THE DEATH OF VINCE MCMAHON By Justin Henry
Drop Vince McMahon out of a cargo aircraft into the brush of a third world country sometime. Despite his protests as you fly off into the indigo skies, you leave him in the muck without a communication device, change of clothes, or even food or water. Come back a week later in that same plane, fly low over the region in which McMahon was dumped, and you know what you’d find?
You’d see the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment not only surviving, but thriving.
Likely he’ll have set up some kind of crude shelter to provide cover during his rest periods. He’ll have been living off the land, killing animals out of nourishment necessity. Or perhaps he’ll have stumbled upon a nearby village, using his effective communication techniques to barter his way in with the natives. Yeah, maybe by the time you get there to see how Vince survived the week, he’ll have overthrown the village elder by bellowing “YOU’RE FIRED!” in whatever the local language is.
Regardless of what he had to do to survive, rest assured that McMahon will be alive and well, in spite of the odds that were against him. For three-plus decades, McMahon has notched his belt on defiance, a word that has defined him as good as any. On the innovation side, McMahon dragged a sometimes-archaic business into the eras of pay-per-view, mainstream acceptance (twice), international broadcasting, and High-Definition filming. Playing defense, McMahon has dodged legal bullets from the US Government, sexual harassment claimants, and survived serious pitfalls from the situations involving Owen Hart, Chris Benoit, among others.
When you step back and look at the grand picture without any biased hindrance, it’s clear that McMahon is an extraordinary person, despite the smugness he projects, and the controversies he’s endured. No one else has rolled up their sleeves and built a wrestling empire quite like World Wrestling Entertainment. Then again, if we as people are created in God’s image, then WWE is created in the image of its resident God: over-the-top, loud, bright, and self-assured of its place at the top of the mountain peak in the clouds.
McMahon is the envy of many a wrestling fan, particularly those aware of how much power and control he wields in his hands. Vince McMahon has the clout to take two megastars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, stick them in the ring in front of thousands of their screaming fans, and then, get this: he has the say-so and authority to tell one of them that they have to lose the match, because the said so.
Imagine! The Rock is a juiced-in member of Hollywood Elite, someone that’s acted alongside Samuel L Jackson, Vin Diesel, Christopher Walken, Vince Vaughn, and so many others, and McMahon can tell him, “I want you to lay down for John Cena because I think it will make me money.” And Rock will not question it. Instead, he’ll tell the man who gave him his first million dollars, “No problem, Vince.”
Wow. That’s power right there.
And since the mid-eighties, when Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania, and Rock n Wrestling magnetized dollars and cents from the pockets of hopelessly-hooked fanboys and fangirls, McMahon has, other than a few down years, sat atop the throne of the Wrestling Kingdom, waving his scepter before his wrestling serfs and adoring peasants alike.
But despite the unprecedented windfalls and undisputed recognition as wrestling’s kingpin, McMahon, now 66 years old, is an antsy man in that throne. The lining of his crown is dampened by a tense sweat, and a trembling hand, assured by its quivering trigger finger, can barely hold grip upon that scepter.
But why? Why would the man who ushered wrestling through so many cosmetic changes, culminating his life’s work by turning WWE into a globally-revered entertainment hub, be anything less than satisfied with what he’s accomplished? After all, you could give all of McMahon’s money to one random schlub, some John Q. Public or Jane Z. Private, and they wouldn’t be able to process their gain without stopping to faint first. Yet McMahon has it, and his insatiability consumes him yet.
Is McMahon a starving artist? Hardly. What Vince McMahon has learned with respect to watching his bank account swell like his massive biceps is that money can’t buy everything. Yes, it can buy cars, houses, recreational vehicles, fancy dinners, lavish parties, and a bottle of wine from 1907 that you and I can’t afford, but Vince McMahon’s money stops short of being able to purchase something else.
Perhaps you recall in 2002 that startlingly-hokey storyline in which Triple H accused Kane of not only murdering a young cheerleader, but followed up the fatal act by sexually violating her corpse. As fans everywhere tried to find the words to respond to such absurdity, stories were published online, charging that Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn, Vinne Mac’s longtime second banana, wanted to do storylines in the vein of CSI and Six Feet Under. Further claims were that McMahon and Dunn saw crime dramas and other “network” shows as their main competition, not so much adhering to the standards of professional wrestling as we all know it.
While many laughed that McMahon would consider his programming to be on the same level as the highly-celebrated CSI, the problem with WWE today lies within that thought.
CSI is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, a man that has produced some of the most watched movies of the last thirty years, such as Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Pirates of the Caribbean, Con Air, Armageddon, among many, MANY others. That’s not to mention CSI, a show that was a ratings-winner for much of its twelve-plus season run. Bruckheimer can walk into any Hollywood party and, outside of reprisal for his conservative leanings, drink for free, because he’s Hollywood royalty.
Bruckheimer can rub shoulders with the actors in his movies, like Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy, Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis, and Johnny Depp. They, in turn, make small talk over cocktails with other actors and major players from Tinseltown. The parties are exclusive; not just any schmuck is allowed in.
The irony of that is because Vince McMahon is just such a “schmuck” to them. He’s outside those parties, face pressed to the window, nose flat to the glass. His eyes reflect a bittersweet gaze, his lips sag in depressive vanity. He wasn’t invited to this party, nor the one before it. He wants to be there rubbing elbows with the big shots.
But he can’t.
Because he’s a wrestling promoter.
