Saturday, April 7, 2007

Foley: The "I Quit" match

This'll probably be the first of several posts on Foley is Good, so I'll start with the inevitable: I'm having a blast with this book, and after all the time we've spent with the character/performer binary, it's refreshing to read a performer who treats it as, well, a performance.

Granted, he's still a wrestler, and there's certainly some hyperbole at work. I suspect that Foley's suggestion for a rematch in which Foley breaks into a house full of mentally ill people and uses them to force The Rock off a cliff was probably a joke. But overall, he's pretty down-to-earth, someone who works in an unusual business but is apparently not insane.

Foley's description of "I Quit" match against The Rock, detailed in chapter 3, gives a perspective I haven't seen before in this class, one that deals explicitly with the tension between wrestling and the "real" world. It's important to Foley that his kids understand that The Rock is a friend of his, and he's not really getting hurt--although he is, but only enough to make it look real. As the details of the match are worked out, it's hard not to admire the craftsmanship involved (managing the delays between chair shots, etc.)

But then, as so often happens with live performance, things go awry. The chair shots come faster than they'd planned, and more frequently. Foley is understandably in pain, but mostly writes about his wife and kids in the audience, and being worried about their reactions. And when it's all over, and Foley's recuperating in the dressing room, he doesn't seem to be joking when he writes about being offended that The Rock doesn't show up.

I read this and I think, with all the PR problems the WWE is constantly having--PR problems that essentially function as advertising for the product, of course, but problems nonetheless--I can't help but wonder why the WWE doesn't try to produce more stuff like this. More openness, more common sense, more concern for the safety of the fans. Hell, can't Vince break character just once in a while and be, well, nice?

And if he's not in character, if Mr. McMahon really is the real Vince, couldn't he just take Foley's advice for most problems and just fake it?


David O'Hara said...

I remember watching that match and being kind of sickened by the fact that Foley allowed his family to be present at ringside. I guess I'm a little jaded to the whole scenario as it is detailed ad nauseum in Beyond the Mat. I was put off much more by the Rey Misterio Jr./Eddy Guerrero child storyline. (Don't even get me started on Vickie/Chavo.) I will admit, I haven't read the book, but based on what Foley says in Beyond the Mat, I see this as a rehashing of really old news in order to fill the number of pages mandated by Foley's publisher.

WWE doesn't want to release stuff "like this" because they're trying to protect their company on several levels. If they let out the stuff that Foley ostensibly reveals in this book--stuff than anyone who's had a subscription to the Torch or the Observer for any extended period of time during the past six or seven years takes for granted, i.e., Vince is increasingly loopy, Hunter really knows how to protect his spot, the wrestlers have a "court"--they run the risk of revealing too much to more plebian wrestling fans who probably do not read the sheets but may pick up a WWE book that happens to be on the clearance rack at Barnes & Noble.

There is no distinction between the on- and off-air Vince McMahon. He simply decides where on the spectrum his performance will fall at any given time.

Sam Ford -- my last comment reminded me that if you wanted to delve deeper into McMahon, you might think of showing your class the HBO Real Sports program from a few years ago that covers wrestling deaths and has a very compelling interview with one V. K. M.

Michael Wehrman said...

I don't know that "opening" the show to the audience the way Beyond the Mat did will help matters at all. It may make them worse, in fact - after all, part of the fans' naivete is that everyone shakes hands, congratulates each other on a good match, and goes out for a beer at Applebee's afterward. We don't think of someone being sewn up, pissed off, and having a family very concerned for their safety. That image violates everything the fans assume about behind the scenes. I found it absolutely fascinating and somewhat appalling when I read Les Thatcher mention in a book that he, to this day, has never broken kayfabe with his daughter (who is a grown adult by now).

As for Foley's match, as much as I think I know about pro wrestling, during match time, I forget it all, and rarely see moments when it looks like a collaborative effort (that it is) versus a competitive fight (which it isn't). In this match, one amazingly not ruined by the gimmicky electronic box spot, I clearly recall the two fighting in the entrance aisle. Rock was in the middle of his million chair shots. As a fan, the match conveyed to me that these were not your genteel "Hulk Hogan" chairshots; hell, they weren't even ECW chairshots - they made the kind used by Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka pale by comparison.

What makes this match memorable to me is the duality of (1) seeing how fake the match was in progress and (2) still feeling more worried and bad for Foley than I think I ever have. At several points, Foley was clearly giving The Rock his back for a chairshot - walking backwards towards him, clumsy and angry at the same time. Nevertheless, The Rock seemed to knowingly turn down the gift-wrapped offer and hit Foley in the head. Hard. Multiple times.

