Friday, March 30, 2007

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.


Sam Ford said...

Peter, great points about how the NWA's lack of competition in various territories left an intentional weak spot that Vince took advantage of. Many people blast Vince currently for having a monopoly on the wrestling industry, but it's interesting when the defense is the NWA era before Vince, since that presented perhaps an even shadier and dangerous world...This point would definitely be worth elaborating on a lot further. Great that you pick up on this contradiction and how this text attacks the topics with much less distance and exposition.

katejames said...

I was also struck by the image conjured of the shady dealings at the beginnings of the NWA. But this is the wrestling world, and it's awfully easy to see the b&w version of things: that Vince McMahon marched around the territories crushing ruthlessly every organization in his path. Corporate heel to the NWA's face. To read about the backroom meeting of all the 'bosses' complicates the situation- who to root for if everyone's lying, cheating, and backstabbing to get to the top?

But then, we're talking about the history of a corporation, not an entertainment act, right? Sometimes I lose track, especially with the dramatic narratives of Assael and Mooneyman.

Omar said...

I almost made the mistake of skipping the intro and heading straight into the first chapter (something of a bad habit, I guess). The intro really does set a somber mood for the book. There is the idea that wrestling has evolved into a kind of business and drama that its forefathers had not originally conceived.

Truly, the beginnings of the wrestling machine themselves appeared less than legitimate. After time, though, the product would take on a similar "shadiness".

Sam Ford said...

WWE often portrays itself as lifting that shadiness from the production of pro wrestling, while others claim that WWE has done more to create that persona. You will see many WWE mentions of putting the lights on the crowd and taking wrestling from the dark arena to its modern spectacle.

Ismael said...

I think the intro about Owen Hart is used to set the tone for the novel. It immediately delivers the reader the controvery that is expected by the title "Sex, Lies and Headlocks". I think that it is necessary to start the story from the territory era, but how interested would readers be after the 1st chapter. I even found myself just trying to get through the first chapter or two just so I could get to the more interesting can controversial parts of the story.