wrestling / Columns

Shining a Spotlight 11.08.12: Clinging to the Past

November 8, 2012 | Posted by Michael Weyer

The past has been on my mind this week. The announcement of Disney buying Lucasfilm has rocked the entertainment world and brought up how much Star Wars means to so many people as a new series of films is ready to be revealed. Sunset Boulevard was just released on Blu-Ray, letting you see a fascinating Meanwhile, WWE just released a new Blu-Ray on the NWO to remind fans of how huge a time in wrestling that was. And the number one movie is Wreck-It Ralph which mixes brilliant homages to the classic era of arcade games for older viewers. It brings up the past a lot, not just reminding us of how it was but how it’s perceived, which is often not the same thing.

Seeing the Past

History is written by the victors, as the old saying goes and that’s rather true. I’ve been to England and their views of such things as the Revolutionary War and World War II are rather different from ours. However, people often choose to see the past in different ways. Just look at this year’s campaign, Republicans talking of how the Regan and Bush years were glory days for the country and making Obama sound the worst President in history while Democrats often demonize Bush even more. People will look back at the 1950’s as a golden age of America, ignoring those tiny little things like McCarthyism and segregation. For all the talk on “Camelot,” JFK’s term was marked with scandal and bad stuff and many a historian has picked apart the myth that Vietnam would never have happened if he’d lived. We pick and choose memories a lot, it happens to us all. A great episode of The Twilight Zone has a selfish businessman agreeing to let the Devil send him back in time so he can have the fun of building his empire again. However, he realizes things like a rich woman he thought as beautiful was homely and buys land with oil under it only to realize the technology to get at the oil doesn’t exist. He goes to the Devil to complain about changing the past but she points out that this was all as it was, he just chose to remember it differently. It’s something that happens to a lot of people.

That includes clinging to the past a bit too much. Sunset Boulevard still stands up today as you can easily see Norma Desmond fitting in the reality TV age, the faded diva convinced she’s still a star. A great moment is when she shows her wild screenplay to William Holden, takes exception to a scene cutting from her and when he tells her the audience doesn’t want her in every single scene, she laughs “But of course they do! Why else would they have come?” It’s amazing watching this woman so enclosed by her loving butler into believing the public still wants her that she can’t accept the obvious, especially as she tries to cast herself as a young seductress. This leads to a line that can pertain to a lot of people out there, performers in both entertainment and wrestling: “There’s nothing tragic in being 50 unless you’re still acting like you’re 25!” It’s all too common, we hate to accept our age and that adds to painting the past as better than it was. The CBS series Vegas is fun, showing how the “glory days” of Sin City were just as dirty as today with the fun subtext of Michael Chiklis’ gangster realizing the mob can’t be run like old times but adapt to survive, which can speak to a lot of today’s world.

I’m going to Orlando next week and will be visiting Disney World for the first time in six years. A lot has changed and I know it’ll be different but looking forward to it. That’s more than a lot of Disney fans can say as there are numerous sites and blogs who insist that Disney has fallen far from their great times, especially with Epcot. It’s still my favorite park and I miss so much of its fun rides like Horizons and World of Motion. However, numerous sites moan and groan over Disney daring to change anything. I love those rides too but guess what, watch them on You Tube and you can see how dated and downright dull they can be. It’s a new generation, the instant message times already ahead of those visions of the future and folks at theme parks expect more thrills than they did in the ‘80’s. Too many times, talk on Disney is less excitement over what they can do and more “oh they’ll screw this up.”

That pertains to the purchase of Lucasfilm. I’ve made it clear that I don’t mind that there are lots of people out there who hate Episodes I—III, that’s perfectly their right. What I hate is this elitist mentality that you can’t be a “real” fan if you don’t loathe them with a passion. I’ve loved this series since I was two years old, books, action figures, the whole deal. So when someone sniffs that I’m a loser just because I don’t mind the newer films, that’s annoying as hell. Guess, what, there’s an entire generation out there who like the newer films a lot and see it as one huge saga. That goes for the last Indiana Jones movie, they don’t consider it “raping my childhood” or such. That’s something so many of us forget, a younger generation that sees it differently just as we saw our parents’ stuff a lot different. It’s good to remember the past but to cling to it too much can be bad. A recent episode of ABC’s Don’t Trust the B—- In Apartment 23 brought this up as James Van Der Beek (playing an exagerrated version of himself) wants to do a Dawson’s Creek reunion but no one else in the cast wants it and Mark-Paul Gossaler talks to him about needing to let an old show go. Better is how the character of June is eager for the reunion, calling her old high school friends who adored the show only to find they’ve all moved on with their lives and don’t consider it a big deal anymore. It’s a good example of how you have to let it go but too many people ignore it.

Past and Wrestling

The IWC rose to prominence in the late ‘90’s, when wrestling was enjoying a boom thanks first to WCW and the NWO and then WWF’s Attitude Era. Thus, we still have major memories of how great a time that was, each company trying every week to rock you with action and twists to keep going, playing off each other wonderfully. Vince McMahon has openly said that he always felt at his best taking the fight to Turner and it wasn’t until he bought WCW in 2001 that he realized how he was going to miss it. It brings up a lot of feelings in wrestling as many of us will look back at this “golden era” and ignore the problems that were around.

It was a different time, of course. You see how people grouse online about Cena dominating so much in WWE, just imagine how they’d feel about Hogan in his prime or even Flair. The presentation was different, no monthly PPV’s or weekly prime-time shows, no need to grab ratings with huge turns all the time. You could spend months plotting out stories and guys could hold titles for the better part of a year where they meant something. But you know what, there was bad stuff too. Too many cartoon characters in WWF (especially the late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s) and WCW wasn’t much better. I’ve always found it just a tad hypocritical that people moan about the NWO dominating so much when the Four Horsemen did pretty much the same thing, especially holding the three major title in 1988. I’ve written before on how Flair was just as much a spotlight-hogger champ as Hogan or HHH at their worst but gets a pass on it. Yes, we can watch Stampede and World Class and marvel at their good stuff but also remember how half those guys were high as kites so much. That’s something else, easy to look back and shake our heads at the drug and steroid use of the ‘80’s but keep in mind that the concept of “casual” drug use was a lot different then, the full dangers not understood or accepted.

