Counterfeit Pennies 4.28.03: How WWE Has Lost the Casual Fan
Greetings my fellow wrestling marks and smarks and aardvarks and John Starks! (Man, that seemed so much funnier in my head.) I am writing today because I want to make note of a thought that has been simmering in my head lately regarding the WWE product.
Like many of my colleagues in the Internet wrestling community, I truly feel the next two months are absolutely crucial for Vince McMahon and Co., because if WWE can’t get out of the “Triple H rut” that is starting to trickle down and affect fan interest, then the Raw and Smackdown! PPV split will wind up a total disaster.
Of course, both brands would be able to hold their own for a little while, especially with the die-hard marks/smarks tuning in to either praise the product or bash it to bits. However, as 1999 and 2000 silently creep further and further away, the casual/mainstream pop culture seeker continues to lose interest in the “whole wrestling thing,” viewing it no longer as a hip way to spend a couple or so hours each week.
With the influx of quick and dirty ratings-grabbing “reality” shows like “Fear Factor” and “Joe Millionaire” all over network AND cable television in 2003, I can’t really blame the casual fan for not wanting to emotionally and mentally invest into a program that airs year-round. The truth is that this genre of programming has thrust us into a new era of television, where on any given day you can latch onto a show that provides an outlet for escape from everyday affairs WITHOUT the need to become attached for long periods of time.
Let’s also not forget the fact that those who shun reality television and stay loyal to the more conventional scripted programs most likely have two attitudes towards WWE: 1) They group WWE in with escapist shows and immediately dismiss it; or 2) They give WWE programming the old college try, only to reject and rebuke it later on due to major STORYLINE DEFICIENCIES that they have trained themselves to notice.
I look at my parents as a prime example of the second scenario. Since I have never stopped watching wrestling, it’s easy for me to evaluate my parents’ attitudes towards WWE at different times. When my brother and I were younger, I am pretty sure my mom and dad watched along with us as Hulk Hogan rose to prominence. If nothing else, my parents had no trouble buying me a set of Hulkamania weights or getting my brother the original “Wrestling Album” on vinyl.
Then, when characters like The Undertaker arrived and Hulk Hogan’s role became significantly diminished, my parents and even my brother paid little to no attention towards the old WWF for many years to come. There was a kind of complacency back then where even though I still tuned in somewhat regularly, my family figured the WWF would be in total shambles and not be able to withstand the recession following The Persian Gulf War. After awhile, their complacency was replaced with what I like to call, “ragging on me.”
Mostly, it was a kind of an ominous curiosity they had towards me as I got a little older and expected me to grow out of being a wrestling fan. “Why do you still watch this stuff?” was a question I would have answer nearly every Monday night or weekend morning. Of course, I felt a little awkward going into plotlines or describing the traits of my favorite/least favorite characters in too much detail, because I didn’t want a red flag to be raised where they would say, “Okay, enough is enough.” That, and half the time I actually did have no idea what was going on, especially since it’s hard for a kid in the beginning stages of adolescence to eloquently come up with reasons why WWF did some of the weird shit they tried to pull off.
For most of the 1990s, this is how it went as far as my family’s behavior towards wrestling. As casual pop culture seekers, they couldn’t understand what it was that got me hooked on professional wrestling above all else. Very slowly, however, the walls my family built up to block out wrestling finally began to crack with the revival of old WWF stars in Ted Turner’s WCW. In fact, I credit much of my brother’s rekindled interest in wrestling to Hulk Hogan’s unforgettable (and, at the time, unfathomable) heel turn with The Outsiders. Hogan’s defection to wrestling’s dark side raise my brother’s ire, and as he started to casually tune into WCW Nitro, he suddenly got hooked on an up and coming WCW superstar who was brash, sarcastic and, most importantly, a f*cking riot to watch. It was none other than Chris Jericho who demonstrated the charisma to reel my brother back into the wrestling fold, and after Jericho defected to WWF, well, that was that. From that point forward, my brother became a die-hard fan as he reintroduced himself to the WWF scene and its abundance of new stars like Jericho, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
After my brother got into wrestling again, it was much easier for me to guiltlessly watch WWF programming at the Biscuiti household. Since we were watching it anyway, my parents decided to give pro wrestling another shot. After all, they had heard about Stone Cold Steve Austin’s feud with Vince McMahon and kept seeing books by wrestlers like Mick Foley on the New York Times Best-Seller list, so hey, why not? My mom, well, she got hooked via The Rock (after all, not only was he sexy but he was also a Republican!), and my dad even started commenting on some of the matches and smiling during some of the vignettes. Man, those were good times.
Nowadays, as WWE is removed not only from its old brand name but also from the philosophy that brought it back towards the forefront of popular culture, my brother and I are lucky if we even get a half-hour of wrestling TV time downstairs. My dad has lost interest in WWE due to piss-poor storylines and what he likes to call “monotony,” while my mom has dumped The Rock for Bill O’Reilly. Instead of wrestling, you know what my dad watches instead these days? “Third Watch” and “Fear Factor.”
Here’s another reality that WWE has to deal with: If you can grab the attention of four Biscuiti family members, only to lose two of the four in a very short amount of time, well, that’s what you call fan interest that is spliced IN HALF.
Just imagine the damage you might do to your audience if you keep screwing “this whole wrestling thing” up.
That’s all for now PEACE.
Chris Biscuiti is also a pop culture, political and pro wrestling contributor for moodspins.com.