This week on The Right Side of the Pond (TRSOTP), Maverick and I team up to pay a fresh visit to Room 101, as we discuss four of our biggest pet peeves in professional wrestling today and campaign to ‘banish’ them to Room 101, never to be remembered! We cover my loathing of irrelevant comedy segments and backstage politics influencing the product I buy from WWE, as well as Maverick’s irritation brought on by commentary clichés and WWE’s wilfully contemptuous treatment of history.
That lattermost pick of my friend’s sparks some interesting discussion points, a broad issue perhaps too nuanced to give proper justice to in a ten or fifteen minute conversation. It is a very important topic to broach though, and while the idea on tonight’s show is to provide a little in the way of irreverent therapy for us to offload our biggest gripes we should not underestimate the importance of WWE’s mishandling of historical truth.
People generally underestimate how vital it is to treat history with respect. Failure to do so is often a sign of an authoritarian edge, and provides a gateway to a horrifyingly Orwellian-like culture. That WWE continue their trend in strength of being the one entity in professional wrestling most obsessed with their past and the one entity that most catastrophically fails to learn from it is a worrying signifier of just this. Indeed, it is easy to question whether WWE’s presentation of their modern history is how it is because of sheer incompetence, or because of something more sinister.
Revisionism is a word that gets thrown around a lot but is often misunderstood. Revisionism is not, in and of itself, a terrible thing. Quite the opposite, it is necessary for healthy historical discussion. We should always seek to reappraise our understanding of the past and to build upon it by revisiting existing theories. Revisionism is a key component of exploring history. Unfortunately, it can very easily be put to the wrong use.
Not so much revisionists as they are negationists, then, WWE don’t just seek to revise their own past but often times work hard to ignore entire swathes of it. In a manner that crosses over with my own pet peeve of the backstage political climate in WWE impacting what I receive as the product I’m buying, WWE’s version of events is frequently defined simply by who is and who isn’t in favour with the higher-ups at any given time, what is or isn’t fashionable thinking among fans or what might or might not be considered politically correct.
When you consider that we now live in a world where an entire generation of maturing – if not outright mature – wrestling fans have only ever known John Cena as the top guy in the company, you realise just how dangerous WWE’s irresponsible handling of their history can be. You could forgive younger fans for not even knowing the name Goldberg before he returned to make some money with Brock Lesnar while promoting a video game, because WWE never mentioned him. So too could you forgive WWE-lifers, like myself, for thinking there was nothing positive to ever happen in WCW because of the winner’s narrative that has come to define the story of the Monday Night Wars.
These are just two very simple examples of WWE’s monopoly on pro wrestling history that becomes increasingly dangerous the more they show a resistance to presenting a responsibly honest view of their past successes and failures both, and the more they sit on their vast video library drip-feeding fans what they deem fit to in spite of the near-limitless platform now provided them by the WWE Network.
Further examples include the en-masse erasure of all-time great careers like Bret Hart or CM Punk that galls fans and unbalances fan-thinking about WWE’s key historical players, and the more worrying refusal to accept the role played in their company history by individuals who have since gone on to become, putting this mildly, figures of controversy – and, in at least one incredibly important case, significant change.
The Chris Benoit situation is the zenith of this issue. Every fan has their own opinion on whether or not Benoit’s in-ring accomplishments should be separated away from the inexcusably horrific events surrounding his and his family’s death or not, but from a purely dispassionate and historical perspective we have a responsibility to ensure that the delicate conversation surrounding his career and the way his life ended does not get silenced into non-existence.
This is not just because Chris Benoit had a role to play in influencing the direction the company took throughout the mid-2000s, in part setting the status quo for ‘thank you title runs,’ nor because he had a hand in helping shape the ever-progressing evolution of WWE’s predominant in-ring styles, but because the events of May 2007 have since heavily defined the company’s approach to talent wellness – from the monitoring of drug use through to the great cautions now taken surrounding physical health in the ring. Had the events of that awful weekend not occurred, and gone on to be coupled with later steroid scandals that same year, it’s difficult to know what kind of an attitude WWE would take towards issues of talent health today. How that then might come to impact such vital events of recent years – the early retirement of Edge; the sabbatical of Daniel Bryan; Paige’s career coming to an end etc. – is quite a revelatory consideration to make.
That is not a qualifying statement of any kind, but merely a demonstration of how we must recognise even the ugliest side of the past so that can we come to understand how we have gotten to where we are, and what mistakes to avoid as we move towards the future.
Moving away from this highly emotive specific issue and talking more broadly once again, WWE’s approach to representing their past is, to a degree, understandable. They are, after all, a business, and a business that seeks to make money. Owning up to past failures and controversial events attached to your publicly traded company’s image is probably not a good idea. Nonetheless, disregarding historical responsibility should not be done lightly, and that WWE seem to do it just so makes me believe that the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) truly does matter.
The IWC comes in for a lot of flack, and a lot of it is justified in truth. It is largely responsible for the decaying state of interest among fans in the part of pro wrestling that attracted all of us in the first place – not the politics or booking, but the stories, the characters. It is terrible for ‘armchair bookers’ too, and keyboard warriors who seem to believe they know how to wrestle a match better than those doing it for a profession. What the IWC never gets, though, is due credit for its role in ensuring WWE’s monopoly over yesteryear does not go unchecked.
Whether it’s tweeting out thoughts and memories about your past lives as a wrestling fan, whether it’s signing up to a forum like the one we have here at LOP to join some in-depth discussions with those of like mind and diverging view points, whether it’s running a podcast that delves into the stars and shows and defunct promotions of years gone by or whether it’s trying your hand at writing columns like this one, that the IWC exists means that, no matter how hard WWE might try, because of the platform afforded to anybody with an internet connection, healthy historical discourse about the professional wrestling industry remains. Better year, it thrives.
Ranging from the emotive discussion points like the Benoit Murder-Suicide to the divisive debates over moments like Montreal, the IWC enables us to continually revise our views of the past and, in doing, dilute WWE’s toxically misleading version of events. Is Shawn Michaels the greatest of all time? Did WCW fail because of certain individuals? Was the portrayal of women in WWE throughout the 2000s really what fans really wanted?
The IWC matters, folks, even if it’s just for the simple fact that it means there is a force of equal weight capable of contesting what WWE tells the world was the way things were. As someone who has dedicated a large portion of his life to the study of history, I cannot describe to you how important a thing that is. The IWC isn’t all good by any means. It might even be worse for wrestling than it could ever be beneficial for it. But it’s not all bad either, and in its ability to contest any recounting of the industry’ past it finds its most valuable contribution to that industry.
But you can hear more on all of this, as well as our other pet peeves, from Maverick and I in just a couple of hours on the next instalment of The Right Side of the Pond, airing only on Lords of Pain Radio to kick your weekend off right! The Right Side of the Pond airs only on LOP Radio every Friday night, 9pm BST / 5pm EST, or can be listened to on demand at any time via BlogTalkRadio or on iTunes, so be sure to check it out!
Until then, if you have any thoughts on the importance of the IWC’s role in pro wrestling today, or on WWE’s treatment and presentation of the past, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums, where TRSOTP and every other LOP Radio show has its very own discussion thread for you to throw some responses our way without the limitations of Twitter or Facebook; sub-forums full of threads rife for debate and discussion; and, of course, our Columns Forum, where you can try your hand at what so many of us at LOP have over the years and contribute to the IWC’s contestation of WWE’s history; just click here to sign up!