Friday, March 30, 2007

Vince and his apologia

The McNeil reading, "Foot on the Rope: Corporate Apologia and The Discourse of Vince McMahon" is really interesting, mostly because it so rigorously applies the discourse of apologia and restoration to McMahon's actions. This discourse felt a little bit forced to me, maybe too strictly interpreted. (Maybe it's just an unfamiliar framework for me.) What I do think is fascinating is the development of the clear image of Vince really using this rhetorical device of creating or exaggerating situations where apology and redemption are necessary, and then exploiting the drama of the redemptive act itself.

I realize that the steroids, sexual harassment, etc., were not circumstances explicitly created by Vince, but he seems to have an incredible knack for riding the ups and downs of these outrages and others (the Screwjob, for example), and making those exact ups and downs a drama that viewers can't look away from. It's like the fans are trapped in a misogynist relationship with Vince in his role as head of the corporation, one that stays intriguing and passionate because of the apology, explication, or shift of blame that always follows the outrageous behavior. And because the corporate dealings are so bizarrely intertwined with the entertainment format, the whole playing out of the ups and downs is exactly what earns ratings.

SL&H: First Thoughts

Most of the readings we've had for this class have presented modern pro-wrestling in a weird kind of balance, as a business that succeeds admirably according to modern norms of how businesses should work, but also a business that has its shady side. Egos tend to run amok and screw things up, but egos run amok also help put asses in seats (debatable, but hell, I've got posts to do). The line is drawn very neatly between spectacle and con game, but even when it's depicted in an unflattering light, there's usually been a sense of humor about it.

Sex, Lies & Headlocks seems to break from that trend. The introduction, relatively free of the hand-holding explanation of conventions that accompanies the chapters, retells the death of Owen Hart in a tone bordering on the apocalyptic: "How had the business come to this?" (6) As a dramatic device, it's tried and true--despite all the "once upon a time"s we hear as children, the better stories tend to start somewhere in the middle--and it casts a shadow over the rest of the text. I wonder how differently it might read had I started with chapter 1.

So, a couple things from chapter 1. A number of us, and a number of the authors and performers on whom we've been riffing, have mentioned the mafia-like (mafioso? mafiaesque?) nature of the business during various eras, and Vince McMahon has never been shy about calling the association to mind (one of the book's epigraphs refers to the business/personal binary famously discussed in The Godfather). Scorched-earth capitalism is scorched-earth capitalism, after all. But it's usually employed as something of a metaphor, which is why it caught my eye when Assael (and/or Mooneyham) writes the organization that would become the NWA "sounded an awful lot like a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, but [the promoters] all had friends in high places and wouldn't be afraid to use them if the need arose" (8).

While many of the deals we've read about have seemed at least a little shady, seeing it spelled out in such explicit terms took me aback. It also added a new spin to the WWE-financed documentary on the AWA: these details seem to fall by the wayside, even for the ex-competition. It amuses me to think that the reason the territories fell to McMahon's expansion so easily might not just been complacency from lack of competition, but that this lack of competition only existed because the NWA had been founded with the practical intent of subverting the law: in short, they became vulnerable to competition because they had taken intentional steps to allow this vulnerability.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More Post-J.R. Visit Links

J.R. mentioned his MIT experiences in a blog post a few days ago, calling you people in the class brilliant. Read it here. He also mentioned his time at MIT in his commentary on

You can see an MIT admissions blog post about J.R.'s talk as well.

Also, although I posted it elsewhere, various audience versions of J.R.'s talk are available here, here, and here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

thanks professor JR

I just went online and bought JR beef jerky. I'm a vegetarian. That's how awesome he was.

So, I think there's a whole lot Prof Ross let us in on, and I was really grateful for all of his input, and his willingness to get into the spirit of our class. In class I asked him about how he managed to play so many roles within the industry, and what his relationship to performance was, particularly in terms of his role as sports announcer, a seemingly responsive and 'objective' rather than character role.
In response, JR spoke of how much the personalities in wrestling are successful in their ability to extend and hyperbolize the actual core character of the performer. He cited The Rock as a prime example, his character being based on his actual personality as a cocky college football player. He also said that he was playing himself when announcing, though it was an extension of the everyday self, a more full and exaggerated version of true man. He mentioned several times that some of the wrestlers were indeed the playground bully all grown up, and this can't be turned on and off in absolute terms.

Since this theme came up several times during our time with JR, it made me start to really think about the performers in wrestling. It seems like they aren't exactly characters, and they aren't exactly acting. Instead, there is some sense of alter-ego, or inflation of self going on. Wrestling isn't acting, these aren't characters conceived in the minds of writers, but developed in the atheletes themselves.

We've blogged plenty about the idea of the off-stage wrestler-- what happens when he has to 'turn it off'; and read some pretty funny examples of wrestlers' personas persisting in their everyday existence (some of Ole Anderson's anecdotes and the actions of Blassie in Breakfast with Blassie come to mind). And JR's comments made me think that maybe we overstate the division between character and man in wrestling; if these two faces are really integral, perhaps the most brilliant wrestlers are those who are too bold, too overpowering for the average world.

A much-belated Bret Hart post

A bit late to the party, but hopefully I can still add a thing or so... is difficult to watch Wrestling with Shadows without at least some sense that the whole thing was set up. It's incredible timing for the documentary filmmaker, and certainly a brilliant response from McMahon. The creation of the McMahon character seems largely to have made Steve Austin who he is.

Was it all set up in advance? Was Bret playing along? Well, my feeling is, if not, he probably should have. The "reasonable creative control" mentioned in one of Joshua's posts should have been a red flag as to the kind of business he was in. Not wanting to lose in Montreal because it's his hometown? Leaving aside that his hometown was technically in a different province, what reasonable person, having worked for McMahon, would expect to have much pull in an angle as carefully worked out as Bret v. Shawn. And that Vince would let him win the match, trusting that he would turn over the belt after (despite the problems that always seem to occur when a champion leaves)? There's a joke in High Fidelity about asking for a dollar, getting turned down and then asking same person for 50 grand, and it seems appropriate here. Bret was an employee, and should have expected something was up when McMahon agreed to negotiate with him in the slightest.

After all, as J.R. said, there's not always a lot of difference between Vince and Mr. McMahon.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In Soviet Russia, Bret screws you!

And a cheery spring break to all in college land!

Everyone else posted on the Bret and Montreal saga, so I'll put in some quick thoughts. My friend once told me the best thing to happen to JFK's legacy was that he capped it off by getting shot. I objected and swore up and down how cruel that was. Then he remarked about how his first few years hadn't gone that well (broken promises on Civil Rights, starting down the Vietnam road, Bay of Pigs). Getting assassinated turned everyone's focus on Camelot, the Peace Corps, and the end of American optimism.

So...the best thing to happen to Bret Hart's legacy was that it was capped off by getting screwed. The validity of Wrestling with Shadows aside, it really did show Bret as a Willy Loman figure, a workhorse who just couldn't adapt to the changing times. His attachment to his character and passioned frustration about The Attitude area seems a bit laughable nowadays. He was a great wrestler, but he was not alone in that category. I think its fair to say that there was the possibility that if things turned out differently, he may have gone the way that we see Chris Benoit today. The Montreal job not only beefed up his own accomplishments and his standing as a tragic figure, but it set him up as the symbol of the old and dying era, cementing his own place in history.

I think we are all agreed: there was greater benefit for all parties in having a controversial finish. WWE gets a great heel character, Bret gets remembered for all time, the WCW get a great gimmick, and there's a regenerated interest in the product. That led to a lot of comments saying that WWE's move was therefore understandable. This is a good example of where utilitarian arguments break down. What happened may have been the one that maximized everyone's benefits, but entirely ignores a party's inalienable right to fair treatment - which needs to be recognized at all times. While this incident may really be good for business, it overall does not establish it as a business. Businesses in the traditional sense of the word are goverened by contracts and fair play. While we can debate the definition of "reasonable creative control" until we're blue in the face, there's an undeniable inappropriateness attached to how things went down. This incident put the "wrestling business" into the same camp as the businesses of the wild west, drug dealing, and Enron. When it comes down to it, the barons can impose an autocratic will that helps them the most. And that's why I still find myself still siding with Foley.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Joshua Shea answers your questions!!

The other day, someone was whining at me for not going back and responding to people’s questions. I assumed that nobody wanted answers, preferring just to pound out a response because it’s part of the class requirements and that these people didn’t really like me. But, I guess I was wrong. I’ve gone through every post where I thought a question was being asked of me and also on several where there are simply comments about me, or what I had written. Answers will be kept short since there’s really a lot of these suckers.

Anonymous asks:
Do you have the slightest clue what Comparative Media Studies is or what the goals are?
As a media studies major in the mid-90s, yes, I understand the department and I understand what the goals are. I just didn’t go to….I can’t seem to remember the name of your school. You really need to post it more to remind me.

Do you understand what the point of this class is, what is being taught and how the students are being asked to think about it?
Sam was kind enough to give me a syllabus, so yes.

You think people shouldn't bother thinking about the audience?
I think in the limited time you have in this class, the business, in-ring performance and characters should come first. I also think since you’re likely not able to perform focus groups or surveys with fans, anything you come up with is speculative at best. Might as well go bet on the horses if you’re just pulling conclusions out of thin air.

Mike W asks:
Wrestling has no basis in greco-roman style?
For many years I believed it did, having a Nordic vs. Alpine skiing relationship, but the more I read the less I could draw parallels except in the word “wrestling”.

