Split decisions

BAY WRESTLING: Pro wrestling's many rounds of -- and rows between -- family values and sex and violence

Sexo y Violencia. It's a fitting tag for the L.A.-born spectacle known as Lucha VaVoom. Combining the traditional Mexican art form of lucha libre with a titilutf8g burlesque show, this unique blend of entertainment has definitely found its niche audience.

The marriage of sex and violence (in varying degrees) has always found its way into the squared-circle's storyline, whether it be Hulk Hogan's alleged lusting after Miss Elizabeth in the 1980s, or the more suggestive eye candy that the WWF/E (World Wrestling Federation and World Wrestling Entertainment) began parading around when the "Divas Campaign" kicked off in the 1990s.

Pro wrestling has always found a way to reflect mainstream and pop culture, even if its fans are considered to be on the fringe of society. The sport's two major peaks in late 20th century popularity are defined and clear-cut. In the 1980s, rock 'n roll, notions of good vs. evil, and the onslaught of mass consumerism ushered in the era of Hulkamania. In the 1990s, as the lines that defined heroes became more blurry and edginess and exaggerated sexuality took hold, cable television's Monday Night Wars and Austin 3:16 catered to the era of the intelligent fan.

Jan. 20, 1984: during the height of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State Charles Shultz designates Iran as a sponsor of international terrorism. Three days later, Hulk Hogan beats the Iron Sheik in Madison Square Garden to claim his first WWF world title. This was no coincidence. In fact it was destiny.

Vince McMahon, arguably wrestling's most savvy promoter, had been aggressively buying out smaller independent and regional promotions, building the monster that would become the WWF/E. With his tanned Venice Beach body-builder's physique and peroxide blond locks (and presumably with steroids coursing through his veins), Hogan was touted as the all-American hero. It totally made sense to play up current events by having the Sheik, with his curl-toed boots (somehow implying that he's Arab or evil) drop the title to Hogan, a symbol of our patriotic righteousness.

By no means was this a new formula. But never before had pro wrestling marketed it so successfully. The battle lines were drawn, and much like in neoconservative propaganda, any Russian or Arab in wrestling was clearly the bad guy.

In the 1980s, wrestling had a facade of innocence — the fans knew whom to root for, despite darker dealings behind the scenes with the steroid scandal about to explode. But fast-forward to wrestling's peak years in the 1990s, and things didn't exactly read as "family entertainment" anymore.

Midway into the '90s, the Monday Night Wars were in full swing. WCW (World Championship Wrestling), a rival promotion, had begun to give Vince McMahon a run for his money. WWE's Raw and WCW's Nitro were consistently cable's two top-rated shows, and they played off each other competitively, giving way to a more adult product. Wrestling had become cool again. Storylines became intricate and good guys played bad.

During the Clinton era, Hogan's real American image wasn't cutting it anymore. Wrestlers jumped ship between promotions in dramatic fashion, depending on where the better deal was or simply because they'd burned a bridge. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's beer-drinking common man persona as the quintessential badass provided an opportunity for universal identification with someone who rails against authority, gives his boss the middle finger, and basically lives the dream by kicking ass and taking names.

Wrestling's popularity comes in waves, and like politics, it vacillates between conservatism and unbridled, graphic mayhem. At the moment, McMahon's WWE is experiencing a "family entertainment" renaissance — he's trying to steer away from blood and sexual innuendo, keeping things PG.

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