Time alters our perceptions, that’s all too common, sometimes for the better. I’ve long been fascinated at how Scott Keith’s opinions have changed in the last decade. In 2002, his love for Owen Hart was so much that he talked about his Wrestlemania V bout with Mr. Perfect as a four-star affair and ripped Vince as deliberately causing his death. But he’s calmed down since, realizing it was just a stupid accident. Likewise, Keith could sniff at Shawn Michaels over his drug use and such but now respects Shawn immensely for coming clean on his problems of the past while wrestling hard with a steel bar in his back. He also feels it hard to watch Benoit matches for obvious reasons as our perceptions of him and his career are now altered by his actions and what we now know of his life. Personal aspects can shift your perception of the past as well. For example, a lot of guys on 411mania will talk about the Bret/Austin match at Wrestlemania 13 from their experiences watching it on TV. However, I was at the show live so my own feelings are much different as I could feel the shifts and moods in the crowd, which was even hotter live and thus I hold a special place in my heart for the bout. That can be a bit of a risk, one I’ve run into in my spotlights on past stuff, that for fans new to them, how you see it can change how you think of it. For example, I was down on a couple of Scott Keith’s books as it didn’t seem right for new fans to get a look at recent WWF history from the view of a guy who hated Vince and biased toward Candians but he’s become a lot more level-headed in recent times. Still, we bring that in as guys who trash Hogan left and right can harm appreciation for a past PPV, making it seem bigger or worse than it actually was.

We continue to romanticize the past a lot in wrestling. That’s especially true for ECW, which in my opinion has been lionized way too much by the IWC. Yes, they were different but frankly, you look back at a lot of the matches and they’re pretty rough. It was a product of the time, breaking out when WWF and WCW were stagnant and needed a push. It’s why the various attempts to recreate it haven’t succeeded, you can’t replicate that time again. Yet the ECW faithful act like it was the greatest promotion ever, ignoring how it had serious issues that led to its ultimate demise. It’s also led to a larger fanbase for the promotion since. It’s like Wilt Chamberlin’s joke that if every person who says they saw him score 100 points had actually been at the game, the arena would have been filled three times over. Yes, ECW was good but let’s not over-inflate it as something magical. That includes the constant attempts to replicate it using the exact same guys as it’s not 1996 anymore, they can’t be the standouts they once were and pretending they are is as sad as watching Hogan and Flair still acting the massive stars in TNA.

The thing is, we want to remember the past as better than it was. I do it all the time, remembering the good times of certain years, not the bad ones. However, that can often harm our understanding of things. Some guys go a bit too wild painting the days of Crockett or the Attitude Era with a golden brush, ignoring the good stuff in light of the bad. That’s common in all fields of entertainment. One of my favorite quotes is Kevin Smith talking to people who bas the prequels by asking “have any of you watched the original trilogy lately? Bad dialogue, wooden acting, plot holes, it’s all there too, just smaller budget.” It wasn’t enough for Entertainment Weekly to turn on Heroes so bad, they had to suddenly call its first season “perhaps the single greatest season in recent prime-time history” which even an uber-fan of the show like myself feels is completely insane. We moan and groan over how titles are meaningless, there’s no good builds in stories, guys don’t care anymore but guess what? The ‘80’s and ‘90’s had more than enough issues from drugs to bad stories and characters there too to how wrestlers were pushed around and used by promoters who make Vince look like a saint. There was no true “golden age,” it was always ugly but we choose to remember it differently.

It’s well and good to remember the past, we all need to do that. But holding onto it can be as damaging as forgetting it. The folks who moan about old Disney rides ignore how something made in the ‘80’s may not click as well for younger kids of today (I hardly see my iphone addicted niece and nephews that enthralled by Horizons). People raised on CGI blockbusters can be a bit dismissive of the classics of yesteryear despite their quality. And for wrestling fans, we can use the past as an excuse of how bad things are today and ignore the flaws in the past. The AWA fell apart because Verne Gagne couldn’t flex with the times and change. WCW was marred in the use of older stars and the belief the NWO could last forever. A great comment is from a book by Larry Matysik as he acknowledges how fans of ‘90’s wrestling complain about today…just as fans of the ‘80’s complained on the ‘90’s, the fans of the ‘70’s complained about the ‘80’s and fans of today will complain about the 2020’s. It’s a cycle that will continue for a time and has to be recognized.

We always forget a very key thing: The past is the past and we can’t change that. We can remember it and we can even use it which is something wrestling can do. But for people to hold it up as far better than it truly was does a disservice, not just for the past but the present and yourself as well. It’s easy for a wrestling fan to judge it by the standards of yesterday but let’s not forget, for a younger generation, they don’t have that connection. To younger fans, the Attitude Era might as well be as old as WWII, they may cheer for Rock or Austin but not the connection we older fans have. To them, Hogan and Flair are just guys talked a lot on DVD’s, they don’t know how huge they were in their prime. They can also recognize things like how ECW was cool in its time but not the giant so many of its fans paint is as. I look back on the past, I admit it but I do my best not to be overwhelmed by it. Because loving the past is all well and good. But living in it? Well, that just doesn’t do you any favors for the future.

I’ll be out of town on vacation so no Spotlight for next week. Thus, for a two-week period, it’s shut off.


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Michael Weyer

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