Did fighting just occur naturally in the carnival, with no influence from a millenia-old sport?
Fighting occurs naturally at the carnival, haven’t you ever been? It's usually between two 20-year-old guys just out of prison over some disgusting 16-year-old named Dawn or crystal meth, or both. I could say pro wrestling has an influence from Adam and Eve, but I’m not going to reach that far. Does roller derby have its roots in demolition derby?

Women's wrestling is dead?
Technically no, but let’s be honest. Its health is somewhere between tag-team and midget wrestling. The only way you’ll really make it as a female wrestler vs. Diva is in Japan. The greatest match I’ve ever seen live was a one-hour hardcore brawl tag team championship match in Tokyo. It went to a draw. Japanese women wrestle at full speed. Even going back to the days of Moolah, then Wendi Richter and yes today, most womens’ wrestling is done at about 70% of the speed of men’s making it much faker looking. The proof it’s going nowhere is that it’s not marketable. WWE can make more money on girls with big fake boobs than real skills. Either way though, I don’t think it draws a dollar. And the reason that "Lipstick and Dynamite" blew was because they hardly broke kayfabe. I didn't learn anything I didn't already know.

How can you tell us it's not comparable to theater when it so clearly is?
As I said earlier, you can compare any two things if you try hard enough. Both have an audience sitting in chairs. Both sell concessions. Both have souvenir programs. Both are performed on a raised platform. Both take intermissions. Both have expensive tickets.

Where, then, do you feel wrestling comes from?
Like groove, in the heart.

Brian "Louxchador" Loux asks:
Are we wine-sipping elitists or low-income TV pageboys who can only afford Olde English?
Currently you’re the first, but upon graduation you’ll become the latter. And you won’t see it coming, that’s why it sounds weird when I say it to you now.

Mike W asks:
After all, what is the dark side of the social sciences if not marketing?
This I agree with. I work with marketing people all day and think 99% of them are completely full of BS, so I guess it’s a good analogy.

Really, what's with the petty "PA" comment?
I thought it was funny. Just looking into the crystal ball.

Sam Ford asks:
How many guys have been called "Judas” so far, for instance?
Nobody said wrestling was very creative. I think it’s just an easy point of reference for the Christian crowd. Even Benedict Arnold would fly over most of their heads.

Narwoood asks:
Help, what's a pyro?
Drew Barrymore in “Firestarter”

Do people actually feel threatened? (Or just enjoying the fight?)
Nobody should feel threatened. I don’t even know where (most of) you live. My guess is that it’s 50/50 but nobody would say I’m getting to them publicly. Getting to you forces you to admit I might be right and you might be wrong.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch asks:
But you seem to draw the line between analysis and overanalysis in a very different place than we do. What criteria do you use to make that judgment?
Analysis is a real-world process based in facts, statistics, experiences, etc. Overanalysis is philosophy in that it cannot be proven nor disproven because there is no way to measure results.

Sam Ford asks:
What place does emotion have in academia?
Depends if you’re a boy or a girl. Girls cry and whine a lot easier than men.

Do we clearly favor logic and distance and introspection?
For the price you’re paying, I hope so. Spending all that time simply to be better at talking crap seems like a waste of money.

How does that balance with rhetoric and passion?
There should be none of this, except in the science lab and most math classes.

And what does all this mean within the context of a discussion about pro wrestling?
What is the difference between text, context and subtext? I don’t know what it all means, but like a song by Tori Amos, I think it means whatever you want it to.

BMN asks:
Just because a guitar soloist or two gets out of hand, do we completely dismiss the entire Rush catalog? Or better yet, just do away with rock music completely?
In the case of Rush, yes. Bob Seger too. You like what you like, and if you want compare Rush’s guitar playing to the calls of migrating birds, which I’m sure will be an available class to you next year, go for it.

Brian "Louxchador" Loux comments:
Josh haunts my dreams. Dr. Nausbaum says it's becoming unhealthy.
You’re a dude. Stop it.

Narwood comments:
Into this ongoing discussion came Joshua Shea, who will be a guest speaker later in the term. He has an extraordinary history with wrestling, both as a fan, and as someone involved in the business of pro-wrestling. This is not under debate.
You are brilliant.

His central message, however, is that we are primarily wankers, in over our heads and trying to impose theoretical discourses onto what is, first and foremost, an entertainment and a business.
Can you be a female and be a wanker? I don’t think that about ALL of you, by the way. Just those, who in their hearts, think this kind of analysis will be important to them when they try to draw a check after graduation. Especially those that don’t actually know anything about wrestling.

And don’t just take my word for it. Here are two excerpts of a review posted on about Jim Ross’ recent visit:

“No one directly asked Jim Ross about steroids and as the crowd of mostly MIT students were not savvy to the business, they didn't seem aware of the current issues of the business, including the current steroid controversy.”

“Even in a two hour lecture, I wished we could have heard more stories. It was also a bit too bad that the lecture was aimed towards the MIT students with little awareness of the business. What fun it would have been if J.R. knew he was in a classroom of 65-70 real wrestling fans and could speak in fewer generalities and more in depth about the business.”

Mike W. asks:
Is it important to be a wrestling fan to analyze it?
I don’t think it’s important to most, but I enjoy analyzing it. I guess it depends what kind of person you are. Some of the biggest wrestling fans I’ve ever known are special needs kids who would come to my indy shows in a group for free and they loved it, and I don’t think it was anything other than what was on the surface.

If it is so simple and does not need deep analysis, why can't the average non-fan watch it and grasp it?
In one viewing, because it’s new. This is true of most stuff on TV. If they’re not grasping it after 3 episodes of RAW, then you have to ask are they not grasping it or not liking it? I've seen squash on the BBC channel many times and I still don't get it. Yet it seems like the British fans do, and they don't strike me as deep analysis types.

I also think that one cannot simply say that "wrestling fan" is a simple and unanimous concept. Nobody dares think of fans of "music" as being a inseparable and cohesive unit, right?
Depends what you think. Are all figure skating fans the same? Yes? No? I think anytime you have two or more people doing anything you can’t be unanimous.

Benoit v MVP? Really?
It’s a 4+ hour show. Multiply that times 3 beers an hour and you see the need for that bathroom break. Who’s coming over to my place for it anyway, I need to plan for food.

Carolina comments:
Wrestling is a business first and foremost, as Mr. Shea won't let us forget, but right on the heel of that, it's performance.
Absolutely. All for-profit business is performance.

Sam Ford comments:
At the risk of angering Mr. Shea, I'm going to write a response to Gerald Craven and Richard Moseley's piece on the dramatic conventions of professional wrestling.
It’s okay. I didn’t read it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

another screwjob comment

I'm glad to hear the Bret and Vince have made up recently. To be honest, the more I think and read about the 'screwjob.' the more I think it was beneficial across the board-- it became an exploitable event, used to strengthen both Hart's legacy and to increase WWE ratings and interest.

Sam points out in his article, "Eventually, fans began to suspect whether Wrestling with Shadows was really a documentary at all or whether is was an elaborate scheme by the WWF. After all, fans posited, what is the possibility that a documentary crew happened to be backstage during this event and captured the happenings so perfectly, if Hart was not aware of what was going to transpire?" While I'm not sure I would go so far as to say the whole thing was staged, it does seem like it worked out very well for all involved. As Ismael discusses in his post, the moment of departure for a wrestler from the industry or organization is ripe with opportunity to either solidify or stamp his legacy and firm up an image of his reputation. I think Hart and Vince both used this moment to its full potential, making the split dramatic and historic.

I would also say that the reason why the screwjob is so compelling, even today, is that it demonstrates a moment where the true and fake boundary is blurred completely, even for those seasoned fans and analysts who could normally read the real-fake boundary pretty well. It is obvious that there are actual hard feelings involved, but there is still a sense of entertainment value. The spitting in the face scene, being replayed over and over on WWE, seems too emotionally charged and outrageous to be fake, yet the simple fact that it is replayed over and over in the WWE format promotes this moment exactly as a performance, one played out so well that it is worthy of repetition.

Making a Legend

The documentary "Wrestling with Shadows" brings up an interesting dilemma that wrestlers face later in their career. As wrestlers get older and their accomplishments begin to mount, they grow concerned with their legacy. Younger wrestlers add to the conflict as they gain popularity each week and a larger fanbase. Ultimately, wrestlers strive to preserve their character and desire to be immortal.

Although Hart started his career as a heel in the Hart Foundation, he soon adopted the face role. His sound technical skills in the ring made him known as "The Excellence of Execution". After winning the WWF championship on multiple occasions, Bret's place as a champion was sealed. At this point Bret did believe himself to be the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.

Hart portrayed his character as a hero who followed the rules and always did the right thing. He obviously knew how to wrestle, which he prided himself on, and he considered himself to be a role model for young children. Before every match Hart can even be seen giving his glasses to a child near the ring. When Stone Cold Steve Austin and DX gained popularity, Bret felt this as a personal attack towards his good guy character and that wrestling fans were turning their backs on him. Wth little distinction between bret the wrestler and Bret the person, it was only natural for him to feel worried about his future in the WWF.

After 14 years, Bret Hart was faced with the end of his career in the WWF. Bret was faced with one last title defense against Shawn Michaels where he was supposed to drop the champioship belt to him. Bret did not appreciate this request by McMahon. I'm sure Hart had hard feelings towards Michaels from their 60 minute iron match at Wrestlemania XII. The match went to a sudden death and resulted in Michaels winning the championship from Bret. As a final passing of the torch, Hart would have to be beaten once more by Michaels. This didn't sit too well with Hart. He wanted to go out on top and leave with his head held high. Hart wanted to preserve the charcter he protrayed as a champion. By leaving the WWF as a champion, Hart felt that he would be able to finish his career as a legend.

