The eruption after the whole Chris Benoit thing got me thinking about the morality of watching productions the cause its participants great harm.

Wrestling is one of those things. If steroid usage is as widespread as it often seems to be, we are watching an army of people destroying their bodies and/or consigning themselves to an early death for the sake of our entertainment. To the extent that we suspect this is happening are we or are we not morally bound to act on these suspicions?

Of course, what’s frustrating is that on television there is no drug-free alternative to the WWE. It’s not like boycotting Walmart and going to K-Mart instead because there’s nowhere for you to go. On the other hand, wrestling as a whole can be more easily replaced by comic books, and action shows on TV.

It’s not entirely a new question. To a lesser extent we see people putting their lives in great jeopardy every fall and winter Sunday. We watch boxers pound their face in. The difference, to the extent that there is one, is that in wrestling and football we are watching people compete. It’s an athletic competition. Wrestling, on the other hand, is an athletic display. Is that difference fundamental or something in my mind? I honestly consider things like figure dancing to be more a display than an actual competition even though it’s technically the latter.

What it actually reminds me of a little bit is pornography (I might as well earn this NC-17 rating that has been thrust upon me!). There are two basic moral objections to pornography that come to my mind. The first is that it is bad for the audience. Pornography combined with a lack of sexual experience can really warp one’s sexual mind. Their ideas of what a typical woman’s body looks like, what sexual positions are enjoyable or can be expected, and desensitization to sexual stimuli. The second is that it is bad for women. On top of the basic argument of objectification, many of them are selling their future employment and social prospects with images that last forever in a career that is typically very, very short-lived.

The last thing I am reminded of is gambling. For most people gambling is a frivolous activity or a fun game, but it ruins lives. We can talk all day long about how no one forces a gambler to go to a casino (just as no one forces anyone to audition for professional wrestling, play sports professionally, or star in porn), but be that as it may if there were no casino for him to go to his life would be materially better off and I’m not convinced that the lives of everyone else would be that severely disrupted.

I’m not advocating legally banning any of these things or even about government at all. They’d all persist even if illegalized. Rather, I am interested in the moral dimensions of engaging in activities of momentary benefit to you that harm other people a great deal. Even if you can handle pornography without getting desensitized, gamble without losing your life savings, or drink alcohol without drinking to excess, are we morally culpable for contributing to an industry that assists people in doing just those things? It’s not exactly something I’m comfortable with, but it’s hard for me to buy that I am not at least somewhat culpable. Sure, these things exist whether I partake or not, but that strikes me as something of a cop-out because it allows everyone to agree not to change their behavior.

Category: Coffeehouse

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2 Responses to Spectator Sin

  1. Peter says:

    Violent behavior among steroid users is not unknown (“roid rage”), but the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship is largely unproven. What may be the case is not that steroids cause people to become violent, but that violence-prone people are more likely to take steroids in the first place.

  2. Spungen says:

    On top of the basic argument of objectification, many of them are selling their future employment and social prospects with images that last forever in a career that is typically very, very short-lived

    Do you think this is still true? I can’t think of anyone who had career or social prospects that were ruined by discovery of a past career in porn. The closest I can think of is the Vanessa Williams scandal, and that was more than 20 years ago, and clearly it didn’t hurt her career in the long run.

    I’d also argue that the women who get involved in this don’t have many career or social prospects in the first place. Not that that justifies treating them poorly or exploiting them. I just want to be realistic about the real loss, if any.

    I know neither of those arguments address your main issue, which regards the morals of doing, promoting and normalizing something that is potentially harmful to others, because I enjoy it. But it seems almost any activity could fit that description. Sex fits that description.

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