And Another Thing: The Enigma Topped With A Pompadour
Posted by Hyatte on 03.20.2001
Is Vince McMahon a genius?
Creating his own Eden, and charging for admission
There is a question out there that all wrestling fans have asked themselves at least once and probably more, but no one ever brought it up in a forum, or even in conversation not seriously, at least.
That question being, is Vince McMahon a genius?
I do not know the answer to the question. I haven’t seen nor do I know of any IQ tests he may have taken over the course of his life. I’d like to say yes. I mean, if the person who took a small time, territorial, carnival-like racket that was held nightly at low rent flea markets and back alley bingo parlors and turned it into a billion dollar empire that may very well be weeks away from becoming the only attraction of its kind in North America hasn’t earned the right to be called a genius, then who does? By all rights, Vince McMahon deserves to be called a genius. He had foresight, ambition, and the acute business sense to make the WWF what it is today, and no competitor can seem to keep up with him for too long.
And yet its just so hard to come right out and call him a genius. Why?
The truth is, I think wrestling fans want very much to call him a genius. We are, after all, in awe of him. Even fans who hate him with their very souls admire him greatly (which, more than likely, explains exactly why they hate him so much). We look up to him, idolize him. Unlike his closest (for a time, anyway) rival, Eric Bischoff, we would never attach the nickname "Uncle Vince" to McMahon. It's too personal. We want to know what makes him tick, what is he thinking, why does he make the decisions he make? We very much want him to be a genius, if only because he’s the man we depend on to justify the utter shame of being a fan of this silly business. Wrestling has the stigma of being the sport for the trailer park set, we need to feel that the man who runs the sport to be someone who can represent the business-and our adoration of it-to the “real” world to be better than the product he creates. It’s tough enough to admit being a wrestling fan, imagine how tough it would be if it was run by a tank top wearing hick from Kentucky?
Still, we cannot quite come out and call Vince a genius, can we? Again, why?
To answer this question is to delve deep into who Vince McMahon is. He acts completely asinine at times. Be it in his curious storyline decisions, some of the weird gimmicks he has created, or even the way he handles “mainstream” interviews. There are times when Vince behaves just like the white trash rube that many people accuse the standard wrestling fan to be. It’s times like these, such as the Playboy Interview a couple of months ago when he brazenly admitted to cheating on his wife Linda and even lamented on how great the sex was. Or even last week when he got right in Bob Costas face during an interview on his HBO show and barked out some silly rationale behind the on-air humiliation of Trish Stratus. Of course, the scene was simply Vince’s way of living out his own mid-life crisis but there is simply no way in hell he would admit that to Costas, a professional sports analyst who long ago turned up his nose at "WWF Attitude" and proclaimed it to be garbage. Of course, Vince’s performance on On the Record with Bob Costas would do nothing to changes Costas’ mind, even though he made some excellent points amid all the growling. Nor did it win him the respect of Phil Mushnick, who was quick to use the show as another excuse to browbeat Vince’s name with his keyboard. No, Vince rarely, if ever, helps out his own cause whenever he opens his mouth to the press. In fact, when he tries anything in the “real” world and outside his own WWF Universe, its usually a debacle. Just ask NBC.
But all geniuses have quirks. Einstein wore identical clothes every day just so he didn’t have to waste any energy on picking out his wardrobe. Jonas Salk took five or six ice cold baths a day because he swore the blood rushing to his brain helped him think quicker. We shouldn’t be so quick to call Vince McMahon a fool just because of his eccentric behavior. On the other hand, we should not be too quick to call McMahon a genius with eccentric behavior either. In fact, the way Vince has "performed" in front of the mainstream these last few years has shown more insight into who he is than twenty years of lording over the WWF ever has. Finally, after years of wondering just who this strange man with the deep voice and the odd tendencies is, we finally have access into the soul of the God of Wrestling.
The Secret King
Like the sons of all Kings, Vince McMahon was groomed to follow his father's footsteps almost since inception. This is not to say he was forced into it, no, Vince was eager to step into the business of sports entertainment. If for anything else, it would get him closer to his real father (by all accounts, not the most genial of parents) and away from his stepfather (whom, as Vince told Playboy he wanted to murder with his own hands). Barely out of college, barely out of his teens, Vince's father put him to work within the business. None of this nepotism business either, Vince put up rings, put up houselights, ran cable, tightened ring ropes, drove trucks, directed shows, produced shows, refereed matches, worked as a ring announcer, rang the bells, he even trained with the wrestlers in the weight room, developing a physique that rivals anyone who's ever stepped into the ring. Vince learned every single job that came with the business. He got to know wrestling as intimately as a Prince stationed alongside his Father's throne was taught the intricacies of ruling a Kingdom. Vince grew to know as much about the business as there was to know, and before long... he was ready to take over the mantle of the WWWF and make it his own. Although, much to his Father's chagrin, the new King wanted to expand the empire.
