Thursday, 16 June 2011 15:42
Bully 1. A person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people.
Ironically, the departure of Mick Foley from TNA removed one of my most problematic aspects of my long promised piece about bullying: you just can’t talk about bullying in professional wrestling without mentioning TNA, and any time I mention TNA I get carried away with the insanity of it, and it was impossible to differentiate the attitudes of the company with the efforts of one man in that company who seems like a genuine and honorable human being.
I’ll be the first to admit that Mick Foley and I wouldn’t see eye to eye politically on most accounts, and I continue to struggle with his legacy in the world of professional wrestling.
In terms of wrestling, Foley is one of the kings of hardcore, which alone is troubling ten and fifteen years later. Foley’s daredevil style, especially in the form of taking abuse, doesn’t seem all that commendable. It’s hard to imagine how many head shots were inflicted on pro wrestlers in admiration, in flattery or in terms of ‘business’ because Mick took those eleven unprotected chair shots from The Rock way back in 1999 at the Royal Rumble.
But Foley is to be commended for his tireless efforts on many social causes.
The most notable of which is his activities on behalf of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: Foley’s ability to raise money, getting $10,000 donations from both his own company (at the time) and the WWE, plus tons of other donations and reportedly over $120,000 total, is more than just impressive.
RAINN helps those who suffer the worst aspects of bullying. While there’s no doubt murder is the furthest extreme of bullying and evil, bullying is all about the ongoing relationship and the wielding of power.
Foley was able to overcome the typical apathy as well as the mainstream perceptions that wrestling, wrestlers and wrestling fans are all about mindless violence. And unlike so many celebrity appeals for donations, Mick didn’t just bill his on-air time, or pretend that his voice was all that mattered, he participated with answering calls from victims, volunteered his time and services to secure more donations, and communicated his feelings on the matter tirelessly.
Unfortunately, the professional wrestling industry has, in many ways, transformed itself and moved away from the morality play that dominated the product for much of the era between the 1950’s and into the 1990’s.
There was a time when the Champion was truly the hero, played by the rules, inspired fans and was a role model. There was a time when cheating was frowned upon, violence was reciprocal and the most respected wrestlers were ones that played to the general audience in a way that was readily understandable.
But the industry exploded in the mainstream and then receded to a niche audience.
Let’s set aside the arguments and finger pointing (I can point to the actions and words and charisma of Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin if you want), and look at the psychologies that now are entrenched in the product:
There is no such thing as a babyface today. I would suggest that it’s because Creative these days doesn’t comprehend the psychology. Instead of an upstanding citizen, we see a the tweener dominated role as the one established by Stone Cold Steve Austin.
While Austin hitting his stunner on Vince McMahon was entertaining and understandable, now we just have to see him stun someone every time he appears. Michael Cole (before he deserved it), some guest star or even the newly crowned winner of Tough Enough, Andy Leavine.
Tweenery has done nothing but bully faces into oblivion.
I smiled when Kurt Angle debuted as a heel in his home town of Pittsburgh, and the fans “got it” and booed along, but despite some strange ironies in My Hometown Hero, it’s incredibly disturbing that an Olympic Gold Medalist simply must be a heel else the fans would utterly boo him as a hero.
That’s the world professional wrestling has evolved into, and again, I blame the fact that booking and creative and decision making are all based on whims and newly established traditions, instead of actual reaction from the fans.
The industry is decades removed from regular attendance and regular ticket buying as the indicator of success. Worse, we watch an industry where owners and creative decision makers balk at the fans reactions and insert their own guidance to what is marketable, no matter how profits follow.
To the owners, fans are merely weak, small, marks and should be told what to do.
That’s a bully, isn’t it?
And there isn’t any better examples of overbearing and cruelty than in the wrestling business.
In one company, everything is dictated by the look of the guy in the ring, not his or her talent. We can all name a half-dozen talented guys who got nowhere or will get nowhere because they were small, while dozens are currently employed for no other reason than their physical stature.
In the other company, decisions are made based on irrationality at best, but more often than not on friendships and cronyism. If you’re not in the clique, and no, I don’t mean that one from a dozen or so years ago, don’t bother trying.
Mick Foley ran into that buzzsaw.
Which is why I can only truly enjoy reading about TNA, and not watching it. There’s nothing more humorous than the latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s observation of the nonsense spouted in the ring about Mick Foley – lack of business sense? Lack of talent?
As Dave pointed out, they should have had Vinnie Ru in the ring to say he couldn’t book, for the trifecta.
The trifecta of the biggest bullies on the block, making fun of someone who has levels of class, dignity and humanity far above the people who run TNA. I’d call the company an embarrassment, but I’m not laughing at bullies who fail miserably. I’d point out that everything Hogan, Bischoff and Russo do is based on spite, cruelty and their own self-aggrandizement.
Bischoff has spent his time in power knocking smaller guys, even when those guys had already proven themselves to be talented, charismatic and well worth watching.
Hogan has spent his time in power making sure that guys who were more talented (well, that’s most, isn’t it) could not compete to his admittedly inhuman level of charisma.
Russo has written in his book how he just doesn’t respect the fans, and has proven that on every segment of his product that he’s more interested in insulting them than getting them to pay him money.
The WWE is not blameless, yet with Vince McMahon no longer an overbearing presence on TV, and some changes being made with new contenders, it’s a less easy target.
The domineering presence of the WWE has set a lot of the bullying into stone. There’s an underlying presence on almost every aspect of pro wrestling today that can be traced back to the TV character of Vince McMahon – the hyped up reality of what most people say he’s like in real life – that persists.
It used to be that bullies were eventually lead to their comeuppance, and heels only turned face after they proved themselves to be honorable people. Now, the most babyface person in the ring is almost invariably the one that gets the worst of it.
I’m confident such attitudes can be changed, but it takes creativity, persistence and consistency to do so, and none of that are realms of a bully, so it’s a huge catch-22.
In many ways, it’s good that professional wrestling fans are more passive these days, and not in the olden days when guys would get stabbed or assaulted because they played heels and got the better of the faces (at least for a time).
But the overall picture is one where the morality play (and I laugh sadly at the WWE’s control of wikipedia and attempts to call wrestlers heroes and villains when they are clearly not) is broken and inconsequential and the best examples are the worst examples, because while nobody seems to really cheat anymore, there’s almost no sense of right and wrong in storylines.
What’s troubling to me about the concept of bullying is that bullies only really exist in a world of apathy. When people are picked on, no matter for what reason, it’s those standing by and watching it happen that enable the aggression and handicap the victim.
Suggesting interference and not putting up with watching stuff happen is frowned upon, but it shouldn’t be impossible to come up with creative ways to do something, just like Mick Foley did with making a real impact in the world, and even in not succumbing to the overbearing interests that would make him a fool.