Play It Cool Boy

Yesterday, I decided not to write. I had already posted my blog entry on Friday about WWE and its fans taking responsibility for the well-being of wrestlers when suddenly tragedy struck in Paris. After watching news pouring in from all over the world I needed to give myself a break. When the body counts started jumping, and my twitter feed became saturated with anti-Muslim nonsense and the overuse of the word “terrorism”, the post 9/11 New Yorker in me had to unplug. I spent my day at work yesterday listening to a lot of Bob Dylan and trying to be nicer to people. I caught a friend’s bluegrass band afterwords and took a few hours to actually laugh with the little family I have built for myself down here in Virginia. I even bothered to find the Rousey/Holm fight when I got home – though I turned it off before the first round even ended. I had seen all the carnage for one weekend I could stomach.

Now I am back at work and listening to the West Side Story soundtrack because Leonard Bernstein is a genius and why the hell not? I am thinking a lot because it’s a quiet Sunday afternoon – the Redskins are putting the Saints to bed, so all of the DMV is at home or in a bar watching. Related to this, I am thinking about what we all consider to be entertainment. Between watching Rousey get her ass handed to her last night, the swelling orchestra music surrounding me now, refreshing the NFL scores for the day, and considering those poor people in Paris who just wanted to see a rock and roll show – it’s all very overwhelming. Even the music I’m listening to involves violence – half of the main characters end up dead by the end of the play.

So what does all of this have to do with The Lady J’s wrestling blog, you might be wondering? Because for many of us, wrestling has a very specific job. It is supposed to entertain us, yes, but it also supposed to distract us from our every day lives. It is a controlled environment for us to experience a wide variety of emotions without hurting ourselves or anyone else. I have mentioned in past posts that when I came back to WWE in 2013, I was taking care of my Mom who suffers from Early On-Set Alzheimer’s Disease. It was a hellish situation to be caught in – the emotional exhaustion of watching my mother disappear and not being able to stop it while simultaneously wearing myself out physically trying to care for her and keep her quality of life at the highest possible level. I was at the end of my rope. So when my then-boyfriend turned on Monday Night RAW one night, it was easy to channel all of my emotions – rage, desperation, frustration, grief – into the stories playing out on the TV before me.

We joke a lot right now that the favorite thing to do of several of the babyface characters in WWE is Overcome. And when you think about it, those have always been the greatest stories, and not just in professional wrestling: overcoming an evil boss, a psychotic villain, a disadvantageous beginning, a disability, oppression. Yes, sometimes we like to see the villain triumph. Sometimes we enjoy a little chaos. But we also know what happens when chaos reigns supreme. Violence. Carnage. Destruction. There is enough of that in our day-to-day lives. In this country alone we are waging wars on so many fronts: on the poor, on those of minority ethnicities, on people of varying sexual orientations and gender identities, on the mentally ill. When you are constantly surrounded by sorrow, who wants to turn on something that brands itself with the word “entertainment” and see more of it?

Write now, you’re all reading this because of the internet. Many of us watch WWE products via the internet. I even watched UFC 193 last night on the internet. We get our music through the internet, communicate through it, and even get our news through it. That’s how I found out about what happened in Paris. Is there more violence now than there was 100 years ago? Probably not. But we are saturated with it now because of how connected we are. It’s impossible to escape now. You can’t play ignorant. Instead, you have to face the cruelness of the world.

In the film version of West Side Story, Lt. Shrank breaks up the war council between the Jets and the Sharks. After throwing the Sharks out, he gives the Jets a lecture about what dumb hoodlums they all are. He starts to say, “when I was your age”, but one of the Jets, Action, cuts him off.

“When you were my age?” he shouts. “When my old man was my age, when my brother was my age – none of you were my age! The sooner you cats get hip to that, the sooner you’ll dig us.”

My parents were my age in a different, internet-less time. My grandparents were my age during World War II. My great-grandparents were my age in a fascist Sicily under Cesare Mori. The world is changing, faster and faster now. We need more things to remind us that good can triumph over evil, that we can overcome the vicious anger that seems so rampant. That’s why I watch wrestling. That’s why I listen to classical music. That’s why I’m still keeping an eye on the football scores. That’s why, when my shift is over, I’m going home to make a big pot of sauce and some pasta and I’ll sit down with the world’s fluffiest dog and watch a movie or two.

That’s enough from me for now. I’ll be back with my usual sassiness tomorrow before RAW. Hope you all have a lovely Sunday – whatever is left of it where you are. Sending some light your way.

The Lady J Says

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The Lady J’s American Dream

About ten days ago, I had started writing a post on RAW, as well as NXT. Nothing about what I was writing was coming together for me, though, so I scrapped the piece and took a break from my laptop. I went to the wedding of two dear friends of mine. I saw Dashboard Confessional and Third Eye Blind play an outdoor arena on the ocean in the pouring rain instead of watching Money in the Bank. Life just kept going.

