Heroes and Villains: Three Things Wrestling Could Do Well

Man, have I been busy. But not so busy as to neglect my love for you readers (most of you, at least). I was tempted to elaborate on the issue of trying to separate the plausible from the bullshit among wrestling news sources, but that can wait for another day. Flea and Hyatte have really said most of what needs to be said on this issue, and I generally agree with their conclusions. Maybe I’ll return to this in the future, when there’s another implausible and/or controversial news story making the rounds.

In the meantime (in between time), here’s part four of the Things Wrestling Does/Doesn’t Do Well Series. In part one I suggested that romance, politics, and quietude are three subjects/emotions which bookers and writers had best leave alone. In part two, I cited friendship, mystery, and desperation/perseverance as angle fodder that has historically yielded pretty good results. This week I suggest a few possibilities which might be fruitful avenues for future storylines.

LONESOME TRAIN ON A LONESOME TRACK

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a lot like me. You’re not a total social retard, but your charisma and charm aren’t exactly overwhelming. Chances are good that, at some point in your life, you’ve felt lonely, isolated, or somehow detached from the world around you. Your first day of school, the first week of college, moving to a new town where you don’t know anyone, finding that all of your friends have moved on (literally or figuratively)Ã??Ã?á¢?Ã??Ã?á¦these are all situations which you will (probably) someday experience, if you have not already. Not a fun time for most of us. Even those of us who are natural loners like to know that we have the option for mingling with friends and well-wishers, if we want.

I’m really surprised that wrestling writers haven’t hit upon this as a basis for an angle. Usually, whenever a new face (or heel) shows up, some established figure will give a symbolic thumbs up. In recent years this task has often fallen to the Undertaker:

“Hey kid.”
[Pause to spit into cup.]
“Saw you out there.”
[Pause to inhale deeply but briefly through the nostrils. New wrestler looks terrified.]
“Not bad. Keep it up, rookie.”
[Undertaker walks off camera. Focus remains on the rookie, who looks simultaneously shocked, elated, and relieved that the mighty badassed Undertaker has spared him one of his “methodical” beatings. Fade out, with optional blather about respect from Michael Cole.]

Then three months later the new guy is either working for a man in a cowboy hat or delivering all his promos in a slow paced (“methodical”) rap.

This whole “respect” deal is usually intended to get the new guy over, but it rarely seems to work. Usually there’s a couple of weeks in which the veteran mentions the new guy in the odd promo for a few weeks, or maybe comes out to save him from a beatdown one week. Maybe the new guy returns the favor. But then that’s it, and the new guy is relegated to Velocity/Heat duty until a heel turn.

But here’s an idea: what if the new guy is getting beat down and nobody comes out to save him? What if no veteran or upper card hero bestows his “respect” on the rookie? What if the new guy experiences a period of awkwardness and loneliness just like we’ve all gone through? You’d have a wrestler to whom we could all relate. I’m not suggesting that this be the very essence of the new guy–he doesn’t have to be a pariah (though that might be an interesting character too, come to think). I’m just suggesting this as a way to introduce a new figure.

This is an especially interesting possibility, I think, given the period of adjustment that all new wrestlers seem to go through in real life. New arrivals in the WWE have a period of dues-paying to undergo before they get anything resembling respect from the likes of the Undertaker. WWE (and WCW and TNA) writers love to tap into reality to fuel sports entertainment. Here’s another chance. Let the new guy earn his respect over time. Let him struggle with the isolation and discomfort that a newbie feels upon arriving in a tight-knit community. Just for once, let’s see a rookie get beaten up without having a veteran come out to save him.

PEOPLE OFTEN CHANGE, BUT MEMORIES OF PEOPLE CAN REMAIN

After all that hard work of making friends in a new town/school/etc., chances are that these folks won’t be chummy with you forever. Even the youngest amongst you have probably lost friends. Sometimes we lose friends to tragedy, and sometimes there’s a cataclysmic fight of some type that forever rends us asunder. But for most of us, we simply grow apart from friends. This is natural; unless we’re total weirdoes, our 9 year old self is substantially different from their teenaged counterparts, who in turn are quite unlike our early adulthood selves, etc.

