Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lather, Rinse, Retort #1: Let's Not Mistake WWE For Wrestling...

(A writer who writes more than he or she reads is called “a hack.”

My multi-thousand-dollar collegiate journalism education taught me nothing useful, if not that indelible truth. Reading great writing instills the qualities that make great writing great. Reading poor writing conversely reminds one gently, “Please, don’t be this guy.”

Dialogue has to start with somebody reading, hearing or seeing something somewhere. For that information intake to become a dialogue, somebody at some point must discuss information that’s presented and present a viewpoint. That’s the early strains of conversation, in which information flows one way, and feedback flows back the opposite way.

That’s sort of what I’m going for here. That conversation isn’t always the most intelligent discourse. Read YouTube comments sometime. That “conversation” alone convinces me that English will one day be a dead language. But at the very least, I can some expressed opinions I find here on these Interwebz, and maybe generate some talking points of my own. Keep in mind, I’m an ex-journalist, so expect what I sometimes write to center on the responsibility – or I warn you, more commonly, the lack thereof – exhibited by journalists and the blogosphere.

Because I assure you, they are not the same thing.)

I read about this originally via 411mania.com, who re-posted a rare accurate article synopsis from the original TVweek.com posting. Believe me, the more of these I write, the more you’ll see how much I hold myself back from week after week from simply defaulting to attacking 411mania’s columnists.

It seems TVWeek.com received a cease-and-desist bitch-slap from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) publicist Kellie Baldyga for calling a spade a spade, and having the audacity to juxtapose “World Wrestling Entertainment” and “professional wrestling” within scant sentences of one another.

Writer Chuck Ross had written a brief piece announcing – per official WWE press release – that none other than Drew Carey would be inducted April 2 into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Spelled out, that would be the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. It’s honor roll consists vastly of professional wrestlers, professional wrestling promoters and announcers who lent play-by-play and color commentary to professional wrestling matches. Even its “Celebrity Wing” members – so far including Pete Rose, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, William Shatner, Bob Uecker and soon Carey – have all created memorable moments associated with professional wrestling events.

For those that don’t already realize that significance, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony has become a showpiece tradition among the company’s festivities during it’s single biggest annual weekend: the Saturday night before Wrestlemania. See, ring announcer Howard Finkel first suggested the name because when the first event was born 27 years ago, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and some orange fellow calling himself Hulk Hogan partnered with MTV in a campaign both parties dubbed “Rock and Wrestling” that spread professional wrestling’s popularity to a magnitude Finkel likened to Beatle-mania.

Hence, the then-World Wrestling Federation birthed an event celebrating professional wrestling nationwide . . . “Wrestlemania.”

But boy-howdy-doody-tutti-frutti, did Ross say exactly the wrong thing about Carey’s Hall-of-Fame credentials! I’m sure that the classic tease-don’t-tell headline initially looked great – the kind that evokes a “Tell me more!” curiosity that keeps eyes panning down, down, down the text.

Sometimes, such a headline only takes combining just the right odd-but-true elements, such as “Drew Carey Inducted Into Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. Huh? Drew Carey??!!”

In his finest hour, Ross made his gravest error. The fool – the clever, clever fool! – in his tangled web of deceit to incite wonder by associating a famed and successful actor and comedian with brief past professional-wrestling exploits over-generalized that a Hall of Fame established by a company whose full, proper name included the noun “wrestling” would indeed be a pro-wrestling hall of fame.

Believer us, Drew: everything about this situation makes about as much sense to us as it apparently does to you.

But Ross then hit bottom and began digging. His brief article detailed, per the press release, that it was indeed the WWE Hall of Fame that would induct Carey. What came next must have seemed so logical once: explain why World Wrestling Entertainment would honor Carey. Well, few may realize this, but Carey and wrestl- . . . *Ahem* McMahons, pardon my impertinence . . . “WWE Superstar” Kane once engaged in a little schtick inside a ring during a professional wrestling match called the WWE (mind, that’s World Wrestling Entertainment . . .) Royal Rumble.

The backlash didn’t keep Ross or TVWeek.com owner Rance Crain waiting. Ross claimed that both quickly received Baldyga’s email “demanding” that Ross make a crucial correction.
"We are no longer a wrestling company but rather a global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more,” Ross quoted from the e-mail in a March 18 piece on the site.

Ross then quoted this snippet from a follow-up conversation with the yappy little lapdog, after Ross referred to the 2001 Royal Rumble as a “wrestling” event. Please, every deity in Heaven, Paradise, Nirvana and the Farplane, let this be accurate because it is among the funniest things I’ve ever read.

