AS I SEE IT
by: Bob Magee
Fritz Capp posed an interesting question in his "Straight Shooting" column on the PWBTS site: Where have WRESTLING fans gone? He didn't mean WCW fans, or WWF fans, or even ECW fans...but WRESTLING fans. For that matter, what has happened to the WRESTLING business as a whole, even as the money rolls in like never before for the WWF and WCW?
We've all had preferences over the years as to the style of product we preferred, of course. But real wrestling fans were always able to WATCH different styles of wrestling, and to know what they were. But in the last 2-3 years, since the Monday Night WCW-WWF ratings war has heated up, there seems to be far fewer WRESTLING fans and far more promotional fans.
An atmosphere has been created where people are fans solely of a promotion, rather than of wrestling itself. We saw this first with ECW in 1994-1995, where people became fans of the STYLE of the product and then the company itself. Fans assumed that anything that ECW did was right, and anyone who criticized it was wrong.
Now it's not just limited to ECW. For those of us who write on the Internet these days, God forbid we should criticize something in someone's favorite promotion among the Big 3 ...we then receive e-mail accusing us of anything from committing unnatural acts, to questioning our parentage. This doesn't even count the ever-popular e-mails being told that we are automatically a mark for one of the opposing compan(ies).
Witness the reaction to the following POST, not even a column that I put up on PWBTS, LordsOfPain, and a few others:
"I enjoy the over-the top antics on RAW most of the time. But the last two weeks have featured angles that are well beyond anything that is appropriate for airing.
First, the terminal cancer angle with Paul Wight and D-Lo Brown. Unless this angle is an example of Paul Wight wanting to include a family member in an angle, in the same way that Tommy Dreamer did last year in ECW (where Justin Credible interrupted a 10 bell count for Dreamer's grandfather) this is absolutely repulsive. It's bad enough to use a terminal illness in an angle.
But to involve D-Lo Brown in such an angle, who just got done burying his friend Brian Hildebrand (let alone feeling about his involvement in the Darren Drozdov accident), is beyond words I can mention.
Perhaps whoever is responsible for this angle could explain the reasons for this angle to Brian's widow, Pam. As she deals with life without her husband, I'm sure she'd appreciate the dramatic content in an angle about the disease that took her husband's life.
Then we have the domestic abuse angle with Marianna and Chaz Warrington. While it was obvious that G-TV would reveal the 'abuse' to be a ruse, domestic abuse isn't material for an angle. It was wrong when WCW did it with Randy Savage and Gorgeous George. It's wrong for the WWF to do it.
I work in counseling. I've had to deal with numerous clients who are or have been in abusive relationships. I've a dear friend who was nearly killed by an abusive boyfriend.
Finally, the Mark Henry sex addict angle. Let's see... What stereotypes can we work here?
The stereotype of black males and their supposed 'sexual appetites'? A possible incest angle? Or, if the spoiler reports are true, a portrayal of a gay 'sex therapist' on tomorrow night's Smackdown that makes Lenny and Lodi look like wholesome family entertainment...."
I wound up with hundreds of responses to this posting which appeared on PWBTS, Lords Of Pain, and a few others. 85% of the negative ones were of the nature I indicated earlier, with me either being flamed with lots of profanity, or told I was "a WCW mark". Those who've read this column over the last three years are well aware of how little truth there is in that statement. I've also gotten my share of hate e-mail from those who are WCW fans and think I hate THEIR favorite promotion.
While interpromotional rivalries have been around in one form or another for decades, the interpromotional heat got turned up a major notch when Eric Bischoff went on NITRO during their period of ratings dominance to attack the WWF through trying to reveal finishes on taped RAWs for competitive ratings purposes.
The WWF responded in kind with the Operation DX series of vignettes, where they set up skits outside venues that WCW was running, trying to embarrass WCW, as well as doing one where they (through computer animation) "blew up" CNN Center.
But the interpromotional war that creates this atmosphere of being a fan of a PROMOTION, rather than a genre of entertainment isn't limited to the official websites of the two major wrestling companies in North America.
