Anti-Bullying: WWE vs. Glee

Anti-Bullying: WWE vs. Glee

Anti-Bullying: Glee vs. WWE

The problem of bullying has existed since the dawn of time, and in these days of instantaneous contact and a permanent connection to the World Wide Web, cyber bullying is of particular concern. Parents have harassed other children over MySpace, college roommates have violated the privacy of their other roommates with hidden webcams broadcasting across the World Wide Web. The end result of these despicable actions was the suicide of the individuals being harassed and tormented. Lately, two television programs with probably very little crossover audience have taken it upon themselves to address the issue of bullying in their own ways. These two shows are WWE’s Monday Night Raw and FOX’s smash hit Glee.

How did WWE address the issue of bullying?

This is an interesting issue for WWE to undertake. In the realm of professional wrestling, it is common place for the bad guys bully the good guys on a weekly basis. But WWE has chosen to really highlight this issue of bullying in one particular feud between former WWE Champion Sheamus, and up-and-coming superstar John Morrison. Sheamus made his career out of being a bully. Earlier in his career, he attacked bystanders like ring crew members and announcers like semi-retired grappler Jerry “The King” Lawler. Sheamus is also no stranger to jumping people from behind and shoving around others to get what he wants. Considering we have never been given a reason to cheer for Sheamus, you could say that he is WWE’s premiere bully.

On the October 25th edition of Monday Night Raw, WWE fan favorite and comedy relief wrestler Santino was engaged in a backstage skit with the Guest Host for the evening, country superstar Toby Keith. Sheamus interrupted and verbally berated Santino for his lackluster performance for Team Raw at the Bragging Rights Pay Per View the night before. Sheamus then challenged Santino to a match, which Santino accepted. All in all, a classic wrestling storyline setup.

Later that night the match took place. Sheamus began the match by dominating Santino – a sight common to many Sheamus matches. However, Sheamus was really taking the beating to Santino, almost to the point that a referee might call off the match because Santino was unable to defend himself any further. Before that could happen, John Morrison came down to the ring and asked for the match to be stopped, since apparently the referee could not make that decision on his own. This distracted Sheamus, who exchanged words with Morrison. When Sheamus turned his attention back to the match with Santino, he tried to take out Santino with a big boot. The kick missed and Santino rolled Sheamus up for a shocking pin fall victory.

The following week on the November 1st edition of Raw, Sheamus essentially demanded a rematch, saying Santino didn’t beat him last week, but rather, he beat himself. Santino declined to wrestle, but offered his tag team partner Vladimir Kozlov as a replacement. Sheamus defeated Kozlov quickly in what is known as a squash match. After the match, Sheamus got his hands on Santino and beat him up some more. John Morrison emerged to save Santino, and kicked Sheamus off of the staging area to the delight of Santino.

On the November 8th edition of RAW from England, Santino, along with Vladimir Kozlov, engaged Sheamus in a bit of a comedy segment involving tea and crumpets and many “unintentional” or “accidental” jokes about Sheamus and his pale complexion and fiery red hair.  Sheamus began to get heated after Santino spilled tea on him, and the anonymous General Manager booked a match between Santino and Sheamus on the spot. After the match began, Santino stalled on the outside and in the crowd until the General Manager ordered Santino to get in the ring and compete, or to be suspended indefinitely. Santino got in the ring and Sheamus beat on him, but Santino hit Sheamus with an illegal low blow, forcing the referee to end the match and disqualify Santino. After the match, Santino got kicked in the face and was nearly hit with a finishing maneuver of Sheamus’ until John Morrison saved Santino once again.

We get to the November 15th episode of RAW and Santino and Vladimir Kozlov successfully defeated the tag team of the Usos to become the number one contenders to the WWE Tag Team Championships. After the match, Sheamus attacked Kozlov and the Usos. He was about to attack Santino, but once again, John Morrison made the save, kicking Sheamus off the ring apron. Morrison said he keeps doing this because Sheamus is a bully, and when bullies feel threatened they turn and walk away. He continued on that if Sheamus wants a fight, he is right there. Sheamus feigns interest in fighting John Morrison, but ultimately backs off. Later on in the night, John Morrison was backstage with WWE legends Gerry Briscoe and Arn Anderson. Arn congratulated Morrison on getting the best of Sheamus three weeks in a row, because that is unprecedented. Suddenly and out of no where, Sheamus rushed onto the scene and kicked John Morrison in the face. Sheamus followed that up by accepting Morrison’s challenge and said they will meet in the ring at the Survivor Series Pay Per View.

On the night of Survivor Series, before their match, Sheamus mocked John Morrison for being heroic and says that the truth behind this conflict is that Morrison is jealous Sheamus is a former world champion, and that Morrison will never be a world champion. After a grueling twelve minute match on Pay Per View, John Morrison defeated the bully Sheamus by knocking him out with a running knee to the head, resulting in a pin fall victory.

