THE OBTUSE ANGLE The Cinder Block Tied to RVD's Charisma February 24, 2003
by Jeb Tennyson Lund OnlineOnslaught.com/CitizenScholar.net
Welcome to The Obtuse Angle, on location tonight at "Memories": favorite watering hole for those recently released from Starke and Rahway. The jukebox in this fecund dive is playing a delicious medley of "RV' by Faith No More, "Here Comes A Regular," by The Replacements and that funereal dirge by The Kinks: "Alcohol." At a corner table encrusted with what appears to be either blood or a congealed Bloody Mary, I sit, sipping on only the freshest Milwaukee's Best available to the paying customer. Because, when you drink by volume, you live and die by the price. Remember to tip your waitresses, because if you don't — in a place like this — it means they have to whore off-shift.
Journalists — the clever ones — like to start articles with bad puns. So you can imagine how much the cinder block from this week's Raw is weighing on my mind. The question it naturally brings me to is: why was it there? Raw's entire final segment was ridiculous for so many reasons.
First off, the cranial computing power of Raw's creative team was decided, by that segment, to be at least one-half the calculative might of a cat staring in a mirror. Just how intellectually bankrupt are you when you can't make someone hatable without resorting to props? (Answer: you're Carrot Top.) Love is the hardest emotion to foster: sincere devotion is earned through constant application of acceptable mores, actions and attitudes. Hate and fear are the lowest-common emotional denominators — thus the ultimate tools of Captain Monkey-Man (our President) and tyrants throughout history. When did hate become difficult?
The answer to this might be related to the old Vince McMahon "Kiss My Ass Club," which also featured J.R. punishment. Why is beating up a fat Oklahoman the Alpha and Omega of being a bastard? Now, I admit that I too am a bit worried when wrestlers get beaten by bad guys. I have 911 on my speed dial (laugh if you will: it saves time) for moments when Spike Dudley faces large unpleasant people; and my vigilance has been rewarded by an intimate familiarity with the Tampa police department and their "Don't call us; we'll call you" policy.
But I, and many people throughout America, am not particularly fond of Oklahoma. And I can't stand that Sooners fight song. As a result, I don't mind J.R. getting pasted. Yet how does this help Eric Bischoff? Does it make sure that J.R. doesn't slip up and start reciting oddly sexually florid yet ennui-tinged odes to him in the future? Does it make viewers want to see J.R. start an aggressive vengeance-fueled weight-training program with Carl Weathers?
Beating up J.R. ought to be the last option in the creative file — not the default one. Good God, having it as a creative option is already pretty generous. Even so, when someone beats up J.R., the creative team could at least make sure that it's done properly. If you must do something conceptually lame, don't make it an exercise in applied stupidity.
First off, there is that nasty thing that is nearly forbidden in wrestling: physics. Forget your Irish Whips, let's talk about the transference of force. Eric Bischoff kicked a cinder block that was placed against J.R.'s temple. The force was apparently so severe that it went from Bischoff's foot, to the cinder block, gave J.R.'s temple a miss, then split the area between his eyebrows wide open. Anything can happen in a wrestling ring, folks! And obviously one of those wild-card phenomena is a piece of deadly sharpened canvas.
Second, when you have an honest-to-God karate expert facing a grandmaster of barbecue sauce, perhaps making the karate expert look dangerous would be a good ploy. I have no doubts that Eric Bischoff really did break those boards. But, when those legitimate displays are followed by a gimmicked cinder block, all semblance of danger is removed. Obviously, this weakens Bischoff in regard to his match with Austin at No Way Out. But, more immediately, the casual fan (who doesn't know that Bischoff really knows karate) just thinks that some doughy guy cannot beat up an even doughier guy without a tech crew doctoring a few objects.
