SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, August 27, 1999

The attack of the big red swirl

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Do you know what you see when you turn to the USA - or TSN - channel on Monday nights when you think you're tuning into Monday Night Raw, the WWF's flagship wrestling program? You're not seeing a wrestling program. You're not seeing a soap opera. You're not seeing sports entertainment. You're seeing a big red swirl, the kind that dazes some, hypnotizes others, and completely enraptures the rest.

That's right, you heard me. A big red swirl.

I'm deadly serious about this. Awhile back, I read John Molinaro's editorial about Japanese wrestling. I thought it was a good piece, and actually had something to say about Far East wrestling other than "it rules," which tends to be what I hear more than anything. He recommended that readers go out and procure a tape of such wrestling and watch it, and that we'd be forever changed.

I've seen enough wrestling to have perused Japanese stuff from time to time, and I personally don't like it as much as the stuff we have here. That's just personal taste, and it doesn't reflect on the product they produce. In fact, it doesn't say anything except that John and I have different tastes, which is just peachy with me.

But he did get me in the mood to watch some old wrestling tapes, and to do so to see the wrestling, or more specifically, the changes in wrestling between then and now. I dug out some of the old classics I have lying around - Macho Man/Steamboat, Flair/Steamboat, Bret/Owen, Flair/Steamboat, Flair/Steamboat, and so on. You know the stuff I mean.

About five minutes into watching this stuff, I caught myself in a yawn. It was the middle of a day which followed plenty of sleep, so I wasn't tired or anything. I was bored. I was watching classic wrestling, and it was boring me.

Determined to complete my experiment, though, I continued to watch, about four hours worth of tape. Surprisingly enough, after about two or three of these matches, I was into it again. No more yawning. I was genuinely excited at what I was seeing. Eager to understand what I was experiencing, I contemplated the issue at length.

What I discovered is what I dubbed above the "big red swirl."

If you still don't follow what I'm saying, here's another piece of the puzzle. Later that day, I watched a tape - which I had yet to see - of that week's Monday Night Raw. I admit openly to be a huge fan of Raw, but would you care to guess, after having watched hours and hours of classic matches, what I thought of Raw when I started to watch it?

That's right, I yawned. I just wasn't interested to hear the Road Dogg's spiel, and even listening to the Rock struck me as worthy of chuckles at best. When they finally started to wrestle, I got downright mad at the three-minute matches with screw-job finishes.

If you're still not with me, I've got one last clue to give. Toward the end of Raw, after about an hour and a half of it, I started to get into it again. I saw Raw the same way I've been seeing it every week - as two hours of fantastic entertainment.

Where all of this leads to one simple conclusion, the aforementioned "big red swirl."

The hypnotic swirl is just what I call the "getting used to something" effect. The more you see something, unless it's truly revolting, the more you'll tolerate it and perhaps even eventually like it.

Watching Monday Night Raw "trains" the viewer to appreciate their style of wrestling programming. It gets the viewer used to it, even liking it. If the Big Two were to suddenly turn on a dime and create shows which consisted of all wrestling and no talk, we'd get used to that, too.

Sure, they'd lose a good chunk of the audience because people today just don't have the attention span to get past that first yawn and get used to something, but it would be a slow growing process, just like sports entertainment has been.

What all this means, at least to me, is that it's very possible for some people to like puroresu, for others to like lucha libre, for still others to enjoy classic American wrestling, and for the remainder to enjoy sports entertainment. It's also possible, I believe, for this variation in tastes of have nothing to do with subjectiveness and everything to do with circumstance. I happen to live in a place and an era where I get to watch Monday Night Raw every week. Consequently do I watch it and, eventually, love it.

Perhaps if I resided somewhere with better access to Japanese wrestling, I'd learn to love that too. Maybe at the expense of what I watch now.

It makes sense, if you think about it. It's really a theory that has much more global social applications than wrestling. It explains changing trends, for example. Why would basically the same people in the same place in the same era like one kind of clothes one year, and another the next. That doesn't make sense unless you allow for changing tastes. I think those tastes simply come from exposure.

When you see something new, or maybe something you simply haven't seen for awhile, there's a chance you'll love it, even if you've never seen it before, and even if you have and you've rejected it previously.

But new trends don't just come in and join the old ones - they replace them. So when you get used to something new, it makes you instinctively dislike something old.

Two or three years ago, Monday Nitro was the darling of the internet. For good reason, too. It was funny, entertaining, original, exciting. And different. That difference attracted fans of the WWF's more cartoonish early-1990's style - and it kept them. Once people got used to the new flavour over at WCW, they never looked back. That is, until they saw something new at the WWF in their new 'attitude.' Now the reverse of the phenomena is happening, or has happened. People have switched back to what's being offered in the WWF.