The finish to this match might have been unexpected for a couple of reasons. Sheamus is, after all, a former world champion and has been portrayed on television as a tough competitor to beat. While John Morrison is also a strong wrestler, he certainly has not reached the level of success that Sheamus has. Combine that with the fact that John Morrison got the better of Sheamus for three weeks straight – a sign that many think means that the person with the lesser amount of success will finally prevail on the Pay Per View – and you have the makings for a victory for Sheamus. However, the bully fell, and John Morrison stood tall.

The end result is that the bully lost to the person who chose to stand up for someone else being picked on. It’s a strong moral message WWE is sending to their large audience of young children, along side of other morals like John Cena’s “Do the right thing no matter what.”

How did Glee address the issue of bullying?

Glee, for those of you unfamiliar, is a musical one hour dramedy on the FOX network that follows the happenings of a high school glee club consisting of an eclectic mix of students ranging from popular football players and cheerleaders down to the outcasts and misfits. As viewers of the show saw over the course of the first season, everyone from the glee club endured bullying for being nerdy enough to be in glee club in the first place. Often this bullying took place in the form of Slushee drinks being thrown in their faces. For the most part though, the kids of Glee learned to stand up for themselves and their Glee club, and took the taunting and bullying in stride, even if it meant their relative popularity decreased.

One character on the show has a different basis for being bullied outside of being a member of the glee club. That student is Kurt, and he is known homosexual – as far as we know, the only openly gay student in the school (despite bisexual experimentation and promiscuity being present and somewhat known among two of the female cheerleaders). It has been hard for some members of the Glee club to deal learn how to act in light of Kurt’s homosexuality. In particular, the character Finn, who just became Kurt’s step-brother on tonight’s episode, had at one time called Kurt “faggy” as a culmination of emotion in trying to sidestep Kurt’s heavy handed crush on Finn during season one.

During this season’s episode entitled “Never Been Kissed,” the issue of Kurt being bullied for his homosexuality escalated. One football jock in particular, Dave Karofsky, who has picked on nearly everyone in the glee club at one time or another, targeted Kurt. After being pushed around, Kurt tried to stand up for himself to no avail. Will, the teacher in charge of the Glee club, saw this and tries to talk to Kurt about it, but Kurt said it is his hill to climb alone. Later in the episode, Kurt goes to the all-boys Dalton Academy, partially as a spy, but also to quench his own curiosity about the school. There he met Blaine, another openly gay kid, who shows him the school and their glee club. Kurt asked Blaine if the whole school is gay, which they are not. However, the school does have a zero-tolerance harassment policy, so gays like Blaine feel safe. Kurt shares his experiences about being bullied with Blaine, who also had a similar past before attending Dalton Academy. Blaine had even escalated the issue to the faculty at his old school, but they would not even help him. Blaine told Kurt he has two options: he can come to Dalton and enjoy its safe haven, or he can refuse to be a victim and not let the bullies chase him away.

Later on in the episode, the bully torments Kurt again, knocking his cell phone down and slamming him into the locker. Kurt loses it and screams at the bully, saying he (Kurt) will never change so the bully might as well just punch him and get it over with. Instead, the bully shockingly kissed him, making it clear that the bully is struggling to deal with his own homosexuality. Later in the episode, Blaine visits Kurt at school and they confront the jock. The jock shoved Blaine against a fence and Kurt pushed the jock back. Afterward, Kurt confessed to Blaine that the bully jock was his first kiss. Finally, at the end of the episode, the jock shoved Kurt against his locker once more – as if nothing happened and it’s bullying-as-usual.

In the following episode, “The Substitute,” Kurt’s friendship-and-possibly-more with Blaine continues to grow. At one point in the episode, the bullying football jock approached Kurt to make sure he hasn’t told anyone they kissed, and actually threatens to kill him if he does not keep his mouth shut.

The result of that seemingly came to climax tonight on the episode “Furt.” Karofsky’s bullying continues and the glee club has taken notice and strives to protect one of their own. The girls dating guys in the Glee club get together and decide to push their boyfriends to stand up for Kurt and against the bully. When approached with this plan, Finn, whose mother is marrying Kurt’s father, says he’d like to help but he can’t. He cites the fact that he relies on Karofsky on the football field and as quarterback, he can’t risk being on Karofsky’s bad side (despite the fact Karofsky and Finn scuffled in the past and Karofsky even ripped Finn’s letterman jacket in half). Really, Finn is just concerned about trying to keep his popularity and leadership position in the face of competition from Sam. Sam, a new football player who also plays quarterback and who is also in the glee club, gets into a fist fight with the bully in the locker room that ends up with Arty, the wheelchair bound member of glee club (and the football team), being shoved over. Puck, another football player and glee member, has to hold himself back from getting involved, otherwise he would violate the terms of his parole from juvenile detention.

