Heroes and Villains: How I Evaluate News Stories, Plus Other Things

I’ve been busy. Well, not busy, more like preoccupied. Most of my life is taken up by academic pursuits–teaching and working on my dissertation (which, right now, mostly means sitting at a microfilm reader loaded with the Charleston News and Courier, c. 1870-1900). I’ve got more spare time than a lot of grad students, and lately I’ve been spending most of that time doing three things: (1) Playing The Suffering (good, a bit derivative of Silent Hill, way better than Fatal Frame 1 or 2, and there’s the added bonus of it taking place in a prison). (2) Reading comic books (I’m playing catch up, and there’s a lot of catching up to do). (3) Domestic duties (cooking, cleaning, back rubs, cat wrangling–this is what you young folks have in store for you when you finally shack up with someone). I find time to write this column, however. I don’t obsessively revise it like I did the first month at 411, but I do put in a good bit of effort.

Here’s the problem this week. I’m going to see Shaun of the Dead with my girlfriend and a couple of friends from back home who also migrated from SC to the midwestern tundra we now call home. We’re leaving in about half and hour, early Sunday evening (when I’m writing this). This is the time I usually reserve for column writing, but I totally forgot about it this week until my aforementioned girlfriend reminded me. Oh dear. Tomorrow is taken up by teaching and meetings about teaching, and tomorrow evening is Raw time. The current plan is to write this week’s column during Raw.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to finish my epic Things Wrestling Does Well/Poorly trilogy with the planned third installment, Things Wrestling Could Do Well If Someone Would Try It. And this might end up being a Douglas Adams* style trilogy, since I might add an extra column, What I Was Getting At With These Three (Now Four) Columns. So, given these limitations, this week you all get an extended STABBING ISSUES. Please hold your applause until the end of the column.

*The joke here is that the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy was a 5 part epic. Yeah, I know that mentioning Douglas Adams puts me squarely in geek territory, and let me try to defend myself by stating that I haven’t read anything by him in over 10 years. Of course he’s been dead for a sizeable portion of that time, and I think he had writer’s block too, so it’s not like there’s probably all that much which I’ve missed. As long as we’re on the topic of reading, I just finished Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, and I’m about to start in on Quicksilver. And for the record, Stephenson is exponentially better than I remember Adams being, though I think I still prefer David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, as far as long-assed rambling novels go. Some of you might not be surprised to hear that.

STABBING LIVING TODAY

First on the agenda: a look at No Mercy. Read Ben Morse’s Mean if you haven’t already–it’s the best No Mercy report you’ll see on the net. While Ben is supremely qualified to evaluate the PPV, I didn’t watch it and didn’t even consider buying this one. But I’m not trying to analyze the quality of the PPV, just the booking. And there are a few things of note coming out of No Mercy that I think deserve a little attention.

1. Sounds like the Kidman-London angle is going to stick around for at least a little while longer. Good for them, good for us. You’ve probably read several people’s opinions by now that this was the best thing on Smackdown in a while, and they’re right. I’m not sure where this is going, other than London eventually getting some sort of final victory. We’re finally getting to see London in a semi-prominent role, and he’s been great. His selling in particular has been first rate–very much in the HBK school, I think. Maybe best of all is that Kidman is getting a new lease on life, after being the subject of roster cut rumors the year before. It’d be nice if these two would have a match at Survivor Series, but I ain’t holding my breath.

2. Spike Dudley will continue to be the cruiserweight badass, until Rey Misterio inevitably beats him for the title. Hey, this worked with Chavo and with Matt Hardy, so why not try it with a guy who’s as good a worker and far more charismatic? The heel Spike is a godsend for the cruiserweight division, and really adds a lot more interest to his character. Plus, by working with cruisers Spike gets to show off his offense, which is actually pretty cool (and a nice change of pace for that division). Here’s hoping that the current Dudleys angle will keep going at least til Wrestlemania.