Bret Hart did not realize that legends are made not only from their moments of victory, but from their defeat as well. The way in which a wrestler can handle defeat and show praise for another wrestler says a lot about their character. In Wrestlemania VI, Hulk Hogan loses the championship title to the Ultimate Warrior. Instead of crying about it, Hogan showed great humility and congratulated Warrior. This moment, as well as countless others, shows what makes Hogan such a legend. I think Bret Hart could have capitalized on a defeat during the Survivor Series where he got screwed. He could've showed the wrestling world what kind of a champion he truly was and gained immortality through this. Instead the event will always be immortalized as the screwjob and Bret will always portray himself as the victim.

Wrestlers have to remember that the business existed before their arrival and will more than likely exist after their departure. Wrestlers must, therefore, let their actions in the ring speak as loud or louder than their words. Wrestling fans will always remember and appreciate great performances. If the primary goal of the wrestler is to entertain, they will more than likey recieve praise from the fans. In the case of Bret Hart, I think he let the politics of the WWF get in the way of his purpose to entertain. He took on a very selfish approach to wrestling and lost sight of his role as a wrestler. His indistinction between his character and his real life was a main cause for his fear of defeat. If Bret had just been the bigger person, he would be recognized for much more than a scewjob.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wrestling with the Press

Just wanted to include the links to some of the stories on our class so far that have appeared in the news:

WWE has put an official press release up on their corporate site, available here, while has published a story about J.R.'s visit by Jen Hunt linked off their main page, available here.

The Boston Globe has a short Web note about J.R.'s appearance here, with an extra cool J.R./MIT graphic, while Jon Waldman of SLAM! Wrestling has a story previewing J.R.'s visit and the class here.

The Globe reporters are coming to class on Thursday as part of the story they're working on, and a reporter from SLAM! Wrestling is going to travel here next month to sit in on a class and write a more detailed report.

A further thought on Bret Hart

I'm sorry to dwell on the Bret Hart situation, but it served as a major turning point for me in understanding the true business nature of wrestling. I dare say if I had not witnessed this live and paid so close attention to the aftermath, I wouldn't have lasted as long as I did working as an indy promoter, which I started about 18 months after this took place.

I would like to say at one point, I sided with Bret Hart, but I don't think I ever really did. It's the popular stance...the multiple-time champion who had been in the WWF for over 10 years finishing up his time with the company and riding away on his white horse. Except unlike the storylines, we're dealing with very real life issues.

There are two main forces at work here, Vince McMahon: promoter, employer and Bret Hart: wrestler, employee.

And those of us who have ever had a job, especially one with a boss from hell, would love to treat their boss the way Bret Hart or Steve Austin or DX have done on screen. But do you think behind the scenes that anyone lays a hand on McMahon? No, because behind the curtains, it's real life. In real life you don't strike the boss or you find yourself fired and/or arrested. You also follow the the demands of the boss because that is what is expected when you take the job. If you're morally opposed to such demands, quit. This applies for a counter guy at 7-11 and Bret Hart. Imagine working as a UPS driver, delivering packages all over, but telling your boss you won't deliver to the town you live in because they think too much of you. He'd laugh at you.

Bret allegedly had a creative control clause offering his reasonable control. I've never seen the contract, nor have I read in any reliable source that he did. But, let's assume he did. The key word is reasonable. Let's say that I work at the Franklin Mint, coming up with the ideas for their collectable plates with Elvis and Star Trek and Wizard of Oz. I've done so well for so many years, that I'm given "reasonable creative control" in my contract. So to show the horrors of animal abuse in the world, I design a series of plates that show things like seals getting clubbed, tigers that have fallen into pits, and cockfighting. My boss is going to come to me and tell me that line of plates is dead. It's not because he doesn't like me, it's not because he doesn't feel the plight of the animals. It's simply because it's bad for business. They'll lose money and many people will see them in a negative light. The creative direction Bret wanted to end his WWF career with was not the right direction for the company.

Today's WWE is a global operation with hundreds of employees. Yet it's just one or two horrible creative and/or business decisions away from becoming half the size it is, and that's true of all business. From all counts I've heard Vince McMahon and Bret Hart had a good relationship before Montreal. However, with the WWF, Vince McMahon had something that his grandfather has started and something he wanted his kids and grandkids to have. By 2025, the fifth generation of McMahons will be working for the WWE. With WWF, Vince was engaged in a do-or-die scenario with WCW (where Bret was headed) and if he didnt' play his cards right he could have gone out of business. He had to watch his back, his family's back and his employees' backs in booking the ending of Bret's tenure. Vince did what he felt he needed to do to keep the WWF out of as much potential trouble as possible. If I were another wrestler, or ring crew guy, or makeup person, I'd be glad because he was protecting me.

Quick story:

With the indy I ran (EWA) I put the lightweight title on a guy I'll just call MJ. This was at the height of our TV show, which was hitting about 100,000 homes in Maine and NH. I always encouraged the wrestlers to wrestle for other organizations, as much as they could, because they'd get better that way. I knew I was working with a few future WWE guys and thought it was stupid to try and limit where they would work. MJ, by the way, was not one of these guys. Because of our large TV presence and our strong local following in central Maine (particularly Lewiston, where we filmed the show) I simply told our wrestlers to protect their gimmicks. I didn't want our goth guy playing a homosexual in Lewiston or to see two guys feuding be a happy tag team.

After Tony "Mr. USA" Atlas was fired from our organization, he decided to try to put on shows in Lewiston as well. I wasn't worried about his promotional acumen and I thought it would be fine if some our wrestlers worked his show. It would give them additional exposure in the place they're known best, and a good chunk of the fans would probably be familiar with them because of the EWA. I heard that MJ was facing a wrestler we'll call SS. While a nice guy, SS was probably 59 years old at the time, pale as a ghost and frankly losing his skills as a wrestler. The EWA had used him when Atlas was there, but once Atlas was gone, he was gone shortly thereafter. I knew Atlas likely booked him on the show to be nice. The guy didn't need the money, nor was he going to WWE.

The next morning, one of the wrestlers calls me and runs down the card and everything sounded fine until he got to MJ's match. MJ lost to SS cleanly. Our light heavyweight champion, who had a good mix of speed, charisma and toughness lost to somebody with none of those three things in front of our fans.

So realistically, the question becomes "can I keep this title on MJ or do I take it off?" I liked MJ a lot. He was someone I would consider a friend and he was one of my favorites to watch in the ring. If I could play only favorites, I would have let him keep the belt. I wanted him to keep the belt. But then I thought of the company. We can't have a champion that loses to someone almost getting social security. We can't have our champion losing to someone who is inferior in everyone else's eyes. Our storylines will look fake if we have MJ conquering people twice his size when the audience knows he can't beat the pasty old guy SS was. Would you want to still go see the 2007 Red Sox if the 1972 Pittsburgh Pirates reunited and defeated them? Maybe, but they do become less capable in your eyes.

I went to our next (non-televised) show and posted the booking sheet in the lockerroom about 2 hours before the show. I didn't see MJ look at it, but at one point when I was walking around, I heard him tell his girlfriend (why wrestlers feel the need to bring their skanky girlfriends to all the shows I'll never understand) that he was dropping the title and that it wasn't fair or right. I stopped, walked up to him, reassured MJ I was his friend, but told him that I simply couldn't have a champion losing to someone we wouldn't even consider employing, in of all places, the town we film our TV show in. He told me that he was just doing what the promoter said. I told him that was a great trait, one I appreciated, but he needed to carefully pick which promoters he listened to and where he listened to them. For the wrestlers that worked almost exclusively in Mass., I'd book them much more carefully in a show in Newton or New Bedford than in Northern Maine where nobody had heard of them. I told MJ he could lose to SS wherever he wanted, but it hurt our company for him to do it in Lewiston.

I reassured MJ that in a few months, he'd get the title back. I just needed people's memories of that match to disappear. MJ worked another show or two for us, but I think he felt like he got stung by us, and more specifically, me. It's too bad. He would have been an asset and I think with the proper babyface run, could have started to make both of us money with T-shirts and himself money with photos. After all, that's what this BUSINESS is about, making money. There's no arts funding, no grants, no non-profit status. I liked MJ, but I still think I made the ride decision. I liked Bret Hart, but I still think Vince McMahon made the right decision.

My chest, too, has been weighted

We were recently given a reminder that our class blog may be generating more interest than that of my peers and a limited sphere of professionals and academics associated directly with Sam. That being so, I want to slightly oversimplify one of the ongoing debates, in order to clarify what I see as the central issue, both for those participating, and for the casual reader. To get straight to the point, skip the bit in dashes.

This class, it must first be noted, is a mixture of MIT students. MIT, for any unfamiliar, stands for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We are one of the leading technological research universities in the world. Our strong emphasis on applied science is not limited to the hard sciences, and so even our humanities departments, both by design and by the character of the students involved, approach their subjects in the most rigorous fashions possible. Out of this legacy came the Comparative Media Studies department (CMS). CMS functions as a central hub to all media work, -training students for jobs that don't yet exist- through an interdisciplinary study of media encompassing the highly theoretical to the economically practical. So yes, you will find individuals here studying everything from Facebook to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", from comic books to Japanese hip-hop. Even pro-wrestling.

Each of our backgrounds can be found in our first posts, but generally we are a mixture of CMS undergraduates and grad students, with limited prior exposure to wrestling, and students from other disciplines who have been wrestling fans, and wanted the chance to look at their fandom from an academic perspective. Together we have been working through the history of wrestling, and beginning dialogues which serve to introduce the non-fans to the fun of pro-wrestling, and the non-academics to the fun of taking a step back and searching for the how's and the why's.

