Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why Walk on Eggshells About Chris Benoit?

[cross-posted to the WRESTLING BABYLON Blog,]

BENOIT: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport is, unsurprisingly, a hot-selling book immediately upon release. Among wrestling titles in the U.S., only Chris Jericho’s well-written memoir and the latest WWE spinoff product, with Batista’s name on the cover, are doing better out of the gate. At Amazon Canada – where BENOIT has hovered inside or near the list of 100 bestsellers among all books – only Jericho’s and the long-anticipated blockbuster by Bret Hart are moving more briskly.

Your humble blogger, one of four BENOIT co-authors, thanks Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy, and Greg Oliver for carrying me better than Adrian Adonis covered for Jesse “The Body” Ventura in tag-team matches.

However, I observe that almost everyone – including Steve, Heath, Greg, and our publisher, ECW Press – tiptoes around the subject of our book rather more gingerly than necessary. Inevitably, the first posthumous book on Chris Benoit (as well as, in my biased prediction, what will ultimately go down as one of the best) has taken heat on the grounds of “taste.” But inevitability and legitimacy are not the same thing.

Here’s reviewer Mike Jenkinson on the fine Canadian website SLAM! Wrestling: “I’m leery of ‘rush job’ books that can be accused – rightly or wrongly – of trying to capitalize on sensational tragedies by being the first to market with an explanation of what happened.”

Let’s set aside the point that BENOIT most assuredly does not presume to have “an explanation of what happened.” (My own forthcoming book CHRIS AND NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, which is still in the research stage, will indeed take baby steps toward such an assertion.) I’d like to focus on the qualifier “rightly or wrongly.” I think that’s a weasel phrase, characteristic of a disingenuous argument whose English translation is roughly the following: “I personally am OK with good reporting and good writing on a story millions of people are interested in. But I’m not so sure the rest of the world is ready to handle this.”

Well, blow me down, Gertrude. This is nanny criticism, and it’s time to so label it. Smart wrestling fans, like smart readers, shouldn’t need to clear their throats on an ascent to moral high ground.

(I should note here that the producer of SLAM! Wrestling, BENOIT co-author Oliver, recused himself from editing Jenkinson to avoid the appearance of mutual back-scratching – or what the old Spy magazine used to call “logrolling in our times.”)

ECW Press went to pains before publication to emphasize on its blog how sober and responsible the book was going to be, and designed a sedate, text-dominated cover. (At first I lobbied for something a little more direct; now I like the cover, not so much because it pulls punches but because it looks great and it gives our project crossover cachet.)

Which is all OK to a point. That point, I submit, is where no one will call out this phenomenon for what it is: garden-variety denial. Or its walk-loudly-and-carry-a-tiny-stick backlashers for what they are: pencil-neck geeks.

When Congress stops taking a long-overdue look at the wrestling industry as a result of the Benoit fallout … when the feds wrap up their prosecution of Phil Astin, the prescription-happy doctor for Benoit and many other wrestlers … when all the tangential, multimillion-dollar litigation has run its course … when the name “Christopher Michael Benoit” has exhausted all currency or historical import … well, that’s when I’ll begin apologizing for BENOIT and for CHRIS AND NANCY.

Until then, I’d like to ask those of you out there with different viewpoints a few questions.

· WWE promulgated the most tasteless angles imaginable to exploit the death of Benoit’s good friend Eddie Guerrero. Did Chris respond by either quitting or signing his paychecks over to charity?

· Raw aired a tribute show on Benoit at a moment when, we now know, those in charge already realized that the family tragedy was in fact a murder-suicide. Did viewers subsequently punish WWE or the USA cable network by switching their allegiance to Gossip Girl?

· Eventually WWE will resume marketing Benoit DVD’s, for time heals and there’s money to be made off them. Will the weasels organize a boycott? Or will they say that, “rightly or wrongly,” some people think it’s a bad idea (and of course be sure to acquire their own copies)?

Upon hearing that he had been elected to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson told Dave Meltzer, “I believe all the wrestlers and people who are in and close to the business all know how much I love the business, and realize that there was [sic] no more challenges or possibilities to grow. I should preface, the intelligent people understand that. The goofs, not so much.”

My sentiments exactly. With or without everyone else’s permission, I think I’ll just continue to commit journalism.

Irv Muchnick

1 comment:

Bix said...

While I generally enjoy your work, I do agree with part of Jenkinson's assessment: In the post-Benoit media blitz, you have (perhaps unknowingly) come off as overly pretentious, much more than you have in the past, so it might be a good idea to take note of that and tone things down a little bit. That said, if "Chris & Nancy" is along the lines of your excellent blog post about the Fragile X part of the case, then I'm looking forward it.