I have taken a long, long sabbatical from blogging. (Read: I have been far too lazy to post anything for the past 3 months). But, the serious nature of the following subject compels me to write. This is a topic of tremendous importance and simply not one I can ignore any longer.
I am speaking of course about professional wrestling.
The WWE and Me
Now, with all due respect to Dixie Carter and TNA and Jeff Jarrett (and his new venture called something like GFW: Global Force Wrestling…. which, for the record, sounds to me like a generic wrestling game made for the Super Nintendo…) but, when one speaks of professional wrestling, there is really only one show in town: the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). [especially since they bought WCW and ECW and now own all of those back catalogues as well]
I know what you are thinking (besides simply “Tom, you are a weirdo”):
“Um… wrestling? You know that’s fake, right?”.
Thank you kindly for that bombshell. While my whole world is now shattered, I shall try to pick up the pieces and scrounge to find some sort of meaning to my devastated existence.
Yes, the matches are booked (the end results are, for lack of a better term, “scripted”). And the storylines are crafted (some much, much better than others). However, there are some things that you (if you are not a fan of pro wrestling) should know.
BUT… Before I delve into a few of those, let me briefly explain my experience with “Sports Entertainment” and also try to give (my version of) a history of the WWE:
I honestly don’t remember when I was first exposed to the (then WWF) programming that was out there. My best recollection (and deduction) is that I was first drawn into it with the Saturday morning cartoon “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘N’ Wrestling” which aired in 1985 and 1986. From there, I must have seen some Saturday Night’s Main Event TV shows (probably VHS recordings at a friend’s house). I do also remember renting WrestleMania I, II, and III from our local Winn-Dixie (which would have had to have happened in 1987 or so). However it actually started, I was hooked throughout my childhood.
Let me tell you somethin’ brother… I was a HUGE fan of the Hulkster. Hulk Hogan was my guy. Sometime between ’87 and ’90, I got to see a tape of WrestleMania’s IV and V, and OOOOO Yeah, I also became a huge “Macho Man” Randy Savage fan. Those two were my absolute favorites when I was growing up. With another friend, I actually got to see WrestleMania’s VI, VII, VIII, and IX live on pay-per-view (along with a handful of SummerSlams in that time period too). Amazing stuff!
This was a fairly kid-friendly period, when the product was full of larger than life super heroes and two-dimensional mega-villains. A lot of people call this time period the Cartoon Era, which I think fits. I would say this lasted from about 1984 (with the first WrestleMania) until roughly 1992. Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Macho Man, Ultimate Warrior, etc. ruled the ring in those days.
There was a big steroid trial around 1992 and the business began (by necessity) to shift away from the juiced up behemoths that had ruled the day in the Cartoon (or “Golden”) Era. Between 1992 and about 1997 we saw the rise of the New Generation. This era favored smaller built wrestlers, like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, who used a more technical wrestling style. The transition from Hogan/ Warrior as the top guys to Hart/Michaels was anything but smooth. For whatever reason, many people stopped watching the WWE in this time period. Several people flocked to the WCW brand (owned by Ted Turner) which was busy gobbling up just about all of the former Cartoon Era WWE stars while also perfecting the art of what I would call “Cheesy Edginess”, under the direction of folks like Eric Bischoff.
Beginning in 1993, Monday Night Raw came to television and that became how I watched wrestling for the next three or four years. A live weekly television show was a game changer for the industry. I never really made the jump to the WCW, but I had started watching less and less of wrestling period.
By fall of ’97 I was entering college and my wrestling watching experience dwindled considerably. It was about this time that the ‘Attitude Era’ dawned in the WWE. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin became a star along with The Rock. WWE started to trounce WCW once again. They did so by going all-in to target the adolescent-minded male demographic of about 15-25. Scantily-clad women, less than subtle innuendo, lots of foul language… these are the things I remember most from this era (and also explain why I completely stopped watching wrestling by about 1999). I graduated college in 2001 and soon got married.
Some fans say there were one or two ‘eras’ between 2001 and 2008. But, for my money (and principally because I have no idea what was going on with the WWE in those years since I wasn’t watching) I simply like to think that the Attitude Era lasted from 1997 to around 2007 or ’08.
