Monday, June 14, 2010

Real Men Wear Pink

Once upon a time, from 6th through about 9th grade (approximately 1990-1994), I was a pro wrestling fan. Not just a fan, but a fanatic. In fact, you could say my obsession became a significant tool I used to survive junior high purgatory. Despite (and possibly because of) shameless gimmicks and ridiculous storylines, I was hooked. Call it moronic, call it fake, or stupid, or juvenile; you could never say it was boring. And one of the greatest ever to grace a leotard was Bret "Hitman" Hart. He brought actual skill to the ring to a sport where theatrics reign supreme, during an era where steroids were starting to get out of control (more on that later). I somehow got nostalgic about this era of my life a few months ago, and started searching for books on the subject. I got Davis County Library System to order Hart's autobiography, brilliantly titled Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling. And in May, I read all 600 pages of it. That's right, this is the great book I alluded to earlier.

Anyone familiar with pro wrestling knows that it's as real as it is fake. There's only so much you can do to cushion yourself from the impact of piledrivers and suplexes (and turnbuckles and chairs). But the wear wrestlers' bodies take in the ring is just a start. In fact, if you Google the phrase "dead wrestlers," your computer will start to smoke like Snoop Dogg at Mardi Gras. There have been some high-profile casualties in the business, but many others, even famous ones, that have not generated much publicity. The media doesn't care because, at the end of the day, the general public doesn't care that much about a fake sport with scripted endings, even when there's a list of wrestlers who have died before the age of 50 - and the list is more than 70 names long. But if it were any other sport, those figures would make for a major scandal. Pro wrestling has grueling schedules, brutal physical punishment, and a tacit understanding that performance enhancers are okay. There is no off-season. There are no pension plans for retired wrestlers. The industry chews these guys up and spits them out, then their bodies give out and they die.

At any rate, Hart's insights into that industry are part of what made this a thinking book for me. But really, it only takes a paragraph or so to realize that even if you were an uppity reader, picking the book up out of sheer snobbery, Hart is a person of great intelligence. I got the wistfulness I was looking for, especially the first half or so that focus on the early days working for his father's company, Stampede Wrestling, along with many others who would later become stars when wrestling had its heyday in the 1980s and 90s. And it went a long way for me that Hart doesn't attempt to make himself look perfect. He is completely forthcoming about his extramarital affairs on the road (which were many) and use of steroids (much more moderate than most of his contemporaries). Imperfections notwithstanding, I came away with an enormous amount of respect for the man behind the Hitman persona, and can't recommend this book highly enough.

To end on a lighter note, the following is an homage to the pro wrestling wardrobe designer, from perhaps the most clever, hilarious advertising campaign of all time, Bud Light's Real Men of Genius. Enjoy.