3. They’re serious about the Big Show. I think. Hopefully they won’t book Kurt Angle to beat him on Smackdown this week, or even at Survivor Series. Let Big Show keep some of this heat, and see where it takes him.

4. John Cena won the US Title. Can anyone explain why? He is going to be tied up with his marine corps movie, right? Does anyone buy Cena as a marine? He’s no Bobby Shaftoe, if you ask me.

5. Taker is off to feud with Heidenreich. Whoopee. Meanwhile, JBL has like no viable feuds coming out of No Mercy. As Flea so capably noted on Friday, Guerrero’s stuck in chumpsville right now. Angle vs. JBL would be heel on heel. It’s too early for Cena–he seriously needs to rebuild his momentum before they even think about giving him the title. At this point even Wrestlemania will be too early–and that US belt is more of an albatross than anything. It just serves to remind the audience that Cena’s not there yet. I guess they could bring Benoit or someone over from Raw, but I kind of doubt that’s the path they’ll take.

My prediction? Big Show feuds with JBL and beats him for the belt, only to drop the title to Angle. Then we get the buildup to Undertaker-Angle at WM21 (great”¦), or else Kurt gets hurt again and we go with plan B. I guess it’s also possible that Vince McMahon will come to his senses and realize that Undertaker-Angle is the very antithesis of a money main event (or even special attraction) for Wrestlemania, and we’ll get something involving Cena or a Raw refugee instead. Whatever happens, a feud with Big Show seems like the only path left available. Not a great option, but the writers kind of painted themselves into a corner on Sunday night.

STABBING ALL OVER THIS LAND, ALL OVER CREATION

ITEM! Honky Tonk Man is reporting that Kane is about to be fired for”¦I don’t know”¦conduct unbecoming a professional wrestler who plays a bald psychopath. I guess that means Gene Stitsky will be replacing him.

This is probably bullshit, so let’s talk about Snitsky instead. Man, that Stitsky is something else! I’m starting to question my earlier statement about him filling his cheeks with tobacco–those puffy cheeks might be God’s gift to Snitsky. Nothing says main eventer like big old cheeks. Even my girlfriend has taken notice of the power of this big, odd man. I hope that the relative success of this angle will convince Vince McMahon to bring in more indy talent for extended “guest appearances.” It can be like the storyline equivalent of being a jobber in a squash match on a B show!

Frankly, I smell a doublecross. Either Lita or Kane paid Snitsky to perform a grappling-based abortion–or, in the case of Lita, to feign this action. Jesus, who would have thought that some random jacked up goon would beat the hell out of Kane in the middle of Raw? This whole thing sure has kept me guessing. In fact, I’d bet HTM’s imminent firing rumor is a plant intended to elicit confusion in the IWC.

THE LATEST ON WHY THE UNDERTAKER SUCKS, PLUST THE GOFORTH THEORY OF EVALUATING “INSIDER” INFORMATION

First off, go read Flea’s latest column. Seriously, he makes some great points about both Angle and the Undertaker. In particular, he makes a great case that the Undertaker’s constant dominance basically flushed away several months worth of building up JBL. Can’t argue with that. However, one might dispute the reasons why the Undertaker has been portrayed as such an unstoppable monster. Flea buys into the idea that the Undertaker is making primadonna type demands backstage, based on numerous insider reports. But are these reports credible?

Whenever I read a somewhat controversial dirt sheet report, I like to use a rough formula for evaluating its plausibility. We don’t know what happens backstage cause we’re not there. Dirt sheet moguls don’t know for sure either–they rely on backstage sources with varying degrees of credibility. Unfortunately for us, we don’t know who these sources are, so we can’t really tell which information is probably basically right, and which information comes from a biased source with an axe to grind. But we are privy to certain facts, like information gleaned from interviews, injuries, hiatuses, etc. We’ll call this Input. And we can see firsthand how wrestlers are booked–wins and losses, opponents, mic time, etc. We’ll call that Output. What we don’t know is what happens backstage to get us from Input to Output. We’ll call this missing information Process–the means by which Input becomes Output. In diagram form:

