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  I love Mick's humor and outdated pop culture references, even though they worries me a bit; I want people to be able to read his book ten or twenty years from now and not have to look up every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 and 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.

Is Wrestling Logical?

Today in class, we will discuss the logic of professional wrestling.  I think there are two parts to this topic: the logic of a match, and the logic of wrestling in general.  The piece we read from <i>Steel Chair to the Head</i> does a very good job of discussing the in-ring logic of how a "good match" should look.  Where can we find someone to explain the logic behind watching two sweaty men in their underwear pretend to beat each other up?  It's a bit harder to justify.

We'll start with the easy one.  Laurence de Garis has an article entitled "The 'Logic' of Professional Wrestling," which is published in the book <i>Steel Chair to the Head</i>. In his writings, de Garis states that a "good" wrestling match needs three elements: believability, logic, and a story.  The three are closely tied together, but basically de Garis thinks that in a good match, the action follows the natural flow of a legitimate sporting event, the wrestlers react in logical and believable ways, and a story is presented with at least the three basic plot elements of exposition, climax, and resolution.  It's commonsensical, but when something is missing, the whole match loses that magical feel that we want to experience.  In that way, a wrestling match does follow an observable logic from match to match, as well as in a bigger picture view.

As for the logic of watching professional wrestling, people have used the excuse that it's a passion play of life's injustice, or that it's in our carnal nature to be drawn to the flesh-on-flesh violence of wrestling.  To wrestling outsiders, the appeal of the ring is a mystery (as I'm sure Marshall can attest), but to the fan, wrestling is a time for entertainment, socializing, and letting loose.  When else is it appropriate for grown men and women to jeer and scream profanities at their enemies?  I don't understand all of the logic behind wrestling (why don't they wear more clothes?), but I think each person has their own reasons for tuning in week after week.  Choosing to watch wrestling requires a personal logic of sorts, because wrestling is not exactly like anything else on television.

Why do you like wrestling?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wrestling Cannot Not Be Drama

While The "Logic" of Professional Wrestling by Laurence de Garis professed to enumerate the presence of "wrestling" in professional wrestling (as opposed to discussing drama, as most scholarly analyses of professional wrestling concern themselves with), and discuss the performative aspects in the wrestling match, the essay is still very concerned with dramatic aspects. Of his criteria for a good match (believable, logical, and tells a good story), they are all about how the physical labor of a wrestling match and how it becomes drama. The wrestler's performance is what composes a drama, and the piece becomes more of an explanation of the wrestler's role in the drama of wrestling, and I disagree with his assertion that wrestling cannot be considered a drama.
His paragraph on believability can be summarized as "a wrestler must keep kayfabe." Similar to a stage actor, the wrestler's actions have to be well-timed, and he has to keep up his persona. Wrestlers do this slightly differently than stage actors, but not enough to set it apart from drama. Logic and selling wrestling moves tie into the give and take of thespians interacting with the stage and other characters in a play. In the ring and on the stage there are set parameters of the realities of the world of the performance, and those rules must be upheld otherwise the performance suffers. Wrestlers simply have much more to consider physically than actors onstage. Storytelling is literally a synonym for drama. I'm not sure why de Garis decided to try and divorce wrestling from drama, but it's an impossibility and the rest of the essay contradicts it.

Bulldog O’Shea vs. Vinnie McMahon

As I read into more chapters of Sex, Lies, and Headlocks I could not help but wonder at this new death match between Vinnie McMahon and assistant U.S. attorney, Sean O’Shea. Vinnie was already wounded and suffering injury at a diminished gate attendance, and affiliate loss. This is the perfect wrestling scenario except it was a shoot—no one knew the outcome. O’Shea charged McMahon with conspiracy and distribution for selling illegal steroids and delivering them to Hulk Hogan and others.  

I mean this episode in McMahon and WWF’s history has all the markings of a great match. According to De Garis, author of the article "The Logic of Professional Wrestling, " in Steel Chair To The Head, we see suffering, defeat and victory, the text performances of the witnesses, the believability that O’Shea thinks of his case, and the continued outward confidence of McMahon and his legal team trying to get a “miracle moment.” We see the logic of the legal wrestling as O’Shea cannot explain the purpose or meaning of McMahon’s actions satisfactorily to the jury, and lastly, we see the storytelling of both legal sides where we have a building up of dramatic tension and final release where the stronger wrestler will win.

In the end, we see the performance process work of the legal process in the words of Jimmy Snuka, “Go out, get your heel heat, one big baby-face comeback and go home.” McMahon’s attorney was able to get the distribution counts dismissed due to a lack of evidence, so the first fall went to McMahon. The second fall would also be done without a script and again it was a shoot. No one could have predicted a better match, as the outcome lasted into the night and following day. As the tension built up again with the conflict, crisis, and now the resolution—not guilty. The epitaph of the match reads McMahon defeats Bulldog O’Shea in two out of two falls.