It doesn't mean that WWF programming is better than WCW programming, it doesn't mean that people generally like what the WWF is offering more, it just means that they liked it enough to watch it and then they got hooked. Eventually, they'll get tired of that, too, and if WCW is smart enough to catch them when they do, then part three of this saga will see WCW take the reins yet again.

But I'm not a fortune-teller and I'm not trying to tell you the future. I'm just proposing, for the record, a reason not to instinctively hate those who do not enjoy the same programming as you, which some people seem inclined to do.

It's okay for me to prefer Raw to Nitro but to watch both, it's okay for John Powell to despise every WCW attempt at a pay-per-view, it's okay for many readers of mine to prefer the WCW product as is, and it's just fine for John Molinaro to prefer puroresu over either of them.

All I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't jump the gun and jump all over those whose tastes are different from your own, especially if taste is largely just a matter of timing and circumstance.

Some people will always prefer WCW for their purist wrestling, or hate the WWF for their sex and violence. Others will always call WCW boring or too political. But I think that's about five percent of the populous. The other ninety five percent of us will just watch what's good at the moment, and when we get tired of that, we'll look for something equally good to replace it.

Maybe the reason wrestling has always been so cyclical is that there was never an alternative, never any other promotion to watch when you got tired of your own. Maybe that cycle of wrestling recessions and booms will become the WWF-WCW cycle, or, perhaps, the WWF-WCW-ECW cycle, with fans just switching back and forth as one becomes dated and another, fresh. That would certainly be good news for the business.

This column, in theory, is the first in a series that I'd like to write about taste and preference, because I honestly believe that every promotion has something to offer, and it doesn't seem fair that even the most hardcore of fans of one fed should attack the fans of another.

Other columns I'd like to pursue in this series include one about some common misconceptions by and about the fans of each federation and the feuds they have, one about the actual feud between the WWF and WCW, and then another wherein I may actually try to predict the future of wrestling, based on this approach.

I try to offer an alternative to what's available everywhere else on the internet, but as usual, I only want to write what you want to read. So click on the email button above, and let me know what you think of this column and whether you'd like to see more. I can take a basic approach every week and give my thoughts about this or that, but you have plenty of people doing that already. Is that what you'd like, or would you rather see more abstract and in-depth concepts like this one? Let me know!

Here's the mail.

Kevin, from, writes:

"Benner, what's your problem!?! You write a column for a website. It is not just a WWF website either! It's a WWF/WCW site! So why are you so biased. You might say you are not biased, but you are! You sit there and praise WWF like it's God, and then go and BASH WCW!!! WCW might not be great, but that gives you no right to bash them! Why? Must be because you like watching things were people praise the devil and act like it's a night club, with women exposing themselves!!! All WCW is trying to do is make them a family show! They are doing a good job at it to! So give WCW some credit, or, in the words of one of your favorites, The Rock, "Know your role, and SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!!!!"

Let me get this straight and summarize your points:

I write a column for a web site that covers the WWF and WCW. Allegedly, I say I'm not biased, but I am. I praise the WWF, but I bash WCW. I have no right to do this. I do this because I like to watch people acting like it's a nightclub (?) and praising the devil. WCW is making a family show, and they're doing a good job of it. Thusly should I give WCW credit.

Kevin, you are the poster boy for why I wrote this column. I don't have to like anything. In writing for SLAM!, I express my opinions. I have no obligation to express an opinion I don't have. I have no right to bash WCW? They've replaced their Monday night show with what amounts to garbage most weeks. I don't like it, and it's bad enough that I have to watch it to stay educated. I like the WWF because it's smart, creative, and sensible. They start angles, continue them, then finish them. Not so hard a process, but it's severely lacking in WCW. Who is the Hummer driver, anyway?

Family entertainment? I especially enjoyed the Savage woman-beating and the portrayed gang warfare they had Nitro every week for three years. That was fantastic family viewing. So was Scott Hall's portrayal as an alcoholic. I loved that one.

Kevin, you've bought into their spiel, and that's all it is, spiel. Just because they tell you it's family entertainment doesn't make it so. Now, for the most part, it's clearly more wholesome than the WWF's offering, but then, I'm not a family, I'm a young man. I prefer Blair Witch to the Wizard of Oz, even though Oz portrayed better family values.

In conclusion, as long as WCW offers an insult to my intelligence in lieu of a quality wrestling show, I'm going to be down on it. It doesn't meet my criteria for good television, and the WWF does. You liking WCW is fine, I can see that they have a lot of qualities you might enjoy, and I can see how the WWF might turn you off. But what I cannot see is how you can possibly think that I have some kind of obligation to enjoy WCW. That's just the most ridiculous thing I have heard in some time.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, and be sure to send me some feedback. See you next week everyone, have a great week!

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