|IMAGE CREDIT: WWE.com|
Outrage was caused in more than one way when Chris Jericho denigrated the Brazilian flag at a House Show. The Brazilian people and authorities were livid, so much so that Jericho had to issue an apology to avoid a stint in jail. All over the world, wrestling fans were torn. Some felt Jericho was just stupid to do what he did, a careless but completely non-malicious act. Others, like my buddy Ray Sorrow, felt that Jericho did nothing wrong. He's just doing what a heel does.
I agree and I disagree with both stances. Yeah, okay, what Jericho did could've been construed as a bit careless. Perhaps flags should just be left alone by heels nowadays, perhaps they should always have been left alone. And perhaps that is what heels used to do. But heels used to do a lot of things, like fight with fans in the crowd on their way to and from the ring, and interrupt the singing of the National Anthem. But neither of those things are acceptable nowadays.
The answer is simple. The game is the same but the rules have changed. Wrestling is still an entertainment form which relies on human emotion. It's good vs. evil, and the evil bad guys still try to engender a negative emotional reaction from the crowd. It's like it always was in that sense. But the rules – as dictated by society – have changed. Even performers in a show cannot get away with doing things that performers in past eras got away with.
WWE mirrors society and adjusts accordingly with what they present as television. In a more image conscious, don't say this and can't say that and apologize for this society, WWE have become more conscious of their own behaviours. They are more watchful of their image now than they ever were, and in their attempted expansion, they are going to take the path of least resistance. If suspending Jericho appeases the authorities and people of Brazil, WWE will do it. If firing Finlay appeases the National Guard, they'll do it. Fuck what heels of old did and got away with.
The game is the same but the rules have changed. What was acceptable for a heel to do way back when has been outlawed now. So yeah, at one point, fighting with fans, flipping people off and denigrating flags was just what heels did. But they don't now. WWE is watching itself more than ever because society is watching itself more than ever.
As far as what could be offensive or acceptable goes, the world is policing itself more than ever. And as society's mirror, wrestling will do the same.