Friday, February 23, 2007

AWA Documentary Perspective

As we covered briefly in class, the WWE-produced documentary on the AWA brings with it some interpretive issues, further complicating the already complex machinations of "authorship" in wrestling itself. I actually found the documentary fairly straightforward toward the beginning--leaning on the side of idol worship when describing Gagne, perhaps, but otherwise kind of what I expected.

Things got a little confusing when it got to the beginning of the end, most notably with Hulk Hogan. That Verne and the other commentators, including his son and Hulk himself, had radically different interpretations of Hogan's early career and abilities as a wrestler/performer is to be expected, since the industry and fans seem to be have a highly conflicted opinion of him. More problematic was Hulk's departure, and the beginning of the exodus to WWF.

McMahon, of course, came off as a bit of a prick. But that's to be expected, given his character in the WWE narrative, isn't it? I was far more alarmed at the fact that his explanations were pretty convincing, in that destroying a popular wrestling club is hardly the worst offense that can be levelled against the kind of bare-knuckle capitalism that's been the hallmark of pro wrestling since its carnie days. He seemed strangely out of character, really, although I wonder if it's just because I'm not as familiar with the character as most of you.

I was a bit confused by how the wrestlers managed to leave without fulfulling their contractual obligations without getting sued into oblivion--from what I hear, most of the entertainment industry puts its hungrier workers into pretty iron-clad contracts with enormous penalties for such things. Was there a loophole that once the TV promos had been shot, the contract was technically fulfilled? It doesn't seem like even McMahon could throw enough money to staunch a flood of lawsuits.

At any rate, the end was the strangest for me, as various commentators eulogized the AWA, organized by the filmmakers into a central narrative that Gagne was progressive for his era but not progressive enough for the rise of cable. Underlying this assertion is a claim that the WWE's actions were both just and inevitable, which makes me wonder if McMahon expects the WWE to be on top forever, or if someday he'll sell his tape library so someone can make documentaries about how HE deserved to lose it all.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Especially since Greg Gagne was the main source for much of the early parts of the documentary, I think that really set the tone. But the way Greg was juxtaposed as the documentary went along was fascinating. Look, for instance, at the fact that Greg was bragging about the "Team Championship Series" was his idea and was popular, while they show everyone else talking about how terrible the idea was.

I think the idea was that Verne DIDN'T sign them to contact when Vince pulled the first bunch of people out, because there had never been anyone invading their territory together. In the old days, because of the way the territory system was structured, the promoters worked together a lot of the time rather than stealing talent from each other because they weren't in direct competition since they each ran a different portion of the country. Doesn't mean there weren't plenty of disputes, and a few poeple invading others' territory from time-to-time, but that might explain why Verne had never gotten people signed to permanent contracts and why he was so surprised when they jumped to WWE.

As for your final point, about how WWE positioned itself vis-a-vis Gagne at the end of the documentary, I want you to compare this directly to Vince's comments in the WWE-produced Monday Night War later this semester, at how he viewed the tactics taken by Ted Turner, Eric Bischoff, and WCW when they were in direct competition in the 1990s. Makes for an interesting comparison.