The girls of Glee later praise Sam, Arty, and Puck for their actions in the locker room and question why Finn wasn’t there to back them up. Finn, whether by coincidence or by deliberate decision, was still on the football field. Later in the episode, Kurt and Finn, with Kurt’s dad present, are practicing a dance for the wedding at school. Kurt’s dad, for the record, is nothing but supportive of Kurt and his lifestyle choices, even becoming enraged in a past episode for homophobic comments made in a phone call to Kurt’s home. While Kurt and Finn are practicing, the bully sees them and makes a limp-wrist mocking gesture. Kurt’s dad sees it too, and Kurt confesses that Karofsky has been tormenting him for a while, and that he even threatened to kill him. Finn is shocked when Kurt mentions that his life was threatened, as he was previously unaware. Kurt’s dad chases Karofsky down the hall and pins the bully against the wall, telling the bully to pick on him instead. Finn tries to pull them apart, and Kurt’s dad lashes out at Finn, asking Finn where he’s been while Kurt’s been threatened.

The matter is escalated to Jane Lynch’s character Sue Sylvester, who is essentially acting principal of the school. Kurt and his dad sit down with Karofsky and his dad. Sue says she can’t do anything about the shoving. Karofsky’s dad is surprised by his son’s behavior and says that Karofsky used to be a good student, but his grades are slipping and he isn’t acting normal, alluding to Karofsky’s struggles with his own sexuality. When Kurt reveals that his life was threatened, Sue immediately expels Karofsky from school and tells him that he can appeal it with the school board.

Later in the episode, at the wedding reception, Finn apologizes for not doing more to stand up for Kurt, and says that Kurt has taught him more about being a man than anyone else. He tells Kurt that they are brothers and he will always have his back. Finally, at the end of the episode, we learn that the school board has overturned Karofsky’s expulsion. Sue announces she is stepping down as principal in order to keep an eye on the situation from the halls of the school because they’re going to need harder evidence to punish Karofsky. Kurt, unable to stand the prospect of walking the same halls as Karofsky, even with the protection of the glee club and Sue Sylvester, announces that he is transferring to Dalton Academy.

So who got it right?

On Glee, the students placed those who engaged in a physical altercation with the bully on a pedestal. A father even placed his hands on the bully. These are all somewhat understandable, natural reactions for the parties involved, but ultimately they did nothing to quell the bully’s actions. Additionally, Finn was ostracized for not joining in with the rest of the men of Glee. However selfish Finn’s motives were though, him throwing punches at Karofsky would not have made Kurt’s bullying problems go away. Should Finn have said something to Karofsky to let him know bullying is not okay? Absolutely. Silence in the face of continuing problems does nothing to change the problem. If Finn wanted to be a leader, he should have spoke out, but not resorted to physical violence.

Unfortunately, for many high schoolers watching this episode, the actions of the men of Glee and Kurt’s father were glorified as appropriate responses to bullying. Their retaliatory violence was not the answer. Kurt’s dad placing his hands on Karofsky was not the answer either – that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen no matter how much we were all rooting for Kurt’s dad.

The only correct and appropriate response to try and immediately quell the threat of violence against Kurt was notifying the parents (or in this case, parent) and the school officials. Sue Sylvester made the only correct action to stand up to bullying by expelling Karofsky, and unfortunately and perhaps realistically, that decision was not upheld by Sue’s superiors. Everyone in Glee could have been a voice against bullying, both specifically against Kurt and in general – and leaders in their own right as well – by letting Karofsky know what he was doing was not right.

In light of the above, it’s hard to then say “violence is not the answer” and praise WWE’s anti-bullying storyline. However, that is the nature of professional wrestling – it is violent, in some form or another. Slamming bodies onto the mat, however choreographed, is still violent to some degree. At least for John Morrison, he was coming to the defense of another who was for the most part, being unfairly attacked, then challenged Sheamus to a fair fight – which is how men in the WWE Universe settle their scores where the laws of the real world don’t apply (just look how easily Triple H got out of home invasion charges!). If Karofsky was punching Kurt’s face in on Glee, certainly Finn stepping in and punching Karofsky in the face to save Kurt from that beat down would have been appropriate under the circumstances.

This isn’t the end of the bullying story for Glee I’m sure, but the take home message tonight isn’t one I’d want a child of mine taking to high school the next day. Not enough emphasis was placed on the ability for all of the members of Glee – not just Finn – to stand up against bullying through their voices and non-violent action. Not enough emphasis was taken on alerting the parents and school authorities of the bullying – for even if they fail to remedy the action it at least opens the door to escalate it to the next level of protection under the laws and justice system of this country. And if the system truly is flawed and needs to be fixed, it must be dealt with head on through other civic and legal avenues, and not in locker room brawls. At least over in the WWE Universe, provided the audience subscribes to the “Don’t Try This At Home” warning, the PG audience received the message to continue to be leaders like John Morrison and stand up for others, to do the right thing, and eventually good will eventually prevail.

For that I’ve got to tip my hat to WWE, even though in the real world, the just result would not be in the form of a running knee to the head or Starship Pain, and it would not be resolved over the course of a month on a Pay Per View. As for Glee, hopefully their anti-bullying message is cleared up and refined in coming episodes, but right now it leaves a whole lot to be desired.

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