Lutz's Blog: WWE's odd and inconsistent relationship with death is forged by Vince McMahon
By Jeffrey Lutz
In a few days, Vince McMahon will presumably attend another funeral, as recently inducted Hall of Famer Ultimate Warrior died Tuesday at 54, less than 24 hours after he made a now-eerie appearance on Raw.
After Warrior's service it will be back to business as usual in WWE. Daniel Bryan will gain more momentum as he enjoys his first WWE World Heavyweight championship reign of any significant length. The Shield will continue to blossom as the breakout future champions of the last year. Hardcore fans will eagerly anticipate the debuts of Adam Rose and Bo Dallas while reveling in those of Alexander Rusev and new Divas champion Paige this week.
McMahon and WWE have learned -- I hope he wasn't born with this "skill" -- to move beyond death in the interest of the business, even if the business contributed to the death itself. I'm not here, though, to place blame on WWE and the hectic lifestyle it forces its performers to conduct, but to examine McMahon's treatment of death and the company's relationship with it, which seems inconsistent at times, heartfelt at others, and tone-deaf sometimes, too.
McMahon's image is one of being barely human, an image he perpetuates by talking about how he doesn't take vacation and from the stories about how he looks down upon sneezing and yawning, as if these natural bodily functions indicate weakness.
There are some robotic qualities to McMahon, but since I don't know him, I can't speculate on the human emotions he feels or doesn't feel. From the outside, it seems as if McMahon lacks some of the emotions one may experience from seeing so many around them die, but that could easily be spun into a more admirable trait, that McMahon steels himself through difficult times for the good of a business charged with giving people positive experiences.
I can't help but believe, though, that McMahon gets off too easy for not offering more reverence toward the death of so many he has employed.
Even on a weekend designed to honor him, Warrior was surrounded by talk about how strange he is and how difficult he was to work with during his WWE heyday. All of that is likely true, but isn't it also strange for McMahon to watch dozens of current and former employees die and almost immediately move on without missing a beat?
I'm sure McMahon has his own coping strategies, and I'm not even sure what I expect from McMahon and WWE. Except, perhaps, for some consistency. Thank God for Twitter and the ability of several WWE performers and executives to express their condolences to Warrior and his family. Without that social media tool, which still seems kind of impersonal, we may not know WWE's response to some deaths, even though Warrior's always would have received an immediate and relatively sufficient reaction.
Some deaths are recognized with a graphic on WWE television; some are not. Some of the nefarious circumstances surrounding the deaths of some current or former stars are ignored; some are not. Mr. Perfect can enter the Hall of Fame posthumously even though he died of a drug overdose, but we're still waiting on similar honors for Rick Rude, Big Boss Man and Bam Bam Bigelow.
Chris Benoit got a tribute show before the details of his death, and the murders of his wife and son, were available. Umaga got a blurb on WWE.com. Some deaths, particularly Eddie Guerrero's, are "safe" -- others are never to be discussed.
Lanny Poffo, the brother of legendary "Macho Man" Randy Savage, who died in 2011, claims WWE hasn't reached out to Savage's mother to express sympathy. Savage, of course, also hasn't entered the Hall of Fame, three years after his death, even though he should have been in long before. Imagine holding a grudge with a dead man and how exhausting and unfulfilling that must be. I hope, for WWE's sake, that Savage did something particularly egregious and that this cold shoulder can somehow be justified.
Again, though, I'm not sure what to expect -- from WWE or even from myself. I haven't taken Warrior's death particularly emotionally, even though I have plenty of enjoyable childhood memories of him. Maybe I'm following the lead WWE has established by moving on, maybe I'm numb to the death of wrestlers after experiencing so many, or maybe I'm just normal. I don't know if I'd stop being a Cleveland Indians fan if a bunch of its recent stars began dropping dead, but I suspect I would. Death is a part of life. Moving on is really the only choice.
The world can't stop. Except, of course, the WWE Universe stopping if Mr. McMahon dies, like we were led to believe in the summer of 2007 when his limousine exploded the week before Benoit's actual death. That ended the McMahon story line, but plans were apparently to launch a weeks-long detective case to find out who was responsible. McMahon treats his own death with veneration, but other times he can't be bothered.
Thankfully, dying wrestlers seems to be a dying trend. WWE has policies in place to prevent wrestlers from getting in their own way, including the wellness policy and it's promise to pay to send past or present stars to rehabilitation. Behind the scenes, I believe WWE takes the lives -- and deaths -- of its wrestlers completely seriously. It just isn't always outwardly exhibited in the same way.
So, what should we expect? Warrior's death marred an outstanding on-screen week for week for WWE, but it shouldn't dampen the excitement of a new direction for the product because Warrior's death and television story lines can be separated in our minds. We can feel for both of them. That must be what I want from WWE. Give 100 percent effort and dedication to the fantasy side of the company, which McMahon always does, but reserve the same 100 percent for the occasionally tragic nature of reality.
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