The Written Word

News:

Ric "The Equalizer" Drasin has released a great new book: So, Yo want to be a wrestling promoter? Check out our series of interviews with Ric Drasin on Media Man Australia Check out the Ric Drasin official website Ric also has some of his graphic art and creative works on display at Wrestling Cartoons and Media Man Australia cartoons.

Media Man Australia has an online shop! Many book reviews and offers for visitors to Australian Sports and Entertainment Portal and Media Man Australia.

Many wrestlers have taken to writing autobiographies. It's almost a case of who hasn't written a book!

"Rowdy" Roddy Piper will be releasing his autobiography by end of 2002

Former WCW & WWF Ring Announcer, Gary Michael Capetta, has released a book and website on pro wrestling, BodySlams.com

 

Book Reviews

"Sex, Lies & The WWF"

Think “wrestling” over the past ten years and you no doubt visualize the figure of one Vincent K. McMahon, ringleader of the longest running carny act on television.

He based his WWE circus on the more lurid aspects of popular culture. When he ran out of ideas, he inserted himself and his family into the mix, often with hilarious results. He’s survived various threats to his entertainment empire, from competition to media scrutiny to those of his own making. Whenever it looked as if he was about to write his own epitaph, he would rise phoenix-like from the ashes, seemingly stronger and newer than ever for each new generation of wrestling fans, themselves all too eager to buy WWE Stone Cold Austin action figures and Degeneration-X t-shirts. Slickly written biographies of his major stars began flying off the shelves as he positioned his company into Wall Street, giving his enterprise the veneer of respectability, an amazing feat when one realizes that his empire is built solely on professional wrestling, itself the red-headed stepchild of legitimate sports.

Despite the XFL debacle, which slowed his express train to success, he is still viewed as a marketing genius; the magician who tells the audience that everything they see is but an illusion, but still refuses to reveal the source of his magic.

Yes, everything about the WWE is an illusion, including Vince McMahon. He reinvented himself rather brilliantly as the nefarious “Mr. McMahon,” the evil promoter and lecherous CEO who always ends up getting caught in his own schemes. As with others who base their acts upon their characters like Howard Stern and Gore Vidal it becomes difficult to tell where the character ends and the real person begins, an ingenuous sleight-of-hand that conceals much, much more than is revealed. As Edgar Allan Poe once observed: the best place to hide anything is where everyone will see it. Where does “Mr. McMahon” end and Vincent McMahon begin? Even though we realize “Mr. McMahon” to be a persona, the lines of demarcation between reality and illusion have become so blurred in our minds that we see them as extensions of one another. After all, there must be a lot of “Mr. McMahon” in Vince in order for him to pull off such a successful characterization. And yet in doing so we are falling right into the web Vince McMahon is spinning.

He’ll give us glimpses into himself from time to time, as in his Playboy interview, where he reveals his dysfunctional childhood and the fact that he hasn’t exactly been a faithful husband. Yet the revelations, instead of revealing the man behind the WWE throne, are subsumed into the text of the interview, the point of which is to showcase “Mr. McMahon,” promotional genius, instead of Vince McMahon, wrestling promoter and businessman. In this sense, it is no different than McMahon’s other public interviews, such as with Bob Costas, all of which are marked by a confrontational edge. The world vs. Mr. McMahon, which is not all that different from the wrestling persona he shows to the fans week after week on his televised shows.

This makes any biographer’s task difficult, but Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham are up to the task. Their new book: "Sex, Lies and Headlocks, The True Story of Vince McMahon," is a must-have for any wrestling fan’s bookshelf. From the opening chapter covering the unfortunate death of Owen Hart to the last pages describing the latest gimmick coming down McMahon Road, even the most jaded reader will find himself transfixed. I know, because once I began reading, I couldn’t put it down... and I as a fan and journalist lived through it all.

But how do Assael and Mooneyham do it? Well, a good writing style doesn’t hurt. This is one of the best written wrestling books to come down the pike in a long, long time. It is a case of a nonfiction book reading like a novel, not that easy a task even given the fact that the characters covered often come across larger than life. There is a discipline within the pages that steadies the narrative, placing the facts front and center and eschewing the bombast that so often seems to permeate other books on the subject.

Did the subject of the book cooperate with the authors? Are you kidding? Mooneyham told me McMahon turned down their request for interviews citing an exclusive arrangement between the WWE and Simon and Schuster. Read into that what you will.

On second thought, however, it is no great loss. McMahon knew he couldn’t control the direction of the book; after all, Mooneyham is a veteran of wrestling journalism and would immediately spot a work. So why should he cooperate with what he must have seen as an unfriendly biography, meaning one in which he cannot write the story? Assael and Mooneyham, however, did something far better: they used the public record. It’s like holding a mirror up in front of a vampire, for the one thing he cannot escape is the reality of the reflection he sees and he knows the other sees in that looking glass. No amount of spin control can reverse the course because that course had already been run and recorded.