Then the company cleaned up its programming considerably and entered the ‘PG Era’. The cynical fan believes this was largely due to Linda McMahon’s (unfortunately) unsuccessful Senate campaign(s). Officially, the decision to change the television product from TV-14 to PG was made in an effort to bring in younger fans and grow the brand.
I tentatively started trying to get back into watching wrestling in January of this 2014 and am now hooked again. For my birthday, I asked for a six-month subscription to the new WWE Network. Basically, it includes unlimited on-demand access to 30+ years of professional wrestling programs (including all[!] past pay-per-views). In addition, you get some wrestling specials and documentaries. And the huge benefit is that you also get to watch new pay-per-views live while you are a subscriber. So, this is how, after a 21-year “pay-per-view” hiatus, I got to see a live WrestleMania this year. And it just so happened to be WrestleMania XXX. Spoiler Alert: It was awesome.
Many are saying that the ‘PG Era’ was officially closed out at WrestleMania XXX on April 6 of this year. Some are terming the new product as the ‘Reality Era’, and so far it looks like it might be the best entertainment the company has put out yet.
The Reality Era seems to be remaining family friendly… but is striving to be less cartoony (not that there’s anything wrong with cartoony… especially considering that I originally became a wrestling fan BECAUSE of the over-the-top good-guy versus bad guy stuff when I was a kid). Vince McMahon made professional wrestling a national (and then an international) venture, but now he seems to be stepping back a little bit from complete control of every aspect of his company. (And since he is nearing 69 years of age, I can’t say I blame him).
In his place, the power seems to be resting with his daughter, Stephanie, and his son-in-law Paul Levesque (who, incidentally, is a very famous wrestler known as Triple H). Levesque has already steered the WWE in some exciting new directions and has made some innovations for the years to come. One thing that seems like it will be a vital characteristic of the Reality Era is the (albeit, controlled) “breaking of the fourth wall”. In eras past, wrestling almost reminded me of the Hollywood Studio System in this respect: the wrestlers/performers were carefully crafted characters both in and out of the ring. Occasionally, some real-life drama was worked into stories…. But, by and large, we were simply expected to believe that The Undertaker was a quasi-supernatural terrifying creature with a penchant for darkness… and not that he was simply a big, very talented guy named Mark Calaway who lives a very private life outside of wrestling.
There are still some over-the-top characters (for example, Windham Rotunda is playing a Max Cady/Cult Leader type wrestler called Bray Wyatt… and it seems we are expected to consider him as that character, instead of as the grandson, son, and nephew to other famous wrestlers… and not to mention, the brother of an up and comer who is about to make his own big debut in the WWE.)
However, for the most part, the emphasis does seem to be moving towards a “what you see is what you get” mentality with the performers. It should be interesting to see how the product develops from here on out.
Now, a few quick truths that you may (or may not) know about professional wrestling (or “sports entertainment” as Vince McMahon calls it):
1) No, the wrestles do not actually beat each other as severely as they make it look… but:
a. The matches are not choreographed move for move, they largely make it up as they go along.
b. No matter how skilled the performer, the moves and strikes they perform still require an amazing amount of athleticism and conditioning to endure.
2) The referees are often portrayed as almost comically fragile rag-dolls, but they serve a very important function: they wear earpieces
a. They use them to communicate between the show runners and the wrestlers, and vice versa.
3) The WWE has instituted a Wellness Policy to help improve the long-term health of wrestlers who perform with the company.
a. In many ways, this program may be too little-too late, but it is a good start
b. Steroids are now, quite officially, banned
c. All other drug use will also lead to suspensions and such
In closing, my name is Tom Haberkorn, and I am a fan of the WWE.
And, OOOOO Yeah, let me tell you somethin’ brother… that’s the bottom line, ‘cause Finally… T-Dog has come back to the WWE. It’s true, it’s true. Woooo! Just when you thought you know the answer, I change the Question. Can you dig that, sucka? To be the man, you gotta beat the man and I’m the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be. Oh, you didn’t know? So, whacha gonna do? Besides Rest in Peace, and Have A Nice Day… when HaberMania runs wild on youuuuuu.