Friday, August 19, 2011

CM Punk, Rites of Spring

Drove down to Normal from Chicago last night. Didn't get in til late, but was lucky enough to spend some time with one of my favorite wrestling nuts, having just had good conversations a few hours earlier with one of my other favorite wrestling nuts. There is something beautiful about cutting off the rest of the world in a discussion about the subtleties of art. Especially when shitty beer is involved. This point was brought to my attention, and I mulled over last night while driving back, and even more so while re-watching the end of Summer Slam and Punk/Nash from Raw.

Chris Jericho on the radio show Between The Ropes:
"...I'm sure guys like you and me thought that [Punk and Nash/HHH] but your average person doesn't have a clue about stuff like that. They just know that Punk is doing something he's not supposed to be doing and saying something he's never said before. That's also why I don't think the Nash thing worked out so well this because they went too inside."
My initial reaction, especially within the context of the conversation, was to point out the self-serving aspects of this thought process. Jericho will inevitably be making a return to wrestling at his convenience and it's in his best interest to remain connected in some way to the wrestling world. Being critical of story lines is a way for him to remain relevant while he pursues his other endeavors and he fits this roles very well. He's opinionated and he's got one of the better creative minds in the history of the business.When Orton first beat Christian on SmackDown for the World Heavyweight Title there was a tremendous uproar from fans who thought this was a terrible move, a return to a norm that nobody was interested in. Jericho on the other hand was critical of the reactionary protests, bluntly tweeting "ever consider this to be part of a bigger story?" Of course that story would become one of this year's top feuds. Jericho's criticism while intrinsically motivated to some extent, is astute, he sees the further possibilities of an angle, he's a guy we know to have a sincere adoration for the sport.

His thoughts on the CM Punk angle hit on several interesting points worth considering as this feud, more than anything is forcing WWE to become increasingly self-analytical. One of the beauties of professional wrestling super-fandom is the joy that comes from being a part of infinite number of in-jokes that the rest of the world is either unaware of or trying to forget. A reference to Papa Shango when The Godfather is brought up is a +1. The Hacksaw Jim Duggan twitter is an excellent example of this. The super-fan is very aware of wrestling's history and we revel at the opportunity of bringing it up when the powers at be would rather have it removed from existence.

When we think of the Undetaker's Wrestlemania streak, we're asked to conjure up images of battles with Shawn Michaels, Kane, Batista. Giant Gonzalez and King Kong Bundy are lightly touched upon if at all. And most of these references are in the name of self-deprecation.

When CM Punk performed the "Blue Blood Bow" in front of Triple H it was a direct slap in the face to every achievement Triple H performed as The Game. The physical transformation, the titles, the legacy. The years he spent in working to erase that early history which only sat in the memories of the subset of vocal lifers who remembered Hunter Hearst Helmsley. The guy who wrestled in a hog pen match, the guy who lost his first Wrestlemania match to The Ultimate Warrior in under a minute. Knowing the significance of that gesture, I was in awe at the audacity of CM Punk, and also appreciative of Paul Levesque's humility in allowing it. That bow may still be the best part of this angle so far.

Jericho notes that this awareness is only possessed by a certain section of the crowd, arguing on behalf of those not in the know, specifically in the case of Vinny Vegas, err, Kevin Nash. I'm not sure if I agree with this criticism. It's not uncommon for announcers to use historical significance as a means of putting someone over. It came with the introduction of Jerry Lawler and has come to countless Special Guest Referees, General Managers, and Commissioners. "Don't know who Sgt. Slaughter is? Take our word for it, he's important." Jericho will rely on the same tools whenever he chooses to return, obviously not as heavily as Nash, but like The Rock, you'll have to remember or be told that he was once important. When Nash came out, if you didn't know who he was, the reverence held for him by Jim Ross was enough to sell him. His bit with Punk certainly worked to his benefit, perhaps his own words provided all we really need to know--he "changed the business."

The return of Nash and the current state of WWE has all of us in the dignified circle creaming ourselves with Attitude-era nostalgia. The addition of Nash has certainly helped in fueling this. It's a very special time to be a wrestling fan. The problem with this nostalgia, however, in our glorification of wrestling's history, is our demand for a full-on return to the past. In order for things to be properly put into place Punk must take on the establishment. Cena must turn heel (Cena's response to this demand has been flawless: "Yawn..stop looking at this bizz in black and white. I am not a 'heel' or a 'face', I am me. I find it comical that u truly believe ... That archaic ideology still exists. Today, wwe fans cheer for who they please, which is why I love this company. I should mail u a pair..Of my shorts, because your stuck in 1993."). The vocal subset of super-fans, the impossible to please, are wetting their lips at the thought of being sold the same stories sold in 1998. I don't think we expect CM Punk to shower Triple H will beer, or Pepsi, but many have been calling for the same archetype.

Wrestling has returned to a safe TV-PG format, the same as it was when Diesel was WWF Champion. When Triple H was Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Then the nWo came. Austin and D-X. The demands of the fans are that we do this again with different guys and while I'll admit myself that I would love for this to happen, progress can not be achieved through repetition of the past.  If wrestling is truly going to enter into a new chapter of historical significance, it must do so by continuing to push boundaries. The parallels between right now and the beginning of the Attitude-era are many, but a return to the Attitude-era will be just that, a return. The alternative, is something that's never been done before. The business is looking at itself in the mirror for the first time in years, and acknowledging aspects it would have once chosen to hide.

When it comes to any art form, awareness and respect of historical precedents is imperative. History itself though, is subjective, and for the first time in memory, WWE has chosen to use history in a way that is self-analytical and at times self-deprecating. It's important to remember though, that while history can be used as a tool for story lines, we are not gaining anything from asking for it to be repeated.

While some may not represent the subtle implications of Kevin Nash's return, what's important is that he's being represented in a way we've never seen before which affords us the opportunity to see him go through a storyline that we thought we'd never see. 

1 comment:

  1. I would like to see a Pepsi shower. And I stood up and said 'no fucking way' when punk pulled out that bow.