Into this ongoing discussion came Joshua Shea, who will be a guest speaker later in the term. He has an extraordinary history with wrestling, both as a fan, and as someone involved in the business of pro-wrestling. This is not under debate. His central message, however, is that we are primarily wankers, in over our heads and trying to impose theoretical discourses onto what is, first and foremost, an entertainment and a business. The uncompromising, and often unspecific, scope of his arguments has fostered a welcome slew of responses. These responses have often taken the form of reactionary support for academic perspectives, with the qualification that no one can quite get away from agreeing that yes, it is important to know what a fan knows, and to be able to engage in the fandom as a member.

The situation boils down to this: academia is valid, but you don't have to believe in it if you don't wish to. And Joshua's viewpoint is entirely correct, except that the academia as a whole is already aware of this problem, and takes great pains to acknowledge the boundary in all work. The fact still remains, however, that few of us have the experience and training necessary to comfortably navigate this terrain, and at any rate the boundary edge is fuzzy on both sides, which is why we welcome any and all thoughts from fans and academics alike on where we might be going wrong.

What is this boundary of which I speak? Henry Jenkins III, one of the founders of CMS and a leading scholar on fandoms, came in to class Monday to speak with us. He noted that the best work in any given fandom comes from those who had been fans. This is not coincidental, nor is it contradictory. The subtle understandings that a fan possesses naturally, and which Joshua is pushing for, comprise the necessary data from which scholarly research develops. This is reflected in our primary sources, which include pro-wrestling footage, as well as "The Observer". In all fandoms, we see individuals whose theoretical leanings (see Sam's work) develop a sophistication resulting in commentary and analysis on par, and often more insightful, than much of the work we will produce this term.

This work from the fans themselves IS scholarly research, but it is not quite academia. Academia, then, is a step further on, when the analytic results from one fandom are compared with those from another, and higher order generalizations and research strategies are formed. As well, standards develop guiding what data to collect, and how to collect it, such that the results can be minimally seen as true or false, and potential biases can be excised as much as possible. Thus can a fan become a scholar – by familiarizing oneself with related literature and learning from others.

Once these guidelines have been established, it is possible to be trained first as an academic, armed with theories and methodologies to attack the first data sets that appear. While the bottom up approach of a fan becoming a scholar can be idealized as rigorous at each step, this top down approach does hit the fault line of having to penetrate into a fandom. Ethnographers are the most obvious example, since their approach clearly establishes them as outsiders who place themselves as far into a culture (which for our purposes is a fandom), as they can. As such, a large part of their work is maintaining awareness of their status as 'other,' and they analyze their own communicative difficulties as part of their data. For other methodologies, which rarely place the researcher in the thick of it, navigating this boundary can be more hazardous. Yet the space between a fandom and a researcher is not impenetrable, certain aspects of a fandom can be observed and commented on, though there may be holes left to fill by other avenues of research.

What we are seeing here in the blog is this boundary. It manifests as the disjunction of dialect between fans and academics. Yes, we speak different languages, though how this is so (since obviously, we're all speaking English) is a different topic. While the ethnographer forgoes the academic language in favor of communication with the 'native,' our situation as academic students pulls us back into the academic. Joshua, on the other hand, is grounded in the language of the fan, and resists attempts to pull him over to the 'other side.'

This is the central issue at stake. Except, what you all must realize, is that while I know learning the fan language, and becoming one, is my only hope of later doing great research ON pro-wrestling, it is not my only hope for learning FROM pro-wrestling. And seriously? I'm not paying thousands of dollars a year to become a fan of anything – that just sometimes happens on the side.

Between Reality and Fantasy

Sam's piece on Bret Hart's infamous departure from the WWE sheds light on a very interesting issue in the business of professional wrestling: the distinction between reality and fantasy, and all the shades of gray in between. We've come to know that, from its very inception, pro wrestling has been a scripted performance. The winners and losers of bouts are known beforehand, and shoots are idealized matches that are only approximated at best. While the injuries and bloodsheds are often quite real, the wrestlers are only characters who exist within the squared circle, or at least, that's how it used to be.

I believe that a very big difference between the modern era of pro wrestling and the earlier era is that wrestling personalities have gradually begun to exist outside of the ring. The characters and personas that are invented to draw heat from crowds have more recently taken on lives all their own, to the avid viewer, outside of the arena. Consequently, the distinction between the worlds of reality and fantasy are blurred. From the documentary Wrestling with Shadows we witness how superheroes and villains appear to become very real people with real issues and real reasons to go at each other's throats. What has allowed such a melding of worlds is the increased insight offered to the audience as to the workings of the wrestling machine. It was a while, for example, before people realized McMahon was the man behind all of the WWE. The arena has effectively been extended beyond the ring and into the backstage where it is assumed that wrestlers lay down there masks and be themselves.

The reality is that this is all simply a new direction in drawing heat, simply a new gimmick. Pro wrestling is by nature a game of tricks and angles, and in this respect, the "backstage" stunt is no exception. Wrestling thrives on eluding the viewer's idea of what is real. Like the punches which barely skim a wrestler's opponent, wrestling itself just brushes the surface of reality. The seasoned viewer isn't exactly fooled into believing that any aspect of the wrestling performance is real. But it is at the very least entertaining to watch the performance take this direction. It is interesting to note that Wrestling with Shadows is itself a way of reinforcing this blurred boundary between fact and fiction. The viewer is invited to witness the underpinnings of the wrestling world through the of an insider. He or she gets to know the wrestling hero and the man behind the metallic pink shades and are left to judge whether it is the wrestler who makes the man or the other way around. In effect, it becomes difficult to discern how far the ring extends.
Stone Cold Steve Austin has always been one of those wrestlers that puzzled me. I didn't ever think of him as being an entertaining wrestler to watch. Other wrestlers have flashier moves and more high flying action in their matches. His popularity obviously stems from his behavior, from what he does in the ring to what he says. And he came at a time when people were starting to hate Vince McMahon. So it was just obvious what had to be done. The situation was different from what was happening in WCW. Instead of having two groups face off with one being anti authority, you have one man try to take on the whole system. It really appeals to anyone that might have felt like the system was holding them down. Be it the government or work or the people around them. Flipping the finger and drinking beer. This is what most people think of when they think of wrestling. Not Stone Cold but the kind of person that would watch wrestling. We discussed many times how wrestling shows are an outlet of emotion. Anger and aggression. And while people had been doing that for a while, Stone Cold seemed to be one of those wrestlers who did that for us in the ring. Taking down the smiling good guys and beating down the boss. It seemed to start a whole series of story lines where one wrestler would try to face seemingly insurmountable odds. You had the Rock against the McMahon Helmsley Faction or DX against Vince McMahon again. I believe that people in the audience could connect with Austin and see him as the kind of person they would be if they could let go. And if they were big and strong.
The match of Stone Cold vs Dude Love was a good example of how Stone Cold was that hero who over came the odds to triumph. The match with the special referee is always a unique one to watch because the question of who's side the referee is on comes up sometimes as well. But in this case it was clear that McMahon was out to get Austin. And it creates this sense of desperation in the audience I think. When watching a match like this, I don't wonder who will win, but my thinking is more along the lines of how can Austin prevail. It seems like so many factors have to be taken into account. The referee, the cronies on the outside and then there is the fact that Dude Love is no pushover and not a stranger to punishment. So how can one possibly hope to win? Well the way the match ended reminded me of the discussion we had lately about brawn over cunning. After destroying everyone in and around the ring, Austin took McMahon's own words and outsmarted the owner by taking his hand and giving himself the win. Therefore, Austin was one of those cases that showed a shift toward appreciating smarts in the face and despising the overwhelming brawn the heel had to work with.
The best thing about this matches is that no matter the ending they go with, it is always going to make the crowd go wild. If Austin beats down everyone and gets the win, the place goes wild and people cheer for their win. If Austin was beat down and lost, the people would have been angry and booed. Both situations would bring people back the next night to Raw to see what would happen. How angry would McMahon be at having lost his chance to screw Austin? How would Austin get back at McMahon for screwing him over? It made for great TV and it is something I wish I could have witnessed.
The match itself was pretty well done. The two cronies on the outside were not as much of a factor as I thought they would be. And the focus did not seem to be on Dude Love which made me feel like there was no way he could win. Austin was the focus and how he would deal with McMahon being the referee was the question on everyone's mind. The match itself did not cause many eruptions from the crowd it seemed except for when the Stunner came and when McMahon was knocked out. As a wrestler I don't think Austin is that much of a crowd pleaser. He has his own move set but the only one that really has the crowd erupt is the Stone Cold Stunner. He has to do things like hit people with chairs or flip them off or win to have the crowd pop. For me, this match is a better example of a match with the purpose of telling a story and not being a competition between athletes. The biggest proof of this is the fact that it doesn't seem to push Dude Love any higher in terms of competitor status. It just serves to further the hatred McMahon has for Austin and for the crowd to cheer some more.

WCW: More than enough Brawn, not enough Brains

Like Carolina, I've been meaning to write about the reading from 'Death of WCW'. I was never a viewer or fan of WCW, and almost everything I know and have learned has mostly been filtered through the lenses of hindsight and WWE propaganda, but what can you do. After reading excerpts from Bischoff's biography, I actually had a somewhat sympathetic view of the guy, giving him credit for how he turned the company around with his fresh input and doing what had to be done, including raising the production values by taping matches in Disney World. I thought he was smart, and so started reading the tale of WCW's downfall wondering what factors really brought down the once mighty business.

