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ET CETERA - Vengeance is mine
by Jay Spree on 2002-07-18

[WARNING: Rambling columnist at work. This one’s a little all over the place, I’m afraid. “Phoning it in”, I believe it’s called…]

There’s a PPV this Sunday, and I won’t be buying it.

I don’t think it’s gone undetected by anyone, but the WWF is a complete mess right now, and while I’m perfectly happy to watch the promotion self-destruct on free TV, I’m buggered if I’m going to pay for the privilege. Of course, my not paying also has to do with my grassroots rebellion against the Murdoch Empire, but that’s another matter.

Loathe as I am to talk about Eric Bischoff, on a week like this it’s kind of hard not to. Okay then, here’s my spot-on appraisal of the situation: IT FUCKING BLOWS. Vince is a very, VERY desperate man. The nWo, Hulkamania, the brand extension, Vince Russo, Eric Bischoff – notice a pattern here? I notice two. Each of these ideas/recruitments lasted all of a week or two before they became nothing but miserable failures not drawing a damn.

In his 1Wrestling interview, Russo stated that, aside from the writing, it was the in-ring product that was hurting the company most of all. He talked about clotheslines missing by five feet and his kids laughing at moves, and said that the work generally sucks in the WWF. Firstly, WHO THE FUCK is Vince Russo to judge workrate? This is the guy who proclaimed his disinterest in “Mexican jumping beans” like Rey Rey. This is the guy who pushes Ernest Miller – surely one of the top five workers in North America – to the fucking moon. He also criticised the agents for booking matches and finishes from ten years ago. Again, I’ll ask WHO THE FUCK is Vince Russo – the man for whom no match is complete without a box or a pole – to criticise the booking of a wrestling match? This is the guy who put the WORLD TITLE on David Arquette.

Now, before moving on, I want to talk about Arquette, since I never really covered it when it happened (aside from saying what a fucking joke it was). Russo made a very good point in his interview that the IDEA of David Arquette wasn’t actually his, and that nobody ever mentions that the reason for doing it was to achieve some mainstream publicity, which they actually got in the form of a USA Today piece.

Okay, let’s start with the “it wasn’t my idea thing”. I could try and be all clever and pop-referencey by saying “Who’s more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?”, but then I’ve probably misquoted it and besides I really hate pop references. The basic principle is simple: Fucking Stupid Guy 1 makes a fucking stupid suggestion. Fucking Stupid Guy 2 says “hey, that’s fucking stupid, but whatever, let’s go with it,” and carries out stupid fucking suggestion. However, to then try to counter criticism that he is fucking stupid, Stupid Guy 2 is mistaken if he thinks that the fact that the fucking stupid suggestion wasn’t his means a) that he is not fucking stupid, and b) it is not his responsibility to clean up the shit afterwards. The bottom line is, Russo said yes and made it happen. The fact that the idea wasn’t his makes no odds –it was a fucking stupid idea, and he was fucking stupid for following it through.

Now, about the media exposure bullshit that he seems to think none of us noticed… well, sorry, we didn’t notice. HE’S DAVID FUCKING ARQUETTE. Who the fuck cares about David Arquette? He brings up that they got to shoot a vignette with Arquette, Courtney Cox and Kevin Costner FOR FREE. Jeez, with that motley assembly of no-name losers I’d be pissed off if they charged me a fee to appear at my birthday party. Cox will never amount to anything more than another series of Friends or more sequels to Scream, while Kevin Costner – holy Christ, if you think Kevin Costner is gonna give you any kind of midas touch, you’re sorely fucking mistaken. Yes, you may have got a little bit of juice in USA Today, but I’ll ask you – how many of your target audience even read USA Today? And of all the potential audience members who might have actually picked up that story and read it, how many would actually have been compelled to watch the product? I’ll tell you how many: WCW IS DEAD, that’s how many. Putting the strap on him was an absolute NO-WIN situation. Established fans will HATE it because it completely takes the piss out of something they love. Non-fans – well, they might not actively hate it, but the fact that it’s DAVID FUCKING ARQUETTE just makes a mockery out of the product. The reason most people don’t watch wrestling is because it’s “hokey and fake”. Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ralph Mueller maybe, but a skinny little fuckweed like Arquette? You may as well make a weekly TV show exposing all the secrets of the bus -- oh. WHO THE HELL IS DAVID ARQUETTE? Nobody knows. Nobody cares. The secret to involving celebrities in wrestling is to use big names that people know and recognise. Booking someone like him when the WWF uses Mike Tyson just makes the company look bush-league, and putting the frigging strap on him just makes it look completely pathetic. So well done getting that publicity, Vince. And when you did, almost nobody noticed, most that did didn’t care, and the few that did – US, the diehard wrestling fraternity that stick with the product through thick and thin – upped, fucked and left you right in the shit you gave us.

