Ok, we didn't quite finish it, but some thoughts on the ECW doc. I was rather surprised to hear that this one is considered to be the most "authentic" of the WWE-produced docs we've watched; I thought it seemed more didactic than the others, which made me suspect a greater-than-usual bias.
To start with, the WWE, WCW and ECW are all represented rather iconically, with McMahon, Bischoff and Heyman serving as metonyms for their respective operations. McMahon is depicted as being cool, rational, and businesslike. Bischoff is depicted as being arrogant and incompetent, as well as having questionable business ethics. (We noted in class that this last one is odd, since he arguably behaved no worse than McMahon--the difference seems to be that McMahon isn't shown to be defensive about his behavior in this particular documentary. As for "arrogant" and "incompetent," all of our readings seem to back that one up.) And Heyman...
Heyman is depicted as a larger-than-life figure, an idealist, and a magnetic personality that inspires cultish devotion in his employees. He is presented as such a dramatic figure that I was taken aback by the class' assurances that this documentary depicts his world accurately. His business skills are, at first, canny and practical: he attacks where the competition is weak, revelling in the "dark side" of wrestling that McMahon and Bischoff had to manage very carefully. The blood, the sex, the sense of plausible (as opposed to superheroic) danger, all liabilities for the other promotions, were the strengths of the ECW. While nobody in the documentary said as much, I'm not sure ECW's comparatively low production values were a weakness to be minimized, but rather part of the appeal, helping to convince the audience that they weren't really dealing with a professional operation, and that anything really could happen. As Mick Foley pointed out (with what seemed like a degree of disdain), the fans loved the wrestling, but they also loved seeing people get hurt. It's easy to see where Foley's obsession with injury, safety and reality, labored so heavily in Foley is Good, comes from.
As the film goes on, it's suggested that Heyman (representing the ECW) eventually fails because he never moves past the mom-and-pop style that put him on the map. He performed multiple jobs, as did most of his wrestlers. The film (and a few of the wrestlers in it) suggest that ECW might have survived longer had he been willing to delegate, and move to a more "professional" model. I found this a little odd, given that Vince's reputation as a control freak doesn't seem to have yet doomed the WWE. But this claim, that Heyman resisted the transition to a big-league business model, sets up the WWE as the rightful inheritor of the ECW's talent, and the rightful ruler of the pro wrestling juggernaut--in stark contrast to that prick Bischoff.
At least, that's what it looks like from what we saw: it's possible there's a twist ending I haven't seen coming, in which Sabu is actually a disguised Magneto, or Heyman has been dead the whole time. (In my world, I like to imagine that documentaries offer the same story potentialities as fiction.) But it seems to be that there's a fundamental contradiction in the idea of a large-scale, highly successful ECW competing on the same scale as WWE and WCW, because the appeal of the ECW even today seems to be its stripped-down, alternative quality--Nirvana to the WWE's Poison, to borrow Heyman's analogy. Nirvana burned out quite famously, and while the fates of contemporary early 90s alternative messiah-bands vary, none of them ever actually replaced the pop music against which they were defined as alternative. Wrestling has grown to the point that it's straddling the line between subculture and culture, and ECW seems firmly planted in subculture.