The one thing I came away with after reading the book is an affirmation of something I noted long ago. Despite the adulation of the media and the teenyboppers who so often run wrestling web sites, Vince McMahon is not a genius. His business record before buying the WWF from his father is nothing one would write home about. His early success in routing his opposition is tempered by the fact of just who the opposition was -- a group of dinosaurs so set in their ways as to make them easy targets. When the dust cleared, there was just Vince and Ted Turner left on the hill, Turner having bought the moribund WCW from the clueless Crockett family in order to add it to his television empire, much as he did with the Atlanta Braves. But while he had great marketing success with the Braves, calling them “America’s Team” as he beamed their games into every cable market, it wasn’t so easy with wrestling. A series of bad executives and bad bookers left the WCW hanging out to dry, and it looked as if McMahon would complete the conquest. He had the big shows: Saturday Night’s Main Event, broadcast by NBC, the first time a major network broadcast wrestling since the 50s. Tuesday Night Titans on USA became a must-see for many who were attracted to its quirkiness. With Hulk Hogan as the locomotive pulling in the fans, the Gravy Train turned into the Gravy Express. And then, almost without warning, disaster. The train derailed and almost took its engineer with it.

The steroid scandal hit McMahon hard, but his reaction to it almost sank his empire. Were it not for the fact that the Government’s case was lame to begin with (imagine, your star witnesses are Rick Rude and Hulk Hogan; can you spell ‘w-o-r-k’, boys and girls?), McMahon would have slipped a few notches. But he emerged stronger, though he was hit hard in the PR Department. He could no longer claim with a straight face that the WWF product was “family entertainment” unless he was referencing the Manson Family. The real damage, however, was done in his falling out with top star Hulk Hogan, who McMahon underestimated, believing that it was he who made the Hulk and not the other way around. Hogan landed on his feet with WCW, being brought in by new executive Eric Bischoff, an eager man biding his time and building his forces for a showdown.

Vince, meanwhile, replaced Hogan with people such as Lex Luger (who joined the WWF when Vince’s World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF) collapsed) and Bret Hart, a talented singles wrestler who might have solved the problem of a headliner were he not so overexposed, having been with the WWF since the mid-80s (most of that time spent in a tag team). The WBF was Vince’s first major foray into a world outside wrestling and he came up a cropper. There were lessons to be learned from it, but he ignored them when he launched the XFL, insisting that his way of promotion was good for football since that style worked for wrestling. He was simply Ted Turner in reverse. Turner believed wrestling could be promoted like baseball and Vince believed football could be promoted like wrestling. Both forgot that wrestling is entertainment. (It is ironic that it was McMahon himself who exposed pro wrestling as mere entertainment in order to escape the rule of state athletic commissions.) Pro wrestling works best when it imitates a sport, not when it is taken on the same level with sport, because the public just won’t buy it. And that was evident from the reaction to both WCW and the XFL.

Yet, there were no outside business distractions when Vince almost met his Waterloo. Eric Bischoff decided to break the mold with his new Nitro show, positioned directly opposite McMahon’s RAW on Monday night. In another burst of irony, Vince gave Bischoff the ammunition to complete the conquest when he let Scott Hall and Kevin Nash go to WCW where they immediately caught the attention of wrestling fans with their “Outsiders” gimmick. When they were joined by Hogan himself and formed the nWo, fan interest went wild, and Hogan reinvented himself once again, this time as a heel.

McMahon, meanwhile, is pushing talent such as Salvatore Sincere, the Sultan and the heelish Bob Backlund. What ultimately saved McMahon was a combination of Bischoff dropping the baton once he took the lead and Vince himself listening to new writers such as Vince Russo who were urging him to adopt a harder line and be more like Paul Heyman and ECW. I always believed that two events helped Vince turn the corner. Bischoff fumbled with the angle that every WCW member must join the nWo within 30 days. It was terrible, because if followed to the letter, it destroyed the necessary tension between the factions. Bischoff ended up painting himself into a corner. The nWo became the Angle That Ate Chicago, or at least the WCW. It hung around long past its usefulness, spawned several other atrocious angles, and ruined any hope of creative booking.

McMahon, on the other hand, was beginning to show signs of life. His new show, Shotgun, featured manager Marlena (Terri Runnels) helping her man Goldust secure a win over the Sultan when she lifted her top and gave the Sultan and eyeful long enough for Goldust to steal the pin. McMahon had painted himself out of a corner and given fans a peek at what was to come. The emergence of Brian Pillman and Steve Austin, who was considered washed up by WCW (a case of Bischoff returning the favor) along with the Rock would tip the scales in favor of the WWF, especially since WCW at the same time lost its sense of direction and began foundering.

Given his business history, Vince McMahon falls into what historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin, quoting the Greek poet Archilochus, calls the difference between the fox and the hedgehog: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” McMahon is a good example of what happens when the hedgehog forgets his nature and tries to become a fox.

"Sex, Lies and Headlocks" contains the most thorough look at Vince McMahon, his life, and his empire currently available. If you only buy one wrestling book this year, make it this one. You will not be disappointed. The book can be found at all major and many independent book stores and online from Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Borders, among others, and also at Mike Mooneyham’s web site, where you can also read his weekly columns.

One side note, the authors of the book readily acknowledge the contribution of Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer as the basis for much, if not most, of their narrative. I have asked myself why Meltzer didn’t write a book such as this himself. Given his coverage over the years, this should have been the book he was destined to write. Perhaps it was the weekly grind of producing eight news-filled pages a week. Or perhaps he had reached his Peter Principle. I see no other newsletter editor as capable of such a task. Many of those I have read, either in print or over wire come across as wanting to be the next Vince Russo, discovered by the Master himself and brought on board the good ship WWE to write storylines for Triple H. At any rate I can only be glad Mike Mooneyham did co-author this book. I might not have purchased it otherwise.

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