There’s something to be said about parts of your youth dying.
I’m 29 years younger than my father, who is the most patient, hard-working, logical, and studious influence on my life. He’s a man who can do any job, and do it efficiently. It doesn’t matter whether he’s fixing a car or renovating a room or building a porch or maintaining his sizable yard. He’s a jack of all trades. In his life, he worked his way up from working second shift at a glass molding plant, to becoming plant manager at a different plant, to becoming the vice president, a job he’s held for eighteen years and counting. Who needs a role model when I had resided with one?
As great as my dad is, like most fathers, he has a bit of a “generation gap” with his son.
He likes Harleys. I like wrestling. He restores clocks. I write editorials. He fishes. I ride my bike. He drinks beer. I drink exotic coffee. He likes Lynyrd Skynyrd. I like Metallica.
If we didn’t have the same eyes and cheshire cat grin, you would never guess that we were related.
A few years back, we were coming home from getting dinner from Wawa (if you don’t know what one is, don’t bother asking, because you weren’t meant to know) and he lamented the lack of a truly good “sub shop” like he’d had growing up. I mentioned, while holding the food, that we could always do Subway for dinner some night. He cringed, as if his mouth had spontaneously filled with lemon juice, and said “it’s not the same”.
I would have put up a minor fight, since Subway is my favorite place to eat (Chicken bacon ranch~!!), but I decided not to. I figured that it’s best to just disagree. Not that an argument would have been catastrophic between us, but it’s that we’re just different. He was born in 1954. The movie “Easy Rider”changed his life. I was born in 1983, and he rolls his eyes when I quote Pulp Fiction.
It’s not just my dad, either. There are hordes of people on this green and blue planet who grab at nostalgia as if it were a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.
It’s because the present is scary, and the future is scarier.
Don’t believe me?
ESPN Classic. TV Land. Turner Classic Movies. The History Channel. Old TV series released in boxed sets on DVD. WWE 24/7. Cast reunion TV shows. Reunion tours of ancient bands.
What do we lament? We lament MTV not airing enough music videos to our liking, don’t we? Some of us griped about switching from VHS to DVD, because (at the time) you couldn’t record on a DVD. We are a generation that can complain about any change, from seatbelt laws to the death of an iconic celebrity to a TV show getting canceled, all the way down to movie theaters no longer airing useless trivia questions before the previews.
We hate change.
I vowed not to be that guy. I wanted to embrace new trends. I wanted to live in whatever year it so happened to be. It’s 2010. I have an MP3 player, not a Walkman. I have my hair in a fade, not a bowl cut. I’m up on modern politics and celebrity trends. I ogle Kim Kardashian, not Jenna Jameson. I can’t wait to watch St. Pierre-Penn, not Tyson-Holyfield. I try to go green.
I’ve done everything possible to not get hung up on a snag created by a relic of my youth.
Well, except one.
With the exception of Paul E. Dangerously himself, I might just be the world’s foremost ECW apologist. I grew up with the “tribe of Extreme” as a considerable chunk of the Justin Diet. Eleven year old Justin in the mid-nineties had few priorities. He had video games, a Pepsi addiction, his mountain bike, and his wrestling. While WWF and WCW were still “must see” to the obsessive fan writing this piece, the author knew that ECW….his beloved ECW….was unparalleled in the department of awesome.
I never fully understood the concept of lesbianism until Beulah and Kimona kindly taught me the wonders of femme fruition. I never knew that a cheese grater could make a handy weapon. I didn’t know that a man who weighed 140 lbs was even ALLOWED to wrestle until Rey Mysterio proved me wrong.
I didn’t know that wrestling could be so…..cool!
To this day, I can still rattle off the names of EVERY ECW Arena show, as well as their dates. I can recite all of the title histories, with city names and dates to boot. I can even do most of the PPV line-ups.
Granted, this isn’t stuff that I would list on a dating site profile, but still! Let me have my pride!
Even when ECW began to get stale in the late nineties, and at the turn of the century, I remained loyal. I cursed defectors who jumped ship. I went crazy for the violence. I appreciated sound mat wrestling when no other company in American on that scale offered it up. It was pure as it was decadent, a dichotomy of danger and honesty. I lived in the “Revolution” and was proud, like a foot soldier that was prepared to kick down the doors of those who disagreed.
Then it died.
I knew it was dead a week after the final pay per view, Guilty as Charged 2001, when the syndicated show was preempted in favor of a month old episode. The following week, the same episode aired yet again.
While I considered the simple truth that ECW just didn’t have enough money to operate any longer, I still couldn’t come to grips with it.
ECW was dead.
I read the newsboards as Justin Credible and Jerry Lynn and Rhino and Spike Dudley and Yoshihiro Tajiri all signed with WWF, like Titanic passengers filing into the life rafts. I kept checking ECW’s page, to see if there were any big announcements about their continued future. Sure, I was seventeen years old and had a semi-serious girlfriend, but geez, this was too important to me! Suddenly, I became a Dead-Head, mourning the loss of Jerry Garcia when I really shouldn’t have been surprised. I couldn’t figure out why people devoted their lives to that bearded freak and cried when he dropped dead from a combination of everything. Now it hit me!
ECW was my old sub shop.