Well, apparently Bischoff lost most of whatever smarts he had when he gained nearly total control of WCW. 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely' as they say (whoever 'they' are, they must watch wrestling). As WCW began to win the rating war, all those creative and groundbreaking ideas that had gotten WCW there kinda.... stopped. That didn't prevent the company from making leaps and bounds in terms of ticket sales and tv ratings, which became almost a personal obsession for Bischoff. The idea seemed to be, take the good stuff of the WWF (talent, writers, production values, etc) and put a sexier, rebellious attitude to it. From the clips I've seen, everything seemed looser, definitely more spontaneous and wild, which was Bischoff's intention. Plus with the WWF's major stars such as Hogan, Randy Savage, Diesel, Razor Ramon, later the Ultimate Warrior (for a delirious few weeks) and others, they had the draw to get people to look, and ten keep looking. It didn't really matter that these guys were in their twilight years, and could barely put on a decent match, because they were the Big Names, and so they were top of the card, all. the. time. One key smart thing WCW did was get some of the hottest, most promising and talented up-and-coming wrestlers from all over the world, including Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, the Guererros, and all the Mexican luchadors, that built the WCW mid/under card to such a level of spectacular and technically pleasing matches on a consistent basis. WCW had made some smart moves, were raking in huge profits, and began beating WWF on a weekly basis in the rating wars. Everything was working very well.

So what did Bischoff do? Nothing. Why change a good thing? If Hogan getting put over every night drew money and ratings, why do anything different? If the mid-carders were putting on fantastic matches every night, why push them to top spots when they're making money where they are? And of course, we don't want to upset our real draws, the old fogies who basically make every move and political scheme they deem necessary to keep their status and positions. If all that is working, why do anything different?

Because even if something is good (which WCW was, at least in the beginning), having it every day gets old. You probably wouldn't eat sirloin steak every day if you could, because even something as delicious as steak loses its specialness if you have it all the time. So WCW basically wore itself out. Nothing changed. The big guys always got over, the middle guys always put on great matches, but never got title shots. There was no challenge. The spontaneity of the show degraded into sloppiness. You would think that someone would have decided to shake things up, to give a Benoit or a Jericho a title shot, or to not cow-tow to Hogan's every whim for once. But unfortunately, no one did.

WCW had it all: the talent (good and bad, big and small), the creativity (at first), and the balls to go up against the conglomerate that was WWE. But once they reached the top, they let it slip away. They let the quality of the product slip away as the creative direction was put on hold for Bischoff's, Hogan's, and so many others' personal agendas. The company had more than enough talented individual wrestlers, whom they squandered and then lost to WWE, eg Steve Austin, Benoit and most of the mid-carders who finally got the recognition and pushes they deserved. Under threat from WCW, the WWE was able to use this new talent to evolve, change the product in accordance with their fans wishes, and was able to trump WCW as they failed to evolve. All those smart, creative people disappeared: they had been replaced with selfish people who cared more about personal agendas and obsessions instead of the quality of the product.

WCW's downfall

I only realized a moment ago that I never shared what I thought of the piece we read for last Thursday I believe, the one that outlined the downfall of Dub-C-Dubya. I started to read the piece with only a mild curiosity, thinking, perhaps arrogantly, that I already knew the overall reasons for the failure of this company to win the Monday night war. I've read countless interviews with former WCW wrestlers, I watched about a year of WCW before it went under, I've heard the stories, I watched the DVD... what more could I get out of it?

A lot more. A whole lot more.

I was reading the piece while simultaneously working with some friends on physics, trying to multitask. But I found the piece so hilarious that it was hard to focus on what my friends were trying to solve. It's so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this wasn't trying to be funny, but it was just recounting what WCW truly did in trying to compete with Vince. Did they really think some of what they did would really hook in their viewers and keep them? I couldn't help but show my friends what I was reading, and even though none of them watched wrestling, they thought it was hilarious too. I find that simultaneously funny but sad, that non-fans even see how absurd WCW was being and yet they couldn't see it themselves at the time.

I think the part I found most absurd was the bit on the Ultimate Warrior. Coming in and disappearing in a cloud of smoke? I never saw that but it sounds so corny, I think if I saw it I would crack up laughing. It reminded me of Hurricane in WWE, who would "fly" in and out of scenes backstage, accompanied even by the "whooosh" sound when he'd "take off" or arrive. But that was so obviously for comedic purposes, whereas I'm not sure the same could be said for WCW's treatment of the Warrior. I especially loved the part when Warrior got locked in a steel cage and he couldn't escape, even though he had been reappearing and disappearing in his cloud of smoke right beforehand. If that's not a slap in the face of the fans watching, to think they're now supposed to believe that Warrior couldn't escape, I don't know what is.

I found myself cringing while reading the part where Chris Jericho got locked out of the arena and how poorly they prepared for the segment, mostly due to the fact that I'm a huge fan of his. I think instead of paying for a Warrior double to appear in a cloud of smoke, more emphasis should have been placed on Jericho and on the other stars that WCW had that were carrying the workload. That was the one glaring thing I noticed while reading this piece, was that after saying how horrible the main event of some pay-per-view was, there'd be a part that would say "... with the exception of the Chris Jericho/Dean Malenko/Chris Benoit/Rey Mysterio/etc match, this show was horrible." These guys all eventually left WCW, even though Rey stuck it out longer than did the other three I named. It's hard to fathom that Eric Bischoff, the man who made the Cruiserweight Division fun and exciting and challenged the WWE's notion that you had to be big in size to be successful, this same man didn't see the value of bringing those stars up to his main event.

In my mind, there were two huge reasons why WCW fell apart in the end. First being what I just said, that the "undercard" was kept as that - a mere undercard, even though the likes of Jericho, Benoit, Mysterio, and Eddie Guerrero became legit main eventers in the WWE. WCW focused way too much on Hogan, and that's another thing. Hulk Hogan has to be one of the swarmiest people I've ever read about that was involved in wrestling. He did nothing to help WCW overcome its struggles, only wanting his own fame and glory and not caring at all that he was main eventing years past his prime while there were young and talented guys hungry for the chance to show what they could do. Nope, it's all about the dollar to the Hulk.

The other reason wasn't necessarily a lack of focus on Bischoff's part, but more like the wrong kind of focus. He was onto something huge with his new ideas, specifically the nWo, but he dropped the ball bigtime by becoming way too obsessed with the ratings. He was content if he won a particular night even though his show was horrible, which just shows that he had a one-dimensional approach to his show. He had Bret Hart join his company right off the heels of one of the most, if not the most controversial ending to a match ever with the Montreal Screwjob, and he did nothing with Bret? Talk about dropping the ball, that's a severe understatement. If Bischoff had put that same tenacity to win the Nielson ratings battle into say, bringing up new talent and building new and fresh storylines around his already established ones, who knows how the war might have ended. Maybe we'd be watching Monday Nitro right now instead of Raw... or maybe this was inevitable from the very beginning.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bret Hart versus Andy Kaufman

Yesterday, I started writing a piece about what interested me so much about Bret Hart, and the attributes that I thought made him both a great hero and a great heel.

Basically, I think what made him great was how seriously he took his character, and how much he seemed to identify with it. Bret made a fantastic hero because he actually believed that his character (and himself?) was an important role model for everyone in the audience watching.

The genuinely noble and heroic qualities of his character were incredibly believable because Bret did in fact try to be genuinely noble and heroic.

From this, came the same qualities that made him an even better heel than a hero. He easily managed to attain the ire of the fans because he started to genuinely become disgusted by the fans and the qualities that they appreciated in the new hero (Steve Austin).

This shows and makes his character very believable, but what is even more important, is once again, how he blurred the lines between reality and fiction. He was quite outspoken about his dislike of the direction of the WWE and what it was doing as a company. He clearly brought the company itself into the picture by addressing the fact that he disliked what they were doing, and thus disliked the fans and the new heros because of it.

By pulling all of this together, Bret becomes a fantastic heel.

Now, as I was thinking about this, it struck me that this is very similar to what Andy Kaufman did in making the audience believe that he, as a person, actually hated the audience and their institution.

Kaufman used his role as a character on TV (in Taxi) to make his wrestling persona more believable. Similarly, I think Bret's role as a good wrestler in the WWE made his character as a heel more believable since it seems to show him abandoning his role as a good guy (his character) out of a genuine dislike of the audience and the new WWE.

Of course, in Bret's mind, I think he probably saw the WWE as changing and his character as more constant, though from the audience's perspective, I feel this probably has more of the Kaufman-like effect of pulling the character's mask off and revealing the real person.

Then again, in Bret's case, you might say that what was in fact happening was that the real person was actually being revealed. The big difference with Kaufman is that it seems there was still another person behind all of that and everything was constructed, whereas Bret had nothing deeper, and that was actually the real him just happening to line up with the times.

Now did someone (Vince McMahon?) realize that Bret's real personality could be utilized to create a highly heel in mcuh the same way Kaufman's constructed "real" personality was used to create a highly effective heel? It is possible, I suppose, but I personally would doubt that it was constructed to that degree.

Ultimately though, Bret is a very interesting character who I think managed to get lucky and hit on that same amazing situation that made Kaufman such a spectactular heel. My intution wants to say that Kaufman was somehow better because he managed to calculate and construct this situation, whereas Bret got lucky. I feel that if I dug deep enough I could come up with an explanation for Bret's downfall as a result of this, though perhaps Kaufman would have had just as weak and sad of a downfall if he had lived long enough.

I'm not quite sure yet...

