Drug Me: The WWE and The Death of Michael Jackson

Well, fuck.  Am I REALLY going to have to write something about this? Apparently I am, because two things that should have stayed the hell out of the way of each other due to obvious mutual concerns have come up.

So I was on the Internet this morning, because I heard that, yes, once again, ANOTHER celeb had kicked the bucket. What the hell, guys? This week is just NO GOOD to be famous, right? Sky Saxon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and now Billy Mays? Really? Jeez Louise. At any rate, there was yet ANOTHER Internet RUMOR that someone (this time Louie Anderson) had died, and I was looking into that because, well, we had gone past the whole “they go in threes” thing, and frankly? At this juncture? After Michael? ANYTHING was believable. So, I found a REALLY interesting article. And of course, because it was related to wrestling, I totally clicked on it.

Rick Rockwell of the Pro-Wrestling Examiner wrote a very short, but sweet, treatise on the internet hoax of the death of Louie Anderson and how hurtful death hoaxes on the internet were. He made a very incisive statement when he said that “A hoax and false rumors are hurtful and disgusting. Although, WWE tends to create storylines that are hurtful and disgusting, the Trump story was only stupid in the end but didn’t really hurt anyone; unless you count the WWE stockholders who sold their stocks,” referring to the current Donald Trump storyline. HOWEVER, to make Mr. Rockwell’s point even more significant and have even more weight, the WWE has a its own history of death hoaxes as well. It is a company that thrives upon soap opera antics (for more on this, email me- I got a nice long paper for ya to read- I’m a huge wrestling fan) Yet, to be sure, like the current Donald Trump storyline, they hurt no one but possibly the audience whose loyalties and fanships ran, perhaps, a bit too deep and that is only temporarily. As most people know- hoaxes are just that- they always get uncovered at *some* point. That is their point.

The explosive "death" of the head of the WWE...

The explosive "death" of the head of the WWE...

Even the most recent and the most bombastic death “hoax,” that of WWE head honcho Vince McMahon in June 2007 was eclipsed by a real LIVE death, the epically tragic Chris Benoit murder-suicide, which actually cancelled what was going to be a long running storyline regarding McMahon’s “death.”  The death hoax in this case was a major plot point, and would probably have lasted a good long time. However, out of respect for the tragedy of one of their major performers, the WWE had some taste in this situation and cut this storyline way short. However, my point is proven. Large scale company, famous figure, DEATH HOAX. But fictional, so as not to hurt anyone.

In a week like we have had, where people’s childhoods have had the door closed upon them, and steamy adolescent dreamings have been laid to rest, do we REALLY need to hear that Jeff Goldblum might be sharing Vibes on a higher plane right now? Or Louie Anderson, for that matter?

No, we really don’t. I’m sorry guys, but not this week. Take your “funny” elsewhere, it just ain’t “haha.” I don’t feel like I wanna be checking Snopes.com 80 times a day nor do I want to have a flipout everytime I check my Twitter or Facebook and SOMEONE ELSE’S name pops up, k? Can we have some GOOD news, please? And look, celebrity ain’t everything, in fact it just happens to be a big area of academic study for me, but…..HELL. If it ain’t that important, why don’t we go back to looking at the children dying in Iran and not some poor shlemiel comedian who died and didn’t fuckin’ know it, eh?

So on to my next point, and where the title comes in. So I keep reading Rockwell’s piece. It’s cool. Whatever. I’m thinking about wrestling, the veritable plethora of hoaxes that get pulled all the time that, in real life, would be really really bad, hurtful and painful…when I see this headline: Ultimate Warrior Rips on the Death of Michael Jackson

Oh hell no. Really? C’mon guys, for reals? So I make with the *clicky*

For those of you who are not wrestling fans, this is the Ultimate Warrior:

Ultimate Warrior- cuz all guys can get that buff naturally! Check out that vein! Ooo!

Ultimate Warrior- cuz all guys can get that buff naturally! Check out that vein! Ooo!

Yeah, so that’s the guy. He didn’t have very many nice things to say either on his blog, no sirreebob. And, y’know, in general, I’m fine with people having and voicing their opinions. Absolutely. That’s what this whole blogosphere thing is all about. And I’m fine with him having his. But I’m going to come out on the record and say that he’s a total hypocrite for the things that he’s saying and, while he doesn’t hold much weight in the wrestling community anymore, he holds weight with people and fans and sometimes (most times) that is even more powerful that holding sway in the company itself.

