Vincent Kennedy McMahon — the man who’s most responsible for the shape that professional wrestling has taken over the past twenty-five years. He’s done it with hard work and sweat. It wasn’t easy going to his dad and offering to take over the company in his thirtysomething years — an incredibly ballsy move that would prove to be the single biggest event that changed the industry. Gone was the gentleman’s agreement between territories that talent be shared between them and that clear and respected boundary lines be drawn. (“This is the ‘New York’ territory — that over there’s the Georgia territory”) Vince had visions of turning this whole thing from an industry of separated territories into one large media enterprise.
Getting to that place where the WWE has become one of the most recognized forms of entertainment in the world hasn’t been easy. And with all of the criticism that Vince has received over the years, most of the time I’ve been behind him. I’ve told folks to just “look the other way”. ‘Hey, it’s just wrestling. It’s entertainment. See? It’s right there in the name….World Wrestling Entertainment‘. So when he made the decision to trick Bret Hart and insult the audience by having Bret falsely lose hit title onscreen, I was behind him. (“Vince is right — Bret should have done the ‘time-honored tradition’). And when Vince teased a Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mike Tyson fight for Wrestlemania, again, I looked away. Not to mention the decision to continue the pay per view despite Owen Hart losing his life needlessly doing a stupid entrance as a gimmick character. Then there was the Steve Austin vs. Brian Pillman ‘gun incident’. More recently we had the Vince McMahon starting his own religion “McMahonism”. Putting Eddie Guerrero’s wife in an angle only months after her husband’s death. Grandstanding Melanie Pillman in front of a national television audience only hours after learning that her husband and father of her children had suddenly died. And then there was the Billy and Chuck ‘gay marriage’ thing. The fake suicide scenes of WWE referee Tim White only a few weeks after Eddie Guerrero’s death. Destroying the legacy of ECW. Letting Shane McMahon wrestle. I can go on….
…and most of this was done for the sake of keeping our attention and keeping the spotlight on the WWE. In a word, ratings. And lately for me, wrestling isn’t quite what it once was. There was a time when I wouldn’t miss Raw. Now I just fast-forward through the matches to see the finishes and get to a sense of the angles and the storylines to see what’s going on. It’s just not interesting anymore. No big powerhouse names — no Austin, no Rock, no HHH….no damn reason to watch the show. Well, there are a few bright spots. But by and large things have been pretty stale. I had absolutely no urge to watch Wrestlemania this year. I’m sure I’m not alone. Their receipts and revenue has to be suffering a bit….maybe. And so it’s at times like these when we get to see some of our most outlandish and ridiculous ‘must see T.V.’ events that have contributed to people likening Vince to a modern day P.T. Barnum….drawing us into the tent to see the bearded lady for our own eyes.
But there are times when the boundaries of taste are completely disregarded. And this is certainly one of those times.
For the past few months, Vince’s character of “Mr. McMahon” has been teasing us with this angle of growing a bit depressed at the unfortunate events that have befallen his character. Losing his hair to a challenge with Donald Trump didn’t hurt things, and Vince had been teasing that he had some kind of feeling that something bad was going to happen. And two weeks ago, in a ridiculously scripted scene, he spent the whole night staring into space like a zombie. And then during the show’s closing moments, he left the ring, went out of the arena, entered the back seat of his stretch limousine, and as the door closed the entire vehicle erupted into an explosion. A shocking scene, undoubtedly. But what is more shocking to me is just how far they’re carrying this thing.
Last week the show displayed it’s complete tastelessness and disrespect for fans intelligence by carrying this thing out like a real investigation. “FBI Agents” would appear (on camera, of course) and during the two-hour Raw show (and only when matches weren’t taking place) would they ask questions about McMahon’s “death”. The show culminated with Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley coming out to the audience and crying because she missed her father and claiming that whomever was responsible would get payback.
OK, so we all know Raw is scripted. And we all know that the enjoyment lies within being able to suspend your disbelief. But how stupid do they think we are? Why insult us by playing up an angle as extreme as Vince dying? Why not just tease that he’s injured or in intensive care? Teasing us that he’s dead? The WWE is one of the top sellers of toys and games. Half of the WWE audience is comprised of children. Did they ever give any thought to how they might receive this? Even in some of it’s most extreme angles, ECW never toyed with something this serious. This is just ridiculously tasteless.
What’s worst about the whole thing is how poorly it’s being executed — largely because the superstars probably don’t want to be associated with this. It was funny watching Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross very carefully choose their words as they pretty much have to direct us into thinking that this is true.
Do WWE writers not realize just how much the Internet has changed our perception? Do they really believe that Vince could die and there not be mass media coverage — a USA today article….anything….covering his death? And I know this is supposed to be a big movie — just a play done live on USA’s Cable Network — but I just don’t see what an angle like this can do for the WWE except bring more negative press. There are tons of other sensationalized storylines to get fans and non-fans tuning in to see what’s going on. Why death? It’s amazing — watching the closing scenes as Stephanie (and boy is she a horrible actor) try to convince us that her father was dead. Even children were booing her as she walked off stage. I wish I would have been there. I would have booed and shouted “B.S.”. Let’s hope they don’t have a stop in Montreal, because I’m sure those wrestling savvy folks will call B.S. in a minute.
And despite my criticism, I’ll certainly be watching. More than anything, I want to see the response to the reveal when McMahon shows up on WWE TV again. I’ve never been a proponent of throwing anything at a competitor in a ring or any sporting event. But perhaps it’s high time we invest in a few dozen bushels of tomatoes. How dare they insult our intelligence and tease about an angle as serious as death. What if McMahon (God forbid) truly did die during this whole angle? What do you say then? “Um, we were only playing then, but for real now you guys…. I’m not playing…. this isn’t an angle…..”
When the consumer advocate groups get a hold of this thing (and I’m surprised they didn’t already), it should be most interesting. Wait until the Concerned Moms of America or the Coalition of Supporters for Children’s Entertainment Safety get in the game. (None of these are real groups — at least I don’t think they are….but you get the picture.) Once these groups start to draw the kind of attention that a “hot coffee scene” in a Grand Theft Auto game can yield, then it will be time to kick back and watch the real entertainment take place. And Vince, unlike those times in the past — this time we won’t be there to defend you. We fans with sit back and chuckle a bit when this whole thing backfires. Because this time you deserve whatever bad comes from this angle.