I bought an ear/nose-hair trimmer the other day. The nice woman in the store handed me the box, I gave her the money, she smiled blankly at me like a tired whore greeting her twelfth customer of the day and that was it. I looked around the eerily quiet store and there was no fanfare. No balloons. No badly posed photograph for a local newspaper announcing my rapidly impending descent into senility and infirmity. I thought at least some busty blonde Playboy cover girl could give me a look over and rate my chances for a possible will-changing sex-rampage in the not-so-distant future. But nothing. Instead I trudged home, blinked up to the saggy-faced old man in my mirror and appeared to pleasure my nose and ears with what I can only describe as a tiny black vibrator. That’s right, I turn thirty-five this year. And I’m not taking it well.
Now I know that thirty-five doesn’t sound too old (not to some of you at least) but it’s the significance of the age that bothers me. I only have one year left of falling within the key 18-35 male demographic for ‘sports entertainment’. Only twelve more months of tuning in to WWE programming for the sex and violence. Only three-hundred and sixty-five more days of thinking that Candice Michelle should be played like a cheap set of bongos or that table spots are better when they’re stacked on top of each other. After that, I’ll have to start saying things like “he could have someone’s eye out with that chair” or “she may be a ‘slut’ but she’s still a person”. And that’s just the start of it. I’ll begin to like warm, relaxing drinks in the evening because it “helps me sleep”, music will become too loud, I’ll think an Ipod is just an over-complicated Sony Walkman and that jewellery is something women wear. From mid-March onwards, if the WWE does anything I don’t like, then they can always fall back on the excuse “it wasn’t aimed at you”. But where did it go? I started watching wrestling back in 1989 when I was eighteen years old, at the other end of the demographic limits, and I still feel much the same way about it now as I did then. Has my generation come and gone and failed to do anything more productive and meaningful than slap each other around a bit and shout? In the film ‘Withnail and I’, stoner sage Danny proclaims the end of the ‘flower-power’ 60’s generation by noting that they’re “selling hippie wigs in Woolworth’s”. Can the 90’s era of pro-wrestling really be summed up in a few slick dvd releases and some nostalgic video games? If it can, then I’ve wasted the last seventeen years of my life and I’d really like them back.
Now before you start running for your ‘WWF memories’ protective suits and goggles, I’m not in the mood to opine that the McMahon product was better back then (because it wasn’t) or wax lyrical about the days when the WWE could do no wrong (because they did, quite often) but it has to be accepted that a generation has passed on (literally in some cases) and the slate has to be wiped clean ready for the next set of stories.
So how did the WWE manage it the first time? The two biggest draws in the company (Hogan and Warrior) were either gone or going. Piper, Flair, Roberts, Rude and Savage were variously coming to the end of their main active runs and the main event scene was left in the untested hands of a new breed. I remember watching Survivor Series 1992 and being disappointed that fans were putting more enthusiasm into the return of Mr Perfect in a match that also contained Flair and Savage (the only saving grace being the newly introduced Razor Ramon) and didn’t give the HBK/Hart World title match the credibility it deserved. The change of impetus didn’t happen overnight. For many fans, the initial run with the new upper tier was a failure and it took the return of Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 10 and his cheesy, bland walk with the belt until the first King of the ring PPV event that convinced the doubters that the change was necessary and could work for the better in the long run.
Come to think of it, there are several striking similarities between the roster spots of then and now. Bret Hart as the (supposed) embodiment of the common man (Cena), Shawn Michaels as the arrogant pretender (Edge), British Bulldog as the powerful technician (Angle) and Bob Backlund as the aging ex-champ adding a much-needed link to the past (Flair). The other similarity is that the WWE is in a phase where it is trying to regain viewers after having lost its two main selling points of the last five years (Austin and Rock). The main difference now is that our cynical society is no longer willing to accept cheerful losers like Duggan or Beefcake and we seem to be looking to our heels for the faces of the future. This idea puts performers like Carlito and Orton in prime position for possible company carrying runs at some point during their careers. Conversely, Bobby Lashley’s current ‘tougher than stone/wetter than Elmo’ routine seems an odd choice seeing as he’ll have to turn heel and then face again before an upper-card spot as either would be accepted by the fans. The WWE can run all the reality wrestling shows it wants and look to its feeder promotions for raw meat but the only way to get new talent over is to throw enough shit at the wall that eventually something sticks. As usual, what wrestling fans see as a fait accompli is a work in progress to those behind the scenes. Gimmicks and character directions can be amended, altered or even dropped to suit new storyline ideas and a rookie piece of talent is rarely killed on the strength of its first incarnation.
