Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Flair, Hogan, and Stardom

Growing up, I had a limited awareness of Ric Flair from the general pop-culture noosphere, and I feel like I got a better sense of him from the readings on Buddy Rogers et al., along with the bits of interviews and performance we've seen in class. I knew he was famous, I knew he was, at one time, one of the top stars, and his performances are certainly impressive. Nonetheless, Molinaro's biography surprised me.

Granted, the over-the-top nature of wrestling, and the need for performers to stay in character 24/7, can certainly produce some effusive response, even among those observers who might perceive themselves as objective. Nonetheless, Molinaro describes Flair in almost supernatural terms, comparing him to great artists as well as mainstream, "legitimate" athletes. What surprised me the most, though, was how well he worked with other wrestlers: Molinaro describes him as "a compelling storyteller possessing the ability to carry even the most hapless opponent to a five-star classic" (1). Molinaro goes so far as to credit Flair with Sting's entire career. This seems to be an entirely different view of what it means to be a "great" wrestler, one that definitively breaks from the athletic tradition and moves into the theatrical: the best performers are those who bring out the best performances in others.

His ongoing difficulties with the WCW, complete with his long tirade against Eric Bischoff detailed in Reynolds and Alvarez (151-152), present a picture of someone who's pursuing his own interests, but still ultimately interested in doing a good job for a good company. (Or I'm reading it wrong, or it's a one-sided perspective. Whatev.) Reading all this, I couldn't help but be reminded of Hulk Hogan, who had a specific beef with Flair (Molinaro 6), but who also is famed for his self-serving antics, from the AWA to WWF to WCW.

After all the stars we've read about, warts and all, Flair is presented as a pretty good guy. I'm sure some of it is fandom coloring the writing, but it's impressive to generate that kind of love among fans.


Anonymous said...

Flair seems to be able to get away with things other guys might not due to several factor. First, he's a living legend, and back in the day he was the best, the hardest worker, a class act that, as you said, could raise the game of anyone he got in the ring with. Second, he's one charming son of a gun. He ain't exaggerating that much in those promos of his. Basically he wants and gets almost everybody to like him, and then throw in his wrestling clout and prestige, and Flair is able to slide on some things that would get other names (cough Hogan) bad heat for a long time.

Sam Ford said...

There are quite a few skeletons in Ric's closet as far as his personal life goes, as he will be the first to mention, it seems, but this is largely related to the treatment of his marriage, relationship with kids, etc. In the context of his performance in the ring, there are very few people who have publicly had beef with Ric Flair, aside from the suits in WCW. Mick Foley and Bret Hart have had their exchanges with Flair in one way or another at some time, in Mick's case due to Flair helping book in WCW and in Bret's case due to some comments Flair made about Bret in Flair's biography.

But, overall, consensus seems to be that Flair is a legend and especially so because of how unselfish he was in the ring and how hard he worked to make others look good, and few will even try and dispute that, to the point that he's even became a legend in McMahon's world, even though almost all of Flair's career was outside WWE. His one year in WWE was awfully memorable, however, and he has been a fixture in WWE on TV for more than five years now and still actively wrestles on a regular basis.

Rob said...

I mentioned in class how I thought the arrogance and cockiness that Flair exudes was a big part of what made him likeable as a heel, whereas with most wrestlers those are precisely the attributes that make a wrestler unlikeable.

Thinking about this post, it strikes me that perhaps a great deal of why that arrogance works so well for Flair is that he is arrogant in an unselfish sort of way.

That is to say, he may be an arrogant jerk, but that attitude works for the benefit of the show and so people can respect and appreciate it to some degree. Flair may go on and on about how great he looks and how great of a wrestler he is, but then he gets in the ring and does look great and does wrestle great and put on an amazing show!

Extreme arrogance certainly isn't a feature that would ever make a real "good" wrestler -- Flair has to be a heel. However, extreme arrogance that can't be backed up is just annoying, while being able to justify it at least makes him the kind of villain you can respect and even admire a bit.

Sam Ford said...

Of course, this point doesn't matter because Ricky Steamboat is a great in-ring performer, but I think a lot of what drove Flair's popularity is that, while his character is very selfish, as a performer he was not. Flair's greatest attribute, as was emphasized in his biography, was to be able to wrestle people who weren't as good of wrestlers as he was but to make them look fantastic in the process. The fact that Flair the performer was actually not selfish at all but rather went out of his way to make his opponents look good was one of the attributes that made him successful as champion in an era when he was still traveling to different territories and wrestling the local champion and it also worked in the national era by making new stars like Sting and by being able to wrestle guys clearly not in his league but making it look like they have a chance.

Think about it--the way Flair was booked was the opposite of the way Hogan was booked. Flair was almost always booked as the champion who everyone came within inches of beating but who, through cunning, always came out on the top in the end, while Hogan was the guy who heels would be built up big for, only to be squashed by the Hulk after their finishing move doesn't work on him. Part of this has to do with who was the face and who was the heel, with the way the WWE narrative was constructed at the time as compared to WCW/NWA, and also the wrestling abilities and mentality of the two.