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DENNY'S DUNGEON
U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!
July 2, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com

 

On Sunday, July Fourth, The United States of America celebrates Independence Day.

The good people of the USA (myself included) will use their vacation time to meet with family, chomp on a few burgers, toss back an ice cold beer or twelve, and light shit on fire in their backyard. It's among the proudest of American pastimes, right up there with wet T-shirt contests, country music and the assortment of oddities found once a year at the state fair.

America is somewhat defined by any number of these pastimes. A few are hobbies, some are events, and some are abstract philosophies vital to our beloved democratic society. They range in importance from guilty pleasure to esteemed tradition. The lot of them make up the backbone of how we live, how we perceive ourselves, and - as we're coming to learn more and more these days - how other world cultures view us.

Like it or not, professional wrestling mirrors many of America's traditions, both good and bad. Lucky us, I suppose.

In honor of Independence Day, here's a sample of some of America's most beloved traits and how they hold up in the world of pro wrestling.

THE TOP-HEAVY BOMBSHELL

Boy, does America love its big-breasted goddesses. Pamela Anderson, Yasmine Bleeth, Britney Spears... nowhere else in the world can a woman become as wealthy or well-known based solely on her physical appearance and nothing more. The rest of the world has models, actresses, model/actresses, and porn, but America perfected the societal "skin to win" attitude. You think Britney Spears is famous because she's a good singer? Can you think of ANY reason for Anna Nicole Smith to be rich and famous other than her (occasional) good looks? The rule in America is simple: give us some feminine booty to stare at, and you'll be a star, baby.

Pro wrestling has played this card into the ground for decades. Turn on Smackdown during a Torrie Wilson vs. Dawn Marie bikini contest, and many guys will wind up smacking more than their TVs. You want Stacy vs. Trish in a bra and panties match? You got it, pal... on crystal-clear DVD! And lest anyone think Vince McMahon is behind all this smut, I've got two words for wrestling fans who bought Apter mags in the 1970s: apartment wrestling.

It wasn't about the competition, I'll tell you that much. And yes, the fans were definitely the winners. You have to wonder, though: whose apartment WAS that? Was it Apter's? Stu Saks? Did a teenage Paul Heyman invite strippers over to his mom's house in Scarsdale while she was away, make them fight, and send the pics to the rasslin' rags?

Who cares... hooray for breasts! U-S-A! U-S-A!

MAKING FUN OF THE BOSS

When something goes wrong, point the finger squarely at the guy in charge. Vince McMahon has been called just about every name in the book, accused of everything from steroid distribution to predatory business practices to selling immorality to children at Toy 'R Us. Sometimes his accusers are dead wrong, and sometimes they catch him in the act... but does it really matter in the end? Not really. What matters is that Americans vent freely and vent often, whether the perceived "issue" has anything to do with them or not. Simply put, we love to bitch, about EVERYTHING.

And if you're the top dog in any walk of life, you'll eventually become the object of relentless ridicule and scorn by the American people. Relax, Mr. Big. It's not that we don't like you... we just enjoy cutting you down to size. If you're making more than double my annual salary, I'll probably fight back the only legal way I know how - verbally. Yeah, sure, you run the country... or the wrestling organization... or the company my whole family works for. So what? You're a dickhead!

I win!

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

The right to bitch is rooted deeply in one of the most cherished of all American freedoms: the freedom of expression. It's absolutely everywhere, and we love it. We never miss a chance to remind ourselves that there are cultures in this world where people can't always speak freely without risking a limb, or the scorn of their ruling government. Not here... we speak as we wish, no matter how ignorant or misinformed we may be.

So you ask: if you had the right to say ANYTHING you wanted, what would you say and how would you say it? I think the answer is clear - bumper stickers, T-shirts, greeting cards, corny answering machine messages and any OTHER medium that supports both the enjoyment of cheesy humor and the chance to package it into something you can sell to someone.

Ooh, we better get out of the way of that car! See the sign in the window? It says "Bowler on Board!" Better yet: "Jesus Is My Co-Pilot." Well shit... that sure trumps MapQuest.

In wrestling, signs in the crowd are the preferred method of expression, followed closely by group chants and the always-popular T-shirt slogan. Technically, T-shirt slogans are WWE expressing themselves vicariously through a willing fan. But most fans don't mind letting the mother ship speak for them once in a while. Hey you: OTHER SIDE, JACKASS! GOd, I love freedom of speech.

