In the United States of America, there’s a time-honored tradition for crotchety television viewers and radio listeners to voice their dissatisfaction over what they deem excessive sex and violence: complaining to the Federal Communications Commission. Between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., the public airwaves cannot be used to broadcast “indecent” and “profane” material. Officially speaking, it’s “indecent” if it “portrays sexual or excretory organs or activities in a way that does not meet the three-prong test for obscenity” and it’s “profane” if it “includes ‘grossly offensive’ language that is considered a public nuisance.” Violate those rules and you may get a hefty fine.
For the FCC to actually take action is exceedingly rare these days, but past infractions have included an episode of NYPD Blue featuring “dorsal nudity,” various episodes of Howard Stern’s radio show, and, of course, Janet Jackson’s nipple being visible for a split second during the Super Bowl halftime show. For that last one, the FCC noted in its official action (PDF) that “the Commission received an unprecedented number of complaints alleging that the CBS Network Stations aired indecent material during the program.”
As an unabashed pro wrestling geek and a fan of the hilarious FCC complaint archive at public records repository MuckRock, I sent in Freedom of Information Act requests to try to get complaints about all sorts of wrestling shows from throughout the decades. Imagine the kinds of bloody, offensive things that people would have complained about! Unfortunately, though, if no action was taken, the FCC only holds onto complaints for three years, so everything that they sent me was about recent-ish World Wrestling Entertainment programming. Being that today’s WWE is, at least theoretically, a PG-rated, family-friendly program, that actually makes the complaints funnier, as does the fact that the FCC can’t do anything because all of WWE’s shows are on cable. The FCC only controls the “public airwaves,” meaning over the air broadcast television and radio.
The documents, as sent to me, are mostly in reverse chronological order, jumping ahead when the FCC apparently switched complaint ticketing systems. As a teaser, I tweeted the complaint from the first page, and it completely blew up my Twitter account:
This complaint, dealing with “The Bulgarian Brute” Rusev and his manager, “The Ravishing Russian” Lana, is a fascinating case study. First of all, the guy can’t spell: Rusev becomes “Resuv,” “Resav,” and even “Resve,” while Lana is now his “manger.” Where it gets even more peculiar is that this person clearly understands that Monday Night Raw is a fictional television program… but still feels that “Resuv and his manger” are committing terrorism by “bad mouth[ing] America” and pulling down the American flag. So he kindly requests that the FCC make the WWE “change their story line according to the laws.” Ah yes, the laws.
If the writing style and listed hometown of Waverly, NY are any indication, then this complaint, from seven months earlier, was written by the same disgruntled viewer. “WWE is impersonation police officers and it was recorded during the live show.” the complaint reads. “I know its very much illegal in all states to do that. Please take away their broadcasting rights and fine them.” Unlike in the later complaint, there’s no ostensible awareness of pro wrestling being fiction.
This person, however, clearly does not understand the distinction, complaining that “On augest 18 2014 dean ambrose was assulted by member’s. of the authority”. Weird that someone would complain to the FCC about this and not call the police. (Yes, wrestling fans have a history of doing just that.)
This complainant is disturbed by something completely unexpected: Having to explain the concept of adult beverages to his or her children. “They claim they are a family friendly wrestling product and blah blah blah but they have a two characters do a live commercial for TWISTED TEA!!!!! Then my kids are asking me for Twisted Tea and I had to tell them what it is.” Just serve them ice tea and call it a day, man.
Sent from Berkeley, California, “ur example” of a stereotypical liberal college town… yet it’s about how the program in question is inappropriate for a churchgoing community with “over five different denominational churches in a half mile radius” and “two or three elementary schools.” There are also no specific complaints. It’s just “very graphic viewing of false interpretation of religious practices” that was “striking fear in elderly neighbors women and children in the community.”
Are some of these people are just trolls? It’s entirely possible, but anyone filing insincere complaints is trolling a very, very small audience.
That being said, it happens.
Three days later, the above was followed up with this:
A little kid who knows the term “five-knuckle shuffle” from watching John Cena on WWE programming is going to think it means “jumping punch to the face of someone who is lying down” and nothing else. Especially not something as porn-y as what the letter writer is suggesting.
(Please note that one of the black redaction boxes looks different from the others. That’s because the FCC forgot to redact this poor delicate soul’s phone number when producing the documents to me. Oops.)
This complainant right here is outraged, shocked, and/or appalled that New Day members Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, and Big E (let’s be honest, especially Big E) are “out on Television jiratting their pelvic area while wearing pants that are tight in the crotch leaving nothing to the imagination.” He means gyrating, in case that was unclear. As for how form fitting their gear is, Big E is clearly aware:
That said, this is one of the few complaints where the overall thesis is almost sound, more or less: That WWE’s content should fit with their purported “family friendly” image more consistently. Acknowledging that “I know that I can change the channel,” this person wants WWE to “practice the ‘all or nothing’ theory” when it comes to extreme violence or “women shaking their butts.” WWE shouldn’t be trying to have it both ways, mixing the family-friendly branding with elements that are more explicit that advertised. Having said that, there is a “less” to that “more or less”: You can’t have professional wrestling with zero violence, as it’s inherent to the genre. Combine that with the company moving away from a T&A-driven product when it comes to the female performers (a process already underway when the complaint was sent), and it falls apart.
Now, having read all of that outrage: Imagine if we had these complaints from when people thought that pro wrestling was nonfiction. It’s a shame that the FCC doesn’t retain these longer.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer/reporter and podcaster from New York. You can follow him on Twitter, and his latest ebook, The Great Wight Hope, is available from Amazon and all other ebook stores, as well as PayHip.