Beyond sharing my amusement at the spectacle, I’m not sure my friends in the Connecticut media fully understand what was behind World Wrestling Entertainment’s astonishing press release yesterday expressing frustration at the Democratic politicians who have mutually back-scratched with it for years, but who have now turned on Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign in the heat of battle.
So let me help everyone out.
Though, of course, no one at Titan Towers in Stamford would admit it for the record, for more than a year the employees of WWE have gotten an unmistakable signal from Vince McMahon, the chairman, that their main job from that point forward was to help get his wife elected. We can speculate on the psychology behind this: Was it Linda’s Hillary Clinton-esqe reward for her decades of behind-the-scenes indulgence of her childhood sweetheart, whom she probably still loves? Was it a naked power grab? Or was it, at some level, a quest undertaken with humor and even noblesse oblige belief in their philosophy and public-service skills?
I don’t know. I only know that they did it and that it doesn’t take a genius to see the manifestations of this unprecedented corporate-campaign synergy. Journalists who query campaign spokesman Ed Patru often hear back, without even receiving an intervening message, from company PR chief Robert Zimmerman. And WWE television programming mysteriously “evolved” from PG-14 to PG.
As a money-making enterprise, WWE is still in fine shape, since many global revenue-growth sources remain untapped, especially in China. But as an edgy cultural phenomenon, pro wrestling officially lost its cachet when the McMahons reached for temporal power. As the song in Oklahoma! put it, they’d gone about as fer as they could go. The recent Barron’s article on the rise of the UFC mixed martial arts promotion, at the expense of WWE’s one-time supremacy in pay-per-view, captured the crude outlines of the trend. For more immediate evidence, simply browse the wrestling fan discussion boards on the Internet, as I do from time to time; many WWE fans can’t wait for Linda to finish losing so their favorite brand of junk entertainment can get back to having a little attitude and bite. Screw this stupid ban on chair shots to the head. After all, you can’t make a Chris Benoit/Chris Kanyon/Lance Cade omelette without breaking some eggs!
Over the next two-plus weeks, Linda McMahon’s opponent, Richard Blumenthal, will take some lumps for his office’s work on the Countryside Financial settlement; the articles in The Nation and Mother Jones suggest that the damage will be just as deserved as the lumps Blumenthal took for his Vietnam misstatements.
But don’t fool yourselves into believing that this is the October Surprise that will reverse Linda’s negative metrics, which became fatally exposed the second she opened her mouth in an uncontrolled setting and made the comments about the minimum wage that branded her as a corporatist rather than a populist.
For their October Surprise, the McMahon henchpeople either have something on the level of Dick in flagrante delicto with one of the WWE divas, or they have nothing at all. A campaign that had no party or even coherent ideological bearings, but was simply an extension of one company’s – really one family’s – ambition, has reached its bottom line: tens of millions of dollars poured down the drain in a losing effort. Worse, this was no quixotic what-the-hell business expansion like the XFL, or bad movies that can’t get theater distribution and have to go straight to video; it was a no-holds-barred venture that showed the whole world, once and for all, what they were all about. The unintended consequence will be new investigations of their abuses, especially with respect to the independent contractor classification of their performers, and it will cost them huge.
The prospect of a Senator Linda McMahon is almost as dead as one of the wrestlers who refused to take full advantage of WWE’s wonderful “wellness policy.”
That is why Vince McMahon – who pretty obviously has been pulling the campaign strings all along – lost it yesterday in the form of a WWE “in kind” contribution of a press release, which lashed out at the bipartisan world of politicians who have decided, despite years of playing ball, that they no longer want or need to take Vince and Linda to their bosoms.
More on all this in my Monday column for Beyond Chron.