Input (known)—>Process (unknown)—->Output (known)

Still, even without firsthand knowledge of backstage happenings, we can use our knowledge of Input and Output to narrow down the spectrum for potential Processes. Let’s take the recent Kurt Angle situation. The sheets report that Angle has become a backstage politician–this is the alleged Process. We know for a fact that Angle has had serious and recurrent neck problems. We also know that he’s only been able to wrestle sporadically over the past year and a half. We know from shoot interviews that Angle is legitimately ultra-competitive. Finally, we also know from interviews that Angle has often tried to build up himself and his matches–most notoriously when he claimed that his match with Brock Lesnar had the potential to be the greatest match of all time. Recently he’s been trying to argue that he and the Undertaker are the top two stars on Smackdown. These facts are Input.

We also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how Angle has been booked since his return at Summerslam. He’s won in his feud against Guerrero at every turn. He’s got his own stable now. He’s gotten way more airtime than JBL, who is (lest we forget) the WWE titleholder at the moment. Okay. A few caveats. For most of his career Angle has been at the top of the card, so that’s nothing new. What is different is that Angle is now clearly top dog, when previously he’d always played second (or third or fourth) banana to the likes of the Rock, HHH, Austin, Undertaker, and (I would argue) Lesnar. Kurt’s booking is increasingly resembling that of HHH–particularly alarming is the dwindling number of potential babyface opponents. Angle is clearly and, I would argue, indisputably being booked stronger now than at any point in his career. This is Output.

So given Input and Output, is the story of Angle’s increased backstage politicking a plausible Process? Yeah, I think so. It’s also possible that McMahon has chosen to book Angle this way, but Angle’s interviews sort of incriminate him. He openly admits that his perspective on his career has changed–and frankly, who can blame him? He isn’t shy to say that he’s great, or that his matches are great. It’s not an airtight case, but the dirtsheet account is, at the very least, plausible. Maybe even probable.

Now let’s apply this same formula to the Undertaker.

Input: Taker is old and frequently injured. He’s missed considerable time over the past five years–he’s probably been active for only around 60% of this period (always back in time for Wrestlemania, though!). He was a poor draw during the American Badass period, or at least couldn’t draw on his own.

Output: Taker returns under the deadman gimmick, which was way, way more successful than his biker gimmick. Since then he’s shown little to no weakness, losing only by DQ or via interference during this period. How does this really differ from his usual booking, though? Undertaker’s been on the same maddening cycle for the past five years. Meaningless feud which Undertaker dominates. Meaningless feud which Undertaker dominates. Time off to heal injuries. World title feud in which Taker makes the champ look like a weak coward, yet does not result in a title reign for Taker. Meaningless feud which Undertaker dominates. Time off to heal injuries. Slightly less meaningless feud culminating in a WM match, which Taker dominates. Meaningless feud which Undertaker dominates. Repeat until the end of time, apparently.

Over the past five years, the Undertaker’s Inputs have remained mostly static and his Outputs (the return to the deadman gimmick aside) have been pretty static as well. Given this, I can’t tell if Undertaker is making fresh demands for his character or not. It’s possible (likely even) that Vince McMahon, a firm believer that Taker is a “money” character (despite overwhelming evidence that UT’s drawing power is, at best, ambiguous), has elected to consistently push him. I’m also willing to buy that UT is demanding this treatment. In fact, I’d say that it’s probably a collaboration between the two. But here’s the thing–if Undertaker is demanding to be kept strong, it’s extremely unlikely that he just started making such demands this year. This is probably old hat for UT, and probably something we should all just accept (though not celebrate, necessarily). I’m just hoping that Angle and Taker won’t be able to persuade Vince to give them the main event for Smackdown at WM. I’m okay with them having a match there (though I’d prefer to see Angle wrestling just about anyone else)–just not a title match, please.

