You are here
Guest Columns





I don't know who else out there is as much of a loser as me, as to actually subscribe to both the Torch and the Observer, but even if no one else does, you all may have picked this up off their respective websites as well: I've noticed that increasingly the Observer is the publication which seems out to find fault wherever possible with the current WWF hierarchy, business model, marketing strategies, etc., while the Torch is becoming actually quite shill-like in places, while still retaining a smarky attitude towards WWF booking. It's an interesting division which leads me to speculate on what it is which is driving this divergence in outlooks and marketing strategies among the two major "dirt sheets".

>From the Observer, virtually everyone has started to pick up on the massive smark vibe coming off their writings recently, their attempts to find some evidence of political machinations behind virtually every occurrence on WWF TV recently, most of which, of course, have to do with Triple H. Meltzer seems to see the WWF falling back into the days of the mid-'90's, when the WWF locker room was a political wasteland and television was, to put it nicely, not particularly fresh. As well, Meltzer is becoming increasingly vocal, to my mind, in his attempts to defend every critic of wrestling, and more specifically the WWF, that he can; in virtually every instance in which a conflict of views or interpretations is present, he tends to take, or argue, the side of those who believe that wrestling is a fundamentally deleterious boil on the face of society. This might take the form of his defending Phil Mushnick one week, and the next be transmuted into his defense of the methodology of the recent Gallup poll which painted an unflattering portrait of American wrestling fans.

To Meltzer's credit, (I personally feel) he argues these points well, and in many cases he's actually quite persuasive in his claims and defenses; as well, I have little doubt that he's sincere in his defenses, and is partially playing devil's advocate in response to the often unquestioning support for the WWF I'm sure he encounters on the internet. Yet what's more interesting to me sometimes is the pattern implicit in these defenses, the mindset seemingly betrayed by the choices he makes regarding how he views these issues. When I look at the distaste he seems to hold for much of the WWF product (though he does praise the in-ring efforts, which seems equally suggestive to me), it seems to reflect a particular mindset which is in many ways antithetical to the current predominant conception of the meaning of wrestling in North America. Meltzer has been a wrestling fan since the 70's; he grew up in the era of the territories, when Bruno Sammartino and Billy Graham and men of their ilk were the top stars, when "gimmick" meant a fireball from the Sheik or brass knuckles, not "three fightin', fussin', cousins" or "The American Badass" or what ever other high-concept schlock is on the TV this week. I suspect that to him, much of today's wrestling is fundamentally a different beast then the one with which he was familiarized with in his youth, the time when many of a person's outlooks and expectations are formed. The emphasis on sex, increased hyper-violence, cartoonish gimmickry and on being over-the-top campy as a prime virtue, all represent an idea of what wrestling should be that was not the one he would have adopted while growing up, nor would it be one he would be motivated to defend now. In fact, with the last remaining bastion of non-WWF wrestling having fallen in the last few months, I suspect it's starting to hit him, as it is many fans, that the WWF's idea of wrestling is truly the only game in town now. For those who grew up with the UWF, the NWA, the AWA, Mid-Atlantic, Georgia, that's a hard blow to accept: the wrestling they grew up with and loved is dead. Forever.

Thus I suspect much of his distaste for the WWF (without dismissing his legitimate arguments and moral positions regarding marketing to children, etc.) is linked to the type of fans he is and the type of wrestling he first fell in love with; indeed I suspect much of his continuing regard for Japan has to do with the persistence of the type of wrestling he and many other fans grew up appreciating over there in New Japan and All Japan. Over there, much as in the NWA and other old territories, much emphasis is placed on the quality of the in-ring product (which nowadays is the one facet of WWF programming he routinely praises, in regards to their big-match quality on pay per views). It should also be kept in mind that the WWF's refusal to release wrestlers to appear on his show hurts his business, naturally engendering some animosity.

As well, I wager at some level he recognizes that a significant portion of his readership is composed of fans similar to him self, and thus will provide a receptive audience for his increasingly cynical and unhappy take on the current WWF. That his readership tends towards the old school may be discerned from the content he selects to appeal to them; it was in the Observer, and not the Torch, that I read a multi-page, two issue-spanning retrospective on the life and career of Johnny Valentine, whose peak years were in the 1960's and whose career was over by 1975; this is hardly content calculated to appeal to the core WWF audience of teenagers. For old school fans, the WWF has always represented some sort of over-arching evil, the force which destroyed the territories and turned wrestling into kid's stuff; for current workers (who are subscribers and who Meltzer depends on for sources, and who logic says are mostly midcarders) the WWF might be the reason they aren't getting pushed as hard or as far as they might want or think themselves deserving off; and for the disaffected minority of die-hard WCW fans, Vince-bashing is second nature. For all of these groups, a negative portrayal and take on the WWF is attractive, and for those who dislike it (such as myself) the lure of the news in each Observer may well be sufficient to override our distaste with the editorial tone. Meltzer's natural distaste for the WWF product happens to coincide with an advantageous marketing plan for his business, I believe; as a result, I would not look for any abatement anytime soon from that quarter of the increasing trend towards finding fault with every aspect of the WWF. This is not to say that such criticism is unwarranted or dishonest; only that the predilection towards it is reinforced by a multitude of contributing factors, all of which influence the tone of the Observer, and none of which are likely to change anytime soon.