In June of 1982, Vince McMahon Jr. and Titan Sports purchased the World Wrestling Federation (the third "W" having been dropped three years before) from his Father and a group of shareholders. Two years later, Vince McMahon Sr. had died. Legend has it that the Father was not a huge fan of his son's power growth, coming from the old school mentality, Vince Sr. was a firm proponent of territoriality and staying within your own boundaries. In 1983, presumably right until he was contractually free to do so, Vince hired Hulk Hogan into the WWF and immediately placed the world title around his golden waist. With his hero in place, Vince quickly hired Roddy Piper, because a hero is only as good as the villain he opposes. Within two years, Vince committed the previously unheard of crime of territorial infringement and shanghaied the prized 6:05-8:05 Saturday p.m.slot on Ted Turner's TBS cable station from the NWA, thus making WWF product available to basic cable subscribers across the country, (this lasted only nine months, of course, but by then the WWF was syndicated across the country anyway, so Vince lost nothing off this little exercise in power, other than to instill fear in the hearts of these small time promoters, many of whom bewildered and clueless as to what to do to combat the WWF juggernaut). Less than three years later, McMahon had enough talent, wealth, and power to streamroll professional wrestling out of the flea markets and into a worldwide stage. The first Wrestlemania in Madison Square Garden was also held in almost every arena in America through closed-circuit satellite television. The NWA tried this ploy a couple of years earlier with the first Starrcade in Greensboro, but they were only able to get the show broadcast in surrounding cities. Two months shy of three years after buying the company, Vince McMahon had expanded the land into an empire. A very rich, very vast empire that remains, even to this day, a tyranny. Within three years, McMahon had grown very wealthy, wealthy beyond avarice. It's astonishing when you think about just how easy it was for him, and how fast it took him to do it. In such mind boggling quickness, McMahon created his own little universe that he Lorded over, a secret universe that only shows the onlookers what it wants them to see, and hides the rest deep inside. McMahon has kept much of his kingdom hidden from view, thus hidden from any in-depth examination. Vince is the unqualified master of this practice, so skilled that he even kept the Federal Government at bay. Is it any wonder why those who hate him-Mushnick and his ilk-hate him with such a passion? No matter how hard they try, no matter how hard the moan, they simply cannot break through the walls of the Kingdom and see what is really going on, they can only speculate about it.
Destined since birth, and a Ruler so quickly, Vince himself became a part of what he created. So carefully hidden did he keep the secrets of his own empire, that he himself became hidden too. I suspect that the walls around the WWF are not quite as fortified as the walls he's kept around himself, which is what makes him so damn interesting. Vince McMahon, even after almost two decades of television exposure, remains a mystery. Even in this essay, I can only guess that part of this comes from his childhood. Driven to his Father due to the hatred he felt for his stepfather, Vince sought his father's affection through mutual passion for the business, Vince has stated that his involvement in the business did little to develop a bound between father and son. In fact, Vince Sr. had sent his boy to the furthest reaches of his territory, a small WWWF sponsored promotion on Maine, to learn the inner workings of the business. Vince did not have the best childhood, and he certainly did not have the love and guidance that all children need to grow into normal adults... but Vince did learn drive, he did learn ambition, and he did learn the business. His father taught him well from afar, except for one, small, vital thing.
A lifetime around the sport, cumulating into an entire empire built around his whims, Vince McMahon never learned how to see beyond the business. I think that Vince's main fault is that he tends to believe that, much like Wrestling itself, the entire world revolves completely around him. I do not see Vince McMahon relating to his talent as people, but more like cattle... like playthings. It's understandable in a way, when your life revolves around... well, when the business of pro wrestling revolves around you for most of your life, it's easy to see people as your puppets... especially when it's up to you to decide who these people will be on stage. When you can either make a man a mega-star celebrity or strip him of all dignity and pride with a simple nod of the head, it's tough to see beyond the gimmick.
This is not to say that Vince is heartless-although if you cross him, you will know his wraith-but it's obvious that Vince is capable of putting business before kindness and ignoring the person inside the gimmick. A childhood hunting for his Father's approval makes it easy for him. Even Hulk Hogan, who probably had influence over McMahon more than anyone else in history, said of his former employer, "He runs you like a racehorse, runs you more once you go down, shoots you, then eats you." In the Kingdom of the WWF, Lord McMahon rules with an iron fist... and his orders go without question and are performed immediately. This is Vince's world, it has been for twenty years, and even though he's been on camera for all this time, no one has yet to peer behind the curtain. Is it a wonder he remains so fascinating?
The problem with being absolute King of all he surveys is that Vince never gets corrected. His two closest confidants (an assumption, as is all things concerning him), Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, are probably more closely associated with their on-air characters than anyone else. From all accounts, they are the consummate "Yes-Men". Vince is never wrong, Vince is always right, Vince has never made an error in judgment. I'm sure the sentence, "Vince, you've done it again" has echoed throughout the halls of Titan Towers countless times. In the WWF, Vince is surrounded by countless sycophants... none of them willing to disagree with a decision or question the King's judgment. Why should they? Vince is a success... he made himself millions, maybe billions now. Vince knows his world, and knows how to runs it very well. No one would dare tell him he's wrong, because he so rarely is. Yet, no one will tell him that he's too cruel either. I doubt anyone told him not to break Bret Hart heart in Montreal a few years ago, nor do I think anyone told him, "We should stop the show" after Owen plunged to his death. Of course not, instead, they watched as Vince pushed Jeff Jarrett out to the ring, right past the gurney that was bringing his dead friend away. No one ever says no to Vince McMahon in his Universe... and even if someone did, Vince would probably not listen. When one anoints himself God, he gets a God-like ego to show for it. Which brings us to recent events in his life that have put him in the mainstream spotlight more than ever before.