Fan as arbitrator, and n00b killer

I know we are now technically moving past this in class, but I wanted to post this because:

1. I am slow.
2. I will get fired if I blog from work.
3. I didn't want to wax poetic about Bret's Shawshank Redemption metaphor in Wrestling with Shadows, and I made the same underlying points a few weeks back.
4. Josh haunts my dreams. Dr. Nausbaum says it's becoming unhealthy.

But really, I was trying to get my hands around a type of fandom that revolves around maintaining or grooming the culture. This kind of interaction usually happens after or the presentation of the media. I really first noticed this as part of an anime fandom backlash against Pokemon. As this too fell into part of a class, I started trying to see why they hated this particular show. Most chided its animation or how repetitive and "stupid" it was. Well, it was geared to kids and there were a lot of series that had the same flaws and got a pass from most fans. The real reason, I gleaned, was that Pokemon had become very mainstream and essentially brought in a whole swath of new fans that were very removed from the rest of the fan base. A lot of web sites lamented how people had to wade through idiots, kids, and parents looking for Pokemon cards while they tried to get Ruroni Kenshin episodes. When I presented this theory to fellow classmates who were much more fans than I, they disagreed, but their points came back to how Pokemon "bastardized" Anime to Americans, making people think it was something that was not. So I said I was right, their subculture had been tread upon and
they were trying to rectify it.

I've seen this also happen recently for a website called (short for You're the Man Now Dog, Sean Connery's quote from Finding Forrester). At its heart, it is a place where one can splice together a picture/movie, sound, and large font text to make some interesting result (usually humor). Other people could then rate how good your ytmnd was. Rules developed very quickly about what was a good ytmnd or a bad ytmnd. A more famous early ytmnd called "remember your fundamentals" by a well-known member of the site. The ytmnd stated "Picture. Sound. Text. A singular focus, not a faggy short film," fighting against a backlash of sites that would try to splice in long movie clips for the visual part of their site - something viewed as not in the original spirit of the site. The quote became somewhat of a fad among members. Later, a lot of very good ytmnds did have a motion picture aspect, and the rule was generally dropped. Still, lot of rules still apply as to what kind of humor is meant for the site. Clips from radio shows or bits from sits like college humor are looked down upon. A certain level of abstractness needs to be there. Members have made the term NARV - short for New Age Retard Voter - to describe newbies who are unfamiliar with the history and culture of the site. They've even gone so far as to make a certain types of sites (the Poland fad - where GW Bush's quote of "you forgot poland" is tied in with painful flashing lights and square waves) that are meant to drive away these new members. Again, there are a number of members of this fan culture that are acting to protect it.

So that brings us to wrestling. And I think that there is a healthy part of this protectionism in the wrestling fan culture as well. You will have a some fans saying that attempts to take a highly analytical bent on wrestling is against the spirit of the culture. You'll also find others (a few years ago) who say that fans who came in just for The Rock or just for Stone Cold don't really understand wrestling either and are not real fans. As the culture eventually did change, these cries are a bit less frequent. But fandom essentially has meant something specific to a core group of people, and they want to be sure that this is not lost.

It's important to mention that I think this is different than fan-as-critic that Sam describes in his piece. Critics are responding to the media presentation itself, and are trying to groom that. These arbitrators as I've called them are responding to fans or fan reaction, and are trying to groom that. They can converge (as I now tie in Bret Hart - note his reaction to fans wanting anti-heroes as babyfaces) or be entirely separate (old school ECW fans bashing Vince McMahon's version). And it also plays into the fan-as-community member as well, they're just now playing "town council" to that community.

I have to believe there are scores of other examples in other cultures that some others can bring up. Or maybe I'm off my rocker like Doc Nausbaum always says. What do you think?

Melodrama, fascism, and the adventure game trinity

One thing that leapt out at me while reading "Never Trust a Snake" was the implication of fascism in the worldview: "The core myth of WWF wrestling is a fascistic one: ultimately, might makes right; moral authority is linked directly to the possession of physical strength, while evil operates through stealth and craftiness (mental rather than physical sources of power)" (41).

This isn't all that surprising, really; it's a central conceit of most superhero comics as well, where all problems are ultimately solved via physical violence, if somewhat supernatural physical violence. It's rarely explicitly stated that the strongest fighter is the most moral, but it always seems to work out that way. (Hell, who can imagine a story in which someone as powerful as Superman is the bad guy?)

But, as noted in the class discussion, there are certain kinds of mental power that get a pass. There are times when we cheer cunning, and there are times when we boo it. And it's important to remember here that, despite the class war rhetoric of the managerial class bullying the manual labor class, there are plenty of bullies who need nothing but physical strength to get the job done--they're the ones we call "bullies" as a literal label, instead of a metaphorical one.

And here's where I go way off text. In culture war rhetoric--where nobody wants to be associated exclusively with brawn--two types of intelligence always end up being posited. The first is the stuff of eggheads and elitists, the "official" knowledge taught, well, in elite colleges. The other is more organic, variously described as common sense or street smarts, a knowledge that marks itself by experiential learning and practical use, consequently marking its opposite as impractical, theoretical, and deceptive. This is the knowledge of outlaw culture, which is usually portrayed as being fundamentally more honest, and more practical, than establishment culture.

Now then. We started with a binary between brains and brawn. We have a third now, having split "brains" in two. It's possible to read "practical intelligence" as a synthesis of physical power and pure intelligence. Most single-player RPGs work with a trenary much like this one, with three types of power. The first two are generally physical and magical, and the third is a somewhat variable "other," often including elements of stealth, interpersonal skills, mechanical knowledge, etc. Often the "other" is a synthesic class, borrowing elements from the others, either through a general mix-'n-match approach or a more intellectual use of the body itself. I'm not sure if any of this fits the subject matter at hand, but the "vengeance" play we've read about earlier--in which the face breaks the rules to even the score with the heel, who has of course broken all the rules from the beginning--might work. Power achieved from a mental source that is nonetheless contextual, acted out from a character explicitly marked as working class (a face, after all), that reasserts balance and demonstrates that there is, in fact, a right time for a good guy to be crafty.

insider/ outsider

I was really interested to see the juxtaposition of the openings of the Bischoff article and the Ole Anderson texts we read for this week. The theme throughout was Vince being the 'wrestling insider' who knows evry inch of the industry and Bischoff being sort of an intruder into the wrestling world who shakes things up. But what is interesting is the different takes on which has the advantage-- the one 'in the know' or the one with fresh eyes and ideas.
Anderson starts his chapter on mismanagement: "Turner's people in the WCW couldn't control their wrestlers because the people running it didn't know anything about the wrestling business. They hired people who were completely ignorant about wrestling and who had never had anything to do with the business."(360)
I think this harkens back to my post about family in wrestling- there does seem to be a really tightly held community in wrestling and a strong sense of legacy and continuity... this helps the industry because one storyline can go on for years, even generations. There is also implicit trust and loyalty that comes from the tight community. I think we can see this even through all the shifts from regional to national through format shifts there. Interestingly, in the documentaries we've seen that have been produced by the WWE, it seems like Vince doesn't choose to emphasize his legacy role, instead framing his success as coming through his announcer role and the developing into a superpower with hard work over time. Maybe we'll see a different version of the narrative in the 'MacMahon' documentary we'll watch soon, but Vince is playing the role of ultimate legacied insider and hard-worker who finds wild success (sort of the heel and the face at the same time, both onstage and off, at different stages).
Bischoff, on the other hand, presents a model of irreverence and audacity that only an outsider could possess. His text 'From Disadvantage to Edge' begins: Applying for the executive producer's spot was a big leap. I though there was a very slim chance that I'd get the job. I had only one real advantage-- I wasn't a wrestling guy." (81) He doesn't have to play by the established rules, and none of the loyalty, dedication, or deep understanding of the sport came into play. Instead, he could reenvision wrestling as an entertainment format, and say things like 'Screw that and let's just produce television' (92) and fire people that had histories and change the criteria for a successful wrestling show to something off from what had been happening and developing slowly over time.
Bischoff's role as outsider allowed wrestling an evolutionary leap, on some level. He offered a burst of energy, a challenge to status quo, a direct challenge to Vince and the WWE. I think most would agree that this insider-outsider matchup of Vince and Eric was largely responsible for reinvigorating and refining the wrestling medium.

