No pyrotechnics, just caricatures

By Gus Bode

A one-ring circus of the absurd rolled into Carbondale in the trailer of a single big rig Saturday night.

World Wrestling Entertainment took over SIU Arena for a non-televised “house show” in front of about 5,000 fans. What they saw was a bare-bones performance from a sports entertainment giant that raked in more than $400 million in 2006, according to

I must admit I went into the show with some notions of what I would find.


Visions of surgically-enhanced breasts, steroid-enhanced athletes and orchestrated stage shows swam in my head. I imagined a menagerie of manufactured menace pumped up by rock show theatrics and slick production techniques.

What I found was quite different.

No pyrotechnic displays; no rock show production. Instead of light shows and banners featuring the scheduled performers, there was a single ring surrounded by a barricade.

The crowd, though, was pumped. Fans repeatedly chanted for and against wrestlers. They stood; they cheered.

They were willing to fork over $21 to $61 for seats, suspend reality and enter a realm of larger-than-life caricatures of masculinity and overt female sexuality.

And the WWE supplied both staples of its label.

The majority of male performers were muscled giants who dwarf all but the biggest Saluki football players. When it came to attitude, the performers bordered on psychopathic. Wrestlers used violently worded bombast when addressing each other and touted their own excellence.


One performer, King Booker, even let the crowd have it when he shouted that he hated “all you redneck sumbitches.” The crowd erupted in jeers and returned his words in kind.

The women of WWE were no less outrageous, flashing skin and performing the equivalent of a lowbrow burlesque in the center of the ring. One woman even took pains to pull her panties farther up her, uh, backside when it appeared they might cover something.

Nice family entertainment for the children.

Before the show, I researched this behemoth of soft-core pornography and ultraviolence and I walked away from my laptop shaken. Headlines touting sex tapes of performers and stripper pole workouts were all over the Web site.

But titillation works for the WWE, if the droves of fans jostling for $25 t-shirts were any indication. And the company shows no signs of slowing down.

It was almost impossible to comprehend the size and scope of WWE Chairman Vincent Kennedy McMahon’s empire.

According to its Web site, the company produced 300 live events in 2006, including 52 international performances. And like an imperial army bent on world domination, WWE wants to continue its expansion across the globe as it moves into Italy, Spain, Portugal and Mexico.

It is an omnipresent media monster with 52 weeks of new TV programming each year. WWE beams broadcasts into 130 countries in 16 languages and the Internet numbers are just as staggering.

The Web site has more than 13 million visits a month and live shows brought in more than 1.7 million fans in 2006.

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