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Thus Spake E.C. Dubstra 
May 19, 2006

by Rocky Swift



“The Last Temptation of Vince”

containing reflections on
The Resurrection of ECW As It Compares To Nietzsche's The Antichist
The Revenge of Apostle Paul Heyman

Let me paint a picture for you: a small rebel group achieves astounding growth and popularity before finally being crushed by larger entrenched powers. But within a few years, the charismatic leader of the group enters into the realm of the ruling empire-the belly of the beast, as it were-and his influence is immediately felt. Gradually, the philosophy of the rebel group displaces the prevailing belief system in the empire.

One final bit: the leader is a man of Jewish descent named Paul; his followers are fanatics, and he might very well be batshit insane.

This being a wrestling web site, you would probably assume that I am speaking of the rise, fall and now resurrection of ECW under the helm of its spiritual leader Paul Heyman. In this you 

would be half correct. But being smart wrestling fans, you're also waiting for the Russo swerve, and here it is: this scenario also describes the ascendancy of Christianity in Rome.

In both cases, we have a smaller power infecting the ideology of the larger power: saying that it is wrong to be strong and instead noble to be small and flawed. The physical specimens of wrestling make the analogy even more apt: the physical perfection and abounding pride of a Triple H is an apt symbol for any number of Roman/Greek gods. In contrast, perennial loser Tommy Dreamer, physically ruined and seemingly always covered in his own blood, is your classic Christ figure.

I'm basing this comparison on a treatise set out by classic, scandalous book (more a pamphlet really) The Antichrist, by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. The title was no less controversial when it was published over a hundred years ago than it is now. A strident atheist himself, Nietzsche respected quite a few religions on purely philosophical grounds; nonetheless, he viewed Christianity as a vengeful, life-negating cancer on healthy human instincts.

Now if you're not familiar with Nietzsche, you might be aware of some of his aphorisms: brash, fortune cookie-like slogans that serve to offend and inspire, e.g. "God is dead" or, "What does not destroy me makes me stronger." Unfortunately, a lot of his philosophy has been twisted to give backing to a lot of silly ideas, most notably those held by the Nazis. Even a cursory reading will show that Nietzsche is not at all anti-Semitic, but it's not like the Nazis were great students of literature. If Nietzsche had any bias, it was that he despised stupid people, and he wrote in a deliberately over-the-top style that served to offend and confuse them (a chapter of his autobiography is titled "Why I Am So Great"). A side benefit is that it makes his stuff quite fun to read, at least compared to most philosophy.

Nietzsche's key gripe with Christianity has little to do with Jesus. The faith that most followers now hold to be Christianity, says he, was invented almost entirely by the Apostle Paul in Rome. Paul was the first bishop of the fledgling church, and he set out most of the rules and ways of the faith. But in so doing, Paul was mainly lashing out at the systems and beliefs that had smashed the following of Jesus, namely the Roman Empire.

(Christianity/ECW) has the rancor of the sick at its very core-the instinct against the healthy, against health. Everything that is well-constituted, proud, gallant and, above all, beautiful gives offence to its ears and eyes. Again I remind you of Paul's priceless saying: "And God hath chosen the weak things of the world, the foolish things of the world, the base things of the world, and things which are despised":23 this was the formula; in hoc signo the decadence triumphed.

Now consider the ideals of the WWE, née WWF. The characters are warrior gods battling in classic (if hackneyed) struggles of power versus power. We're not intended to think of the wrestlers as "men." We are asked to disregard the improbability of their physiques and the sacrifices of life on the road. The show is only a symbolic embodiment of battle and morality (for a deeper reading of that, read Roland Barthes "The World of Wrestling"). When John Cena delivers his ridiculous "Five Knuckle Shuffle" to his opponent, the fan is to presume injury without actually believing it, much as a stage actor tucks a sword under his arm and pretends that it has mortally wounded him. The WWE operates under an implicit contract with the fan through which the performance in the ring is held up as a representation of strength, beauty and struggle but is not the actual article.

And into this Paul Heyman and ECW strip the spectacle bare. In some ECW matches, wrestling is presented as a realistic, athletic competition (look at any match involving any two or three of Snow, Benoit, Lynn, Guerrero, Malenko, Storm, etc.), and this inherently exposes the typical WWE product as phony. In other matches, it ECW puts forth wrestlers that are hardly Greek gods: The bulbous Ballz Mahoney and the singularly unathletic Sandman openly mock the steroid props held up by WWE. The implicit message is "These aren't gods. Even you could do this shit, fatty!" And then there's the suffering: the thumbtacks, the fire, and the endless blood.

Everything that suffers, everything that hangs on the cross, is divine.

While the WWE gods pranced around in the Coliseum, ECW men bled in the Bingo Hall. The shortcomings of the ECW product were built up as noble, and the pomp and glory of the WWE was derided.

(Christianity/ECW) has made an ideal out of antagonism to all the self-preservative instincts of sound life; it has corrupted even the faculties of those natures that are intellectually most vigorous, by representing the highest intellectual values as sinful, as misleading, as full of temptation.