In his blog, where he (I fear) was attempting to be as righteous as he was humorous,  the self-proclaimed “Founding Father of Intense Sarcasm” discusses how all the celebrities are probably quite upset now that they have nowhere to drop off their children for playtime. He calls all of them “drug-soused entertainment freaks.” Oh Warrior. Really? Didja have to go there? Cuz NOW I have to write about this. NOW I have to rip into you. Now I can’t just leave you alone to your poor, pathetic, paranoid has-been existence. I mean, honestly, I have a great amount of sympathy A GREAT AMOUNT for ex-wrestlers or ex-WWE-wrestlers, but from the bit of research I’ve done on you and your blog today, um, well??? I think I can confidently say that you are not one of them.

If any of you have seen The Wrestler, then you know its really tough to go from the 80’s and the highest highs to…well, what the WWE is now. Which is not exactly what is *was,* per se. Not that its not still one of the largest and most economically viable companies in the nation, but…it sure isn’t what it was back in the day. And many casualties have fallen to the wayside as a result, mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s like a war- only there really is no support group for former wrestlers, there is no WWE “Vet” group…there’s just shattered kneecaps, shattered souls, and most likely a lifetime addiction to painkillers and assorted other *fun* substances! Hurray for entertainment!!

Aaronofsky's film is a great look into what the reality of wrestling truly is. You can only get thrown through a table so many times.

Aronofsky's film is a great look into what the reality of wrestling truly is. You can only get thrown through a table so many times.

The interesting thing to note is that wrestling, while indeed following a fictionalized storyline, is also choreographed, like a dance number on broadway or a fight scene in a film. When people take on the condescending tone with me about wrestling (which happens right after the “OMG, you’re a girl and you like wrestling” face- it’s pretty similar to the “OMG you’re a girl and know something reasonable about comics” face, but we can discuss facial antics at a later date), they generally say “You know its all fake, right?”

Sure. Sure, it’s fake. Tell that to Owen Hart, who died when he fell to his death at a WWE (then WWF) event in Kansas City Missouri. Or tell it to Plum Mariko, the Japanese female wrestler who died from injuries received inside the ring that reinjured former ring injuries. Tell THEM its fake. Or tell the innumerable men and women who have passed away in the last few years due to the high levels of physical stress that they have suffered due to extreme conditions of travel, and years of drug abuse and physical conditioning and sheer performance on a nightly basis. Tell their families that it was all fake. The surgeries? ALLLLL fake. Yup, indeed. An elaborate game of pretend.

So what? What does all this have to do with the Warrior’s rant?

Well, first off, I recognize that the Warrior is a bit of a nutter, and his rant on Michael Jackson as a drug-addict holds no water, coming from a man who was released unceremoniously from the WWE for testing positive for steroids. I think, however, that this issue goes beyond the Ultimate Warrior’s blog, and I think that his readers recognized that as well. Some of the comments made were quite acute as to the Warrior’s own position in the world and I found them to be quite entertaining.

On the other hand, this is a larger issue. It is very likely that Michael’s death resulted from a highly toxic cocktail mix of drugs administered and recommended to him by a “doctor.” Not dissimilar to the doctors that wrestlers regularly depend on. The choreography of a dance is not unlike the choreography of a wrestling move, and a tour is a tour, no matter who you are performing to or when. Sure, wrestling is more physically demanding than what Jackson did, but the parallels are there, the fame issues are there, and, more importantly, the access and opportunity is there.

Michael’s history with drugs was just as unfortunate as many wrestlers. Starting just after the Pepsi commercial, he had a very big problem with pain killers and was in and out of rehab multiple times. Being a performer, a star and a major physical talent, he had to be at the top of his game at all times. ALL times, not just on occasion. And that’s practically impossible to do, especially without the use of synthetic assistance. Michael’s body became racked with addiction and substances until it became a shell of the gorgeous and rubber-like dancer’s skin that we saw back in the day. On June 25, 2009 we saw what can happen when you try to continue to use that system to make your flesh provide.

