Have you heard of the Be A Star campaign? If so, you already know that WWE and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have been teaming up for a few years now to combat bullying. (If you haven’t heard of Be A Star, I can only assume that you’ve never watched WWE. Perhaps you are a fan of the obscure aquatic sport of carp-wrestling and simply typed the wrong URL into your browser. This is Wrestlecrap.com)
This campaign might seem hypocritical for WWE, given that it consistently presents bullying going unpunished week after week by Ryback and even Be A Star spokesperson Stephanie McMahon. However, baffling and insincere cooperation between WWE and GLAAD is nothing new, having started with an ill-fated relationship in 2002.
That was the year that WWE’s own Billy & Chuck, an ambiguously gay tag team in the vein of Too Much and The West Hollywood Blondes, ditched the “ambiguously” part, with Chuck dropping down to one knee and proposing to Billy. This, of course, forever destroyed the appeal of the “Are they or aren’t they?” gimmick, since once someone officially comes out of the closet, it’s no longer funny to joke about their orientation. Just look at Clay Aiken, Ricky Martin, and Lance Bass: no one makes gay jokes about them anymore, and not just because they haven’t been famous in years.
That spelled big trouble for Billy & Chuck, as gay jokes were their sole source of heat. Now, fans either had to cheer them because they were openly gay (which, given their alignment as heels and the attitude of the average wrestling fan at the time, was unlikely) or boo them because they were openly gay (which would be a PR disaster).
GLAAD, ever the optimists, thought fans would cheer the happy couple, whom they viewed as an inspiration to closeted gay teens, clearly unaware that the tag team’s sexuality had been played for laughs and never taken seriously until the marriage proposal. They praised WWE’s portrayal of Billy & Chuck for being enlightening and not stereotypical (apparently having missed the part about the homoerotic swimsuit posedown…
…the compromising backstage stretching routines…
…or the prissy stylist providing them fashion insight.
And they definitely must have missed the proposal itself, where Rico urged Chuck to reach into his trunks and “pull out the love,” which turned out to be the wedding ring and not his penis, as we were expected to believe.)
While most every wrestling fan could see the writing on the wall for Billy & Chuck, GLAAD tried to spin the angle as groundbreaking television, boasting about having consulted with WWE two months prior to the ceremony to ensure a positive long-term portrayal of gay people. After all, if two characters get married on a TV show, they’re clearly going to stay together forever, right?
What GLAAD perhaps failed to understand was that wrestling was not analogous to any other form of fiction or entertainment media. For one thing, unlike actors on regular TV shows, wrestlers frequently undergo drastic personality changes, often with little build-up. Billy Gunn, for example, transformed from a cowboy to a wannabe musician to a man obsessed with his own butt to a homosexual, all within six years. What were the chances that this “committed gay couple” gimmick would last longer than a few months?
Another difference between wrestling and other media is that, unless he dons a mask, a wrestler will almost always be the same “character” even if his gimmick changes drastically. Even if he jumps to another wrestling promotion, he will usually carry with him the baggage of previous gimmicks, which an entirely different set of writers must try to explain away. For example, every time Dustin Runnels (no stranger to GLAAD) changed gimmicks, he had to explain that for whatever reason, all of his previous gimmicks (like Dustin Rhodes, Goldust, The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust, or Seven) weren’t “the real him” and were the result of a rocky relationship with his father, bad decisions by rival promotions’ creative teams, or, in the case of TNA’s Black reign character, a split personality.
For as much as people talk about how wrestling fans practice “suspension of disbelief,” in some ways they are actually much more demanding of realism than consumers of other media. Movie-goers are fine with pretending for 90 minutes that a well-known actor is a completely different person. That’s why no Hollywood writer ever had to cook up a long-winded backstory rationalizing how Harrison Ford could pilot a spaceship in a galaxy far far away, then discover the Ark of the Covenant, only to be framed for the murder of his wife and finally be elected President and kick hijackers out of his plane.
When taken together, these two peculiar qualities of pro wrestling meant that not only would Billy and Chuck sooner or later stop playing gay characters, but that the straight characters they would inevitably end up playing would always be “ex-gays.” When the Billy & Chuck gimmick grew stale, they couldn’t just be written off the show and replaced by two entirely new characters played by the same actors. No, Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo would forever after be the straight guys who used to be gay but then got bored with it and switched back.
And besides all that, weddings never go off as planned in wrestling, or else why have the wedding on TV in the first place? And even when the weddings do result in kayfabe matrimony, wrestlers’ TV marriages end almost as quickly as their real ones.
In other words, GLAAD were the only people in the world expecting the Billy & Chuck gimmick to end well. It was almost unbelievable that they would give the wedding angle their blessing, even giving the fictitious couple a wedding gift of a gravy bowl (which I imagine is a miniaturized ceramic version of the thing the Divas wrestled in every Thanksgiving). Of course, that might have had to something to do with WWE telling them that the commitment ceremony, taped two days earlier, went off without a hitch. Good thing they didn’t read the spoilers.
See, a mere week after Chuck’s proposal and the duo’s “coming out,” it was time for the commitment ceremony. On the night of WWE’s enlightening, non-stereotypical gay wedding, the effeminate fashionista Rico was throwing a hissy-fit over the phone. He couldn’t get the wedding cake people to understand that there would be two grooms.
He also convinced Stephanie McMahon to be the wedding’s witness, without whom the ceremony wouldn’t be legally binding. This was 2002, of course, when no state in the country legally recognized same-sex marriage, but if WWE still can’t understand the concept of an “ironclad contract” today, how could you expect them to be legal experts back then?
