Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mick Foley vs. 20/20

First and foremost, I knew Mick Foley was a pretty down-to-earth guy. That's made blatantly clear through his interviews and his documentary. But it wasn't until starting to read Have a Nice Day! that I began to realize how seriously awesome Mick is; his love for his kids shines through as well as his ability to write in a relaxed way with such a unique fluidity. Brilliant.

But the brilliance doesn't stop there. He puts forth some seriously poignant ideas about wrestling. There are people continuously attacking wrestling, unable to understand how it can be so popular if it's "fake." But Mick puts forth the idea that the real world is more fake than wrestling. And he makes a solid point. After seeing his interview with 20/20 about backyard wrestling, he sees that his words were twisted and taken out of context. They made him out to look like he encouraged reckless and dangerous backyard stunts. He was furious. And even more so after he realized there was literally nothing he could do about it. Their journalism was considered legitimate journalism. And that's what's horrifying. All journalism is like that anymore. A combination of sound bytes and video clips arranged in such a way as to paint the picture they want painted. We saw this happening a lot after the Ferguson shooting. Everyone was twisting the story to fit their opinion and it got to a point where no one knew the whole and complete truth except for the cop and Michael Brown. At least with wrestling now they're up front about the fact that it's all pure entertainment. Yes, people do get legitimately hurt, but the story lines, the characters, they're all very much fake. They only maintain kayfabe to preserve the fun and excitement of it all. But it's not because they're trying to seriously fool anyone. The news, however, does try to fool you because they want you to believe their version of the story.

And when you live in a world where professional wrestling is more trustworthy than the 5 o'clock News, that's a horrifying reality.

Get it? WWE Super Bowl commercial

No, Vince, I don't get it. 

I wish the author tag-team who wrote Sex, Lies, and Headlocks had taken a stab at explaining what Vince meant when he asked if we "got" the WWF attitude as a guy falls out of an exploding office building.

The way I see it, Vince's words have a double meaning.  First, the obvious—get it: an imperative statement, commanding the viewer to watch wrestling, buy wrestling gear, come to live events, and ultimately to invest in the business of the WWF.  The only reason I suggest a second meaning is that Vince's line doesn't sound like an imperative statement.  His tone implies a question, like there's some funny joke that was made, if only you could figure out where the punchline was.  I was left with this feeling for a long time, watching and rewatching the clip to figure out what there was to "get."

I think this second meaning is a joke on the broadcasting company that was unhappy with the vulgararity of the new WWF shows.  In the same way that Triple H and Michaels mocked the new restrictions they were being  put under by reading them on the air  in a rebellious way, I think Vince was also making a statement to the company the was putting restrictions on him.  Maybe his "get it?" was not towards the fans, but towards the company that he was trying to ridicule.

Then again, maybe his question was more of an admission to the viewers:  "You know that this commercial isn't real—we don't really fight like this in the office—and our wrestling show is equally unrealistic (because we actually do all of the things that we just said we don't do), but you should play along.  Get it?"  The explosion and man falling from a high window just helps to emphasize the unlikelihood of this being reality.  What Vince is trying to say is that the WWF is about as real as that big Hollywood explosion.  "Get it?"

Whatever he meant, that Super Bowl commercial was definitely entertaining and controversial, especially at the time when it was first aired.  And look, we are still watching it years later and wondering... What did I miss?

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Triple H: Ring General and Backstage Politician"

(I figured, since he's obviously the only reason I'm taking this class, why not write about him?)

Triple H, Paul Levesque, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, The Game.

A lot of people argue that the only reason Triple H made it to where he is today as a major figure in the WWE is due to the fact that he married the heiress, Stephanie McMahon. But his in-ring prowess, sharp wit, and ability to work a crowd is simply unmatched. The WCW didn't give him a chance to shine as a singles player and so he made the smart decision, left, and signed with the WWE. It's here that he was able to truly develop his character and refine his skill. It's safe to say that he is probably one of the most dedicated and hard-working wrestlers in the business. In a tag team match with Steve Austin against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, he tore his left quadricep muscle clean off the bone...and still kept fighting. He was committed to finishing the match and making it a good one--he even let Jericho put him in his signature hold, The Walls of Jericho. And when he returned, he received one of the biggest "pops" in wrestling history. People missed him. He's a heel, but he plays a heel so well, people can't help but like him. He's had other injuries during matches where he continues to play out the match, heals, recovers, and returns in record time. He made a solid name for himself and now, standing next to Stephanie as COO, he has simply enhanced his political power. He not only knows how to play (and work) the Game, he has most definitely (and quite literally) become the Game.

