Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
I'm a subscriber to the WWE Network. I've been catching up as of late on a few tapings I didn't see all the way through during the Monday Night Wars.
As a woman, you can imagine that women's rights and how women are treated in the media are topics very important to me.
But… did the WWE just totally expose the act of victim shaming after rape?
For a company that has long been lauded for having questionable television, the WWE may have accidentally ripped open the proverbial curtain on a subject of victim-shaming, and exposed a seedy practice hidden right in our own backyard.
The date was November 29, 1999. The WWE was known as the WWF in those days, pending an unfair lawsuit from the World Wildlife Fund, and was dominating television screens during a time known as the Attitude Era. Monday Night Raw had earned itself an alarming TV14 rating, due to not only the usual violence involved with professional wrestling, but also for it's language, sexual content and a wide range of themes that would have made parents today cringe.
I'm sure you've no doubt seen clips of this particular episode on many a video package from the WWE in commercials for their DVD's and TV specials, but let's use the Network to rewind a little bit.
So we have a wedding in the ring. Pretty little Stephanie McMahon walks down the ramp with her father, Vince, and walks towards the ring. Dressed in angelic white, she's all smiles as her family cheers and grins at her entering the gate to marry her sweetheart, a blonde, muscular and charming young wrestler named Test. The glow on her teenage-looking face is as much aglow as the twinkling gems on her silver and diamond drop choker. Blood red roses adorn white gates, situated lovingly in front of and inside the wrestling ring, as the Billion-Dollar Princess receives help from her mother Linda and father up the stairs and into the squared circle.
Bride and groom are serenaded with an updated version of a song sung for Macho Man Randy Savage and Elizabeth's wedding, and then listen to a lovely sermon from the preacher.
Suddenly, Triple H appears, spoiling the pretty ceremony. An uninvited guest and personal enemy to Stephanie's father, Triple H directs the crowd's attention to the Titan Tron.
A grainy, nearly sepia-toned VHS video plays, showing Triple H driving through Las Vegas in the middle of the night and pointing out every adult book store, video store and club, then finally driving into a drive-through chapel.
He reads off the prices, and opts for a budget ceremony. Just $40.00 to say “I Do” no frills.
Driving through the most gorgeous drive-in imaginable, he points out all the painted cherubs on the ceiling before greeting a pastor. He produces the wedding license and a set of rings, and feigns Stephanie's voice, as the camera reveals Stephanie is passed out in the passenger side, propped up to look semi-awake. It's dark, so the pastor cannot tell the voice is not Stephanie and that the heiress to the WWE fortune is asleep, so she accepts Triple H's mock-voice as hers, and marries them.
The video then shows a man working at the chapel decorating the car. Jerry Lawler can be heard shouting, as it's revealed this young man was paid by Triple H to drug Stephanie at a party earlier the night the VHS was filmed. He then adds that the question is not “did he” but rather, how many times did he consummate their marriage while she was passed out.
Now if you're just watching a DVD vignette, you may remember what happens next. Triple H races off, while Vince holds his broken daughter and Test storms after her new husband.
But if you stopped watching here, or skipped ahead to the PPV, then you missed what the WWE did next.
Starting with that week's SmackDown taping, Stephanie returned to the ring to face the crowd. She at first blames herself for going to a party unchaperoned and for getting drugged by a stranger, but she slowly realizes that despite the guilt, it wasn't her fault. Nonetheless, she wants to set things right, despite feeling too much shame to call the police.
Her father and older brother Shane storm to the ring, understandably angry. But taking a more civilized approach, Stephanie encourages her father and brother to restrain their anger. She states through her tears that she is an adult, and she wants to handle this by herself. While her father is armed and ready to kill, he understands his daughter's request, and with much reluctance, backs down.
But what about Test, the charming young wrestler she was going to marry before all of this?
Heading backstage, she finds Test in a small room, and tries to explain what happened at the party, and that she can't remember anything. Still feeling victim guilt, she begs for forgiveness.
He can't even deal with her. What happened to her is too much for him.
In the subsequent weeks, he offers her no support, despite his anger towards Triple H. The entire event has upset him more than it should her, and he breaks off their engagement, eventually fading away from her. There was a brief feud with Triple H's faction D-Generation X, but this would quickly fizzle out. The following year would see Test briefly team with Triple H in a forgettable match, but ultimately, his feeling for Stephanie would be largely forgotten, despite having once fought her brother for the right to marry her earlier in 1999, with her hand as a trophy.
Now of course, there is a happy ending in all of this. December 12th the WWE held the Armageddon PPV. In a twist, Stephanie turns on her father, helps Triple H beat him in the main event, and then the following night, reveals that the entire rape and drugging was actually a clever act by the new couple. The duo had orchestrated the entire story to get back at Vince, who over the course of the 12 months of television leading up to this moment, had used Stephanie against her will as a business pawn, and had tried to not only marry her off to Test, but previously to The Undertaker, in a ritual that saw the princess stripped, re-dressed and tied to a crucifixion board, again in a business ploy developed by her father. So her marriage to Triple H was actually consensual after all.
The last minute consent may seem like a cop-out ending, but the entire two-week story uncovered the act of victim shaming and a post-rape lifestyle many young women face.
Test made the entire ordeal about himself, and broke up with Stephanie because she went to a party, got drugged and had someone else control her. Jerry Lawler threw jabs while on commentary that she had no right and no business being at a party without a chaperone, despite being an adult. Stephanie's circle hardly offered support, other than to either treat her as a trophy who had been stolen, a broken piece of merchandise, or as a harlot, the later of which would be parroted by the crowd, who slut shamed and cat called her at every turn, and would later continue chanting “slut” and “whore” at her in the years to come. In fact, it wasn't until after she became a mother to Triple H's real-life daughters that the crowd finally stopped accusing her of sleeping around. Countering the objectionable way she was treated up until the PPV, Jim Ross would often stand up for her against Lawler, insisting she was an innocent victim, but respecting her desire to fend for herself, withholding the name-calling until her official heel turn at Armageddon.
The WWE exposed rape culture and it's wide acceptance, and yet nobody has ever given the company credit for making the act look vile and unacceptable on television. All of the episodes leading up to and after the PPV, along with Armageddon itself, are currently available uncensored on the WWE Network. Unlike the current product, it's not suitable for children under the age of 14, but it is worth a second look.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!