Name a form of entertainment that combines sex, violence, comedy, drama, vaudeville, burlesque, grand opera, soap opera, circus maximus, acrobatics, and Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance." Of course it could only be one thing. Professional wrestling.
The Elgar march boomed forth Sunday when Hulk Hogan, the burnished bronze giant, stormed into the Trump Plaza convention hall in Atlantic City to face his challenger, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, for the finale of Wrestlemania V. A triumph of ultrahype, Wrestlemania is the annual magnum opus of the hugely successful World Wrestling Federation."This is what we've all been waiting for," exulted the astute Gorilla Monsoon from his commentators' perch. "This is the most exciting moment in sports," proclaimed his partner, Jesse "The Body" Ventura. The crowd of 20,000, which had been relatively subdued up to that point, went into a sustained 20-minute screaming fit.
It wasn't the mob in Atlantic City that counted so much as lots of other crowds around the country-big ones that watched at 100 different giant-screen closed-circuit locations, and smaller ones that saw the show at home via the most fertile new market in television, pay-per-view.
Pay-per-view is an adjunct of cable that enables promoters to sell a single event to subscribers who phone their local cable systems and order it. The suggested per-home asking price for Wrestlemania V was $24.95. Final tallies won't be in for weeks, a WWF spokesman says, but the projection was that one million households would watch via 800 participating cable systems.
That's i addition to the take from the closed-circuit arenas and from 40 countries that saw the pageant via satellite on delayed broadcast.
Wrestlemania IV, last year, grossed $40 million, merchandising revenues included. "We have every reason to believe we will surpass that this year," says the WWF spokesman. Even before the show began, Wrestlemanias accounted for six of the top ten events ever shown on pay-per-view. This was sure to make it seven.
How to explain the popularity of pro wrestling and its comeback in the '80s? No one over the age of 10 can be so naive as to regard it truly as a "sport" or imagine that the outcome of each match hasn't been scripted in advance. It doesn't matter.
The lure of it is the outlandish spectacle, the outrageous humor, and the evocation of a primitive world in which good and evil are so easily defined no one could confuse them.
Pro wrestlers, a species once dominated by fat guys with hairy backs, are now more often huge cartoonish musclemen. Ravishing Rick Rude peels off his shirt, ripples his abs and swivels his hips, often concluding matches by kissing a woman from the audience who then falls to the mat in a feigned faint.
Rude bills himself as "the sexiest man alive." Another wrestler, formerly known as Curt Hennig, now goes by the name of "Mr. Perfect." Among the things wrestling lampoons are male bravado and braggadocio. The villains are the ones who swagger the most. They stop to beat their chests or pose and that's when they get clobbered.
In life as in wrestling, there are always scores to settle. The difference is that in wrestling, they usually get settled.
At the start of the show, Monsoon promised "the most exciting seven hours of wrestling you have ever seen." Seven hours? Fortunately, the show came in at a mere three hours and 42 minutes. It was a little longer, but more entertaining, than the Oscars.
"What an elbow drop!" Monsoon exclaimed during the opener between King Haku (from "the Isle of Tonga") and Hercules Hernandez. "He planted a fist right in the esophagus area!" Monsoon said as Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake trounced The Million Dollar Man.
WWF's weekly TV shows appear on 300 TV stations in the United States and Canada and on the USA Cable Network. Every show plugs every other show, and all plug the big megabashes; it's a continuous wheel of cross-promotion. And it works. But old-fashioned showmanship comes into it, too, and when the matches themselves aren't entertaining, the crowd usually is.
The shows even review themselves. "This," trumpeted Monsoon, "is all it was cracked up to be!" Will there be a Wrestlemania VI? Need you ask?