Okay, gang, I admit it—I took a week off. I got spent. I watched zero hours. All I did was enjoy this Rolaids ad for Big Show.
Which is enjoyable, to be fair. I like to imagine the Rolaids marketing department saving up their money in a Big Show shaped piggy bank for years in order to have enough to sponsor Survivor Series, because there is no more apt audience for Rolaids then the WWE universe. I am finally beginning to count myself among them. We are a people of passion and gas.
So I experienced my first wrestling burnout, and then I ate a ton of pizza and watched Survivor Series and made a sick brown liquor-Rolaids cocktail and I’m better now. Using the power of Sheamus’s dingles, I will persevere. Who do we blame for a competently executed but ultimately unsatisfying PPV?
Hi Daddy. It’s no secret that the WWE Universe has suffered and thrived in the face of some notorious daddy issues, which means we are officially in my wheelhouse hi hello welcome and let’s explore. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m going to spill some family beans in a disjointed manner before eating myself into a coma, so let’s talk Vince “Dad” McMahon.
Vince McMahon is this generation’s Louis B. Mayer, a surrogate father figure who will protect you to the extent that he can still turn a profit. To an extent, any criticism of Vince McMahon is a testament to him, as well—after all, there would be no WWE in its current form without him, just like there’d be no you without your dad. Can we consensually build this metaphor together? I’m asking because I respect you.
Like many others, Dad was born into a wrestling family and spent his life foaming at the mouth in an effort to expand it. It worked, gang—in spite of his father’s desire for him to shy away from the wrestling business, the prodigal son expanded syndication threefold during his early days with the organization and shaped the WWE into what it is today. We don’t need to get into all he’s accomplished, but the salient point is that Dad excelled in developing a stable of talent that people could get invested in, elevating story and pomp to the same level as athleticism. The heels became heelier, the faces became babier, the ladies got object-ier, and the guys got bulgier.
Here’s where Dad makes a misstep, according to the old school. Bruce Sammartino went on record a number of times expressing disappointment in the way that the younger McMahon ran the company after his father died, particularly his emphasis on the oily man-bods that papered lunchboxes and cum-stained teenage sheets throughout the nation in the 1980s and ‘90s.
So what’s a buff stable to do? Without Dad, they have no career, and with Dad, they are regularly getting juiced to the gills in a practice that would reach its head in a high-profile case in 1993 that has been largely buried in Universe history. In the 1980s, Dad worked in conjunction with a very cooperative Pennsylvanian urologist to supply over forty wrestlers with a steady stream of buff boy pills as the company continued to gain momentum. The guys who cooperated with Dad’s wishes in spite of the ensuing back acne and health complications (hi Hulkie) succeeded, while those who protested saw their stories reduced and visibility lessened.
Why Daddy no think I pretty?, think the kids. Easy enough to stew over in private with Dad’s staying behind the commentator’s table, but the Freudian tension with McMahon skyrocketed once he made the decision to enter the ring himself.
McMahon went full-Mayer in the ‘80’s—exploiting a crew of top performers that depended on drugs to keep them energized, working and performing at a high level with a disregard for its affect on their health and lifestyles. Now, imagine that halfway into his career, Mayer said, “Cary Grant? Fuck that guy. I’ve got this.” In 1997, this is what Dad did.
To talk about Dad is to bring a dichotomy to the table. Vince’s thirteen years as an in-ring performer brought a whole new layer of complication to the organization, blurring the lines between business and artistic decisions the same way Hitler stole all that art because he was pissed that he was bad at it. Those who can’t do teach, and those who are too angry to teach spend well over a decade as a growling in-ring heel unwilling to forfeit the throne to anyone because he’s the dad.
By the time that the Mr. McMahon character was introduced into the ring, the WWE had transformed entirely—gone were the Vince Sr. days of territorial promotion, replaced with a testosterone-riddled soap opera taking place six nights a week with a traveling cast of coworkers. This transition from the good-natured announcer to Bad Dad with a dick-swinging walk didn’t really break the kayfabe fourth wall, but introduced a new level of it. No longer could the kids fight it out just because—they were often fighting just as much for the approval or in defiance of Dad as they were for the belts.
