The nepotism, backward logic, racist overtones, and power plays behind the World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE) downfall are exposed in this indictment of wrestling's first familythe McMahons.
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About the Author
James Guttman is a columnist for the "Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter" and the author of the weekly "JG's Raw Insanity"one of the Internet's most beloved and controversial weekly wrestling columns. He writes for London Publishing's family of magazines and has launched the wrestling website worldwrestlinginsanity.com. He lives in Plainview, New York.
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World Wrestling Insanity
The Decline and Fall of a Family Empire
By James Guttman, Michael Holmes
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2006 James Guttman
All rights reserved.
Looking for Fault in All the Wrong Places
There's an old adage when it comes to the world of professional wrestling: For those who enjoy it, no explanation is needed. For those who don't, no explanation will do.
The world of sports entertainment remains a mystery to those who choose to shun it. In many ways, it also remains a mystery to those who follow it. The intrigue behind wrestling is so complex that it's almost impossible to explain without going into detail. While someone who enjoys television sitcoms is someone who enjoys comedy or someone that watches action movies strays toward excitement, professional wrestling isn't so black and white. The industry as a whole wears many hats. It can appeal to those who like anything from comedy to drama, athleticism or romance and every other genre imaginable. For the most part, there's something for any taste within the confines of the squared circle. Chances are even if you've never watched a wrestling program in your life, there's something that's been done somewhere at some time that you would enjoy.
That's not to say that sports entertainment succeeds in each and every case. In fact, sometimes it falls flat on its face. In the last few years, it seems to constantly be falling on its face.
Why? Well, that's not so easy to blame on one thing. It's a cavalcade of errors that have all lead to the slow sinking of World Wrestling Entertainment's ship.
What's World Wrestling Entertainment? That's WWE. World Wrestling Entertainment? Still have no idea what I'm talking about? I'm talking about the WWF. It changed its name. Ohhhhhh. Now you get it.
Most people have no idea that it's no longer the World Wrestling Federation. A 2004 article in The Source magazine actually sported the huge headline, "Is Hip Hop the Next WWF?" It featured this headline two years after WWE had changed its name.
In a MTV news brief awhile later, pop singer and on-again off-again nutcase Mariah Carey repeated this headline, complete with the "WWF." It became apparent that this whole name change thing didn't take so well.
With the World Wildlife Fund forcing a name change, Vince McMahon had no choice but to alter his long-standing company's initials. When doing so, he adopted the phrase "WWE— Get the F Out." It was witty. Sadly, most of its audience took the advice and decided to do just that. They started to get the F out ... in droves.
So now that we know the name of the company we're talking about, let's talk about its problem. Is it nepotism? Is it ego? Is it lack of competition? Is it gremlins? What can we blame the rise and fall of World Wrestling Entertainment on? There's a ton of possibilities, many of which will be explored in the upcoming pages.
Before doing so, though, it's important to understand the excuses that WWE gives for its woes. It's also important to point out why those excuses don't hold any water. After all, you can't find something's real problem until you clear the air of fake reasons spun to keep people with egos from taking a fall.
It's always amazed me how WWE can spout off so many reasons for why its business is down. For some reason, it always gives the same answers when people complain about its product. There's a ton of phony reasons, and fans, eager to find an explanation as to why the industry they love doesn't excite them anymore, are lining up and taking numbers to buy the lies. Step right up. Let's hear 'em:
WWE Excuse: It's hard to come up with six hours of original television each week. No one else has to do this. Other shows do half an hour. We do six. Off our case, Pizzaface.
That's a classic World Wrestling Excuse. It has to do six hours of TV every week. The number ranges, but always hovers well above two. WWE tells us to be understanding. Filling that much time is tough. This, of course, begs one question.
Well, who the hell told you to do six hours of original television each week? What kind of backward mentality is that? I don't recall people petitioning for six hours of new wrestling programming each week, do you?
It's as if I decided to write a 200-page book every day for a year. I burn myself out in a big way trying to fill all the pages and come up with original material. Inevitably, I would hit creative pitfalls. It's natural. There's no possible way to write award-worthy material each time you sit at a keyboard, no matter who you are. That's understandable.
Yet, if people complained, I wouldn't turn around and scream, "Do you know how hard it is to come up with 200 pages of original work each day? Other writers don't have that luxury! They don't write that much! Just me!"
This would of course be followed up with, "Well, uh, why the hell do you do 200-pages of original work each day?"
The answer, of course, would be that I want to make more money. If I do 200-pages of writing a day, I have 200-pages a day of new stuff to sell. That's why WWE does so much television each week. They don't do it because someone passed a law mandating they produce more TV time than sitcoms and reality shows. They don't do it because they have such an abundance of creative thought that they need to get it out. They don't do it because they like you.
WWE does it because they want to sell us as much as they can. So they write as much as they can. Of course, they hit creative pitfalls. When they do, they lash out. You people are so demanding! Our stories aren't exciting, but that's because we're working overtime to fill paper so you buy more stuff! We could do less and make it more exciting, but then you won't give us as much money! That's why we're doing six hours each week! Do you people know how hard it is to provide six hours of filler so that we can sell more ad space? God, people want everything nowadays!