How hard would it have been to phone ahead to some karate schools and find a guy willing to spar on national TV with a semi-famous karate expert and noted wife-swapper? Bischoff and some jobber/sparrer could have put on a brief karate clinic, displaying some real and complex talent on Bischoff's part. Then, if it was absolutely necessary, Jim Ross could have trudged to ring-side to get clobbered. Even with the compound-idiocy of that clobbering, Bischoff would have been represented as an extremely capable and dangerous man. Instead, he looked like the protagonist in a mind-transfer comedy starring Jet Li and Gallagher.
Finally, why a cinder block? Why not a whole frozen Tuna? Or a tub of azaleas? I can understand a chair or a ring-bell being near the ring. Tables and ladders are there for the odd table or ladder match. Who the hell needs a cinder block? The only person in the history of wrestling who would consider a cinder block a decisive weapon in a fight is Sid Vicious — and that's on a "bright" day for Sid. A cinder block is heavy, cumbersome, difficult to swing and not very cool-looking. Clearly, this is the sort of weapon envisioned by a booker probably physically incapable of ever swinging one in anything but a desperate dead-armed wave through the air.
If Bischoff needs to be showcased as a heel, he should hurt a wrestler — in whatever unfair manner necessary. Before hurting that wrestler, he should be showcased as a real karate master, not a potential gimmicked-board breaker. If he needs a weapon, it shouldn't be a cinder block. But, if it has to be, the cinder block should "cut" the person where it actually hits him or her. And, most importantly, if Jerry Lawler has to save the helpless victim, he should rush the ring before that person is viciously bludgeoned.
Lance Storm and RVD: The Charisma Assassins Believe it or not, Raw's curtain jerker provided an interesting lesson in charisma or, more pointedly, it's absence. Let's look at our teachers.
Ah, RVD. Nevermind that he throws forearms with the same force that my octogenarian grandmother uses to swat at squirrels that get too close to her birdbath. Nevermind that his "amazing diversity" of kicks is often displayed with a languidness I associate with people on phenobarbitol. Nevermind that his most dangerous offense involves him striking people with his spinal column. Nevermind that he responded to a half-crab by immediately jumping up and bouncing around the ring like a super-ball. Nevermind that he ran to the wrong turnbuckle, realized that there was no heel there to sabotage his Five-Star attempt, then ran across the ring to another turnbuckle so he could "fail properly."
No, he's Mr. Monday Night. He's the Whole F'N Show. And, watching him in that match, I understood both names: he should open every Monday night, and his matches are such catastrophes of sense and execution that their unspeakable wretchedness wears on the mind like two hours of wrestling (with over-run). If RVD has educated feet, they must have a form of autism. Sure, they can calculate where to hit and when, but getting there is a halting and uncomfortable process. If movement were speech, he chronically stutters. And all of this was displayed in a match against someone with whom he's worked before. Can you imagine what would have happened if this genius had wrestled Redd Dogg?
RVD generated two pops: for showing up, and for ending the match. (Whether the latter was a display of relief, I will leave to the philosophers.) Between those decisive moments, he never appeared to connect with punches or kicks. He did make a good effort, and his innovation is pleasant to look at, but it would be more pleasant if that innovation seemed to have use. A double-inverted, juke-'em-sprinkler roundhouse (with lemon) is of no matter to anyone if it doesn't look like it connects. It's even more useless when it's performed with all the vigor and speed of a drag queen dropping his wrist and saying, "Pull-leeze, honey." Finally, it seems insulting that this happened when someone like Storm would probably have been willing to work a little more stiffly in order to more effectively sell RVD's moves.
Storm was the other factor in this charisma blowout. He has a haircut like Johnny Unitas and a walk that suggests he has more discomfort with movement than C-3P0. Let's admit it. Lance Storm looks like the kind of guy who, before a party, pours a big bowlful of Chex Mix, methodically removes every peanut and — in some sort of strange personal quest for knowledge — counts them. In short, he's a charisma nightmare.
