It makes all the sense in the world that professional wrestling has attached itself to such bands as Limp Bizkit and Saliva within the past couple decades. What better music to accompany a six-foot-four-inch, 280-pound chiseled, monster-like freak of nature down a row littered with thousands of fans than the type of music that comes from dudes who once sang such timeless poetry as “You’re freaking me out, you wore a mask called counterfeit” and “Click, click boom”?
Stumbling across stories about how both musical acts have appeared at various pay-per-view events to perform whatever type of jock-rock single they had at the time is now—in hindsight—somewhat of a perfectly logical marriage. It’s a gathering of like-minded guys pretending to be tough and aggressive for the sake of nothing more than entertainment, no matter how cheesy and unreal the end product may be—and I haven’t even begun to talk about the wrestlers.
Anyways, the world of professional wrestling has always been a fascinating case study in mindless entertainment. In essence, World Wrestling Entertainment’s television programming was reality television years before the term “reality television” was even coined. Once the cat was let out of the bag in the ‘80s and the masses found out that the thing was entirely staged, pro wrestling has never been associated with particularly high-brow entertainment.
It’s a soap opera at its core, and while it’s become the butt of a lot of jokes, there’s no mistaking the amount of success professional wrestling has enjoyed in recent years. To see its steady up-tick in popularity since WWE headmaster Vince McMahon brought the phenomenon to the masses is nothing short of immaculate and should be the gold standard for prospective entrepreneurs who are looking to turn a tiny idea into a multi-multi-multi-million-dollar company. Bash the practice all you want—there’s no denying that it’s lucrative.
And maybe that’s why Smashing Pumpkins leader/founder/blower-upper Billy Corgan made headlines last week when he announced plans to market a reality show around his own independent professional wrestling outfit, Resistance Pro. The Chicago-based organization began in June of 2011 and staged its first event on November 25 of the same year. Since then, the promotion has been noteworthy not only because of its famous owner, but also because of its stringent concussion screening policies that Corgan was adamant about instituting when his company first got off the ground (Resistance Pro is reportedly the first professional wrestling company to follow the Sports Legacy Institute’s guidelines during performances).
It wasn’t until last week, though, that the singer publicly talked about the next step for his organization.
“We just signed a deal with a big reality show producer. A guy with an incredible track record. We’re in good hands”, Corgan told something called MLW Radio. “We believe that wrestling is fascinating on many many levels. Socially, politically, even economically. The struggles independent wrestlers go through to try to find work. Those are real struggles that anybody can identify with. We want to show what goes on in a wrestling company behind the scenes”. (“Billy Corgan attempting to launch a pro wrestling reality show”, by Staff, Prowrestling.net, 4 June 2012)
This is interesting. You don’t have to be the biggest Smashing Pumpkins fan in the world to know that Corgan has been a longtime professional wrestling fan/follower and with the critical success of the Mickey Rourke-comeback film The Wrestler a few years ago, it’s not unfair to claim that a tiny bit of the negative stigma that has long been attached to professional wrestling is beginning to wear off. It’s not that people have suddenly forgotten to be disgusted by the steroid-addled bodies they see jump off steel cages—it’s just that because of how translucent the business has become over the last 20 years, fans and casual followers alike have grown to accept the shows and the antics for what they are.
Sure, it might be hard to find someone who would argue that this form of entertainment is particularly sophisticated, and yeah, it’s doubtful that many people would contend that the popularity of professional wrestling is essential to the ebb and flow of popular culture. But these days—ironic or not—the idea of openly enjoying a few minutes of what is now called “sports entertainment” television is as prominent as it’s ever been. And considering how Corgan, along with the latest incarnation of his Pumpkins, has a brand new record ready to hit stores later this month, taking to some obscure radio program to announce his intention to tie in reality television with his latest business venture should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
What makes this interesting, though, is that the Resistance Pro imprint has actually gained a bit of traction within the professional wrestling world. As the popular sports website Bleacher Report wrote in March, after spending a night taking in one of the organization’s shows in Chicago, Corgan is serious about the future of his company.
