Tag Article List: television

A Gendered Perspective on Policing Violence in Happy Valley and Fargo

T. Allen Culpepper
Tulsa Community College
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
allen.culpepper@tulsacc.edu

Abstract

Portrayal of a police officer determined to fight crime and execute justice in a harsh, isolated environment has become a television and film subgenre, often featuring women facing gender-related challenges. The issues raised in Sally Wainwright’s British television series Happy Valley, can be made more accessible, particularly to American undergraduate students, via its commonalities with the Coen brothers film Fargo. In both, a tough but compassionate policewoman pursues the more sociopathic of a pair of criminals involved in a botched kidnapping attempt instigated by an inept businessman, taking on the case for personal and professional honor, and as a responsibility to family and community. Catherine in Happy Valley and Marge in Fargo juggle “masculine” and “feminine” roles as they care for family members while policing violence.  The women generally succeed in balancing their gender roles, whereas the men around them do not. But they sometimes assume the aggression associated with the male criminals they pursue. Happy Valley takes these issues deeper by giving Catherine a more intimate connection with one of the perpetrators and presenting the story more directly through a woman’s extra-patriarchal perspective, thus revealing the performative nature of gender roles and the limits of a patriarchal binary view of them. Looking at these issues in relation to Fargo paves the way for examination of their more complex and extensive treatment in Happy Valley.  

Keywords: television, women, gender, police officers, crime, northern England, film, violence, Happy Valley, detective, Fargo

Author Bio 

T. Allen Culpepper is an associate professor of English at Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, where he teaches literature, composition, and creative writing.  He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Tulsa, with a primary specialization in 20th-century British literature. He has a longstanding interest in the interplay between literature and popular culture. He is also a poet, and he currently serves as faculty managing editor of the online literary and arts magazine Tulsa Review, and as a reader for Whale Road Review and Nimrod.

Reference Citation

APA
Culpepper, T. A. (2018). A gendered perspective on policing violence in Happy Valley and Fargo. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 5(3). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v5-issue-3/a-gendered-perspective-on-policing-violence-in-happy-valley-and-fargo/

MLA
Culpepper, T. Allen. A Gendered Perspective on Policing Violence in Happy Valley and Fargo. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 2018, vol 5, no. 3. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v5-issue-3/a-gendered-perspective-on-policing-violence-in-happy-valley-and-fargo/

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“If you want to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man”: Masculinity and the Rise of Professional Wrestling in the 1990s

Marc Ouellette
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
mouellet@odu.edu

Abstract

This paper traces the relationship between the shifting representations of masculinity in professional wrestling programs of the 1990s and the contemporaneous shifts in conceptions of masculinity, examining the ways each of these shifts impacted the other. Most important among these was a growing sense that the biggest enemy in wrestling and in day-to-day life is one’s boss. Moreover, the corporate corruption theme continues to underscore the WWE’s on-screen and off-screen coverage, well into the second decade of the twenty-first century. Thus, the paper provides a template for considering a widely consumed popular cultural form in ways that challenge the determinism of sex, violence and fakery.

Keywords:

Masculinities, Gender, Popular Culture, Television, 1990s, Cultural Studies

 

Men in their Underwear

Especially in terms of its plots, professional wrestling was transformed radically in the mid-to-late 1990s. Not only did this coincide with a contemporaneous reconsideration of masculinities, the change in wrestling adopted, portrayed and ultimately reinforced the concurrent shift in masculinities. In the 1990s, the most easily and readily identifiable enemies were corporations such as Enron, Merck, WorldCom, Adelphia, Kmart, and Arthur Andersen, companies known for corruption and whose officers have been indicted for illegal activities. During this period, the “sports entertainment” industry achieved unprecedented box-office success along with unprecedented critical condemnation. During the height of their competition, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) typically placed four of the top five programs in the Nielson ratings for basic cable networks (Canoe).1 Even a change in the network that hosts WWE’s top-rated show, Monday Night Raw, had little effect.2 Audiences responded to a greater emphasis on plot development than on muscle development. This fact in becomes even more significant given the staying power of wrestling since promotions stopped denying that the action is staged and given the rise of mixed martial arts fighting as a competing media draw. In a rare television interview during wrestling’s rise, on TSN’s Off the Record, WWE owner Vince McMahon explains that without its storylines, or “angles,” professional wrestling would be “just two men, in their underwear, fighting.” Many critics condemn wrestling for exploiting women, for obscuring reality and for portraying violence, yet this obscures the importance of the plots to the success of the formula.

So important are the stories that even WWE video games contain a storyline feature which allows players to create their own ongoing plot. Although wrestling depicts “men in their underwear,” it also relies on plot structures borrowed from other genres, most notably westerns and action films. Beginning in the 1990s, wrestling writers began to adapt these themes to broader contemporary social themes in order to attract viewership among the male demographics.3 Curiously, part of wrestling’s past and current appeal derives from critical denunciations which reinforce — even duplicate — the underlying narrative, which depicts the powerful corporate leader as the principal enemy of the hero. The pleasures of wrestling, then, compensate for the perceived diminishment of and threats to traditional forms of masculinity in North American culture at the end of the twentieth century. Moreover, the corporate corruption theme continues to underscore the WWE’s on-screen and off-screen coverage, well into the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Men in their Underwear: Wrestling Plots

Like action and western films, wrestling reflects the culture that produces and consumes it. For example, the post-war era featured “German” wrestlers, most notably the “von Erich” family. Similarly, the 1970s and 1980s saw an increase in “Soviet” and “Iranian” wrestlers. However, the threats posed by the enemies of the Cold War and World War II are not part of the immediate experience of contemporary culture. Threats became more varied and not as easily defined; indeed, the largest organizations have largely avoided post-9/11 themes and characters. Therefore, a formula more complex than a simple good-vs.-evil dichotomy has developed. In his study of action movies, especially Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo series, William Warner proposes that “in the seventies and early eighties the rise of the hero film offered audiences a pleasurable way to work upon an insistent historical problem — the perceived decline of American power both in relation to other nations [following Vietnam and the oil crisis], as well as a recent, fondly remembered past” (672). Warner’s view is echoed by Susan Jeffords, both in The Remasculinization of America and in Hard Bodies, as well as Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner in Camera Politica. Wrestling, westerns, and action movies such as the Rambo and Missing in Action series are often dismissed because they lack “authenticity”: the movies for their lack of historicity and wrestling for its “fake” action. This type of dismissal obscures and ignores their intrinsic appeal, especially in the case of professional wrestling, and overlooks the fact that any theatric production has a predetermined outcome. The majority of fans know the action — billed as “sports entertainment” performed by “sports entertainers” — is staged. As well, the current variety of professional wrestling places as much emphasis on plot as it does on spectacular action. The key difference is that the decline is domestic — inside the borders of both the United States and the home — in terms of shifting employment and economic patterns, especially based on the pattern of corporate “downsizing” amid record profits and executive salaries, many of which came as a result of accounting and trading fraud.

In “Looking at the Male,” Paul Willemen suggests that male heroes in western movies perform in two distinct but inter-related ways: first as spectacle and second as a physically beaten body. Paul Smith, in “Eastwood Bound” adds a third and final stage occurs when the hero triumphs. Eventually, action films supplanted westerns, but as William Warner points out in “Spectacular Action: Rambo and the Popular Pleasures of Pain,” the genres’ appeal

depends upon subjecting hero and audience to a certain masochistic scenario — the pleasure of intensely felt pain, and crippling incapacity, as it is written into the action, and onto the body of the hero. Secondly, each [production] supports the natural virtue of the hero through a display of technology’s magic. Finally, each [production] wins the audience an anti-therapeutic relief from confining subjectivity by releasing it into a vertiginous cinematic experience of spectacular action. (673)

Professional wrestling depends on just such a structure and has since the 1990s. Indeed, such a reality is reflected in wrestler Ric Flair’s motto, which forms the first part of the title of this article. The highly structured and ritualized matches position the wrestlers as both spectacle and beaten body. Each wrestler’s entrance is announced and accompanied by music. Convention dictates that several momentum shifts occur during matches. The outcome necessitates spectacular action: slams, jumps, landings, and chairs over the head. These involve actual physical exertion and actual physical contact even if the move is scripted. In a move known as “blading,” the wrestlers cut themselves on the forehead with a razor blade kept in the tape around their wrists. Thus, the blood, the sweat, and the tears are often real. Moreover, the action almost always produces a victor. While there are several possible results for a match — pinfall as in amateur wrestling, submission, disqualification, or time limit draw — there is always a winner in the minds of the fans.

Wrestling programs function more like serials than complete cinematic productions, which interferes with the third stage mentioned above — hence the cliché of wrestling as “soap opera for men.” The recent change in the role of women in the industry further complicates (an examination of) the narrative framework. Currently, characters portrayed by female body builders and fitness models, often with “masculinized” physiques, can and do “compete” physically with the men. Regardless, since former WWE mainstays, “Diesel” and “Razor Ramon,” left to join WCW, plots have depicted masculine diminishment. The wrestlers, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, respectively, appeared under their own names and called themselves “The Outsiders.” Wrestlers usually adopt a ring name and a persona to go with it. In the case of Nash and Hall, WWE actually owns the trademarks “Diesel” and “Razor Ramon.” The Outsiders were so-named because of a (real life) contract dispute with WWE’s owner, Vince McMahon. They then appeared, without invitation, at WCW events although the latter’s officials denied having signed them to contracts. Eventually, they were joined by several prominent “heels,” or bad-guys, to form “The New World Order,” or “NWO.” The format, and the NWO, were so successful that WWE reintroduced the unit and its storyline following the takeover of WCW. The purpose of NWO was to destroy the existing structure of WCW and to take over the corporation. They were among the most sadistic rule-breakers in the history of wrestling. They rarely, if ever, engaged in matches, but rather interrupted matches involving other wrestlers to “punk” everyone, regardless of affiliation.4 Frequently, they would force one combatant (or set of combatants) to leave the ring while they singled-out a fan-favourite, or “babyface,” to assault.

When WCW’s then president, Eric Bischoff, revealed his membership in the group, the implications of the NWO’s on the narrative structure became clear: the “fix was in,” because the boss sold out his employees. Professional wrestling now follows the conventions of

a series of films which took up an old theme of American film and culture — the individual’s struggle against an unjust system — and gave that scenario a distinct new turn. The protagonist did not challenge the system by teaming up with an ambiguous woman to solve a crime (as in film noir), or organizing the good ranchers against the Boss who owns the whole town (as in some Westerns). (Warner 675)

The contemporary character is almost always a loner. While he does take on the boss, who also owns the whole corporation, and the boss’s henchmen, the hero does so with neither female companions nor male allies. A further shift away from westerns and film noir is the increased violence in action movies and professional wrestling. In addition, Warner perceives a more important alteration in action films as opposed to westerns, one that reflects changes in social and technological configurations. He observes:

 Now the System — sometimes a state, sometimes a corporation — is given extraordinary new powers of surveillance and control of the individual. The protagonist, almost entirely cut off from others, endures the most insidious forms of manipulation and pain, reaches into the primordial levels of self, and emerges as a hero with powers sufficient to fight the System to the point of its catastrophe. (675)

According to Warner, the 1980s variation on this theme manifests itself in movies such as the  Rambo, Missing in Action and Iron Eagle series. These films were intended to redress the powerlessness caused by the perceived national failure of the Vietnam War. Indeed, according to Warner, “this is the crux of the [films’] explicit discursive project: not only to reclaim the American vet [. . .] but further, to discover that what Rambo is and represents (pride, strength, will) is precisely that which is most indispensable for America today” (674). While the Vietnam veterans finally have been acknowledged, the current generation of men is faced with another perceived failure.

Susan Faludi’s contemporaneous study, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, details the contemporary situation of (North) American men at the close of the last century. Stated briefly, her premise is that instead of a lost war, the powerlessness and failure North American men feel stems from losing “a useful role in public life, a way of earning a decent living, [and] respectful treatment in the culture” (40). In addition, Faludi finds that this situation causes many men turn to “the fantasy realm [of a] clear-cut controllable world of action movies and video combat, televised athletic tournaments and pay-per-view ultimate-fighting bouts” (32). The writers for the professional wrestling organizations are cognizant of this trend and incorporate it into the stories; the writing is so important that WWE has hired script writers away from Conan O’Brien, MTV and elsewhere (Leland 51). Further evidence of the emphasis on the stage-play can be gleaned from the box office success of wrestling stars, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena, and Stacy Keibler. When the WCW began to lose ground to WWE in the ratings, Eric Bischoff was reassigned. In his place, Turner Broadcasting poached Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara who had been the head writers for WWE. Following WWE’s takeover of WCW, Russo and Bischoff were both hired by Vince McMahon to reinvigorate the company. Whereas the old stories pitted a character like Sergeant Slaughter, a gruff-voiced United States Marine Corps drill sergeant (played by Robert Remus, an actual former Marine), in feuds with all of the stereotyped enemies of the United States — from Baron von Rashke, a Nazi, to Nikolai Volkoff, a Soviet, to The Iron Sheik, an Iranian who later became the Iraqi Colonel Mustafa during the Persian Gulf War — Remus himself now doubts “whether his All-American babyface character could have achieved stardom in this generation” (Marvez, 27 May 2000). Unlike the post-war or Cold War eras, but like the Vietnam War, there is no obvious enemy of the state.

