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Wrestling's Historiography

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So I wrote this after I got done with work at two in the morning so be nice.

 

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But the fact is no matter how great the match with Smith at Wembley Stadium or at the In Your House in Hershey were or the Wrestlemania match and SummerSlam matches with Owen were or the SummerSlam match with Hennig or the Survivor Series match with Michaels or any of the rest of his legacy, and Vince McMahon's legacy; the defining moment of both a Hall of Fame wrestler and the man who for a decade was the prominent promoter in the industry will be the moment that the world realized right in front of their eyes with no apologies and with no turning back to rewrite history just how truly deceitful to the core this business can be and just how much 14 years of being one of the great performers in the history of the industry truly meant on the inside to the company that benefited from it.

 

Years back when Vince first bought WCW, a simple question was asked: What happens when Vince is the holder of history? History has always been written by those in charge of it, whether they are nationalists, communists, republican or democrats (whether they were one or more of those); those in power will advocate a history that benefits them the most. Such are the stories of Andres Bonifacio, George Washington and the Black Sea Mutiny (in both Russian and Vietnamese literature). So how would Vince handle things?

 

Over the last few years, we’ve seen how Vince has handled things. We’ve seen how with limited leverage over history, he’s painted Bret Hart and Montreal and how he has reminisced about bringing wrestling out of the back alleys. We’ve seen with much more power how he’s authored a history of the Ultimate Warrior, and was planning a burial of Bret Hart. And then there’s the fact that he has bought up the libraries of many of his competitors and contemporaries. Vince wants to write not only his place in the history books, but he wants to write everyone else’s place as well. And Bret Hart just wants his little piece of the pie too.

 

So the big two questions that always gets asked when writing historiography is who is owns the history, and what is at stake. The two people fighting over the history are obviously Bret and Vince (and by proxy, Shawn, as his involvement and duplicity is a whole different issue). So then, what are they fighting over?

 

Bret’s obviously fighting over his own legacy, but the only way we can understand that is by looking at what Vince is fighting over. How does Vince’s battle with rewriting history affect Bret? The one situation that seems to always poke its head is Montreal. We know how Vince buried Bret after he left; how he buried his family; how he tried to spin things to make it look like Bret was going to hold the company hostage; that Bret wasn’t willing to do a time-honored tradition; and that at the end of the day, Vincent K. McMahon stood up to that bully, that he showed him who was boss, and that he showed him that no one was bigger than the business. And Vince does this because his pride is at stake, because he can’t afford to lose face, and because he can’t let it be known publicly that a shrewd negotiator within his legal rights could show up the genius himself. Like many of the themes in wrestling, Vince has to be in control. The rehashes all point toward the same direction; namely, that Vince needs to prove that he is in control (“Ring the bell”) as much as he has to prove that no one can do this too him, even a loyal veteran like Hart. And in doing so, Vince is linking Bret Hart’s career to a single moment.

 

On the other hand, Bret has different motivations. Bret had always felt that he was an artist, plain and simple. Maybe he’s a mark for thinking that (and maybe we’re all marks for thinking that there’s more to wrestling than two half-naked guys hitting each other to get a crowd to pop). But like any artist, Bret takes pride in his artwork. Fourteen years worth of that working under Vince McMahon. And when the situation presents itself where Vince is going to sing the same old song, only trotting out a different chorus, Bret doesn’t want his art to be smeared. He doesn’t want the lasting image of his career to be a deceitful stunt, but rather what he always intended to leave. That’s the reason he works on the project and leaves out the match; why he demands that Shawn not be present for his final moment. He doesn’t want it tainted by something that makes him sick. Maybe he has reached some sort of higher plain with Vince, but I doubt that’s true either; he probably sees Vince as a means to an end, and something he could justify. If Vince hadn’t put down the DVD project on the table, and filmed those interviews, Bret wouldn’t be here, because Vince isn’t trying to define his history. Bret has a chance to rewrite everything, end it on a different note, and change the perspective; given that leverage, no matter how many times Vince and Shawn play things out or act out their therapy (circle jerk) sessions live, Bret will have put down his stamp.

 

So then, we come back to the question of who owns this history. Bret hardly owns it, but Vince no longer has a firm grasp either. I’d like to think that it’s the fans, that at the end of the day they can absorb all the information and synthesize it and come to a decent conclusion. But yet this topic, like many of the nationalist debates in history, is far too polarizing to reach a suitable conclusion, and even level-headed conclusions are often lambasted by at least one of the sides. Maybe we don’t realize that there are histories of entire territories that have yet to be written or copied onto DVD, yet Vince is buying them and holding them hostage. Like Bret, Vince has a legacy to leave, only he sees his legacy and pro-wrestling’s legacy as one-and-the-same. So if Vince would go so far as to rewrite Bret’s legacy, how far will he go to write his own? And what will be left in the wake?

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I think Vince will and is trying to make everything lead up to the WWE. That the WWE was the ultimate end, the highest plane, the top of the ladder. The stuff that other wrestlers did in other promotions was just to lead to them getting to the WWE. That the other promotions were stepping stones. Because those other promotions were wrestling, but the WWE is more than that and Vince McMahon made it more than that. The WWE was and is entertainment, the big show, the bright lights, the rock and roll and attitude and the stars and celebs and would never lower itself to be wrestling. Because at the end of the day, Vince McMahon does not want to be a wrestling promoter, he wants to be a multi-media mogul who took this small lil promotion from his father and blew it up into a world wide spectacle.

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I think Vince will and is trying to make everything lead up to the WWE. That the WWE was the ultimate end, the highest plane, the top of the ladder. The stuff that other wrestlers did in other promotions was just to lead to them getting to the WWE. That the other promotions were stepping stones. Because those other promotions were wrestling, but the WWE is more than that and Vince McMahon made it more than that. The WWE was and is entertainment, the big show, the bright lights, the rock and roll and attitude and the stars and celebs and would never lower itself to be wrestling. Because at the end of the day, Vince McMahon does not want to be a wrestling promoter, he wants to be a multi-media mogul who took this small lil promotion from his father and blew it up into a world wide spectacle.

 

I definately don't doubt that all that is part of the history Vince is trying to project. History is often about public perception and no matter how many scholarly articles you can research for and publish, you have to convince people that what you're seeing is not the truth, but rather plausible; and Vince has convinced people over time that he is some sort of benevloent leader of the prowrestling promotion, that no one can cross him and survive, and that the whole business is better off because of him.

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I think it's not even that the business is better because of him, it's more like, he's better than the business.

 

I think it's actually more of a "I am pro-wrestling mentality", in that both the business is better because of him, but also he is better than the business and can transcend (and boy has he had trouble with the latter). I think that's why this is eventually a historical argument, because Vince's history is (in his opinion) so intricately woven into a story of pro-wrestling that starts and end with him, and where all of the central characters suceed (Hogan, Austin) or fail (Bret) because of him. It'd be interesting to see how history treats him if he dies tomorrow because he feels he constantly has to remind people just what his role in that history is.

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Watching the HOF deal, I laufed when the announcer -during the Mene Gene package- called the WWE a "cross-cultural phenomenon". I am not denying that the WWE has appealed to different cultures, but.... jesus christ, that sounds so pretentious and ridiculous, and indicative of how Vince is trying to shape his image.

 

And it's funny because Vince is kinda like the Christian/Conservative/Republicans, in trying to have it both ways, in regards to presenting himself as the underdog but really isn't. Vince is the underdog who is oppressed by big media while being the mega-giant-god of sports entertainment at the same time. And he uses both sides so conveniently. And people actually buy it too, which is the worst thing about it.

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