Despite McMahon’s ham-fisted attempts to edit the dictionary-at-large by substituting “wrestling” with “sports-entertainment”, “belt” with “championship”, among other euphemistic switcheroos, it’s still “wrestling” to the casual observer. When they put on Monday Night Raw, they see two men, usually in wrestling tights and wrestling boots, performing wrestling holds in a wrestling ring while a wrestling referee oversees the acts one associates with wrestling.
And who’s that in the crowd? Those are the wrestling fans!
You know what “wrestling” is, right? Wrestling is that form of entertainment in which many participants have died young of heart complications, thanks to the heavy abuse of painkillers and steroids and recreational drugs. Wrestling is that place where rednecks go to sit in the crowd, holler at women in booty shorts, and cheer when someone is busted open from a crushing swing of a steel chair. Wrestling is where Hulk Hogan rambles on about saying no to drugs at the speed and exuberance of a man hopped up on amphetamines, while boasting arms that are “cosmetically crafted”. Wrestling is the business that is scripted, and its detractors scream “FAKE!”, yet they’ll become immersed in a movie or TV character, not caring that what they’re watching is just as much a “performance” as what CM Punk does.
In short, “wrestling” is a dirty word, one that is frowned upon from an elite perspective, no matter how much Vince McMahon dominates the business. Vince McMahon conquering professional wrestling is akin to climbing an eighty-foot tall fireman’s ladder, and then craning your neck around and seeing those damned Hollywood elitists partying atop Mount Kilimanjaro: the difference is salient.
After all, if wrestling is so big, how come Vince McMahon can’t get any big time actors to do his WWE Films, except the likes of Danny Glover, Robert Patrick, and Bruce Dern, long after their careers have peaked? If wrestling is so big, how come WWE has to run those “Did You Know?” factoids, where they brag about which TV shows they defeated in the ratings, as if that was going to make someone want to watch? (“Look, WWE gets better ratings than the Oxygen Network! THEY NOW HAVE MY UNDYING SUPPORT!”)
Vince McMahon is not a celebrity: he is a rich man dressed in a celebrity Halloween costume. He would give his soul, which is to assume he hasn’t sold it already, to be seen in the same light as Martin Scorsese or James Cameron, while John Cena is recognized as his Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio. He wants to walk the red carpet at the Golden Globes, or have a candid “out and about” snapshot of himself appear in Us Weekly (“Vince shops at Target, JUST LIKE US!”).
But the reality is that winning the Monday Night Wars over WCW got McMahon no closer to the worldwide respect he clamors for than anything else he’s done.
And no matter which celebrities he puts on Raw at the expense of his hard-working locker room, he’s still “Vince, the wrestling guy” and not “Vince, the media mogul.” Guys like Donald Trump and Shaquille O’Neal and The Rock and Jeremy Piven have cameoed their way in, popped the crowd, and strolled on back to brighter lights, while Vince is left standing there, the moment fleeting, before ultimately passing.
And when the moment passes, Vince is still the ‘wrestling guy’.
McMahon has attempted to remove all pretensions of “wrestling” from his product, so as to convince the world that it’s not “wrestling”. The excessive violence is now gone, as is the overt sexuality, thus eliminating a wrestling cliché. Add to that the shifting of terminologies, plus his hands-on supervision of commentary, particularly his galvanizing of propaganda into the mouth of the once-respected journalist Michael Cole (“You are watching the longest-running weekly episodic program in television history!”), and it’s clear that McMahon, who once stood over the corpse of WCW with his bloody battle-axe raised in triumph, is now an insecure man-child that will not stop until somebody, ANYBODY, that has clout reaches down with a giving hand, and passes some sage respect onto the WWE honcho.
Vince McMahon once dropped his pants in mid-ring and forced rogue employee William Regal to kiss his buttocks in order to keep his job (in storyline, not real life). The act itself was a microcosm of where McMahon’s bravado lay at the time. Having bought out WCW eight months earlier, McMahon was brazen, fearless, peerless, and without a care.
Ten years later, and McMahon begs for attention and respect like an organ grinder’s monkey. He shakes his cup at passerby, hoping that they fill it with what he needs and wants more than anything else. After all, he already won the wrestling war, and the happiness from that wore off. Winning the wrestling war again means nothing to him now. Beating TNA and ROH won’t give him that same “high”.
No, having his wife win a Connecticut Senate seat will make him drunk on glory. As a Senator’s husband, already high-profile in many ways, he’d have a better foothold to that respect he so wants.
And to increase Linda McMahon’s chances at a Senate seat she’s a longshot at winning, he’ll put the loveable Muppets on his programming, in addition to other recognizable stars, with the return of Celebrity Guests: Electric Boogaloo.
Vince McMahon is dead. I don’t know when exactly he died, because I wasn’t there at the exact moment that the defiant goliath of wrestling, who marketed wrestling better than ANYONE ever has, put his ass back into his pants, zipped up in front, and uttered the words, “I have decided to stop being unique and instead embrace the status quo, because maybe that way, those elitists might finally let me join their club.”
How ironic. Vince McMahon, who once forced dissident employees to join the on-screen Kiss My Ass Club, is kissing the asses of sponsors, political donors, and upper crust of the entertainment world, in the hopes that they respect him as an equal.
Like I said, I don’t know when Vince died, and I don’t know who this hands-and-knees beggar is that replaced him. But take that impostor, the one that shows up on Monday Night Raw from time to time these days, and drop him off into some barren wasteland sometime.
When those villagers find him, the impostor won’t say, “I will fight to survive.” He’ll instead say, “Is any of this trending right now?”
(Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose interests are rooted in NFL, MLB, NBA, wrestling, MMA, and entertainment. He can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/cynicjrh and on Facebook at facebook.com/notoriousjrh so check him out)