Indeed, the American “war on terrorism” has had no influence on wrestling’s storylines. While Sadam Hussein fit the bill as a villain who (supposedly) sent Colonel Mustafa and General Adnan to defeat America (and its wrestlers) in 1991, he receives no mention today. There was a brief memorial which included the sounding of the ring bell following the attacks of 11 Sept. 2001 (as there was following the in-ring death of wrestler Owen Hart), but neither Osama Bin Laden nor his cohorts rates a wrestling persona. Furthermore, no one is winning the current “war” that Faludi documents. For wrestling, this means that today’s “All-American babyface,” played by a former Olympic Gold Medalist in freestyle wrestling and multiple WWE Champion, Kurt Angle, can be hated by the fans; he often plays a “heel.”5 The irony is that Angle was a “real” wrestler who combined athleticism and hard work to achieve his Olympic dream — another popular plot — but upon his entry into WWE, Angle was given an immediate “push,” or promotional emphasis, before “proving” himself against the competition. Thus, he has not “earned” his position at the top. The fans most resent Angle’s sense of entitlement. Angle has parlayed his status into being the most-hated heel in WWE, “whose arrogance overshadows his patriotism” (Marvez, “Babyface”). The proverbial “boy next door” is an arrogant phony and braggart. Angle associates with a group known as “Right to Censor,” which “attempts” to rid WWE of its foul language and sexual content. Currently, Angle heads “Team Angle,” which features two more former amateur wrestlers. The members of Team Angle sport red, white and blue singlets, wave the American flag and wear their medals to the ring. Needless to say, Team Angle constantly tries to curry favour with the boss, Vince McMahon.

In a Newsweek article about wrestling’s surge in popularity in the 1990s, Jean Paul Levesque, better known to wrestling fans as WWE wrestler Hunter Hearst Helmsley, or The Game, explains that the reason for this dramatic change in focus is that “in the post-cold-war era, ‘there is no horror now. To the average person, the real-life enemy now is their boss’” (qtd. in Leland 54). Susan Faludi finds the same perspective among the men she interviews. According to Faludi

The handful of men plucked arbitrarily from the anonymous crowd and elevated onto the new pedestal of mass media and entertainment glamour [are] unreachable [not] because they [are] necessarily arrogant or narcissistic, though some would surely become so; they simply [exist] in a realm from which all lines to [other men] have been cut. [The others become] unseen backing for the corporation’s real star: its brand name. (33)

The Kurt Angle storyline, like many others, exemplifies the situation. He does not deserve his status. It has been given to him as the corporation’s chosen star. Merit never enters the equation in such storylines. The corporation’s only allegiance is to its brand name, not physical prowess. Thus, the ability to enact masculinity is not necessarily the measure of the man.

Rather than taking care of its employees, the corporation only takes care of itself. McMahon has famously double-crossed several wrestlers, most notably Bret Hart, in real life. This often makes its way into the plot. R.W. Connell finds the corporate setting to be an important site of masculine formations:

The corporate activity behind media celebrities and the commercialization of sex brings us to [another] arena of hegemonic masculinity politics, the management of patriarchal organizations. Institutions do not maintain themselves; someone has to practise power for power effects to occur. [But] the fact that power relations must be practised allows for divergence in how they are practised. (215).

Instead of a “patriarchy,” Connell suggests that different modes of “hegemonic masculinity,” each with different methods of deployment, vie for power. Despite criticism to the contrary, this occurs because “There is no Patriarch Headquarters, with flags and limousines, where all the strategies are worked out. It is common for different groups of men, each pursuing a project of hegemonic masculinity, to come into conflict with each other” (Connell 215). Relationships and personal ties are no longer important in an era in which there is no greater common purpose, or more likely, a greater common enemy. Competing forms of hegemonic masculinity — here, economic and physical — come in contact with each other. In professional wrestling plots, this competition results in arbitrary deployments of power and enacted rage.

At any given time, several angles involve a wrestler (or group of wrestlers) as the victim(s) of the evil corporation and its “boss.” The basic plot remains consistent to the present day and indeed has been refined since the WWE split its “brands” into the Smackdown and Raw offerings. Whereas Eric Bischoff and Vince McMahon previously appeared on camera only as announcers — for many years McMahon’s ownership of WWE was hidden — they are now central characters in the plots. In a plot mimicking a current corporate trend, the NWO replaces the older, hardworking, loyal, traditionalist wrestlers, those who rely on their performance in the ring and the classic good vs. evil construction, following a hostile takeover. The message is clear: get with the New World Order or be beaten up and “downsized.” As if the hundreds of methods of beating on a human anatomy are not enough, the NWO spray-paints their logo — graffiti qua branding in the corporate as well as physical sense, because this is how the logo appears on the T-shirts they sell — on the defeated body of the victim. Finally, since the entire proceedings are always videotaped and photographed, “the System” has extraordinary powers of surveillance built into it. One of the most familiar scenes is a supposedly candid scene featuring a wrestler “back-stage,” watching the in-ring proceedings on a monitor. He never likes what he sees, so he smashes the monitor, but not the camera that is filming him. This act seemingly symbolizes resistance: he uses the features of the system against itself by watching without being seen and then smashes the equipment that makes this possible. Such an act is typical of the action movie genre. For example, in Running Man, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character destroys the “Cadre” satellite TV network. Similarly, Rambo machine-guns the computerized reconnaissance systems that guides, or controls, him on his mission. Warner concludes that “by destroying, or interrupting, the operation of the system, the audience is left [. . .] with a freeze frame image of Rambo as a nuclear subject, a self etched against a landscape where no supporting social network seems necessary” (676). He is alone against the system and self-sufficiency is his best method of resistance. No supporting social network exists in wrestling; all that exists is subjection. Smashing the surveillance equipment is a futile act since a camera is still present, watching the wrestler as he watches. Moreover, destroying the monitor does little to stop the action that so upset him. He only thinks he has control, when the corporation has complete control.

While the NWO’s treatment of the older wrestlers is exaggerated and (physically) violent, it echoes the treatment the same generation of workers — the spectators — are receiving from the large corporations that employ them. Downsizing, outsourcing and forced early retirement do not cause bodily harm, but they do create violent disruptions in people’s lives on a large scale. Faludi lists some of the larger examples:

The deindustrialization and “restructuring” of the last couple of decades [has] scythed through vast swaths of industrial America, shuttering steel and auto plants across the Midwest, decimating the defense industry, and eliminating large number of workers in corporate behemoths: 60,000 at Chrysler, 74,000 at General Motors, 175,000 at IBM, 125,000 at AT&T. Though going “postal” [is] an extreme reaction, downsizing [is] a violent dislocation, often violently received. Yet those prototypical workingmen [are] taking their bitter disappointment with remarkable gentility. (60-1)

Daimler-Chrysler later cut 28,000 more jobs world-wide. Nortel Networks eliminated 50,000 of its 90,000 positions in a two-year period. These cuts affect workers at all levels of seniority. The remaining workers must be available to work all of the time. Legislators are moving to enforce what had been mere business practices.6 Monitoring and surveillance of employees actually are increasing through the use of passive means. According to an American Management Association study, “About 74% of companies do some form of electronic monitoring of employees.” Companies monitor employees’ computer use through “firewalls” on the servers which prohibit the reception or transmission of “inappropriate” materials and catalogue attempts to do so. John Cloud wonders, “Which is more stifling, the paternalistic company with its gold watch as a reward for lifetime service, or the new paradigm: all work, all the time, all your life?” (54). Given this type of unsettled environment, it is not surprising that many employees act out their frustrations. Professional wrestling capitalizes on this situation by virtue of its inherent structure: the co-workers are necessarily rude and belligerent; the boss is completely unreasonable and occasionally gives his workers ultimatums of “win your next match or lose your job;” each wrestler is hated by a significant proportion of clients, or fans, who chant epithets, spit, and throw objects at the wrestlers. Where the average worker might be reduced to tears, wrestlers are supposed to seek revenge by damaging either the competition, the equipment or the boss.

Eventually, professional wrestling’s most recognizable and most marketable performer, perennial fan-favourite, Hulk Hogan, became Hollywood Hogan when he joined the NWO. This was a major coup for the NWO and a major departure for Hogan since he had preached a gospel of “say your prayers and take your vitamins” to all the “little Hulkamaniacs” for well over ten years. Hogan’s entrance music, “Real American,” with lyrics proclaiming that he “fights for the rights of everyone” was replaced by Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (slight reprise).” This indicates that the “American” way of life no longer matters in the new world order. Hollywood and Bischoff became the leaders of the NWO. Hogan’s new moniker and transformed behavior symbolize his allegiance with the corporatized world, or what Faludi calls “a culture of ornament” (40). In such a culture, “manhood is defined by appearance, by youth and attractiveness, by money and aggression, by posture and swagger and ‘props,’ by the curled lip and flexed biceps, by the glamour of the cover boy and by the market-bartered ‘individuality’ that sets one astronaut or athlete or gangster above another” (Faludi 40). The colourful ring attire many of the NWO members traditionally wore was replaced by a uniform of black pants and a black shirt with the NWO logo on it. Thus, in the New World Order, individuality ceases to exist, and their motto, “NWO for life,” is a constant reminder.7 This is a simplified — black and white, if you will — version of the current world order, but the basis of the storyline clearly resonates with audiences and accounts for a great deal of wrestling’s popularity.

“Stylin’ and Profilin’”: Ric Flair

The foremost example of the cruel corporation vs. the solitary male involves Ric Flair and Eric Bischoff as the principle players in a strange mixture of art and life. Flair is one of the greatest performers in the history of wrestling. However, even Ric Flair can fall victim to the New World Order and the new corporate reality. This should not have come as a surprise given that the convention involves what Warner describes as:

a version of the fable of self and system which dichotomizes fictional space into two positions. The self, often associated with nature and the erotic, becomes the locus for the expression of every positive human value, most especially “freedom.” Opposite the self is the System, which in its colorless, mechanical operations, is anathematized as a faceless monster using its insidious powers to bend all human effort to its own service. (676)

In stark contrast to the NWO’s austere uniform and amateurish logo, the flamboyant Flair is known for his outlandish robes, one of which “has 7,200 rhinestones and weighs 45 pounds,” countless colourful sayings, and his entrance music: Also Sprach Zarathustra (AP). He could not be more closely associated with nature since his nickname throughout his entire career has been “The Nature Boy.” Flair is so-named because he seems natural in the ring; that is he “sells,” or makes the actions seem real, better than anyone. Flair’s association with the erotic is ensured by more than his platinum blonde hair, perennial tan, and brief wrestling attire. He has always portrayed, even at fifty, a playboy. In his words, Flair is a “stylin’ and profilin,’ limousine-riding, Learjet-flying, wheeling-dealing, kiss-stealing, love-making, heart-breaking son-of-a-gun.” Of course, sexual freedom is one of the ultimate freedoms.

The plot began with a “real-life” dispute between the wrestler and WCW. Flair’s contract allowed him flexibility in terms of his performance schedule. Thus, Flair decided to forego a WCW event in order to go the AAU national amateur wrestling — that is, real wrestling — championships so that he could watch his nine-year-old son, Reid, compete in the tournament. Nothing could be more natural than wanting to watch one’s son. Apparently, Eric Bischoff did not agree because in a “suit filed by World Championship Wrestling [the company] claims Flair’s failure to show up at a series of bouts this year played havoc with ‘story lines’ planned out for the performances” (AP). The lawsuit was settled eventually, but not before Flair’s entire family was drawn into the action when the script was changed to include elements that occurred outside the ring. When Ric Flair had a heart attack — a “work,” or well-guarded part of the script — Eric Bischoff appeared to have a change of heart and called Ric’s wife Beth, along with sons Reid and nineteen-year-old David, to the ring so that he could say he was sorry. In a classic heel move, Bischoff said that he was sorry that Ric Flair is an old, broken-down man who cannot provide for his family and rudely kissed Beth Flair. An NWO thug then held Reid while Bischoff  beat David. A few weeks later, on the night of Flair’s triumphant return to WCW following his (actual) reinstatement, Bischoff crashed the proceedings fire Flair. Flair responded, “You can’t fire me, I’m already fired” and condemned Bischoff’s “abuse of power” (Gardner). When Bischoff entered the ring, Reid Flair, with his AAU medal hanging around his neck, tackled the president. In other words, the boss is not man enough to defeat a child. Nevertheless, Bischoff’s hubris led him to challenge Flair to a winner-takes-all match for the presidency of WCW. Naturally, Flair won, but triumph is not complete until the wrestler is champion of the world. In the weeks leading up to the title match between Hollywood Hogan and Ric Flair, Bischoff and the NWO made Flair’s life miserable. Of course, Flair won the title. However, at the moment when Flair was both president and champion, he turned heel by abusing his power and refusing title matches. Thus, the continuity of the narrative is never in danger.