In the wrestling world, a friendship is almost always expressed as a tag team partnership. And tag teams/friendships usually end due to some sort of cataclysmic event. If rasslin’ buddies do drift apart, it’s usually because the writers got tired of using two guys as a tag team (Taker and Kane, any number of times), or someone got injured and, upon his return, didn’t reunite with a tag team partner who had simply moved into a new gimmick (Billy and Chuck). What we’ve never seen is a gradual parting of the ways, as two friends develop different interests and priorities.

There’s no reason why this can’t be applied to the world of wrestling. I’m tired of seeing tag teams break up because one member betrays the other. If Vince McMahon wants to write stories that reflect our lives and to which we can relate, this might not be a bad place to start. The major drawback here is the lack of an immediate payoff match. However, one way to get to this point might be the two former friends forming new tag teams which eventually cross paths. This could eventually lead to promos in which the former partners refer to the erosion of their friendship. Eventually there could be a payoff singles match. This could even be done via ret-con.* Let’s say Billy Gunn and Hardcore Holly are still employed by the WWE in 6 months time. Let’s also say that they have new tag partners by then. Finally, let’s say that one team has the titles by then, and the other team is chasing. That gives us the opportunity for Gunn and Holly to have a series of promos in which they recount their gradual drifting apart. If things get heated enough, they could have a (hopefully brief) singles feud-within-a-feud. The backstory to this feud wouldn’t be a cataclysmic breakup in the distant past, but a gradual movement apart. That’s more complex, and potentially more interesting.

*Ret-con=retroactive continuity. Can be used as a verb (“the writer ret-conned Beer-Man’s membership on the Hero Squadron”); usually used w/r/t comic books, long-running genre shows, or other nerdly pursuits.

PROTECTING THE OLD WAYS FROM ME AND FROM YOU

Lots of folks don’t really grasp what it means to be conservative. Too many take this to be synonymous with the political agenda of the Republican Party. That’s true to a point, but obscures the actual, literal definition of conservatism. In the broadest of senses, conservatives merely wish to preserve older arrangements of power, traditions, etc. There are, roughly speaking, two groups that are especially apt to be conservative: those in power, and those who adhere to older traditions as fundamental parts of their moral/ethical codes (e.g., the very religious).

I realize that I’ve already suggested that wrestling is fundamentally incapable of doing justice to the nuances of the political process. I stand by this. However, I do think wrestling is well-equipped to present political allegory. And a commentary on the dangers of abusing conservative thought is a pretty good place to start.

Here’s my scenario. A young wrestler comes into the promotion, and quickly raises hell all over the place. But he violates some sacred creed of the wrestling world–let’s say he abandons his tag team partner. Next week, some veteran (probably the Undertaker) pulls the young dude aside for an intense, methodical chat.

“Hey kid.”
[Pause to spit into cup.]
“Saw you out there.”
[Pause to inhale deeply but briefly through the nostrils. New wrestler looks terrified.]
“That ain’t the way it works. Time somebody told you about the code. Come with me.”
[Undertaker walks off camera with the increasingly nervous rookie in tow. Fade out, with optional blather about intimidation from Michael Cole.]

Next week Taker has a similar confrontation with the new guy. The following week, during another tag match, the new guy is presented with an ethical dilemma: go after his arch-rival or stick around to back up his partner. He chooses to help his partner. After the match, Taker comes out and gives him an intense, methodical thumbs up. Over the next few weeks we learn, through the Undertaker’s chats with the new guy, about the Wrestler’s Code. Gradually the young punk becomes respectful of tradition, eventually giving lectures to new young punks.

Here’s where things take a turn for the worse. Suddenly this newly-minted traditionalist is giving lectures to the likes of Billy Gunn and Bob Holly. Maybe he implies that their lack of success (relative to him, of course) is due to their own lapsed observance of The Code. Soon he starts running in on matches whenever the rules are broken. Maybe he starts adding his own amendments to The Code. He gives bizarre promos, promising a new order in the WWE (or TNA or wherever). His vigilante actions and fascist ideology eventually attract the attention of the Undertaker, who decides he has to teach a lesson about freedom of choice. Or something like that.

