Maybe Rocky Doesn’t Suck (After All)
by Matthew Damascus
(Hey! I don’t care for the Rock at all, but with the wrestling business in a downward cycle and a kaboodle of negative press coming the WWF’s way, I figure I have to look at the big picture of the public image of wrestling, beyond y’know when Rhyno is gonna get that main event push. With that disclaimer out of the way, we continue.)
It’s tough being an “outed” wrestling fan, especially if you’re of the type where people say, “Hey, you don’t LOOK like a wrestling fan, hey I bet you like… um… Stone Cold and THE ROCK, ha ha People’s Elbow! People’s Elbow! Candy Ass! That shit cracks me up, yo!” Yeah, wrestling is a subtle and dramatic synthesis of performance and sport, but it sure does get an undeserved drubbing in the popular consciousness. From the sneered “rasslin'” often tossed my way by would-be hipsters who probably fetishize the A-Team, to Vince McMahon going all heavy on Bob Costas, to weirdly-researched university studies, to the cinematic oeuvre of Hulk Hogan (Santa With Muscles, anybody?), the overriding cultural icons that one associates with American professional wrestling are just downright embarrassing. It enough to make you wanna go underground.
Okay, look, lemme make it clear that I just don’t like the guy as a wrestler. I’ve never been a fan of the unstoppable hero type. For that matter, I don’t usually like the babyfaces in wrestling at all, my fave raves have been the heels, from Piper to Raven to Muta to Dibiase to Douglas to Regal, you get my drift. I’m not a big fan of his promo style, his character, or his risible third-person book. But let me tell ya right now, the Rock is probably, no fuck that, definitely the BEST recognizable public “face” that professional wrestling has had in years and years.
And I got over my petty problems and issues real fucking quick. Pragmatism rules.
Let’s put this in perspective. Does anyone remember when Hulk Hogan was THE fucking man in pro wrestling? Sadly, I do too. Now remember when he’d go on chat shows, or Saturday Night Live, or that fucking cartoon, or Thunder In Paradise? He was the face of professional wrestling. When people thought wrestling they thought the Hulkster. When people thought Hulk Hogan they thought wrestling AND a series of downright craptacular movies and tv shows. And when people SAW Hulk Hogan they saw this grotesque, steroided, orange-skinned, mostly bald, overacting buffoon. But hey, America thinks, this fucking moron is the face of wrestling, so be it.
Oh, but times do change, thank fucking god. Y’see Hogan pretty much engineered his own downfall alongside that of new playpen WCW. The WWF rose to prominence and the public, plus the media, needed a new face of wrestling, more current, someone the kids wouldn’t grimace at. That lot fell to the Rock. I admit, when the WWF started pushing him as the new crossover star, I didn’t care for the decision at all. I just prayed it would be better than Bret Hart appearing on Mad TV in character and calling out cast member Will Sasso. Fucking hell, that sucked!
When you’re a wrestling fan, it’s the little things that make you happy, like the fact that Jerry Lynn now holds the WWF Light Heavyweight Title, like when I saw the Rock on Saturday Night Live, I didn’t see a fucking amped-up gargoyle a la Hogan. I tuned in, kinda half afraid of what I would see, and what I got was pretty fucking funny guy (that Superman skit ruled the school), who looked refreshingly normal, wore his own clothes (not a permanent yellow shirt that shouted “The Rockster” or something dumb like that), and was not afraid of having fun with his character. To put it straight, that show was a relief to me, and a revelation to the popular media. “This kid can be a star,’ y’know, he’s not a dribbling freak, he’s a pretty versatile handsome fella who doesn’t have to shout “Dude” and “Brother” to get his point across (though that third-person shit has got to go).
After Saturday Night Live there was the Republican Convention (absurdist theatre that Artaud couldn’t have matched), and after the Convention there came the movie offers and the Jay Leno (hate that cunt) appearances. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The kid’s alright. Now let’s talk about Dateline NBC. What with wrestling kinda taking a beating in the press again, this Dateline appearance was pretty important. Would the Rock box Stone Phillips’ ears in a replay of the Costas dealie? No way, what we got was a tastefully furnished house, a career on the rise, a happily pregnant wife, and a fucking winning smile. Good fucking lord, that fucking smile. That smile is gonna really help out the ol’ WWF when some folks get bent outta shape about the upturn in sexist and just plain dumb content on Monday Night RAW (classic pattern — when the ratings go down the tasteless T&A goes up). That smile will melt ya. You could get lost in that goddamn sincere-ass smile.
Oh man and when that baby is born, damn what a PR coup! Finally, after fucking Hulk Hogan, scary deluded Bret Hart, and drunk ol’ redneck Stone Cold, wrestling has a figurehead (ring skills be damned) who comes off kinda domesticated and pretty well-adusted and y’know normal. Now we just gotta keep Triple H from butting in and scaring all the kiddies who’ve never seen bacne close up…