It goes so far as to extend to the websites owned by those who are paid employees of promotions. They put out "information" or opinion on their own websites. We're not talking about what Kevin Kelly or Jim Ross do on WWF.com, or what Mark Madden does on WCW.com. Those are company websites. One would expect that the company line is spoken most of the time there.
The most well-known example of this has been Bob Ryder giving opinions in his "Notes From Bob" column on his 1wrestling.com site that should have instead been placed on WCW.com, given the nature of what was being said.
An example is the infamous "RAW is PORN" column, written at a time when Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera were still with the WWF:
"Next week on 'RAW is Porn', Mark Henry reportedly engages in simulated oral sex with a transvestite. Vince Russo's eleven year old will be thrilled. After all, he 'Gets it'.
He 'Gets it', and according to Russo, so do other kids. In his 'Russo RAW' column on WWF.com, Russo says 'Kidz are hip. Parents are hip. Sponsors are hip.' Russo admits children watch RAW and says "Yeah, you're damn right they do--they know what's good!'
In his continuing effort to please those 'kidz' Russo continues to focus on storylines like the 'Sexual Chocolate' one, thinking 'kidz' will love seeing Mark and his new boyfriend in bed together. Only one problem. Teachers in several school systems in the US are taking notice of the content of RAW, and in some cases have sent letters to parents to make them aware of what the 'kidz' are watching.
It's taken time, but more and more people are taking notice of the dramatic change in the direction of the WWF, and the possibility of a negative backlash is looming larger than ever... and the WWF continues to give their critics ammunition."
OK. I certainly have no problem with someone expressing concerns with something they find to be offensive. I certainly do it often enough, including the post cited earlier in this column. The difference is this: WCW (or WWF) propaganda belongs on a COMPANY website, not "independent" websites that happen to be owned by company employees.
But even if we allow for that, there is not only the question as to whether or not this kind of interpromotional party-line politicking helps to foster this situation where someone is a fan of a company only. There's the question as to whether or not it helps or hurts the business as a whole.
While Vince McMahon and Bill Busch are certainly concerned with making their company's and their stockholders money through winning high PPV buyrates, achieving TV ratings wins, drawing money through live house gates, and making money through merchandising...they need to stop and consider one fact: Insuring that the business as a whole is healthy needs to be a priority as well for both major companies.
Vince McMahon discovered this fact when, in his national expansion of the 1980s, he destroyed numerous territories in order to make the WWF the preeminent name in "sports entertainment" during that era. There was one small problem McMahon failed to consider. Even after he recycled his own workers, picked off workers from the companies he'd destroyed, and signed talent from WCW; he didn't have a talent pool to draw new talent from.
Even after ECW started developing a national reputation in 1994-1995, it was looked at only as a place from which to sign away talent by WCW and the WWF, rather than one to let talent develop before signing, in order to keep the other company from "getting someone first". There was little thought given as to what companies would actually DO with the workers they'd signed.
The lack of healthy territories in which new workers can develop their skills is becoming more and more obvious in recent years. The Memphis territory closed its doors after many years in the last 1990s. Even after it started up again with the the Memphis Power Pro promotion, there have been doubts regarding the long-term viability of the company. Relationships need to built with Memphis and other regional promotions to use them as developmental talent pools, to allow these workers to develop over time, not overnight.
There is one other element needed to build the wrestling BUSINESS. There also needs to be a conscious effort made by WCW, ECW, and the WWF toward featuring the history of the business, let alone of their own companies. "History" to all too many fans is what happened on last week's RAW or Nitro, not what happened even a year ago. Forget a decade ago. Fans can't appreciate a business that they aren't taught about. Slamboree hasn't been about the history of the business for years (as it was initially done), becoming instead just one more monthly PPV. The WWF Hall of Fame is largely dormant.
To paraphrase something I said in a column recently: Those who do not get to remember the wrestling past are not condemned to repeat it, but condemned never to experience it. They will then never know the history that brought them to where they are.
I'd be curious to hear from readers on this one...tell me what you think.
Until next time.....
If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org