RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Wednesday, March 29

Re-Analyzing Smoky Mountain Wrestling in the Era of President Trump - March 1992/2017

[Trash Culture Anthropology series are me doing whatever the fuck it is I do. These are supported by the Patreon I have set up. Feel free to contribute, but don’t feel obligated in order to read further. Thank you to my four patrons.]

Attaching this project to the President Trump era is fatiguing, because this era is fatiguing. I think that would be the case regardless of who was elected, but Trump definitely compounds the disinterest. Both parties now seem to be synchronized to constant manufacturing of outrage to their base of smart marks, and social media and 24-hour news cycles of digital world enable that perfectly. Thus, I’ve got (like many) psychic adrenal fatigue. (Is there a psychic gland like adrenal? Is that what pineal is supposed to be? Whatever it is, mine feels over-taxed.) On top of this, the real world is starting to function with an internet foundation, meaning people are treating the real world as they would the internet, thus any sense of separation between IRL “in real life” and the digital version of yourself is quickly being blurred (fogged).
Exhibit to this effect: a few weeks back my eldest kid turned 18, and we were going to celebrate by the whole family (my ol’ lady, me, the three kids) all meeting up at her favorite Indian restaurant downtown Charlottesville for lunch. She has long community college day on Mondays (which it was), and I’m gainfully employed and shit, so I caught the free bus over, she was driving over on break, and the ol’ lady was bringing the other two kids along. After standing around waiting forever, my wife and the two youngest showed up, visibly bothered. You see, there is a “free speech” wall on the downtown pedestrian mall in Charlottesville where you can write shit in chalk, and in passing they had witnessed writing in big bold letters “THANKS ICE” in support of immigration enforcement. The ol’ lady thought this was bullshit, so wrote above or around or something some added commentary about fascism or whatever, but this triggered some old dude into coming over and asking if he could make a comment on her comment. She told him no, he insisted, and at some point attempted to speak directly to my 9-year-old daughter about what she was writing separately from this whole thing, talking around my wife. This of course caused my wife to yell at the dude and rail on him in public.
As my wife was relaying all this info to me, another lady stopped by with her stroller – strangers to us – and told my wife how in the right she was for yelling at that fucker, and telling my daughter, “Don’t let people like that bother you, or scare you, because they are on their way out.” And my 9-year-old was kinda shook by the whole thing, to be honest, not in any over the top way, but why was this old fuckin’ dude she ain’t know trying to tell her how her mom was wrong?
Well, Indian restaurant was closed on Mondays, so I couldn’t go for the ride to another restaurant for lunch because I had to get back to work, but lucky for me (and the quickly grown chip on my shoulder) the bus station was right by the free speech wall. So I went that way, saw the “THANKS ICE” post, and wrote directly above it how they were enforcing fascism or some momentarily clever bullshit like that. You know, a meme, but IRL. Then I went and chilled 20 feet away.
I saw the obvious perpetrator of thanking ICE – an old fucker with corn syrup pear belly of eating more than enough but hunger never satisfied. (This is partially due to our current food sciences, but also partially due to dominant spirit of his type of people.) I was texting my wife, because I could see the guy looking at what I wrote, but then also looking at me and sizing up whether this was a discussion he should have or not, what with me looking the way I looked. For the self-alpha like him (which makes up an obese chunk of Trump’s most vocal support), it is easy to go correct college kids or women or children or those who look easily dominated, but you have to pick your battles with people above that. I mean, it’s easy to call people cucks and snowflakes online, but the real world lacks a logout button if shit gets real.
Just as I thought the old fucker wasn’t gonna come over, he came over, and said, “Do you mind if I make a comment on your comment?” He decided to login.
“Actually yeah I do, because I just came from talking to my 9-year-old daughter, who was upset because some grown man was trying to talk around her mom to tell her what to think about something…” and this was just the beginning of a fairly pointless back-and-forth (like the internet, but in real life). But I did feel it important to make it clear that I was an old school fucker from small southern town, and he was out of line, and legal or not, I was willing to let him know that. These fuckers always go to the “But freedom of speech is legal” or some sort of defense hiding behind the law, all while complaining about how government has of recent tradition been entirely corrupt. In fact, at one point after he said he goes by the law, I laughed and was like, “You trust the government? Really?” This of course caused conflict in his belief systems – to distrust the government while using the law as a basis for defense of his public assholery, and we sort of came to the impasse that we weren’t quite sure whether my belief to act on what’s right and wrong (regardless of legal backing) or his faith in the law (regardless of government corruption) was gonna back down first.