“No, we don't do wrestling events. They're entertainments. And we don’t call them wrestlers. They’re Superstars and Divas,” Baldyga allegedly said.

(NOTE: I capitalized “Superstars” and “Divas” because for Zombie-Jesus-Only-Knows what reason, World Wrestling Entertainment constantly does. I have about the patience for this that Ross does.)


But of course, I see the point. Of course it isn’t a wrestling company. It’s an “entertainment” company – an entertainment company that the general public and more importantly the company’s core fan-base, customers and source of revenue associates with its two weekly two-hour television programs, 12 annual pay-per-view events (including one clearly dubbed “Wrestlemania,” so as not to confuse anyone) and one web-exclusive series featuring action and activities that many mistakenly confuse with professional wrestling.

Yeah, we really want to think before calling what this guy does "professional wrestling" . . .

(Reading that again, “mistakenly confused with professional wrestling” sometimes rings true on so many more levels . . .)

But I won’t sell short the movie studio! No, not the movie studio – the very same movie studio bearing the name “WWE (remember, that’s World Wrestling Entertainment) Films” and prominently features performers that coincidentally engage weekly in that thing that everyone keeps mistakenly deeming “professional wrestling.”

Nor the merchandising – which includes replica rings in which performers do that thing which looks like that “W” word I’m not supposed to use, action figures bearing the likenesses of the not-wrestlers that people recognize because they’re on TV every week doing that not-wrestling thing.

But the magazines! I won’t besmirch the magazines, either – you know, the ones that tie in with the not-wrestling that takes place weekly on national cable and network television inside the not-wrestling ring.

Because doing that would be a disgrace and an insult to what so many performers gave their health – and, in some instances, ultimately their lives – to do: perform what I’m sure Owen Hart and Chris Benoit in their time on Earth proudly called “entertainments.

I won’t go into all that. Instead, I will stick to head-butting my monitor hoping that concussing myself repeatedly until I think two-plus-two equals “Jello” will put me into something close to Baldyga's mindset wherein this resembles logic.

First and foremost, I commend Ross simply for not personally flying to Stamford, Conn. to bitch-slap this nitwit for “demanding” that he do a damn thing. We’re a free press. As long as what’s printed or aired can be conclusively proven to be factually correct, the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes precious few mechanisms for forcing the media to do a single solitary damn thing. “We think your accurate description conflicts with our delusional, flimsy public-relations line” doesn’t rank among the grievous exceptions to the Court’s standard that a free press is among the most sacred, vital liberties – especially not when World Wrestling Entertainment couldn’t possibly prove any actual malice if they’d tried, let alone any damage incurred.

More to the point, every single additional revenue stream Baldyga rattled off flows forth from the intellectual properties made recognizable by a product that could loosely be defined as “professional wrestling.” I could start a baseball league in which teams play games by rules universally established and recognized as “baseball.” Just because I sell concessions between innings, doesn’t mean I can rationally jump down the throat of anybody who calls it “baseball” and insist that what the people playing the game are doing is actually called “nachos.”

Good Lord, even when McMahon made an ill-advised pass at creating a football league, he tapped ex-professional wrestler Jesse Ventura to join the announce team. When he started the equally stupid and equally ill-fated World Bodybuilding Federation, he advertised it most prominently during World Wrestling Federation events. No enterprise even remotely near the World Wrestling Entertainment umbrella lacks a tie to that thing so many people call “professional wrestling”!

You can’t undo what you’ve done. If I carved a Mount Rushmore of the four faces responsible with anybody making a living in professional wrestling today, it would be composed of Gorgeous George, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon. Of those four, Gorgeous George (a man history credits with not only igniting wrestling’s first popularity boom, but doing so through the advent of television) died decades before he could ever witness Hogan’s staggering surge to becoming a pop-culture icon bigger than just the wrestling business; Hogan’s years as a wrestler have left him with replaced hips and knees and persistent, chronic back pain; Austin in many people’s minds eclipsed even Hogan’s success and drawing power, but broke his neck and lost multiple marriages doing so.
McMahon? He’s a billionaire living in denial of where those billions came from.

You run a successful wrestling company, Vince. Trust us, we thank you for it.

Now quit treating us like idiots.

I'm Sleepless Colin, and you're not.

To Chuck Ross' TVWeek.com account of this whole stupid mess: