Wherefore Art Thou, Smackdown?
I’ve been away, I know. But I got stories to tell!
by Raywat Deonandan
July 18, 2003
This column is a regular feature on 411mania.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission.
Wow, this is the longest I’ve been absent from this place. No real excuse this time…. but I’m going to try to give you one. A few months ago, I got a call from a reporter from USA Today who was doing a feature on premature deaths in wrestling; I was to be his “expert” contact. That went on for about a minute until I confessed that I’m just a shmo who writes for a website, and humbly forwarded him to “real experts” like Meltzer, Ryder and even Scott Keith. Still, the reporter and I traded phone calls for a few days as the article evolved. He managed to score interviews with Vince Russo (who apparently was very eager to talk) and Superstar Billy Graham, among others. I was going to suggest he speak to The Ultimate Warrior, who –as I’ve proclaimed in this column before– is an idiot. But the reporter earned my renewed respect when, upon reading some of Warrior’s website articles, declared, “this guy is nuts.”
Not sure if anything ever came of all the research the reporter was doing. Maybe it was buried when he was scooped by ESPN. (I think it was ESPN.) Probably a good thing, since I don’t think the general public can properly contextualize the world of wrestling without drawing upon their biases and preconceptions. Then again, the more I think about it, many of those biases and preconceptions are actually quite accurate.
Then this whole SARS thing happened. I’m an epidemiologist from Canada, so I watched that adventure unfold with something resembling singular attention. Most of my free writing time was thus dedicated to SARS-related articles and even a radio interview. CBC Newsworld –Canada’s version of CNN, for you American types– even called me for a live TV interview, but by the time they had it scheduled, the crisis was “off the front page,” so they scrubbed it. Bastards. And I got a haircut and everything.
So then I targeted my attention back to wrestling. And it was boring. I mean really boring. For the life of me, I could not generate anything resembling interest in our faux sport. Several weeks passed and Ultimo Dragon debuted on Smackdown. Finally, I had a reason to write a column! So I jotted down some paragraphs about my observations of the current WWE product, but got distracted by… oh, I dunno, let’s say howler monkeys. I got distracted by howler monkeys.
As a result, dear friends, today’s column will feature the finest in cover-my-ass writing. Some call it weak and unworthy, but I call it creative meta-script. Or is that an HTML feature? Whatever. Below are the seven snippets of observations I made during that particular Smackdown when Dragon made his debut, followed my comments on my own commentary:
Man, I got chills watching Ultimo Dragon’s debut. It’s been a while since WWE carried off a debut this well. I’m pleasantly surprised that, contrary to their usual policy, WWE has chosen to recognize the international accomplishments of their wrestlers. Imagine if Benoit had been given the same treatment for his debut.
Ultimo Dragon was the only reason I used to watch WCW back in the day. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before he’s teaming with Funaki, being squashed by A-Train and Big Show in curtain jerkers. In the mean time, I enjoyed the old school Japanese booking, having both Kidman and Rey-Rey at ringside. It felt like a Pride martial arts PPV, and that’s a good thing. My only complaint is that Dragon’s debut was not the main event.
A couple of weeks later, and where exactly is Ultimo Dragon? Last I saw, he was jobbed to Eddie Guerrero. So much for instant superstar.
I’m sure everyone else will be joking about Bradshaw’s new look, so I won’t bother. Snicker.
Wow, no one joked about Bradshaw’s new look. Come on, people! A shirtless cowboy with man-boobs and a $200 West Hollywood dye job? This stuff should write itself.
Roddy Piper is working out just fine. His ring work has been limited and well booked. He took the pin against Eddie Guerrero, thus protecting O’Haire. Piper was never a great technician, so his old fogey style is not so different from what he’s always done. In short, he’s serving his function well. And, to be honest, it’s nice to have someone on Smackdown! who knows how to work the mic, other than Vince and Angle.
Well, look at that. Piper is gone and my comment is obsolete.
Did you see that overly long NIKE basketball commercial, the one with pointless shots of sweaty bare-chested men? Is TNN the “network for men”, or just the network for GAY men?
Oops. It seems I was watching UPN, not TNN. Never mind.
Did you notice Vince refer to “Death” as “she”? Less circumspect psychologists might want to explore this snip with a mind toward explaining his clear mysogyny.
It’s true, he called Death “she.” What does this mean? It suggests to me that Vince perceives the feminine mystique as not only dangerous and alluring, but also evil. This is a serious thing. It explains his obsession with all things masculine and his insistence on reducing all his female employees to subservient sexual roles. There’s a thesis here for somebody.
This Mr. America thing is okay by me. I despise jingoism, but that’s not the point. Somehow, yet again, Hulk Hogan has found a way to extend his career another year or two. You gotta give him credit.
Well,look at that. Hogan is gone and my comment is obsolete.
Question: does the U.S. title really have any legacy left to it, now that it’s a new physical belt AND now that there’s a break with the original lineage? I know, wrestling is fake. But because it’s fake, this title lineage thing is important to maintaining some sense of importance to the titles. I’ve yet to feel it for either the U.S. or Intercontinental titles. Or the RAW title, for that matter.
This really concerns me (inasmuch as anything having to do with wrestling can really concern anyone). The belts are the only thing these characters are supposed to care about. Sure, they have pride and all that other superficial macho bullshit that cause the feuds, but the actual in-ring wrestling is supposed to be about eventually acquiring and defending a belt.
Here are the factors that maintain an aura of importance around a belt in a fictional sport:
- long title reigns by acceptable champions
- a traceable lineage of title holders
- having good wrestlers compete their hearts out for it
- physical demonstrations of respect for both the title and the belt
The US and Intercontinental titles have lost #2 and, because of the era in which we live, #1. There’s a truism that the lads on Live Audio Wrestling repeat often: wrestling is about having a strong chamption with an important title that everyone else wants. All feuds flow from that scenario, and all main event conflicts end with a challenge within that scenario. yet somehow, in the post-Invasion era, WWE has forgotten this basic kernal of wrestling storytelling. When was the last time wrestlers faced off in an emotional conflict just for want of a belt?
Okay, I’ve got to go pack. Get this: I’m heading to South America this weekend to do some consulting work…. but I don’t have the appropriate travel documents! Not sure how serious this is, but the next time you hear from (or about) me, I just might be in a Third World jail being traded for cigarettes by men named Pedro and Jorge. Ewww.
Um, upon re-reading today’s column, it seems that I made a lot of gay references. I just want to say that this is indicative of nothing! (Somewhere in the distance, several of Raywat’s more bitter ex-girlfriends mutter, “yeah right.”)
Until next time, I’m Raywat Deonandan, and I don’t swing that way.