We should mention that this company, which complains about the frequency of the shows it has to script, emails out two company newsletters each week.
One, entitled Between the Sheets, consists of your regular old company stuff. It has a section that recognizes top employees as "WWE Champions" each week. It spotlights featured office workers and lists various info about the current on-air product. No big deal. It's what you'd expect.
The other is called The Weekly Buzz. This one includes information on competing television programs, business news and current hot products in their target demographic. Uh ... OK. Gotcha. It makes sense really. When scripting storylines about gay rape and necrophilia, it's important for the writing team to know what type of sneakers the young people are wearing.
Is there anything wrong with two weekly newsletters? No. I'm just saying that if you can't handle the workload with television writing each week, just cancel the newsletters. That's five less pages each week right there. Now you can focus on things like making sure your shows don't put me to sleep.
WWE Excuse: The business is cyclical. It goes in cycles. There's up cycles and down cycles. It happens every few years.
This is my least favorite excuse by World Wrestling Entertainment. The wrestling business apparently has these "cycles." During these time periods, fan interest can be either up or down. It's unavoidable. According to many buck-pushers in the industry, these cycles are as much a part of the wrestling business as the rings are.
It's a monster. The cyclical monster that devours our form of entertainment every few years cannot be stopped. It's relentless and won't stop no matter what you do. You shouldn't say its name three times. You shouldn't get it wet, and whatever you do, don't feed it after midnight.
It can last anywhere from 18 months to six years depending on how smart the person telling you about it wants to appear to be. It's the cycle. We're in a down cycle now. We'll be in an up cycle next week. Cycle. Cycle. Cycle.
Let's say all this is true. Wrestling goes through periods of exciting and non-exciting times. On the surface, this all makes sense ... well, kind of. If you look at the past twenty years, the "cycles" are off tremendously.
There was a big boom from 1984-1988. That lasted four years. Following that was about six years of "downtime." In 1996, things perked back up for about three and a half years. It's been downhill from there.
Seems cyclical, right? After all, business went up and then went down. How else do you explain it? How else can you possibly rationalize that an entertainment company, devoted to writing stories and promoting wrestling, can fall off the charts every few years?
Well, that's it. Right there. If wrestling were truly cyclical, vulnerable to Father Time's fickle finger of fate, all wrestling would look the same. You could pop in a videotape of WWE from 1999, its hottest period, and 1995, one of its lamest, and not see a difference. The show quality would be similar, and the only reason why one year would be better than the other is because of these "cycles." It would have nothing to do with the fact that 1999 featured some of the industry's greatest gimmicks and stories while 1995 featured such WWE-created characters as Xanta Klaus — the "Evil Santa," Barry Horowitz and King Mabel.
You can use cycles to explain a dip in revenue. You can point to cycles as the reason behind a drop in T-shirt sales or falls in ratings. You can't, however, use it to explain away your stale stories and poor company direction. It's a defeatist attitude from a company that prides itself on being anything but. If the industry really goes up and down on its own while Vince McMahon remains helpless, then why do we need him? Why do we need any office people in WWE? Fire everyone. Keep a handful of wrestlers and let everyone else go home. It doesn't matter anyway. Business will be up in a few years no matter what you do.
Ooma. Ooma. Aaaaahhhhhoooooommm. Long live the cycle monster. Amen.
WWE Excuse: It's the economy, stupid!
That's got to be it. Anytime you hear a wrestling critic bring up the downturn in business, those on the other side will scream and yell about the economy. It's hitting us all hard.
I might actually agree with this argument ... if WWE CEO Linda McMahon didn't already squash it. In April of 2001, McMahon was asked by Slam! Wrestling whether or not downturns in the economy would have an impact on wrestling popularity. When she was asked how it had affected the WWE so far and whether or not she expected it to be a problem she replied:
Haven't seen an impact yet. Don't know if we'll see one in the upcoming economy. Traditionally, when there is a slight downturn in the economy, entertainment revenues hold because it's not something you do every week. It's usually special, like our events would come to some areas only twice a year.... We think we are reasonably priced in the marketplace. It's something we play close attention to, particularly in markets that we frequent often, because you don't want to burn out the public. You always want them to feel they got great value for their dollar.
Man. That would have been a good argument too. They could have blamed the economy. I probably would have bought it. It sure sounded better than that cyclical thing. Too bad Lindy Mac killed it.
Even better than WWE's excuses for business problems is the way it deals with those who voice frustration and valid criticism over their product. World Wrestling Entertainment answers their critics unlike any other company in the world. How does it answer them? Simple. It disregards them. How does it disregard them? Well, with reasoning that's far more flawed than that used to come up with excuses. What do I mean? This is what I mean:
The Internet/dirt sheet writers only complain because that's what sells. If they weren't negative, no one would buy their newsletter/website.