Yes, this is taking a political stance. But then again I’ve never made any secret of my own political stance, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I’d advocate this sort of political commentary on conservatism (God bless Thomas Paine). If you would, set that aside for a moment. The point isn’t so much that I convince you that my indictment of conservatism is correct. What I’m trying to do is convince you that this is the best way for wrestling promotions to engage the realm of politics. Wrestling’s a big, wacky world. You’ll never get a wrestler capable of making intelligent comments about politics in a direct way, because these problems will always be solved by a wrestling match. That’s idiotic. However, it’s not so silly if the political commentary comes in the form of allegory. Those capable of reading between the lines can do so. Those who aren’t capable or willing to do so can simply enjoy the angle as a mentor-protege relationship gone awry. I’m sure that wrestling could just as easily provide an allegorical critique of liberalism. In fact, if you can think of such a scenario, send it my way. If I get any good ones I’ll print them next week. Now that’s fair and balanced.

Also next week: a few words on why I started this series of columns. Basically an explanation of what I think wrestling is capable of doing, and my hopes for its evolution as a storytelling medium. And now, I embark on my first (ugh) net feud. Well, sort of. Hopefully this is as far as it will go. AnywayÃ??Ã?á¢?Ã??Ã?á¦

TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT

I wrote this last week :

ITEM! Honky Tonk Man is reporting that Kane is about to be fired forÃ??Ã?á¢?Ã??Ã?á¦I don’t knowÃ??Ã?á¢?Ã??Ã?á¦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 insteadÃ??Ã?á¢?Ã??Ã?á¦

And then I got this email from someone whose name I’ll just leave out (trust me, you’ve never heard of him, and I can’t tell that he does anything online):
From: xxxxxxxxx
To: dlbgoforth@insidepulse.com
Subject: htm/kane
Date: Wed, 06 Oct 2004 14:12:47 0000

The [sic] Torch confirmed that HTM’s inside scoop was accurate. They posted about it on their site, as did the HTM. Its time you freaks gave him the respect he deserves as he proves time and time again that he owns you.

Now friends, I have a confession here: this is the first piece of out-and-out negative feedback I’ve ever received. People have disagreed with me, but they’ve usually actually had something worthwhile to say. And this is the first Honky Tonk Man (or HTM, as the kids apparently call him these days) fan with whom I’d ever corresponded. Anyway, I was taken aback to say the least. My response:

From: “DLB Goforth” To: xxxxxxxxx
Subject: RE: htm/kane
Date: Wed, 06 Oct 2004 11:02:43 -0500

Huh?

Didn’t hear from xxxxxxxxx for a few days, but I did eventually get this response:


From: xxxxxxxxx
To: dlbgoforth@hotmail.com
Subject: RE: htm/kane
Date: Fri, 08 Oct 2004 17:58:11 0000

You posted about Honky TOnk Mans [sic] story about Kanes [sic] contract dispute being false. The Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter confirmed that it was true a few days ago.

Okay, fair enough, if you take Keller’s word as gospel. I don’t. So here’s what I write in response, going into jerk mode for the first time in my internet career:

From: “DLB Goforth” To: xxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: RE: htm/kane
Date: Fri, 08 Oct 2004 14:44:10 -0500

No, I mean “he owns you.” How so? Slavery was abolished by the 13th amendment to the Constitution. And just because Wade Keller tells you something is true doesn’t mean that it is.
DG

Again, a few days go by, but tonight while writing the column I get this:

From: xxxxxxxxxxx
To: dlbgoforth@hotmail.com
Subject: RE: htm/kane
Date: Mon, 11 Oct 2004 20:11:11 0000

So you consider yourself, a virtual unknown in wrestling journalism to be at a higher standard than a guy whos been doing wrestling journalism for almost 20 years? Interesting.

Jesus…. Okay, so I decide to level with the guy. Here’s the email I sent him a few hours ago:

Once again, “huh?” When did I ever claim to be a journalist? I don’t get paid for this shit, you know.

