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24.6.11 0036
The 7 - Guest Columns - The Obtuse Angle: The Ghost of Mick Foley
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Wolfram J. Paulovich
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#1 Posted on 27.5.03 2148.50
Reposted on: 27.5.10 2150.20

Steve Austin and the Ghost of Mick Foley
May 27, 2003
by Jeb Tennyson Lund

    I grabbed the mike and tried to sound sad as I began to address the crowd. "I guess you can tell that I am in considerable pain by the way I walk." The crowd nodded in agreement. "Indeed, walking with an injury is very difficult, or in other words, 'LIMPIN' AIN'T EASY.' " The remark was met with both laughter and groans from the audience, and great amusement from Kane and The Rock....

    A giant crash signaled Austin's entrance.... Stone Cold grabbed the mike and began to speak. Actually, he began to tell a story. Austin is a tremendous promo guy, but in the ten years that I'd known him, I had never actually heard him tell a story. Why would he pick this match to begin? "My uncle was a man of the sea," Steve began. "He provided for his family by fishing for small crustaceans. Then one day a storm came along and sunk my uncle's boat. When he came home, he had only one thing to say... Shrimpin' Ain't Easy."

    The ring had now turned into a children's play area, where big, bruising thugs looked about as dangerous as a gaggle of baby geese. The Rock tried to gain control with something about Austin's "monkey ass," but I cut him off. "Rock, you're always talking about monkeys, which your know are part of the primate group, as is the chimpanzee. And everyone knows... Chimpin' Ain't Easy." The Rock lost all semblance of being in character and burst out laughing. Austin simply put his face in the corner so no one could see it, but his shaking stomach gave his laughter away. Even Kane, whose entire face was hidden, wasn't safe. I looked at him, and his mask was moving up and down, up and down, with waves of laughter....

    I believe that deep down, the crowd wants to know that we are friends. And I think they feel good knowing that we enjoy what we do.
    — Mick Foley, Foley Is Good [pages 97-103]

Years ago, Mick Foley was much maligned for suggesting that a greater degree of comedy be included in WWF stories and interviews. He did not suggest slapstick or Marx Brothers-style absurdism. Foley, in line with the man he is, favored gentle comedy, authentic comedy, a funny emotional realism as counterpoint to so much gritty emotional realism. In a sense, this Monday showed how right he was.

More pointedly, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Hardest Working Redneck in Show Business, showed how right Foley was. Austin has, in the last three weeks, made Raw fun. Sure, he reinstated the IC Title, which alone would have made many people think fondly of him. But most of his actions have been, really, antics. Austin stalks around backstage and in the ring, bringing a perverse and totally authentic exuberance to his persona and the show in general.

Perhaps it is a matter of motivation or creative writing, but Austin is the only person out there having fun. He enjoys his job. He has hates, passions, convictions and goals. Yet, somehow, along the way, he stops, smells the roses, pours beer on them, has an extremely involved one-sided conversation with them, then tries to feed them to Eric Bischoff. What's not to like? Compare him to the other human stimuli we get:

• Kane: often quiet, perhaps monstrous, motivated to keep a belt for reasons unknown, serious.
• RVD: monstrously poor as an actor, perhaps stoned, motivated to keep a belt for reasons unknown, serious.
• Jamal and Rosie: jobbers, still trying not to be jobbers, doing so in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are complete jobbers, nonetheless persevering for reasons unknown, serious.
• Rico: former manager of jobbers for reasons unknown, has abandoned jobbers because they are jobbers, is off to do things unknown for ultimate reasons unknown, serious.
• The Hurricane: funny, has fun, does well, champions good at his own expense, ultimate goals unknown.
• Lance Storm: apparently does Jericho's bidding for reasons unknown, jobs, ultimate goals unknown, preternaturally serious.
• Kevin Nash: mad at Triple H, ultimate purpose unknown, serious.
• Shawn Michaels: mad at Triple H, may be mad at/pleased with Kevin Nash, Ric Flair or Chris Jericho, or have his own ultimate goals, all for reasons unknown, mostly serious.
• Booker T: aspiring to something unknown, mostly serious.
• Goldust: perennially screwed, poor bastard.
• Chris Jericho: just sort of there, enjoying being there, trying to be above "there" while also seeming satisfied with being there — position, purpose, place or goals unknown.
• Ric Flair: may be mad at or happy with many, ultimate goals and purpose unknown, mostly serious.
• Triple H: deadly serious about having a belt, keeping it, talking about it, ability to have fun unknown/undiscovered.