First Fun with Foley

My favorite reading for Monday was definitely the beginning of Mick Foley's second book, Foley is Good, and the Real World is Faker Than Wrestling.  So far, I am liking Mick Foley a whole lot better than Ole Anderson, and I would say that I really like Ole.  I love Mick's humor and outdated pop culture references, even though they worries me a bit; I want people to be able to read his book ten or twenty years from now and not have to look up every reference he makes to get the joke.  Even now, there are many references that I don't understand because I wasn't immersed in pop culture in the 90s (I also love the fact that this hardcore, overweight, middle-aged wrestler could be such an avid Britney fan).  Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mick's first twelve chapters, and I think I am starting to understand how the real world could be faker than wrestling.  The story of how Mick was going to "be an author" just blew me away.  I had no idea that so-called "autobiographies" of celebrities and superstars were not actually written by the superstar (how can they be called autobiographies?).  This revelation is definitely worse than finding out that the tooth fairy isn't real (p 126).  Mick Foley tried to work with Larry, the autobiography-biography-novelist, with disappointing results.  Thankfully, Foley decided to take matters into his own hands and actually write his own autobiography.  Foley also experiences the deceptive ways of journalists and creative editing in his interview with 20/20.  I think Foley has a valid point in accusing the "real world" of often being a little fudged, and I am excited to see what other topics he brings up to make his point clearer.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

No muscle bound man can take my hand from "My Guy"!

Wrestling characters are most compelling when they are exaggerations of the performer’s personality. So, when Vince McMahon is portraying the “Mr. McMahon” character we see part of his real-self. “Mr. McMahon” is ruthless, prone to anger outbursts, sneaky, macho, and above all else, power-hungry. I love watching him play this role. He also portrays it in a cartoonish manner, which distances his real identity from the character. However, I would argue that McMahon’s perceived personality is most strikingly found in how he portrays the top babyfaces of the WWE. By looking at perhaps his most successful babyface champions, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and John Cena, we can see elements of what McMahon admires, and what he may ultimately identify as his most admirable qualities. It is important to note that McMahon has historically differentiated his promotion from others in many ways, but it is his use of a babyface or protagonist at the top of the card that is most impactful to the way that WWE frames their storylines. McMahon has characterized his type of baby-face as, “My Guy”. The fans will want to cheer for “My Guy” because he is someone people can get behind. Unlike in WCW, in McMahon's promotion the top good guy tends to win more than he loses.  
In the case of Hulk Hogan, we saw a spokesperson for all that was great about America during the overly-optimistic Regan years of the 1980s. Hogan is powerful and wants the power of Hulkamania (which amounts to millions of people believing in him) to take over the world for the good. He was obsessed with physical training and vitamin supplements, was a glamours celebrity, and no one could beat him in a fair fight. During the 80s we see McMahon put out a positive product that was focused on celebrity, glamor, and touted as very American. Despite being physically threatened by “old-school” promoters, McMahon also appeared positive in public about his putting many wrestlers and promoters out of a job. He was ready to take over the world for the better. In addition, McMahon is a gym junkie and is all about glamor and celebrity.

Following several lack luster years McMahon becomes an underdog. Enter "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. "Stone Cold" fought “The Man”! He  was tough, never gave up, and was the only one with the answer. The answer was, “kick ass and don’t worry about stomping on people because this is the only way to win the war.” This was during the late 90s when McMahon was in a ratings war with WCW and needed to work harder and be tougher to win.  McMahon won the “Monday Night Wars,” and likely saw his own toughness and “ends justify the means” behaviors as admirable qualities.

Finally, in John Cena, we see a person who preaches, “Hustle, Loyalty & Respect,” but has a penchant for “poopy” jokes (as does McMahon), is positive no matter what happens to him, loves working out, and never stops working. He also appears to have a corporate mindset. He believes the system is fair, and one would just need to work hard to be a winner. During the new millennium McMahon took his company public and found a good corporate spokesman in Cena. In addition, workaholic, gym rat, McMahon is very interested in being a good “corporate citizen”. In fact, we get to see lots of pink once a year in honor of cancer awareness, and Make-A- Wish participants are shown at televised events. However, unlike Hogan and Austin, Cena is often booed. The flip side of being a corporate man is that corporations are hated by many. In his real life McMahon, the head of the corporation, has been booed by many as well (see examples of the 90s steroids trail and his spending millions on his wife’s failed senatorial campaigns). I think Cena represents McMahon’s desire to demonstrate that he will keep coming to work no matter what people write or say about him. You can’t keep Cena or McMahon down!  However, Cena will get old like Hogan, and physically broken down like Austin, and a new babyface will emerge. You can bet your bottom dollar that the next big “My Guy” will be handpicked and molded in the image of Vincent Kennedy McMahon. May God have mercy on our souls.  

