When it comes to pop-culture junk, there’s stupid, and then there’s stoopid. There’s the trash that simply panders mindlessly to the lowest common denominator, and there’s trash that’s onto itself as a joke, that uses its own willful dumbness as a motor for reaching greater and goofier heights of excess. Stupid is Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor excepted); stoopid is Pee- wee Herman. Stupid is Sly Stallone; stoopid is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stupid is New Kids on the Block; stoopid is the Beastie Boys.
Professional wrestling, that grimy outpost of Saturday-afternoon TV that your mother would never let you watch, used to be stupid. Wrestlemania VII, however, is an inspired debauch that wants to be the all-time championship of stoopidity. It comes close enough that, even if you think pro wrestling is just below satanic rock lyrics on the list of items responsible for the decay of civilization, you might want to check this tape out. It’s that grandly silly.
In the early ’80s, World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon started cleaning up pro wrestling’s long-tawdry image. By dressing his beefcakes as superheroes and adding rock & roll to the mix, he courted the family audience, successfully counting on the fact that little kids would get into wrestlers for the same reason they dig dinosaurs: They’re big, they’re weird-looking, and they make a ton of noise. The annual Wrestlemania is the Super Bowl of ersatz athleticism, with an audience that reflects its stature. Each year, this extravaganza sets new records for pay-per-view and closed-circuit TV revenues, and the video versions that hit the stores a few weeks later consistently sell over 100,000 copies.
So what do you get for your money when you buy or rent Wrestlemania VII, the tape of the event held on March 24 in the Los Angeles Sports Arena? On the surface, just three hours of larger-than-life idiocy — 14 matches pitting one shrieking, heavily made-up thyroid case against another. TV critic Tom Shales called professional wrestling ”Morton Downey without words,” but actually it’s more like a He-Man cartoon with real sweat. The wrestlers’ resemblance to life-size action figures is no coincidence — the tape even starts off with an ad for Hulk Hogan toys.
After the first few bouts, though, the show settles into a brassy, surreal collage of pop-culture detritus. The announcers (chief among them wrestling legend Gorilla Monsoon) are a leather-lunged parody of microphone jockeys; Regis Philbin and Trumpette Marla Maples pop up as guest cohosts.
Things get even stranger in the ring, where the closest thing to subtle irony is the double head-butt. A tag-team match pits the Rockers (Bon Jovi on steroids) against Haku and the Barbarian (swarthy meanies). British Bulldog (he has an Australian accent, but never mind) enters the arena to the strains of ”Rule, Britannia,” leading a bulldog named Winston on a leash. The Undertaker is accompanied by manager Paul Bearer, a Gomez Addams look-alike with an urn.
Between the gimmicky costumes and the interviews in which contestants scream and strain and gnash their teeth rather endearingly, none of this comes off as mean-spirited. Wrestlemania VII offers a self-mocking 2-D universe of Good and Evil, where the wrestling itself carries little sting. No one is bloodied until the final Main Event (and that looks accidental), and the only real move is the old-fashioned pin. The rest is an outrageous collection of flying slams, clotheslines, and slingshots, executed with surprising grace by these 300-pound stegosauruses.
Still, there’s no denying that this stuff caters to its audience’s thirst for violence. The point isn’t that all that pummeling is fake; it’s to make it look as real as possible. What’s tolerable, therefore, in the hermetic world of professional wrestling is simple-minded when applied to actual current events. The Main Event of Wrestlemania VII pits patriotic good guy Hulk Hogan against Sgt. Slaughter, a villain who waves an Iraqi flag and pals around with an imitation Saddam Hussein named Gen. Adnan. Reducing the gulf war to a bombastic grunt-and-grab cliche may satisfy some fans’ boneheaded notions of world politics, but it was offensive enough to make NBC’s Bob Costas bow out of a guest-announcer stint, and it plays like crassly commercial jingoism.
That the Slaughter-Hogan rivalry had been building steam for weeks on various televised bouts, though, illustrates Vince McMahon’s biggest stroke of junk genius. He’s made the wrestlers into continuing characters, their feuds into comedy-dramas that fans can follow from one week to the next. Wrestlemania VII is the culminating chapter in an ongoing yahoo soap opera, with plot threads that are eventually resolved. The Main Event is one of them; better yet is the Career Match between Ultimate Warrior and Macho King Randy Savage. This one bout sums up wrestling’s whole oddball appeal.
True believers know that Savage ditched his manager, the Lovely Miss Elizabeth, for manipulative bimbo Sensational Queen Sherri. Savage loses the bout; his career is over. Deprived of her meal ticket, Queen Sherri commences to kick him. Miss E rushes into the ring, decks Queen Sherri, and helps her Macho King to his feet. He realizes she is in fact his eternal soul mate. One of the announcers crows, ”This is better than Love Story!” and in that crowningly stoopid moment, you could not say he’s wrong. It’s a lunkhead epiphany, no less real for being completely fake. B-