Then there was Bret

The documentary, "Wrestling with Shadows," was obviously a piece that tried to make Bret Hart look like a victim. We had seen before clips of Vince McMahon talking about the Montreal Screwjob before and as always the line that is remembered is "Bret screwed Bret." The documentary only shows Bret Hart's side of the story and only offers glimpses as to what Vince McMahon was saying. Bret really did not want to do the right thing and drop the title when he was supposed to. He had an ego and really believed what he was saying about being a wholesome character and being a role model that people should follow. This turned him into a modern version of Hulk Hogan, who did not want to lose to anyone and cost him more than he bargained for.
It seems to me, from what I have read and the interviews that Bret Hart has given, he really had trouble distinguishing what he accomplished in the ring and who he was as a person. He took what he did and showed the crowd very seriously. First off he really felt that any loss on his part would hurt the character he tried to portray. And as we saw in the documentary, that character really just seemed to be himself. But as a wrestling fan, I know that would not have been the case. A good example would be the match in which Bret broke his sternum. Instead of allowing the match to end as quickly as possible and let his opponent pin him, he decided to lose in a way that would not make his opponent look good. He put his health at risk over his image! He did not seem like the kind of guy that was willing to put someone over. And this was especially true when it came to Shawn Michaels. The video only touched upon this very little but Bret Hart truly did not like Shawn Michaels. I have seen interviews that really reflect his Lou Thesz like mentality in that he believed Shawn was too showy and cocky. He believed that Shawn's more high flying and Mexican styled form of wrestling was too effeminate and he was not the kind of role model kids should have.
First one can understand that Vince was scared. The women's champion had already shown up on WCW before and trashed the belt on screen. So why not let Bret forfeit the title? Well, Vince already had experience with that when Ric Flair made his first stint with the WWF and ran his mouth about being the real world champion and carried around the gold belt. Vince did not want to give Bret an angle when entering WCW and have him claim that he was the real champion and that he had never lost the title. One could see that Vince had no choice but to ask Bret to lose the title.
So why could Bret just do what he was supposed to? He did not do what should have done and that was drop the belt to Shawn at the pay-per-view. That is the way of the business. One thing seems clear to me and that is Bret was not thinking. His mind was not in the mindset of a wrestler or promoter, but rather a star who wishes to preserve their self image. In the documentary there is this whole hopeless kind of mindset Bret gives to the camera when he talks about being relegated to being the number 2 heel. He seems to think that the comments he makes about the audience will be there forever and that he can't turn face. Usually, I see a confrontation between two heels leading to one turning face. Two heels facing off usually doesn't work well with the audience. It just doesn't happen so fast. Also, he had to think about the fact that Survivor Series was one of those traditional pay-per-views that had been around for a while and people did not want to get a disqualification ending. Did he really believe that one loss in Canada would hurt his image. Losing the belt and keeping his image would have been so easy! Shawn was the clear heel and having someone like Rick Rude run in a help him screw Bret out of the title and have it actually be planned would have been perfect. The people would not seen Bret lose cleanly and the title would have changed hands. His pride and self preserving attitude would not let him do something like this.
I have seen lots of my favorite stars lose cleanly. Shawn Michaels lost to Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XIV, The Rock lost clean to Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 15 and he was still hated by the people and then loved again when he turned face. Triple H and Shawn Michaels, arguably my favorite current wrestlers both lost to Christ Benoit at Wrestlemania XX cleanly. These superstars put over other wrestlers for the benefit of the wrestler and most importantly the people. If Bret had lost to Shawn, not necessarily cleanly, it would have given the fans something to cheer or boo. It would have allowed the WWF to move in the direction Vince wanted which is what he had asked Bret to let him do. These superstars that I mentioned did not lose their aura of being the greatest wrestlers to me when they lost on the greatest stage of the business. Shawn Michaels had wrestled what many thought was his last match and made Stone Cold the top guy in the business. That is what a wrestler should do, for other fellow wrestlers and the company.
I do appreciate the fact that Bret Hart was a great wrestler and provided some great matches but he put himself in the position that allowed the Montreal Screwjob to happen.

When ten years feels like ten days...

Montreal. Every wrestling fan knows the story but perhaps more importantly, every fan has an opinion. Even if you never saw it happen, the "You screwed Bret!" chants every time the WWE goes to Montreal would probably tip you off that you were missing out on something pretty big. And I'd say the Montreal Screwjob is bigger than big, but the real question is why? Now that's a fairly vague question to ask, but I'm going to give my take on it now while Wrestling with Shadows and the reactions we heard in class are fresh on my mind.

Now I'd seen this documentary before, but it was probably in 1999 or early 2000, somewhere around there. I didn't know a whole lot about the backstory of what was going on but I remember getting enough vibes from the documentary to understand that Bret got screwed and he didn't deserve what happened on his last official night with the WWE. And that's the only thing I remembered (besides the visual of Stu Hart stretching guys until they were beat red in the face - that's tough to forget). I'm glad we got the chance to watch it in this class and that I could go back to it with a much different perspective than I had when I was around twelve.

I think in order to understand why the story of the Montreal Screwjob is still popular today and still being talked about, you have to understand the allure of the story to begin with. Ten years later, it's become this legendary story that's a part of WWE's history. It's become natural for fans in Montreal to despise Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, and Earl Hebner, to the point where no matter how much of a fan favorite Shawn is, he pretty much always has to be ready to be showered with the "You screwed Bret" chants that are practically tradition now. It makes you wonder how much of that is legit emotion from Bret's fans who refuse to forget that night, or how much of that is due to the fans being expected to act that way towards anyone that was involved with the Screwjob. I know that personally, when I see that they're in Montreal, I'm pretty much expecting to hear the chants. More often than not, I'm rarely disappointed.

The most curious part of all of this is how some fans think it was all planned from the beginning. I admit, I always thought it was strange how Vince pretty much seemed to push Bret right into the hands of his competition, even when Bret was willing to take a pay cut to stay with the WWE through thick and thin. You would think that during the Monday night war with WCW, Vince would do whatever he possibly could to keep Bret on his side. Instead, it seemed like he just served Bret up on a platter and handed him over to WCW, like he didn't want to deal with him anymore. That's the very strong impression I got from watching Wrestling with Shadows, and that's something I still can't completely understand. There doesn't seem to be logic in this, and that only fuels the fire for those who keep thinking it was all planned from the get-go.

It would make sense. The timing of the release of Wrestling with Shadows, the phenominal longevity of the story of Montreal, the explanation that seemed like an excuse for Bret to leave, it all sides with this all being planned. I would think that if Bret had just forfeited the title like he originally wanted to do, his exit from WWE would be nowhere near the level that was garnered by the Montreal Screwjob. In a time when storylines are forgotten by the month and dropped for no reason, and remembering things that happened a year ago seems like decades ago, the fact that Bret's story is still so strong in everyone's memories makes his exit from the company that much bigger to where it's almost legendary now. Of course, the drawback to this is that for some fans, Montreal is the only thing they remember Bret for and his 14 years of hard work for Vince are sometimes lost in the shadows to that particular night at Survivor Series.

I personally don't agree with that viewpoint. I'd like to think that if Vince truly pulled off such an elaborate storyline and planned this from the beginning, he would've cashed in on a huge comeback for Bret a long time ago. That screams of money in the bank, and being the shrewd businessman he is, Vince doesn't seem like he'd pass that up. And to think how long it took for Bret just to agree to appear on WWE TV again at all for the Hall of Fame makes it hard to believe that what happened wasn't legit.

I've always been torn on this controversy since I happen to be a huge fan of both Bret and Shawn, so I'm going to try and avoid getting into personal "so and so was right" viewpoints. It's just interesting how there are fans who want this story dropped already, but it's apparent that the WWE brings it back because the fans themselves bring it back. After all, if the fans haven't let it go ten years after the fact, why should they? It reminds me of 2005 when Shawn was doing his storyline with Hulk Hogan, and he came out to a hostile Montreal crowd and started off with, "Who's your daddy, Montreal?!" He then proceeded to insult the crowd and brought up that infamous Survivor Series match, only to get practically booed out of the building. And then, they cued up Bret's music, and the place exploded. For a moment, everyone thought he'd be coming out... but of course, it was just a ruse. Even so, there were some fans who were crying from the disappointment that Bret wasn't really there.

With that kind of emotional investment, it's no wonder the Montreal Screwjob is still talked about. As much as Bret, Shawn, and Vince would love to forget it and move on, maybe it's the fans that are making that particularly hard to do.

The Screwjob

After so many years, I finally got some background on the Montreal Screwjob, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon. I'd heard tell of this hushed myth, this moment in time that was summarized by its name, but never really explained. And I guess, even after watching 'Wrestling with Shadows', it's still not fully explained, but at least I now know what they've been talking about all those years.

I actually never really knew Bret Hart, he was before I became a fan, so while he was mentioned frequently, I never knew his character. To me 'The Hitman' Hart sounded like a heel, but I guess I was wrong. Hart aimed to be and was the superhero good guy, a cool hero the kids could look up to, almost like the Hulkster (without the steroids, I mean, vitamins). The WWF at the time was treading the same classic path of clear-cut good guys and bad guys, black and white morality plays.

And then of course, WCW came along, and raised the stakes. Their show was different, edgy, with dancing girls and a plethora of pilfered WWF personalities. Vince decided to shake things up, countering the nWo with DX, letting Shawn Michaels and Hunter Helmsley run amok, crotch-chopping all over the world. Enter Stone Cold Steve Austin, the would-be heel who became the ultimate finger-flipping, beer swilling hardcore redneck anti-hero. These changes helped bring the WWF back from the brink in the ratings war, and people seemed pleased all around, except apparently Bret.

According to Bret, he didn't like the creative direction the company was going, especially since he couldn't enjoy the programming with his kids, feeling it was too risque and inappropriate. He had qualms about the changing structure of heroes and foes - it was no longer black and white, but shades of grey, as Bret experienced with the crowds cheering Austin, the booked heel, but booing Bret, the booked face. Eventually, in their Wrestlemania Submission match, a magnificently built match culminated in the double-turn of the two, with Austin officially becoming a fan favorite by passing out instead of submitting to the Sharpshooter and Bret settling into the role of heel that had been building for him, by kicking Austin while he was down after the match.

Bret didn't want to be heel, he wanted to be the hero. But the WWF's heroes at the time were guys like Austin, and that just didn't sit well with Bret. Eventually he decided to accept a lucrative offer from WCW, and tried to organize a fitting departure for his character as he and Vince agreed. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Vince wanted Hart to drop the title to Michaels at Survivor Series in Montreal, but then agreed to Bret's request that he later forfeit the title and leave the WWF not as a defeated champion, but by 'graciously' stepping down.

Well, that may have been the plan. Or maybe Vince really was worried that Bret would take the WWF belt with him onto WCW tv, as a few others had already done. But either way, instead of Bret retaining the belt via disqualification, as Michaels held Hart in his own Sharpshooter, Vince had them ring the bell as if he had submitted, when he clearly had not. It's painfully obvious that they just pulled a fast one, and speaking of fast, Sean Michaels grabbed that belt and booked it out of there. It's unclear how much he actually knows about the circumstances of that night.