It was at this point in our pointless discussion (like the internet), that he insinuated there was more going on with my wife in their encounter than I was aware, suggesting she was either at fault in starting the situation or wasn’t being entirely honest with me. “If we wasn’t in a public space, you would’ve just caught one upside your head,” I said. “No you wouldn’t have,” he said, in the obvious goading response of the troll. And though the blur between online and real life should’ve been more clear to me, his natural troll nature became so obvious at that point, there was no longer any chance of violence on my end, because that would’ve just affirmed him in his trollness, and he would’ve pressed charges and tried to get the news story about “angry liberal punches old guy at free speech wall” trending on whatever dumbass message boards he posts on.
“Do you got a wife?” I asked him.
“That’s none of your business.” Obviously a sore spot.
“Yeah, well it was none of your business what my kid was writing when you tried to correct her around her mother, was it?” And then any point he went to his standard troll talking points, I just asked again, “Do you got a wife?” Finally he said, “I will tell you I have two daughters, both grown.”
“Yeah, well I got three daughters, and I gotta raise them in a predatory ass world. And you – a complete stranger of an old man who they never met or know, tried to talk around my wife to my 9-year-old daughter. In this predatory ass world.”
Old fucker’s face turned a little, not much but enough he did apologize for that, saying he shouldn’t have addressed my daughter, but goddamn, it almost took fisticuffs and a goddamned 17-minute version of Yung Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazzard type performing Socratic method on his old upper middle class bourgeoisie brainwashed white male ass to get to that point. And if I wasn’t a big bearded ass regarded-as-white dude, I probably wouldn’t have been given half that conversation. I don’t know.
But that’s the level of discourse, all around. Trump Presidency is a symptom of larger cultural issues, not just the abominable act which requires resistance.
Wait, this is about Smoky Mountain Wrestling, right? Yeah, it is. You see, Trump acts as if he is working for the crowd of a Smoky Mountain Wrestling show, as if he has the inherent goodness of heart of Commissioner Bob Armstrong (or any face authority figure from any small southern wrestling promotion), but in actuality Trump is WWE – corporate-based performative folksiness. It’s the same corruption as ever, just less nuanced and without all the education to launder the corruption behind intelligent theories.
The entire month of March 1992 Smoky Mountain Wrestling was taped in Knoxville, Tennessee. Now Knoxville has the added benefit of the University of Tennessee to keep it plugging along even as economic struggle started to metastasize in the smaller towns within driving distance. And to hear Trump talk, this began very precisely around 2008, and can easily be solved. But in real world actuality, a lot of what started choking the small towns was occurring in the 1980s, under the de-regulation era of Ronald Reagan. This was when America started making the move from bonafide small businesses to corporate models, where suburbs – which had been sprawling in death spirals around major metropolises for decades, started to become the double dropkick along with big box store clusters in commercial centers, which not only continued to kill cities (but make way for gentrification!) but also pull the most valuable human resources away from all the small towns, to leave them dying worse than before. (This is all trash culture anthropological theory… I have no second-tier degree or shit like that, BUT I READ A LOT MOTHERFUCKER!) Perhaps the perfect example of this would be Wal-Mart, which expanded at aggressive rate into newer markets, priced out the smaller businesses which were already in place, until it had lockdown on the retail market, and could fluctuate prices as it saw fit, all while keep wages deflated (and without much benefit). Believe it or not, this is EXACTLY how Vince McMahon took over the wrestling industry around that same era. As Vince McMahon choked out the smaller businesses, he’d still bring WWE around for spot big show or occasional house show to the major markets, so places like Knoxville, or Richmond, VA, (where I grew up near) would still get a wrestling show, albeit very sporadically, and generally nothing more than a glorified merchandise stand with little actual relative wrestling narrative involved. (Noted in advance: wrestling has always been a business, just looking to sell shit, but the older model at least engaged the local marks to a more involved level than just coming around once or twice a year and counting on people being excited to see famous folks live.)
The difference is obvious – the old model had weekly shows in Knoxville (or monthly in Richmond, for little nasty dirtgod watching TV in his localized life), but the new corporate wrestling model came around rarely, as it pleased, to skim cash off the remaining wrestling fans.
Obviously, Jim Cornette had been burned by that with the WCW version of corporate wrestling which had attempted to be the Pepsi to Vince McMahon’s Coca-Cola. So this was a big influence on Cornette running Smoky Mountain Wrestling, perhaps naively hoping that the old way of things wasn’t completely dead already.
In people’s minds, it’s not. And that is why Trump has been so successful in convincing people he’s all about Making America Great Again, even though he lives in an apartment literally plated in gold.

