Historically Speaking: A Question of Why

“History teaches everything including the future.” – Lamartine

The Opening Chapter
Normally the whole gimmick of this column is looking back at some event or some occurrences, but this week I am going to stray from the format just so that I can ‘write out loud.” A bad day of work at a job that I’m increasingly growing to dislike (after only three months!) and CM Punk’s refreshing World Championship victory this past week on RAW gave me the inspiration to just write. I need an avenue to just get my thoughts out. There probably won’t be much of a structure, just some free form rambling.

Marking Out
The past two weeks of Monday Night RAW have been absolutely wonderful. They have been the most entertaining back-to-back shows the company may have put on since the heart of the Attitude era. I can’t say that with any certainty because that was about a decade ago and a lot of good and bad episodes have come and gone since then. But from recent memory, I remember being really exciting for Chris Jericho’s return in November, only to sit there hrough a dull episode of RAW before his lackluster return. The next week was well done, but then after that it was back to “business as usual” and Jericho became just another guy. I found the RAW XV episode absolutely entertaining from end-to-end and of course Flair’s farewell was something special, but I couldn’t tell you another thing that happened on that episode.

The point is the draft episode was highly entertaining (which they usually are) but they actually provided company-shifting changes that hadn’t been seen since John Cena moved to RAW in 2005. This past week they followed it up with the absolutely out-of-nowhere CM Punk World Championship victory. Other than Flair’s farewell it was the first time I’ve marked out while watching free wrestling all year. It was the first time I literally jumped off the couch in excitement in I don’t know how long. For me it was bigger than Cena’s surprise return at the Royal Rumble. On a show where Cena, Batista, Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio and probably Kane are all considered higher on the “food chain” than CM Punk, the company pulled the trigger and allowed some brand new, fresh and unexpected to happen. It’s something to fathom the male champions on RAW – Punk, Kofi Kingston, Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase, Jr. – have all combined been on WWE television for only about four years. Whereas the SmackDown! singles champions – Triple H, Matt Hardy and Mark Henry – have a combined over thirty six experience working for WWE.

But why is that we mark out for something like Punk’s victory? What makes a “smart” wrestling fan truly suspend belief for even that one moment and become completely engrossed in the action? What is it that makes wrestling appealing for twentysomething year old fans that know the whole thing is a charade?

Frankly I have no real idea. I’ve pondered that about myself for years. If someone asks me why I’m a wrestling fan I probably couldn’t give him/her a thoughtful, logical reason that they would buy or understand. For me I grew up a wrestling fan in an era where Hulk Hogan was on top and the program was geared to children. As I went through the awkward adolescent stage, so did the WWF, as they transitioned from the kid-friendly, bright colored “New Generation” into the grey-shaded “Attitude” era. Then I was an impressionable high school kid in the era that Triple H was telling everyone to “suck it” and Steve Austin was flipping everyone off. By the time I left high school there was no looking back and was probably pretty certain that I would a wrestling fan for life.

Any sports fan who lives and dies with each Red Sox victory or that movie buff who has watched “There Will Be Blood” a dozen times and is blown away each time or that kid who takes the lyrics from a My Chemical Romance song to heart knows that feeling. It’s that feeling of being a part of something; of belonging to a culture that is absolutely foreign to those who do not belong. If you are not apart of the wrestling culture, the image of two men like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit embracing and crying as confetti reigns around them doesn’t mean anything. They didn’t actually win their championships like top-flight Olympic athletes, they were presented them as part of a pseudo script/pseudo promotion. But it’s more than just getting a promotion like at a regular job; as a “promotion” in wrestling can be lost at a promoter’s whim.

It’s watching WrestleMania and just feeling like that it is something special. It’s the idea that 70,000 people yearly make a destination trip out of a weekend of professional wrestling and all the pomp and circumstances that goes along with. Hell I’ve finally made the conscious decision myself that I will be attending a WrestleMania in the near future; willing and ready to spend the time, money and energy on a weekend of entertainment I really can’t understand or fully explain to some family and friends. It’s watching a Hall of Fame ceremony for a pseudo-sport and absolutely marking out like a drunken idiot for favorites like The Rock and Ric Flair; people who we have never met and probably will never meet. The Ric Flair farewell was one of the most entertaining pieces of television I’ve ever seen, but I didn’t break down and cry like many of my Internet wrestling peers have admitted to doing so. I won’t chastise or blame them for their emotions, as it really shows the impact that Flair had on so many of his loyal, loyal fans. I mean you can’t tell me a lot of big, burly Wisconsin men didn’t shed a tear or two after Brett Favre walked out of Lambeau Field for the last time.

Why is that some wrestling fans can so easily separate Chris Benoit “the wrestler” from Chris Benoit “the murder” yet others cannot and will not ever see a Benoit match the same? I probably won’t for a long time, or ever, put in the “Hard Knocks” DVD and watch a series of Benoit matches, but from what I’ve seen of him recently on other discs I am able to just roll with it. People watch documentaries about murders all the time to try and learn about them. It’s just that wrestling is such a hard medium to understand as it blurs reality and fiction almost seamlessly. Dense marks can see Tom Cruise isn’t really Jerry Macguire or Ethan Hunt, but to a lot of those same people Ric Flair is still the “jet flyin’, limousine ridin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’, sonofagun” both in and outside of the ring. Okay, Flair might be a bad example of that, but from all accounts Anthony Carelli and Santino Marella are quite different people.