They served me well, whenever I graced them with my patronage. I didn’t eat anywhere else, and, the rare times I would, I would sit there and lament the lack of flavor in their offering. It wasn’t ECW. It could NEVER be ECW.
So with the sub shop closed down, and WCW shutting theirs down as well, all I had was WWF.
Yet, without ECW, out came the comparisons. WWE does a hardcore match. We say “where’s the fire?” and “that’s not enough blood”. A diva would wear something revealing, and we’d mock her for not skanking it up like Dawn Marie or Francine would in E-C-Dub. We’d even roll our eyes at the production value, actually espousing the benefit of running out of a homier bingo hall in South Philadelphia.
Fast forward to 2006, when Vince McMahon released his ECW off of the corporate assembly line. Oh, we hated it. Hated it because Big Show was involved. Hated it because Kevin Thorn and Mike Knox were involved. Hated it because Kelly Kelly was no Beulah. Hated it because Joey Styles didn’t sound like Joey Styles. Hated it because stars from the other two brands would show up.
This isn’t ECW!
You know something?
I’m glad it wasn’t.
See, I have my memories in the form of VHS tapes and DVDs. Lord knows I have plenty of ECW at my disposal. Here in the year 2010, if I pop in my worn out “summer of 1995” tape just to see JT Smith fail in his dive attempt on Hack Myers, I’ll have the same cheap laugh I had when I was eleven.
I also have the startling reminder of just how primitive it was.
It took me a long time, but I realized just how much ECW represented a grunting Cro-Magnon man.
I’ve spent nearly nine years convincing myself that Vince McMahon’s product is nowhere near as good as one presented in front of 1200 fans at the ECW Arena, on a dirty, tape-covered canvas, with a crowd filled with mulleted, porn-stached drunks, between (mostly) out of shape misfits who could barely wrestle (excluding the ones who could), guys who could only get a reaction by swearing or bleeding.
It took Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels in 2008 to show me that you could have a great feud without so much as one curse word. It took Michaels and Undertaker at WWE WrestleMania 25 to show that you can enthrall a crowd without even a drop of blood. It takes Eve and Layla and Tiffany to prove that you can look hot without showing everything. It takes Matt Striker to demonstrate that to be a great commentator, you don’t have to slag other promotions or scream a catch phrase. It takes Vince McMahon to prove (though the idiots won’t agree) that marketing a product to kids and families will actually draw money, and is far smarter than getting antagonistic smarks and obnoxious drunks to try and buy the products being peddled.
I was a fool.
I write this now as a twenty six year old, working on a college degree and working forty hours a week. I’m no longer the energy drink-sucking seventeen year old who thinks the stunts on Jackass are the height of wit. I’m not a snob, but my tastes have matured from the time I was in high school, wondering how the Grammys could be so dense as to not give every award to Slipknot.
But yet, I wasn’t the only one clinging to ECW as if it were the edge of a cliff.
To this day, it upsets people that Paul Heyman was emasculated and fired from WWE. Nevermind that screwed his employees over royally. They want their mad genius back so that he can book the bloody smut show for them. These people would be happy to see Sheamus and Drew McIntyre go, just so WWE can bring back Sabu and Rob Van Dam to stumble through their awkward table-and-chair sideshows, so they can yell “FIVE STAR MATCH!” when Sabu breaks his jaw on the guardrail.
I can’t believe I ran with that line of thinking.
Let me rephrase that.
I can’t believe I ran with the line of thinking that criticized McMahon for banning piledrivers and insane dives, while praising anyone else for producing a ballsier product. I wanted to see the wrestlers “unprotected”. Let em land on their head! Let em take chair shots! Let em be real men!
Like Chris Benoit.
It’s this simple: if Vince McMahon can draw you in with storylines and characters that don’t need to swear (excessively), don’t need to blade, and don’t need to rely on cheap heat to hold your attention, then WWE deserves your respect.
Right now, we have CM Punk, The Miz, Chris Jericho, and Randy Orton, who all rule the school on the heel side of the coin. As faces, we have enough leftover love for Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, Edge, and Christian to let them sustain our interest. We have young characters like Legacy and MVP and Kofi Kingston and John Morrison who have what it takes to win our respect.
So let’s respect them.
And let’s not complain when WWE erases the ECW name in favor of the admittedly lame sounding ‘NXT’. ECW is dead. It really died in 2001, along with the concept of a low budget freakshow being considered “great”.
So to ECW, thank you influencing the business to take some risks, push the envelope, explore the realm of possibility, and for giving some real talents some needed exposure. Also, thank you for entertaining me from 1994 to 2001, and from then on in the form of memories.
But it’s over. You’re gone. Your relevance and influence are dead. I have my memories, and I’ll remember them with some fondness. But in terms of griping day after day about resurrecting the old feeling at the expense of the modern evolution, forget it. I’m done.
I’m not going to eat that sub anymore.
Which is fine. Because nobody makes that sub anymore, anyway.
When he isn’t watching WWE, TNA, or his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies, Justin Henry can be found writing. It is his passion as well as his goal in life to become a well-regarded (as well as well-paid) columnist or author. Subscribe to The Cynical Examination, his wrestling blog, at http://www.facebook.com.