Beating the Boss: Stone Cold Steve Austin

While WCW’s plots involving Ric Flair and the NWO present the new approach to sports entertainment, Vince McMahon has seemingly perfected the ruthless boss vs. employee format. The longest running such feud involves McMahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin and is detailed in the video, Austin vs. McMahon: The Whole True Story (AvM). It is interesting to note that the video has the feel both of a work and of an actual documentary, including narrator Jim Forbes of VH1’s Behind the Music documentaries. Fans consider the Austin-McMahon feud, now more than five years old, “The greatest feud in sports entertainment history” (AvM).8 Forbes summarizes the phenomenon that is the angle: “WWE fans have embraced a new attitude in the past two years, leading to explosive growth in our industry. And, the happiness these fans feel is in large part due to hatred; hatred between two men: Vince McMahon, the owner of WWE, and Stone Cold Steve Austin, his most popular and rebellious employee. [. . .] Their conflict changed the face of sports entertainment” (AvM). Former wrestler turned WWE booker Terry Taylor explains the heart of the angle: “You’ve got a guy like Stone Cold, who says, ‘To hell with the boss,’ and makes the boss the target — which has never been done” (AvM). WWE announcer and Vice-President in charge of talent, Jim Ross, puts it, “Stone Cold will never be employee of the month” (AvM). In the characterizations of Vince McMahon and Steve Austin, WWE writers encapsulate current corporate trends and their impact on employer-employee relations and the resultant impact on masculinities.

In keeping with the archetype of the hero, Stone Cold Steve Austin is a white heterosexual male. As mentioned earlier the protagonist in this form is a loner. Austin is no different and this is reflected in his nicknames and character. Like Ric Flair, Austin’s nom de guerre, “Stone Cold” more than implies his association with nature, in this case at its harshest and most heartless. He is not like “stone cold;” he is stone cold. In addition, Jim Ross gave Austin the nickname, “The West-Texas Rattlesnake,” or simply, “The Rattlesnake.” Such a nickname enhances Austin’s connection to nature and signifies several aspects of both the man and the form of masculinity he represents, all of which are connected to popular American myths. The rattlesnake is a species peculiar to North America but is especially associated with the southwest, which is in turn associated with the rugged masculinity of the frontiersman and the cowboy.  The rattle indicates that the snakes wish to be left alone; they are not aggressive but will defend themselves with deadly force, if necessary. As well, Texas is the “Lone Star State” which gained independence in a purportedly rebellious war with Mexico which featured the legendary battle of the Alamo. As the story goes, Texas stood alone against tyranny then and Austin does so now. Austin further removes himself through his philosophy of interpersonal relations: “D.T.A.: Don’t trust anybody.” He frequently repeats this line and it has appeared on T-shirts. On the rare occasions when Austin has accepted the help of a partner, it has been forced upon him by circumstances beyond his control and then accepted only begrudgingly. Finally, he has no romantic life. While certainly indicative of Austin’s independence, his approach also reveals his self-destructive streak.

For Austin, relenting to McMahon’s demands or accepting help from a partner means giving up freedom. In dichotomizing the self and the system, the producers of action movies create what Ryan and Kellner find to be the genre’s “essential ideological gesture, [by which] no middle ground is allowed [. . .] anything that departs from the ideal of pure individual freedom (corporations, but also socialism) is by implication lumped under domination” (256). Warner surmises that “Such a fiction no doubt has deep roots in American populist paranoia about global conspiracy” (676). In Austin’s case, a partner precludes his total independence. Austin will ultimately have to suffer alone.

Austin’s solitary style has a doubly detrimental effect: it incites the wrath of his vindictive boss and eliminates any possibility for help. In hero films, “the exchanges of self and system are given the insistently Oedipal configuration of a struggle between overbearing fathers and a defiant son” (Warner 676). In the action genre, however, the father possesses added authority because his “authority is linked to the state” (Warner 676). It is worth recalling that Warner posits that corporations can take the place of the state. Plot suspense, then, “pivots upon a personal drama, meant to allegorize the struggle of every modern person who would remember their freedom: a contest between the system’s agenda for the self and the self’s attempt to manipulate the system to his own ends” (Warner 676). On several occasions both Flair and Austin attempted such a manipulation. During a broadcast from Minneapolis, his hometown, Ric Flair enlisted the aid of the city’s mayor and local sports heroes John Randle, of the Vikings, and Kirby Puckett, of the Twins, to remove Eric Bischoff from the arena. Similarly, in Chattanooga, TN, Steve Austin turned the tables on Vince McMahon and had the boss “arrested” by local police after McMahon admitted to having assaulted Austin the previous week. In both cases, the victory was only temporary. Although these manipulations temporarily even the score, Warner finds that victory does not suffice: “two ideas are developed about loss [. . .] Both emphasize the cruel sadistic sources of this pain and loss: ‘we were unfairly beaten [. . .] and experienced loss’; ‘others were responsible for that loss, and they should now be punished’” (Warner 677). Wrestling operates around these two ideas. Rather than the state, the source of the pain is now the corporation and its chief executive. Instead of Vietnam, the loss is at home, in the battlefield of the workplace. This is not an entirely new viewpoint, especially when one considers that many magnates of the early twentieth century — Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie — were reviled for their (violent) treatment of workers. To an extent, World War II and the Cold War overshadowed worker-boss enmity. Labour unions have lost much of the power, where they exist at all. The fact that the site of the dispute is now on North American soil means that the enemy is within — a traitor, as it were — rather than from without makes the scenario more sinister. This framework contains a third idea “which is never allowed to reach consciousness [. . .] but nonetheless motivates and informs the narrative diegesis: ‘I am responsible for the losses, and I should be beaten” (Warner 677). The result is that “unconscious guilt for failing [. . .] is deflected away from consciousness, but it motivates that defiant and risky behavior which repeatedly throws [the hero] into the position to receive punishment for failing” (Warner 677). As mentioned above, both Flair and Austin attempt to use the system to their advantage. However, their efforts invariably fail. Since the boss — either Bischoff or McMahon — is allied with the system (and is the system), he will always have greater access to power. Each small victory for Flair and Austin results in massive retribution by the corporation. Thus, in a palpable way, Flair and Austin are the sources of their own pain through their defiant behaviour toward their bosses. By continuing to be involved in the feud, they ultimately are submitting to pain and defeat.

One of the most dramatic and revealing series of episodes in the Austin-McMahon feud occurred during the fall of 1998. At the September pay-per-view, McMahon conspired with  “Undertaker” and “Kane” to beat Austin and retrieve the WWE Championship Belt. Following the match, in typical McMahon style, he reminded Undertaker and Kane that they might both be over seven feet tall and weigh over 300lbs but he is the boss and they owe their success to him. With his power, McMahon can reverse the fortunes at any time. This is an expected feature of many storylines. Once Undertaker and Kane turned away from McMahon following Austin’s removal from the ring, he mouthed the words, “Fuck you!” and flipped his middle fingers at the pair. Unfortunately for McMahon, Undertaker saw the gesture and with Kane retaliated by “breaking” McMahon’s leg by “crushing” it between the metal ring steps. The pummelling forced McMahon into hospital where he was assaulted by Austin, who was disguised as a doctor. The routine began as slapstick comedy, with Austin hitting McMahon over the head with a bedpan and zapping him with a pair of defibrillator paddles. However, the scene ended in a more disturbing fashion. Austin grabbed McMahon, the latter clad only in his underwear and a hospital gown, and bent him over the bed. Austin positioned himself behind McMahon and lifted WWE owner’s gown, saying “I’ve always known you were full of shit, Vince, so let’s find out how full of shit you really are” (Raw). Austin then appeared to slam an enema tube violently into McMahon, while shouting, “This is going to hurt you a lot more than it’s going to hurt me, I can tell you that” (Raw). The scene fades to black as the tube disappears, McMahon screams, and Austin ends up belly-to-back with McMahon.

The bedpan is reminiscent of a beer shower Austin gave McMahon in Chattanooga and serves to level the playing field. The effect is to say “You might be the most powerful man in sports-entertainment, but you still have to piss and shit like the rest of us.” McMahon is so enfeebled — that is, less than a complete man — that he is confined to a bed and needs a bedpan to relieve himself. McMahon also looks silly and clumsy in his underwear and hospital gown because his frailty is exposed. He may as well be naked, because he has been stripped of his power, or at the very least, it is useless to him in the hospital; you cannot buy unbreakable bones.  Moreover, in this context, McMahon’s power does not stem from any intrinsic ability. He has not earned it and he is not “man enough” in a tangible, physical way, to hold power, but Stone Cold Steve Austin is. The defibrillator paddles also symbolize McMahon’s reduced power. An actual jolt to a functioning heart could seriously harm a person. The effect is to say that McMahon, and by extension, all corporate leaders, do not have a heart in both the literal and the metaphorical sense. He is only interested in the “bottom line.”

Finally, the insertion of the enema tube into McMahon serves a greater function than to ensure that the boss is no longer “full of shit.” Given that the tube is forced into McMahon, the scene evokes anal rape. This point is reinforced by the positioning of the pair when the scene ends. Both men are at an angle to the camera, facing the bottom-right of the screen. The probe disappears into McMahon as Austin’s belly slams into WWE owner’s backside. Whether or not Austin’s body or a phallic object is penetrating McMahon’s is of no significance since the effect is the same. It is still Stone Cold who controls the “phallus” and who uses it. Again, McMahon appears as something less than a man. As Connell writes, “Anal sexuality is a focus of disgust, and receptive anal sex is mark of feminization” (219). Austin is physically doing to McMahon what the boss figuratively does in business: “fucking him up the ass.” It is worth recalling that neither the boss nor the wrestler is fixed in the position of spectacle or beaten body. Instead, the genre depends on an oscillation not just between good and bad, but between beating and being beaten. Whenever one of the players triumphs, the third and final part of the formula, it is temporary and fleeting. However, the difference is that Austin is able physically to assume the role of the sadistic abuser while McMahon must use manipulation and deception, practices typically projected onto femininity, to achieve a similar result. Corporate power, then, is illegitimate power since it is obtained through means that are not essentially masculine.

As male heads of patriarchal organizations, Eric Bischoff and Vince McMahon can be considered the figurative fathers of their respective federations. When Austin attacks McMahon with the enema tube, for instance, he is figuratively raping his “father” in a violent revision of the Oedipal configuration. Such a formation is typical of action films. As Warner observes, “pain becomes the occasion for pleasure through an encounter with figures of ‘the father’ — but not the mother. In each film that father is bifurcated into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fathers, so each becomes emblematic of public aspects of America” (677). The major difference in the contemporary is that the absence of the “good” father. As held by McMahon, Bischoff, and CEOs of aforementioned companies, the position traditionally occupied by the good father, the provider and head of the household, becomes the domain of the bad father, the “entirely cynical bureaucrat [and] duplicitous organization man” (Warner 678). Rather than a complete break with the formula, McMahon and Bischoff represent a progression of the type. In the films on which wrestling is based, “there is enough evidence of the complicity between [the] rival fathers to suggest that they are in fact two sides of one father” (678). McMahon and Bischoff represent two important progressions: first, bad fathers currently control the order of things; second, good fathers can become bad fathers at any given moment. This attitude reflects a lack of trust in institutions and leaders. This is hardly an original observation, given the critical view that postmodernity is marked by a lack of faith in institutions and “grand narratives” and a resultant tribalization of society. However, one must also consider that patriarchies have reproduced themselves seemingly without interruption during this same period and that the current lack occurs on a microcosmic scale.

