Friday, April 13, 2007

The Woman Behind the McMahon

Recently we have been reading, watching, and discussing Vince McMahon's dominance in professional wrestling. For the most part it appears that every aspect of the WWE is run by Vince and he is the mastermind behind all of the WWE's success. Although the last statement may have some truth to it, I think that the role of his wife, Linda McMahon, has taken a back seat to Vince.

From what we have read in Sex, Lies, and Headlocks it is evident that Linda played an important role in Vince's rise to the top. She was at Vince's side through all of his initial gambles and failures. Most women probably would think their husbands were crazy if their long-term goals involved the word wrestling. Linda, however, involved herself with all of Vince's business ventures and supported his every move.

As the WWE rose to the top, Linda played an important role in business matters. Linda was influential in involving the WWE in the community and in charitable programs. She has supported organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, USO, and the Starlight Foundation. Linda also contributed to the creation of WWE’s educational and literary program, Get R.E.A.L.. Additionally, she is involved in WWE’s Smackdown Your Vote!, which encourages younger voters to participate in the electoral process. Linda is able to use the WWE’s popularity to bring more important social issues into focus. This shows that the WWE is trying to be more than just a source of entertainment. When the company turned public, the WWE felt a greater sense of responsibility so Linda was able to use the programs to benefit both the WWE and the community.

Linda McMahon brings a strong female personality to the WWE. While Vince plays a role that could never be replaced, the influence that Linda has had on the WWE is almost as irreplaceable. Since fans perceive her on the show as a figure who sticks to her values and acts as the impartial mediator, it seems easier for her business decisions to be supported off-screen. Her womanly touch helps to ground a business that has been predominantly male-oriented. Most importantly, the clear separation between her on- and off-screen personalities helps to balance out the mass confusion that Vince brings with his characters.

12 comments:

Laury Silvers said...

I've read this book and was glad to see LM's strong role in building the company. To be honest, I had thought of her as a bit of a victim to VKM. Instead I found out that she and VKM built the empire together.

Could it be I was swayed by the drugged LM angle while Trish rubbed herself all over VKM? I marked out, that is for sure.

Sam Ford said...

I think you make an interesting point about Linda McMahon being a strong female figure in wrestling. She is definitely one of the most level-headed women on the show and has always been shown as being in a position of power in a way that sets her aside from almost every other female figure I can think of in pro wrestling history and certainly different than Stephanie has. In fact, I can hardly think of a time when Linda hasn't ended up in some way with the upper hand.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Linda's role struck me as being slightly conflicted in both SL&H and the McMahon doc, since it seems to run against the general arguments of each. In SL&H, Linda is presented as a bright spot in a rather unpleasant--and still undefined--childhood for Vince. She never really takes the foreground in the prose, but whenever a problem occurs, she's often the one that sorts it out, dealing with the government, settling legal matters, etc.

In McMahon, she's presented as being Vince's partner and a vital part of the WWE leadership, and this casts Vince in a different light than any other part of the documentary. It's confused even further as they delve into her onscreen role, a Machiavellian player who might be Vince's equal, but seems to spend a lot of time being hit, drugged, etc.

katejames said...

If all good wrestling characters are based on hyperbolic versions of the real self, I feel really bad for Linda McMahon. While I totally agree that in both S,L&H and the McMahon dvd Linda comes out as a strong character with an ability to fix/ mediate things in the crazy wrestling world with class and business savvy, as Peter points out, in the arena she gets slapped, drugged, deceived, cheated on, etc. This portrayal of the level-headed, honorable wife and matriarch getting constantly abused and betrayed feeds perfectly into Vince's character and the overall family performance dynamic.
But I come again to the question of women's identity in the wrestling world-- what function does it serve to either sexualize, humiliate, or abuse all the women in the wrestling script? Does it mean something fundamentally different than the same sexualizing, humiliating, and abuse of male characters? Are the responses that these female characters are given-- their 'vindications'-- on par with their performance of objectification? I think the physical opportunities that they have for overcoming all this horrible stereotyping are secondary and insufficient.
I guess that I'm saying I'm not bothered by the treatment of women characters in the wrestling industry, but i'm offended that they aren't given more redemptive airtime. The image of Linda rising from of her coma chair in the ring stands out as a visible moment of vindication- but how much crap does a woman have to take to earn that one moment of overcoming the grips of misogeny? While we might get the sense that Linda always comes out on top, and we see her character react against poor treatment, it just doesn't feel like a big success for the female identity in wrestling to me.

Sam Ford said...

Kate, interesting points, and we will return to this in looking at the treatment of the Trish Stratus character in particular, when we talk about Wrestling with Manhood. So much of it depends on whether you are looking at a specific episode, an entire storyline trajectory, or the overall career of someone. It seems that each would give you a fundamentally different idea of the success of a particular character.