It’s no coincidence that Mr. McMahon’s introduction early into the Attitude Era began a series of lauded feuds in and outside of the ring between Dad and the kids. This era sees a lot of backstage tension with everyone from Jeff Jarrett to Goldust to The Headbangers, the same time that the Mr. McMahon character was famously feuding with Steve Austin and the horror show that was the Montreal Screwjob. Suddenly, Dad is playing the same game as the kids and taking up a lot of screen time doing it, making ring time all the more precious and McMahon’s approval of a character more important than ever.
Even after the Attitude Era ends, hostility towards McMahon outside the ring continued to build as the storylines grew steadily more insane and real-life daughter Stephanie got more involved in the business. Just as Dad inherited the business from his Dad, Steph had ideas on how the business should be run which did not—oh no!—involve submerging ladies in trash!
Dad, you’re so crazy!
You always liked Hornswoggle better!
“As long as everything is okay in the WWE, I’m okay,” Dad says in a segment where he is in the hospital covered in Linda bumper stickers
Family politics in the WWE are an in-ring exclamation beneath which lies some low-key realness, whether it be Stephanie’s role as “Daddy’s little girl,” his character’s repeated displays of dismissal of his contracted female performers (McMahon has a history of harassment) or his very public endorsement of the wrestlers he felt should be carrying the company. Unsurprisingly, this has caused some friction behind the scenes, particularly as his daughter became involved with a dude who was famous as the leader of a troupe of violent morons, a move that would mark the first significant power transition in the organization since Dad’s dad died. Let’s leave Hornswoggle out of it.
Beginning in the late 2000s, Dad’s volume stays the same but his placement at the table changes—Dad is slowly replaced with foster parents Steph and Triple H, who don’t always agree with his decisions out of the ring or in. As of 2013, Triple H took over as the official face of the operation—the same year Stephanie took over as the WWE’s chief brand officer—and have knocked heads recently over the way Seth Rollins is being booked. (Not that any of that matters now, she thought mournfully, a single tear rolling down her cheek.)
New Dad! He’s young, he’s strong, and he’s got the boss’s daughter as his bride. Not too much unlike—WAIT FOR THIS TENUOUS METAPHOR TO CLIMAX INSIDE YOUR BRAIN—David O. Selznick marrying Louis B. Mayer’s daughter Irene in 1930, transitioning from one of the top producers of the time to a true superpower. While it’s unclear exactly how thrilled Dad is to be put in a corner with Triple H’s increased prominence, a recent interview the latter gave reveals a grudging oil-boy respect between the two.
“But I had this working relationship with Vince, and as time went on and I got more and more involved in that, kinda later in my career, he used to ask me, ‘when are you going to stop messing around in the ring and come do some real work in the office? You need to be in the office.’”
In an unrelated note, Dad also faked his own death once and that was pretty messed up. Dad! Stop! Embarrassing and weird!
In its way, the WWE is a bizarro modern studio system that is able to keep a stable of talented players under restrictive, intense contracts in a potent combination of passion and being the only real game in town. Without Dad’s magnificent narcissism, the lady that is the American public never would have gotten knocked up (okay that one is tenuous but I’ve gotten this far with the metaphor and I just threw up a bunch of Rolaids!!!) and none of us would be here. Carve the turkey, mourn thy brother Seth and relish in thy brother Roman’s tears.
And while you’re at it, go home and hug your dad, kids! You never know when that limousine is going to explode 🙂
Things I Am Thankful For (Survivor Series Edition):
Sheamus’s Dingles: Now that Sheamus has a title, does that mean he needs to
shave? Can we auction his dingleberry beard droppings for charity? This would bring me joy.
Undertaker and Kane’s Synchronicity: The dry ice heavy introduction for Undertaker was well deserved in the long haul that is his 25th anniversary tour before his retirement. Will he completely retire? I doubt it, but baby is like Madonna and will take any and all opportunities to strut.
Show Won All Those American Music Awards: And we are all so freaking proud!
Rolaids: Before I overdose, I would like to say that every Rolaid was worth it and it has turned all my gases to liquids and then solids, which have blocked my windpipes. Goodbye, fam, it’s been absolutely just okay.
Hours of Pro Wrestling Consumed: 1,000,000
Days Until WrestleMania: 21 weeks, 3 days
State of Union: I’ve got Big Show sized heartburn.
Jamie Loftus is a comedian and writer whose baby teeth have been bronzed and loaded into a gun for when the moment is right. You can find her some of the time, most days at @hamburgerphone or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.