Does violence mirror society? Foley's take

In Foley’s book, Foley Is Good, Foley goes into how he pitched a match to McMahon, where Foley could show how bad a heel The Rock was, by having Foley say “I Quit.” Foley would also bring his wife and kids to the Royal Rumble, and his wife would “throw in the towel” for Foley, by saying he quits… Vince agreed to it, and after the fifth hit over the head with a steel chair, Noelle would call it quits for Mick. One of the things Foley was worried about was reopening a cut on his head and bleed. All of this in the background of the wrestling industry being under scrutiny from the Parents Television Council on one side of the spectrum to Muslims on the other side.

As it turns out, the match script was changed, and for Foley it was a disaster in terms what he was concerned about, the blood and the script, which The Rock didn’t follow (according to Foley.) Rock hit Foley almost double the number of times he was supposed to—not waiting the minute or two in-between as he was supposed to, but just seconds between. Foley could not recover, although he was really hurting and bleeding profusely, all this made worse by being handcuffed. So much for the Parents Television Council. Foley’s wife and kids were in the audience and their terror of the match could be seen.

In his book, Foley defends the violence of wrestling, saying that it actually mirrors society by giving fans what they want. He compares violence in wrestling to traditional stories such as Hansel and Gretel (child abuse, imprisonment, murder by oven,) Sleeping Beauty (rape, adultery, attempted cannibalism), etc and others. In my opinion, although the symbolism is there in fairy tales, the actual acts are not. Fairy tales are many times told in order to keep children from doing things, keeping them on the right track of societal norms or beliefs of the time, or to warn them as a consequence of their impending actions.  He compares wrestling violence to movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator.

Foley then goes into wrestling violence versus other sports, such as baseball with Roger Clemens hitting Mike Piazza in the head with a fastball, or hockey (where stitches number in the hundreds), or football when Joe Theismann had a compound leg fracture from a Lawrence Taylor hit. I consider these Foley examples to be relatively seldom occurring events. Of course, in terms of today’s society, there is a great deal of concern currently both in amateur football and pro ball with the head concussions. So maybe Foley was on to something. Or, is it a product of Foley’s time, and is it now reflective of our time? 

Reminder, I will be out for the rest of this week. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Let the Monday Night War Begin...

I really enjoyed reading about the beginning of the Monday Night War.  I have heard plenty of references to the event (especially now that the WWE has a documentary-esque show dedicated to chronicling the War), but I never really knew more than the basics of the conflict (that it was a fight for viewers between WCW and WWF).  I was surprised that WCW posed a legitimate threat to WWF, just because I know how the story ends.  Though Vince initially tried to say that WWF shows were "cleaner" or more child/family friendly than WCW's, he eventually began fighting the ratings war by going darker and more sadistic.  He went from an almost believable sporting event to a real life horror show.  His reasoning—that his wrestling had to compete not only with Turner's wrestling, but also with popular prime time television shows—seems valid, although I don't think I would have been a fan during that time.  Whereas pre-taped dramas can use CGI and animation to provide (fake) realistic gore, wrestling is live, with no way to edit in some fake injuries.  Knowing that people were actually getting hurt would make it painful for me to watch.  We watched the Undertaker-Mankind Hell in a Cell match last week, and it was legitimately hard for me to watch.  If wrestling looked like that every week, I don't think I would continue to tune in.
On November 7, 1996, the WWF aired a disturbing event that was planned between Brian Pillman and Stone Cold Steve Austin that implied that Pillman shot Austin in the chest with a 9mm gun.  Vince would later argue that the show was no different from "police shows and cable movies," and that it was for an adult audience (why was a child's toy advertised after the clip?), and his content would continue to be dark, despite being continuously reprimanded by the network.  He was, after all, competing with the likes of <i>NYPD Blue, Homicide, Cops</i>, and <i>Law & Order</i>.  The path that wrestling was on would either bring it to the forefront of mainstream entertainment or condemn it as too violent and vulgar for television.  I look forward to reading more about how this "war" played out and how McMahon managed to come out on top.

Behind the scenes.

I just amazes me how many behind the scenes antics took place between the WCW and WWF, as mentioned in Sex, Lies and Headlocks. First, Bischoff gets Hogan to come over to the WCW camp, complete with a ticker-tape parade announcing his return to wrestling. Bischoff gave up a couple of million dollars for six months work and a cut of the pay-per-view to Hogan for the privilege, as well as boosting Hogan’s already huge ego. This led to the Flair / Hogan matches in which Hogan worked light. WCW had heavily spent on publicity, but it paid off.

In the meantime, WWF on USA network was breaking cable viewership records, thank you very much, even though McMahon was upset that Hogan was trying to recreate the WWF of old within the WCW. Meanwhile, Lex Luger who was working for WWF, secretly left that camp as McMahon watched Luger perform on TV for the WCW, and so the Monday night wars began.

