"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 June 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Mat Dancing



Needless to say, we thought the

announcement long overdue. "It

is our goal," said the official

release, "To extend wrestling's

popularity to a new audience

while alerting Madison Avenue to

what millions of viewers from

all walks of life have spoken:

Wrestling is hip." Long overdue,

and perhaps a bit too late.

Although wrestling has always

had a home on the fringes of pop

culture, inhabiting obscure UHF

channels in the mid-'30s and

'40s, where large men in tights

and masks kicked and pulled at

each other while the refs stood

by helpless, blinded by

glittering costumes, or, more

likely, a well-timed spray of

baby powder. Now wrestling is

suddenly leaving its comfortable

world and entering a mainstream

one, where grapplers may find

themselves beaten at the one

thing they do best - faking it.


Why is wrestling leaving its safe

surroundings? Two words: Ted

Turner. You'd think, after the

multibillion-dollar Time-Warner

merger, after bringing his

Atlanta Braves to the World

Series five years in a row,

after acquiring Hollywood's

single biggest film library and

Jane Fonda, you'd think Mr.

Turner would have bigger fish to

fry. Other men might run for

president or create universities

and humanitarian foundations,

but Turner has harnessed his

considerable clout behind a

loftier goal: Positioning

himself as the world's most

powerful wrestling promoter.



For Turner, who owns and operates

World Championship Wrestling,

wrestling's trailer-park

residence in the entertainment

world could never be enough. Now

that he outdraws chief rival

Vince McMahon's World Wrestling

Federation every week on cable

television, Turner wants to lift

wrestling to a cash level where

it's really worth his time,

making it mainstream

entertainment alongside Arnold

Schwarzenegger, Madonna, and



With company like that, wrestling

seems an easy fit in today's

world. Mainstream America has

been churning out celebrities

tailor-made for wrestling's

upcoming pop culture merger

since long before the Extreme

Championship choreographed their

steps to Beck and the Butthole

Surfers. We've slept through the

"browser wars," we've watched

the late-night talk-show

battles, we've witnessed

costumed rappers battle as

though East vs. West mattered,

and we've cheered on a multitude

of wrestler-sized movie stars

like Arnold, Van Damme, and

Seagal. Just this year Dennis

"the Worm" Rodman risked his

championship ring to step into

another when he made a cameo

appearance in "Hollywood Hulk"

Hogan's clown show, the New

World Order (a mock-terrorist

wrestling circuit that apes

redneck One-Worlder conspiracy

theories with rigged matches -

rigged rigged matches we should

say). Certainly Henry Rollins

has perfected a spoken word

style invented by wrestlers in

their pregame shouting

interviews. And how about the

Chili Peppers? They gave up

music for circus work years ago.

They'd be the perfect good guy

combo to go up against "Nature

Boy" Rick Flair and his Four



Indeed, the frisson of all-out

combat, fierce, staged, and

empty, taints our daily lives

like never before. Entertainment

advertisers urge us to flock to

"America's #1 Movie!" a perverse

appeal to our misguided belief

in media meritocracy, and we

then make plans to see the

"winner," rather then the

"better." Accordingly, Siskel

and Ebert mark their critical

decisions with the same

imperious thumbs-up or

thumbs-down system favored by

emperors ruling on the fate of

Roman gladiators. On television,

we've watched the Letterman-Leno

bout unfold for years now,

wondering who will emerge the

time-slot champion. It doesn't

seem to matter that the fighters

are two middle-aged men with

tired ideas, the fight between

them not quite as numbing as the

shows themselves. In the end,

one or the other will declare

victory. Will it matter?



In politics, wrestling's sister

industry, the combatants hammer

each other on a partisan basis,

hitting the pol across the aisle

with that folding chair not

because the issue at hand

demands ruthless maneuvering,

but because of what the pol

across the aisle did to our guy

last week. The parties come away

seething for the rematch, which

never really decides anything

but the next day's headlines.

Issues are "debated" cage-match

style on The McLaughlin Group,

or tag-team, à la

Crossfire, daily. Pat Buchanan

even pulled the ultimate

wrestling stunt, leaping over

the ropes twice now into the

presidential race, pile-driving

Bush and Dole while the ref

looked away, and then leaping

back behind his commentator's

desk before he got scratched.

The oratory is bravado and

swagger, just the way Classy

Freddie Blassie used to play it.

Today's sound-bite journalists

and spin mechanics have mastered

prebout shout-out attacks with

skills Randy "Macho Man" Savage

and Rey Mysterio Jr. never

thought possible, and for prizes

at least as valuable as any

gold-plated belt the WCW hands



Wrestling is entering a

mainstream world already wise to

its wild, blowhard, fakery. It's

a world already using

wrestling's gimmicks for stakes

higher than George "the Animal"

Steele ever played for - indeed,

dare we say it, higher even than

the Inter-Continental

Championship Belt itself. No, in

this world, the stakes are

US$100 million movies, foreign

policy, and multinational

news-media empires like

Turner's. It's a world where

that baby-powder trick can elect

a president.



With stakes that high, one feels

sorry for "Hollywood Hulk" Hogan

and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as

Turner shoves them into the

mainstream media ring with the

likes of Sam Donaldson and Cokie

Roberts. Hogan and The Piper are

going to get their asses kicked.

In 1997, wrestling isn't hip,

it's passé. It enters a

world it created years ago, a

world that's already left it

behind. Wrestlers have endured

the calls of "Fake!" for years.

How will they react when a

different charge is made: "Not

fake enough!"

courtesy of Furious George

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