Please don't misunderstand my use of the quote above: I don't mean to say that the WWE product is "intellectually vigorous." Rather it is "honestly fake," and its overall message is simple and essentially life affirming. By contrast, ECW exists primarily as an angry reaction a dominant power.

With runt monster Rhino as its champ, ECW lost its TV deals and folded five years ago. But even in its death throes, its impact was felt. Both WCW and WWE adopted "hardcore" matches and respective titles. The edgy stars of ECW were absorbed into the Big Two with varying success. It seemed a death, but really it was just a gestation. Paul Heyman eventually entered the ranks of the WWE, and floated up and down the rungs of power as Vince McMahon sought to find the right balance of spectacle and realism that would reignite fan interest.

McMahon is a realist, quite willing to adapt to popular trends. Witness the rise in popularity of Ultimate Fighting and the concomitant increase in submission fighters and tap-outs (a previously unknown phenomenon) in the WWE. We can imagine that he drew in Heyman as a means of co-opting the vigor of ECW and the loyalty of its fans. It was like Emperor Constantine cynically installing Christianity as Rome's official religion as a means of controlling the cult that had gripped control of his kingdom.

In both cases, the co-opted philosophy ate away at the philosophical foundation of the empire institutions. Harken back to the Mike Awesome/Masato Tanaka match of the ECW One Night Only Pay Per View of 2005. Each man survived numerous "finishing" style moves and went through numerous tables before walking away from the ring, mostly unscathed. The reactions of the WWE wrestlers in the balcony showed it all: excitement as fans, but concern that what they saw would now shape expectations for their own performance.

In the confines of his own reality, McMahon rewrote the battle of his company versus WCW and ECW with the underwhelming Invasion angle. In this version, the battle shrunk to months, and his children manned bastardized versions of the former powers, but the ending was still the same, with WWE standing alone. Years on, the fan base of WCW has quietly disappeared or has been assimilated (except in the delusional mind of Scott Steiner, perhaps), but as the ECW DVDs and PPV showed, the Bingo Hall goons still lived. But more than that, the doctrines of Paul have infected the core fan base of the WWE.

The viper that McMahon brought to his breast-and then banished to OVW-had long since injected its venom. But what did Paul want?

In Paul is incarnated the very opposite of the "bearer of glad tidings"; he represents the genius for hatred, the vision of hatred, the relentless logic of hatred...

Paul willed the end; therefore he also willed the means. -What he himself didn't believe was swallowed readily enough by the idiots among whom he spread his teaching.-What he wanted was power; in Paul the priest once more reached out for power-he had use only for such concepts, teachings and symbols as served the purpose of tyrannizing over the masses and organizing mobs.

Ever the businessman, Vince again plays the converted emperor, willing to allow ECW to coexist with his own creations. It worked in the past, he reasons, looking at the modest success of the Raw and Smackdown! brand split. What's another head on this hydra?

But Raw and Smackdown! are two faces of the same organism, a planarian split down the middle. ECW is a graft of foreign tissue, and there is bound to be a rejection. If the new ECW fails, its dogma will just sink back into the underground, with a renewed cache of martyr power. If begins to succeed, however, it will inevitably force the WWE brands to copy its formula. In a storm of splintered tables, how can the simple chairshot compete? As fans grow accustomed to watching cradle piledrivers, Arabian facebusters and Van Terminators on a regular basis, how will they react to a glorified body slam called the FU?

Expectations will shift, and the products will blend together. "Wellness program" bodies will shrink and bloat, even as they are carved into ribbons in tumbleweeds of barbed wire.

I call an animal, a species, an individual corrupt, when it loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers, what is injurious to it.

What Vince thinks he has co-opted will instead insidiously transform his pantheon of gods into scarred, flawed men. The name will remain WWE, but the spirit will change, and Paul's ultimate revenge will manifest.

Not trampled to death by Teutons and others of heavy hoof! But brought to shame by crafty, sneaking, invisible, anemic vampires! Not conquered,-only sucked dry! . . . Hidden vengefulness, petty envy, became master! Everything wretched, intrinsically ailing, and invaded by bad feelings, the whole ghetto-world of the soul, was at once on top!


If you're interested in reading some Nietzsche yourself, use this link (translated by H.L. Mencken, no less!) to find "The Antichrist" translation I used here (my books are all packed away in Georgia; thank the gods for the Intarweb). Be warned, he writes in a very brash manner (e.g. I have letters that even the blind will be able to see.) and it's easy to misinterpret his hyperbole for prejudice or hate. If reading him makes you upset, just keep in mind that ol' Freddy lived a miserable life, dominated by his wife and sister and driven to insanity and early death by syphilis.

Super Trivia Bonus Hour:
So who is the most Nietzschien of all wrestlers? I'd say Ric Flair epitomizes the Will To Power perhaps better than any other. He's never been the best physical specimen, but through the sheer might of his personality, he has carved out an unbeatable top-shelf career spanning 30 years. Plus, he enters the ring to the strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra, a classical piece written by Richard Strauss in honor of Nietzsche's most famous work Thus Spake Zarathustra.


Rocky Swift is a columnist for www.CitizenScholar.net, and a teacher of English in Japan.

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