Meanwhile, Taker’s deadman character is having a Hogan-like effect on Smackdown–and by Hogan I mean the ’02 vintage. Undertaker’s appeal is little but nostalgia now–he has no discernible character, and his matches continue to bore (not just a workrate issue–also a problem of foregone conclusions and one-sidedness). UT’s about as scary as a guy wearing a sheet and shouting “boo.” Nostalgia sucks, plain and simple. You can’t build for the future while looking over your shoulder. I’d like to think Vince learned his lesson in 2002 with Hogan, but I guess the jury’s still out.

THE GODDAMNED DIVA SEARCH

I held my tongue (for the most part) during the actual stupid contest, but why the f*ck is this thing still polluting my television every goddamned Monday night? What exactly does Carmella have going for her other than posing nude in Playboy? She has absolutely zero charisma. And really, she’s not that attractive–though maybe it’s just the pound of makeup she wears that bothers me. Playboy must have done a lot of airbrushing. And her alleged boyfriend’s career is crashing and burning as we speak, so the Garcia connection isn’t really a plus at this point. At least Christy has some energy–and I bet she’d be willing to learn how to wrestle too.

TABOO TUESDAY MY ASS

This whole main event thing smells rotten. They take Orton out of the running–possibly because Vince and the gang recognized that he was no lock to win the fan voting. Not a disaster in and of itself, but it certainly wouldn’t help Orton gain credibility (and he can’t afford any setbacks in that area right now). They’re keeping HBK way the hell away from HHH, possibly because they know that another HHH-HBK main event would bomb. Those two need at least a year apart before they even think about facing off again. Edge is too heelish, and doesn’t have nearly enough momentum to win the voting. I think his inclusion in the voting is just to give him ammunition in an inevitable heel turn–“you fans don’t appreciate me,” that sort of thing.

That leaves Old Reliable, Chris Benoit, to carry the load. The Wolverine seems to be on his way to becoming Kane mark II (less height, more talent). He’s always going to be hovering around the main event scene, but I doubt he’ll ever be pushed as the top guy again. I hope the WWE proves me wrong (heh) on this. Even if they don’t, this isn’t a bad role for Benoit. Winning the belt has made him a fixture in the upper midcard/main event scene, and his presence there means better quality matches. Not a bad deal really, when you think about it. Hopefully he’ll be spared the pregnancy angles (though I’d love to see the equivalent of Gene Snitsky for Benoit).

END

Shaun of the Dead was pretty good. A few neat references to Night of the Living Dead (but not so much Dawn, aside from a few seconds of music that sounded sort of like Goblin*), and it was pretty funny. Anglophiles and zombie-philes should enjoy it.

Unfortunately, I’m a bit under the weather now. I blame the stupid midwestern weather and my germ-carrying students. Bleagh. I should be back up to full speed next week, though, and part three of the Things Wrestling Does Good/Bad series should be in this place next week. Till then, read Will Cooling and Gordi, both of whom always have very nice things to say about me. I reciprocate; they’re both awesome as well. As for other zones”¦PK reviews last week’s Teen Titans . It’s a little old, but I’ll let you in on a secret”¦it’s the only thing reviewed which I’ve ever actually seen. Well, there’s the Simpsons of course. No knock on the other stuff in the TV zone–I’m just an aging weirdo, getting weirder. Plus my girlfriend is playing Katamari Damasi constantly. Hey, when are the games guys gonna review that one? Seems like it’d be right up Lucard’s alley.

* Goblin is/was this cool Italian gothic/prog rock outfit, best known for scoring dozens of Italian horror movies during the 1970s and 80s. Dawn of the Dead, while not exactly Italian (too complicated to get into), is among their credits. They’re best work, though, was on Suspiria, one of the greatest horror movies of all time. For those of you who’ve seen Shaun of the Dead, I’m referring here to the 10 seconds of weird synth music that plays at the very, very beginning, while the production company credits are still up.