Sometimes the remote control can take you to places you didnt know existed. One Monday night not so long ago, I was buzzing around the box when I happened upon a Pamela Anderson clone lounging in the back of a limo. Plucked of brow and plastic of bust, the blonde bombshell seduced the camera, her words dripping with lusty promise. At any moment, she might well have hiked up her skirt and started raking her garish talons through the shaved folds of her sex, just like her obvious inspiration.
What the devil was this, I asked? The Spice Channel? Oh no, not at all try the WWFs new extravaganza, "Raw is War," on USA. A mere click away, rival federation WCW has its own spectacle, "Monday Nitro," happening on TNT. God bless cable television.
Twenty years ago, the casual fan of pornography had few options for satisfaction. There were always the public posts, accessed through the back pages of gentlemens pulp rags such as Dude and Lucky. The rare stag party promised an equally rare night of naked flesh on a fold-up silver screen at the local Moose Lodge. The adventurous pilgrim, cloaked in a stained trench coat, could traipse into the tenderloin of the city where shabby cinder block bunkers with burned-out neon marquees stayed open late to satisfy the intrepid libido. Within the earthy boutique of men enjoying themselves, all would be revealed in lurid color while a broken speaker, tested beyond its limits, delivered the sound track of wanton bucking and gibbering.
The porn industry has sized up the market, as it were, and decided to go to the customer rather than letting the customer come to it, as it were. Like professional wrestling, porn wants to have its cake and eat it too: respectability with outlaw overtones. But Vince McMahon, maven of the WWF, has decided to cut back on the respectability quotient.
Indeed, a night with "Raw at War" is a night spent in the bosom of vulgarity. Live from some lurid shitbox in Birmingham, Ala., where a minor league hockey team normally toils, the camera surveys the crowd, half of which appears to suffer from inbreeding. Do the math ten thousand spectators, four last names. Oh, the humanity.
Then the matches begin, all prefaced with some sort of overhyped nonsense. The Undertaker arrives, attended by his minions, and proceeds to mutter some rubbish pulled from the Ozzy Osbourne-Marilyn Manson satanic songbook. Once he is led away, a couple of flabby male ex-strippers do battle, followed by a brief appearance by the aforementioned creature they call Sable, this time tricked out in a dominatrix getup. The camera again pans the crowd a sea of white, sweaty flesh, clearly in the mood for Sable to doff her kit that very moment. The announcers offer salacious commentary to that effect.
Then the pièce de résistance: a championship bout between a pretty boy called The Rock and Mankind, a Chris Farley lookalike, wearing office boy garb and a Hannibal Lecter face mask. The gimmick is as simple as it is idiotic. Rather than being pinned, the opponent is beaten senseless then the victor must retrieve a step ladder and haul it into the ring in order to grab the prized belt hanging from a hook. Thanks to the timely intervention of a fellow slab of beefcake, The Rock manages to snag the belt. The crowd goes wild. I head for the shower.
Ancient Rome had no police force. The emperors ruled through that oldie but goodie, bread and circuses. Feed and entertain the rabble, and theyll stay cool. Why should a man run amok in the streets when he can nip down to the coliseum to watch gladiators pummel one another to death, followed by the wanton slaughter of animals? Thats entertainment!
In Rollerball (1975) and The Running Man (1987), Hollywood gave us images of how the pornography of organized violence might be used to control the base urges of the people. In the latter film, Richard Dawson extrapolated, with chilling effect, his iconography as cheeky host of the innocuous "The Family Feud" to that of the far darker "Running Game." Dour social scientist Noam Chomsky regularly refers to sports and entertainment news as little more than "opiates of the masses," which put the monads asleep to the real horrors of the day, like corporate mergers and government misinformation campaigns.
Vince McMahon, no doubt lounging poolside in Malibu with a Sable copy at his beck and call, understands his audience if nothing else. The action in and around the ring is so patently false that not even the most cretinous of fans could mistake it for anything but. What has changed from the WWF of old, when Jesse Ventura and Hulk Hogan now Hollywood Hogan with the WCW did their thing, is the abject pandering to the worst of teenage Americana, combining the lurid "cult of beauty" of the porn industry with sport. The kids may know its fake, but do they know its rotting their souls?