After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. For a curtain jerker, we have WCW and its predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions. This is Day Three of #JCPWCWWeek, the fourteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. We mixed it up by making JCP and WCW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better in two parts. On Monday, we talked about the transition from JCP to WCW, and yesterday we gave you the finer points of JCP’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing then finishing the epic story of the great lost promotion of our time. Today, we’re going to start exposing harsh truths with the debut of Lies The WWE Told Us. After Hump Day — and throughout the week — we’ll be quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List and a couple of odds, before ending everything with a Difference of Opinion, where JMS HQ erupts in a civil war, which will take place inside of a Doomsday Cage.
When Dave and I talked about The Varsity Club for #VarsityClubWeek’s Difference of Opinion, we spent much of our time discussing a rarely talked about part of WWE’s cultural hegemony in their little part of the entertainment world: To the victor goes the spoils, and as the ultimate victor in the fight for the soul of the medium, the WWE’s prize was complete control over the “story” of professional wrestling.
Which is to say that there’s no one checking the facts behind anything the WWE tells us happened in the history of wrestling. At least there wasn’t. UNTIL NOW. Okay, actually, there are plenty of people, but as you all know, we love you the most. And that’s why we’ve decided to spent some time talking about the some of the lies WWE has told us about its greatest rivals, Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW, in celebration of #JCPWCWWeek, and there’s perhaps no one lie more famous than the role Finger Poke of Doom had in the downfall of WCW.
Some of this is, of course, semantics. In a lot of ways the Fingerpoke of Doom was the end of “WCW”, but while it was symbolically the end of what had separated WCW from WWE, it wasn’t anywhere the deathknell of the company’s run as a major wrestling promotion, or even as a viable second wrestling company in the way that DVDs like The Rise and Fall of WCW would have you believe. Ignoring for a second that someone laying down for a title was something that WWF had done a full two years earlier (over the significantly less important European title, of course), the FPOD wasn’t even the most embarrassing thing that would happen to the championship in the in the next year and a half. That’s an honor that would go to David Arquette — even less of a wrestler than Hulk Hogan was an actor — winning the title in a match with Eric Bischoff, Jeff Jarrett and Diamond Dallas Page, for free, on a taped Thunder.
Though for every bit it wasn’t the end of WCW chronologically, or even the nadir of its creative and narrative directions, it was the end of WCW’s attempts to challenge WWE’s storyline development or credibility amongst fans in terms of “entertainment value”. What’s lost by most WCW detractors, the WWE included, is that the greatest blunder WCW made was giving it away for free. Story lines like this are fine, or at least not catastrophic, in situations where the fans are given a chance for retribution. The problem wasn’t that Hogan and Nash were in cahoots again, but that they gave away an actual conflict that people were genuinely interested. Of course it’s embarrassing to have your major title handed over from one man to the other in such a blatant disregard for the idea of competition that is at the heart of many fan’s love of the spectacle. Sure. But the really appalling thing is assuming I don’t want to pay for the right to be this angry.
If this would have been used as a way to generate heat, to develop the idea of “anything can happen on a WCW PPV”, if this was an attempt to reignite of the weird spark that the original Hogan turn at from 96’s Bash at the Beach had created , why not make us pay for it? By giving this away for free, WCW said, “we’re willing to do anything to get you to watch us, including give away major resolutions for nothing instead of letting you pay us for them… ” which should have been followed almost immediately after by “so give all of your money to WWF, please, we’re all set.”
Fans want to be treated with respect, sure, and the Fingerpoke is one of the high-water marks of a promotion’s wanton disrespect for its fans, but more importantly they wanted to be treated like people who paid to watch a show about conflict resolution done by interpretative dancers in underpants. So, while it didn’t kill WCW, by any measure, it broke the covenant between fans and promotions: it told us our money didn’t matter and they were going to do whatever they wanted while forcing us to watch it.
Anyone who has ever worked retail can tell you the only thing worse than a consumer believing that a company doesn’t stand behind its products is the belief from a consumer that they don’t want their business. WCW, or whomever made decisions at that point — you’d have to assume some sort of manatee-and-word-ball-based writing system like the folks over at Family Guy — had to understand, or least had to see the possibility, that if the people who had previously bought PPVs saw the disregard for their feelings that they were willing to display before they gave them their money, that they’d assume this just didn’t want their money to begin with.
People buy wrestling PPVs and tickets not just to see something they’ve never seen before, but, to feel like things will never change, that they’ll always be entertained by the familiar things: the idea of good vs. evil, the excitement of trying to figure how close to reality something truly is, and most importantly for the sustainability of the business, that they’ll be given the right to pay for something in exchange for a finish, whether or its satisfactory or not. And The Poke ended that.
But what The Fingerpoke of Doom ended wasn’t WCW’s life, though. It was WCW’s will to live.