With the exception of the Hurricane or Goldust — both of whom have fun, but are not guaranteed to be on a show, for any reason — virtually all of these wrestlers are cheerlessly pursuing something, we know not what. (Jericho is also an exception, but he is to so many rules.) Of them all, Triple H has the most indelibly defined motivation, but I defy anyone to note a time when he seemed even the remotest bit satisfied. For an enduring champion, he takes little pleasure in anything. He's at the apex of the business; he has satisfied most of his career goals, but there's no sense of tingling electricity about Triple H the character or Paul LeVesque the man. There is only an air of grim notation, acknowledgement and duty, like the most electrifying tax audit in sports entertainment. Why on earth is he still there?

Austin, on the other hand, is happy. And his happiness is infectious. He clearly enjoys his job, in spite of the unpleasant tasks and goals it brings. When he says, "I am trying real hard... to maintain my composure," it seems he does so less because he actually hates someone and more so because they interrupt him when he's riffing on something that really interests him.

Even his dislikes are teasing, childlike and precocious. Obviously, weeks ago, he could not stand Chief Morley. Logically, maintaining Morley in his current position and not firing him would irk Eric Bischoff; Austin could flex his muscles and foil his opponent. And, when it seemed as if he would do just that, he fired Morley anyway. Why? It was a lot more fun to do the illogical but amusing thing: "You and I agree you should stick around. Screw it, you're fired! Didn't see that coming, didja?" All reason aside, it was more amusing to see Morley look shocked for a minute than aggrieve Bischoff for weeks. After all, Austin could do that on his own.

Another fine example: The Most Hydrated World Champion, Triple H. If there is one thing we all have learned from watching WWE television for three years, it's that there is (regrettably) always time to watch Triple H stare at the ring apron in a darkened arena, spit Aquafina everywhere, hold his arms out and make a big silly "Whhaaauugghhhh!" face for a long time. But Austin said, "I ain't got time to watch you spit your stupid-ass water." Even if he was serious about there being limited time, he exuded a child-like impatience: let's get this pointless display over so I can talk again. It probably didn't hurt that he echoed the sentiments of countless viewers.

There were countless other examples from the show. Austin, appearing on the screen á la the Wizard of Oz and ordering a tag match, apparently for either justice or his own amusement. Austin curing Bischoff's hangover with "hair of the dog" or a megaphone, or rhythmic banging of a trashcan lid. Austin establishing his own serious interrogation room, striding purposefully into it, shutting the blinds, then peering out them... like a little kid playing "spy on the grown-ups." Then, of course, he tried to interview Lance Storm — which is, I imagine, like trying to get blood from a stone — but he did so with a kind of joyous play-acting. He was serious, but he never let the gravity get in the way of cracking his own smile.

This is, I think, what Foley intended. Do we doubt that Austin wanted to find out who nearly ran over Goldberg? No. Do we doubt that he had an important announcement that couldn't wait for Triple H to atomize his spring water? Maybe, but who cares? Do we doubt that Chief Morley would be better off as a wrestler and not Bischoff's tool, or that Kane/RVD v. Jericho/Christian would make a fitting tag match following their confrontation? Absolutely not.

Nonetheless, Austin is the Big Little Kid, and often he speaks for the kid inside us. That he does so while also furthering plots in a beneficial way can be chalked up to good booking and fantastic acting. Austin's lighthearted element and — most of all — his authentic human element propels the story and the experience for viewers.

