Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Steve Austin Show Ep. 175

It's the Vince McMahon show recapped
Photo Credit: WWE.com
If you're new, here's the rundown: I listen to a handful of wrestling podcasts each week. Too many, probably, though certainly not all of them. In the interest of saving you time — in case you have the restraint to skip certain episodes — the plan is to give the bare bones of a given show and let you decide if it’s worth investing the time to hear the whole thing. There are better wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but these are the ones in my regular rotation that I feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If I can save other folks some time, I'm happy to do so.

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 175
Run Time: 1:31:11
Guest: Ted Fowler, Vince McMahon

Summary: The show opens with Stone Cold having a brief chat with his buddy Ted Fowler before he throws it to the audio from the Dec. 1 live interview he recorded with Vince McMahon on the WWE Network. In a wide-ranging conversation, they talk about the current batch of ascendant stars (and why they’re not yet ready to take over), the future of the WWE Network, CM Punk’s departure and recent remarks, Brock Lesnar and the end of The Streak, the Austin-McMahon on-screen rivalry, backstage politics and structure during and after the Attitude Era, McMahon’s relationship with his father and his own in-ring career.

Quote of the week: McMahon, on a key difference between WCW and WWF: “Anytime you have talent involved from a standpoint of controlling their own creative, ah man, you need someone to be able to sit back and help that talent develop and be able to say yes and no. It can’t be the talent saying, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ or, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ You have anarchy then. It’s no different than running any kind of business.”

Why you should listen: If you haven’t seen the video version of the interview, it’s definitely worth hearing the words from McMahon’s mouth instead of filtered through Twitter or blog posts. I can’t imagine anyone who listens to wrestling podcasts wanting to skip this one altogether.

Why you should skip it: If you watched the video version, there’s nothing to be gained here, unless you have a vested interest in the malfunctioning brakes on Ted Fowler’s Polaris. As with other button-pushing guests, if you come in with a strong anti-McMahon bias, this episode might push you to the brink.

Final thoughts: This is one of the most analyzed podcasts of the year, long before I’m weighing in. The video version is superior given the chance to see McMahon’s facial contortions when Austin brings up certain phrases or topics — you can hear him reacting, but the optics are unmatched. The audio-only show can be listened to at double speed, which is my preferred method.

McMahon, like Punk, is simply a fascinating figure, and I’d pay good money to hear them probed by a professional psychotherapist. Especially interesting is McMahon’s dual nature as an elitist executive who also still views himself as forever grounded in his trailer park childhood. Much like Punk, who is far too financially and creatively successful to still be fighting the inferiority complex his difficult youth thrust upon him, McMahon doesn’t fit cleanly into either world he claims to inhabit.

In his chat with Austin, McMahon is significantly less guarded than in many of his other media appearances. That has nothing to do with his disregard for kayfabe (while still clinging to insider jargon) and everything to do with his candor about things like his twisted sense of humor (as David Shoemaker noted, McMahon’s delight in recounting his joy at humiliating colleagues by pushing them into his pool tells us all we need to know about the way WWE casts its heroes) and repeated remarks that reveal a disconnect with the audience regarding which performers are ready to take a top spot.

Ultimately, this interview tells fans nothing about McMahon they didn’t already know — at best it crystallizes, in his own words, some folks’ worst fears about the CEO. Still, I consider it essential listening simply because it provides a richer context for the McMahon we think we know, though I highly recommend continuing to seek out the stories of those who know him well in hopes of getting a fuller picture. We’re never going to get a complete read on a guy as complex as McMahon, especially since he’s so adept at controlling access and message, but chipping away at the fa├žade helps deepen the understanding of the most successful promotion in an art that entertains millions of people.