WHY “GIMMICKS” RUIN MY ABILITY TO APPRECIATE PRO WRESTLING
July 4, 2013
In wrestling jargon, a “gimmick” is a term most commonly applied to an in-ring character portrayed by a purveyor of the sport. Anyone whose spent any time in wrestling circles knows that this is one of many slang terms that has been bastardized nearly to the point of meaninglessness (I have personally heard my dear, departed friend JC Bailey refer to everything from narcotics to ketchup packets as “gimmicks”), but that is its original and most justifiable definition. Frankly, I hate gimmicks. Let me preface this (as I’m overly-fond of doing) with the warning that I will, without question, contradict myself during the coming blatherings. Hell, I’m already having arguments in my head about committing to such a stance. But I would say that, on the whole, the outlandish and ludicrous gimmicks adopted by pro wrestlers from [ballpark guess…not doing research] the 70’s up until the modern day--meant to “breathe the new life of showbiz” into a style of athletic performance whose popularity was flagging—have essentially nullified my ability to enjoy professional wrestling. I’m speaking of the colorful characters and over-the-top characterizations that no doubt DEFINE “pro wrestling” for the majority of you; the ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savages (sorry, Dev), the Ted DiBiases, and the Ultimate Warriors. Without question, this sort of pageantry was what took pro wrestling from the carnival circuit, where burly men would spend hours bear-hugging one another under dingy circus tents until one of them was finally felled with a mighty bodyslam, to the big-time, making it the multi-million dollar entertainment phenomena it is today. So who am I to argue with success? How could the big bucks possibly be wrong? Well, I’m the same guy who will never have a Facebook account and stands firmly by the notion that touch screens are three steps in the wrong direction (we hit on something with buttons, but nobody can just leave well enough alone…). I’m Danny Havoc, and—goddammit—I may not represent the popular opinion, or have any credentials whatsoever to back up my claims, but I say what I feel and no majority opinion or government agency is going t… **muffled shouting and the sounds of a struggle**
Anyway, I’m being silly. I apologize. I’m somewhat shy of sober at present, which will come as little surprise to those who know me well, and I have a tendency to wander off on parenthetically-heavy tangents. Back to gimmicks, and the douchebags who ruined something I wanted so badly to love…
I’m going to start with my primary points of self-contradiction, and work backwards from there, so as to attempt to refute whatever self-doubt I am preparing to put words to. I do not believe that kayfabe is especially important, outside of the performance, itself. That is to say, when that one dude [again, no research] jaw-jacked that reporter back in the day for questioning the authenticity of this great sport of ours, I think that dude was kind of being a dick. A really awesome dick, and one that I’d totally high-five right now if I could…but a dick, nonetheless. I think that kayfabe (for those who don’t know that term, open a new tab and Google the shit, I’m on a roll) ought to be kept during the course of the performance and maintained at a much less “top-secret” status once a performer hits the parking lot. If you think wrestling’s real…even really good, hard-hitting, athletic wrestling…you aren’t very bright. Enjoy marveling over how many colors Crayola has managed to stuff into their “Big Box” for most of your marriageable years. Anyone who knows anything about human anatomy, blunt-force trauma, and has even the slightest inkling of how physics works, knows that pro wrestling is a show. Now, with that said, I also don’t believe that any sub-genre of this niche of the entertainment industry is truly invalid. I like some far more than others, but I stand firmly by the idea that everyone should be allowed to make their attempt to entertain the masses in the way that they see fit. I like that, in pro wrestling, there’s pretty much something for everyone. I do, I really do. I get a real kick out of Colt Cabana, Greg Excellent, Ebessan, and a variety of other “comedy”-based wrestlers. Often, a Greg Excellent match is one of the only ones on the show that I’ll go out of my way to watch in person, just because I like to have a smile on my face and a reminder that we’re all there to have fun (I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I think Greg is a far more well-rounded wrestler than he’s given credit for, and is not simply limited to comedy…it’s just what he excels at).
