Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Foley is Grand

When I read the syllabus for this class all those many weeks ago, I squealed with delight at the prospect of reading Foley is Good. Finally! I had been meaning to curl up with that book for ages, but never got around to it. So when I got my books on Reg Day, I dove right in, and finished it within a week or so. But, ah, that was weeks ago. So, I'm trying to pick at my memory for some particulars about what made it such an enjoyable read, and what about Mick Foley makes him so lovable while he recalls the tooth sticking out of his nostril and the thumbtack holes dotting his arm.

One thing about Mick's writing style is how conversational it is. He has a general train of thought, from his overall height in WWE to his in-ring retirement and all those circumstances, but he goes off on all other sorts of trains on the way there, just as one might do when sitting around with friends telling a long story. His sidetracks stretch back to important history like his tenure in ECW where he made a name for himself as Cactus Jack, as well as shedding light on inside jokes from the locker room, traditions and possibly most importantly, the dynamics of building and promoting a good storyline. I learned more from this book about the 'right way' to build a storyline in wrestling than anywhere else, as no one else was ever very clear about what that meant. For example, when Steve Austin bailed in WWE after Wrestlemania one year, he later wrote that he was unhappy with the creative decisions and writing direction of the product, such as when they decided to book him vs. Brock Lesnar as the main event on Raw, out of the blue. He said that was a bad decision and such a match would be PPV caliber and should be promoted correctly, but not exactly _how_. Mick had detailed plans of how several of his devised storylines would go, and when they followed those paths and were promoted accordingly, they were smashes, earning money and publicity for the company while boosting Mick/Mankind and whoever he was working with at the time. Mick's writing style was also very conductive to this type of informational exposition, as the conversational tone allowed him to educate his reader about the in's and out's of the business, without sounding like an old school wrestling elitist who was revealing secret information and that we should be grateful for it, instead of lecturing (like he pretty much did in the epilogue at the end, which was more of a research paper) he told a great story. Which is pretty much the point of wrestling in the end.

The blood guts and toil of all those hardcore matches was not so detailed here, as those explicit descriptions were pretty much covered in 'Blood and Sweatsocks'. But here, Mick reveals the internal toils all those years have punishment have dealt, with destroyed knees, poor health and not one too many severe concussions affecting his brain. He also reveals the toll his career has taken on his family, mainly his kids, such as when that trip to Disney is delayed yet again. Also, it's wonderfully refreshing to see young kids who (amazing!) understand that wrestling is not real, that people (Daddy mainly) get hurt, but still enjoy it, they still enjoy the show. Kids are far smarter than we often give them credit for, and seeing that with respect to wrestling gives a nice contrast to, say, all those pre-teen kids jumping through tables in their back yards, or the stories of brothers accidentally killing their siblings when pulling wrestling moves on them. The love that Mick has for his wife and kids is an amazing counter to the pain and punishment we see in his matches, and we get to see a bit of that tenderness shine through later on during the
'kind and cuddly Mankind' years.

But above all, Foley is Good provided us fans with a guided backstage tour of the WWE while Mick was still wrestling, like being brought into the Cool Kids' Club by the ultimate cool kid. The stories are wonderful, and the revelations about how the business works are even more valuable. now I have to read the rest of his books. Because indeed, Foley is good.


Sam Ford said...

I think it was key to read one wrestler's memoir in the course of the term, and Mick's makes sense because of his focus on "wrestling vs. the real world" and because of the epilogue. We'll be talking more about Mick's kids watching the show later, and we'll see this moment brought up again and again, from that match with The Rock. It's used in Beyond the Mat and again in Wrestling with Manhood.

Hopefully, some good discussion of Mick's book will come out in class today and tomorrow, as well as here on the blog, but I think your point about giving kids more credit for their ability to tell fiction from reality is key in some of the later texts we'll be reading that returns to just that moment.

In the meantime, I think your points return to some of those Kate has made, Deirdre, particularly about Ole Anderson's book. While Mick's is much more friendly and less elitist than Ole's, both are amazing in the way these wrestlers can articulate how to put together a good match and a good week-by-week serialized story.

Michael Wehrman said...

Foley does deserve commendation for writing his own books, unlike other wrestlers. His luddite pen-and-notebook approach is surely novel in this day and age, so I have the utmost empathy for his copyeditor(s) as well, however.

Hardcore Diaries is most fresh in my mind. It's more revealing than the other bios, and somewhat controversial, I suppose. It's controversial to typical fans in what it reveals, and it's controversial to smart fans in what it fails to confirm about their biases (that Vince and the writing staff are a bunch of hacks intent on wrecking the industry).

I can't help but feel, however, that I agree (and I'm happy to admit that) with Joshua Shea's review of the book. Foley writes this book, and if you read Hardcore Diaries as someone who did not watch the buildup to ONS 2006, you would think this was the main event. Foley laments the lack of TV time he gets, the shot down storyline buildup, etc. What he fails to consider is that there are literally dozens of guys backstage who are present for TV each and every week who don't get a tenth of the TV time Foley ended up with.

In the end, Hardcore Diaries comes across as the memoirs of someone who looks at the WWE as their occasional playground to come back to, bitter and frustrated that, in his absence, other people began playing there.

I know Foley has a good storyline to tell. I know the WWE product presented at the time had storytelling that can not be described in any combination of vulgarities (a year later, I'm still aghast from all the bodily fluids dumped on the Spirit Squad, and that someone thought it was a good idea for TV). But Foley doesn't seem to realize that the structure of the program can't and won't always make room for him.

So, as an individual, I wasn't terribly impressed by it (though the non-WWE segues he weaves in throughout the book are typical heartwarming Foley - even when he's gushing over a porn star).

