This isn't the article I had intended on writing.
Earlier in the month, I visited the unmarked grave of Gorgeous George, the single most influential professional wrestler of all time. For all of his accomplishments, though, the First Superstar died penniless. His brothers in the industry collected a fund, and put on one last big show for the headliner.
The Human Orchid's casket was appropriately orchid-hued. The bleach blond locks that set him apart and became the standard for every wrestling villain in his wake, from the two Nature Boys, to Terry "the Hulk" Boulder, up to Dolph Ziggler, were blanched and curled a final time, and he was laid to rest wearing his favorite ring robe.
It was already a sad ending to a brilliant career, but, standing on that earth above him, I was surprised there was no marker. Maybe there was no money. A funeral is expensive enough, let alone a stone, and "the Boys" had already gone above and beyond getting George interred.
Maybe he had a stone but souvenir hunters damaged it until the family was forced to remove it, just as the Capone family did for gangster Al in Chicago.
Of course, Gorgeous George's monument will always be his work, available to be seen for those who wish to track down his TV appearances, and unseen but evident in every wrestling program since.
As a fan of the man and the industry he shaped, I wanted to visit that North Hollywood cemetery and pay tribute, say thanks, and show my respect. Since the accompanying flower shop was curiously out of orchids, I chose a purple flower to mark the legend's resting place, if only for a moment.
Inspired by this, I thought it was time to write an open letter to the Smithsonian calling for a first-ever exhibit celebrating the unique American art form of professional wrestling.
Last century saw the detective story, jazz, comic books, tap, musical comedies, and banjo music slowly, sometimes begrudgingly, recognized as that. This proven entertainment needs to be added to the new century list.
For one, professional wrestling it as much or more a reinvention of theatrical convention as musical comedies are. To paraphrase Broadway great Stephen Sondheim, a character in a musical sings at the particular moment when no other emotion will suffice.
Ideally, those musical outbursts erupt from the emotional peak...not unlike the point in a wrestling feud where it becomes necessary for two athletes to finally lock up in a ring.
As I stated in a previous article, professional wrestling has a relationship with the audience that was interactive before the word was invented. Zack Ryder couldn't get arrested on WWE TV until his legion of youtube followers made their voices heard at live events, and now he has worn championship gold.
As a villain, CM Punk was as brutal to his cohorts as he was to his opponents. Poised as the heel going into a WWE Championship match with John Cena, Punk cut a promo that was meant to tear down the WWE...and instead it hit a chord with fans, gained mainstream attention, and rocketed Punk to be the top babyface in the company.
Though often wildly popular, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson had gone into matches against Hulk Hogan and Brock Lesnar as a face, then changed styles mid-match upon discovering that the crowd was cheering his opponent instead. From major storylines to improvised moments, no other entertainment is shaped by audience input as much as wrestling.
Professional wrestling requires multiple disciplines. As with any entertainer, wrestlers have to believably project their character in all situations.
Unlike other athletes, they have to engage the audience and be able to create an emotional investment through monologues called promos, dialogue with their fellow performers, and physicality.
Unlike other actors, they have to master the unique storytelling form of a professional wrestling match...an improvised, physical confrontation employing actual wrestling and striking with stage combat and character acting. (On "improvised:" To my knowledge, Randy Savage was the only wrestler who insisted on choreographing matches move-for-move, rehearsing his WrestleMania encounters with Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat at his home beforehand.)
Whether five minutes or forty, singles or in teams, the wrestlers, like all storytellers, have to deliver emotional highs and lows amid a logical sequence of events that make the story arc.
While Canada, Mexico and Japan have developed their own professional wrestling heritage, the practice began as shootfighting sideshows on the U.S. carnival circuit, while the art form began and is best epitomized by the distinctly American braggadocio of Gorgeous George upon his television debut.
He understood the importance of the action, the necessity of the theatricality, but also how to project a single character simultaneously to two audiences: the live crowd, which requires the broad, and the television viewer, who requires the subtle.
The cornerstone of television, cable, and pay-per-view, there was never a time since George's arrival when professional wrestling hasn't been mainstream, or hasn't been a part of our culture.
That said, it would be wonderful to see an exhibit at the Smithsonian, our national museum, celebrating this uniquely American art form.
That would have been a fine article. Yet...
Sometimes professional wrestling has been satire, other times, satirized, even within the industry. Ever proprietary, Vince McMahon stubbornly insists on branding it "sports entertainment". Not only has the phrase failed to take hold outside of WWE press releases, the viewing faithful turned it into an euphemism for everything bad about wrestling programming.
The Punk versus Cena saga and matches? Professional wrestling. Kane allegedly killed a girl in a drunk driving accident, and Triple H pretends he is raping her corpse? Sports entertainment.
Natalya farting on Smackdown? Sports entertainment...and the reason I'm ashamed to call out the Smithsonian to celebrate professional wrestling.
It's irksome to me that one of the most talented and accomplished wrestlers on the roster is saddled with this career killer of a gimmick. She deserves better.
Tommy Dreamer's short-lived Jackass gimmick was a saddle of his own stitching in an "anything goes" era. That's one thing.
But this is the best that creative can come up with for someone who hails from a Hall of Fame legacy? Someone actually got paid to think of how to develop a character, and that was the best effort?
When Natalya asked the writers, "What's the upside to this gimmick?" was she told, "You still have a job?" That's the only upside I can think of, because I don't see how this is supposed to help her career at all.
Would WWE be proud to show this footage to Linda McMahon's political opponents?
Yes, there have been puerile comic books, exploitative musicals and offensive detective novels, so shouldn't this art form be cut some slack for lousy humor?
In some instances...except that this is the WWE, and it must be held to a higher standard.
Vince McMahon wanted WWE to be the No. 1 promotion in the world. He achieved that and more. WWE is the standard bearer of the professional wrestling industry, and that distinction carries certain responsibilities.
It isn't enough to have the best production values, which they do. It isn't enough to have the best talent, which they do. It isn't enough to have a solid, corporate infrastructure, which they do. What they need is to grow up.
There's no point in WWE banning words like "wrestling" on a wrestling show, if they're just going to fill the air with fart jokes that would look bush league on a rasslin' show.
As offended as I am that this noose has been hung on a great, proven performer, I am equally offended by the fact that that creative wrote the fart into a match ending on Smackdown.
Wrestling matches are WWE. Wrestling matches are the industry. They are the reason WWE is unique in a world crowded with entertainment options.
If the WWE writers don't have enough respect for that one, simple fact, then I am at a loss for why they are writing for a wrestling program. If WWE producers, including McMahon, think so little of their raison d'etre, why would anyone else respect it?
Like any program, WWE tries to find a balance between drama, humor and action. I'd rather they didn't even attempt humor if farting is the best they can do. Every time I'm encouraged by something in WWE, something else (usually involving the treatment of women) makes me believe the critics are right to slam the industry for being garbage.
For all the good they do, and for all the great entertainment they offer, WWE insists on being very hard to defend sometimes.
One bad thing will always outweigh two good when it comes to perceptions, that's just how it is.
So, that's why the Smithsonian will not be receiving an open letter. As much as I genuinely respect Vince McMahon, and heaven knows I've stuffed enough money into his pockets over the years (and continue to, having just purchased the TLC DVD), he has to live up to the burden he wanted.
Natalya deserves better.
The fans deserve better.
The legacy of Gorgeous George deserves better.