Vince broke his word to Bret, and gave him a crappy exit from the company that he had served so loyally for so long. So I think that hearty spit in the face and punch in the eye was well deserved. Why did Vince _really_ do it? Was he just flexing his power, showing Bret who's boss? Was he diabolically scheming his own momentous heel turn down the road, cemented during the interview where he stated that "Bret screwed Bret"? We may never know. But that incident, that Screwjob, fueled the rage against Vince for years, and did allow him to use it and become a pivotal heel character to Austin's anti-hero, establishing one of the most successful and profitable feuds in wrestling history. Whether he planned that way or not, Vince did screw Bret out of his graceful departure, and used his humiliated carcass as a step over WCW and toward phenomenal success for the WWF/E.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Quick Notes

Just thought the class, and our extended community, would be interested in knowing that J.R. has been giving some plugs to his appearance at MIT, that WWE is circulating a press release about the class (including a link to this blog), and that I did an interview this morning with a radio station in Palm Springs, California, KPSI, and Steve Kelly, talking about this class being offered at MIT.

We talked for several minutes about MIT and the class, with Kelly predicting that it may be the apocolypse with pro wrestling being studied seriously at an institution like MIT. will have a story up on their main page on Wednesday about the class and J.R.'s appearance, including a planned link to our blog, and The Boston Globe will be doing a story soon as well. I've given everyone fair warning now. Be on your best behavior. Remember, as Vince would say, the world is watching.

Carelessness of The Suits

The chapter titled "Spending Ted's Money" from Ole Anderson's Inside Out: How Corporate America Destroyed Professional Wrestling gives insight to the financial problems going on behind the scenes of WCW. With wrestling becoming a national phenomenon and wrestlers becoming more well known than professional athletes, wrestlers became even bigger assets to the business. In the case of WCW, a careless attitude towards the salaries of wrestlers developed as a result of Ted Turner providing money for the payoffs.

The yearly salaries of top wrestlers from the days of Verne Gagne up until the time of WCW and WWF were often based on performance and crowd turnout. When the two superpowers, WCW and WWF, were in direct competition during the 90's an inflation in wrestlers' salaries can be seen. Wrestlers were now bound to contracts that promised millions of dollars whether or not the business made money. The fact that WCW and WWF were in direct competition with each other may have influenced this inflation. Each business feared that their wrestlers would leave their organization for the competitor's, so big contracts with wrestlers were a way of pleasing and securing their talent.

The traditional responsibilities of wrestling promoters included paying wrestlers and determining how much they would make. Ole, having experience as a promoter, points out the major flaws going on by "The Suits", such as the top boss Bill Shaw, in WCW. With little experience in wrestling and the payoff schemes of promoters, "The Suits" made irresponsible deals with wrestlers. Rather than basing contracts off of talent and experience, the bosses at WCW were making big offers to those that didn't deserve it. One example Ole gives is in the case of Marc Mero who was just starting out in wrestling. Ole, who worked for WCW, negotiated a fair $50,000 contract with Mero. The bosses, not knowing of Ole's offer, offered Mero $275,000 a year plus $75,000 for clothing. The fact that Ted Turner was providing the money for the contracts made it seem as if there was an endless supply available. Since Turner was so wealthy it was easier for the bosses in WCW to run up the payroll with a false sense of security.

While working for WCW, Ole Anderson was able to see the trouble that the management was getting into. Eventually WCW went out of business and was bought out by the WWF. The salary issues might not have been the only cause of the WCW ending, but their $35 million payroll was definitely a problem. The carelessness displayed by the management and the lack of accountability, since Ted was the one losing money, led to the demise of WCW.

Nothing Too Major Off My Chest

I don't know why I feel the need to continue to refer to my chest in these entries. I guess because I know deep down "Joshua Shea's Latest Post" makes me seem like my ego is even bigger than it truly is.

Quick plug for myself. My review of Mick Foley's latest book, "The Hardcore Diaries" has just gone up on For those of you that follow wrestling, you'll know it's the best site for real wrestling information. For those that don't follow wrestling, go read it anyway so you can have something to ask Foley about when talks about himself to you later this semester. You can find the review at:
I tried to link it, but I'm HTML illiterate.

Much thanks to those of you mentioning me in your blogs. I appreciate you making my entry the most popular one for a second week in a row. Maybe on the day I come speak, we can set up a table for autographs when the class is done.

I have to say, in the last week, I've thoroughly enjoyed the blog. Gone are the days of trying to compare minorities' roles in wrestling to TV shows of the late 70s like Good Times and The Jeffersons. Now, you seem to actually want to start talking about wrestling. It's about time. I must give credit to Carolina, Omar and Luis for delivering some of the best wrestling-based posts since this board started.

From what I've been led to believe, the class is set into two kinds of students. One is a comparative media studies student who probably doesn't know much about wrestling. The other is a wrestling fan that likely isn't a media geek. Interestingly, my major in school was media studies (not comparative though...I know the difference between TV and Radio) but I identify much more with that second group of people and it seems like the wrestling fans are finally making their voices heard.

This is terrific. Keep doing it. Help explain to the media people (most who will end up in real estate if they're men and marrying well and staying at home if they're women) why we like wrestling because they're never going to get it. And I'm not talking about the kind of appreciation we all have for art or music that is very on the surface and mostly taught in college (due to time), I'm talking the kind of appreciation where they know why you realize there are only 13 days to Wrestlemania.

As I was reading the responses to last week's post, I kept seeing people asking what I'd like to see in class. I'd like to see some straight ahead facts. Who were the last 5 men to hold the WWE Championship? Who are considered the great tag teams in WWF history? What are some independent organizations operating today? I think you can analyze the hell out of anything (and some of you have proved you can) but don't have a firm basis in the facts of what you're analyzing, it just comes across as bullshit, especially to those of us who have a solid background in wrestling. You may be able to draw a comparison to Midwest wrestling in the 70s and German food, but you don't understand the heart and the soul of wrestling. If you can't wrap your hands around the passion, you'll never really get it.

Here's a story....

My greatest memory in wrestling was when I was working for an independent wrestling group called EWA here in Maine. I had moved from being a heel commentator to being a heel manager. I got my guy (6'7" Canadian Hercules) into a loser-leaves-town match with Dave Vicious. This was largely a blow-off match to a feud Hercules and I had been having with Dave and his manager. Hercules couldn't talk worth a lick, so I did it for him. He had accepted an invitation to WCW's training camp and wouldn't be with us for a while. Before we went out, we all went over the match, and since this was the blowoff and I had more heat than Hercules, I was the one who would take the post-match beating by both Herc and Dave.

After Hercules lost, I came in the ring to help him, he turns on me and gives me a chokeslam like planned....except I landed wrong. I twisted in the air on my way down and landed on my hip. Our ring wasn't exactly soft or as springy as the WWE ring. I hurt, and I knew Dave was about to do his finisher on me and I would land on that hip again. I told Herc under my breath that I was hurt and I couldn't take Dave's finisher. He told the ref, the ref told Dave's manager, and Dave's manager told Dave. I think, much like in the game "telephone" that the message got lost along the way. While he didn't put his finisher on me, he did punch me in the gut (which I have to say I sold better than any punch I'd ever had) and he set me up for a piledriver. I'd never taken one, knowing that if performed incorrectly I could be seriously injured. Luckily, Dave kept me safe, but when I landed, I played dead. No opening the eyes, no obviously fake body twitching. Just laying there, not moving. The ref came to check on me and I muttered under my breath, get the stretcher.

The paramedics hit the ring and started screaming like I could have a broken neck. I refused to move or talk to them. Later I was told that Herc and Dave were backstage peaking through the curtain worried, wondering who had actually injured me. A couple of wrestlers broke kayfabe who were my closer friends, coming out to check and try to help. I told one I was okay, but to play along. The ring announcer let people know in a somber voice that it was the end of the show and they should leave (but check our Web sites for updates) but most people didn't. You could hear a pin drop even though there were probably 300 people there. The paramedics turned me over and collared me. They didn't have a stretcher, so they used an eight-foot table for the move to the ambulance. They got me on the table and by this time, my eyes had been shut 20 minutes and I was having a fun time guessing where I was and who was around me. If I'd been actually hurt, the amount of time and lack of preparation these paramedics showed would have really ticked me off. As I hear the fans mumbling and whispering, I was carried through the curtains and to the back.

I don't know who stopped the procession to the ambulance, but they set the table upright. I did the Undertaker sit-up, opened my eyes and saw 15-20 people with stunned looks. One wrestler, a legit tough guy, started crying. People looked like they'd been through hell...even if they all knew it was fake and planned. I just acted like a better corpse than anybody thought I could. I was amazed that most of the fans stayed, I was amazed my acting ability made people think I was actually unconscious, and most of all, I loved the fact we sent the fans home on a downer. Nobody ever did that, but it paid off as our next gate was pretty decent.

There's no other place in life I could have had that experience I listed above. You want to talk different media forms? I was involved with producing TV and radio commercials, running our Web site, and writing our souvenir programs at one time or another. That's aside from the live performance aspect.

You can phone this in if you want. I phoned in several art history/appreciation courses. But if you are, at least keep your BS fluffy posts short. And to those who are gaining a true appreciation or those who are wrestling fans and are simply putting up with the CMS students, share some stories. Go read Carolina's story about waiting for Wrestlemania tickets. That's the kind of analysis you should be looking at.

And I finally saw Lipstick & Dynamite. Good lord that was dull. Until next week.