Monday, August 23, 2004

#88. Reaction to Summer Slam

Ian Goldsworthy's Fish Tank review of SummerSlam at I've got to take issues with...

The columnist provides his analysis of the backstories and matches on the card and at the PPV, relying heavily on textbook definititions of what stories, and apparently wrestling matches, are supposed to do. He's a classic example of a smark mark too big for his britches. He admits that he doesn't watch Smackdown regularly, yet feels perfectly qualified to put a value on developments from the show, which is one of the biggest warning flags I've ever seen. And that's just one example. To wit:

For the opening London-Kidman-Misterio/Dudleys match, he rightfully notes that the specific feud between the six men has been left largely undefined, yet he ignores the momentum the Dudleys themselves receive from the match. Loyal Smackdown viewers will note how Spike has accomplished what Paul Heyman failed to do, and that is fire up Bubba and D'Von into legitimate threats again, and underlying presence not unlike the APA was for years. Last Thursday we began to see some of the fruits of this development when John Cena confronted Spike, only to receive a beating from Spike's half-brothers, which led to a match between Cena and D-Von, which led to an after-match Dudley beatdown, during which Michael Cole wisely noted how Spike's new role can be interpreted a number of ways. That the angle is actually progressing means whatever steps along the way are actually significant, if not so much for what they are but for what they represent. The Dudleys are a force on Smackdown. That's the point, Goldsworthy, tag team titles or not, cruiserweight title ("minor") or not.

If I have to suffer through Paul London for most of a match to get to that point, then I'm looking to redefine "suffering."

For Kane/Matt Hardy, Goldsworthy berates the writers for missing the dramatic opportunity to reveal the paternity in a test onscreen. What difference does this make? Isn't Matt Hardy's reaction, regardless of the circumstances, the whole point? That Kane wins a mediocre match, pushes the stakes that much higher. Kane is going to marry Lita! Is Hardy just supposed to roll over and play dead now? In fct, we should find out tonight what becomes of it, at the wedding. This is the first time a Kane story arc has made any sense in years. Not since the early feuds with Undertaker, in fact, has his character been so richly exploited. What's Goldsworthy's idea of a good Kane feud? The pointless one he had with Shane-o-Mac last year, which had the "raising stakes" he favors so much in moments like the flaming dumpster bump?

Goldsworthy also misses the boat completely with Cena/Booker T. This best of five series has been building for months now, if not explicitely through a feud between these two but generally between Cena and his efforts to remain United States champion, which had been hamperered by bad blood with then-GM Kurt Angle. How long had Angle tried to strip Cena of the title? And how many mid-carders were thrown into the mix and into Cena's way? Booker was arguably the highest calibur opponent (though maybe Goldsworthy prefers RVD, and that's his real beef), and certainly the one with the highest profile. To top it off, he stole victory and title to officially set this feud up. He became Cena's main obstacle not through personal animosity but rival ambition, and not to mention ego. In fact, ego might be the key motivating factor here, something Goldsworthy didn't seem interested (or capable, depending on how little he's seen concerning the storyline and of Smackdown the past five months). How to get past ego? Diminish it by creating victory not one but five matches away. This has been a matter of endurance for Cena for months. This is just another endurance test, and Booker T's made himself the course.

Did something dramatic have to happen Sunday to enroll interest into this series? Not if those already interested were watching...

I don't have any criticisms for Goldsworthy's interpretation of Edge/Batista/Jericho. I voiced similar spirits myself.

KurtAngle/Eddie Guerrero, however, is another story, and another blatant example of how out of touch Goldsworthy is with Smackdown. No, the writers did not forget about this feud five months ago. Angle threw his chips in with the untested John Bradshaw Layfield those months ago rather than give his hated foe Guerrero any credit or slack. His used his powers as GM to antagonize those stars he didn't like, and as it happened the two main stars he didn't like were Guerrero and John Cena, the two main title holders at the time. So he directed his full energies to deposing both, in different ways. He set his full attention to Cena, or so it seemed, while allowing the unleashed JBL to take care of his own business. Bradshaw had enough sense of entitlement for that. And so as Guerrero battled the Texan, it became increasingly obvious that the advantage would not be won fairly, so Angle gave JBL the benefit of the doubt at the first opportunity, at the bullrope match. JBL became champion, and Guerrero vowed revenge. At the steel cage match, Angle phsyically re-inserted himself when he gave Bradshaw the opportunity to crawl out first. How much more dramatic does a turn have to be before Goldsworthy notices it? Guerrero now realized he'd been paying attention to the wizard while ignoring the man behind the curtain. That's your backstory. The writers were even wise enough to reshape the motivation to one of personal competition, drawing on each character to give it all definition.

And the match wasn't bad either...

Goldsworthy also misses the boat with Triple H-Eugene. He provides a very inciteful reiteration of the early developments in the feud, yet misinterprets Eugene's motivations. He never wanted to be popular. He wanted to wrestle! Acceptance from the crowd is a biproduct of this. Acceptance from Triple H, his personal favorite wrestler, represented acceptance from the wrestling community to the tallest order, and the betrayal represented a challenge to his undying trust. When his mentor William Regal (who provided a poignant undertone for the whole arc to that point when he could have cared less to have Eric retarded nephew as a charge until an emotional attachment was formed, which he did not fail to defend, and pay the price for) was then used by Triple H to send a further message, Eugene snapped. The base reaction for anyone when faced with a personal attack is to respond in kind, and that's exactly what Eugene did. In his naive way, he even thought the match might settle things.

Well, it didn't. But we were still given a top-rate match for Triple H outside of championship concerns, and the whole thing has only established Eugene as a serious presence on Raw. He not only can compete in the ring, but can help carry an extended story. Maybe whatever follows for him will never carry the same weight, but then again these feuds should always have their own character. This is the year's second biggest card, Goldsworthy loves pointing out. How fitting to have three matches of real importance to them. And that's not all...

JBL as Smackdown champion has lacked credibility since the day he became the number one contender, let alone champion. He hardly ever defends the title, and he loves to talk, about himself, and against his opponents. He loves to belittle them, and exaggerate things. So what does a feud with Undertaker accomplish. Even if the build-up to last Sunday was lackluster, the payoff as seen on Thursday was more than worth it. Bradshaw, having been chokeslammed through his own limo, comes out in an elaborate neck brace, and still feels in an instigating mood. Out comes Undertaker, and out scrambles JBL and Orlando Jordan. Maybe nobody cares about this feud. Maybe nobody cares to see more of it. But maybe some do, and can appreciate the continued story's worth. It's not establishing JBL as a dominant champion. He's about as vulnerable a one as they come. He's all bluster, and he's constantly needing to hide from this fact. That's the whole point. And that's entertainment.

Goldsworthy gives more credit to Randy Orton than I do, and less to Chris Benoit than I do, which makes his review of the main event one last unsatisfying note. The point of the match was always to make Orton the youngest champion ever. And I'm beginning to think to also make it obvious subsequently that he was not as ready for the burden as he'd thought. He didn't give a thought to the consequences at all, in fact, and that's what last Monday signified. If Goldsworthy can't sit through a Chris Benoit match to reach that point, then perhaps it's time to re-evaluate what kind of mark ends his smart mark sentence.

And that, as they say, is that. I was able to pick up 2001's No Mercy yesterday, which should make for interesting viewing. It's still weird to think Triple H and Benoit both missed most of the Invasion arc. It makes you wonder how that would have gone done if one or both hadn't...

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