JUSTIN SHAPIRSHOW episode 2: Producer’s Notes

thecubsfan @thecubsfan
The helpful thing about great @jmshapyro posts on the F4 board is they’re easy to copy & claim as my own when only subscribers can see them.

If Cubs wants the syndicated rights to my posts too we’re going to have to re-do my new contract.

flik510 said: Not sure I buy Justin’s arguments that wrestling’s always sucked, the only reasons people think it sucks now is because they’ve seen it all and that you can’t point to stuff like 1992 WCW/WWF as being better because modern WWE makes more money.

Matt and I both threw out a whole lot of stuff and didn’t have time to see all assertions and arguments through to their Mitchell/Kellerian exhaustion point. So please let me elaborate.

I didn’t mean that wrestling’s always sucked, just that its obsessed hardcore fandom is often inherently dissatisfied with it, like a lot of fan subcultures are. 10-page threads picketing Meltzer’s house crop up today if he says anything negative about 1980s WWF (or even if he’s quoted from the 80s saying something negative about 1980s WWF), but the equivalents of us 25 years ago despised WWF. It was only as people who grew up on 80s WWF grew into a new generation of newsletter/internet fans that it was reevaluated, through the combination of fond memories and a better appreciation for how strong they were at promoting and how effective and organized their booking was. Also a more realistic, objective assessment of Hogan that usually credits him for his charisma and playing his part pretty much exactly as he should have through about 1991. At the time, though, it was all anathema, the ruination of wrestling, the away team. Today it’s the wrestling from when wrestling was good.

That’s not to say that the present is always good but being misinterpreted as bad. Just that perceptions shift and nostalgia is powerful. 1992 WWF is a perfect example. I didn’t just mean it wasn’t good in Worthington’s Law “more money = better than” terms. It’s considered this great year because people distill the whole year down to four nights. More specifically, about seven matches from four nights. There were legendary matches, but they fell into them pretty much accidentally, sanding over toxic steroid distribution and pedophilia scandals, and because they booked one PPV in England. Wrestlemania 8 happened in part because they’d already messed up the Hogan/Flair feud, in part because Hogan damaged his marketability with Zahorian, Arsenio, and the fallout from that. SummerSlam happened because they had to bring back Warrior to replace Hogan and later Sid, because of the steroid fallout. Survivor Series happened because they had to turn to Bret and Perfect to replace Warrior, because of steroid fallout. It’s fondly remembered because it was more “interesting” with all the hotshotting scrambling to fill the Hogan vacuum, like having the reigns taken off to run free after years of the fixed Hogan pattern.

So it was new and crazy, and some talented people were involved, but it wasn’t particularly well-booked. Savage and Flair was an awesome angle to start that they kind of chickened out on before they even got to the match, then just dropped because Elizabeth left the company. Flair lost the first match so their top program for the rest of the year was psychologically backwards with a heel chasing a face for the title, and bald, shirt-wearing Savage didn’t have the same aura he did before he’d been retired — he was put out to pasture by the end of the year. Their #1A program was one of the worst angles in company history with Papa Shango putting a curse on Ultimate Warrior. Depth started to get bad too as their popular midcard stars from that era were getting washed up and they tried to restock with less charismatic new babyfaces like Tatanka and Crush and failed conceptual heels like Nailz and Papa Shango. But four nights with great main events + your favorite memories, and you’ve got a great year. WWE 2011 would be pretty amazing too if it was just evaluated on Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Extreme Rules, and Money in the Bank, while remembering the angles worth remembering and forgetting the bad ones because they weren’t as fun.

Still not saying that everything considered bad today has secretly been good. I would argue, though, that 2005-2008 WWE, famous flaws notwithstanding, was for the most part a good, effective product for a brand new audience of fans grown by Cena and to a lesser extent Batista in 2005. It was traditional WWF “a super babyface cycles through heels” booking built around a new generation of headliners in Cena, Batista, Edge, and Orton mixed in new match-ups with each other and Triple H, Michaels, and Undertaker. It worked for an audience of John Cena fans, turned house shows around, featured four huge Wrestlemanias, and had the added bonus for us-types of providing some great matches. Now only two of those seven guys are left full-time, the booking and promotion have gotten worse, and the central star is past his prime and not effective as a draw or an act in the ways he used to be. But every big run tapers out eventually, and it doesn’t mean it never worked to begin with.

It is plausible that Vince has reached senile Verne Gagne level of out-of-touchedness, we’re currently in the death throes, and there’s no coming back from this. But people have been saying WWE is dying since 2001, and they’ve certainly done plenty of things wrong over that time, but they also managed to fit a business resurgence into four entire years of the decade of their undoing. A resurgence that people either ignored or never even realized was happening because it was resurged by a generation of little Cena kids showing up to see someone who hardcore fans thought was bad. Not unlike the Hulkamaniacs who were helping Hogan and WWF do records business in the 80s while being hated by newsletter readers. That’s not to say the two levels of success were equivalent, especially since Hogan was never vocally rejected by a percentage of the people actually in attendance. But there’s a whole generation of Cena kids growing up, not all but some of whom will become lifelong fans, and not all but some of those of whom will become hardcore fans, to whom that era was the real era of wrestling. And they’ll be on the internet arguing with us, as holograms, while driving their phones, that everything must’ve worked back then because I enjoyed it and you had to be there and I can’t believe Big Show isn’t in the WON Hall of Fame, he was the World’s Largest Athlete.

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BTWs I should have a NEW EPISODE next week. It is not gonna be so smart-like.

Yours in yours,
Justin (Shapiro)

2 thoughts on “JUSTIN SHAPIRSHOW episode 2: Producer’s Notes”

  1. I think a lot of people’s perspectives come from when they started watching wrestling.

    I believe one of the reasons I see things differently than a lot of people I know in the online community is that I didn’t start watching until I was already a teenager (this would be 1985) and not as a little kid.

    One of the things I always think when I listen to Joe and Justin do WWF flashback podcasts is how differently their memories are than mine, because they are remembering what they saw as kids (presumably) and what I saw as an adult, who by 1991, was already an Observer subscriber in college.

    For me, I get a lot more enjoyment now watching stuff from the territories I missed that was either right before I started watching (82-84 Crockett) or from promotions I couldn’t have seen in 1985 (Memphis, Watts, Florida).

    Now, I just need to finally revive our Mid-South history analysis site.

  2. My point exactly, Mark, well said. I’m sure there are Strangler Lewis fans who thought all wrestling sucked after him. And they all died — let that serve as a warning to everyone.

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