However, if you look at Hardcore Diaries as one single wrestler's account of what it's like to work in the WWE (or any wrestling company, really), and that Foley's successes and frustrations with the backstage processes and how that translates into the televised product can be applied, with some exceptions, to anyone on that roster from Stevie Richards to Batista, you'll see a different story entirely.

I didn't see Foley's frustrations; I imagined what ideas, angles, or matches would be proposed by a guy - only to be shot down. I pictured the self-fulfilling prophecy of failing to properly introduce a wrestler to the audience, of failing to establish them in matches, and then the corporate frustration when fans don't care who they are.

Foley's book could apply to any wrestler. Did Monty Brown leave a top spot in TNA to become a no-name (and let's be honest, that's exactly what he is) on ECW? I imagine he had much bigger aspirations than that.

I suppose the short version of the story is that wrestlers *do* frequently fight against the real world, though in their case, the fantasy world is the one that motivated them to start wrestling in the first place. Not everyone can headline Wrestlemania, though that's typically the first place people picture themselves when envisioning their wrestling career. Few wrestlers think "I want to be an occasional jobber on Heat when I grow up."

So Foley's conflict, as he presents it, is not really unique to him at all. It's a common reality all pro wrestlers share.

Rob said...

I think you're definitely right in that this experience of wanting to be the one in the spotlight and always feeling like you're not being given quite the shot you deserve is a universal one in the world of wrestling. Beyond that, I would say it is probably universal to all media industries, or at the very least, the more star-oriented ones.

I think everyone who gets into media -- whatever they form they prefer -- must have started by seeing the big headliners, the big products, or the big stars, and wanting to do that or be there.

I think Foley captures this well, though I think many other people have as well.

You point out that Foley doesn't really seem to acknowledge (or realize?) that other people are having the same experience -- perhaps as a flaw of Foley's work.

However, while we can take a bird's eye view and say that it is all universal, I think an important element of this universal experience we're talking about, is that everyone thinks that they're not being a given a fair shot, or not having the opportunity the fully utilize their talents, or that they are the one who is somehow special or unique.

Not to say that is a bad thing. I think for someone to actually end up in the spotlight it is important to feel that you really deserve it.

Also, to an extent, I think it is true. I think most people do not get to fully realize and utilize their talents because resources are so limited and so few people actually do get to be in the spotlight!

Anyways, getting back on track...

I think one of the things that makes Foley's work such a great read is that he actually pulls you into that mindset. He doesn't talk about it like a social scientist or an outside observer who acknowledges the universality of the experience. He shows you what it feels like to be in there, to feel that you're being underutilized, and helps you actually understand what that experience means on a personal level.

I suppose there's probably a lot of people who understand that, but most of them can't write, and most who can probably think about this stuff in too social-science-y of a way, or maybe just don't have the chutzpah to write down what they're actually thinking and feeling in an honset way where other people can read it, to actually put the kind of engrossing narrative Foley does on paper.

Sam Ford said...

Rob, the focus of Foley is Good is somewhat different than Hardcore Diaries, but I think Foley's place in general is interesting compared to Hulk's. Would most people say that Foley is self-centered, in the way that Rob is saying most performers almost HAVE to be in a business like this, that's all about self-promotion?

But people seem to find Mick loveable and Hulk a huckster, no pun intended, a shill for himself who cares less about the business as a whole. Perhaps the difference is that Mick's big storyline ideas are often about pushing Edge or getting Randy Orton over, rather than making sure he defeats them.

Anonymous said...

I think another thing that gives Mick more latitude than Hulk is that for whatever ego he may have, his reputation for honesty is much higher than Hulk's. Hogan is considered to be the king of tall tales (in an industry that is full of them!).

If we are to believe Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant was somewhere between 650-800 pounds when he slammed him, Vince McMahon called him to ask about buying WCW (!!), he was the first wrestler to use theme music and a child died before he could see him wrestle at Summerslam '92 (an event in which it's clearly documented he did not appear). Thus Hogan usually does himself no favours in the "huckster" category.

I actually found Foley's second book much harder to plow through than his first, which is thoroughly engaging and one of the better "slow rise to the top" stories you will ever mind.

Sam Ford said...

As a memoir, most people agree that Have a Nice Day was superior. Foley is Good's wrestling sections are a take on a product most people were so intimately familiar with that there wasn't as much to learn, but the pieces about ghostwriting and 20/20 and all the other ways the "real world" comes into contact with wrestling seems particularly appropriate for the questions asked here.

katejames said...

If I can go back to Sam's first comment, one of my favorite things about Foley is Good is the first-hand account of Mick coming up with the idea for the rematch with The Rock involving the cutting off of body parts, and the house of afflicted weirdos who push The Rock off the cliff, etc... I love how he stages this story: 'I came up with a tremendous scenario for a rematch. I pride muself on being creative, but when I came up with this bad boy, I knew that I had set new standards for myself" (37).

Then Mick launches into a story of getting on a plane to demand to see Vince and pitch the story, only to be shot down for being too outrageous and being 'morally reprehensible', and when it's cleaned up it enough it becomes Snow White. At the end of the whole account, Mick writes "All right, so the conversation never actually took place, but I'm trying to make a point." While his point is well taken, that the critique of wrestling violence is held to different standards than other entertainment formats and that cleaning it of its grit would result in a washed-out, worthless product, his ability to weave a creative narrative so seamlessly into a memoir to 'make a point' begs the question one more time of how much a wrestler is playing themselves or a character, even when writing a memoir.

Sam Ford said...

Poetic license has never been more liberally applied than when a wrestler writes about his history...the only difference is that Foley winks at the reader in a way that writers like Hogan and Moolah do not.