Wrestling is formulaic and archetypal at heart. Bad guys and good guys want things and face off. These desires and conflicts, however, need not be so deadly dull. Earnestness should never be defined (or taken over) by cheerlessness. Yet that is what we often see. Brock Lesnar wants a belt because, um, he wants it. Okay, that's nice. He and Triple H, Kane, RVD and Nash are no different, except that one is dully good, one is dully evil and the others are dully ambiguous or just dull. I guess that's also nice. But no light flashes in their expressions, no sudden sense of exhilarating humanity.

Foley might have spoken of humor too enthusiastically. Those comments obscured a more essential and fundamental message: that wrestling needs whole human beings — capable of mirth and ambition in all settings, even the direst. Stone Cold may not be presently beset by countless troubles, but his goals and actions stem from enthusiasm and excited engagement.

It's a sad statement on WWE's presentation of its own major wrestlers that the man who left wrestling in protest now seems to be the one happiest to just be there, no matter what.

I apologize for not posting this here earlier, but I was out of town all weekend and forgot about it. Hopefully it interests a few people.
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#2 Posted on 28.5.03 0601.26
Reposted on: 28.5.10 0608.14
I thought that was really good.

The ongoing point about people having goals is an interesting one. I'm not positive on what exactly everyone could put forth as a goal, other than winning whatever title they're most in position to shoot for- but I like the idea. There has to be something more, though I couldn't really see a bunch of white guys backstage arguing over who's going to be the first one to beat Rodney Mack's White Boy Challenge. "I'm better than you" doesn't always cut it... and even being the pinnacle of excellence as the champ sometimes needs something more. Besides that, nobody ever really says anything about wanting to win a title unless they've got a confirmed upcoming match with a champion. Hell, has there been any title passion since "Shawn Michaels' Boyhood Dream"? Booker gets a little bit, but he's only passionate about a title from a place that doesn't exist anymore. As stupid and insignificant ideas they may have been, something I always liked was Gorilla (and to a lesser extent, Dusty) basically saying that if you won a match, you got more money... very simplistic and basic, but it was something. (I guess they did this as well as the the title passion thing with Jamie Noble, as him winning the CW title made him rich and important enough to eat out at Italian restaurants.) The other stupid little thing I liked was back when WCW would run a Top 10 rankings promo as a commercial bumper back on WCWSN. You had your US champ at 1, and 9 guys behind him as the top contenders for the world title. I don't recall if they even played this up anywhere else on the air, but I thought it was a cool idea, and if they went a little more in-depth with it and explained why a guy was moving up, they could do something with it. That way, the undercard matches would have a stated way of meaning a little more, instead of just "Wrestler X picks up the victory". I dunno.

After all that blathering, a question- Jeb, what do you think about Christian? I'm not sure if it's just me having watched him have fun for years already, but it always seems like he's having fun, especially as The New People's Champ. Maybe I'm just seeing things.

EDIT: spelling

(edited by Ubermonkeys on 28.5.03 0703)
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#3 Posted on 28.5.03 0648.06
Reposted on: 28.5.10 0649.49
Dear me that was good Jeb.

It touched on exactly why I was so happ to have The Rock back for the short period of time he was around.

It didnt matter what he was doing, or who he was doing it with, but he always gave off the impression that he was really enjoying himself and that transmitted to the viewers.

Thats why everyone enjoyed Booker T and Golddust as a partnership. While they essentially were little more than glorified jobbers as a tag team they always seemed happy just to be there, to do what they were doing. And more than anything there seemed to be a genuine affinity between them thats missing from many tag teams.

Why are Rhyno and Benoit together? What have RVD and Kane really got in common?

Of course we dont need everyone to be happy-go-lucky or even invariably content, but would it really hurt to have RVD and Kane give off the impression once in a while that they were pleased to be where they're at?

Triple H's sole raison d'etre is the acquisition and retention of his title and yet he never seems happy to have it. Wheres the old HHH that not only wanted the title but firmly believed that he was the right man to hold it and was able to exude confidence in his role and take satisfaction from it?

Christian is bringing a smidge of fun to our screens also, as does Jericho, but even when exuding cocky exuberance both seem ready to burst into tears at any minute.

