Friday, October 23, 1998
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Alcoholism isn't an angle
Angles, storylines, whatever you want to call them, are the key to wrestling's appeal. Wrestling organizations get fans interested in their performers by crafting compelling characters and interesting stories and feuds. An interesting match is not just about the physical combat in the ring. It is also about the back story and build up it receives. And a main event not only has a good back story, it has performers that fans have come to loyally support or passionately dislike.
In recent years, the angles used by the Big Two wrestling organizations have become more elaborate, and also more realistic. No longer are feuds started by one wrestler pearl harbouring another for no earthly reason (or at least not very often). Tried and true formulae like evil foreign wrestler versus patriotic American, or disputes over who is bigger or stronger are not relied upon to establish rivalries. The bookers in both feds realize fans demand something more.
However, as the feds move towards more 'realistic' angles, they occasionally venture into territory that is better left alone. A recent example is the exploitation of alcoholism by both WCW and the WWF.
In the WWF, Road Warrior Hawk has been the focus of an alcoholism angle. Every week on RAW he would appear, tripping over ropes, dancing around the ring and giving incoherent commentary during matches. The commentators would tsk as Hawk performed a Foster Brooks comedy act, falling off top ropes, forgetting to take off his helmet and dancing with his opponents.
Meanwhile in WCW, a similar angle has been built around Scott Hall. For some time now he has come stumbling out and sipped drinks during matches, as the announcers expressed their contempt. Alcoholism has been used to further Hall's heel status, his 'problem' being presented as further evidence of his questionable character.
The bookers think this is just cutting edge story making, filling a need for greater realism. The fact is it is just bad taste, trivializing what is a serious problem for a large number of people. Both Hawk and Hall portray alcoholism for comedic effect, blowing moves as they trip and stumble. Hall sips from cups with lemon or orange slices in them, for crying out loud. On one occasion, Hall simulated vomiting on Eric Bischoff. The commentary during these performances has included attempts by Jerry Lawler and Bobby Heenan to make alcoholism seem funny.
Rock bottom was hit a few weeks ago on Nitro when Hall was shown arriving at the arena, performing his drunk routine. He approached WCW's security chief and said that someone had vandalized his car in the parking lot. The clear implication was that Hall had been drinking and driving and crashed the car. Making light of alcoholism is in bad taste, but making light of drinking and driving is the height of offensiveness.
What makes this even worse is that, in the case of Hall, WCW is apparently exploiting as an angle what is a very real problem. Hall has been arrested twice in recent months for committing drunk and disorderly offences. During his tenure in WCW he has twice gone into rehab for undisclosed problems. If Hall does indeed have a problem, you would think WCW would be trying to help him instead of working it into a humourous angle.
The Big Two should be much more sensitive to this issue, given the alcohol and pain killer related death of WCW wrestler Louie Spicolli earlier this year. But instead they carry on, with Hawk appearing on a recent RAW and attributing his 'alcoholism' to pain killer addiction.
If WCW and the WWF had any sense of sensitivity, they would drop this horrible angle and let it fade away without further mention. They do themselves no credit by making light of what is for so many people a very real problem.
Steve Birnie is from North York, Ontario. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org