In these dying towns, the talk of jobs played well because, well, jobs are kinda shitty nowadays. Even when Obama (and Bush before him, and now Trump too) touted how high employment rates were and how many jobs were created, those not deep inside the bubble (most of us) knew that these were mostly shitty jobs. Even the good ones are shitty compared to what a good job meant 30 years ago. None of us are going to work 35 years at the same place and get a gold watch when we retire. NONE OF US.
The myth of meritocracy still plays hard though, and due to this, if you are someone of any reasonable amount of talent or potential, and you are from some shithole like an hour and ten minutes out of Knoxville or Richmond, you are going to end up leaving home to get one of those good jobs. (Trust me, I know, firsthand knowledge on this one.) This depletes all these little hometowns into a cycle of diminishing returns. And those who are left, as the economic opportunities become even sparser, are told, “Well, if you want to succeed, then maybe get more education and move to where the job opportunities are.” Move up the pyramid behind the meritocracy myth.
(Oddly, in 1992 as this month of Smoky Mountain was airing, Bill Clinton was taking the lead in the Democratic primaries, which led to him being able to ride a post-Soviet, unchallenged world, to usher in the very age of global neo-liberalism we still have all the powerful progressive fuckfaces trying to shove down our throats. They pass “free trade” agreements which benefitted employers but not employees. Corporations outsourced and off-shored as much as they could, because it was okay now. There was no (hashtag) resistance to stop it.
Not so oddly, most of these dying hometowns have seen the hypocrisy in that model when it comes to keeping local small town lives stable, and those folks didn’t exactly jump out their late model hoopties to go vote for Bill Clinton’s better half.)

Here’s the thing about small towns and/or rural life – not everybody gives a fuck about moving to the top of the economic pyramid. Here’s the thing about small businesses, too – not all of them are motivated by franchising and expanding and becoming the Wal-Mart of whatever the fuck it is they do. Many people are simply motivated to build simple but stable lives – nothing more, nothing less. They are America’s version of jobbers, and they want nothing more necessarily, and there’s not a goddamned thing wrong with that.

Smoky Mountain TV example A from March 1992: Barry Horowitz. Horowitz was a career jobber, who enhanced the talent in WWE when it was WWF, in WCW when it was owned by Turner, and even though he had trickled down to SMW at this stage in his career, he was content to remain a jobber. It’s what he did. He performed as a wrestler well enough to validate whoever he was wrestling, but never took enough shine to himself to let ego cause him to demand more. He was, by all appearances, happy in his role.

Smoky Mountain TV example B from March 1992: Hustler Rip Rogers. Rogers had been a prominent wrestler in some earlier territories, but in SMW he was essentially glorified jobber. But Rip Rogers the real life man was a noted fitness freak, who had been workout pals with Macho Man Randy Savage back in the day, feeding each other into competitive frenzy of physique and stamina building. But where Savage was bound for bigger and better things, Rogers remained Hustler Rip Rogers, who never broke into the big time.
But you couldn’t deny his fitness. In fact, one episode of this month’s run of Knoxville tapings exemplified that fact, and also helped do what a jobber is supposed to do – make somebody else look better than they actually are. You see, Tim Horner was being booked as the hometown babyface and trying to receive an upper-level star push in early SMW. The one thing working hardest against this was the fact Tim Horner was about as exciting as watching deck wood cure, and on the mic cut promos that didn’t help a fucking lick. He was kinda horrible to be honest.

So in episode 6 of Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Hustler Rip Rogers is out early in the program, bragging about how fit he is, how he could do squats for days. He was challenged on this by Horner, so promised he’d do squats the entire hour TV show, without stopping, and they bet on it. Easy money for the Hustler. So throughout the entire hour-long program, Bob Caudle and Dutch Mantell check back in on Rip Rogers from time to time, and he’s just squatting along, using a steel chair back to do so. Nothing to it. As we get to the end of the show, Tim Horner comes back out, after having dealt and heard Rogers’ shit talking the whole hour, is watching him do his squats, asks Bob Caudle how much time is left, and as Caudle goes to check his watch on the announcer’s desk, kicks Rogers’ chair out so Rogers falls to the ground. Horner wins the bet (though he cheated), Rogers looks like a dick (despite being as fit as he claimed), and everybody’s happy. The crowd is behind Horner, because honestly fuck Rip Rogers. He’s too cocky, and wears pink.
(At the same time, getting a heel push was Hollywood Bob Holly, who also wore pink, considered himself above the Smoky Mountain locals because he was a movie star and dated Julia Roberts, and condescended to everyone in sight. Jim Cornette’s own team – the Heavenly Bodies – had not even shown their faces yet on TV at this point, despite multiple vignettes in March, where they were always swarmed over by adoring women who had never seen such attractive men in these Smoky Mountains. The crowd had been booked as born losers, obviously, in these instances, and unfortunately for the crowd, one is usually booked in a way that at least partially resembles who they really are.)