As Flea mentioned in his last column [which, as always, you should read–it’s available here], Keller’s the least reliable of the big three (though Scherer’s not much better, in my opinion). I must admit, if Meltzer reported this, I would probably give it a bit more credence. Keller’s clearly been used a few times in the past–he reported Hulk Hogan was coming back to the WWF for a few years before it actually happened. He was clearly X-Pac’s mouthpiece for a while, too.

I don’t want to be too condescending, but you really should take any wrestling rumor with a grain of salt. Scherer and Keller’s sources seem to have their own agenda, and I’d imagine that the Honky Tonk Man has his own axe to grind. I don’t worship Meltzer the way some folks do, but he’s clearly the most reliable of the three.

Lighten up. Unless you’re actually a wrestler or a promoter yourself, this is just a hobby. No reason to defend the honor of a 50 year old former Elvis impersonator, or some guy in Minnesota who (let’s face it) mostly just wants your money and has no sense of quality control. I speak as a former subscriber here.

I print this simply because I can’t believe anyone would go to these lengths to defend Wade Keller and the f*cking Honky Tonk Man. Yeah, Keller gives us the odd wild rumor to riff on in our columns or on message boards. And the Honky Tonk Man delivers similar value with his diatribes against Flair, Piper, and Lawler–you know, the folks who will be remembered long after his cheap heat gimmick (both pre- and post-retirement) have long faded from our collective memory. I hope Flea doesn’t mind, but I’m going to quote him. He put it better than I ever could:

Of course, no one bought into it [the Kane story]. Hey, when you have a track record like HTM’s it’s not like you are going to taken all that seriously – that’s just the way it is. But then, Keller and his Gang had to get involved…. And some Flea Advice: just because Keller said it…well, let’s just say he is the least accurate of the three on most things. Just saying.

Amen. I can understand writing in to defend a favorite wrestler, or even Vince McMahon or Vince Russo (who have produced television shows which many of us have enjoyed). But the Honky Tonk Man is long since retired (or might as well be), and he was never that good to begin with. Yeah, he’s given us a few laughs here and there, but he’s not much more of a “journalist” than I am. And Keller is a second rate gossip columnist at best. Why take offense at what I say about them? Surely you’re a fan of, you know, wrestling more than writing about wrestling.

As a personal message to the “journalists” that disputed these claims and called the Honky Tonk Man a liar, we expect your apologizes shortly.
– One of Honky Tonk Man’s flunkies
Ha ha ha. For some reason, I don’t see an apology coming anytime soon.
-Flea, again.
He’s right. No apologies forthcoming, unless (a) a credible news source corroborates this, or (b) Kane himself corroborates it, either via interview or resignation.

Oh, and one last thing. I tried entering my correspondent’s name in Google. He’s sent in news to the big news sites here and there (including the foul and dreaded Dave Meltzer, who frowns upon the pure gold flowing from the Honky Tonk Man’s mouth). But here’s one that I found especially interesting. It’s from 1wrestling (back when it mattered), and it’s dated 2002:

XXXXXX sent this one. … Honky Tonk Man went on his website today and said he was contacted by Tom Prichard about being in the Billy and Chuck wedding on Smackdown next week and turned it down. HTM also said that Road Dogg Jesse James was offered a spot as well.

Yeah. Clearly I’ve been a fool for discounting the Honky Tonk Man as a credible news source. Clearly he’s an objective source for the news shaping our world, above petty concerns like self-promotion. Anyone want to guess which recently-fired WWE employee dropped this Kane rumor?

And a note to the Man of the Honky Tonk himself, in case one of his toadies brings this to his attention: Yes, I’m a nobody. No one cares what I have to say. Clearly I am little but a worm before the feet of the greatest IC champion of all time. You don’t need to run me down–your very existence proves that I am nothing but some pimply faced 16 year old virgin (even though I’m pushing 30 and live with my girlfriend, not my parents). I don’t want Asteroid Boy attention for Inside Pulse. If you turn out to be right about this story, I will give you credit in this column. I will start taking your news stories seriously; in fact, I will visit your site frequently in the search for news. I will plug your site regularly in this space, for whatever good that will do. But until then, I’ll take you in a fairly high sodium sort of way*–which is exactly how I approach any news story coming from Keller (or Scherer, for that matter).

*This joke courtesy David Foster Wallace. Email me if you don’t get it.