A recent Thursday evening...
As I recline in my Lazy Boy for an evening of television, I am torn. So much quality programming, so little time. I settle on Smackdown!, the "sports entertainment" program produced for UPN by the World Wrestling Federation.
After an uneventful opening segment, I am wowed by a word from our sponsors. Kudos to the WWF for reaching out to female viewers with an inspirational, girl-centered anti-drug ad -- and to Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey for delivering this message to a mostly male audience.
The ad's theme is soccer. We see young girls giving it their all on a muddy field and the U.S. Women's Team pursuing, then celebrating, a World Cup championship. Standing out among the white-clad whoopers is famed Brandi Chastain, looking buff in her black Nike bra. You go, girl!
As these images roll on one half of the screen, a procession of women and girls on the other half speak eloquently to their sisters:
Chastain: "There's never been a better time to be a girl -- to be brilliant, fierce."
An Olympic teammate: "To start something."
Girl #1: "There's never been a better time to be a girl."
Girl #2: "Not the 1950s."
Girl #3: "Not the Middle Ages."
Girl #4: "The Victorian Era definitely stunk."
Tiffeny Milbrett (soccer Olympian): "There's never been a better time to be a girl."
Another teammate: "To take barriers and smash them to pieces."
Girl #5: "There's never been a better time to be a girl."
Chastain: "There's never been a better time to be what you are: a force to be reckoned with: a girl."
Girl #6: "There's never been a better time not to use drugs."
Chastain: "Don't blow it."
Unspoken message displayed on screen: "Opportunity: the anti-drug."
They couldn't be more right. Today, opportunities for girls and women abound -- nowhere more so than in the WWF, where women are doing things, inside the ring and out, that the Fabulous Moolah and other bygone greats could scarcely imagine.
Consider Mandy and Victoria, two talented young actresses who broke into the WWF playing no-name "ho's" in the Godfather's stable. The Godfather, incidentally, found the Lord this summer and is now the "Goodfather." Before being saved, however, he'd lead a procession of ho's into the ring, grab the mike and call out to his fans, "Have you been busy pimpin' ho's?" Judging from their enthusiastic response each week, they had.
Dumped by the born-again Goodfather, Mandy and Victoria launched a grassroots "Save the Ho's" campaign and hitched their stars to the ample frame of Rikishi, the most agile (and cellulitic) 423-pounder ever to lace on a corset and administer the "stinkface" to a vanquished foe. Tonight they are in his corner, looking positively ho-ish in white boots and cheeky hot pants. Whenever Rikishi wins, he and the girls dance. Tonight they dance.
The thrill may be gone for B. B. King, but not Jerry "the King" -- Lawler, that is. The former nemesis of Andy Kaufman, now a WWF commentator and part-time wrestler, is smitten with Mandy (or is it Victoria?). I hope love blooms, for they seem so right for each other -- she, the beautiful young actress; he, the has-been with the high-pitched scream and badly scarred forehead.
There's no glass ceiling at the WWF. Just ask sassy Trish Stratus, who has vaulted into upper management and currently directs the tag-team fortunes of "T and A," two personality-deficient giants named Tess and Albert.
Tonight Trish needs a third for a six-man brawl. The backstage camera eavesdrops as she approaches Cain. He plays hard to get. "Your mammary glands don't impress me," says Cain. Trish looks confused. She probes her neck with her index fingers, searching for the elusive glands. Darn it, she can't find them. Later in the show the King will croon, a la Bob Hope, "Thanks, for the mammaries."
The WWF promotes its women. Tonight the King and his play-by-play sidekick, Michael Cole, are talking up an exciting video. WWF Divas displays the ladies of wrestling in all (or most of) their splendor. Cole says they'll be featured Sunday night on TNN, the country music network. Watch out, Dixie Chicks. The WWF Divas are comin' atcha.
There's always been a place in the WWF for big, beautiful women, and Chyna, "The Ninth Wonder of the World," fits the bill. Throughout the broadcast the announcers "tease" an upcoming behind-the-scenes look at Chyna's appearance in ... Playboy.
Wow! Judging from the Smackdown! sneak preview, Chyna couldn't be more right when she says the layout "shows a very strong, sexy, powerful millennium woman." She sure has put me "in the mood" -- for her showdown with Steven Richards, that is.
Richards is president of Right to Censor, a sinister outfit seeking to eradicate sex and violence (i.e., "free speech") from the WWF airwaves. Picture moral crusader Bill Bennett with muscles but without the nicotine patch.
Richards brings a bathrobe to the ring, but Chyna wants no part of a cover-up. He corners her and screams "I'm trying to help you!" Seconds later it's Richards who needs help: Chyna has him by the balls.
Flash forward two minutes to a battered and beaten Richards propped up against the ring post. As the crowd goes wild, Chyna rubs salt in the bluenose's wounds, removing her garments one by one. Now down to her Wonderbra, g-string and fishnets, she shoots Richards a look of contempt and struts away.
During a break in the action I surf over to NBC. Lo and behold, who is lighting up the screen but Chastain and her anti-drug teammates. They're still in uniform and in action, but not on the field. They're in the produce section of the supermarket, shopping as only soccer superstars can. One bounces a head of lettuce with her feet, then boots it into the cart. Chastain follows with a header that splits a watermelon in half. Such talent! Then a Bud Light logo beams as the voiceover announces that Bud Light is proud to sponsor the U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team.
Talk about boundless opportunities. In the new millennium one can simultaneously sell out to McCaffrey's anti-drug crowd and Augie Busch's pro-drug crowd. (Call me crazy, but I count the drug alcohol as a drug.) Those soccer gals are so right: There's never been a better time to be a girl.
I surf back to Smackdown! just in time to see Chyna's pal Road Dogg beaten senseless with a trash can. Even in defeat, Road Dogg looks rad in a black-and-green jersey emblazoned with his female-friendly motto, "SUCK IT."
No sign tonight of Terri (described admiringly by the King as "that horny little she-devil") or Cat. Probably a wise management decision, as both are a bit over-exposed at the moment, having recently tangled, on Pay-per-view, in the first ever "Thong Match."
In the WWF, there's never been a better time to be a woman.
Dennis Hans is a freelance satirist and pundit whose essays have appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post, among other outlets. He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.