Tuesday, April 10, 2007

WWE Meets The ECW

From what we've seen of the ECW so far, I found the dynamic between the WWE and the ECW to be one of the most interesting bits we've seen. I'm not entirely sure how to read the whole thing yet, but there seems to be a bunch of interesting angles here.

On the simplest level, you basically just have the ECW and the WWE pooling their mutual resources to cooperate in battling the WCW. Simple enough. From this angle, you have basic cooperation.

Then you also have this sort of animosity between the two. Lawler rather actively insults the ECW wrestlers. Heyman constantly uses "McMahon" in what seems to be a genuinely derogatory way. The WWE is underhandedly stealing wrestlers from the ECW. From this angle, you have basic antagonism.

However, somehow these two things seem to coexist in a sort of an uncomfortable way. If the ECW hates the WWE so much, then how come they keep bringing folks like Lawler back on the show? Is it just to get better ratings? The ECW seemed to pack its stadiums pretty consistently, and was less television-oriented, so wouldn't the WWE clearly stand to gain more? Even if the ECW gains something from bringing on the WWE, is it really worth it to help out your biggest competitor? Why allow Lalwer to come on and trivially beat the living crap out of your new champions? That makes the ECW wrestlers look awful! Whatever you stand to gain from the competition, surely that doesn't make any sense.

I'm just not sure I understand what the ECW was doing here.

I suppose, the one way I can make sense of this, is that Haymen who knew a damn good wrestling story, but without a great deal of business sense. Perhaps he saw that what he was doing with the WWE made for a better story, and that was what he focused on, without taking into consideration the larger impact it might have on the business?

I'm not sure.

Another interesting angle, somewhat tangential to this, is getting back to the whole reality versus fiction dichotomy.

One thing that struck me about the ECW wrestlers was how real everything seemed to them. When they talk about Lawler showing up in their ring, they seem genuinely upset and surprised about the whole thing. Surely they were told about the story in advance, right?

On the WWE side of things, I got the more familiar sense (from what we've been seeing throughout the class) that they acknowledged the fiction and the reality together, whereas the ECW felt more lost in the unreality of the whole thing. It was a bit strange. It felt almost anarchonistic in the context of class.

A part of me wants to draw some kind of connection here between the more story-obsessed and less-business-oriented attributes of the ECW and the more blurred line between reality and fiction in the ECW... though I'm not quite sure yet.

Just starting to get the old gears turning with regards to the ECW. I might revisit this topic later if we talk more about them.


Michael Wehrman said...

I noticed a few weeks ago that Lawler stopped trashing ECW. With all the involvement of Lashley leading up to Wrestlemania, ECW has certainly been the topic of conversation on all WWE programming lately.

It was a deafening silence to not hear Lawler take cheap shots at ECW. In an era where announcers seem to speak their mind (I get it, already! JBL absolutely DESPISES Miz!), this is a very noticable omission.

Perhaps ECW stinks now because Bobby Lashley is the single most boring thing being forcefed to us since the "Lex Express." Perhaps ECW stinks right now because it looks too slick. Perhaps ECW stinks right now because it's not standing in the face of everything. ECW was a rebellious promotion that stood up against the big guys everywhere. Now it's just the establishment. You can see it now in other organizations: during the civil rights movement, the NAACP was a radical social movement organization. Since then, it became an organization intertwined with Washington. It is no longer a rebellious movement. It is now the establishment.

ECW has nothing to fight against, nobody to stand up to, and no war to fight. It is the establishment, and it is boring. ECW lost it's raison d'etre the moment Vince brought it back.

Sam Ford said...

Rob, you raise a couple of interesting points here, and I hope we do continue talking about ECW in light of future discussions because it was an important part of wrestling history, even if it never really rose to national prominence in the way Paul and the wrestlers wanted it to.

It was driven by just that type of realism you describe, the fact that these wrestlers BELIEVED they were tougher and better and a solid whole. There truly was something cult-ish in the fan community surrounding ECW and in the ECW locker room. It led to a solidarity around the promotion that caused fans to chant for ECW instead of the wrestlers themselves, something that had never been seen before, as far as I know.

As for Rob's question about the WWE/ECW partnership, here's the deal. WWE was losing pretty badly to WCW, and ECW had a cult status with a rabid fan base. WWE, with nothing to lose, teamed with the clear #3 with thought that the two combined could put some cracks in the foundation of #1, even if that meant letting Heyman on the WWE show to crack jokes about how boring RAW was. At the time, WWE was trying to go in the direction of more realism, so acknowledging a smaller wrestling company helped them achieve that without really being in danger, since there was no way ECW was going to overtake the WWE in international recognition.

Meanwhile, ECW was trying to promote its first PPV without any national television, so getting a spot on WWE was its chance to reach a much wider audience. In that way, it was a win/win. For a while, WWE had ECW wrestlers appearing regularly and feuding with Jerry Lawler's USWA promotion based out of Memphis, which stayed up-and-running until mid-1997. A couple of times, they had ECW vs. USWA wrestlers on a WWE show, with the idea that these two regional operations were having wrestlers appear on the national WWE show.

But you are right that the reality vs. fiction line was especially blurred in ECW, but part of that was because they drew based on an Internet crowd and some dedicated locals. ECW's name spread through tape trading and online communities when online communites were a pretty new thing, so most of its fan base was "smarter" to the backstage happenings of the business more than the majority of the WWE fans. In that case, ECW played with realism even more because the fans were so wise to the industry and politics.

narwood said...

Yeeesss... But firstly, I take issue with the rhetoric of 'stealing' wrestlers. Wrestlers, so far as I know, are people with brains that are still functional enough to grant them legal decision making rights under US law. If they were 'stolen,' this would be kidnapping, and the FBI would become involved. And I can't remember anyone in the documentary using those words.

As for being surprised about Lawler - I wasn't there, but many circumstances would lead to surprise: maybe they weren't told at all, or their characters were surprised, and the wrestlers sympathize strongly with their characters, or they found the business decision perplexing, or several of them had a massive fight with Lawler backstage and offcamera before, and didn't think he'd ever step foot in their ring again. Etc.

Basically the point is you don't know anything without knowing the personal stories. Given the framework you set up is the cooperation/antagonism dichotomy, you only have the set up for an analysis. You won't understand anything this route.

Anonymous said...

Part of the allure of ECW was that the fine line between what was real and what was scripted was fuzzy all the time, and probably disappeared very often. It led to the unpredictability and chaos that made the company and its style so attractive, and later Bischoff in WCW used that same sort of uncertainty to give his company an 'edge'. This part of the storytelling was partially in the hands of the wrestlers, who pretty much had free reign to do whatever they wanted on the show as long as it fit into Heyman's plans. Heyman himself built up this feeling of almost- reality, of unreality, and he built it up and got so wrapped up that he brought everyone with him, including the wrestlers that were so indoctrinated in the ECW world.

Ismael said...

While Rob was confused about why ECW would allow WWE characters on the show, I was confused about why the WWE would allow ECW characters on the show. ECW seemed to have the most to gain from this cooperation. I don't see how having the entire audience at a RAW show chant "E-C-W" could have been part of Vince's plans. The only explanantion for this would be to help give ECW national exposure so that they could expand. Maybe it's because Vince found more joy in crushing and overtaking a bigger threat than ECW originally was. Even though ECW did lose out in the end, I think that they were successful in shakeing up the wrestling world and having a lasting impact.

Sam Ford said...

Ismael, the key is that Vince was losing the ratings war, quite a bit, and the idea of working with groups like ECW may have been that their cult status could bring more viewers toward WWE if WWE were aligned with them, which could make a difference in a heated ratings war.