Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Race to Bitch Mountain - Why the Rock Should Stay in Wrestling's Past

Photo Credit: WWE.com

If thinking the Rock is full of shit is a fad, then guys, I have been ahead of that trend for years.

Nostalgia in wrestling is a funny thing. It’s why a lot of people are still around. It gives us hope that one day the show will get better, because it used to be great and can be again. But are we truly reminiscing about a time where there were great matches every night, or are we searching for the fleeting feeling of getting lost in a suspension of disbelief?

We all watch wrestling differently. Some watch with a critical eye, having memorized every title reign date, every variation of suplex, every obscure guy from periods of wrestling that maybe, perhaps, time should have forgotten. But even the driest, most analytical fan of wrestling got here somehow. Whether it was because you’re seven, and Yokozuna sitting on people was the both the height of comedy and terror, or because you loved a wrestler so much your mother had to lie about the ending of a pay per view so you wouldn’t be sad. We all came into with some kind of blind love and devotion. Any criticism, or smarkiness, if you will, had to be learned, molded, nurtured. It could have been because you wanted to know more, and learned so much that it’s no longer real to you. It could be because at some point, it became uncool to like wrestling – your friends growing up and into other things, the end of an era – so you sought out independent and obscure foreign promotions, because if no one else knows about them, they have to be cool, right?

As a little girl, I admit that I was not all that popular. One of my mother’s favourite stories involves me coming home, crying and angry, from my first day of kindergarten. As mom legend goes, I took off my shoes, threw my backpack as far as little Danielle could throw it, and proclaimed “I’m never going back! It’s full of babies! They can’t even read or tie their own shoes!” Needless to say, being more advanced in learning coupled with an exposure to pop culture that I probably shouldn’t have been (‘sup Alan Moore an R-rated movies) did not help me make friends easily. By the time the Attitude Era came around, I had already accepted that I was never going to fully blend in. I cared more about reading Nabokov and Vonnegut than going to boy-girl parties. It’s great that you’re really into boy bands! I’m going to go home and listen to Strangeways Here We Come and Pornography and get real mopey about stuff.

While you’d think that a gifted kid who didn’t like stuff other kids liked, and also had the burden of being a bit chubby, would be a splash in social situations, alas, not so much. I was pretty heavily bullied for most of my school days, but through every trial and tribulation of adolescence, a few things stuck with me: I will probably always see myself as being more overweight than I actually am, being smarter than someone makes them feel uncomfortable, and boys who loved the Attitude Era kept me from coming back to wrestling for longer than I should have allowed them to.

It’s great to look at things through the veil of nostalgia, because you can point to buy-rates, or ratings wars, or the hard to forget catchphrases of a period and say yeah, it should be like that again! What that same veil obscures, however, is blatant homophobia, exploitation and degradation of women, and more than a little racism that cut way deeper than “Tatanka’s not actually a native so he probably shouldn’t be wearing that war bonnet.” Nostalgia is the Martha Stewart Vaseline-smeared lens that makes the end result look perfect and pretty, because you didn’t see the intern burn themselves on a glue gun, or try and fail numerous times before getting that kitschy and crafty embellished throw pillow just kitschy and crafty enough to look professionally homemade.

What you also don’t see, and what they don’t mention on DVDs or video packages celebrating a company reaching its zenith socially and financially, is the trickle-down effect of how these attitudes affected the viewers. For some of those who still cling to their attitudinal glory days, it signaled a big shift in what they watched, and the accessibility of things that seemed taboo. A glimpse of sideboob or bikini line mixed with pubescent curiosity could turn into sexual nitroglycerin. So how illicit did it feel to see Sable parade around virtually topless, when the sexiest thing previously in wrestling was goddamn Miss Elizabeth? So if she's doing it, why aren't all girls?

Being a douche was cool. Didn’t like what a teacher or parent had to say? Why, just give them two middle fingers, refuse to do what they ask, and tell them that was the bottom line, because [little boy name] says so. Is there a special, pretty girl in your class? Why not chase her around and tell her you would love a taste of that poontang pie, even if you, at that point, probably have no earthly idea what cunnilingus actually entails? Someone has a snappy retort to you doing or saying any of these things? Obviously, chop your crotch and tell them to suck it, because that is the knockout punch of verbal sparring, and no one can come back to that.

