Sunday, September 5, 2010

Deadspin's Dead Wrestler of the Week: Owen Hart

Most people who follow blogs closely have probably heard of Gawker media. They are the pinnacle of blog popularity. One of the websites under them is Deadspin, which claims to deliver sports "without access, favor or discretion." They absolutely come through on that claim as their targets have ranged from the likes of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez to Sean Salisbury and Steve Phillips. Anyway, I visit Deadspin for the sheer lulz and their often humorous take on sports. Plus, they have some excellent writers like Drew Margarey and Will Leitch. Anyway, a few weeks ago they started a weekly tribute to dead wrestlers or defunct companies. These columns have been absolutely great as they combine passion for wrestling, emotional attachment to the wrestlers along with some excellent writing. This week the Masked Man returned to look at one of the biggest wrestling tragedies of all time. Usually that phrase is reserved for guys who died too young due to their own tragic demons, but this one is different. No, Owen Hart is a tragedy because the beloved, youngest Hart brother had the potential to be one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, but it didn't pan out because Owen Hart fell to his death performing a silly stunt with suspicious equipment.

Here is Deadspin's own description of it:
Every week or so, the Masked Man, Deadspin's pro wrestling correspondent, honors the sport's fallen and examines their legacies — famous and obscure alike. Today: Owen Hart, who fell to his death in 1999 during a WWE pay-per-view event.
I will just do a teaser of sorts on here, if you want to read the rest of it, you should click right here:

On May 23, 1999, at the WWE's Over the Edge pay-per-view event, Owen Hart died in a wrestling ring. He was playing a character called the Blue Blazer, a farcical masked superhero, though it can more accurately be stated that Owen Hart — who had long exploited wrestling's interplay between reality and unreality — was portraying "Owen Hart" masquerading as the Blue Blazer. On this night, Owen was being lowered to the ring in a harness to approximate flight. The harness malfunctioned; a clasp gave way, and he fell 70 feet onto the ring ropes, severing his aorta and killing him almost instantly. At that moment, the difference between Owen, "Owen," and the Blue Blazer was rendered tragically immaterial. Wrestling had lost one of its greats.

In the modern world of pro wrestling, even when you're ostensibly playing yourself, you're really playing a character. On screen, "Owen" always denied that he and the Blazer were the same person, even though it was comically obvious that they were one and the same. (His buddy Jeff Jarrett wrestled in the Blazer garb while Owen sat by on commentary to "prove" they were separate, and Koko B. Ware even took a turn under the blue mask for a similar gag; the ruse was more than obvious, and the audience was happily in on the joke.) Owen had played the Blue Blazer character earnestly early in his career, mostly in Japan and Mexico, where such masked personas are customary. Such a character from his past was an ideal vessel for what would be, in its 1999 iteration, an anti-modern crusade. The Blue Blazer was at once a masked alter-ego and a manifestation of Owen's superego — the Blue Blazer stood opposed to the excesses of the WWE's Attitude Era, the crass sex- and violence-obsessed style that took over WWE programming in the late '90s. Owen the person had long been quietly uncomfortable with the direction the company was heading — he notably refused to work a storyline that had him in an affair with Jarret's on-screen companion, Debra McMichael, for fear that his children would watch and believe it was true — and now Owen the character was exorcising the demons of his own discomfort and deconstructing such depravities within the context of Attitude Era programming. It was a winning ploy; many wrestlers were at that point playing outsize versions of themselves to great success, and Owen joining the fray as the movement's antihero was borderline-inspired storytelling. That he was playing it for comic effect didn't necessarily undermine its agenda (championship-level feuds in those days were often marked by dick jokes), and neither did the audience's heckling subjugate the message (Owen was playing the heel, a pariah railing about integrity and moral rectitude, so the jeers were part of the routine; and besides, the good guy-bad guy continuum had been turned on its head by the ascent of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and other ideological "tweeners"). Owen's popularity was unequivocal. When he ran to the ring with his arms outstretched, like a kid imitating his favorite cartoon character. When he was lowered from the rafters, arms flailing, the crowd laughed in unison.

It would have been a conceivable punchline to send the beleaguered superhero — or a mannequin dressed to look like him — crashing down from the rafters into the ring. Such attention-grabbing stunts were common in those days. Wrestling is based on the premise of fake injury, of course, but pro wrestling in the modern age has been intent on pushing the boundaries in such a way as to simultaneously shock viewers and yet underline the ridiculousness of it all. It was clear from the crowd reaction that when Owen fell, at least briefly, they thought the fall was part of the act.

And why shouldn't they? The boundary between real life and fake life was irreparably blurred by that point thanks to any number of storylines, but the Blue Blazer angle — Real Owen playing Fake Owen playing a masked avenger fighting for Real Owen's honor — was surely the pinnacle of such multilayered unrealism.

This was the the one I as looking forward to the most, and the Masked Man certainly didn't disappoint. It's no secret that both John and I love Owen Hart, but I think that goes for most wrestling fans. However, the MM just takes it to a whole another level, not only does he go over Owen's career, he goes into the themes and analyzes the almost cyclical route that Owen's career took. Basically, MM is any English teacher's wet dream except he writes about wrestling. Honestly, I can't suggest this highly enough...If you are a fan of Owen Hart or wrestling in general, just go and read it. It will enrich your perspective on pro wrestling.

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