In the ring to introduce the commitment ceremony, Rico compared his two clients to the crew of the Starship Enterprise while fans booed the stylist, perhaps in hopes of bringing William Shatner back to the ring to clean house one last time.
In fact, fans booed pretty much the entire ceremony, such as when the two grooms danced to the ring to the tune of “It’s Raining Men.” I guess they couldn’t appreciate how non-stereotypical and inspirational it all was.
All the while, a truly decrepit-looking reverend presided over the ceremony, speaking at a snail’s pace (if snails could speak) and sounding just about ready to keel over and die at any moment. In other words, he was shaping up to be the second-worst minister in WWE history, after Goldust and Aksana’s.
Chuck Palumbo proceeded to share his own self-prepared wedding vows, telling Billy that he had captured something greater than any tag team championship: his heart. Someone needs to update the “Championships and Accomplishments” section of Gunn’s Wikipedia page.
Billy told Chuck that he wanted to make him his tag team partner for life. Did he mean like The Rock & Roll Express? Because I don’t think I want to know Gunn’s idea of a “hot tag.”
We were then treated to a package… that is, a video recap of Billy & Chuck’s whirlwind romance – in other words, their most over-the-top gay moments. “That was exquisite!” said Rico.
When it came time for anyone who objected to the union to speak, the entire arena erupted in boos, which I can only imagine, in GLAAD’s minds, meant that they hated the idea of anyone opposing the same-sex wedding.
Sure enough, though, someone did have an objection, and that someone was everyone’s favorite pimp, the Godfather, who tried to convince the grooms to go back to their former, womanizing ways. Rico would have none of it, ejecting the Godfather and his “good-time girls” from ringside much to the fans’ dismay. At least we got a good reading on the fans political views (Prostitution: good. Gay marriage: bad). There was tradition to consider, after all, and you can’t get much more traditional than the world’s oldest profession!
It was then time for the I Do’s. The fans pleaded with Billy to “just say no” to tying the knot (or the tag rope?) with his partner, but the former cowboy didn’t know how to quit Chuck, so he said yes. At Rico’s urging, Chuck said yes, too.
However, before the Justice of the Peace could pronounce them Mr. and Mr. Ass, Chuck spoke up and started arguing with Rico.
Billy said it was all supposed to be a publicity stunt, and that he and Chuck, supposed inspirations for closeted teenage boys everywhere, weren’t gay after all. Cheers broke out throughout the arena.
Yes, we already knew that this was all just a publicity stunt, but we didn’t know that, in storyline, Billy and Chuck were in on it, too. Were we supposed to believe that the two partners were merely acting gay on purpose all along for the better part of a year just to get publicity? Or was the gay marriage stunt cooked up later, once they figured out that fans thought they were gay (due to their innocent and totally unintentional displays of affection)?
Either way, once fans found out that the former tag team champions had lied to the entire world about being gay just to get attention, they immediately embraced them as heroes.
The minister then interrupted the bickering and began to ramble about how special commitment was, no matter whether it lasted “fifty years, sixteen months, or three minutes.” That’s when the entire audience at home and at the arena froze with utter shock. After all, what kind of “commitment” lasts only three minutes? Nick Patrick has done fast counts that took longer than that!
No, wait, that’s not why they were shocked. They were shocked because the words, “three minutes” were the signal for Raw’s 3 Minute Warning tag team to hit the ring. That meant that the minister wasn’t an old man… it was Eric Bischoff in disguise!
I’ll give this angle credit: the Scooby-Doo reveal truly was shocking and unexpected, and not even in the nonsensical Vince Russo way. The events that would transpire over the next week, however, would suggest that WWE blew all of its makeup budget on this one stunt, but that’s another story for another day (like, say, next Thursday).
The ring was then invaded by the two super-heavyweight thugs who, three days before GLAAD congratulated Billy & Chuck on the Today Show with a wedding gift, had brutalized two lesbians in their underwear.
Bischoff worked with Rosey, Jamal, and the traitorous Rico to tear down the wedding set, dispose of the would-be grooms, and beat up rival GM Stephanie McMahon before getting driven off by the Smackdown locker room. I can see now why WWE told GLAAD that the ceremony went as planned; this was about as successful as wrestling weddings get.
For all the publicity it generated (first good, then all bad), this angle went nowhere (well, counting the ensuing match-up at Unforgiven, worse than nowhere) and ultimately helped no one. Sure, Rico beat Ric Flair clean (!) on the next Raw, but after that 3-minute push, the stylist became the manager of the decidedly unfashionable 3 Minute Warning (who never amounted to anything) before transforming into a GLAAD-unfriendly Adrian Street knock-off.
Jamal had some success, but only despite this angle, being re-packaged years later under facepaint as Umaga. Rosey became a Super Hero In Training and had a career befitting that name. Billy & Chuck split up shortly after the publicity stunt, with Billy returning as “Mr. Ass” to have a four-way with Jamie Noble and two women, and with Chuck becoming a forgettable Full-Blooded Italian and later, an extremely forgettable biker.
All in all, everyone involved has done a big pile of nothing since then, but really, it’s only appropriate that WWE would completely Billy-Gunn this angle.
As for GLAAD, they were outraged that they were made fools of, having bought Vince McMahon’s story of a positive gay relationship hook, line, and sinker.
If only the leaders of GLAAD had watched more wrestling, they would have wised up to McMahon’s bait-and-switch tactics. They also might have learned a thing or two from Jake Roberts: Vince is a snake. Never trust a snake!