The Little Things 04.15.03: Nowinski, Victoria, Flair & More

Let’s do this live.

But first, let’s take care of some standing matters from last week and the requisite readers’ pick.

One last argument to go along with the others made in defense of some of WWe’s recent roster and programming decisions:

– It Could Be Worse

I like to look at my forms of entertainment as I would a portfolio, a group of my children or some other collection. In evaluating their performance, I look not only at how they are doing individually but how they are doing relative to one another. Wrestling is one of five forms of entertainment I like to enjoy, the others being music, movies, television and sports.

Individually, I still believe wrestling is fine. My programming is not filled with widespread production errors, there are no Doink-level bad ideas on the screen and the programming I expect to be very good, Wrestlemania and the other major pay-per-views in particular, has met my expectations. Sure, it could be better, but I have a handful of things piquing my interest and keeping me tuned in each week.

Now if you don’t buy that, think about how wrestling is doing relative to the other forms of entertainment you regularly enjoy. And try to be ojbective about it for once. I know personally, most music sucks to me these days and is overpriced at that, Hollywood is a complete joke (and here I don’t mean celebrity viewpoints on the war in Iraq, I mean the constant rehashing of ideas, lack of compelling actors, etc.) and outside of the Simpsons and what I get on HBO, there isn’t much on television either. If you want to grade television on something recent, collect yourself and try to give a positive evaluation of the media’s coverage of the war in Iraq. But try not to give away your position before you attempt to do so.

Ahem.

Sports, I’m afraid, are eternally great and will usually rate highest on my charts even during bad times. The point is, however, that wrestling is fairly consistent and can’t be the worst thing pissing you off these days entertainment-wise. If it is, you either have standards that are through the roof or not enough hobbies.

I would also like to thank the two readers that corrected me on the misquoting of rap lyrics. “Don’t lie, take it in the eye” is a lyric from L.L. Cool J and not Snoop Dogg, who recently dodged a real bullet.

Readers’ Picks: X Marks the Spot

The winner in a runaway was the production team’s red X through the Stone Cold Steve Austin Clip that runs during the opening theme music. Reader Mathew Sforcina is among the many who picked it up:

In the RAW opening theme bit, did you notice that when Austin came up, the footage was covered by a big red cross? That was just so petty, and yet so logical, that it just worked. Chalk another one up to the production team

Readers Ryan Lindsey, Sam Felarca, Wayne Butane, Russ Stapleton, Eric Cameron and Chris Hynes also picked up on this subtle, but effective reminder of the running feud between Bischoff and Austin.

And now let’s see what was shaking last night as I witnessed the action from some pretty sweet seats in the box level of the Richmond Coliseum. Here is the Little Five for the 4.14.2003 edition of RAW:

1. There’s No Debate

One of the coolest things about attending a live show is when a wrestler acknowledges the antics of the fans trying to get their attention through whatever means necessary. Since I am a mark underneath all of this column-writing and I need this attention, I decided not to wear the usual Jericoholic shirt and not to bring the usual half-assed sign supporting Jericho that blocks the view of those behind me. Instead, I opted for the crimson Harvard University shirt I bought upon my first visit to my good friend Bill in Cambridge. I felt this had the best chance of getting noticed because the fans around the country tend not to appreciate Nowinski’s character on the level I do (more on that below). Sure enough, as he got in the ring, that look he shot towards the corner had to be intended for me as I held my colors up proudly, the only mark standing up in support of former Crimson football captain. That made all of my obnoxious gesturing worth it to me in the end.

Aside from the markish antics, the debate was great on several levels. Comedically, the idea of placing this debate on the same level of importance as the Nixon/Kennedy or Lincoln/Douglas debates is very entertaining, especially on the Titantron when their faces were the shown on that graphic. This is precisely where that headgear Steiner wears to the ring increases in value exponentially. In addition, it is always a funny point whenever Scott Steiner has a forum to express his thoughts on any topic and grapple with his most punishing adversary, the English language.