The Torch, on the other hand, despite the apparent meaning of their smarky smark smark (*CRZ) guest editorials, is going in somewhat the opposite direction from the Observer. In their review of Mick Foley's second book Foley Is Good And The Real World Is Faker Than Wrestling, the following quotes appear: "The final section of the book is dedicated to rebuking the PTC and the Indiana University study. He does a great job. A lot of the WWF's staunchest, most radical critics purport to have objective statistics but as he points out they are actually born out of highly subjective observations." "It's disheartening and enlightening to read how ABC's "20/20" knowingly mischaracterizes a story in order to make it more palatable to drawing and retaining viewers" "He...did manage to refute perhaps 98 percent of Mushnick's criticism of wrestling. He pointed out the absurd, statistically invalid, oft repeated lists of wrestlers who have died in recent years due to problems within the industry." "Some of his passion for the truth...seems to be rooted in being offended by people unfairly characterizing a profession he dedicated much of his life to."

Leaving aside for the moment the validity or otherwise of Foley's claims, examine the assumptions and tone present in these quotes. Keller presents as fact Foley's supposed "refutation" of Mushnick and other critics; Foley does not offer a counter argument, in Keller's view apparently, he is simply triumphant in this treatment by the force of his ideas. Having not read the book, I can't comment on the validity of this reading, but I can detect here on Keller's part a desire not to take up an actual debate. He sites none of Foley's arguments, merely identifies them as having been made without weighing them for their validity or relevance. As such, this technique allows him to simply wave the flag triumphant at the defeat of those nasty people who criticize wrestling, who supposedly manipulate the media (despite these being techniques considered ethically acceptable within the media for the most part) and then go home; it's intellectually dishonest at one level, efficient marketing at another.

For unless I miss my guess, that's the point of this: marketing. I'm not qualified to speak at all about Wade Keller personally, so for all I know all of the above quotes may be completely in line with his personal views, and he may indeed have excellent justifications which were not used here; but I hardly think I misrepresent the man if I speculate that, much like Meltzer's situation with the Observer, there is an element of calculated marketing at work here. The Torch, founded in 1987, I believe, does not have the same pedigree of name-brand reliability as the Observer (est. 1980 or 81), either on the internet or within major media circles. Ask around on the internet and few people will invest as much value in the news or editorial comments of Keller as they will those of Meltzer; and it is Meltzer, and not Keller, who has a show on and who is the "insider journalist" of choice for talk shows and the like. Left to compete for the same market, the Torch will forever remain one step behind the Observer.

So given the recent changes to the Torch website and editorial tone, I believe Keller has made a marketing decision to adjust his focus to a distinctly different potential reader base than that targeted by the Observer. By integrating more "guest editorials" directed at the internet audience, by adopting a more pro-WWF/defending the industry no matter what stance, he appeals to those legions of fans who wish to maintain a hear no evil/see no evil stance toward the business, with just enough of a whiff of backstage dirt to keep things from becoming too PWI-ish. The Torch has always seemed something of the low-rent cousin of the Observer, prompted partly by the Torch's policy of reporting on the personal lives of wrestlers, partly by it's lesser history, partly by a perception, rightly or wrongly, that Torch staffers have a tendency to carry grudges against people in the industry and allow their personal feelings corrupt their news and analysis, and partly by a multitude of other factors. I believe that Keller may now be making a deliberate effort to swing the marketing of his publication away from the old school, older fan type, towards a teenage demographic which will be more accepting of his publication, marketed correctly, then an older, Observer-leaning demographic is. Look towards the Wrestleline forums, as well as any of the innumerable news boards which populate the net: they all maintain a constant attempt to defend the WWF from non-industry critics; they all hunger after the personal details of wrestler's lives (the topic of Chyna's personal relations being a frequent choice, as well as a frequent news item in the Torch recently); and they (virtually) all have in common the sort of smarky-about booking, but fundamentally promotion-loyal attitude which has become prevalent at the Torch recently. Whereas Meltzer will go after the WWF for his own reasons, based on the evidence, the mindset the Torch is drifting towards is one of complaining about the booking to other "insiders", while maintaining a uniform wall of defense against any critic from outside the industry. It's becoming a phenomenon of confluence, as many fans of this type have had their attitudes molded by the Torch to a greater extent then the Observer, based on the Torch's greater early internet outreach, and are now themselves causing a change in the content of the Torch, in an attempt to create a stronger appeal for them.

What I see in all this then, is an interesting division in the marketing strategies of the two major online/print opinion makers and news distributors of wrestling information. In a time when competition is tighter then ever due to an apparently declining or at least static fan base, combined with a shrinking industry and hence less news to report, both publications will have to find alternate means of inducing readers to upgrade their involvement from the level of free website readership to the true money zone of newsletter subscription. It's an interesting and common economic problem, not unlike that faced by the WWF in their attempt to transform millions of television viewers into an acceptably large fraction of pay per view buyers. It'll be interesting to watch the newsletters try their hand at this problem for real.

And perhaps more importantly for internet fans, is this question: the newsletter writers have taken great glee over the years at demanding that Vince McMahon put aside his personal tastes for the sake of catering to "his audience", without questioning much whether he had simply chosen to focus on an audience which didn't include them; it will be quite interesting to see the choices Meltzer and Keller make regarding "their audiences", and whether they can put aside their personal tastes to cater to them, or whether, like Vince, they will attempt to mold an audience which reflects their own tastes as Keller already appears to be doing. And it'll be even more interesting still to see if they're allowed to get away with it.

from the ezboard

Mail the Author
Visit the Lair of The Shaddax.
Comment about this article on the EZBoard



Design copyright © 1999-2001 Christopher Robin Zimmerman & KZiM Communications
Guest column text copyright © 2001 by the individual author and used with permission