Now, both the WCW and WWF were opposite shows on Monday night. McMahon, in order to cut costs, taped most of the show earlier.  WCW’s Bishoff picks up on this, and during the WCW live broadcast, tells the audience that there is no need to switch channels, and proceed to tell the audience the results of the WWF’s wrestling card which was held a few weeks before. The first salvo goes to WCW and Bishoff for preempting the competition.  

This was at a period in our political history where Congress was taking up the issue of violence in the entertainment industry. McMahon picks up on this and starts writing “Dear Ted” missives, such as … Turner Broadcasting will be presenting the most violent pay-per-view ever—WCW Uncensored… this tasteless event … Of course, McMahon and the WWF would never be a part of such violence. Round two to the WWF.

Later, McMahon did some personal lampooning of Billionaire Ted in a series of TV shows. These really became personal attacks on Ted Turner himself with racial and violence against women overtones. When the skits ran deep, McMahon pulled the show, but not before petitioning the FTC to go against the merger of Turner and Time-Warner, as McMahon said, Turner was “engaged in a systematic plan to destroy the WWF.”  How hypocritical is that statement. Did McMahon make that statement while talking to a mirror about himself? Round three to WWF.

These middle chapters in the book really give us a huge insight as to the events that unfolded, as well as the backstabbing between Turner and McMahon during this time period of wrestling history. The reading itself is like watching a match!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are You Kidding Me?

As we all know, I am not used to the dynamics of professional wrestling and I don't know a whole lot about it. That's why Chapter 9 of "Sex, Lies, and Headlocks" by Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham blew my mind. Like, I still can't fathom it all. There's a story told about how they turned one of the wrestlers heel. The promoters chose a handicapped, autistic kid from the crowd (in a wheel chair, I might add) to present a plaque to a wrestler. The kid was having trouble reading the plaque, stuttering a lot, and taking a long time to read it all. The wrestler "grabbed the plaque and ambushed the handicapped fan with it." He ambushed the child as part of the script to turn him heel! Like, is this a joke? We all know that the kid was star struck and just an awe from being in a wrestling scene. It's like they just crushed his dreams right after making them come true. Maybe that's why Disney is far more popular than WWE.

Also the end of chapter 10 in the same book just irritated me. Goldust who, obviously, represented a gay man. He would make homosexual advances toward the wrestlers in the ring, despite having a wife in real life. One of the wrestlers called him a "queer," which was scripted. As the book discusses, this was many children's first views of homosexuality. This caused them to homosexuality as an evil thing and disliked Goldust. Their dislike toward Goldust transformed to dislike toward all homosexuals.

Monday, October 13, 2014

While we were sitting in  class today, I realized that I had forgotten to create a new post for today. So I'm just going to submit one a tad late and focus on things that we discussed in class. A topic that I really thought a lot on was the transition of wrestling from being real to being scripted. Fans got bored with watching wrestling because it was so long and got to a point where it was no longer entertaining. To keep the sport "alive" they scripted the matches and added story lines. I wonder if this is possible for it to happen within other sports in the future. Could we script the NBA if it got so boring? LeBron's return to the Cavalier's could have been a huge story line.

I also had an interesting thought while we were discussing how part of the script to many wrestling matches is making the good guy beat on and beat on until they finally have a pin or win and the crowd then goes crazy. When this discussion was brought up in class, one major icon within pop culture was brought to my mind. Leonardo Dicaprio, of course. He has had MANY great roles within movies, and has nominated for four Oscar's, but has yet to win. This last Oscar night, he was one of the main people talked and tweeted about. People are highly anticipating him to win won. I imagine him finally winning one having a similar reaction from his fans as a baby face would have in wrestling after finally winning a match.


In "The Logic of Professional Wrestling" by Laurence De Garis, he discusses how the best wrestling matches follow a certain formula that recreate those "miracle moments" in sports, like "the home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game, the last-second field goal, the final-round knockout while you are behind on the judges' scorecard" (201). The only way to recreate those moments is to seamlessly and flawlessly execute a performance. It is interesting to note, however, that a lot of wrestling fans will actively seek out errors and mistakes in maneuvers, sometimes without even realizing it. They will try to pay close attention and catch a wrestler whispering the next move to another wrestler. Like the article suggests, "one of the strongest sources of pleasure for fans of spectator sports is the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing something that one is not supposed to see" (201). This is why we see such popular Internet videos that have compiled a wrestler's botched performance. Simply YouTube-ing "botchamania" will yield countless examples of these videos. Enjoy this Wrestlemania 30 edition:

People love seeing things they're not supposed to see. People also love seeing their heroes make mistakes. People love seeing the inner workings of their most beloved show. These superstars are the big time, the real deal. And seeing them make a mistake is exciting (and sometimes funny) because we realize that they're human too. They're more human than they are allowed to let on through their character. It also makes you feel connected to the wrestlers when you catch them whispering things to one another, whether it be the next move or if they're simply asking if they're OK.