. But viewers too young or too cynical to tease out the subtleties of this interpretation will see it as simply an outlandish celebration of violence and testosterone.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of professional wrestling shows. What makes them compelling? Do the matches seem genuine? What about the characters and their ongoing storylines? What are some common themes in the genre? How do women fit into the scene? What about race? Though professional wrestling supposedly has rules of engagement, they're often ignored. What lessons do your kids take from that idea?