This set up a rematch the following week between Horner and Rip Rogers, and Rogers is a great worker – not only in the jobber sense but also in the smart mark wrestling sense. He performed well, and you could definitely see similarities betwixt him and Randy Savage. They had a perfectly wonderful television main event which made the guy who’s not the star seem competent enough to be on TV in a decent capacity moving forward, and it made the star guy going over (winning) look good. So when Horner won, the losers in the crowd see him in a better light. (And fuck man, the camera was scrolling through some old school ass looking people in the crowd.)

And to see the larger picture, there’s also Smoky Mountain TV example C from March 1992: The Dirty White Boy, who at this point still legitimately calls himself The Dirty White Boy (and being this is the partially chaotic wonderland of the internet still, with the actual Dirty White Boy classic rock construction crew ready to get drunk on a Thursday afternoon theme song, not some piped over post-WWE purchase studio pretend theme ripped by Rick Derringer’s second guitar tech who lives near the overdub studio in Connecticut). Tony Anthony debuts this month, and there’s nothing about him that would ever allow one to imagine he’d be a corporate wrestling superstar. His body shape is very specifically barroom brawler, and his wrestling style is similar. Yet in a rural-based Southern wrestling promotion, this made perfect sense, and fit in wonderfully with the east Tennessee local wrestling history. Of course it made even more sense for him to be the guy who Mr. Ron Wright takes on to manage to try and get his operations. Tony Anthony remained a top performer in SMW, and was in fact it’s top heel for many periods of Smoky Mountain’s existence. Whenever this happens, wherever it happens, eventually corporate wrestling will come buy the guy out, regardless of whether they can do anything with them or not. WWE did so with Anthony.
The problem here is Tony Anthony as The Dirty White Boy in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky backwaters makes sense. It fits the target demographic, as a majority of people in attendance are gonna know a guy like The Dirty White Boy. He was an entirely relatable character. This perhaps is not so much the case in Boston or Seattle or Anaheim or all the major arenas that WWE would be more likely to tour. So they have to come up with some other sort of gimmick for Tony Anthony. So they made him a plumber. A wrestling plumber. This, of course, failed miserably. (After Anthony was below-the-radar for a while, he did a get a second run on the WWE stage, as “Uncle Cletus” the stereotypical rural dimwit manager for the Godwinns, a tag team who were wrestling hog farmers. Wrestling hog farmers.

But all this speaks to that failed belief that everybody wants to have a gold-plated house and be King of the World. There are many places where ambition is directed at a simpler life, with family, perhaps religion, perhaps fishing, perhaps playing Spades at an old table in the backyard all Saturday afternoon long. But due to America the government giving full support to corporate America, much of the off-the-beaten-path places in this country lost their small economic base. People became inclined to drive 50 minutes to visit the Wal-Mart on a Friday night after payday instead of buying shit at the seemingly off-brand local stores (like my neighbors across the road, who also fly two variations of the confederate flag with a spotlight on them). Local IGAs got replaced by indistinguishable Food Lions. And in the shadows where Wal-Mart reach didn’t overlap thoroughly, Dollar General plugged the gaps, so you didn’t have to drive 50 minutes just to get laundry detergent and a new phone card because your 30 days was up.

So the media pundit consensus is these places all leaned towards Trump, and they are his people. But much has been made of how many of these overlooked “flyover” places also leaned Obama previously. Mostly, these people have been booked as losers for a long time, long enough they’re not gonna get a fresh push in America as something new. They know they’re losers now. So they’ll get behind anybody who will get on the mic and call bullshit on the system. But just as obviously, Trump is more Vince McMahon than any old school Southern promotion, and all these people are just Tony Anthony to Trump. They’re not his equal, just trash who’ll sit there and be attentive like you want them to so long as you say all the right things “which play well in the sticks.” See? It’s a fucking cliché.  “It plays well in the sticks.” And for now, they’re still sitting there, watching the show, even though they’ve been booked as losers. But all it’s gonna take is one large personality in the crowd to throw the first chair at the performers in the political ring, and the riots will finally break out.
And with that we end our second month of Re-Analyzing Smoky Mountain Wrestling in the Era of President Trump. To paraphrase Bob Caudle, that’s it for this month, and until next month fans, so long for now!

[And consider supporting more online trash culture anthropological ridiculousness like this through my Patreon. I am launching a Patreon-only "podcast" in the next two weeks. Please note: it will not be a normal podcast, so don't expect that stupid shit.]

No comments: