I was lucky a couple of years ago to have the opportunity of working with James Guttman when we were both cutting our teeth writing television reviews for the Pro Wrestling Torch website. JG was covering Monday Night Raw while I had SmackDown. JG's Raw Insanity write-up on Tuesday morning quickly became much more interesting to read than actually watching the show itself on Monday night. It didn't take a call to Miss Cleo to predict this kid was going somewhere. Many writers try to unsuccessfully master the sarcastic style JG displays in his work, but very few can back up their writing with the well thought out ideas and spot-on analysis that JG also provides.
It wasn't long before JG rose up the ladder to become a staff writer at the Torch and several years later moved on to run his own website. Lo and behold JG is also the author of the new book World Wrestling Insanity, which examines what has happened to the most popular wrestling company in the world since WWE hit its peak during the Attitude Era. While humor is always subject to taste, I think one look at the cover is going to tell you whether or not you think JG can bring the funny. With a brilliantly photoshopped picture of Vince and Stephanie McMahon proudly presenting to the reader a Triple H statue modeled after Michelangelo's David, JG fully realizes the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words." Thankfully there are also fifty other fantastic pictures peppered throughout the book which really amp up the enjoyment factor.
Throughout the course of Insanity, JG uses interviews with wrestlers, inside-WWE sources, and old school research to weave together a story that attempts to explain the seemingly unexplainable. One of my favorite chapters included a list of words that WWE announcers are strictly prohibited to say on air. These words include belt, pro wrestler, and house show. These banned words are part of a form WWE gives new announcers that also includes such rules as don't call a move before it happens. Dear lord, if you need to write down a rule like that, you're already screwed.
I was hooked from the start as JG immediately dove into WWE's explanation for the downturn in business, such as the cyclical nature of the wrestling business and the economy being down as a whole. JG carves up these excuses and exposes them for the shallow, almost patronizing answers they are. Not just a hatchet job, JG uses insight and solid reasoning while picking apart what I like to call WWE Logic. Insanity goes on to look at how having no competition and existing under the McMahonifest Destiny has affected the company. For every time I think Vince McMahon is insane and guilty of surrounding himself with yes-men, I can not deny that he is by far and away the hardest working man in his company. The Higher Power lives, eats, and breathes WWE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Vince McMahon tore both his quads during a bizarre sequence of events during the 2005 Royal Rumble (an event JG has meticulous backstage notes on) and yet McMahon was walking right after WrestleMania just a few months later. In fact, Vince was strutting. Guttman details the company emails that were sent out at the time, giving WWE employees the status of its chairman, and walks us through the amazing rehabilitation of McMahon, up to and including Vince calling out Randy Orton on air for having a "neck like a stack of dimes" while Orton was out rehabbing. If you're looking for compassion, the world of wrestling may not be one for you.
Sound exciting? Sound fun? Well, then obviously you didn't see it. The Raw Diva Search was a weekly contest that made Tough Enough and its cross dressing funny boxing seem like Masterpiece Theatre.
JG does a thorough examination on the reality shows Tough Enough and the $250,000 'Rat Search that took place on SmackDown and Raw, detailing all the absurdity in both contests that were designed to introduce new Superstars to WWE's fans. I'm a huge fan of Tough Enough when it was on MTV, but it was mindboggling to say the least when WWE introduced it as part of the actual wrestling show. Anyhoo, JG went through each contest, week by week, and explains what went wrong and why it went wrong. Only in WWE could you book a contest like Tough Enough to be nothing more than a glorified popularity contest and then immediately turn the winner heel on the fans. When that plan obviously didn't work, who do you think gets blamed? Three chances at that and the first two don't count. Can you imagine on the American Idol finale the producers told Taylor Hicks to shoot a promo calling all the fans who voted for him morons?
The chapter To the Hunter go the spoils is probably going to be the most controversial as it micro-analyzes a two year run by Triple H. I say controversial because I think some people are just going to say "this just proves JG has it out for Triple H and is no different than all the other WWE bashers." This could not be farther from the truth. JG explicitly explains throughout the book that no one can deny Hunter's rise to the top being based on hard work, talent, and a great deal of charisma. That's not even debatable. The Game would have been a top tier wrestling star whether he married Stephanie McMahon or not. However, by looking at the two years of feuds Hunter was involved in, I can't possibly see how anyone could come to the conclusion that The Game had not completely sabotaged the careers of his opponents.
Scott Steiner. Goldberg. Shelton Benjamin. Eugene. Nash. Booker T. Kane. All men who went into a feud with all three H 's in much better shape than they came out it. It was Randy Orton who took the biggest fall though as his botched babyface turn - so that Triple H could remain heel - would end up setting Orton back years. The irony of the entire story is that the one wrestler who Triple H would put over, Shawn Michaels, didn't need it. Reading about each feud is surreal in how one sided they each turned out to be and how inexcusable it is that someone didn't step in and suggest a better way. Again though, JG does not deny the tools that Triple H brings to the table. In a big match, the Game always delivers. Always. Triple H's passion and dedication to wrestling is certainly something that can be admired by anyone, but for Triple H acolytes and any fan of the modern professional wrestling, they should read this section and see exactly what Triple H has done for the last few years and the ramifications of those actions.
"Hate to sound like a broken record here, but if the wrestlers stopped worrying about who was upgrading plane tickets and started worrying about their employers overstepping their bounds in the work place, this wouldn't be going on at all."
Another interesting topic JG covers in Insanity is the amount of backstage ridiculousness that goes on and why it is in the best interest of the WWE for it to never stop. Not in the best interests of the wrestlers mind you, we're talking about WWE management. When wrestlers are busy getting mad at each other for not shaking someone's hand in the locker room, they aren't realizing why they are getting paid pennies on the dollar compared to the revenue they bring in for the company. When "the boys" are shitting in each others bags, they don't stop to realize how asinine it is that they have to follow a ridiculous dress code as "independent contractors." Who has time to worry about family health plans, long term financial planning (especially in a business in which careers can end early), or the fact that many of their friends are dropping dead at an alarming rate when it is much more important to see how has the nerve, the absolute nerve to upgrade their own plane tickets to first class while everyone else sits in coach?
His words had a powerful aura about them. They needed to be listened to closely. Their importance as unimaginable. "McMahon Family. You have been chosen by those who rule the universe. Your task is to lead us to a new era of power. Lead the charge. Lead the revolution."
I enjoyed the chapter in which JG amusingly credits a visit from Galoogore, the leader of an eternal army, as one possible explanation for the progression of the McMahon characters over the years. What else could explain how Vince McMahon went from needing help just to compete in a match up against a one-arm-tied-behind-his-back Steve Austin to a Vince McMahon that could go one on one against the Undertaker - in a Buried Alive match, natch - and come out victorious? Similar results followed in short order for both Shane and Stephanie, with only Linda McMahon staying as her robotic self. In fact, at one pay per view Stephanie held her own against her father - the same man who beat the Undertaker – meaning that in WWE world, Stephanie was on the same footing as every talent on the roster!
Terry Funk, Elix Skipper, Charlie Haas, D-Low Brown, and Kamala are some of the wrestling insiders who give commentary throughout Insanity, giving a wrestler's perspective on the equivalent of watching Nero fiddle as Rome burned. That might not be a perfect example as financially the WWE is doing fantastic, but I don't think you need to have business degree to realize how much better the company could be doing if it spent its resources in a more productive manner. Instead of finding guys who are 6'4" or taller and hoping to turn them into a wrestler that will "turn heads at the airport," realize that you already have guys like Rey Mysterio that have entire demographics of fan support that are dying to pay money to see him on shows.
There's so much more, but how much can you fit into a review? JG does a solid job going through the stereotypes that WWE makes sure all of its minority characters have, debunking the "titles are props" theory and a great look at some of the crazy gimmicks and angles that all went nowhere. There is also a special section dedicated to the one and only John Laurinaitis, the man responsible for implementing the dress code, calling up the type of guys like Gene Snitsky, the Gymini, Viscera, Heidenreich, and Tyson Tomko (among others) who have no business being near a wrestling ring , and of course the only guy in wrestling who would be callous enough to solicit wrestlers at Eddie Guerrero's funeral. Well, JG doesn't get into Laurinaitis' action at the funeral, or his infamous signing of the wrong one-legged guy when WWE wanted Zach Gowen, but that would seem like piling on anyway.
Insanity concludes with an appendix printing some of JG's most popular columns over the years. This includes a hilarious piece that compares Randy Orton babyface run to presidential hopeful John Kerry's campaign and an attempt to make sense out of Kane's ridiculous, and contradicting, backstory. My personal favorite though is a riotous send up of the Abbot & Costello classic Who's on first bit using Gene Snitsky and Jon Heidenreich. I literally had to put the book down twice while reading this part. Bravo JG. Bravo.
Overall Thoughts: Without a doubt Insanity is my favorite book on wrestling since Bryan Alvarez and RD Reynold's Death of WCW and belongs on the book shelf next to the other great wrestling books like Ric Flair's To Be the Man, Foley's a Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, Funk's More than Just Hardcore, and Pure Dynamite. JG does a tremendous job combining intensive research, on-point commentary, and a liberal amount of humor to deliver an exposition on what has led us to the WWE of today. This book answers the question most of us who have been watching for years have been asking, what the fuck happened?! If you're looking for an anti-WWE book, you may want to look elsewhere as JG's love for wrestling - and let's face it for all intents and purposes WWE is wrestling right now – shines through page after page. Highly recommended. Click HERE if you would like to pick up James Guttman's World Wrestling Insanity or head on over to your local Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore and demand a copy.
Special thanks to the Dr. Keith Show's very own Keith Lipinski for his help with this review.
THE TWF "MENTAL WELLNESS TEST!"
With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spend your few remaining dollars (left over after the seemingly infinite line-up of fucking pay-per-views ) then on the following "quality WWE merchandise!" After all, if they don't move this stuff, and fast, stockholders just might get time to figure out what "plummeting domestic buyrates" means!... and well, I don't think they need to tell you what that means! (Seriously. They're not telling you. Everything is fine! Ahem.).