By the way, the rumors are true, and ORTON really does FEAR JEB.

THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS

As an American citizen (under certain provisions and restrictions), you have the right to own a firearm or other weapons. Whether or not you may use them depends entirely on the situation, but if you choose to purchase one (capitalism!), you're more than welcome to. Pro wrestling is almost identical in that regard. Like America, grapplers are sometimes free to use a ladder, sledgehammer, chain, bullrope, buffet table, folding chair, shopping cart, or trash can to assault another human being. Also like America, an illegal use of such an object is more likely to result in a slap on the wrist than a serious penalty, as long as your actions didn't cause serious long-term injury to the victim.

In both situations, as long as the authorities are looking the other way, you might still get away with it. Not that I'm encouraging it. I'm just saying.

INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY

This is the single biggest loophole you will find in the "American Way." While it's a completely necessary policy, it also allows the potentially guilty a golden opportunity to get out of their bind, usually with the help of a crafty lawyer.

In America pop culture, the OJ Simpson double-murder trial of the mid-1990s is the most talked-about example of "innocent until proven guilty" gone (allegedly) wrong. A large percentage of Americans believe that Simpson was guilty and only got away with the crime because his high-priced lawyers created enough doubt that the jury couldn't convict, even with such powerful evidence as a positive DNA test.

WWE chairman Vince McMahon was acquitted of sterid distribution in the mid-1990s, and while there was considerably less evidence that Vince was involved in any such conduct, there are still detractors who are convinced, for whatever reason, that Vince is a less-than-law-abiding business owner.

Storyline-wise, you could say that Sting's transformation into the "Crow" look (from the beach-bum, neon-colored Bart Simpson look) in WCW was a direct result of his fellow wrestlers disregarding "innocent until proven guilty" and accusing him of being an nWo member. Even when cleared of that charge, Sting said "screw you guys" and became all dark and mysterious for the rest of his run. Say what you wish about WCW's bookers, but when it came to traditional American concepts, they knew how to implement a storyline.

CAPITALISM

Nothing is more American than knowing how to make a quick buck. Some crafty citizens even make money selling other people books telling them how to get rich (Chapter One: Pretend to Be An Authority. Chapter Two: Write A Book). When the opportunity for profit shows its face, you jump on it. The Donald Trumps, Ted Turners, and Bill Gateses of the nation have brought American capitalism to where it's not just recommended, but it's revered by the rest of us.

Capitalism applies in pro wrestling, too. That's why you pay $35 to watch a WWE pay-per-view, $25 for a t-shirt of your favorite wrestler, and sometimes hundreds of dollars for tickets. That's why old WCW footage was valuable to WWE - so they can sell it back to us in small doses via special double-DVD sets every month. That's why TNA takes a cut of its wrestlers' independent bookings, and it's why you pay $10 at said indy event for a polaroid of Barry Horowitz holding you in a full nelson. It's all about the money, holmes.

"SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT"

Pro wrestling is commonly known as "sports entertainment" due to the fact that the men - while they truly are great athletes - aren't actually competing, so much as they are performing athletically. They have a predetermined outcome, and to varying degrees, a predetermined set of corcumstances that will lead to the match finish. In between, they will play to the crowd, act out a character, wear loud outfits, and do other things to make the show more entertaining to the crowd.

If you think for one second that other, more revered sports - the ones where the athletes are actually competing for a non-scripted victory - aren't about entertainment, just direct your television to an episode of "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." Or to some of the more obnoxious NFL pregame shows. Or to "Pardon the Interruption," which is a bunch of sports writers sitting around yelling at each other about sometimes the most minor of issues in sports, telling bad jokes and generally amusing each other under the guise of a respectable sports program. ESPN, Fox Sports and other so-called "respectable" news sources are about the money just like WWE is, and that's why folks like Tom Arnold are allowed to discuss sports on TV.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

We love our gluttony here in America. Give us a twelve-pack of beer, a super-sized bacon cheeseburger and some cheese fries, and we're a happy bunch of hooligans. Nothing pleases us more than to watch our girths expand as we gorge on Thanksgiving Day, binge on St. Patrick's Day, or eat chocolate on Easter Sunday until we lapse into a diabetic coma. If it tastes good, give us more of it. Seconds, thirds, fourths... don't bother with a napkin. We'll just bury our faces in the plate and chew until we hit the bottom, thanks.

Anyone who doesn't know how this applies to pro wrestling has never been in the audience for a show before.