Now, yesterday, Holzerman pointed out that according to the numbers, 35% of wrestling fans are female. I would challenge that the number is higher, if only based on the fact that I don’t remember being surveyed, nor any of my female friends who watch wrestling. I wonder, how many of that 35% lived through similar scenarios, feeling marginalized, and stuck around? How many ladies fought through feeling like they were watching something that wasn’t meant for them, but stuck with it anyways? Probably fewer than you’d think, but to those who did, I salute you for being a much stronger person than myself.

But now things are different, right? Women aren’t paraded around as pieces of flesh, right? They can hold positions of power and not be looked at as weak, insipid, overly emotional creatures, right? They’re in charge of their sexuality, and will never be judged for doing things that a man would be applauded for, right? They’re allowed to be smart and funny and talented, and project a heroic image to little girls everywhere who need a strong role model in popular culture? No one would insinuate that having a feminine attitude, or that any part of the female anatomy, is weak and worth being mocked. No one would dare ever drag the widower of a wrestling great, a former GM, and someone currently in a managerial position over a roster of wrestlers on the top televised wrestling show in the world, and tell her that she’s fat and dresses like a cheap prostitute, right?



So here we are again. The “Architect of an Era” is here to make you think about gender inequality and make you feel sad and stuff. And the “people” love it. People remember how great and cool and moved they were by a period of time The Rock was involved in, and immediately devolve into those 13 year old boys scandalized by him having an apoplectic fit and saying words that meant vagina. They are electrified, because he’s charming and successful and rode the wave of shitty gimmicks and catchphrases to being cool outside of wrestling, something some of us still struggle to do each day. He’s the kid who got a pool, the kid who got to go to coed sleepaway camp, the highschool quarterback. He’s everything you once thought was cool and better and successful. And now he’s back, and you’ll remember that feeling of how cool it once was to call someone a jabroni. So you’ll chant cookie puss and hashtag the shit out of everything, all while ignoring the fact that you probably looked like a jackass and made people feel really bad about themselves when you called them a jabroni, and that you wouldn’t dare tell your girlfriend or wife she looked bad in anything, let alone that she looks like a hooker you wouldn’t condescend to paying a fair wage to.

This exultation of The Rock and the thrill of a non-PG-13 television show makes people who didn’t grow up with it think that yeah, those must have been the best times in wrestling. Everyone knows who The Rock is! There are still Austin/John/Your Name Here 3:16 at every sporting event in American that you can think of. “Suck it!” is a totally cool comeback, even if it refers to a sexual act being put into a context wherein the person is performing it not out of passion or physical attraction, but out of forced debasement.

Now, is this really what you all want back? Now that you’re older, and (hopefully) wiser, are you really so desperate for the feeling of acceptance outside of a niche group of television viewers that you want The Rock back? Think about the last time you were at a WWE event. Do you think it’s perfectly acceptable for little girls in the audience to see that women in a position of power are only there to be derided? Is that going to inspire something great in them, or make them feel like their limitations in life start at their own gender? Are those little boys going to think a never give up attitude, respect, and loyalty are important values to hold on to, or is he going to look at all of the grown-ups and cool, older kids chanting and being a part of something, and go to school the next day and call one of those little girls a fat hooker cookiepuss? And why not? It made adults laugh and cheer, so why wouldn’t it be cool? Why wouldn’t it be perfectly acceptable to insult a boy by saying he’s just like a girl? That he has Twinkie tits? That he probably can’t see his penis, not because he’s fat, but because he doesn’t have one lol?

This is unacceptable. All of it is. If The Rock wanted to come back, he could have wrestled, he could have called someone out for saying dumb things, he could have pointed out that any of his movies made more money than the Marine or any of its sequels because he’s a real success, and makes real movies for real serious money. But no. We get someone who was never really a great wrestler relying on catchphrases and hashtags because there’s nothing of substance or intelligence to draw from.  Because some people just want to feel a part of something bigger than they are again, the rest of us are made to feel small and worthless one more time. It’s disappointing, and it’s demeaning to everyone. To women, to the LGBTQ community, and at the end of the day, it’s insulting to all wrestling fans. The top purveyor of the sport you love thinks you haven’t grown up, you never got a girlfriend, and you never got cool. It thinks you’re stupid and will lap up anything they put out there as long as it’s branded with someone you can feel nostalgic about.

So congratulations, Rock. You made me feel like a kid again. And for that you should be ashamed.