Single page view By Mark Dursin
Special to Page 2

From Gorgeous George to Magnificent Muraco, from "Rowdy" Roddy Piper to "The Unpredictable" Johnny Rodz, one thing is clear: professional wrestlers love adjectives. They're also fond of alliteration (like Ravishing Rick Rude or Marvelous Marc Mero) and hyperbole (like the Great Kamala or Ultimate Warrior). But they really love adjectives.

And so do the fans. We routinely employ their own adjectives (many of them unprintable), not only for the wrestlers but also for moves, announcers, and especially, storylines ("angles," in wrestling parlance). For many of these angles, adjectives such as "lame" and "uninspired" work just fine; as an example, I give you Edge and Booker T's feud over shampoo. Some angles cross the line into "absurd," "distasteful" and even "vaguely illegal" -- like when Earthquake sat on and subsequently killed Jake the Snake's pet python, or when Brock Lesnar pushed one-legged wrestler Zach Gowen down three flights of stairs.

For a select few angles, only one descriptor fits: "appalling."

What distinguishes a merely "loathsome" storyline from a truly "appalling" one? Tough to say. Basically, you know it when you experience it -- when your face contorts into a permanent cringe, when you feel the need to take a shower after you turn off the TV. The most appalling WWE (then-WWF) angle stretches back fifteen years, back when Simmons and I were in college and spending our hours playing the WWF arcade game at the Greendale Mall in Worcester. In the summer of 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny emirate of Kuwait, an act of wanton aggression which precipitated "Operation: Desert Storm." In response, Vince McMahon and the good folks/opportunistic vultures at World Wrestling Entertainment gave the character of Sgt. Slaughter -- long a flag-waving American hero -- an extreme "Iraqi sympathizer" makeover. This new, evil Slaughter called the American soldiers "pukes," saluted Iraq's flag, and even chummed around with his old nemesis, the Iron Sheik. (Although the Sheik was supposed to be Iranian, and the Iraqis and Iranians hated one another, only he sympathized with Saddam Hussein ... actually, let's just move on.)

See, Vince McMahon had it all figured out: The "turncoat" angle would culminate at WrestleMania VII, where super-patriot Hulk Hogan would defeat Sarge and bring the WWE Title back to the good ol' U.S. of A. For Vince, this would be the mother of all matches, one that would sell out the L.A. Coliseum. It was going to be huge. Huge, I tell you! And it could have been, too -- if anyone bought tickets.

Unfortunately for Vince, wrestling fans saw the angle for the shameful exploitation that it was, turning away from 1991's WrestleMania in droves. Knowing they couldn't broadcast the biggest show of the year in a half-empty arena, WWE shifted venues at the last minute, from the L.A. Coliseum (which could fit 100,000) to the Los Angeles Sports Arena (which could fit, I don't know, maybe 70).

But wait: there's more.

Flash forward to a Tuesday morning in 2001, when planes flew into buildings and the world changed forever. After 9/11, Americans lived in fear that the terrorists might attack again, and American wrestling fans lived in fear that WWE would try to capitalize on this tragedy. In the aftermath of 9/11, WWE appeared to take the high road. In the September 26, 2001 edition of the New York Times, Linda McMahon -- Vince's wife as well as WWE's Chief Executive Officer -- had this to say: "We're not going to do anything to connect to the attacks. We want to be perceived as conscientious programmers." Nice restraint, guys.


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