Smart fans often prefer the more talented, but sometimes less pushed pro wrestlers. Smart fans often strive for the success of smaller, more technically sound wrestlers, or the ones who just don’t quite fit into the mold that Vince McMahon has conditioned us to like – the tall, well-built, tanned studs with a full head of hair. Is it more of a deep-seated personal thing within us? Do we want someone like Dean Malenko or Bryan Danielson to become the best in the industry because we see ourselves in them? The guys that continually work hard, are proficient in their line of work but don’t get the big push to the top because they are apparently “missing” something in the eyes of those in charge? Or they just don’t have the “look” that is supposedly marketable. Lance Storm once said on his website he was able to keep his serious façade on TV with all the shenanigans going on around by just remembering that Lex Luger has made so much more money than he did for doing far less.

So even for a brief period of time, currently as I speak, two men named CM Punk and Samoa Joe are essentially at the top of the wrestling industry. Neither of them really has the prototypical superstar “look” that has become stereotypical. Hell even their names scream “indy” and unprofessional. But for right now they are the people that the hardcore wrestling fans can get behind. They are the guys that fans see themselves in and root for.

The Perspective
So why is it that I watch wrestling? Why is it that I spend free time writing about wrestling, and then subsequently reading other opinions about wrestling? I don’t know. I can’t explain it or understand. I guess it’s my release; my way to escape. I can’t tell you the finer intricacies of the “Lord of the Rings,” and I can’t tell you when the last time the New York Knicks made to the NBA Finals, but I can tell you every WrestleMania card top-to-bottom and probably run through the lineage of the WWE Championship from start-to-finish.

So I say to you CM Punk, congratulations on your most recent success in your chosen profession. Your good fortune allowed me a moment of unadulterated bliss as fan of your business. And maybe those brief moments are just the things that keep me coming back.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
David B. looks at all the times Vince has tried to make himself he center of attention, namely two weeks ago when he was “crushed” underneath the stage.

Chris Biscuiti comes back to IP to celebrate the greatness of CM Punk’s World Championship victory.

Ivan has a FANTASTIC column fantasy booking the impending second generation stable.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1935 – Everett Marshall won the MWA World Heavyweight title
1986 – Velvet McIntyre defeated Fabulous Moolah for the WWF Women’s title
1995 – Rock ‘n’ Roll Express defeated PG-13 for the USWA Tag Team title
2001 – Billy Kidman defeated Hurricane Helmes for the WCW Cruiserweight title
2002 – AJ Styles & Jerry Lynn defeated The Rainbow Express in a tournament final for the NWA Tag Team title

1965 – Shinya Hashimoto was born

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Back when Nova was in charge of the WWE developmental system he implemented mandatory history assignments for the students of the developmental territories so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova created and apparently the best ways to get on-line prescriptions. I feel Nova had a great idea there and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational, but very entertaining.

I finally got finished reading Thomas Hackett’s Slaphappy: Pride, Prejudice and Professional Wrestling, and I must say I had really mixed feelings about the book. I was really interesting in reading the book because I knew it looked at professional wrestling from more a sociological and psychological stance. I wanted to see what this guy had to say after I spent all of my second year of grad school writing a thesis comparing pro wrestling to a series of fantasy themes.

What I found is that this guy definitely did his participant-observer research and dug into the trenches of wrestling culture. He went to countless pro wrestling shows, ranging from large-scale WWE events to ECW shows in their final days all the way down to small ultra-violent independent shows with 100 people in the audience. He made acquaintances with hardcore fans who followed wrestling religiously. He rode up and down the roads with Oren Hawxhurst (better known as Luke Hawx or Alter Boy Luke) and spent time with former deathmatch wrestler “Wifebeater.” He also got a chance to visit with “Nunzio” Jams Maritato before he made it to the big time of WWE, and was lucky enough to have a sit-down dinner interview with The Rock.

He did bring up some interesting theories, talking about how these men who are trying to make it in the wrestling business are really just looking for something more, whether they had love or family issues growing up and the crowd approval is the love they need. He also talks about wrestling acts as a rite of passage into manhood for a lot of these athletes. He brings up the elements of narcissism, pride and the love and preening over one’s body as part of a wrestler’s psyche.

Overall I found it an interesting book, but his professed disdain for wrestling prior to the research may have slanted how he perceived things. Rather than coming with an open mind he already came in with perceived negativity about wrestling. Then again maybe I’m saying that as a wrestling fanatic, knowing that if I were to do the same type of research the slant would be on the other side of the spectrum. As a fan I noticed he does make some factual errors and generalizations that I felt took away some of his credibility. He severely over-credits Chyna’s contributions to the business, and even uses her autobiography as one of his sources. He also cites Lou Albano’s “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pro Wrestling” as a worthy book to read when it truth it’s probably the worst pro wrestling book out on the market for factual information. In his closing he looks back at where some of the people he met are now, but gets James Maritato’s WWE gimmick wrong, calling “Little Nunzio,” which isn’t a big deal, but it just makes him look a little sloppy. I know there are a couple of other points where I put the book down in disgust over his little errors like that, but overall it’s a decent read; just know what you are getting into.

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