Laury Silvers said...

I think Kate has an excellent point.

I don't know how to say this any other way: wrestling is irredeemably sexist. I would only add that I have learned through wrestling how destructive gender injustice is to men as well.

Luis Tenorio said...

I have never given Linda's role in running the company much thought until SL&H. You have to remember that she went through all the trials and tribulations that came along with the rise of the WWE. She was there for the trials and the sex scandals. She supported Vince when he had the crazy idea of going national and taking over. And I think you can see her in Stephanie because she is now a big part of the show and how it is run. Linda might not have a great in ring presence but outside the ring, I do agree, she is hard to ignore.
Another note however. I do think that her in ring person is very much like the person she is out of the ring. And just like the stories that come into the ring from life outside of it, she is very strong to go through all the crazy Vince cheating stories after she went through the real thing many times before.

Sam Ford said...

I think that, becuase Vince is such a large persona, it's easy to read Linda as a supporting character in Vince's narrative, and S, L, & H didn't present that story any differently. WWE itself does the same thing, primarily because Vince is the recognizable figure and charismatic leader, he drives creative, etc.

But do not forget that Linda was Vince's business partner from the very first day Vince took over WWE and that Linda is vital to the business operations to the company. Linda handles all the investor relations meetings, and I've seen Linda deliver a keynote at a big entertainment industry conference in the past. She's driven a lot of the company's innovation in new media and distribution.

As for Stephanie, I'd say she's probably the spitting image of her father in most ways. Perhaps Shane is more like Linda...

Carolina said...

I was particularly disturbed with the drugged Linda storyline back then, and was extremely happy when they ended it. I don't mind Linda being on the show, but I like her in small doses. For instance, when she comes out to reinstate so-and-so who was "fired," or when she is showcased as the only sane person in the McMahon family and the voice of reason on the show, that works. The fans buy her when she plays that role because that seems to be the perception of her behind the scenes. She's the glue that holds it together, the woman who supports Vince through thick and thin and is always there for him as his partner in everything he does. I agree with Sam in that I think Stephanie takes after Vince more than she does Linda, especially with her on-screen character. Linda's the least likely to get involved on-screen, but when she does, it's usually best when kept at a minimum...

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Working as I am from a position of relative ignorance, I'd have to agree with Sam's claim that Stephanie seems to be developing along the same lines as Vince. She seems to get a lot more visible "heel" time than Shane, certainly. Vince can't be the big bad forever, and one of the more subtle societal changes we've seen in the last hundred years or so is the acceptance of the idea of a female heir. Hell, Hugh Hefner's daughter runs Playboy now, and I've always kind of hoped The Sopranos would end with Tony dying and Meadow taking over the family business.

Deirdre said...

Interesting points there Kate, about how even when the women featured in wrestling get to hit back after suffering various injustices and mistreatment, that their retribution doesn't seem to be on the same level as the offense. On tv, after being put in a home, and drugged, and humiliated, and cheated on, and so forth, Linda finally gets back at Vince by...... what? Knocking him out? Offering what little humilation Vince can feel by having his wife stand up to him? You're right there, it doesn't exactly seem like 'an eye for an eye'.
Then on the other side, you have those random times that when it seems that all is lost, that Vince has run amok with his power again and there is no one left to stop him, out comes Linda to lay the smack down - via microphone and corporate mandate. As CEO in real life and on tv, she wields enough power to put Vince in his place from time to time, and brings a calm rational justice to the wild, irrational injustices that Vince hath wrought. (How interesting is it that Linda plays the part of the calm rational problem-solver, a traditionally male role, and the Vince is the emotional, irrational trouble maker, which women have been often characterized as?)
Unfortunately there are few other female characters that solidly gain the upper hand on WWE television, and not just a low blow in retaliation for however many injustices.

Sam Ford said...

I think Linda stands out because her power is not tied to "feminine wiles." She isn't a woman who uses sexuality to get anything, as even Stephanie has often done. Vince is just so heavily sexualized, while Linda always seems to retain her dignity, which makes those moments Deirdre refers to as partiularly important.

Shane and Linda just seem to have a professional/personal line that Vince/Stephanie lacks. Of course, Steph married the business, the game, quite literally, while Shane has a family to go home to.

As for Kate's original points, though, it is indeed a lack of retribution all too often. Trish and Linda got back at Vince, and they ultimately cost him a WM, so I do think the fact that it happened at WM should be of partiuclar importance, since that match will be remembered far longer than the storyline surrounding it, so perhaps Linda's one iconic moment of castrating Vince by rising from her catatonic state and giving Vince a low blow actually outweighs the months of humiliation beforehand because of the weight of the stage it happened on, but it's definitely a debatable point.