Anywho Jeb, you made me think, you made me laugh. A thank you.
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#4 Posted on 28.5.03 1232.29
Reposted on: 28.5.10 1232.32
Absolutely incredible. A fine read, and the kind of material that would get published if it didn't concern wrestling. If it's true that WWE has writers that got this job because they couldn;t do sitcoms, or whatever the current name is for the monkeys with typewriters, then why is there not more humor? The Austin-McMahon struggle was so much fun for so long not only because it was an average Joe versus the big boss, but it was funny. Austin hit McMahon over the head with a bedpan, for crying out loud. It gets across the point that Austin will do anything to get at McMahon, and it's just downright humorous. Why aren't there more of the RVD-Kane vignettes like the one where RVD asked if Kane wanted to play Shoots and Ladders? That was funny and effective, something that is sadly missing from the programming.
Wolfram J. Paulovich
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#5 Posted on 28.5.03 1504.44
Reposted on: 28.5.10 1505.57
Thanks very much, everybody. I was have a terrible fit of writer's block and wrote this sort of last-minute, so I was fairly disappointed with it. It's good to see it's striking some chords with people and that it's apparently not as bad as I thought.

I guess part of the reason for my disappointment is that I originally wanted to include a few more ideas, but couldn't because of time constraints. In response to your question, Über, yeah I had a paragraph or two that I wanted to devote to talking about Christian.

What I like about him and the New People's Champ idea is that there are vestiges of the old goofy Christian in there. He's clearly having a blast and gives off this air of "how did I get to this amazing place?" And he also seems to say that even that impression is wrong: that he is actually joking about being goofy. In fact, he seems to say, "I think it's even funnier that I'm trying to be the Rock. Isn't that weird?"

But then the door closes, shut at the last minute by the return of a serious point or aim. Christian seems to play two jokes on himself (I'm a boob, or I'm an imitator), then drop the hammer and say that there's no joke at all.

The end product could probably be summarized: "Think I'm joking...? Ya think I'm joking...? I could be joking. Am I joking...? Joke's on you, Chumpstain."

The seriousness only works because all the jokes build up questions about his motivation and character. The sudden seriousness (in the end, the only thing that seems real) slams the door shut, leaving you outside peering in. That's what I get from watching him, and that's why I'm excited to see where he goes with his title.

Anyway, that's sort of what I was going to include, if I had the time. Thanks again for the good words, guys.
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#6 Posted on 28.5.03 1906.52
Reposted on: 28.5.10 1906.58
I agree wholeheartedly. We watch wrestling every week. We know how many times x wrestler has held y title. We know stuff like The Undertaker's W/L record at Wrestlemania. We know how many times Ric Flair has been world champ. We know these guys like the backs of our hands.

Sometimes it's nice seeing the guys let us in on the fact that it's all a big act and they are just in there to have fun. Foley made a great point when he said that sometimes we just want to see the wrestlers be friends. I would LOVE to have seen the off camera tribute to Flair. Remember a few years ago when Rock and Austin had a sing-off? That was the funniest and most entertaining thing ever. They looked like they were having the best time in there. That's what made it work, I think.

Humor IS needed in the WWE. That's a fact. Any great Shakespeare play has comedy scenes interspersed to relieve some of the tension. The hard part is finding someone who can do it consistently. Jericho is hit and miss. His insulting Roddy Piper at the PPV gave me flashes back to the old days when he was in WCW and was literally the highlight of the night. We need more Austins, Rocks, Angles, and Hogans. These are the guys who can make me laugh like no one else in wrestling today.

Great column with great points made. Keep up the good work.
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#7 Posted on 28.5.03 2359.49
Reposted on: 29.5.10 0000.58
When they first did the roster split, I remember thinking that they did seem to have some characteristics in mind to define the different casts. And I think they’ve pretty much stuck by that initial charter. Smackdown is the fun show. Raw is the mean show. Smackdown has the fun, flying, flipping guys. Raw has the big, mean, serious monsters. Smackdown has the entertaining personalities. Raw has the grr-grr-biff-biff, intense bad-asses. (By gawd.). Smackdown is stylish. Raw is old-school. Smackdown is Adult Swim. Raw is HBO Productions. Smackdown is the “comedy”. Raw is the “tragedy”.