Here’s where it gets complicated, because I’m about to contradict myself in a fairly drastic fashion. My favorite wrestlers and era in wrestling all come from the late 80’s-mid-to-late 90’s All Japan Pro Wrestling promotion. Kobashi, Misawa, Kawada, Akiyama, and my favorite wrestler of all time (or at least tied with Lucky13), STAN “THE LARIAT” MOTHERFUCKING HANSEN. I added “Motherfucking” for effect, that wasn’t his actual middle name. To my knowledge. These men epitomized, to my mind, what pro wrestling ought to be. They were hard-hitting, bump-taking, incredibly tough athletes, who all knew (seemingly instinctively) how to masterfully tell a subtle-but-epic story with only their bodies as the medium through which to convey it. Wrestling has never been as good, nor (I fear) shall it ever be again. All of these guys had characters, too…but they didn’t have “gimmicks,” per se. Stan Hansen was the “Bad Man from Borger, Texas,” the kind of guy who got done playing college ball and didn’t want to stop knocking bitches down, so he decided to go to Japan and dominate some foreigners. Kawada was “Dangerous K,” and while there’s a language barrier to prevent me from knowing his exact back story, he always struck me as that low-level yakuza thug…notorious and fearsome enough that he was respected throughout, but just a little bit too much of a thick-browed bruiser to ever break the glass ceiling and start sporting the expensive suits and pinky rings…kind of a “Don’t Mess Around With Jim” sort of a cat. Kobashi was the tried-and-true, Captain Japan babyface, but with a meanstreak that he earned by taking every beating given him and asking for another, like a masochistic Oliver Twist. Anyway, the point of these examples is to illustrate the difference between having a “character” (of which I approve) and a “gimmick” (which makes me ashamed of my career choice). These thick-set louts were all guys whose characters made sense inside the realm of a spectacle that was meant to imitate a fighting tournament. They were all legitimate tough guys who had a reason to want to prove they were the baddest.
Compare this with Fandango. Why does this [dance instructor? Hair stylist? Pet Groomer?] want to enter into combat to test his mettle? What possible motivation are we meant to imagine has driven him to enter into the world of combat sports (remember, we’re suspending disbelief and accepting the show as being a real contest of strength and skill here). Earlier, I mentioned Ted DiBiase…if this cunt has millions of dollars, what the fuck does he want to be risking bodily harm in a fight to the finish with someone whose first name is “Hulk?” Why isn’t this dude lying out on the deck of his yacht somewhere in international waters, sipping wine that costs more than my house and disporting with an underage Pacific Island girl? Even the SHIELD [whom I support whole-heartedly from a personal standpoint, due to my friendship with Jon Moxley] makes no sense. What are they? An evil S.W.A.T. Team? I’ve asked several of my compatriots [who tune in far more regularly than I] and not one of them has been able to describe them any more accurately or succinctly than I just did. So why, for fuck’s sakes, are they trying to invade the WWE?!? If the WWE is the world’s largest and most successful showcase of the grappling arts, akin to UFC but with different rules, and the SHIELD is a rogue squadron of highly-trained combat specialists (or something), what does one have to do with the other??? COBRA never tried to take over Pro Boxing, as I recall…they mostly focused on bringing down the nation they swore to destroy, America (but were thankfully thwarted by the valiant efforts of patriots named things like Duke and Hawk). When John McClane was trailing Simon Gruber through the bowels of Yankee Stadium, it wasn’t because Gruber and his terrorist cronies wanted to take over New York City’s most overrated sports team... So, again I ask (all due love and respect to my boy Jon), why the fuck is there an evil S.W.A.T. Team hell-bent on creating bedlam for a bunch of professional combat sport participants? Shit don’t make no damn sense. And this flagrant disregard for logic and plausibility is fucking everywhere in this business.
Hell, I’ll even give Tatanka a pass. It was stupid, but I can get behind representing a nationality or a cultural heritage in something like this. He was sho nuff a fruity-looking Injun, but maybe he was the last warrior of a tribe of foppish dandies, lost forever to the sands of time…at least he was representing something that a man who wants to be in a fight might represent. I personally love culturally-identifying characterizations…not because I think (before you accuse me) that all the races of the world should select champions and battle in hand-to-hand combat to determine the greatest of all (I kinda do, actually)…just because I like the idea of men from all across the globe beating out the local competition and being declared the “Tiger Man McCool” of their particular region (points if you get that reference), then coming together under the banner of a professional league to see how they stack up against other “Tiger Tom Dixon’s” (Free t-shirt if you got both without Google). Basically, I guess what I’m saying is that I want professional wrestling to present itself in the fashion of a Van Damme movie (‘the Quest’ and ‘Bloodsport’ spring to mind), where the characters are diverse and unique, but not out-of-place, given the setting. Doink the Clown has no place in the Kumite. These are words I will die to uphold.