From a functional perspective, this feud is definitely helping Nowinski. In Richmond, it worked particularly well because the fans still have a soft spot for ex-WCW talent and a natural hatred for northeastern liberals. But while the marks in the audience can’t help but boo the liberal heel for the obvious reasons, at the same time, any smart should appreciate the psychology between this heel and the crowd at work. My good friend Bill of the Harvard education notes:

Nowinski [is] my new hero. Making the Harvard heel a voice for the anti-war movement obviously tickled me pink for personal reasons, but Nowinski deserves to be lauded for that interview by anybody. I mean, really, he twisted the dumbass crowd into actively booing free speech! This is a product of the same mentality that causes fans to chant “USA!” when Michigan plays Ohio State — reflexive, unthinking patriotism. Nobody in that crowd actually bothered to listen to what Nowinski was saying. It reminds me of older promos, when the “Genius” Lanny Poffo would be booed for calling Hogan an “overmuscled lunkhead,” or Flair would be booed for calling Rhodes fat. There is something so funny about seeing the masses aggressively reject the truth.

These are the little things to enjoy, my friends.

2. Enjoying the Suffering of Others

Victoria’s performance stood out in my mind as one of the night’s best jobs in consistently keeping in character. Even when in her corner and ostensibly off camera, the woman twitches with every rally from her archnemesis Trish and gets giddy with every blow she takes as well. The red highlight in her hair and the all-black ring attire give her a creepy appearance that is in keeping with her demented character. Lots of people, I believe, are picking up on her attention to detail. Were it not for the big red X covering Austin’s clip in the introduction, the most submitted little thing from last week was her utter confusion at not having the Women’s Title on hand to help Stevie in his match with Goldust.

3. Crowd Control

Several things should have been apparent to television viewers last night. First, Richmond still thinks of itself as one of the territories covered by the old NWA and is very loyal towards anyone associated with it. This means huge pops for Ric Flair regardless of what he does in the storylines and better than normal face heat for guys like Nash, Booker T, and Steiner. Even when Flair was off camera calling a fan a “racecardrivinsunofabitch”, the crowd still cheered him on. And I won’t lie, part of me misses the feel that such shows had back in the day.

Unfortunately, history has a tight grip on places like Richmond, the old capitol of the Confederacy, well beyond the days of the old NWA. Some people have not gotten over the Civil War, even almost 150 years removed, and as a result, racially charged storylines will work way too well on the crowd. You will see on Heat this Sunday a promo delivered by Teddy Long in support of Rodney Mack in his match against Brad Hunter. In this promo, Long will suggest that white people all look alike, that Rodney is still fighting against “whitey” and “the Man” among other choice comments. The crowd, unfortunately will not unite against such divisive banter, but instead will choose to boo it or cheer it along racial lines. This is not a shock to me as I have seen such division in high school cafetoriums and other places in this state for quite a long time.

This all sets up what the crowd was gawking at during Bichoff’s promo on RAW. A nasty fight erputed about 5 rows behind me between some black guy and a white guy and you can probably imagine what it was over. I was pissed about this because it was distracting me from the cowboy hat bottle top on JR’s sauce, which was a very funny touch.

Such little things are what makes it hard for me to admit I’m a wrestling fan sometimes.

4. Marketing Machine

Speaking of that promo, my other major grievance was with the intense marketing that goes on at these live shows. As a finance and marketing major, I understand the need for a publicly traded company to market its products in order to stay in business and I have defended WWe’s right to do so several times in this column. But, there is a such thing as oversaturation in marketing and attending this show certainly left me feeling bloated.

Every time there was a commercial break, the ad for the WWe Divas video ran on the Titantron. Bischoff’s promo, while effective, was a pretty shameless attempt to get some t-shirts on television. Finally, that WWe The People shirt they are peddling is an equally shameless attempt to cash in on the patriotism of its fans. It is this type of aggressive advertising that has made going to a baseball game less enjoyable. If you don’t believe me, compare seeing a baseball game in Wrigley Field versus the merchandising mecca known as Turner Field in Atlanta and see if you don’t think the ivy is more palatable to the eye than a giant Coke bottle when looking out into the outfield.

Again, I understand why they do this, especially during an economic slowdown. But sometimes it can be too much and can hamper the experience of a live show.

5. The People’s Section

I won’t lie. It sucks that Rock did not show up for Richmond. Especially since the initial local adveritising for the show centered entirely around the Rock returning to town. However, the spoiler from last week set my expectations so low for star appearances that I felt lucky that we got to see the Goldberg jackhammer. Goldberg, to his credit, really look like a grizzly bear when he screams to the crowd. Not everyone can say that.

In the end, I still got to see the People’s priceless guitar played briefly and that trademark swig of water during the promo. The palm trees in the background were an excellent touch. Mistaking this place for West Virginia was both effective and oddly appropriate given the events described above.

Anyhow, look for a more structured, match-by-match live report up soon. See you next week.