WHEN THE World Wrestling Federation seized control of the Baltimore Arena last Monday evening for another national telecast of its "Raw Is War" road show, the lavish and freakish production assaulted with predictable ferocity the auditory and visual senses of the spectator. However, what this ringside observer did not expect was a surprise attack on his olfactory system. For approximately 10 minutes in a three-hour show, the place smelled like a sewer.
This was no accident but, rather, an ingenious theatrical contrivance that could only be appreciated by those within its immediate proximity.
The striking aroma became apparent during a performance by a particularly hideous troupe of artists known as The Parade of Human Oddities. Managed by Luna, a woman of masculine appearance and comportment (not to mention a professional wrestling heritage - her father was Butcher Vachon), the Oddities comprise Silva, a 7-foot-4 Brazilian who resembles a young Burt Lancaster after several injections of human growth hormone; Kurr-gan, a 7-foot Canadian with a goofy, cross-eyed look; and Golga, a gelatinous glob who wore a brown leather mask to hide a "deformed face due to a rare disorder." Mr. Golga appeared to have resisted bathing for several days; he wore filthy, flimsy sweat pants that seemed to have been worn 10 times too often, and that is a kind assessment.
When this trio stepped into the ring, someone ignited a device that emitted a stench one can only describe as sewage-like. The novice WWF fan might have surmised that the Arena's restroom facilities had malfunctioned. But clearly, the stink was part of the shtick, the Oddities being repugnant by design, exuding poor personal hygiene by intention.
They made quick work of their opponents, with Mr. Golga finishing the faux-brutal business by actually sitting on his victim.
Remarkably, as quickly as The Oddities vanished from the Arena, so did the offal stink that had accompanied them. Such an impressive production quality is what has made the WWF what it is today.
My notes indicate that the next significant event was the appearance of the WWF's brightest star, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Bald, muscular and cover-boy familiar, Mr. Austin raced into the ring with a garden shovel and, hoisting it high, announced to an audience of 13,000 howling men, women and children - too many children, in the view of this critic - that he would use the implement against his archenemy, Undertaker. Mr. Austin then headed off into the bowels of the arena to hunt down his foe and exact revenge for Mr. Undertaker's earlier attacks. The arena audience, which included several bedazzled Ravens, was allowed to follow this part of the "Raw" story line on a huge video screen. (Mr. Austin eventually outsmarted Mr. Undertaker and, in a surprise twist, managed to have him body-bagged and carried away in an ambulance.)
The Austin-Undertaker conflict represented just one of several dramatic plot lines that crisscrossed during what seasoned WWF observers would regard as an average evening of raucous, crude and grotesque entertainment. The Byzantine nature of WWF productions - described by the Wall Street Journal as "soap opera for guys" - was evident again Monday night. Stepping into "Raw" without an advance briefing is risky; one can miss the nuances and fail to appreciate the interconnectedness of characters and their story paths.
When a cocky, pony-tailed young man in sport jacket and tie stepped into the ring, I asked the person seated next to me to identify him. The answer went something like this:
"The good-looking guy in the tie is Shawn Michael. He started D-Generation X, which is this, like, cool grunge group of wrestlers that doesn't want to be controlled by Team Corporate, which is run by [WWF chairman] Vince McMahon. So last week, X Pac, who's with DX, was wrestling The Rock, who's Corporate, and everyone was waiting to see if Shawn Michael would come to X Pac's rescue. But he didn't. He attacked X Pac, and now Shawn Michael is the new commissioner of the WWF. Vince McMahon appointed him. He kinda sold out to Corporate, right?"
And Monday night in Baltimore, as another Corporate wrestler named Shamrock beat up on Mr. X Pac, a DXer named Triple H came to Mr. X Pac's rescue and mauled Mr. Shamrock. This, of course, angered Mr. Michael, the grunge-turned-suit who, co-opted and confused, came to symbolize the clash of post-industrial capitalism and punk nihilism.
Such are the golden deeper meanings one can ascertain only through arduous panning in the culturally polluted river of made-for-TV professional wrestling.
Less intellectually strenuous is the pure enjoyment of "Raw" as overwrought entertainment, as mind-blowing, ear-shattering, sexist, paganish, violent extravaganza. There are moments of absolutely spectacular athleticism - the best example of this Monday night was the match of Max Mini and El Torito, diminutive Mexicans who flipped and flew across the ring like aerialists with attitudes - and moments of lame shtick (Monday's "Ladder Match" was a yawn with rungs). Overall, it's a two-hour plunge into a bizarre fantasy, after which one has the desire to shower and maybe do a wash.
Pub Date: 12/02/98