“For Corgan and his partners, Chicago wrestling promoters Jacques and Gabriel Baron, credibility with the audience is a key component of Resistance Pro’s growth”, Stephen Sonneveld wrote. “... Cautious, long-term planning such as that could be why Gabriel said Resistance Pro is ‘expanding at a slow and steady rate’. The promotion has also been careful not to squander the cache of exposure Corgan’s music fame brings. Nothing about the evening shouts vanity project or some stunt just to get a mention on TMZ… Billy Corgan is confident (that) ‘business follows credibility’. If Resistance Pro continues to treat their talent well outside the ring while allowing them to shine inside of it—business is about to pick up”. (“Resistance Pro: Billy Corgan’s Wrestling Obsession Is the Dark Horse to Watch”, by Stephen Sonneveld, Bleacher Report, 2 April 2012)
Resistance Pro has a legitimate chance to succeed not because of how calculatedly shameless Corgan looks. Rather, it’s the particular medium he decided to work with in order remain present in the conscience of popular culture. You don’t up and start a wrestling promotion company to try and sell records. You up and start a wrestling promotion company because… well… you want to start a wrestling promotion company. The news of the organization’s success and forthcoming foray into the true trash television of the world—reality TV—is nothing short of logical. Why not combine manufactured drama with manufactured drama, if you actually happen upon two outlets that offer such a thing?
Even more compelling is exactly how much people seem to support his every move. “Also in attendance is a blue-hoodied teenager who has never been to a wrestling show but is a fan of Corgan,” Sonneveld wrote. “She stays for the whole show, laughing when the action is good. As the brutal sounds of the Almighty Sheik and Steven Walters match reverberated to her third-floor perch, she wondered aloud, ‘That’s really got to hurt, doesn’t it?’”
It all sounds so silly—the guy who remains passionate about defending the seriousness of his music is now asking us to pay attention to a form of entertainment that prides itself on being as un-serious as possible. What’s next? Fiona Apple becoming a judge on America’s Got Talent? With the recent meteoric rise of mixed martial arts, professional wrestling hasn’t just taken a back seat in the ever-changing violent entertainment world, it’s been pushed out the car. In turn, the result has been a transformation in style, objective and appeal. Nobody watches professional wrestling to see people fist-fight each other anymore. They watch it because All My Children was cancelled last year and they need a dramatic fix.
Actually, the truth is that they need a realistic dramatic fix. We currently live in the reality programming era of television history. MTV’s The Real World started it in 1992 and 20 years later, the networks have yet to even remotely take a passing look back. Kardashians. The Jersey Shore. Singing competitions. Survivors. Big brothers. Pretty much anything on E!. If people want to see intelligent storytelling, they have to venture to lower-rated networks or pay cable. And because shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and pretty much anything on HBO aren’t watched by a lot of people—regardless of how much writers love to swoon over them—it’s been proven that the traditional television consumer would much rather stick to the type of mindless programming both reality television and professional wrestling have gotten so good at offering. That doesn’t make one better than the other, per se—it just makes one more accessible and more likely to be viewed by the majority of people who watch TV on a consistent basis.
And that’s why Corgan’s latest news that his professional wrestling company is going to throw its hat into the reality television ring (pun intended) is quite literally the smartest thing the Smashing Pumpkins lead singer could do at this point. He’s building a business. Even more so, he’s building a business that is aimed at capitalizing on mindless entertainment. It might not be the most sophisticated form of television, but it sure has proven to be the most accepted.
The Smashing Pumpkins leader is noted for being a lot of things: egomaniacal, talented, annoying, smart, pretentious, angry, sentimental, feisty, loud and quiet, kind and mean. But considering the passion and effort he has seemingly put into getting his Resistance Pro wrestling organization off the ground, there’s one adjective that applies here more than ever: Committed. And as the Smashing Pumpkins ready the release of a new album—nearly 25 years after the original lineup first gathered to create music—it’s impossible to not be reminded of exactly how committed to something Billy Corgan can be, and exactly how much success such an unrequited loyalty can bring an artist, or in this case, an entrepreneur.
Sure, professional wrestling might not be the most poignant or clever form of entertainment one could come by. But since when did acclaim ever translate into a successful business model, anyways? We do remember Adore, don’t we?
// Notes from the Road
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