THE RUN-IN

It's 11:04 p.m. Monday night. Evolution is handing a beatdown to HBK, Mick Foley, or another babyface du jour. We all look to the ramp expecting another key crowd-pleaser to run in for the save. Sure enough, here comes Chris Benoit to clean house. In pro wrestling, the babyface that runs in to save the day doesn't even have to be involved in a storyline with the people he's attacking. He simply has to be one righteous person defending another equally righteous competitor against a decidedly evil force, and all will be right.

This applies directly to America's attitude toward other nations. For whatever reason - and I'm sure there are several, most of which never become public - we feel compelled to play big brother to other parts of the world. We rush to the aid of those in need. Our motives are often questioned, along with whether or not we're really needed (or wanted) as a bodyguard for the world. But alas, for whatever reason, many within this country view our role as that of the babyface who runs in at 11:04 to save a fellow hero in peril.

Is that good or bad? That's a whoooole other long discussion.

IF IT DIDN'T HAPPEN ON TV...

The rule in pro wrestling is "If it didn't happen on TV, it didn't happen." While the rest of the U.S. isn't quite so clear-cut about the value of TV, the overwhelming number of media outlets, consumer publications, and publicity tools makes it less and less possible that something important will happen WITHOUT the presence of a camera, whether those being recorded like it or not.

As with a title change at a house show, people are often shocked at the news that something significant happened in the world, and not a single soul thought to record it for the rest of us to watch.

WITHDRAWING FROM THE UNION

You can go a few different directions with this one. In the one and only Civil War in U.S. history, several southern states withdrew from the Union and formed the Confederacy, and the two went to war with each other over the direction of the country. (That's the EXTREMELY short version of the story, but this is a pro wrestling column here, not a history lesson).

Wrestling has seen several examples of this. Hell, the WWF formed in the early 1960s as a result of Vince McMahon and his business associates disagreeing with the NWA over whom should be world champion. Vince and his pals simply declared Buddy Rogers the king of their territory, and that was the beginning of the company known today as WWE. WWE's history is peppered with examples of partnerships formed and subsequently destroyed over one disagreement or another.

You could also take the word "union" literally in the workforce sense, as forming a union has been discussed by several wrestlers over the years, but for many reasons (promoter resistance chief among them) has never happened.

HAPPY HOUR

When all of this democracy and American-styled behavior starts to wear you down at the end of the day - say, five-ish on a Friday - there isn't a more patriotic way to unwind than hitting the local pub, tossing back a few spirits and bullshitting loudly with the windbag next to you over the Raiders' chances in the AFC this season.

If you don't know how this applies to pro wrestling, catch the next WWE pay-per-view at your nearest Hooters or another establishment where alcohol is served. It is a truly unique way to take in a show, and it really does add to the experience.

BETTER LIVING THROUGH SCIENCE

Don't like your nose? Buy a new one! Need thicker calves and don't feel like going to the gym? Invest in some implants! Have a back ache that won't go away, but you're booked in a falls-count-anywhere thumbtacks match with Sabu later tonight in Hoboken? The doctor is in... have some painkillers, and ring the bell.

In America - like in pro wrestling - we truly believe that you can become anything you want with a little money and a good doctor.

DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS...

Texas is one of the most beloved states in the union, and is one of a handful of states noted for its badass citizens. In the real world, Ross Perot will buy and sell your ass before you know what the hell happened. And as soon as you figure it out, a ragtag bunch of southern boys will have you hanging by your tighty whities from a flagpole at the local biker bar.

In wrestling, anyone who steps out of line is likely to catch a Terry Funk fist to the eyesocket followed by a Stone Cold Stunner or an HBK superkick, depending on what city you're in and which Texan the fans prefer to cheer for that night. And Lord help you if you raise the ire of Stan Hansen. Simply put, in America or in pro wrestling, do NOT mess with Texas, EVER.

...UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT

Did you hear the one about George W. Bush? Hey, how about our new champ, John Bradshaw Layfield? What a couple of loons! Har!

There you have a grand total of 15 commonalities between U.S. traditions and pro wrestling.

That's one for each of the original colonies. Plus Hawaii and Alaska!

Think about that: Ric Flair has won more world titles than the United States had colonies in the early days. Maybe if the Nature Boy keeps at it, he too will have an even 50 title reigns to his credit before we celebrate HIS bicentennial as an active competitor.

Happy July Fourth, everybody.

E-MAIL DENNY
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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