In the year since I created the Lady J persona, I have been attempting to toe the line between fan and analyst. Anyone who follows me on twitter knows I am a passionate person who is prone to fits of all-caps ranting about the product while watching a live show. Anyone who follows this blog knows I take a lot of time to do research, to listen to podcasts and read other articles, and keep myself educated about “The Business”. It is often difficult for me to find balance between these two things.

I watched the Money in the Bank PPV on Monday afternoon, took a break for dinner, and then watched Monday Night RAW. I must say I wasn’t terribly impressed with either of these shows, though it did end on a high note for me when Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman returned to TV. It’s hard not to become frustrated as a fan. But isn’t that the point? Your “guy” isn’t always going to win. Your “guy” has to be beat down, so that when he rises up, it is triumphant. I think the Royal Rumble is a perfect illustration of how the fan base responds to quick ascents in this business.

On Paul Heyman’s DVD Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman, he talks about interacting backstage with younger talent, who have yet to become jaded by experience and what he can take from their perspective as newer individuals to the pro-wrestling/sports entertainment business. I am sure those young people are also taking away from their interactions with him the wisdom of his years in this business as well. There is no greater recipe for success than a happy marriage between experience and innovation. This business, which has been built on time-honored traditions, now exists in a world where the audience is smarter, and the competition on TV is not other comparable products, but rather television programming in general. Being an individual who understands both the contemporary broadcasting industry, and the traditional wrestling industry is where the dollar signs are.

It’s not easy for me to check my “fan” tendencies when watching a WWE program. When I returned to the product in 2013, it was as an escape from what was going on in my family, as my Mom’s condition battling Alzheimer’s Disease deteriorated. I became sucked in, and when RAW or SmackDown was on, I wasn’t thinking about anything else. As I became more and more interested in what was going on behind the curtain, trying to apply what I’d learned through writing and theatre training, I realized how hard it is to relegate the fan in me to the back burner and try to view the product with an educated eye. I tried to watch, read, or listen to anything I could that was being presented by individuals with decades of experience in the business, and marry in with what I knew myself about live performance and story writing.

All of this came to a head last night. I started at 8pm EST, watching the hour-long Tough Enough preview that aired on the WWE Network to introduce the audience to the 13 participants. It was a well put-together program, not only giving us insight into the contestants, but also into the perspective of the coaches and why those 13 people were chosen, as well as what personal obstacles they would have to overcome. I followed that up with an episode of The Steve Austin Show podcast, and The Ross Report podcast, both of whom took a significant amount of time to reflect on the passing of the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes.

I won’t get into memorializing Dusty, if for no other reason than I’m not sure I could make it through writing about him without breaking down into tears. They’ve shown the same video package on the PPV, Monday’s episode of RAW and all over the Network, and I still cry every time. What I think was most important about what Austin and JR had to say about Dusty, besides all of his accolades, his promos, his style, the kind of father he was…the thing that stood out to me was how he had dedicated his life to the industry. Even after his in-ring career was over, he began to work with the next generation. None of the tweets or blog posts about Dusty were more moving than those posted by the kids down in NXT, who were being supported, tested, encouraged, and pushed by Dusty. What a gift for them to have him as a resource as they begin their careers in WWE.

As I listened to Austin and JR (who, in particular, I love to hear break down matches and booking on The Ross Report) talk about what Dusty offered to the younger generation, my thoughts wandered to the crop of contestants on Tough Enough, who will never work with him. And then I thought, as I often do, how lucky they are that wrestlers are offered so many opportunities to get into the business today. As someone who knows her body could never withstand the demands of an in-ring career (nor have I ever aspired to have such a career) I know there are no clear paths for a writer in professional wrestling. There are no camps, no reality shows, no schools. There is only the individual, blessed with whatever talents they may possesses, and the product. That is why I continue to struggle each week to balance out the fan with the writer and the analyst. I remember every time I get excited about a story line, whether I am thrilled or furious, that the story is successful, because the only thing in professional wrestling that is poison is silence. I continue to study those whose careers I admire, and try to break down story lines and promos to understand the method behind the madness. Dusty is known for his brilliant promos – an art form many say was inherently a part of him – but one can sit and watch his “Hard Times” promo and see the things that made it connect with fans besides his natural charisma. There was a cadence, a rhythm to the way he spoke, a natural and sometimes barely noticeable rhyme scheme that made his words easy to remember and repeat. It’s these things that I try to write down, do remember, and hopefully use in the future, should an opportunity ever present itself.

Some WWE fans just want to be fans. They live their lives, raise their families, and remain loyal from their seats in the 12th row or on their couches. Some fans hope to one day be the guy with the belt. I am a pro-wrestling and sports entertainment fan who one day hopes to be Dusty Rhodes – not the Dusty with the Bionic Elbow, or the one in the polka dots, but the man sitting in promo class, helping to develop the next generation of talent. The Dusty with the book, the guy giving Steve Austin a chance in WCW. So that’s what I’m going to keep working towards, that’s what this blog is all about. Nothing worth having has ever been easy, but that’s what makes it special. One day, I’ll get there. But until then, that’s my American Dream.

-The Lady J Says