Standards and Practices: The (Actual) Effects of Criticism

According to William Warner, Rambo, and other action films construct “a subject position — one which is Western, white, and male — which hails spectators to an ethos for being in the world [that] values isolated self-assertion, competitive zeal, chauvinist Americanism, and the use of force” (675). Although the hero in professional wrestling is a Western male, he is not necessarily white in the currently popular formula. What is telling in Warner’s analysis is the popular reaction to the criticisms of the Rambo films, which decried the films’ overt “Reaganism;” that is, their endorsement of Ronald Reagan’s policies. He explains:

by reading Rambo as a filmic expression of Reaganism, an approach used repeatedly by film critics and cultural and political commentators [. . .] the film hero and the president become each other’s latent cultural truth. This reading uses the popularity of Reaganism to gloss, explain, and (for many commentators) discredit the popularity of Rambo. In a complementary fashion, Rambo becomes the dream-fantasy in film, the “truth” of Reaganism, now blatantly exposed as in various ways mendacious. (675)

Critiques of Rambo and of professional wrestling very successfully point out the social ills the forms glorify, especially violence and sexism. However, as Warner recognizes critiques of Rambo and Reagan had a

paradoxical effect within the political culture of the 1980s: [they] helped Rambo become a generally recognized cultural icon. [C]ritical condemnation of Rambo, almost as much as the film itself [. . .] allows Rambo to emerge as a cultural icon in the mid-1980s. Thus, Rambo as a cultural icon includes the idealized filmic projection, and its scathing critique, condensed in one image. (675)

The people who watched Rambo then and the people who watched wrestling in the 1990s — and continue to do so now — consume the productions in spite of and because of the critical reaction to them. In fact, the turn of critics to the extreme, sanctioned, and real violence of mixed martial arts events has allowed wrestling to mimic its competitor while receiving reduced attention. Criticism, especially from sources perceived as elitist or self-righteous, makes wrestling more attractive. Fans take dismissals of wrestling as dismissals of themselves, which adds to the list of oppositions (in fans’ minds) which led to the popularity of wrestling. Even for those who refuse to become consumers of the shows professional wrestling, with its “icon[s] of the masculine, the primitive, and the heroic, becomes the site of a (bad) truth about American culture” (Warner 675).  Rather than enlightening viewers, critics become class enemies.

Much of the criticism of wrestling looks at what is “wrong”: authenticity, violence, and subject matter. Conversely, wrestling as a text — how it functions, how it is consumed, and why it remains popular despite condemnation — remains ignored. Michael Jenkinson, of the Edmonton Sun recognizes, “the debate isn’t really about the validity of wrestling [. . .] but a broader one about who defines acceptable forms of culture. [. . .] It’s really a debate over who sets the canon — the elites or the populists. And pro wrestling is one of the quintessential expressions of mass populism” (“Wrestling Studies”). Several recent events highlight the paradoxical effect of criticisms. One centers around the doll of “WWE character Al Snow, complete with a tiny severed female head in one hand. He’s holding it by the hair. Lovely” (Haskins). Following several protests, the doll was pulled from stores, including Walmart and Toys-R-Us, across North America. Eventually, WWE recalled all of the dolls and absorbed a considerable loss to appease critics like Sabrena Parton, of Kennesaw State University, who claims that the doll, and the character , “promote the brutalization of women” (qtd. in Jenkinson, “Feminists”). An Edmonton Journal editorial suggests that when WWE “produced and sold a doll whose gimmick was to carry around the severed head of a woman, they showed their true colours. [The doll] is a horrifying toy with a violent message” (qtd. in Jenkinson, “Feminists”). Psychologist Lori Egger claims that Al Snow depicts a “television image [that] draws a link between sexuality and violence and implies it’s normal male behaviour” (qtd. in Jenkinson, “Feminists”). In a line of defense frequently adopted by wrestling fans, both then and now, the critics are accused of never actually having watched the WWE, otherwise they would notice that the character is a “lunatic” who has escaped from an asylum. He carries the detached head of a mannequin named “Head.” Snow only calls it Head, which furthers the notion that he is crazy. Within the story, he, and everyone who watches, knows it is a mannequin, yet he still believes the mannequin talks to him. Truth be told, the Al Snow doll, along with Head, is among the least violent of the toys WWE sells.9 Al Snow belongs to the “J.O.B. Squad,” which refers to the wrestling slang, “to job,” which means that one is paid to lose. Snow then becomes a lovable loser.

This is not to suggest that the character is flawless but to point out that superficial analyses and knee-jerk reactions produce an opposite reaction among the wrestling fan souls that are supposedly in need of saving. In the words of Michael Jenkinson, fans see the critics as “humourless, politically correct busybod[ies]” (“Feminists”). The critics of the entertainment become the enemies of the fans; upsetting the critics is definitely part of the enjoyment for the fans. Vince McMahon has exploited this phenomenon in two recent storylines: a gay wedding and a “hot lesbian action” match. In both cases, protesters were active at wrestling matches. In fact, McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, disguised as a prototypical “feminazi,” led the protests. Stephanie, according to the plot, wants to wrest control of the company from her father and used the protests to help. Actual protesters were completely duped by the plots and their own involvement in them. Once again, academics and cultural police appear to be talking only to themselves. They merely cause fans to resent the critics and the “establishment,” the perceived powers that would be.

Beyond the social and cultural factors which attended the rise of professional wrestling in the 1990s, an increase in men’s involvement in bodybuilding corresponds to the rise in wrestling’s popularity. Not surprisingly, this contemporaneous trend also reflects the then prevalent sense of masculine diminishment. Sport sociologist Philip White suggests that this “preoccupation with muscularity is [. . .] best explained as a response to contemporary male feelings of uncertainty and powerlessness. Men individually and men in general are experiencing a crisis of masculinity and are drawn to areas of social life where they feel comfortable and safe” (116).10 While it may be argued that men remain(ed) the privileged gender, White notes that

with the growth of large and impersonal bureaucracies, whether public or private, there has been a transfer of power away from individual males [. . .] Power has shifted into the public domain, leaving many men feeling privately powerless — small cogs in large machines. Consequently, because men feel increasingly confused and insecure about what “real men” are like in a time of shifting expectations, they are also impelled to seek out ways of bolstering and validating their masculine identities. (116)

White also contends that due to advances in technology and a shift away from a production-based economy in the last quarter of the twentieth century, “[North American] men are increasingly doing work where physical strength is not needed and where women are steadily breaking barriers to occupational mobility and success” (117). White suggests that in conjunction, “these factors represent threats to traditional masculinity and have made symbolic representations of the male body as strong, virile and powerful more prevalent in popular culture. A man may have to increasingly compete with a female colleague on an equal basis in the competitive world of work, but he can still display his muscles in a compensatory display of masculine power” (117). Connell notes that the military-industrial trends of the twentieth century have led to a “split in hegemonic masculinity. Practice organized around dominance [is] increasingly incompatible with practice organized around expertise or technical knowledge” (193). This split often results in competition between and/or among different versions of hegemonic masculinity.

Connell describes the schism between management and labor, economically, socially, professionally, as a chronic problem for corporations and for the state. Connell concludes that eventually a polarity “developed within hegemonic masculinity between dominance and technical expertise. However, neither version has succeeded in displacing the other” (194). This plays out in the wrestling ring and in the workplace as the opposition between those who “know,” the bosses, and those who “do,” the workers. Exacerbating this situation is the widely held sense among workers that those in positions of power have not earned their place through hard work—that is, physical work, which remains the essence of the “honest” day’s work. Sadly, the statistics seem to support the suspicion. In a contemporary survey of American corporate executives, USA Today found that 63% of male executives landed their job through networking. This compares with only 13% who turned to classified ads or search agents.11 In other words, privilege begets privilege. The myth of America as a meritocracy is just that. Like wrestling, the match is fixed, the outcome is predetermined. The workers have no chance. Wrestling, then, exposes the boss as undeserving through his weakness in the ring.

Another trend arising in the 1990s and continuing in professional wrestling makes it another site of the growing power and presence of females in areas that traditionally have been the strongholds of men. Moreover, the presence of women as wrestlers furthers the sense of powerlessness that men feel, especially when the women win. Former WWE star Chyna, a.k.a. Joanie Laurer, best exemplifies this situation. She is physically as large as, and as strong as, most of the men in WWE. She has held the Intercontinental Championship belt, which signifies the top-ranked contender for the federation’s World Championship. While Laurer has undergone several surgeries to enhance her feminine attributes (several were necessary to correct a serious underbite with which she was born), she has maintained all of the muscle and all of the wrestling ability. It is arguable that Chyna’s enhanced beauty might be for “eye candy,” but her mat skills are not. Thus, she and the women who have followed in ever-growing numbers pose a significant threat to masculinity because she can be a sexually desirable woman and at the same time, can assert her power over anyone. More importantly, there is also the possibility for a male-to-female cross-gender identification among the identification processes involved in the consumption of a visual medium like a televised wrestling match. Chyna has been placed in the same type of situation as Austin and Flair, and it results in a similar viewing process.

Professional wrestling is not a fantasy-world in the same manner as professional sports, or even as the Ultimate Fighting Championships. These most often are purely masculine domains that depend on actual fighting. Professional wrestling is fiction, the audience knows it and, since the 1990s, the corporations have admitted it. Wrestling is not fantasy, but meta-fantasy. Herein lies one of the greatest ironies of this form of entertainment. Despite the notions of class revolt it might appear to exhibit, in terms of content and consumers, the multiple layers of containment ensure this possibility never occurs. First, the action occurs between character types rather than actual class constituents. The ring literally boxes in the action and television, the usual method of transmission, further mediates the content and adds another layer of containment. Finally, the outcome is predetermined, but more importantly, it changes nothing. When the bell rings, Vince McMahon still owns the company. The fact that criticism has no effect indicates that McMahon continues to win the fall, as it were. Professional wrestling is not necessarily the nostalgic look back to a lost era that some (or most) westerns are, nor is it altogether the reclamation project William Warner outlines in his analysis of eighties action films. Nor is it necessarily of the type Connell describes: “The imagery of masculine heroism is not culturally irrelevant. [. . .] Part of the struggle for hegemony in the gender order is the use of culture for such disciplinary purposes: setting standards, claiming popular assent and discrediting those who fall short. The production of exemplary masculinities is thus integral to the politics of hegemonic masculinity” (214). Instead of a project of maintaining hegemonic masculinity, professional wrestling should be seen as exemplifying the reifying reach of commodity capitalism. Masculinity and class revolt, both inside and outside the ring, come pre-packaged and staged. Every pay-per-view purchase confirms the consumers’ consent and containment. Given the poignancy of the plots and the increasingly threatening female presence — not as a companion, but has competitor — professional wrestling might yet be a small acknowledgment of a possible new order and the increasing impossibility of an old one. Masculine privilege is no longer a certainty because masculinity is tenuous rather than dominant. One of the ultimate lessons of the cultural shifts of the 1990s, shifts exemplified by the rise of professional wrestling, is that men can be replaced.

Works Cited

Anderson, Arn. “Pro Wrestling Demographics.” Arn Anderson Forever, Aug. 1999, www.arnanderson4ever.com/demograp.htm. Accessed 14. Sept. 1999.

American Management Association. “Are you being watched?” USA Today, 23 June 2000, www.usatoday.com/snapshot/life/lsnap/169.htm. Accessed 19 Oct. 2000.

Associated Press. “WCW – Flair lawsuit reveals truth.” SLAM! Sports, 24 Apr. 1998,  slam.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingArchive/ apr24_flair.html. Accessed 28 Mar. 2000.

Canoe. “TV Ratings.” SLAM! Wrestling, 26 Aug. 1999, slam.canoe.ca/SlamWrestling/wrestlingratings.html. Accessed 26 Aug. 1999.

Cloud, John. “When Will We Finally Get a Gold Watch?” Time 21 Feb. 2000, p. 54.

Connell, R.W. Masculinities: Knowledge, Power and Social Change. California UP, 1995.

Faludi, Susan. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. Morrow, 1999.

Gardner, Matt. “A Return With Flair.” SLAM! Wrestling, 15 Sept. 1998, www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestling/Archive/sep15_flair.html. Accessed 27 Mar. 1999.

Haskins, Scott. “WWF has a firm chokehold on bad taste.” SLAM! Sports, 9 Nov. 1999, slam.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingGuestColumn /home.html. Accessed 9 Nov. 1999.

Jenkinson, Michael. “Wrestling studies are a real mindbender.” Edmonton Sun, 16 Aug. 1999, slam.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingGuestColumn/ Jenkinson_99ug16.html.  Accessed 9 Nov, 1999.

—. “Feminists lose their heads over a doll.” Edmonton Sun, 8 Nov. 1999, slam.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingGuestColumn/Jenkinson_99nov8.html. Accessed 9 Nov, 1999.

Leland, John. “Why America’s Hooked on Wrestling.” Newsweek, 7 Feb. 2000, pp. 46-55.

Marvez, Alex. “‘Babyface’ Sarge would not make go of it today.” Windsor Star, 27 May 2000, p. E6.

—. “TV’s Raw is War a ratings victory.” Windsor Star, 30 Sept. 2000, p. E8.

McMahon, Vincent K. Interview with Michael Landsberg. Off the Record, TSN, 24-5 Feb. 1998.

Ryan, Michael, and Douglas Kellner. Camera Politica. Indiana UP, 1988.

Smith, Paul. Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production. U of Minnesota P, 1993.

“Snapshot: Top ways executives found jobs.” USA Today, 19 Feb. 2001, www.usatoday.com/snapshot/money/msnap022.htm.

Warner, William. “Spectacular Action: Rambo and the Popular Pleasures of Pain.” Cultural Studies, edited by Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler. Routledge, 1992, pp. 672-688.

White, Philip. “Muscles don’t make the man.” Taking Sport Seriously: Social Issues in Canadian Sport, edited by  Peter Donnelly. Thompson Educational Publishing, 1997, pp. 116-17.

Willeman, Paul. “Looking at the Male.” Framework 15-17, 1981, p. 16.

World Wrestling Entertainment. Monday Night Raw / Raw is War. USA Network, 28 Sept. 1998.

—. Austin vs. McMahon: The Whole True Story. USA Network, 1999.

Notes

1 During the period of growth, there were two wrestling corporations, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). WWF has purchased its competitor. As well, it was forced to change its name to “World Wrestling Entertainment” (WWE) by the World Wildlife Foundation. WWE operates as if the latter change never occurred. Fans do not seem to have noticed either. Neither major corporate change affected the stories. Therefore, I use “WWE” throughout for the sake of consistency.

2 In Sept. 2000, Raw moved from USA Network to The National Network (TNN) in a deal worth a reported $28 million per year, over four years. The latter broadcaster had only recently changed its name from The Nashville Network, and modified its format — originally, a schedule based on outdoors and country and western shows and aimed at a specific, regional audience — to a content mix aimed at a more diverse audience. The plan, according to Brian Hughes, Senior Vice-President of TNN Sports and Outdoors, is to “position some programming that fits within the 18-to-49-(year-old) demographic” (qtd. in Marvez, “TV’s Raw”). WWE fans followed Raw to TNN. In its first week it drew a “5.5 rating, which translates into an average of 7.14 million people in 4.28 million households” in North America (qtd. in Marvez, “TV’s Raw”). When Hughes mentions the target demographic the unstated focus is on males, who comprise the vast majority of professional wrestling’s viewership.

3 Former wrestler turned advertising consultant, Arn Anderson, reports that approximately 63% of professional wrestling’s adult viewers are male and 70% are between the ages of eighteen and forty-four. Half of the 69% of the viewers who are employed work in “blue collar” jobs (Anderson). This statistic also indicates the youth of the viewership since 22% of them are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, ages at which many still live with parents or custodial guardians.

4 This practice, known as the “run-in” ending, usually takes the form of a “save,” in which a wrestler is rescued from a defeat or a beating. For the NWO a run-in serves neither purpose. They “punk” or beat on everyone with an array of chair-shots, slams through tables, and other moves. They then leave their victims in the centre of the ring in a display of might-makes-right.

5 In fact, the WWE attempted to give a serious “push” to a babyface character known as “The Patriot” shortly before the terrorists attacks occurred. The character wore an outfit of stars and stripes, waved the American flag and defended the helpless. Despite the push, the character never “got over” with wrestling fans and disappeared from storylines mid-way through a feud.

6 The Canadian province of Ontario is among the most aggressive in this regard. The province’s Bill 147 increases the work week from forty to sixty hours and removes employees’ rights to choose overtime and be paid for it. Bill 74 expands the definition of “essential services” beyond police, fire, and medical workers, and forces Ontario’s teachers to be available at all times to supervise children.

7 Shortly after Turner Broadcasting (now part of Time-Warner/AOL) purchased WCW, Vince McMahon briefly attempted to play the family-owned WWE as the little guy fighting the massive multi-national conglomerate. These included parodic skits with bumbling characters based on wrestlers who left for WCW. Ironically, McMahon lured most of his talent, including those he parodied, away from other promoters at the expense of many small, often family-run, independent and local organizations. In any case, McMahon first employed the “us vs. the corporation” narrative to attack Turner. Eric Bischoff subsequently elevated the structure, but McMahon may have perfected it with the Stone Cold Steve Austin plot as will be shown later.

8 Angles involving Austin were suspended after the arrest of Steve Williams, who plays Austin, in the summer of 2002, on charges of domestic assault. Williams then entered a rehabilitation program to treat addictions to alcohol and to pain-killers which allegedly stem from his several knee, back, and neck injuries. In a case of reality mimicking a fiction that mimics reality, WWE has no employee benefits program and has a history of quickly dropping performers who have medical and/or legal problems. Some are welcomed back once they have completed treatment. Thus, all that matters is the ability to make money for Vince McMahon. For example, Austin returned for the next “Wrestlemania,” in mid-2003 and remains a regular.

9 I acquired the dolls at a factory outlet for less than one-third of the original price. Even in the doll version, the mannequin’s status as just that — a mannequin — is emphasized.

10 This article was originally published in the Globe and Mail, 25 Nov. 1992.

11 Equally telling are the statistics for female executives. While 41% of them found their jobs through networking – indicating that the “old boys’ club” might function for females – more than two-and-a-half times as many, 31%, found their jobs through the classifieds or search agents – which suggests that the club is not actively pursuing new members.

 

Author Bio

Marc Ouellette is an Assistant Professor of English at Old Dominion University. He is currently the Learning Games Initiative Research Fellow. Twitter: @burnedprof

 

Reference Citation

MLA

Ouellette, Marc. “‘If you want to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man’”: Masculinity and the Rise of Professional Wrestling in the 1990s.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 3, no. 2, 2016,  http://journaldialogue.org/issues/if-you-want-to-be-the-man-youve-got-to-beat-the-man-masculinity-and-the-rise-of-professional-wrestling-in-the-1990s/.

APA

Oullette, M. (2016) “‘If you want to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man’”: Masculinity and the Rise of Professional Wrestling in the 1990s. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 3(2). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/if-you-want-to-be-the-man-youve-got-to-beat-the-man-masculinity-and-the-rise-of-professional-wrestling-in-the-1990s/

The Gentle Tongue: How Language Affected the World of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Louisa Danielson
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
danila02@ipfw.edu

 

Abstract

Although new episodes of the program ceased to be recorded in 2004, the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show is still recalled by many today as an iconic childhood staple—the right show to watch if you are a young child or a parent looking for something wholesome to view on television. This is as Fred Rogers, the creator of the program, wished, but what exactly were the goals behind the Mister Rogers’ program? What were the shaping forces that inspired Rogers’ theory for children’s educational television? These are questions explored in “The Gentle Tongue: How Language Affected the World of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Research for this article is compiled from Rogers’ book on parenting philosophies, dialogue excerpts from the television program, and published interviews with Rogers. Comparative information has also been provided by research from humor development, childhood imagination development, and popular television studies. Thoughtful exploration of this data can explain how and why Fred Rogers was inspired to create a program that demonstrated love and care towards television’s youngest viewers. Although Mister Rogers may be leaving the airwaves, its effects can still be seen in today’s modern television programming.

Key Words: Adult, Child, Television, Language, Make-Believe, Play, Responsibility, Care, Puppets, Humor

In his earliest years as a working adult, Fred Rogers was a floor manager for NBC studios in New York City. One of the programs on which he worked was The Gabby Hayes Show, which starred a cowboy who had good rapport with children. Rogers asked the old cowhand, “Mr. Hayes, what do you think about when you look in the camera and know that there are thousands of people looking at you?” Hayes responded, “Freddy, I think of one little buckaroo.”1 Later, when he began his own television program, Rogers channeled that idea from Hayes. In his book for parents, Rogers states: “That’s what I’ve been doing ever since on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—imagining that I’m talking with one ‘television friend.’”2

In today’s world of cartoons and comedy entertainment for kids, this sensitive approach is unique. It leads one to want to better understand Rogers’ purpose behind the program, to dive deeper into the philosophy of the show. What better way to research a program than to explore the words used on it—i.e. the dialogue? This researcher is led to ask the following questions: What was the dialogue that Rogers used to communicate with his “television friend?” Did his words vary among its intended audiences? Would young viewers be addressed in a different way from adult audiences? What were some possible reasons behind the language choices that Rogers made? What examples might demonstrate Rogers’ background and focus for the MRN television show?

To answer these questions, I viewed twenty-five episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (abbreviated MRN). These episodes were randomly selected to include shows spanning the broadcast history of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, so the evolution of his word choices could be examined over its multi-decade recording period. I also investigated other sources, including essays and articles about language, children’s television and Fred Rogers; a parenting book by Rogers; a collection of reminiscences about MRN; a reflective book on Rogers’ faith; and books about television literacy and child development. After analyzing these sources, it became evident that Rogers had in mind specific roles for each character to play. The careful direction that each character takes with his or her words indicates that there is some greater purpose—or, philosophy—driving the composition of Rogers’ seemingly simple programming for the young viewer.

Proof for this can be seen immediately after viewing any of Rogers’ MRN programs. Rogers draws a definite line, via words, between the responsibilities of adults and those of juveniles. It is as though he creates a definite role for each age category. Throughout the show, adults and adult-role puppets play responsible parts. The grown-ups perform adult tasks like fixing broken machines or buying items at the grocery store. Occasionally, Rogers refers to something being an “adult job,” like using a wrench to repair the faucet. While children are welcome to observe these adult actions on the show, Rogers explains that there are things that are not safe for young viewers to do. A major part of adult work, as demonstrated by Rogers, is to take time to care for people. Adults use words to inform, comfort, and discover facts.

Juvenile characters, on the other hand, hold different responsibilities. Children and child-like puppets of the program use words to demonstrate dependency. Young characters are never disparaged for their youth: instead, they learn from their adult counterparts. Young characters receive help and instructions. They learn how to do practical things—like make a sandwich. Young characters on MRN are encouraged to explore and expand their horizons in a safe way and they are applauded for their efforts.3 Child characters of the program, as a result of the MRN environment, use their words to learn, to explain, and to ask for help.

Sometimes, the characters of children and adults trade places. Typically, an adult character only acts in a childish way if humor is being added. But child-like speakers on the MRN show can also assume adult “responsible” roles: for example, occasionally, a young character offers comfort or ideas to an adult. This occurs especially in the world of Make-Believe, where the majority of juvenile-adult interaction happens. A clear example of the division between adult and child word choice comes from MRN episode 1528, when Rogers gives a clear example of the “taking care of you” role played by adults. In this show, the people of Make-Believe start to dig a hole for a new pool. Everything is going well until Daniel Striped Tiger (puppet) starts chatting with Lady Aberlin (human adult). The dialogue begins at 15:18:

Lady Aberlin: Hi Daniel

Daniel: Oh, hi, Lady Aberlin

LA: It’s almost time. Are you ready?

Daniel: Well, I thought, maybe I’d work on my boat. It really needs help.

LA: But Daniel, you offered to help us dig out the hole, remember?

Daniel: Yes, I remember.

LA: Is something bothering you, Daniel?

Daniel: I guess so.

LA: We could talk about it, if you’d like.

Daniel: Everybody’s all excited about digging this hole, Lady Aberlin, but I’m not.

LA: That’s okay, Daniel. Work doesn’t always have to be fun and exciting. Sometimes, its just plain hard and tiresome and that’s that.

Daniel: Do you think its going to be fun?

LA: Well, it’s going to be very different for me, so I think I’m going to like it a lot.

Daniel: Well, I’ll do it. But I think it’s just going to be hard – and what was the other word you said?

LA: Tiresome.

Daniel: Hard and tiresome. And dark.

LA: Oh. Oh, well, it can get dark, down in the hole. But that’s why we’re going to be wearing these hats with flashlights on them, see?

Daniel: Oh. Then it won’t be all dark down there in the hole.

LA: No – not if we use our flashlights.

Daniel: Oh!

LA: Here’s yours.

Daniel: And will you keep your light on?

LA: As soon as it gets the least bit dark.

Daniel: Oh good!

Here, Lady Aberlin takes an adult role in Make-Believe. She first informs Daniel that it is time to help dig the pool. Daniel, as a child puppet, hints that he is not comfortable with the idea. Lady Aberlin starts to ask questions to discover why Daniel is worried. Daniel explains his fears about the dark. Lady Aberlin then becomes a comforter, demonstrating the flashlights and offering to stay close by so that Daniel will not be frightened. This is typical of the role-playing word usage Rogers demonstrates in MRN: Adults take care of children.

However, at times in the MRN show, there are no child-figures present. This happens usually in the reality segments, during events like field trips. In these sections, Rogers emulates the role of a child, asking questions and seeking information or asking for help. The adult models genuine child-like behavior. In one episode, Rogers visits the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute (MRN episode 1482). Bay Judson is the tour guide who shows Rogers the different paintings. Here’s Rogers’ childlike dialogue, starting at 5:45:

Rogers: Ah—let’s go over to this one! This looks familiar, Bay.

Bay: That’s a portrait, Fred, of Homer St. Goddens …

Rogers: Is this his mother, back here?

Bay: That’s his mother, and she’s reading out loud to him. He had to sit for a real long time for that portrait and she was trying to keep him amused.

Rogers: Oh, you mean the painter would have been out here, actually painting both of them like that?

Bay: For hours and hours. And he just had to sit, still as a statue.

Rogers: He looks a little bored, doesn’t he?

Bay: I think he wants to go outside and play with his friends.

In the museum, Rogers is demonstrating language that requests information. He asks to see a particular painting; he learns about how the painting was made and why the mother is in the picture. Rogers explains his thoughts about the boy in the painting—the boy looks “bored.” The language Rogers uses relates in a very understandable way to a child who has waited to get his or her picture taken.

Finally, there is the occasional moment when a young character comforts or cares for the needs of an adult. Roles are reversed and the caregiver becomes the recipient of care. Here is the dialogue from MRN show 1529. In this particular excerpt, the pool project that the neighbors are working on has been cancelled, since a water main broke during the digging. Plumbers are summoned and the price of fixing the Neighborhood pipes is steep. Lady Aberlin and Neighbor Aber visit the School at Someplace Else to see if the students have some ideas for solutions to the situation. The excerpt begins at 20:11:

Lady Aberlin: We’re here to try to be helpful to (King Friday).

Neighbor Aber: Yes, we’ve come to ask your advice.

Daniel: Oh – you want our advice?

LA: Yes, we do. And Uncle Friday does, too.

Daniel: Oh.

Prince Tuesday: What for?

LA: Well, as you know, we had to turn off the water when the main pipes broke.

Daniel: And there isn’t any water to drink or shower in, or anything!

LA: That’s right.

NA: And the reason we need your advice is that we must find some money to get new pipes. Otherwise, we won’t have any water– ever!

Prince: Have you thought of using straws? You could put a whole lot of straws together for the pipes.

Ana: I think straws might break after a little while, Tuesday . . .

Daniel: How much money do we need for the pipes?

LA: Three thousand.

All the children: Three thousand!

LA: Yes, I know that’s a lot!

Daniel: Well, how much money do we have for the swimming pool?

LA: Three thousand.

Daniel: Well?

Ana: See what Daniel means?

Prince: Give up the swimming pool money to get new pipes?

NA: That would be a way to do it.

LA: It certainly would!

Ana: But we wouldn’t have any swimming pool!

Daniel: Well, Ana, it wouldn’t be any good without water in it, anyway.

All of the students in the class are children (puppets), but the children ask the adults (humans) for information. The adults ask for help. The children listen to the problem, then make suggestions. Although Ana Platypus and Prince Tuesday are reluctant to give up the pool, Daniel remarks sensibly, “It wouldn’t be any good without water in it, anyway.” Here the children and adults have reversed their roles. While children are usually the ones who need answers and comfort, here they are the providers of those emotional staples. The adults learn from the children’s feedback.

Multi-Generational Appeal and the Language of Rogers

At times, the clear divide between “child” and “adult” language is blurred by Rogers’ word selections. Of the twenty-five episodes explored for this paper, the use of humor by Rogers (who wrote the majority of the programs4) is never the main emphasis of the show5. Most of the spoken work is direct, with no jokes between young and adult dialogue. But unexpected dialogue sometimes can entertain the adults who would watch the program with children, especially when an adult actor behaved like a child—in a not-so-serious way. To highlight that dialogue, a few episodes must be mentioned. In one early show, an adult actor tries to install a punch clock for his adult puppet friend. The puppet takes a (purportedly) juvenile view of the clock. Here’s the excerpt, from episode 4, starting at 16:01: (Note: the puppet, Grandpierre likes to speak in French.)

Grandpierre: What does it mean? Qu’ès que savetier punch?

Handyman Negri: Uh, a punch, Grandpierre, a punch—you know like that! (he swings his fist) Compère? . . . This is a punch clock.

Grandpierre: An’ you punch the clock?

HN: That’s right—you punch the clock when you come in, and you punch the clock when you go out.

Grandpierre: Oh, très bien! . . . Let me try it! (He gives it a solid whack and knocks it sideways.) . . .

HN: Oh, Grandpierre! You’ll break it like that! No, no, no no– piano! Uh, piano. Easy!

Grandpierre: Oh—easy! Oh, très bien! . . . (he practices punching the clock, still knocking it over with relish.)

HN: Just a minute–I want to be sure it’s still working—yes, it’s still working.

Grandpierre: Très bien. And you will be there, each time when I’m punching the clock—to pick it up?

HN: No, Grandpierre, I will not be there each time. I am going to place it right here on the Eiffel Tower, and then you can punch it whenever you leave and whenever you come home.

Grandpierre: Ah, bon. And I will pick it up.

HN: Yes, and you will pick it up yourself.

A child would love to punch things. Probably, the majority of adults would appreciate Grandpeirre’s attitude to the punch clock. Note how Grandpierre requests information, in the vein of juvenile dialogue. Negri plays the adult, giving an explanation first of what a punch is and then of how the punch clock works. Young viewers enjoy the scenario because of the physical comedy and the misunderstanding. Older viewers enjoy the suggestion that punch clocks can be despised6.

A paradox can also be found when an adult puppet is sincere in its adult behavior but also presents irony to the viewer. For example, Negri again plays the adult when, in episode 1526, he stops by puppet Lady Elaine’s Museum Go Round, to give her the annual tax report. This report, he tells Elaine, demonstrates how the kingdom has used tax money for the past year. Lady Elaine hears the word taxes and at 19:13 says: “Well, you’ll probably want more money. Well I don’t have any more—I’m cleaned out!” Now, Lady Elaine is playing the grumpy adult because she just spent all her money on paint and forgot to get brushes. She is also playing the part of a child: she is explaining why she doesn’t want to hear about taxes. She is “cleaned out.” Again, the line between the adult character and juvenile role is blurred by an adult acting as a child. A child viewer would probably take the whole dialogue seriously; the adult viewer would appreciate the slang and the unwillingness to pay more taxes.

What happens if the adult characters don’t use any childlike language yet still invoke humor? Sometimes, Rogers liked to create a gentle parody of popular culture. Adult viewers would probably pick up on it—while the satire of the situation would sail over a young viewer’s head. For example, look at episode 1475, the Windstorm in Bubbleland Opera. The completely adult-spoken dialogue exemplifies Rogers’ mild satire at 1:35:

News Anchor: “Hello, I’m Robert Redgate, bringing you this O’clock edition of

Bubblewitness News: all the news that’s fit to speak, all the news that’s fit to hear, all the news to bring you cheer right here, in Bubbleland.”

(Anchorman Redgate sings the latest news. His notices include the following song.)

There’s never, never, never, never, never
Any trouble here in Bubbleland, Bubbleland, Bubbleland,
There’s never, never, never, never anything but joy,
Right here in Bubbleland, Bubbleland, Bubbleland!
Our bubbles make us happy, they are with us night and day.
We know that they are so important
They must never blow away.
Of course, they never would.

(Then the song repeats with slight modifications . . . )

(Then follows an announcement of the very good news.)

Redgate beams at the camera:

“The National Bubble Chemical Company has today announced its newest, environmentally safe, propellant product: Spray Sweater – the ultimate protection for your precious bubbles. Until today, we’ve always had to knit or to buy old-fashioned, regular sweaters to protect our bubbles. But now, Spray Sweater makes it easy for everyone. All you have to do is put those spray sweaters around your favorite bubbles and they’ll be safe. Spray Sweater: the absolute ultimate in bubble protection.

Betty: It’s a fraud! It’s a fraud! There’s nothing in this can but just plain air! There’s no way that a sweater could ever come from there! It’s a fraud–I tell you, it’s a fraud!

Redgate: What’s going on?

Betty: The chemical folk pulled the wool over you! Let me show you – you see? You see?

Redgate: This is highly irregular!

Betty: Oh–I’m the, um, manager of Betty’s Better Sweater Company. I have a right to check the competition.

Redgate: Heh—ladies and gentlemen, we’ll have an in-depth report about sweaters on Bubblewitness News tomorrow. But now for the weather! Here’s Friendly Frank, your weather porpoise, the porpoise with a purpose!

This dialogue is tongue in cheek. There is information: “never any trouble,” “environmentally safe propellant product,” “fraud” and “competition.” But what is the viewer learning from this dialogue? On one level, the viewer sees a news program and Spray Sweater, the top story. Then the viewer sees that Betty, of Betty’s Better Sweaters, is upset by the competition to her hand-knit products.

But there is the double-speak which is also going on. The mature viewer is alerted by the “all the news that’s fit to speak,” opening, having only good and very good news—only in the land of Make-Believe could that occur! The advertisement for Spray Sweater is a bit like an infomercial, but the adult viewer would understand the promotion, since the National Bubble Chemical Company is a major sponsor for Bubblewitness News. However, how many viewers would catch Betty’s comment, “I have a right to check the competition?” Again, only in Make-Believe could a manufacturer interrupt a live news broadcast to air her grievances about a competitor’s product. Children might pick up the physical cues that Betty gives when she makes thumbs up and thumbs down motions towards her sweater and the Spray Sweater can. But mature viewers probably will pick up much more.

This presents the viewer with a great divide. Would the target-age, MRN-viewing child understand the thought behind the complex humor Rogers presented? Probably not. But this is why the Mister Rogers program appeals to the entire family and has had a lasting impact on children’s television programming—as witnessed by the dialogue used in the Bubbleland opera, there is no real age limit to the viewership7. The wit of each quote depends on what McGhee refers to as “expectancy violations.”8 In the tax scenario, Lady Elaine surprises the viewer with slang. The anchor of Bubblevision News tells good news and very good news. Grandpierre socks the punch clock until it breaks. Southam suggests that, for this type of humor, the audience would need to have more advanced comprehension than the projected 2-4 year-old audience member.

This, then, is the great divide of the MRN program: while most word usage on the show can be understood by young viewers, there is some which only applies to more mature viewers. From the observations completed for this article, the majority of the dialogue used is applicable to both children and adults, but when one of the adult characters crosses the line and starts behaving in a childish way (i.e., using childish language where it is not expected), the show appeals to its more mentally-developed viewer and not to the young child. Therefore, the MRN show is able to reach beyond the preschool age bracket, and this is why it became a staple for family television time.

Purpose Behind the Rogers Program

What motivated the language choices that Rogers made for his program? Research provides the following suggestions. Close to the time that Rogers received his undergraduate degree from Rollins College, he saw television for the first time and was disgusted by characters who threw pies at one another9. The violence and senseless slapstick inspired Rogers to strive to create wholesome, nurturing programming for children, where young viewers wouldn’t be bombarded with potentially traumatic images and actions. He began working with NBC studios. By the mid-1960s, Rogers was starting work on his own American program, Misterrogers’ Neighborhood. The title of the show was later changed to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, “out of a concern for viewers who were learning to read,” Rogers notes10. (He was worried that spelling his name and title as one word without proper capitalization, spacing and spelling would confuse fledgling readers.) To emphasize his goals when creating programming for children, Rogers writes:

The roots of a child’s ability to cope and thrive, regardless of circumstance, lie in that child’s having had at least a small, safe place … in which, in the companionship of a loving person, that child could discover that he or she was lovable and capable of loving in return. If a child finds this during the first years of life, he or she can grow up to be a competent, healthy person . . .11

In discussing television and its role in helping a child prepare for life, Rogers also says: “those of us who make television programs . . . have a responsibility to do our work with the greatest of care.” Why was Rogers compelled to create characters that were responsible—and characters that needed responsibility in order to thrive? For the purposes of this research, three primary concepts are outlined as being the basic propellants for the Rogers character/language roles. They are as follows:

Theological: Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. His specific instruction, when he was ordained, was “to minister to children and their families through television.”12 While Rogers did not use many direct references to theology, there was an undercurrent of spiritual thought that seemed to support the goals of the program.

Educational: The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood program included field trips to the crayon factory, discussions about plumbing and recipes for making simple foods, to name a few activities that were filmed. Rogers seemed to have a specific focus on learning because it helped children become more understanding individuals.

Social: the MRN program was filmed over the course of four decades. Although he maintained a static time frame for the “real” neighborhood and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Rogers helped young viewers deal with current events.

Evidence for each of these three concepts is bountiful, both in the television programs and in the literature written about and by Rogers. By combining all three concepts, it is possible to piece together purpose influencing the style or format of thought behind the characters Rogers brought to life. The characters’ language/word usage is symbolic of these ideas that founded and sustained Rogers’ legacy of nurturing children’s programming.

To lay some groundwork for the theological perspective of Rogers’ language on the MRN show, it should be stated that he was a 1962 graduate of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary13. His commission, to minister to “children and their families through television,” was something Rogers took seriously. Ministering took place outside of the pulpit, as Rogers demonstrated through his program. Look at the MRN program 1484, in which two characters in the neighborhood of Make-Believe lose a football game. The losers are quite disappointed. But there is an element of comfort (or ministering), that King Friday is able to extend to the losers. The dialogue begins at 18:02:

King Friday: But you players seemed sad . . .

Bob Dog: Oh, yes—we, we were.

Lynn Swann: We lost our game today, King Friday.

King Friday: Oh, uh, did you do your best, Mr. Swann?

Lynn Swann: I think we did. Don’t you, Bob Dog?

Bob Dog: Yeah, I guess so.

King Friday: Well, then, you won. All you need to do is your best and you’ve won, in my book.

Considering the fact that Lynn Swann was a real-life professional football star when the episode show was taped, Bob Dog’s disappointment at their loss is doubly painful. When King Friday hears that both of the players did their best, he comforts the losers, ministering to the needs of his people. Friday is also demonstrating the adult role that the MRN program models constantly: the adult comforts (or ministers to) those around him.

Rogers directly mentions theological topics infrequently. Only once during the twenty-five shows watched for this program does Rogers talk about God. When Rogers addresses religion, he does so sensitively. In episode 5, Rogers sings the lullaby titled “Good Night, God.” The lyrics begin at 25:47 and are as follows:

Good night God, and thank you for this very lovely day.
Thank you too, for helping us at work, and at our play,
Thank you for our families, for each and every friend,
Forgive us, please, for anything, we’ve done, that might offend.
Keep us safe and faithful God, tell us what to do.
Good night, God,
And thank you God, for letting us love you.

The song is a simple statement of care. Rogers is careful to note that, “We have a song, in our house, not everybody sings this song, but we do—just before we go to sleep; called “Good Night God.” Even if some of the viewers’ families do not sing this particular lullaby, Rogers wants to let his viewers know that each person is loved and that he or she can love in return. Words like “thank you,” “faithful,” “forgive,” “friend” and “letting” are important to the message of the song, as they make the listener think that someone is concerned about the viewer’s welfare.

Years after singing Good Night, God, Rogers was interviewed by Amy Hollingsworth, who worked for eight years with the 700 Club, which promoted Christian television. Hollingsworth had several meetings with Rogers and explored the ways in which his Christian faith impacted his television work.14 As a part of their final in-person interview, Hollingsworth asked Rogers, “If you had one final broadcast, one final opportunity to address your television neighbors, and you could tell them the single most important lesson of your life, what would you say?” (Emphasis added by Hollingsworth.)

Rogers responds:

Well, I would want [those] who were listening somehow to know that they had unique value, that there isn’t anybody in the whole world exactly like them and that there never has been and there never will be.

And that they are loved by the Person who created them, in a unique way.

If they could know that and really know it and have that behind their eyes, they could look with those eyes on their neighbor and realize, “My neighbor has unique value too; there’s never been anybody in the whole world like my neighbor and there never will be.” If they could value that person—if they could love that person—in ways that we know that the Eternal loves us, then I would be very grateful.15

Clearly, Rogers’ goal of ministering to children and their families through the television waves was not diminished by his long tenure on the air. His language stands out in the interview: he uses words like “unique value,” “love” and an emphasis on the care that people show each other—because they are loved by a “Person.” Subtly, Rogers is maintaining his goal of ministering. He is still helping individuals know that they are acceptable and lovable as they are. Even though his commission came years before the interview, he still serves as a minister to his audience.

But what about the educational aspect of the MRN show? Although he was not officially a teacher, Rogers’ programs constantly encourage children to learn. Following a visit from the singer Ella Jenkins, Rogers tells his television neighbor, “I like to learn things, don’t you? And there’s so much in this world we can learn, no matter how young or how old we are” (episode 1548, 8:11). More concrete evidence of Rogers’ didactic purpose can be found in looking at how he planned a weeklong series of television episodes—for example, the “Bubbleland” opera. On Day 1 (episode 1471), Rogers brings an electric synthesizer to his living room and plays it. He demonstrates how the synthesizer could copy the sounds of other musical instruments. On Day 2, Rogers shows a video of people making machine-knit sweaters (episode 1472), and he visits Robert Trowe’s workshop, where Trowe is repairing a knitting machine. On Day 3, Rogers takes his television neighbor on a visit to Brockett’s Bakery, where he learns how to make a snack and a drink from bananas (episode 1473). Finally on Day 4, Rogers takes a field trip to a weather station, where he helps launch a weather balloon, looks at radar, and explores different ways of measuring the forces of nature (episode 1474). By the last episode (1475), it is time to perform the opera. Production of the opera includes synthesizer music, a sweater-based economy, a banana crate wall, and a windstorm.

A more graphic example of Rogers’ didactic bent is the School at Someplace Else in the land of Make-Believe. The students are taught by Harriet Elizabeth Cow. Here’s an example of the language that the school members use from episode 1481, when King Friday has Miss Paulificate telephone Harriet Cow to ask her to come to the castle. The dialogue starts at 16:36:

Cow: Now then, what can I help you with, dear?”

Paulificate: Oh, King Friday would like you to come over to the castle right away. He has a wonderful idea… (Harriet Cow refuses to leave the school at first, Paulificate negotiates between King and Cow)

Paulificate: Well I could ask. Ah, Harriet, could I be the teacher’s helper?

Cow: Well of course, dear! Come right over—you can teach about Telephones . . .

(in the school, Paulificate discusses telephone etiquette)

Daniel: So if somebody calls, and it’s the wrong number, you say you’re sorry?

Paulificate: That’s right, Daniel.

Daniel: But why do you say you’re sorry if it’s not your fault?

Paulificate: Oh you know, I really don’t know. Does anyone have an idea?

Tuesday: Maybe you’re sorry for yourself because you had to answer the phone and you were playing!

Ana: Or maybe you are wishing that somebody special would call, and then it wasn’t your friend, after all!

The teacher, Miss Cow, demonstrates her adult language by implying that she cannot leave the classroom because she is teaching and she does not have a “teacher’s helper.” Language that targets the education goal is the use of “why,” “does anyone have an idea,” and “that’s right.” Paulificate guides student awareness, helping them (and the viewer) become proficient in telephone etiquette.

Educational goals in the MRN program, although not as deliberately advertised as they are in other children’s programs, are still evident. Rogers finds opportunities to make learning a part of daily life, something that viewers can absorb without having to consciously contemplate the effort of accepting the ideas presented.

A final facet of examination must come from examining the socially-aware information Rogers uses to address current events and emotional reactions to those events. While current events from the news are never specifically mentioned in the episodes viewed for this article, the earliest week of the MRN show that was viewed for this project wanders perilously close to the military conflict of the late 1960s. After that set of programs, Rogers’ other episodes focus more on the feelings people might have, rather than the news that causes those feelings. This is not to say that Rogers completely ignored social events. For example, shortly after the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968, Rogers filmed the pilot for what would become the Mister Rogers Talks to Parents series. The original program was filmed and aired to help adults deal with the questions that children might have—following widespread television coverage of the assassination—“I plead for your protection and support of your child. There is just so much that children can take without it being overwhelming,” Rogers states.16 His reaction to this widely-publicized violence was to present parents and caregivers with some guidelines that could help explain and limit the graphic information that children were consuming. Later episodes of the parent-focused television series discuss child-care, superheroes, and other popular culture concepts. The goals of these special shows are to explain and prepare for the concerns or confusion children might have when faced with a real-life situation that is unfamiliar. While these shows incorporate the Make-Believe puppets, the goal is to reach parents and help them understand ways to help children, rather than to reach children directly. Rogers states:

Helping children learn to separate fantasy from reality is a most important task of early childhood and one with which children need adult help. In my livingroom and in other places in our television neighborhood, real things happen and we show them and talk about them as realistically as we can. In the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, we can make up anything we like and pretend anything we like and feel safe about it because it is only pretend.17

In the MRN show, the “real thing” that happens in the black-and-white episodes (broadcast in 1968) is King Friday’s martial law. Friday is upset that his scenery has been re-arranged. The King declares martial law in order to prevent Change. The neighborhood folk dress in helmets and place wire fencing around the castle. Betty Aberlin comes to visit Mister Rogers in his reality studio and they discuss the confusion in Make-Believe in episode 3, 8:23:

Rogers: Have you been in touch with (King Friday?)

Aberlin: No, not in a while.

Rogers: Well, uh, he isn’t the happiest Great-Uncle Friday that you’ve seen in a long time.

Aberlin: Oh – what’s wrong?’

Rogers: Lady Elaine has been up to her tricks again, and she’s moved the Eiffel Tower on the wrong side of the castle, and the tree has gone way from over here to the middle, and the clock is over there, and the fountain—well, it’s just all mixed around.

Aberlin: He must be really upset!

Rogers: He’s furious about it. And he has established border guards.

Aberlin: In the Neighborhood of Make-Believe?

Rogers: Edgar, poor thing—he has to walk, back and forth, and be sure that no one will come in.

Aberlin: That sounds like a war!

Rogers: It certainly does—but at least there isn’t any shooting, yet.

Aberlin: Well, do you think that I should take a make-believe gun or something?

Rogers: Oh, I don’t know that you’ll need that. ‘Course you could always use your finger, or, if you do that. (Makes a pretend gun.) But how about this? Would you like this cape?

Aberlin: Oh, yes!

Rogers: I just made it. Burlap bag and a safety pin.

Aberlin: That should keep me very safe, then.

Rogers: Sure.

Aberlin: Oh, I feel better already.

Rogers: I hope so. I hope you’ll be brave and strong as you go off to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Aberlin: I will, Mister Rogers. Good bye. (She marches off, singing “Be Brave, and Then Be Strong.”)

Notice the charged language. “Border guards,” “war,” “shooting” and “gun” hint at the Vietnam conflict, which would have been discussed on other television programs of the time. Rogers gives Aberlin the cape to keep her feeling “safe.” He tells her to “be brave and strong” on her way to the pretend conflict. By the end of the week, Daniel Striped Tiger launches a plan to send balloons with peaceful messages to the castle. Here is the dialogue from Episode 5, 21:39:

Edgar Cook: What is it? What is it? What are these things? What—oh, I must tell

King Friday, I must tell King Friday.

Friday: Fire the cannon! Fire the cannon! Fire the cannon—man your stations! Fire the cannon!

Negri: What is it, King Friday, Edgar?

Friday: Paratroopers!

Negri: Edgar–man the cannon—Edgar! Edgar!

Friday: Paratroopers!

Aberlin: No, no no—just read the bottoms of them before you start shooting!

Nergri: Read the bottom? Hold it–hold it Edgar! Hold it, King Friday!

Friday: What is your name, rank and serial number, Lady?

Aberlin: Oh, Great Uncle Friday, you know my name! It’s Lady Aberlin! Just, just read the bottom of the signs, won’t you?

Friday: Oh, of course.

Negri: Look at this, King Friday–

Friday: What is it?

Negri: These aren’t paratroopers—they’re messages of peace. Look at this! Tenderness!

Friday: Messages of peace?

Negri: Peaceful coexistence! Well, isn’t that marvelous? They’re peaceful messages, Sir. Peaceful coexistence!

Friday: Stop all fighting. Stop all fighting.

Negri: Hold your fire—hold your fire.

Friday: Oh, my, this is such a surprise!

