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McMahon Family Dynasty in Decay (From Wrestling Observer)

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

[reprinted from yesterday’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter website, with some typos cleaned up: http://www.f4wonline.com/content/view/8977/]

Irv Muchnick on the McMahon dynasty in decay

Readers of this site no doubt will be relieved to learn that I am not here to talk more about Chris Benoit. Instead, I propose a few thoughts on what the surprisingly tepid WrestleMania 25 tells us about the state of the McMahon family dynasty.

By one important measure — profits — World Wrestling Entertainment is bullet-proof. Anyone fantasizing about a financial comeuppance for Vince, Linda, Shane, Steph, and Paul should switch to decaf. Good economy or bad, smart booking or stupid, WWE is a multinational brand that has just begun to penetrate the range of its potential markets. (These include China, where one of every five of this planet’s inhabitants resides.) With its nearly monopolistic North American market share, even a mediocre pay-per-view — which WM 25 surely was — can’t help but rake in millions.

But dynasties, like mitochondria, have morphologies, and the McMahons’ clearly confronts a generational crisis. All wrestling families face this challenge. The lack of interest in Triple H as a babyface, though, highlights both the acuteness of this problem for the McMahon-Levesques, and the irony of it.

Mike and Chris Von Erich were jokes. When Bill Watts, in 1985, used his precious Saturday evening bandwidth on WTBS to showcase home movies of his son Erik playing high school football, you couldn’t help but cringe. Greg Gagne was a good worker, but without the look and charisma of a franchise star.

Yet any fair appraisal of Paul Levesque would have to conclude that he has gotten where he is largely on merit. Sure, he married well, but he also looks good, talks well, and moves well, and the Pedigree is a hot finisher. But his association with the McMahons has had an odd and not entirely intuitive effect on his career. If he weren’t the son-in-law, he might not have gotten the long-term big push — but he still probably would have deserved it. Now that he is the son-in-law, he’s guaranteed the long-term big push. That means he’ll always have a nice paycheck. But the power of the pencil can’t buy love.

As we all know, the historic turnaround of WWF came after the 1997 Montreal screwjob, when Vince decided to take his heel persona public and run with it. That worked, big time. Unfortunately, heel heat doesn’t jump generations. Shane and Steph are more annoying than hateful. And Triple H is slowly finding himself reduced to a family — and company — swing man.

A critical post-WrestleMania takeout on the family’s succession crisis must further note the stagnation of WWE creative. As a reader of the Observer, I know that this is an ongoing theme of serious fans, but I, personally, am not invested in the product in quite that way. Whether you love or hate Vince McMahon, it’s just a little sad to see the booking take such sustained turns of generic blandness. One thing you could never accuse Vince of was an absence of passion, of a failure to understand his audience, or of squishy commitment. While it’s true that the sheer hours of TV production are staggering and take their toll on creative, I am shocked to see the 25th edition of a culture-changing event like WrestleMania come off as just another monthly PPV.

Like any third- (or is it fourth-?) generation dynasty, the McMahons are hitting a dry hole. Anecdotal evidence abounds that Shane and Steph’s narrow and spoon-fed version of wrestling has cramped their vision. I get conflicting accounts on whether the son or the daughter is worse in this regard. My main primary source is Steph’s December 2007 testimony to investigators for Congressman Waxman’s committee, which shows that the “McMahon way,” for the kids, includes a self-defeating ignorance of history so thoroughgoing that they don’t seem to have bothered to know the difference between the NWA and the AWA.

Again, Vince and Linda and their kids don’t need advice from the likes of me on how to conquer an industry and become  centimillionaires. They’ve done it — hats off. By the same token, the rest of us aren’t fools when it comes to being presented something soulless, which stomps its foot and insists that it has soul.

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