Your body is not made to do that. Chinese medicine teaches that the body is one whole organ, and that if you are sick, the body as a whole must be treated- that there is blockage in one location which is preventing your system, as a whole, from working correctly. By plugging up your body with painkillers and a whole cornucopia of drugs that make it so that the natural ingredients in your body will not work with each other in tandem, you’re basically just clogging up your own pipes. It may feel better for the moment, but it’s a temporary satisfaction. Tragically, if you’ve fucked your body up as bad as a wrestler has, sometimes it seems like there’s no other way. On the other hand, there are a good amount of wrestlers who have been able to know how to handle their bodies now and know how to balance more today than before (I hope). As for Michael, well? I don’t think he has had anyone there to advocate for him since he was a kid. I think the only people he has ever had in his life who have provided any kind of positivity for him were maybe his sisters or his mom, but were they strong advocates for him?

NO WAY.

What I hope is not to see anymore blogs or anything come out from the wrestling community about the Michael Jackson death. If I do, I’m going to be really pissed. It’s going to be more than any pot meeting kettle or glass house with boulders, man. It’s just a sad situation and in times like this we should be combining forces *not* dividing them.

In a situation like this, we should and could be recognizing the similarities between the parties, seeing the ways in which the entertainment industry in all of its Glorious Intelligence has decided to go the Alfred Hitchcock way and treat its performers like cattle. Well, guys, if you treat your performers like cattle, GUESS WHAT? You are not allowed to be shocked when the most talented, the most amazing and the most incredible ones get their own form of Industry Hoof and Mouth disease and die the fuck off. Nope, instead we, the audience/fans, get to suffer for your inability to treat your performers, be them wrestlers or pop singers, like human beings. Lucky us.

And I end this with a sincere letter from my heart:

Dear Entertainment Industry,

Try to treat your performers better. Keep ’em healthy and for fuck’s sake take oxycontin off the market for celebs. You’ll be doing all of us a huge favor.

Love always,

Ariel

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And the winner is…

This morning, at the asscrack of OMG-it-is-way-too-early-o’clock-in-the-morning, the nominations for the 81st Annual Academy Awards were announced. Why they announce it at such a time, I will never know. But it is a time that a very dear friend of mine has made a habit of being up for, each year. “Why do that?” one may ask, “The information is not going to change within a few hours. Why not get that extra few hours of shut-eye?” Perhaps he does it because he wants to be the first to know. His dedication to the cinema is one of the strongest I have ever known, so this would not be unthinkable. Perhaps he does it because he wants to see if his guesses were right. Perhaps he simply wants to see if the movies/actors/film stuffs that he loved so dearly during the year get recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Frankly, it’s probably all of these things and more. However, there is one thing that prevails above and beyond all these other things-something that speaks to me in a very similar way regarding this particular social institution- and that one thing is ritual.

I’ll tell you something about ritual.  Ritual and the cinema go together like…well, popcorn and soda?

We all have our ways of interacting with the screen, but the important thing is that we do it. In a world where Netflix is the rule and not the exception, I wish to argue for the beauty of the cinematic experience and all it entails, and not just for the visual content. It is as much part of the film as the narrative itself. I am not the first to suggest this, of course. In essays written for the seminal film journal Close Up, a quarterly published between 1927 and 1933, there was a particular concentration on the experience within the theater. In no uncertain terms, the writers in this magazine sought to underscore the consequence of the folks sitting next to you just as much as they worked to point out the influence of the actual visual stimulae.

closeup1

One writer, Dorothy Richardson, even went so far as to describe the cinematic experience in religious terms. She calls the audience an “increasing congregation,” and the employees religious figures like bishops.  More importantly, she labels the interaction between said congregation and the movie screen “prayer.”  Richardson wrote that the theatrical experience was one of “universal hospitality,” welcoming anyone and everyone to come into the pews. This depiction of cinema as both communal locale and religio-cultural spawning ground only makes the ritualistic aspects of attending an actual theater to see a film even more pronounced.