Well, that was a couple years’ worth of pent up aggression waiting to be vented. I guess all this started with Vince Russo saying that the in-ring product is the reason for the recent downturn in business. Suffice it to say, I don’t give a fuck what Vince Russo thinks, and in any case he’s wrong. While I will admit that WWE matches can be incredibly formulaic, and certainly most workers are totally being groomed to work the patented “WWF style”, I don’t believe that inherently makes the matches bad. Indeed, I don’t believe match quality has any bearing on wrestling’s popularity. NONE WHAT SO FUCKING EVER. The Hulkamania era (the first, real one) showcased some of the most appalling wrestling ever seen. I mean, did you ever WATCH those early eighties WWF shows? They were absolutely DIRE. I mean, RAW can be pretty awful when it wants to, but those old Wrestling Challenges were just terrible. Fuck what anyone says about golden eras and glory days – wrestling in the past has generally been very mediocre. And, while I’m sure purists like Scott Keith and Dave Scherer will argue that slow, plodding, 30-minute iron man matches were the truest expressions of what wrestling is, they will also freely admit that you have to watch them with a certain sort of mindset; I believe that a well-worked match from twenty-five years ago simply would not stand up in the eyes of today’s audience. However, a well-worked match today does not need to be watched with any sort of “oh, it’s really slow and shit because that was the STYLE back then, and rest holds meant stuff etc etc” mentality.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, workrate in the Hogan era. That was shit alright. But business? BOOMING, mate. Absolutely through the roof. BAD WRESTLING = GOOD BUSINESS? Hmm. Okay, let’s fast-forward a little to the Hart-Micheals era. Some of the best pure wrestling matches in history, with Shawn and Bret tearing shit up and carrying clowns and plumbers to four star matches. Yet business had absolutely bottomed out. GOOD WRESTLING = BAD BUSINESS? Looks like some Noo Yawwkah is talking out of his ass. Could it actually be that the in-ring product is generally self-moderating, and generally looks after itself? Hence, isn’t the in-ring product generally the one thing that everyone in the business actually DOES know about, and is thus actually consistently good-great, and really has very little to do with the popularity of the product? Sure it is. Wrestling fans – i.e., people who watch wrestling to see two guys pretend to hit each other, will ALWAYS watch, because there’s only so much they have access to. People who watch wrestling for entertainment – in spite of, not thanks to, the two guys pretending to hit each other – generally don’t give a fuck about good or bad matches. As long as there’s a couple of good bumps and highspots, they think a match is great. These casual fans are the ones that make the product super-successful or not, and the simple fact is that they tune in and out. People get bored – Christ, there are sitcoms that are works of pure genius, yet after only two or three seasons of twelve or twenty episodes, they get cancelled because people have had enough. That’s just ten hours – at the very most – of grade A material written by real writers, who are properly compensated, not burned out, and are not using the project simply as a stepping stone to something better (a “real” TV job). WWF writers churn out 150 hours of (original) programming every year, and these are B-rate Hollywood scribes working for a fraction of the pay and flat out almost every day of the year. Is it any wonder the creative end of the show sucks dick? No, but then again I’m not the one who’s responsible for making the shows good, so I’m not sure it’s a good enough excuse.

Hey, this all started somewhere, didn’t it? I was making some point… ahh yes, how Bischoff’s appearance won’t make a dick bit of difference to anything. And it’s not because of any stupid ass reason like “the in ring work is terrible and that’s making people stop watching”, because it’s not, and it isn’t. The fact is that the writing and storylines are what makes the product popular (or not) beyond the core fanbase. Booking angles from yesteryear – Hulkamania, the nWo – is something that momentarily intrigues casual fans, but ultimately they can see through these hollow exercises in trying to rehash old ideas. And booking for the smart audience – which is EXACTLY what they’re doing with Bischoff, since nobody but hardcore fans actually remember who the hell he is or what the hell he’s on about – alienates the very audience you are trying to capture in an attempt to cater to the very audience that never actually goes anywhere.

Hiring Vince Russo – believe it or not – may have been the closest thing they’ve had to a sensible idea. His last run with the company led to its most successful boom yet, and if nothing else, he can provide something fresh, something different, that all the different writers, bookers, and other creative teams that have come and gone since the peak of genius in 2000/1. It’s obvious that Gerwitz certainly, and maybe Heyman as well, are incapable of providing the solution. Perhaps it’s Stephanie’s overriding influence, I don’t know. But the fact is that they’re pulling 3.4s now – handing the reigns to Russo for a couple months really couldn’t hurt all that much.

But anyway, Bischoff = bad idea, Vengeance = LOW buyrate, Rock = new champion (well done WWE publishing), Jay = rambling web journalist who’s gone on long enough.

Jay Spree

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