Because of the Max Moon’s and the Honky Tonk Man’s and the Golddust’s that infest this industry, I find myself very often in a state of self-loathing over what I do, and that is very upsetting to me. I happen to think (and obviously this is a highly biased opinion) that what I do is pretty damn cool, in general. I grew up on a steady diet of BADASS and, even as the higher-functioning portions of my brain tried to dismiss it as intellectually-vapid macho posturing, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the self-destructive, almost beautifully tragic inevitabilities of BADASS culture. Do I romanticize it, far beyond what’s reasonable? Without a doubt. But if you don’t romanticize the things that make you who you are in life, you’ll lead a very unromantic life…
Necro Butcher is a dear friend of mine, not to mention one of my idols growing up, but I find him to be a very tragically romantic figure, in a sense. Don’t take that sentence out of context, or he’ll hear about it and punch me in the face next time I see him. He’s younger than he looks, and he no doubt feels at least three times his actual age…he’s absorbed punishment [willingly] that Viet Cong captives haven’t even had to endure*, and now he—like so many who pioneered the path he followed—is no doubt destined to be faced with more hardships as he ages than anyone is truly due. All of this, because he wanted to be the wildest, the baddest, the craziest, the toughest, and the BEST at what he did, for that fleeting period before the consequences started to catch up. And he WAS. He was the BEST. And it’s a shame that he won’t be remembered as such by a larger cross-section of the populace, but that’s the tradeoff one makes for being a cult hero. And now, I’m firmly on the same path. And I, like him, am intelligent and self-aware enough to see that the other shoe is hovering just above my head, ready to drop at any moment, and yet I can’t pull myself away. Let me rephrase that, I WON’T pull myself away. I knew the dangers getting in, and I know them more than ever 8 years on, but this is what I do. I, too, want to hold that crown, even knowing full-well how fleeting that possession is, and the price I’m surely destined to pay for it. “Better to burn out than to fade away” applies, I suppose. So, too, does one of my favorite Norse proverbs: “Animals die, friends die, and I shall die, but one thing never dies, and that is the reputation we leave behind at our death.” Okay, maybe that one is a stretch…that’s me romanticizing things again. But I love that saying, and I wanted to use it. Don’t judge me. Anyway, the point is (far removed though my stream of consciousness writing has gotten us from “wrestling gimmicks”…) that there’s something to be said for being BADASS, if you ask this particular dope. There’s something to be said for doing something crazy and awesome and completely inadvisable, consequences be damned, simply because it’s exactly what a Viking/Pirate/Lumberjack would do under the same circumstances.
*An exercise in hyperbole, but a very descriptive and picaresque one.
What does that have to do with ludicrous gimmicks and pageantry in this sport I want so badly to love? I’m not sure really; I have foolishly eschewed [that most essential of High School English tools] anoutline, and wandered off the path as a lamb in a marsh. But I believe that where I was going with this, before the drugs took hold and I got so lost, was that wrestlers ought to be BADASS. Now, there are lots of different kinds of badass…this does not rule out diversity or make the characters any less interesting. Some people think Stephen Segal is pretty badass (purportedly). I think Stephen Segal is a harp seal parading around as a martial artist with Adrian Paul’s hair glued to his blubbery dome. But each to their own. Badass can take the form of a Bruce Lee, a Tank Abbott, or even a Christopher Walken. The possibilities are nearly limitless. Even if a dude wanted to do a gay gimmick…fine! But don’t make him a prancing fairy who faints at the prospect of real violence…make him a rough’n’tumble “lost boy” type, who shook off his junk habit when the gimmicks went rotten and his boyfriend died in a New York subway, and who now fights for that coveted "18 pounds of gold" so he’ll never have to suck off another white collar quasi-pedo in a public latrine, ever again…
What I’m saying is, everyone has their own ideas of what sort of a badass appeals to them, and so wrestlers could eschew the ridiculous gimmickry and opt to be tough guys and STILL be as diverse as all the colors of the Crayola Big Box (still being enjoyed by the troglodites who think wrestling is a real, full-contact sport*). Just get rid of the clowns and vampires and SILLINESS. LOOK: I’m a staunch defender of tongue-in-cheek silliness, but this kind of blatant, insult-your-intelligence silliness is a slap in my face. And it’s because of this widespread epidemic of silliness in professional wrestling, which is demeaningly shoved down our throats without so much as a wink to indicate “we’re all in on the joke together,” that I hesitate each and every time somebody asks me what I do professionally...
...I’ll bet Stan Hansen never had cause to hesitate. I’ll bet he gruffly replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “Why, ma’am, ah’m th’ LARIAT, n ah’m the baddist got-damn p'rfeshun'l rassler thit ev’r left his seed in yer purty lil womin perts.” And the rest was history. Sexy, unsupported bastard history.
*See Paragraph Three.
It’s pretty commonly known (among people who listen far too intently to things I say) that I only have one TOD trophy, whereas I ought to have two adorning my shitty little living room. This, as is also no secret, is because I got drunk and kicked one to splinters a few years back. I have no one to blame but myself for this childish (and thoroughly regrettable) act, and clearly it points to some imbalances in my mental state [that you had to assume were hidden in there somewhere]…But if I were to narrow down what drove me over the edge on that particular day to just one singular catalyst, it would go something like this: As PROUD as I am to have followed my dream and become a professional wrestler, and as HONORED as I am to be in a position in which I could conceivably be linked to AWESOME BADASSES ranging all the way from Jun Kasai to Stan Hansen to Lucky13…a dark cloud forms in my heart, under which no flowers bloom, when it dawns upon me that I can just as easily be linked to KweeWee.
And with that grim realization, I cease my musings, because I need a fucking DRINK now, son...