Naturally they did some cross-pollination, adding a little meanness to Smackdown & a little fun to Raw, just for a bit of balance. There’s always some tuning to that balance, but overall, I think they’re staying with those definitions.

If we look at the Smackdown cast, that’s where we find the joy & the fun. Brock was driven to get the championship, & now that he has it, he does enjoy it. (I don’t get the objections to his smiling & having a good time. He’s the freakin’ champion. That’s just so cool!) His feud with Big Show was driven by Brock protecting his buddy. Lots of the plotlines on Smackdown involve helping out your pals. Rey is pure joy in motion. Eddie & Chavo’s characters enjoy life (Viva la Raza!), & they really seem to be enjoying themselves in the ring. Even though the FBI are bad guys, they play caricatures that are fun for us to watch, fun for them to play, & fun for the other guys to play with. (Undertaker, in the cafeteria, back to Nunzio: “How youze doin’?”) Spanky is totally there to play, & we love that. Hulk Hogan & Mr. America (Two different guys, naturally.) are lovable cartoons on the outside, with a wealth of depth, personality & character beneath. Undertaker, whose character is arguably the definitive old-school bad-ass, is recently motivated by friendships & camaraderie, & allows the depth of a Decade of (Character) Development to show through. And he looks to me like he may be legitimately having the most fun of his whole career.

So, does Smackdown have it right, & Raw have it wrong? I don’t think so. People like comedies & people like dramas, & too much of either can be tiresome. I think what Raw has been missing out on is developing & exploring the depth of most of its characters. Developing & exposing that “authentic human element” (as Jeb referred to it) is challenging in a dramatic context.

We all (As much as “we all” ever agree on anything.) went Crazy Go Nuts over Ric Flair last week in the setup for the match with Triple H. There was no comedy, but there was depth & there was humanity. Ric Flair is The Man. There is no way that it would be fair to have expectations for everybody in the cast to connect with the audience the way that he can (& did). But I do think it is reasonable to expect creative to give more opportunity (& help, if necessary) to the Raw cast to develop more depth & humanity than many of them currently have.

It certainly is easier for the performers on the “fun” show to share fun with us. It’s a much tougher assignment for the performers on the “intense” show to make an emotional connection with the audience. But when they do, it can be really extraordinary.
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#8 Posted on 31.5.03 0007.51
Reposted on: 31.5.10 0013.49
Good points, Jeb. I prefer RAW to Smackdown (and have for a long, long time--don't know why, I just do), and the past month has justified me.

I didn't want Austin back. When he left, it was same old, same old for me. When he came back, granted, it WAS that way for awhile, but since he's been given the Co-GM spot, he's been an immense joy to watch. He has, truly, been the highlight of the night as far as Mondays are concerned.

Maybe our favorite "sport" needs more comedy. I think so. Of course, being somewhat of an aspiring comedy writer, I'm probably biased, but there you have it.

Anyway...GO AUSTIN!!!
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#9 Posted on 31.5.03 0122.24
Reposted on: 31.5.10 0125.34
Great commentary Jeb,

Austin might be the best actor that I've ever seen in wrestling. He can be funny, then he can be creepy, then he can be intense all in consecutive scenes... I don't know if he improvises or not but it seems so many times that he is and makes it funnier.

I hear a lot of top IWC writers saying Angle needs to drop the comedy. For me that would be such a shame. It's so hard to do comedy and Kurt has such a gift for it. And I love looking forward to his segments because I know it's going to put a smile on my face... The much criticized Milk bath/Austin Appreciation Night is still embedded in my brain as one of the most memorable moments on Raw. The entire gift giving, singing and milk shower from 2 years ago I can remember more then some of the "intense" main event interviews that were given just a couple of weeks ago.

But I do think there needs to be a nice balance, and when you really hit it that's when I think wrestling is at it's best

BTW Great Post as well Emma

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