The match violated my agnosticism as a wrestling fan because, for a moment, their collaboration was evident. At the same time, Foley was being taken advantage of in the match, and due to the circumstances, had no means of protecting himself.

Sam Ford said...

We haven't watched Beyond the Mat in class before, but I think that it's important to emphasize that the book in question here is Foley is Good, which actually features plenty of things you wouldn't necessarily get from Dave or Wade, both in firsthand accounts and the type of storytelling Mick provides, and also in the epilogue to the book, which deals with media effects studies.

I haven't read Hardcore Diaries yet, but I know that Dave had some good things to say about it and that it's not completely revealing but pretty honest nonetheless.

As for the debate all of you are happening about how much WWE wants to lift the curtain, how do you make sense of The Mania of Wrestlemania in that regard? We'll be watching it later this month, and it's particularly interesting in that regard. This reveals more about the behind-the-scenes goings-on than Beyond the Mat does, in a lot of ways, and its WWE-produced.

As for the Rock/Foley match, it's also interesting because it defies my point about Rock both never being injured much and rarely injuring anyone else, in that he is painted to look partiuclarly mean at this point. Was it miscommunication, a breakdown in the plan, or should Rock be somewhat to blame? It seems that people in wrestling often have a hard time with apologies, not just Bryce's points about Vince but the same could go for Rock in this example but the riff between Owen Hart and Steve Austin when Owen didn't call and check in on Steve due to his injury from the piledriver gone wrong at Summerslam 1997.

Luis Tenorio said...

The rivalry between Mankind and The Rock was classic. Though I feel it might have been one of those times when the focus of the audience really wasn't on the WWF Champion but on another star, in this case, Steve Austin. But I loved the matches between these two. I do think that wrestlers, especially those that have to do some crazy stuff like Mick did, go through difficult times because they have to explain to their families that it isn't real. I read the Rock's book and he details how once, while training, he had to stop grimacing and go over to his wife and tell her he was OK.
Mick has done lots of crazy stuff and I think that most fans believe the wrestler will be OK. The people Mick is focused on is family. I think what Mick really wanted was for the Rock to go to the locker room and so perhaps his kids could see that it really wasn't real. Also the Rock gave more chair shots than he was supposed to. This whole family aspect really gets to wrestlers. Mick admits he can't remember much of the Hell in a Cell match with taker but had to tell his wife the stuff they did was planned. But really, how many guys plan on getting another hole below their mouth opened or getting a tooth knocked up into their nose?

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Lots of thought-provoking replies here for a n00b such as myself. I'm particularly interested by idea of a "naive" wrestling fan who believes that the wrestlers are all friends. This seems to be a relatively new phenomenon: we started the semester talking about naive fans who thought it was real, and now we have naive fans who think it's not real. Could this be interpreted as a continuing, quasi-dialectic process in which pro wrestling continues to elude some portion of its audience by presenting itself first as real, then as fake, then as real again, moving asymptotically to an unreachable reality?

Sam Ford said...

You make a good point that we've alluded to several times here in the class, that wrestling first blurred reality by presenting entertainment and passing it off as sport. When the WWE started announcing itself as entertainment, they eventually opened up the backstage politics to be part of the show, so that then EVERYTHING seems like part of the show, so they blur reality from the opposite direction.

The game is to always leave fans questioning what they see, to keep the hoax up, and I think it can be understood in relation to that tricskter strain of American history that has its roots in the carnival, magicians, and stories like "The Great Moon Hoax" and others from the 19th Century.

Carolina said...

There was something truly disturbing about that "I Quit" match, to the point where every time they have an "I Quit" match this is the first match that comes to mind. I've always been a huge fan of The Rock, but even I was disappointed when I read that he didn't go in to see Mick after the match was over. You want to talk about going overboard, well, Rock went there and further to cement his role as the #1 heel in the company. Maybe it wasn't worth it, will Mick's family being there. Was it worth it in the long run?

I don't think it was. Rock will be known more for his eyebrow and electric promos than losing it and getting caught up in the moment in one match when he was a heel. As a matter of fact, he'll probably always be remembered for being a babyface, just like Steve Austin, even though the latter also made for a pretty good heel himself around 2001. But as easily as you can say that all these chair shots weren't necessary, you could say that so many other things Vince and the WWE do isn't necessary to enhance the storylines. Like everything else, it's all over the top and exaggerated. Still, it was good to read what happened from Mick's point of view, even if it was somewhat disappointing and what seemed to be a low moment in his friendship with The Rock.