As the praise for Vince McMahon’s career mounts following his by no means forced retirement on Friday, it follows the usual script of the end of the career of any powerful, godless rich man. His misdeeds, his crimes and his responsibility for the misery and the violation of an infinite number of them belong in some way to his achievements. Because in this country, being rich is everyone’s ultimate achievement. We value someone’s bank account more than anything, especially women and low-level workers, and usually mistake it for a genius we couldn’t reach. Even though the only “genius” involved was getting all the money in the first place, it all gets confusing.
Because was Vince McMahon really a genius? Or did he just have more money than everyone else and was he left alone in the wrestling industry where his vision and ideas were the only ones we had to assume were on the next level because no one else offered an alternative for decades? His ongoing insecurity of being known simply as a wrestling promoter and his failures in any other line (XFL, his bodybuilding league, etc.) tells its own story.
Yes, wrestling was a fractured business made up of various loosely associated territories across the country before McMahon “unified” them. And McMahon was the first, but not the only, wrestling promoter to see the power cable TV could and would have over the industry. But McMahon was able to rise to that position of power by pissing all over the deals and rules the territories had so they could all survive and thrive, stealing talent with the lure of TV exposure. Is having all the money and being an absolute asshole willing to do anything to make more money really a mark of genius? Well, in this country, yes, it is. Because somehow most people like to imagine themselves as a hapless millionaire going through tough times and if they only had one chance, if they could be that ruthless, if they could just play the game that way…
Yeah, WWE (then WWF) hit the mainstream in a way that no wrestling company had in the mid to late 80s. But again, they were basically the only game in town. And yes, McMahon created WrestleMania, the biggest event wrestling has ever seen. He was also the only wrestling promoter even capable of such a thing. And it was all created on the back of the mass appeal of Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan (another moron himself, but undeniably a unique star of history at the time). Both Andre and Hogan were stars in the industry before taking the WWF to new heights, though they reached the stratosphere with the platform McMahon could provide. Probably six in one…
Meanwhile, in the whole process, McMahon was allowed to railroad and run over whoever he wanted because he was in charge and had the money. He could rape his company’s first female referee in a limo, crush any chance of her workers forming a union to improve their working conditions, pump said workers full of steroids (or at least hint that they should), put them on a work schedule where their only salvations were painkillers, drugs and alcohol – which would kill more than a few – or maybe submit his the greatest wrestler to a fatal stunt simply for an aesthetic that he liked, and would suffer no consequences. Because that’s how it works here.
Of course, WWE and Vince helped create some of the biggest crossover stars in the world, like The Rock and John Cena. But how big was Vince and how big were Rocky and Cena’s natural gifts? Again, we had no frame of reference to be sure. No place Rock and Cena could go to see what else they could do. It’s not fair now, completely, because it’s been years since Vince bothered to release a worthwhile product, but seeing how Bryan Danielson and CM Punk went on their careers unfettered while they were in quarantine at AEW, one wonders if this was not the case. this is more of a case of Vince vampire chasing his stars than the other way around.
Of course, there was sometimes competition. WCW took a run. It didn’t fail because Vince overtook them or outmaneuvered them. The company crumbled under the weight of its own incompetence, a process precipitated by a Time Warner-AOL merger that saw wrestling drop completely from the conglomerate’s priority list. And then when WCW died, Vince bought it. With his money. True visionary thinking. ECW showed fans a different way to wrestle…and Vince bought it with his money. The tent continued to gulp simply for its need to feed.
The “art” of WWE and Vince will be defined by its various phases – the Mania era of Hogan, the Attitude era of Stone Cold and The Rock, etc. But again, those were pretty much the only things on offer. Were they that good or did they just look good because there was nothing next to them?
But the Vince Express kept going, and the more the profits rolled, the more he was allowed to make. He could profit more and more during a pandemic killing millions while laying off more and more workers in every department, which only further increased those profits that allowed him to do more of what he does. he was already doing for which he could not be touched. The TV deals came on stream, and so did the endorsements, because for so long Vince and his company were the only ones of their kind. He was alone, so almost everyone was on their feet because it was the best it could be. Was it really?
And like all our powerful and wealthy, McMahon will be able to step down before the shit really gets down. He will be able to retire and live in any of his mansions of his choice, instead of the indignity of being fired, let alone the prison sentence he almost certainly deserves for one of his crimes. Her daughter will lead the cheers of her Vince pill cult in Boston on Friday, even as her employees complain about the unfairness of it all, even though they know there’s not much they can do. They need his money.
This is the real American dream. A success that only you can achieve through your position, which continues to grow on a cycle simply because of your position, and there are no consequences for anything you do. You can’t have any new or good ideas for years and years, and it doesn’t matter. Your status is so high that it is beyond reproach. McMahon was a shitty person with a bunch of money who hurt far too many people who put out a garbage product for a long time when it didn’t matter anymore because of how blameless it all was . But none of that matters here, because hey, he was so rich and he was, technically, self-taught. Although that “fact” had a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time.
He’ll never get what we think he deserves, but he got what he thinks he’s done billions of times over, and that’s what really matters, right?