AS I SEE IT 9/05/2001
Two seemingly (but not really so) unrelated thoughts....
First, why is it so damned hard to ask mainstream media to get the most basic historic details right concerning anything to do with professional wrestling?
After all, any other story on any other form of entertainment...even soap operas show more attention to real-life historic detail. It's not as if the information isn't available. There are more than a few who are known by mainstream media to have expertise on the actual history of post-World War II wrestling, such as Dave Meltzer.
Well, MSNBC recently ran a special on Vince McMahon's rise in the wrestling business. Some of the elements regarding McMahon's past were OK, including an rare acknowledgement of McMahon's childhood dyslexia, and the WWF steroid trial (although the portrayal of McMahon as the persecuted babyface against a heel government was a bit much)...
But yet one more time, MSNBC repeated the never-ending error by mainstream media in once more setting up wrestling as having had no history between Gorgeous George and the Hogan-McMahon era. The fact is that Vince McMahon didn't single-handedly revive the wrestling industry. The industry had thriving regional territories operating through the United States...not just "little fiefdoms" as most shows talking about "wrestling history" always represent (if they even go that far).
Wrestling had throving promotions all over the South, in Detroit, in St. Louis, in San Fransisco, in Los Angeles, in Texas, and elsewhere. Yet you'd never know it to hear mainstream media portrayals of wrestling history.
There's no question that Vince McMahon did a masterful job of consolidating the wrestling industry for his own financial benefit, and likely raised the public profile of the business on a national level. But at least a portion of the latter was a matter of perception by a master of a business which itself based is on perception over reality.
The historical errors didn't just concern the WWF. Even the history of the 1990s regarding NWA/WCW, and Ted Turner's involvement was, as usual, totally chopped to pieces, and filled with inaccuracies. I mean, c'mon....we're only talking about a publicly owned company in Turner Broadcasting Systems (prior to their sale to Time-Warner, then AOL, before their final sale to WWFE, Inc.)
The real history wasn't THAT hard to research.
Call it laziness by the mainstream media...call it not taking wrestling seriously as a form of entertainment...but I'm rapidly getting tired of it. I'm not saying that wrestling needs to be portrayed with the same degree of seriousness as the Metropolitan Opera. But if media are going to take the time to report on it as a business, they should take the time to research their stories properly, and get facts straight.
Next, why does the WWF set up itself to fix a mistake it made once, then turn around and make the same mistake again?
Once upon a time, the WWF began a new show on USA called "Livewire", which had a unique format by employing the use of e-mail and live call-in to WWWF performers. Admittedly, it was on at 10:00 am ET on a Saturday, so subject matter couldn't be THAT adult...
But the calls were obviously "smart-proofed", allowing for only kids or adults willing to go into mark mode putting over a storyline with their questions...that is, except for the one well-known occasion where a call (either a rib, worked, or a clever opportunity at getting free press) came from Paul Heyman posing as "Bruce from Connecticut".
After a while, the ratings weren't high enough, and the WWF got tired of screening calls and e-mails. Livewire became just another recap show for RAW and Smackdown.
Fast forward to 2001 and a new show airing on Saturday evenings, WWF Excess...an attempt to merge the original formats of Livewire, and that of Superstars as a recap show.
On the first show, a caller more or less embarrassed Michael Cole and guest HHH by stating live that WWF staff had tried to sanitize his question. Helmsley, doing the smart thing, told the caller to go ahead...and the call turned out to nothing more difficult than asking if HHH had recently talked to Kevin Nash.
How big a deal could it be to allow a question about a performer everyone knows about..who may well wind up in the WWF after his Time-Warner contract is finished...and who most fans know is friendly with Helmsley?
It's not as if WWF programming is back in the pre-1980s kayfabe era. Not to mention that the former WWF Superstars program routinely showed WWF performers out of character; shooting commercials or involved in other mainstream activities in and out of the business. I'm not suggesting the shows need to be 100% insider or explore the business like the Observer or Torch or websites; talking about such items as the real-life life imitating art involvement of HHH and Stephanie McMahon.
Even the Ross Report, even if clearly a WWF house organ, is fairly open about certain areas of the company, isn't afraid to hint that a show or PPV was less than what the company expected it would be, and is willing to express an opinion or two.
Let's face it, a little common sense wouldn't hurt. If a show like Excess is being aired on a Saturday night when adults are watching, then how about treating those watching like adults? Instead, the idea of adult content on Excess so far is for Jonathan Coachman engaging in sexual banter with Trish Stratus for two hours.
If the WWF actually did something different with this show by treating its fans like adults, perhaps then mainstream media would be more inclined to treat wrestling as as artform worthy of taking the time to get the facts concerning it straight.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)