The "Mr. McMahon" that appeared on screen and became the Roddy Piper to Steve Austin's Hulk Hogan was a roaring success, no one can deny that. The character he impersonated played a huge part in toppling the WCW enemy on Monday nights and eventually driving the upstart rival right into the ground. If McMahon's ego was in the stratosphere before, this probably shoved it into deep space. With Vince Russo crafting and polishing the character-more than likely a slightly exaggerated version of his real persona- "Mr. McMahon" was an even more popular character than Steve Austin himself. Wrestling fans who were in awe of the McMahon mystery for fifteen years now were treated to someone who actually admitted to owning the company and who had definite opinions as to how it would run. After years of Vince simply being a play-by-play/hype machine announcer, we now had a weekly taste of how he really ran things. How could you not tune in? Unlike Eric Bischoff, who came out of nowhere to announce himself as the President of WCW and started mugging for the camera as Hulk Hogan's partner in crime, Vince McMahon had a lifetime of fan anticipation to work with. Every fan knows that Vince did some odd, sometimes cruel things for the company... Vince Russo just used his history and the man himself to mold a perfect heel character out of it. The creation was easy, getting Vince to actually do it was Russo's biggest challenge.
The success of "Mr. McMahon", and the subsequent dismantling of anything even resembling a challenge from WCW, has made the WWF empire as large and as powerful as ever before. One wonders if Vince the Great, like another leader from a few years ago, did not gaze upon his newly expanded universe and start to weep for he had no more worlds to conquer. He had done everything there was to do in sports entertainment, and now sought a new challenge... something he hadn't quite been able to achieve amid all his success and the filthy excess of his wealth. He wanted more... something that the WWF could only tease at providing him.
He wanted mainstream acceptance. He wanted respect.
That's all the XFL is, really. It's Vince McMahon's bid to become as idolized outside his WWF universe as he is inside. If the new league hit it big from it's start, instead of stumbling hard after it's first week, and continuing to stumble each week after that, Vince would gotten what he wanted. If the XFL gotten front page, full color coverage in every major newspaper each Monday morning, Vince would have exploded. He really would be the King of Kings and there would be no question about his genius. Vince wanted to expand even more and saw no reason why he couldn't make that a success either.
Unfortunately, outside his own universe, the emperor still has no clothes. The XFL is not the success they hoped for, and even this early in it's life, it looks to be a dismal failure... and that's what makes Vince so eccentric to the mainstream. He is so used to being the absolute King of his world, that he is ill prepared for mainstream people like Bob Costas, Viacom and Phil Mushnick questioning his moves. Without a Vince Russo to help him separate the on-screen Vince from the real man, he finds himself trying to act like the character who wrestling fans love, in hopes of getting the sympathy from the mainstream audience. He wants you to side with him. If he is challenged, he acts put upon, he defends himself aggressively by accusing his detractor of going after him aggressively. The man we are so used to seeing as the God of Wrestling, is actually trying to act like a common man who got lucky, and now the "real" sharks are trying to take him down. He's just a regular guy, give him a break. That's the message Vince is trying to get out. Yet, he is so used to being a Dictator, that the way he goes about being "Joe Lunchbox" is almost laughable. As I watched the Costas interview, I could almost see a thought balloon pop up over Vince's head that said, Doesn't he know that with a wave of my hand, he could be erased from existence?. McMahon is so used to seeing the world as something that is there for his purposes, that it must be a bit of a shock when a reality other than his rejects his ideas and his authority.
And that's the secret to knowing Vince McMahon. That's the key to seeing through his own walls into the real person. It's just a matter of reading past his act and looking at how he approaches those who are not as impressed with him as wrestling fans are. Is he a genius? I don't know. But somewhere within the Great Puppeteer, who cut cut the strings of anyone living in his universe without so much as an afterthought, somewhere underneath the grand manipulator, there is a human being who wants something so bad he can taste it, and for the first time ever, is completely stunned over how difficult it is to get it.
The God of Wrestling is tired of ruling over this secret kingdom that most people groan at and others are sometimes afraid to admit to even watching, Vince McMahon wanted everything he does to be adored, worshipped, and admired. Vince McMahon himself wants to be adored, worshipped, and admired... only he doesn't want it to be because of a ripping theme song and an intriguing scripted storyline. He wants to be loved for who he is and what he is capable of doing.
One may say that the one person who can give him what he wants is the man who sent him off to Maine so many years ago to learn the business.
How do you get to know a puppeteer? Find out who is pulling his strings.
This is Hyatte to