NBCUniversal made headlines last June when it pulled a handful of 30 Rock episodes—featuring characters in Black or Brown-face—from circulation following a public request from series creator Tina Fey and executive producer Robert Carlock. The decision, like similar ones made by Netflix and ABC, came amid increased scrutiny during a summer dominated by Black Lives Matter protests in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black lives lost due to police brutality and racial violence. Decisions like the scrubbing of 30 Rock have become somewhat commonplace, which makes NBCUniversal’s latest attempt to rectify the racist ills of the past feel particularly... dubious. As Mashable reports, WWE fans have begun to notice that several scenes are conspicuously missing from old episodes of the prolific professional wrestling series. The scenes in question, as initially reported by PWInsider, featured racist content involving prominent figures like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Vince McMahon.
More specifically, Piper wears Blackface on one side of his face during a 2005 WrestleMania match against Black wrestler Bad News Brown. In another missing scene, this time from the 2005 Survivor Series, McMahon says the N-word during a conversation with Black wrestler Booker T. Unlike the 30 Rock situation, NBCUniversal kept quiet about its selective removal of offensive footage from the library it recently acquired from WWE. It wasn’t until the New York Times reached out for comment that Peacock sorta-kinda acknowledged the removal in a very brief statement that reads, “Peacock and WWE are reviewing all past content to ensure it fits our 2021 standards.”
As Mashable points out, this whole thing kinda reeks of an evasion of responsibility. There are numerous ways to address the offensive material, but the lack of transparency coupled with that statement to the Times suggests an unwillingness or complete disinterest in reckoning with the racist history of a fairly large and impactful piece of pop culture. It is willful ignorance at best—the same cowardice and refutation of responsibility that leads to the softening of slavery in textbooks and allows for certain people to claim that we live in a post-racial society. You cannot simply erase history and pretend like it never happened under the guise of revising media to conform to “2021 standards.” Or maybe Peacock can.