Does this mean that any storyline or segment involving these new stars should automatically be accorded the same importance as those performed by formerly established and experienced superstars? Of course not. Right now it is vital for the development of both the product and the performers that (for example) John Cena’s upcoming match with Edge at the Rumble is realistically assessed and not given an over-inflated sense of gravitas. Despite it being a World title match and more than likely being a far superior contest, it pales in significance to the Hogan/Warrior main event at Wrestlemania 6, but I’m okay with that. If you’re not okay with that then there are two possible solutions for you. Invent a time machine, go back to Wrestlemania 6 and watch them sweat and trundle their way through the most anticipated and feebly executed main event in Wrestlemania history. Or, hire them back as they are now and do the match again. Or bring Austin back. Or The Rock. Or Savage. Or anyone of the other dozen superstars that have built-in histories so you don’t have to invest anything new or risky in one of the modern wrestlers. And for those of you who say that “Masters won’t be this” or “Orton won’t be that”, bottom line is you just don’t know. Did any of you predict greatness for HHH when he was acting the snob in his silly red jacket? Or The Rock looking like a pineapple wearing a beaded-curtain? Or Trish Stratus struggling to string two words together in her promo debut with Test and Albert? Fear of change is bad and stifles prosperity. You want your old favourites back because they’re proven successes but they’ve nothing left to prove. It’s time to invest in something new. I don’t care who is on my tv screen, as long as the only thought in their minds is how they can impress me. Take Mark Henry. Man did his promo suck last week on Smackdown. And I don’t think even the most optimistic of Henry fans could think he is deserving of this title shot against Kurt at the Rumble. His biggest drawback is his baggage. We’ve been here before with Mark Henry and his succession of failures to make a welcome addition to any WWE roster is dragging him down faster than one of his circular man tits. But I’m okay with it. His look is more believable now and he hasn’t screwed up once since returning. I agree that Rey carried the majority of the #1 contender match on Smackdown but Mark’s role was clearly defined and he did it commendably. If he bombs (which he probably will) then someone will come along after him and have to do a better job but that is not his concern. It is a concern to Vince McMahon though.
Right now, the most important person relating to the transition of WWE talent is Mr McMahon. The one constant through any period of change in the company is Vince and, even though he is restricting himself on screen to being the pube in HBK’s cheesecake, that lovely fluffy McMahon family feeling is permeating every spot on the card, especially the title picture. Who’s the Raw champion? Is it Edge? No. It’s SEX. It’s complaints about WWE content. It’s that awkward sensation you get while two of his wrestlers are stripping each other down in the middle of the ring for elbowy, white sex. Edge and Lita just happen to be the *lucky/unlucky ones (*you choose). Just like a complaint about WWE ‘writers’ is redundant because they’re just ‘ideas men’ to feed Vince’s sickness, WWE wrestlers are the physical personification of that demented brain and until they become big enough stars and strong enough names to enable them to stand up on their own egos then they will have to dance to his tune. And you can choose to either watch it or turn it off.
Come to think of it, there are people younger than me who are still five years behind the times. Those rosy-cheeked slap-targets who hold up Hogan signs even though they were just an itch in their uncle’s crotch when the Hulkster first won the WWF championship. And as for all the pussies who complain that ex-referee ’suicide’ is not a suitable subject for comedy, that damn near makes me a menace to society. Maybe the suits have it all wrong and it’s only after the age of thirty-five that you can truly appreciate the unpalatable cancer that dribbles from the corners of McMahon’s mind. I can now see why HHH and Angle are so defensive of the spots for which they have worked so hard. You want your generation? You’ll have to take it from me, I’m not done with it yet.
But I’ll definitely keep using the ear/nose trimmer. It’s like a friggin’ forest up there.