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Size matters to Val Venis


Val Venis
By JEAN SONMOR -- Toronto Sun
Heads turn as Val Venis strides into the lobby of the Harbour Castle Hotel.

If the name doesn't mean much to you, it probably should. A whole section of the population (mostly under 18) is enthralled by his exploits in the soap opera world of professional wrestling and if he chooses to use that clout, watch out. We are living in an age, don't forget, where Jesse The Body Ventura, already governor-elect of Minnesota, is being touted as a presidential candidate in 2000.

A few weeks ago Newsweek pronounced wrestling "more mainstream than politics."

Which brings us to Val Venis, the porn star. Well he's not really a porn star; he's one of the hottest newcomers on the WWF circuit and his character is a porn star.

Today we're seeing the real guy, a 27-year-old named Sean Morley who graduated from Markham District High School and found his way into professional wrestling first in Britain, and then Puerto Rico, Mexico and even in Japan. Only lately, with his elevation to the WWF, has he landed in the porn star niche. These days he enters the ring with his bow-tie, a vast expanse of bare, tanned, chest, and a towel. He roars his lusty welcome "Hello Ladies" and the crowd is in the palm of his hand.

"I think it began as a joke," he explains a little too earnestly. "The man (WWF-owner and cartoon character Vince McMahon) knew about my conservative newsletter and my political opinions and he gave me a character who was just the opposite, a bleeding heart liberal who is open-minded about everything."

Morley says he was troubled at first about the imposed gimmick.

"But it had never been done before and I thought it would create controversy and be fun."

The last two words are the ticket. Morley and everybody connected to the WWF's raunchy brand of sleaze these days loves the controversy, and glories in the political incorrectness of it all.

They tap into primitive instincts like sex and aggression and give the audience -- and themselves -- a chance to shuck all the "correct" attitudes. Kids especially find it wildly liberating.

As for Val Venis himself, the porn image "has nothing to do with who I am. I keep the two sides of my life totally separate from each other," he says.

The voluptuous women who hang on him and feed him strawberries are just part of the act, he says. As for the rampant womanizing, this real guy in his jeans and T-shirt having Diet Coke in the lobby bar insists he's nothing like that.

At his side sits a pretty, slender Mexican woman. Lourdes, his girlfriend, has flown in from Mexico City to meet his family and spend a few days with him while he does celebrity charity work for the Special Olympics.

Occasionally she whispers a word or two in Spanish to him but for the most part she keeps her head down and her charisma to herself. She's totally unlike the flamboyant evening dress crowd he's usually photographed with.

He explains he met her six months ago when he was out with his former boss for lunch in Mexico City and she was their waitress. "I started hitting on her," he chuckles.

He's eager to talk politics, to argue that the government should abolish income tax, unions and welfare and let people keep control of their own money and their own lives. Every two months he publishes a newsletter, Hardball, where he makes one of these arguments and invites his readers to debate. He has a few more than 100 subscribers and big plans. Eventually Hardball will be a full scale glossy magazine, he hopes, but that's a few years away. And someday maybe there will be a radio show like the Michael Reagan call-in show on Voice of America in the U.S.

Now if all this sounds a little like a replay of the story of Jesse The Mind Ventura, as the new Minnesota governor has taken to calling himself, it should.

"Venis" might not look quite as good on the ballot as "Ventura" but populism is a strong force in North American democracies. And these larger than life characters -- in every sense -- have a potent schtick going for them.

In part it stems from the chasm between what's taught in civics class about the power of the people in a democracy and the depressing truth that individuals have very little impact.

"That dichotomy makes people cynical and bitter," says University of Guelph political scientist and author, William Christian. "They want the illusion and the reality to correspond more closely."

Exactly. So how does Premier Venis sound?

NOTE: This story ran in the Toronto Sun Saturday, December 12, 1998

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