Tuesday, February 20, 2018

An Essay on Caring about the WWE Hall of Fame

If the Hall of Fame had objective merit, why is Jarrett in and Chyna not?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The announcement of Jeff Jarrett's induction into the WWE Hall of Fame had a side effect of people getting really adamant, defensive, jumpy even about who gets into the club. The discussion turns to who is worthy of being inducted, with people unleashing vitriol in attack of those they feel unworthy or in defense of those they feel deserve to be there. When you boil down worth or eligibility to its core, you'd find out the only thing that gets someone into the WWE Hall of Fame or keeps them out is the whim of an insane old man. Vince McMahon doesn't really give a flying shit about what titles you won, how much money you drew, or anything else but if he thinks you can net him a few extra tickets sold or another round of great publicity.

If his Hall of Fame had any semblance of objective criteria, would it have taken more than two decades to induct Bruno Sammartino? He was the company's bedrock for more than a decade, helping to establish it as a stalwart outside of the National Wrestling Alliance in the most populous market in the country. Would Johnny Rodz have been inducted at all despite being known primarily as enhancement talent? Besides, how does one go about creating a hall for pro wrestling that abides by any coherent objective guidelines? The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame tries its hardest, but when you get interpretations of workrate, drawing, etc. skewed by people who have biases and are influential, you get something like Big Daddy being gatekept out at the exhortation of Dave Meltzer, whose lack of contextual comprehension is legen, wait for it, dary. The funniest are the people online who think that somehow titles that are by and large given to wrestlers by promoters are the metric, which is even sillier given how many great wrestlers have never or hardly ever won titles, and how many times a promoter has tried jump-starting a worthless wrestler with a title reign.

The WWE Hall of Fame is littered with resumes of varying providence. IT contains draws like Sammartino and Hulk Hogan, and it also honors low-card guys like Rodz and the Bushwhackers. It has prolific Champions like Ric Flair, but it also has guys like Koko B. Ware and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who were as synonymous with titles as I am with the Mr. Olympia competition. Its history-making entrants are just as notable as the ceiling-breaking snubs, like Chyna. The only explanation for this pastiche of souls within the wrestling industry is that Vince McMahon or maybe a coalition that may have included people like his children, Paul Levesque, Kevin Dunn, Pat Patterson, or others who have been in and out of his inner circle. Which is to say, the WWE Hall of Fame is a completely arbitrary exercise.

Which isn't to say it's a worthless endeavor. To the wrestler or inductee, receiving the honor, getting to stand up on the stage (or the family standing up on stage in place of a posthumous inductee) and be lavished with praise can mean everything. In a business that chews people up and spits them out with little regard, and in nearly all cases, not enough pay in the least, getting that one last moment of adulation can be the thing that sustains a person professionally and personally into their twilight years (which is fucked up to say for someone young like Beth Phoenix, but still). In that respect, it's worth having around to let these people who literally kill themselves in the ring over a period of time have a memento.

But as an objective bargaining chip for arguments or whatever, the WWE Hall of Fame is mostly a worthless piece of evidence. You don't need to earn anything to get into it, and entry is capriciously given by one of the most notorious eccentrics and scumbags the business has ever known. The ceremony might be fun, and it means a lot to the inductees, but please don't pretend that an induction means anything when you go online to wage some kind of culture war.