Wednesday, March 21, 2007

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.


Rob said...

As you point out, WCW was certainly trying to do something similar of their own, and yet I think the WWE managed to be far more succesful in what they were doing than WCW.

The WCW clearly understood that anti-authoritarianism was something that would jive well with the audience, but they set it up in such a way that it was still confined within the realms of some actual authority.

By having groups of people in the WCW, and never revealing the people at the very top (Turner), everything feels more constructed and much less emotional. By having only one man standing alone, going against the whole system, straight to the top (Vince McMahon), it feels more believable.

It is hard to imagine a bunch of wrestlers suddenly deciding to fight the power, but a lot easier to imagine just one person getting fed up with his situation and deciding to fight everyone around him.

By being alone, as opposed to having anyone on his side, it also makes the magnitude of the forces against him greater. From the audience's perspective, the authority around them (government, school, work, etc.) is probably so great that they could never question it, so anything to make the situation appear less grave for the anti-authoritarian figure only weakens the audience's ability to identify with the character.

Also, I think having one clear focal point to focus on makes it easier for the audience to emotionally identify with the feelings being expressed.

Basically, I think the WWE was just a whole heck of a lot smarter than the WCW in capitalizing on anti-authoritarianism.

katejames said...

WCW certainly had the anti-authoritarian card down, as you point out Rob. Bischoff's crazy circus of rebellions and sub-divisions within his wrestling storyline is anarchic, simple to read, and extra fun because the audience is allowed to go along with liking 'the bad guys' as a matter of uprising, revolution even. The idea of a plot line based on a group of wrestler trying to overtake the organization is fantastically ludicrous.

I'm interested in the language of revolution/ revolt that is used in both the WCW and the WWE. Especially with the subfactions of wrestlers warring for power against the authorities and demanding equality, the whole thing takes a distinctly revolutionary tone. I'm reminded again of the model of good vs. evil as a playing out of economies, and the whole wrestling business as a very complex stomping ground for challenging societal models and ideals.

As for Austin, I think it's the swagger...
As the ultimate ever-downtrodden rebel, his character was destined to become a wrestling hero. I think he has a dynamic that connects on many levels, and his bouts with Vince only firm up his status as legendary anti-authoritarian.

Last note: in the most recent edition of The Wrestling Observer, there's a description of the current drama with Vince and Austin: “Vince asked who the ref was. Shane whispered and Vince gave the Vince is about to cry face. Austin’s music played and he came out. He didn’t say a word, and just drank beer and poured beer on Vince. Austin got a pop the same level as he used to in his heyday.”(Wrestling Observer March 14, 2007, 16). Got to love a guy who pours beer on Vince.

(Though, to be fair and not fall into the black-and-white trap, there was this quote about Austin on the next page: “Show ended with Austin’s first promo. With Austin’s return, the annoying ‘What’ chants are back. They were nailing Vince with them early, but Vince outsmarted the crowd and seemed very happy he got them to stop. This segment was such a nothing. Austin came off like a nostagia act with no reason for being there other than to say hi.” (17) Things are clearly better when beers are being poured on Vince...)

Omar said...

The idea that the Austin-McMahon feud would draw heat no matter the outcome is, in my opinion, a testament to the genius of the script. The building up of McMahon bad rap provided the WWE with an ever-present villain in the wrestling performance. As you write, no matter what happens, the crowd is going to react in a big way.

Moreover, the feud is another example of melding of the backstage with the centerstage. The idea is that McMahon and Austin really have beef with each other. It is not really a pitting of face against heel. It is the kind "shades of gray" argument you would find in the real world where good vs. evil are no so easily discernible.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

I missed the whole Steve Austin thing, but was dimly aware of him because he was, well, everywhere.

He's interesting to watch, because he isn't that exciting a wrestler. His interstitial performances, though, are absolutely magnetic, and I can see why he'd become so popular.

I especially liked the Austin v. Dude Love match, because it introduced a third party: Dude Love is representing McMahon, but doesn't seem to be a bad guy in and of himself. He's just in a bad situation, and that further complicates the wish-fulfilling hero/antihero vibe I get from Austin.

Sam Ford said...

Steve's interesting as a wrestler because he has a much larger set of moves than Hogan, on the one hand, but his style is the brawling style that primarily consists of punches and kicks. However, he was much more well-respected as an athletic performer, and no one ever really knocked his abilities in the ring. He actually knew a lot more of the "scientific" wrestling style than his character let him play out. The thing about Austin is that he is a hero who spent quite a bit of time being beaten down, and most of his comeback was of the brawling style. I'm interested in whether there are others in the class who have an opinion about the quality of Stone Cold's abilities in the ring.