The Moss Covered, Three Handled Family Gredunza

That’s the teaser trailer for my first novel, No Chinook. What do y’all think?

Hollywood as a role model

I’ve been watching a lot of WWE 24/7 lately. One of the more interesting aspects of the channel is the introduction to certain sections made by various WWE employees. For example, when you click on an episode of ECW from 1995, the episode won’t simply play; you will be treated to two to three minutes of Joey Styles and Tazz (current ECW announcers) introducing us to the episode and providing some context as to why we should care about this particular hour in the history of wrestling. This is an idea ripped straight from Turner Classic Movies, where Robert Osborne does the exact same thing with old Hollywood hits from the 40s and 50s. It’s only one of hundreds of things WWE steals from hollywood, but it alludes to the one thing it does the most–elevating its profession above that of the common man while mythologizing its participants.

Professional wrestling, like all circus-based forms of entertainment, runs on the fuel of hype. Very little of what is viewed on our televisions actually translates to the imagery we get from the various music videos, hype trailers, and verbal selling that is fed to us by the adjacent corners of the company. John Cena isn’t actually a street-credible tough guy who can beat anything on two legs. Rey Mysterio isn’t actually a high flyer (anymore). HHH isn’t actually a teenage rebel. But the hype machine begs to differ. These are men among men. These are role models for children. These are the vehicles of victory. Their actions indelibly leave marks on the highway of history, engaging the mind and spirit as if they were Greek Demi-Gods. Most choreographed videos will elevate the persona of a professional wrestler far more than any of their real actions. This is a lesson WWE learned from Hollywood, where marketing is king and actors are stalked by the press because they are “different” from the common man.

Hollywood’s “glitz” rubbed off on pro wrestling really early. Gorgeous George and his ilk in the 50s provided ripe opportunity for comparison. Hulk Hogan would perfect the model in the 80s, of course, and would in fact periodically transcend both worlds. The Rock would make a permanent shift to acting in 2002, only making cameo appearances since. Wrestlers are seen as natural fits for action movies, and are often used as either stuntmen or the “silent tough guy” on film. With few exceptions, Hollywood is welcoming of professional wrestling. I know several actors here in Toronto, and they’re all wrestling fans. I can imagine there’s an element of mutual respect there. The curious thing about the entire setup is that while pro wrestling loans the idea of personal mythology from hollywood, it constantly sets itself below tinsel town in terms of cultural significance. It’s a strange and very conscious settling that has always seemed to be there, and one has to wonder why that is.

Wrestlers who have made the pilgrimage to Hollywood tend to use it to their advantage. For example, Rowdy Roddy Piper would constantly allude to the fact that he had a part in “They Live.” Wrestlers will commonly use a line they had in a movie as a catchphrase (or, in Michelle McCool’s case, a 360 degree turn). The best example of this, however, was “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, a character so immersed in his own success in acting that he looked down on professional wrestling, even though it was his day job. The Rock would try this character on in early 2003 for a few months, but Hogan pushed it to its metaphorical limit. The “Hollywood” aspect of his character would personify his villainy because of its “I’m above wrestling” attitude. Wrestling fans acknowledge the fact that the wrestlers they watch are “better than they are,” but they certainly don’t like to be told it to their faces, and this is what Hogan would push every week. What he ended up doing, however, was showcasing exactly where professional wrestling–and all of it, from the fans to the owners to the wrestlers themselves–stood in the pecking order of cultural importance in respect to Hollywood.

Further proof of this occurs whenever an actor or celebrity shows up on television. The appearance of Kevin Federline for a few episodes of Raw at the end of 2006 was a very interesting example of where wrestling saw itself. By introducing Federline as a “star,” the WWE was essentially telling fans that it, as an entity, was below even the common untamed celebrity brat. The Ex-Mr. Spears’ appearance alongside Cena in the main event of one episode (where he ended up inadvertently pinning the world champion) really pushed this home. On one hand, using someone like Kevin Federline in this light would attract mainstream attention and the eyes of those people who follow this brand of worthless peon. But underneath this message is the undeniable truth that wrestling should be above this kind of pandering, but it isn’t and never has been. If wrestlers are Gods among men, why do they share the same air as those who the general public perceive to be talentless fools?

One explanation of this is that wrestling, like Hollywood, is pandering to the lowest common denominator in hopes of attaining their easily taken redneck money. Instead of roping in respectable actors to be used alongside wrestlers, they use people like Federline and Donald Trump because they believe that the audience is the same. In the 80s, it was the over-the-top super hero who ruled hollywood, therefore it was the super hero who ruled WWE. Now, the seemingly classless douchebag gets the most hollywood press, so wrestling fans get mediocre-but-troop-supporting Cena as a marquee name. Much like Anna Nicole’s baby-drama last year, we get a whos-the-baby series on Raw.

It becomes an easy realization then to see that the WWE looks at Hollywood as a role model. If we’re to believe Hulk Hogan and The Rock, Hollywood is where you go if you’re a really, really successful wrestler. They constantly refer to the wrestlers as “superstars.” They hold autograph signings and promote their “talent” as quadruple-threat attractions, capable of wrestling, writing (about wrestling), acting, and sometimes singing (about wrestling.) And, as I mentioned, their on-demand channel treats historical footage in the same context-driven vein of classic movie channels. WWE films, a branch of WWE that creates movies starring WWE superstars, is ironically the only section of WWE that doesn’t emulate–at least, topically–Hollywood, because at least Hollywood releases quality movies every now and then. The only quality item that has ever come out of WWE films was the Wrestlemania XIX feature that came on the third disc of the Wrestlemania XX DVD set. That was actually pretty good.

Finally, one has to wonder what WWE would look like if Hollywood wasn’t its role model. What about the product would change? Would the aesthetics be altered in any significant way? Would the entrance ramp be retooled? How would interviews work? Would match length and structure be affected? What about gimmicks, character development and ever-present idiom of “getting over?” What aspects of WWE would we have to rethink and reevaluate? Too often we obsess over micro components of pro wrestling, when, on occasion, some discussion on the dramaturgy of the space might also be of value. Hollywood is undoubtedly to blame for many of pro wrestlings’ habits, and this should be a factor in how we fantasize (as we all seem to be doing of late) about the wrestling company we really want.

Kyle David Paul is the author of the short story collection Everything We Haven’t Lost and is working on both a novel entitled No Chinook, which will be released in the fall of 2007, and an essay collection on professional wrestling and popular culture. The articles found on Inside Pulse are previews of what will be included in the work. It will be available spring/summer 2008.

The moss covered, three-handled family gredunza is the third of Chris Jericho’s 1004 moves, preceeded by an armdrag and armbar, and to be followed by an armbar and the Saskatchewan spinning nerve hold. It is a reference to the Cat in the Hat’s TV special.


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