Yet the tepid reaction to his entrance was no less than the tepid reaction to RVD's. His jump onto the top-rope, then jump off it — and later reversal and roll-up into a half-crab — received the same audience "oooh" reaction as every one of RVD's spots. In short, Lance Storm not only held his own with RVD, he matched him in terms of highspots while exceeding him in both psychology and basic physical mechanics. He could fly, and he could look like he was, you know, hurting the other person.
Who, then, is the charismatic showman? By every basic criterion — entrance reaction, reaction to moves, diversity of moves and execution of moves — Storm showed himself to be just as larger-than-life (or just as mundane) as RVD. Plus, he didn't screw up the entire match psychology and heel interference. He wasn't overwhelmingly "right"; but, good Lord, at least he wasn't wrong. That would seem to put him a cut above.
If anything, that match ought to illustrate the erosion of reputations. While Storm has always been regarded as a solid worker, RVD has been touted as one of the most breathtaking performers who can get into a ring. Only one of these statements is still true. If RVD is the Whole F'N Show, that show had better have the word "Muppet" in the title, given the level of violence he seems able to direct toward opponents. Hell, the Swedish Chef connects with more punches in one skit than Rob Van Dam has in one year. Meanwhile, Lance Storm is still the favorite usual suspect for the charisma police, when in fact he seems to be no more guilty than many other wrestlers... even Mr. Monday Night.
While many fans claim that they always watch a wrestler with an open mind, that comment seems to apply all too often only to that wrestler's first few performances. And, as fond as we are of seeing the same complex spots over and over again, perhaps we might have more fun if we wanted something just as good, albeit a bit plainer. Maybe we should ditch our open-mind strategy altogether — and, instead, simply try to change ours.
Next Week Next week, instead of my usual column, I'll be bringing OnlineOnslaught and (on delay) the Wienerboard The Obtuse Experiment. Rather than one column, I'll be bringing you five — albeit shorter pieces — from Monday through Friday. The hitch is to see whether anyone can write a complete opinion about wrestling for each day of the work week. Although there is the distinct potential for it to turn into a grappling-themed version of Diary of a Madman, hopefully it will be enjoyable for you all.
I agree with you on RVD's uninspired ring performance as of late. But you have to imagine how hard it would be to stay inspired when you have been screwed as long and as hard by WWE. See, that's why Goldust is a better worker than RVD and more deserving of a push: even though he's saddled with a crap gimmick and is constantly given meaningless matches and is always getting squashed by lesser foes....he keeps working HARD and gives his finest effort every night. I think the RVD push will finally occur once Rob adopts that same work ethic, despite his position on the card. He needs to really turn it up about 800 notches for the Kane feud.
"Also, don't incur the wrath of P.U. It can only lead to trouble." - Torchslasher
I'm with you 100%. Tonight's RAW pretty much validated a lot of what you said, and especially the Ten Things I Love About Goldust column. Goldust had a pointless interview, where he managed to incorporate his new "jittery" character in a way that was far less stupid than anticipated. RVD, had a promo segment. Then he stood in the ring, really firing things up!
I agree that maybe RVD is uninspired by what has happened to him. But his response has been to change nothing. And, like you said, Goldust's response to "burying" gimmicks has been to tweak and adapt them in a way that has been both fun and genius. How can one man adapt and overcome so much when another man — who is touted as far more gifted — can do nothing but remain static and hope that circumstances just change for him?
Yeah. RVD is relying on the fans to throw him through the "glass ceiling," but it seems his fan reaction is much less rabid than say, six months ago. That's just my opinion. Goldust is like the guy in high school plays who always got sucky parts, but stole the show anyway. RVD needs to get that same kind of attitude and determination: "Match with Rodney Mack? No problem - I'll do my spots, including a cost-to-coast Van Terminator, but I'll also run harder, jump faster, and in general, HUSTLE. I'll look like I'm INTO IT." The Dudley Boyz had the same problem just before the Brand Extension. They just looked so bored in the ring.
"Also, don't incur the wrath of P.U. It can only lead to trouble." - Torchslasher