Thing is, its expensive. I know that. And right now, that’s hard. But when you have places like the New Beverly Cinema, where you can get two movies for $7 most nights, and concessions even cheaper…well, its silly not to go at least every once in a while. If you’re in LA, that is. But I refuse to believe that there isn’t at least ONE theater in most places that most people could afford to go to every once in a while. Because, see, I also believe that we can’t afford not to. The minute that we start fully staying at home, the moment we lose our sense of the “universal hospitality” of a movie theater, the VERY MINUTE we forget what it’s like to be bugged by the laugh of the guy two rows over or the slurping sound of the teenagers making out behind us, or the bawdy drunks who snuck their liquor in………then we lose ourselves and we lose a piece of history. And we are stuck with Netflix. ONLY. Do you really want that?

Pardon my language, but what a boring fucking concept! Not to mention the fact that we will then lose all ability to see the brillilance of a film like the recent Let the Right One In, with its exquisite shot structure and blackest-of-black nights against whitest-of-white snow on a big screen. The experience, while still nice on a small screen, would be just that- “nice.” In a theater, with people, larger than life…its beyond incredible.

I’m not willing to part with that. Are you?

Now what does this have to do with this morning’s announcements?  Well, if nothing else, religion has a hellova lot to do with ritual. In fact, since I’m not sure where I am on the actual Higher Being issue, I think that sometimes a good cinematic experience can be just as spiritual to me as a good night in synagogue, since I feel drawn to both in a very deep way. But to a certain extent, that could also be considered cultural. But that’s neither here nor there. Back to Oscar.

Oscar is a holiday for me. And more than that, it’s a ritual. I have preparations. I have guacamole. I spend the day getting ready, watching the red carpet, getting all prepared. Like it was some weird form of Christmas. It’s like my Superbowl. My Personal Day.  And I DO like to celebrate it

So many people I know “don’t believe in awards shows, man, they’re such a pile of crap.”

And you know what? Sometimes, um, they’re not the best. Ellen kinda sucked as a host. But remember this?

crystalYou can’t tell me that that wasn’t AWESOME.  I mean…can you? Honestly?

So while I’m aware (or have been told) that “award shows don’t really mean anything” and that the industry is JUST THAT- an industry, I still love the show and it means something to me. I grew up with my Grandmother voting on the damned things. First time I saw a lot of movies was through screeners that we got. OK, ok,  so I saw Naked when I was a little too young, but I got the Footloose and Flashdance soundtracks on vinyl, when they used to send out vinyl!

Ritual. It has to do with history and with precedence. It has to do with importance and belief. It has to do with a process.

All of the above terms would apply to my experience with film, I believe, and what place Oscar has in my life. This will be the first year that I can remember where I have seen practically every film nominated (for most categories, too) on a big screen.  That fact alone makes this year extraordinary. Clearly, this is more than slightly due to my amazing housemate Cathie, but even so…good job me!

Throughout my film education, I have had many love affairs with many different directors, writers, cinematographers, genres and time periods. As I have gotten older, I have learned that what my love affair truly consists of is a undying lust for the experience of cinema. Writing about film does that for me, reading about film does that for me, sitting near the front or IN the front row of a movie theater does that for me.

So you don’t have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to find out if Mickey Rourke got nominated for The Wrestler if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to even watch the awards. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not certain how I feel about the Hugh Jackman-host thing. But I would implore you to do one thing- think about the fact that for the last 81 years we have been celebrating what the industry has considered the Best of the Best of what the Big Time Cinematic Industry has produced.It may not all be good, it may not even be passable at times, but its an interesting reflection of where we are and where we’ve been.  And that ritual, in and of itself, is worth at least a few moments of your time.

Top 5 Films of 2008…

All right cats & kittens, here we are- end of the year- and I know that AT LEAST one of you would like to know what my top 5 films of 2008 (that I have SEEN) are.

Well, y’know what?
Not only am I going to tell you, but I’m going to SHOW you.

I will post a trailer for each one of my favorite films of this year, with a brief description of why I adore it and think it rocked my socks more than the, well, um, embarrassingly large amount of other films I have seen within the year. Although, that said, truth be told…the large amount of films wasn’t always recent films so I guess that doesn’t really count. BUT THESE DO!!

And these films are EXCELLENT. Seriously. Really really really good. This is the first year I have gone to see new films multiple times in the theater in a VERY long time (many many years…perhaps since Lost Highway or American Beauty) and it is with great passion and cinematic drive that I urge you to partake in these pieces of celluloid. It’s been a shitty shitty year for me in my personal life, but good GOD it’s been a great year for me with movies!

So here’s the way it’s gonna work. I’m gonna post my top 5, but they will NOT, I repeat NOT be in any kind of qualitative order. In other words, there’s just simply no way that I could like one of these over another over another. They are all so different and so amazing in their own ways, and I cannot put one above the other. So, think of ’em on the same scale of Cinema Love, and enjoy.

Lemme know whatcha think, k?

Celluloid kisses and Reel-y big hugs,

Ariel

I don’t play favorites very often, if at all, but if pressed…this was my very favorite film of 2008. The first 45 seconds left me thrilled, stunned, and shocked. This is not your average film. More than anything, this is absolutely nothing at ALL like Waking Life. Don’t even *think* about comparing the two. This film is brutal, gorgeous, and relentless. I think I probably cried through 70% of the film, half because of the sheer magnificence of the art and splendor of the cinematic story before me and half because of content. The animation and the process (of which Folman has several articles/interviews available) are beyond compare.
I can truly truly truly say that I have never seen anything like it.
This film is out now. You will be doing yourself a complete disservice if you do not SEE THIS FILM. The soundtrack, the visuals, the EVERYTHING…perfection. Waltz With Bashir. AMAZING.

If nothing else gets you, the performances ALONE are enough to warrant the ridiculous amount of money theaters are charging for admission these days. However, it’s not just that. This film virtually *drips* with quality. To me, it was like watching the most sensationally intense boxing match I had ever seen in my life. So much so, that at times, it even seemed to be photographed in slightly that manner. Alongside the obviously interesting historical issues and the simply fascinating discussion on the media (including media figures), this film also focuses on the viewer’s own emotional positionality, toying with it a bit, based on the magnificent performances and incredible story in tandem. I dug that part A LOT. Well played, Mr. Howard, one of the best you’ve done!

OK, so aside from my fascination with (read: massive crush on) Robert Downey Jr.for the last 20 years, my absolute adoration for Jeff Bridges and my newfound interest in Terrance Howard (after Hustle & Flow), this movie rocked me. It is a solid and striking film, and I say that not just because I’m a comic book geek, not just because it was fun and exciting, and not just because it was well-written and structured (although it was all of those things and more). What is truly arresting about Iron Man is Favreau’s choice to lay bare the multitude of issues surrounding war as a business and an economic industry, and what that really means, in such an updated, contemporary fashion. Anyone who says that comic book movies are just fluff pieces with no transitive value, needs to experience Iron Man in all its glory. Seriously.

Yeah, I’ve been raving about this left, right & center. FINE. See, I love wrestling. I do. I wouldn’t have written a 35-pg paper about wrestling (that I eventually presented at a international conference) if I didn’t love it. But that’s not the only reason I love this movie. I love this film because it’s accurate as HELL and grips your heart in a choke-hold, refusing to let go. The balls-out emotional intensity is matched only by the wrestling itself, which, I might add, was great. But you DON’T HAVE TO LOVE WRESTLING TO LOVE THE MOVIE. My only criticism was Evan Rachel Wood. She was not good. At all. But the rest of the film was graphic, brutal, and painful in all the right ways. I cried. A lot. Great performances, great characters, and WOW, um, Marisa Tomei? HOT!
On a more personal level, I *finally* feel like a film has been made that will help dispel the myth that wrestling is easy and “fake,” and without any real consequence, something I appreciated beyond measure.

At first, I was just ecstatic about the choice to replace Mrs. Scientologist herself, Katie Holmes, from the first film with…well, anyone. Little did I know it was only going to skyrocket in OMFG HOW AMAZING CAN THIS BE-ness from there. Suffice to say that 2008 was a damn fine year to be a comic book geek who also happens to spend many of her waking hours ‘neath the silvery screen. It’s incredibly difficult to enunciate (at least in a professional or eloquent sense) my feelings about Chris Nolan’s work on The Batman, other than…IT RULES. I kinda turn into a 14-year-old boy. My academic side would like to tell you, however, that this is probably one of the most (if not THE most) faithful comic-to-film adaptations that has been done thus far, both thematically and content-wise. Not only that, but the performances were startlingly good, and the skillful direction and the only-when-needed use of digital effects was gratefully noted and appreciated.