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.


Mike W. said...

If there is any surefire positive benefit or truism that should stem from this, it should have been the elimination of "creative control" in *anyone's* contract. Randy Baer's "Death of WCW" provides ample evidence at how destructive Hogan was to WCW as a direct result of having creative control (though, of course, when your company is having so many problems everywhere, it's hard to claim that taking away Hogan's control would have led to WCW surviving through until today.

I'd hate to think any wrestlers have a contractually-established say over their characters. I think that more wrestlers should be involved in their characters (I keep waiting in anticipation of Nick Dinsmore dropping "Eugene" altogether on WWE tv), but I wouldn't dare take that as far as ensuring it in their contract.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Hey, utilitarianism! Props, yo.

The JFK comparison--owing as it does to something of a sick joke--seems an apt one. Not every wrestler, not even every great one, gets to go out with a bang.

As for the "business" angle, and businesses traditionally operating under contracts and rules, there are differing opinions on what rules take priority. (Hence the existence of the field of business ethics.) WWE is, at the moment, a corporation with publicly-traded stock. I don't recall, at the moment, if it was during the Bret Hart saga, but there exists a rather popular perspective that a corporation's only ethical rule is to maximize stockholder profit without explicitly breaking any laws. (Whether the second part is, in practice, nullified by the first remains an open issue.) It's hard to argue that the Bret Hart fiasco didn't work out well for Vince, his family, and the other employees of the brand, and it's unclear to me if any actual laws were broken, aside from perhaps a verbal contract. But more on that in one of my belated vacation posts.