I’m going to apologize right up front for this one for breaking an already loose format for The Line of Fire. There have been some recent changes in the world of pro wrestling/sports entertainment that have actually lit a fire under me. Unfortunately, they aren’t particularly good changes in my opinion. Once I get rolling you’ll probably know right where I’m going with this one, but I felt that I wanted to give an erstwhile historian’s perspective on the demise of professional wrestling as we know it.
Change is inevitable. It has to be embraced because there’s no way to stop it. Good, bad or otherwise it’s going to happen, whatever it may be, and only people who are able to adapt are able to completely thrive after said change has come to pass. I’m being very general for a reason to start. Overall the topic of change and adaptability is one that everyone can relate to and has experienced in some way, shape or form. Where I’m going to focus is the recent (although not sudden) changes the WWE has made regarding it’s branding.
In trying to position itself as an entertainment leader for the future, WWE has made the decision to attempt to distance itself from it’s rather sordid professional wrestling past. I’m not going to dwell on the actual decision or get into the borderline ridiculous press interactions that have transpired recently. What I do want to do is give my opinion as someone who loves professional wrestling and the history of the business.
For anyone new to The Line of Fire, I want to just briefly set the table on where I’m coming from. I don’t watch any wrestling on television anymore. Period. Mostly because I don’t have cable, which tends to hamper the endeavor, but also because for the last five years or so I’ve thought that the vast majority of the product (that I have access to seeing) has been garbage. I think that as a whole the in ring work has deteriorated, the story lines aren’t compelling and the characters aren’t believable.
That said, for some reason a few weeks ago when I read a rather tongue in cheek article about TNA being the largest wrestling company in the world, I didn’t know what to expect. For some reason I actually found myself upset at the way the history of their business seemed to be discarded. Maybe it was the way the interaction between the author of the quoted article and the WWE representative was so seemingly disrespectful to the history and the performers of the past. Maybe it was the thought of some anonymous pr person sitting in a cube in Stamford scrubbing the words “wrestling” and “wrestler” from the culture of WWE. Or maybe it was the thought of Vince, arguably the greatest promoter since PT Barnum, having the hubris to dictate to us little folk that what we watch isn’t pro wrestling.
Diversity is good for business. I understand that. I can also understand the stigma that professional wrestling carries with it. It’s not exactly glamorous to go around and proudly shout from the mountaintops the virtues of the art form of pro wrestling. Even now, except in some very close company, I don’t exactly broadcast my love for professional wrestling. Somehow though, I don’t think that it’s good to try and divorce yourself completely from the lady who brought you to the dance so to speak. Not that my opinion really matters, but why not be able to brand different divisions as say WWE Films or WWE productions since Vince is now thinking of expanding his event promotion skills to other forms of entertainment, and keep the cornerstone of your business World Wrestling Entertainment? Why discount the history of your company by basically eliminating all reference to it from your business description and corporate culture?
What bothers me the most is the disrespect (in my opinion) that it shows to veteran fans and to the older wrestlers themselves, especially those of Hall of Fame caliber.
Touching on the wrestlers (and yes, they are still wrestlers to me) impact, I think that for a lot of guys it’s saying that what you did in the past as not only legitimate athletes but as professional wrestlers doesn’t matter because it was all fake and we’re moving away from that. Guys like Danny Hodge, Verne Gagne, Harley Race and even Kurt Angle would probably bristle if anyone were to tell them to their face that they weren’t pro wrestlers. To me, by taking wrestling out of pro wrestling you are taking out any credibility someone like Brock Lesnar or The Iron Sheik brought to the ring with their credentials as amateur competitors. Let alone not calling them wrestlers. If you tried to call Harley an “entertainer with tremendous athletic prowess” as a title instead of just a description, he’d probably put you in an abdominal stretch and send you home in two pieces.
Finally I want to talk about how I feel as a fan. For me, the more I think about the changes in outlook from WWE, the more that it seems like a slap in the face to us longtime viewers. While pro wrestling hasn’t been an all consuming passion for me, it is something that I’ve spent a lot of time watching. The change to me isn’t so much an affront to the artform itself, but rather to the time that I, and others like me, invested as a fan of professional wrestling. By making these changes and moving more toward the entertainment conglomerate that will appease his corporate world partners (which is smart business) it signals a move away from the hardcore fan. Not the 10 year old who is riding the John Cena bandwagon. Not the superfan who is obsessed with Jeff Hardy. To me the hardcore fans are the “smart marks” who love the business and the art. These are the fans who have their own fans (hat guy in ECW for one). These are the fans who immerse themselves in the true stories of the business, not just the story lines on tv. These are the fans who take the time out of their lives to write about one of their passions. Some might be compensated. I would venture to guess that most are not.
By saying that we’re not in the wrestling business, or rather we don’t employ professional wrestlers, it’s telling me that the time that I’ve spent watching and learning the history of the business is a waste of time. Because of their seeming disregard for the history of their business, it sends a signal to guys like me saying: we as a business are more concerned with the bottom line than the history of our company/brand/industry, therefore the past is what it is and we no longer wish to be associated with it. Severing ties in such a callous manner, I read the message they send as this: if they no longer care about their past, then the time that I’ve spent watching and the figures that I’ve admired as I’ve grown don’t matter, all in the name of the bottom line.
So in closing folks, sorry for the rant, but I really needed to get that one off my chest. I will be back next month with a closer look at a notorious pro wrestler by the name of Ed Farhat. A true hardcore pioneer, he held the Detroit promotion in his grasp and terrorized the roster and the fans for decades. Until then, this is the Luce Cannon, signing off.