This is a statement that remains a favorite of WWE kingpin Vince McMahon. In fact, it's something he's told his employees.
World Wrestling Entertainment holds something called "Ask the Chairman." It's considered a benefit of working for the McCompany. Each employee is allowed to submit anonymous questions to be answered directly by Vince. The questions and answers are videotaped, broadcast throughout the offices and kept on file for future reference. In the 2005 installment of The Vinnie Mac show, an employee asked about his feelings regarding website and newsletter reporters.
His answer was the same as you read above. He feels, and has always stated, that journalists are negative because that's what sells. They're just like supermarket tabloids ... only about wrestling.
Interesting analogy, guys. Wrong — but still interesting nonetheless.
You see, tabloid gossip is just that — tabloid gossip. The entire job of the National Enquirer or whatever is to delve into the scandalous private lives of stars. They don't exist to report on the on-air happenings of TV shows. They don't analyze the current TV trends or systematically break down each movie and television episode the stars make. They simply dish the ish on Joe and Mary Hollywood's private life. That's it. They save the real entertainment news for the other entertainment magazines. Their job is gossip.
Wrestling newsletters and websites have much more ground to cover than a tabloid. For starters, there's no wrestling newspaper or industry magazine to report timely "news." That job falls on the shoulders of the newsletters.
In fact, many times the personal lives of wrestlers and employees are kept personal while wrestling journalists turn their attention to analyzing storylines or crowd reaction. I myself have been told many things about many wrestlers that would be considered scandalous. I haven't reported it, because that's not why I'm here. I'm here to tell you how I feel about WWE's product. Good, bad, indifferent, it doesn't matter. I'm here to tell you the truth.
The fact of the matter is that we don't sell more when we complain. Why? Well, when business is down, so are we. You think more people are lining up to read people rant about how Triple H is hurting the industry than those that read about Steve Austin and The Rock revolutionizing it? Does it impress my friends more when I'm writing a book about wrestling at a low point than it does at a high point? No. In today's dilapidated wrestling landscape, do you honestly feel we're being negative to make more money off newsletters? Maybe people are being negative because the quality of the on-air product bites the big one.
Go back in time to 2000 and on any given Monday night there were 10, 12 million people watching wrestling between Nitro and Raw. Fast forward to 2005 and there's been 2½ million people watching. So where did 9½ million people go? They all didn't just get up and die. They turned the channel. — D'Lo Brown
WWE also tried to discredit the "dirtsheets" by claiming that their sources are "bitter employees with an ax to grind." Well, let me ask you, if a point is valid, does it make a difference if the source is bitter or not?
OK, another favorite sentiment is frequently echoed by Vince's son-in-law, "The Game," Triple H. It's this little gem:
Internet writers are a bunch of kids using their parents' computers. They comment on an industry they never competed in. Besides, Internet fans only make up a small percentage of the audience.
Wow. Wow. Wow. Let's tackle this bit-by-bit, shall we?
First of all, not all wrestling writers are kids using their parents' computers. But, let's pretend that they are, just for the sake of playing the game, let's say that a law was passed and you're not allowed to talk about wrestling online unless you're under the age of 15 and don't own your own laptop. Good? Good.
OK, well isn't WWE's target demographic young teenage males? Isn't that why I have to sit through half naked women having lingerie pillow fights? Isn't that why fans are encouraged to chant "slut" and "show me your puppies" at female wrestlers? Are these segments written for middle-aged men? No. Middle-aged men may join in, but it's written with a younger audience in mind. It's the same audience that Trips condemns for commenting on his wife's daddy's company.
If they are all 14-year-olds, shouldn't you listen to them? Shouldn't you hear what your fans have to say about your product? It's as if Martha Stewart said that her critics don't matter because they're just a bunch of housewives. No shit, Skeeter. That's your audience, baby.
She wouldn't say that, because she's not stupid. Triple H says it because ... well, you have to ask him.
As for the second half of his statement, that too is flawed. Apparently we can't judge the on-air product until we've created it. Saying that wrestling journalists need to compete is like saying that baseball writers need to play professional baseball. I can offer a more ridiculous example if you'd like. Here goes:
President Bush, how do you answer the critics that say you invaded Iraq without justifiable cause?
You know something, those journalists have never been president, have they? They never even ran for president! I'm the president. They have no right to comment on anything I do. Until they walk the campaign trail, kiss babies and work in the Oval Office, they can't say a damn thing.
Excerpted from World Wrestling Insanity by James Guttman, Michael Holmes. Copyright © 2006 James Guttman. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Looking for Fault in All the Wrong Places,
All Hail the Quad King,
Galoogore Comes to Greenwich,
To the Hunter Goes the Spoils,
How to Beat Up the New Guy,
Trust No One,
The Legend of Johnny Laryngitis,
Perverts, Racism and Other Funny Concepts,
Smart Marks Work the Kayfabed Babyfaced Heel Heat,
What I'm Trying to Say Is,
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