Friday, May 30, 2008

Changing the Face of the Game

If someone had told me 1 year ago that the most hated person in the WWE would be Vickie Guerrero, I would've called them a liar. And yet here we are and no one pulls as much reaction out of an audience as this woman. For better or worse, the seemingly sweetest woman in the world has become the front runner for villainy on Smackdown. Absolutely priceless.

These thoughts on the character of Vickie Guerrero stem from recently reading one of Lance Storm's blogs. As most people know who follow wrestling online, Lance Storm is very vocal about the business in terms of where it's been and where it's going. In his blog he rages against the decision made by the WWE to drop the curtain so to speak and unveil what everyone already knew. Wrestling is a planned stage show, with sets, scripts and storylines. I've been very vocal about how astute I believe the move the WWE took was. After all they had truly backed themselves into a corner. There was only one way to go.

All in all, I was relatively unmoved by Storm's rant. This was just a guy that was nostalgic for the old days and needed to express it in some way. That I completely understand. There are a lot things I miss about the heyday of wrestling as well. But in his ranting he stumbled across something that he knew nothing about and I was instantly enraged over.

I had the great honor and pleasure of growing up watching World Class Championship Wrestling based in the now defunct Sportatorium in Dallas Texas. I saw all the greats live every Saturday night for years during my very impressionable formative years. After the first time I attended at the tender age of 8 and my mother noticed how upset it made me because I thought people were getting hurt, she immediately told me the truth. It's not real, they aren't really hurting each other, it's like what you and your brother do. They are playing.

Being a naturally inquisitive child I asked why did everyone get upset? She told me, they were playing too, we're all part of the show. This is how we show that we appreciate them. My mother was well informed due to being on speaking terms with Iceman King Parsons, the benefactor of our weekly tickets. The true issue is that during Lance Storm's blog he cites the manic and almost vividly violent reaction of the crowd during the slow extinction of Dallas based wrestling. In his blog he claims that the reason why this was so extreme is due to the fans not being aware that it was not 'real'. And thus late generations have lost the magic that could be had in this type of environment.

The comments are not only offensive but condescending. When live tapings ended, fans were still usually fired up and wired because they had been part of the show. There were a few instances when accidents happened and everyone knew that an injury or angle was real. The energy was completely different. Subdued and respectful.The wrestling community was very close knit in Dallas, half the crowd had grown up with the performers and the other half had met enough of the guys on the street to make this venue worth their time. Everybody knew that it was a show, and they did what good fans do, they played along to the caliber that the performers performed. The reason why the shows were so amazing had nothing to do with suspension of reality and everything to do with the fact that most audience members actually cared about the performers and wanted to see them do well. They knew how wonderful it made them feel to have the people there helping to suspend their own reality. This caused things to feed off of each other.

It was customary for a guy to get done with a match and go to his section and hug everyone that had come to support him. His elementary school teachers, next door neighbors, parents of his friends and neighbors. Truly it was a family affair. This was an extension of your family because of the community and how much of it was fostered and built by the performers themselves. The biggest seller of tickets for the Sportatorium was word of mouth. Only when the wrestlers became too big to actually pound the pavement anymore did it start to die. Our sense of family and the good 'ole boy' network was effectively torn down because we didn't know these people anymore. It wasn't the loss of the lie; it was the loss of the people, of sincerity and the loss of community.

When a guy was being a heel you hated him for it, because you knew what an awesome guy he was or was not. The wrestlers participated in the community. My mother met Iceman King Parsons because she sold him a refrigerator. I knew the church the Von Erichs went to, can name each brother to this day. The Freebirds frequented the same bars and clubs. You didn't have to stage meet and greets, the guys were with you, in your communities, your grocery stores, your gas stations. They lived among the people humbly and asked that you come and watch them do what they loved to do. If wrestling is missing anything at this stage of the game it is this sense of community loyalty that is only captured now at the independent circuit levels.

But it’s this idea that leads me back to the emergence of Vickie Guerrero. She isn't hated because she's that good with a mic or is that vile. She's hated because we all know this woman. This is the love of Eddie Guerrero’s life. This is the woman that stood by him during his treacherous path and ultimate resurrection. This is the same woman that fought along side him, without him, to keep their home and raise their children. And she had enough gumption to chuck in with the big dogs to preserve her life and provide for her family in his absence. She holds in her all we would hope to have in this world. And for the sake of the story is pissing it all away on an opportunistic gigolo. The only response suitable for such a woman is uproarious, thunderous deafening booing. It truly pays her the ultimate amount of respect. The use of the family connections of her nephew-in-law Chavo and the addition of adopted family members pulls us all in because we think we know these people. This premise has been driving the paparazzi in Hollywood for years.

Human beings have to feel connected to something to respond to it emotionally. Our media monster has pulled our strings and manipulated us to the degree that it takes so much more in this day and age to get the average person's goat. In general we are much more informed and better educated than a lot of our political and social structures would like to admit. In this case, Professional Wrestling is no different. To some degree the fans are still being treated like backwood rednecks that can't multiple. The truth is, from my perspective, the fans never were. I knew kind, compassionate, caring people who could tell you things about life that couldn't be learned out of a book.

Today, the fan base is varied, the education levels, the skill levels, the social levels. But they share the commonality that for whatever reason, they care about this sport and these people. Ratings drop because people stop caring as some wrestling brands try and blur the lines, bringing back the lie like in the Shawn Michaels-Batista situation. It’s degrading and insulting. And honestly the seasoned wrestling fan thought that we had all gotten over that. The lie was false and hanging on by a thin thread when WWE took their step years ago. It is not what needs to be recaptured. What should be recaptured are the people that can make their audience care. That is where the magic lies, not in a lie.

Professional wrestling has not lost its magic, what it lacks now are magicians.