The language again suggests current events. “Paratroopers,” “cannons” “messages of peace” and “peaceful coexistence”—what would a child notice? This is probably Rogers’ answer to the blare of television news. To repeat the quote mentioned earlier, Rogers felt that “In the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, we can make up anything we like and pretend anything we like and feel safe about it because it is only pretend.” This scheme of balloons and peaceful messages is certainly a sample of make-believe in action. As history has demonstrated, this is not the way the Vietnam conflict was resolved, but to a young viewer, this solution could make some sense. The danger is never too terrible to handle, (after all, the conflict was only over stopping the Changers!) and the resolution is simple, something that a child could understand and perform. A message of peace and tenderness might not solve a war, but it could make a child feel better because it would give him or her a sense of resolution—the feeling that somehow, the situation could be concluded happily.

This is Rogers’ way of caring for the emotional needs of a child in response to frightening television. He demonstrates a situation where trouble could occur, then shows a method for coping with that struggle. It empowers viewers to take control of their feelings, even if the cannot completely control the events that have affected them. In a different program, Rogers becomes angry. The dialogue below opens in the middle of a phone call with deliveryman Mr. McFeeley, who could not come right over to Mister Rogers’ place, in episode 1485, 4:01:

Rogers: Okay, nothing seems to be working out right today. All right, well, I’ll see you a little later then. Thanks anyway. (He hangs up the phone and begins to sing:)

What do you do with the mad that you feel,
when you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh,
so wrong and nothing you do seems very right,
What do you do, do you punch a bag,
do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag,
and see how fast you go? . . .

Rogers finds a giant tablet of paper and a box of crayons and draws vigorously. Rogers, through his song, suggests what to do with “the mad that you feel.” Obviously, Rogers cannot control Mr. McFeeley or the other events that have added up to the sense behind “nothing seems to be working out right today.” But Rogers reacts constructively: he wants viewers to work through their emotions in ways that are not dangerous to themselves or others. Besides demonstrating his own methods, Rogers explores the ways other people express their feelings. In his visit with the cellist Yo Yo Ma, Rogers asks (episode 1547, 16:17):

Rogers: Well when you play, I’m sure you have a lot of different feelings. And as you played as a child, did you ever play happy things, or sad things or angry things, just ‘cause you wanted to?

Ma: Oh, sure. I mean, there would be times . . . if I was happy, I’d do something like this (plays a Bach dance) . . . One of my favorites was “The Swan” (he plays) . . . you could imagine the swan… and I loved to play

That . . . This was obviously a very peaceful, tranquil mood.

Rogers: Did you ever play when you were really angry?

Ma: Sure. And there’s one piece I know that I love to get into (he saws on the cello with temper.) It just goes on and on and on, and you’re just digging in with all your strength, and . . . just got rid of a lot of frustrations.

Rogers: That’s how you feel, afterwards—relieved?

Ma: Relieved. Absolutely relieved. And just, after having given all this burst of energy, it felt good.

Whether it happens in Make-Believe, to Rogers himself, or to a television neighbor on camera, Rogers demonstrates ways to cope. Rogers’ theory respects these models for their healthy emotional release: “We . . . try to show models for coping with [anxiety] as well as models of trustworthy, caring, and available adults,” he writes.18 Through his language, and the lyrics of his songs, Rogers implements a system of emotional survival. He shows his viewers how to understand themselves, and from his position as the chief adult in the show, Rogers yet again fulfills the grown-up role of informing and comforting his audience in the mores of emotional responsibility.

The initial goal of this paper was to investigate the word usage of the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood television program. As a result of this research, it is evident that both the language and the message of the MRN show were intended to make a positive impact. According to Rogers’ pastoral commission, his job was to help “children and their families.” But perhaps Rogers’ influence reached further than that. As David Bianculli notes in “The Myth, the Man the Legend,”19 “ . . . Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood remains one of the first, best and safest programs through which preschoolers should be introduced to the medium of television.” Bianculli reinforces this reasoning in a separate book: “Television is our most common language, our most popular pastime, our basic point of reference; it’s also where most of our children are first exposed to allusion, satire, and other ‘literary’ concepts.”20 If television is truly the literacy medium of our modern society, then Bianculli is in tune with Rogers’ MRN programming goals. Rogers wanted television to be a positive force in the lives of children. Using the MRN program to positively prepare children for other programs, as Bianculli suggests, is something of which Rogers would approve.

Has anything changed on the young people’s television scene since Rogers was first exposed (and disgusted by) television? Evidence exists to say yes—as stated in a Newsweek article, written by David McGinn. His piece, “Guilt Free TV,” includes a list of children’s television programs and information about how television can be a helpful tool for parents to use in raising children. Although he admits that some parents have serious misgivings about children watching television, McGinn states, “Now that PBS, which invented the good-for-kids genre, has new competition from Nickelodeon and Disney, there are more quality choices for preschoolers than ever.” While these shows are “stiff competition” to the MRN show, McGinn quotes Rogers as saying, “I’m just glad that more producers and purveyors of television have signed the pledge to protect childhood[.]” Notice how Rogers emphasizes that this new television programming “protect(s) childhood.” This would indicate that Rogers believes that his original goal—to create and promote programming that nurtured childhood—was achieved.

This attitude towards wholesome childhood development is echoed by psychiatrists Dorothy and Jerome Singer, who discuss imagination and successful ways of helping children understand that they are loved and accepted: “There must be a key person in a child’s life who inspires and sanctions play and accepts the child’s inventions with respect and delight.” 21 In their careful documentation of child’s play, the Singers demonstrate that children must use their imaginations in order to grow—starting as young as infant “play” and interaction with caregivers: “Whatever babies may bring with them at birth will be molded and tempered by the behavior of those entrusted with their welfare . . . when children can play openly and freely, they become good learners, developing their cognitive skills through the stepping-stones of play.”22 Although the Singers’ research was published in 1990, years after the start of the MRN program, it is plain that Rogers was following a similar philosophy. He allows children to use their imaginations in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe but Rogers also feeds the intellectual side by going on field trips and doing practical activities. Rogers and his program are something that parents can “trust with [a viewing child’s] welfare,” to paraphrase the Singers. As a role model for children, Rogers wanted to make sure that his show gave children a time to learn to trust and believe in something positive—a time when they could grow up straight and true inside.

To achieve this goal, Rogers notes, “I think play is an expression of our creativity; and creativity, I believe, is at the very root of our ability to learn, to cope, and to become whatever we may be.”23 Play, on the MRN show, while it could be demonstrated through physical actions and pictures, is also exemplified through the verbal interactions of the puppets, the actors, and the figure of Rogers himself. The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood television program vocalizes methods of creativity, coping, and responsibility in order to help children gain life skills. Today, there are a number of children’s television programs dedicated to developing those same skills, but they have been influenced no doubt, by the words of Mister Rogers.

Endnotes:

[1] Kimmel and Collins The Wonder of It All 18, quoting an interview of Rogers with Karen Herman.

See also Rogers and Head 9.

[2] Rogers and Head 9.

[3] See MRN episode 1546, 8:32. When Nicki, (age six and a half) is brought to Rogers’ studio, the boy plays a piece on the piano and speaks candidly about music and how much work practicing is. “Everybody has to practice, before they can learn something,” Niki says. “And it’s okay, even when you make mistakes,” Rogers replies.

[4] See Owen.

[5] Rogers admits, later in life, to using a “punch line” for the final episode of the last week-long sequence of programs.  Owen’s article refers to end of the final series of MRN shows that Rogers filmed before his retirement. Rogers discusses his final series, stating “I can’t tell you the punch line of it all because it’s just too wonderful . . . ”

[6] Southam gives a more complete discussion on how young children enjoy physical comedy while more mature viewers understand wordplay.

[7] Daniel McGinn’s article, “Guilt Free TV,” goes so far as to discuss one mother who installed a television in the kitchen, so the children could learn from a variety of PBS shows while eating. “They learn so much,” says the mother, whose children were ages 2 and 7 at the time of the article’s writing. Since McGinn’s article was published in 2002, it is assumed that Rogers’ program (which began more than 30 years before) created momentum for multi-generationally appealing PBS programming.

[8] See McGhee 125.

[9] See Kimmel and Collins i, Hollingsworth xx and 124. (As Hollingsworth notes, this pie-throwing act might have struck an internal sore spot with Rogers, who was bullied as a child.)

[10] Rogers and Head 163.

[11] See Rogers and Head 11-12.

[12] Kimmel and Collins 13.

[13] Rogers and Head 163.

[14] Hollingsworth xix, and back cover flyleaf.

[15] Hollingsworth 160-161.

[16] Galinsky 165.

[17] Rogers and Head 65.

[18] Rogers and Head 167.

[19] Collins and Kimmel, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Children, Television and Fred Rogers 43.

[20] Bianculli 5.

[21] Singer 3-4.

[22] Singer 62-63.

[23] Rogers and Head 93.

Works Cited

Bianculli, David. Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously. New York: Continuum, 1992. Print.

Bianculli, David. “The Myth, the Man, the Legend.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Children, Television and Fred Rogers. Eds. Margaret Kimmel and Mark Collins. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1996. 37-49. Print.

Galinsky, Ellen. “Mister Rogers Speaks to Parents.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Children, Television and Fred Rogers. Eds. Margaret Kimmel and Mark Collins. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1996. 163–172. Print.

Hollingsworth, Amy. The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor. Nashville: Integrity, 2005. Print.

Kimmel, Margaret Mary, and Mark Collins. The Wonder of It All: Fred Rogers and the Story of an Icon. Latrobe, PA: Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College, 2008. PDF file.

McGhee, Paul E. “Cognitive Development and Children’s Comprehension of Humor.” Child Development 42.1 (1971): 123–138. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.

McGinn, Daniel. “Guilt Free TV.” Newsweek. 11 Nov. 2002: Web. 11 Jan. 2015.

Owen, Rob. “There Goes the Neighborhood: Mister Rogers Will Make Last Episodes of Show in December.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12 Nov 2000: TV and Radio. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.

Rice, Mabel L., and Patti L. Haight. “‘Motherese’ of Mr. Rogers: A Description of the Dialogue of Educational Television Programs.” Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders 51:3 (1986): 282–287. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.

Rogers, Fred, and Barry Head. Mister Rogers Talks with Parents. Pittsburgh: Family Communication Inc., 1983. Print.

Singer, Dorothy, and Jerome Singer. The House of Make-Believe: Play and the Developing Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard U P, 1990. Print.

Southam, Marti. “Humor Development: an Important Cognitive and Social Skill in the Growing Child.” Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics 25:1 (2005): 105–117. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Episode List

“Competition: episode 1481.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Competition: episode 1482.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Competition: episode 1483.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Competition: episode 1484.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Competition: episode 1485.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“The First Week: episode 0001.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“The First Week: episode 0002.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“The First Week: episode 0003.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“The First Week: episode 0004.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“The First Week: episode 0005.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making Music: episode 1546.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making Music: episode 1547.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making Music: episode 1548.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making Music: episode 1549.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making Music: episode 1550.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making an Opera: episode 1471.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making an Opera: episode 1472.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making an Opera: episode 1473.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making an Opera: episode 1474.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Making an Opera: episode 1475.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Work: episode 1526.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Work: episode 1527.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Work: episode 1528.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Work: episode 1529.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

“Work: episode 1530.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazon Instant Video, 2011. Amazon Download.

 

Author Bio:

Louisa Danielson, BA, MA English (Indiana University – Fort Wayne) is a limited-term-lecturer at Indiana University, Fort Wayne, where she teaches introductory and intermediate expository writing. Her piece, “Teaching from the Sidelines: Using Marginalia to Encourage Good Writing” was published by the Journal of South Texas English Studies (2013).

Reference Citation:

MLA:
Danielson, Louisa. “The Gentle Tongue: How Language Affected the World of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy 2.1 (2015). Web and Print.

APA:
Danielson, L. (2015). The gentle tongue: How language affected the world of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 2(1). http://journaldialogue.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/L-Danielson.pdf

A Field Guide to Teaching Agency and Ethics: The West Wing and American Foreign Policy

Kayce Mobley
University of Georgia
Athens, GA, USA
kayce@uga.edu

Sarah Fisher
University of Georgia
Athens, GA, USA
skfisher@uga.edu

 

Abstract

Though political science undergraduate courses reflect a rich theoretical tradition, they typically lack opportunities for students to express intangible concepts through the interpretation of creative works, a standard exercise of critical analysis. Educators can address this dearth in many ways, such as through utilization of popular culture texts. We employ the television series The West Wing to ground debates in American politics, specifically American foreign policy. Although this show has been off air since 2006, Netflix and Amazon have recently released the entire series for streaming, significantly reducing the hassle and monetary cost of using this source in the classroom. Using The West Wing as our guide, we enhance political science pedagogy using agency, structure, and ethics as our guiding concepts.

 

Keywords: politics, television, The West Wing, foreign policy, decision making, agency, structure, ethics, critical analysis, United States

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