Count on me
By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- For The Calgary Sun
Don't the best of them bleed it out,
While the rest of them peter out.
-- Foo Fighters
Kevin Mar-aschin is learning to count. That's typical for a handsome two-year-old but there's something mighty strange about Kevin's counting.
One, two ... and then he yells THRREEEE, loud as he can, with glee.
One, two THRREEEE! Mom and dad were stumped until they saw him do it along with the TV. The crowd is loud by the time the ref gets to three, so lil' Kev figures it's best to yell louder.
It's an amusing story -- until you realize this kid, like so many others, has been watching wrestling since he was born and soaking it all in like a sponge. I wonder how they add it all up. What must they be thinking?
You couldn't drag my son, Blade, 8, away from the TV when wrestling was on. He stared intently, making a study of it. He figured it out and has an amazing understanding of it. But these days, sometimes, it doesn't make sense to him anymore. I noticed that he'll watch me, or maybe guys like Benoit and Malenko and then, when a lot of skits come on, it doesn't make sense to him.
He looks disappointed, shakes his head and shuts it off. "Hey dad, I don't get why the good guys do bad stuff and the bad guys win a lot."
I don't either, boy.
Apparently neither does Tony Schiavone, who, in utter frustration, gave us this memorable quote, on Thunder: "Don't try to make too much sense of these things."
I wonder if there will be any heroes for Blade and Kevin in the new millennium or if they'll settle for cheering bad guys.
They tell me the reason for the huge ratings is wrestling has become a soap opera ... strange. I think one of the biggest problems with wrestling today is that it's become a soap opera. The storyline is custom made for rebellious 18-24-year-old males who, for whatever reason, flocked to wrestling in droves, about three years ago, and turned things upside down by cheering for the bad guys. The turning point was when Steve Austin ground my knee to powder with a chair in Binghamton, NY. The crowd cheered him on like a pack of wild dogs. Their reaction was so sick that I've often thought of showing the tape to a sociologist and proposing it as the defining moment of the anti-hero movement of the '90s.
Wrestling has always been a morality play that mirrors the stereotypes of the times. The bad guy was always the invading foreign power, the big monster from parts unknown. Now, young men who in past generations would have been soldiers, wage war against authority at all levels. To them, the baddeest guy is the biggest hero. They're not nice people.
Where once there was pride in earning the respect of the crowd, now there is resignation. It's sad that wrestling heroes, like Sting, as one example, and myself, look in the mirror and ask ourselves how important it is to earn the respect of the fans if it means selling out everything we've ever believed in. Rather than sell out, my conduct for roughly a year has been a sarcastic ploy to call attention to the fact that there are no heroes in wrestling anymore. Kind of a wake up call. Is anybody getting the message?
I know it's not everybody and I salute those of you who haven't moved out of the neighborhood. To those who have and who write to me lamenting about how it's not the way it used to be, when wrestling was invaded by this new demographic, that was the time to hunker down and make a stand. You walked away and handed it to them. You can still take it back.
Oprah Winfrey is considering calling it quits rather than lowering herself to compete with Jerry Springer. Losing Oprah to Springer is a sobering parallel to bad guys being on top in wrestling. Something is very wrong.
These are bad times. We're not going to get out of them by destroying the few remaining heros we've got left. Heroes help kids dream of being heroes. Breaking the chain is not an experiment I'd like to try. Meeting heroes gives adults a brief reprieve from synacism and recharges the energy bank. I met one of my heroes a few weeks ago, Bobby Orr. It was envigorating to feel excited like a kid. Meeting Bruce Springsteen was reaffirming. He was everything you'd imagine he'd be. A cool, quiet, decent, kind of guy. You had to admire him for not believing his publicity.
I've told you how I was awe-struck when I met Joe DiMaggio. His death a few days ago made me sad and it got me to thinking about the short supply of heroes our kids have to look up to. Heroes used to pass the torch before the passed on. Now they're going, going, gone. As the heroes of our generation leave us, who leads the children into the new millennium?
We do. With heroes in short supply, we'll have to find a little bravery and lead the way ... and we can be heroes, for just one day.
-- David Bowie