Thursday, January 7, 1999
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Too smart for our own good
Today, wrestling fans enjoy an unparalleled amount of knowledge regarding their beloved sport. Never before have we--the wrestling fans--been able to rationalize or comment on the outcome of a match because of information so accessible and readily retrieved; in effect, from the Internet.
The Net allows the fan to find out virtually everything that happens off screen which effects their program: taping results days before their air date, contract negotiations, and injury updates. The ardent and intuitive wrestling fan has been relabeled the "smart mark". Being a member in the smart community, then, has its privileges. Further, because of its knowledge, the members of this group breed an air of immature elitism. They stick out their tongues at those who doubt them and their information, and curse those who prove them wrong.
The general reaction to the most recent edition of Monday Nitro proves this statement. On Monday, January 4, 1999, WCW angered the Internet-based wrestling community in two ways: first, they brought back "Hollywood" Hogan a mere six weeks removed from his announced "retirement" from the wrestling world; second, after this announcement and taking advantage of a taped Raw is War, they revealed the finish of their competitor's main event. Whereas others have duly lambasted the idiocy of the industry's worst announcer Tony Schiavone and the repeated lack of integrity of WCW Senior Vice-President Eric Bischoff and his win-ratings-at-all-costs attitude, I will examine the reaction to the Hogan's return and use it as another example of how the smart fan hates being outsmarted.
Late November 1998, in the eyes of the smart marks, was to mark the timely end of Terry Bollea's wrestling career. Many webpages designed tributes and chronicled the illustrious career of the man the world knows as Hulk Hogan. After all, he announced it on The Tonight Show--a nonpartisan audience. Because of this, we automatically assume that Hogan was out of character and speaking as Terry Bollea.
It seemed so genuine. And here you thought Hogan couldn't act....well, he smoothed many people over. Logically the move fit into the direction WCW needed to take: the buyrate of Halloween Havoc, the pay-per-view that hyped the much-anticipated rematch between Hogan and the (Ultimate) Warrior, failed to satisfy the company.
Plus, ratings of Nitro plummeted during segments featuring Hogan and the Warrior--segments which were to pique interest in the upcoming PPV. Thus, when WCW insider Bob Ryder broke the retirement story, everyone pinched themselves thinking that their dreams had finally come true.
It was just over one year ago that Ryder confirmed the rumour of Bret Hart's imminent defection to WCW. So, in an ideal setting, all the puzzle pieces fit. Yet this setting is far from ideal. In the past few years wrestling has emerged as more entertainment than sport. Few would argue this fact. The old storylines of the hero versus the villain are stale, and the wrestling fan needs more. What, in the end, they get more of is the act.
As of late, given that the ratings of the WWF have soared with their story-based product, it appears that the act is working. So why is it that when Hogan acts on Leno we boo and hiss? It is because he outsmarted us. We neglected to view him within that suspension of disbelief we normally view fictitious characters. And folks, whenever a professional wrestler makes public appearances we must never prematurely conclude that the character is absent or in any way repressed. So what if he did say that he was speaking candidly? People in power have been known to lie in front large television audiences, not mentioning any U.S. president's names. It comes down to the fact that Hogan was acting at a time we wanted him to be sincere.
Another case in the wrestling world where the line between acting and reality has caused problems is manifested in Wrestling with Shadows. Bret Hart and Vince McMahon have both sworn that Screwjob '97 was not a work. If anything, the documentary and subsequent litigation regarding its release should have silenced any critics who claimed that Bret and Vince contrived this whole scenario.
Instead, the wrestling community questions its spontaneity more than ever. Both figures have profited immensely since that night in Montreal: Vince has blossomed as "Mr. McMahon", the ruthless dictator of the WWF, and Bret enjoys an extremely lucrative deal with WCW. All parties involved would like us to believe that the documentary solidifies the reality of the situation, but all the pieces here do not fit. Hence, the smart marks are confused. They dislike the possibility of not knowing something that, at the time of the event, seemed so obvious.
In the end, the smart mark likes to think they know everything there is to know about their wrestling promotion. They like to think that when characters present themselves on platforms other than the wrestling ring, they step out of character. But, as much as we would like to think they are speaking "off the record", we force wrestlers to stay somewhat in character at all times. As the fans have gotten smarter, so have the wrestlers.
Thus the fans, in my opinion, are now too smart for their own good.
Jeff Porchak is from Kitchener, ON. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org