In recent years, the overall quality of mainstream female wrestling has oscillated wildly between the really rather good and the truly bloody awful. Around the turn of the century, WWE set about constructing a solid and occasionally useful female division – anchored by the always tenacious and hardworking Trish Stratus – and a raft of supporting characters; many of whom could actually play their part in a respectable wrestling contest. Fast-forward four years and the initiation of the very first Diva search competition marked the beginning of an unpleasant transition for the ladies scene. Within another half-decade the credible, vaguely charismatic likes of Trish, Victoria, Molly and even Lita had been driven down or out by the endless parade of identikit peroxide bombshells.
The ten-year devolution of WWE women’s wrestling has been a painful and disheartening viewing experience, reflective of a similar decline in all other aspects of the company. WWE employs something like thirty female “personalities” in all areas of the company. Like an heiress at Ascot, you’re aware these women are around, it’s just you’re not entirely sure what particular purpose they serve. It is a desperately disappointing state of affairs.
Despite Dixie Carter’s best efforts to the contrary, WWE isn’t the only mainstream league plying its trade in the fuzzy reality of professional wrestling. The WWE-aping fellas over at TNA Wrestling sought to establish and maintain a viable women’s division and wherever possible, stock it with ex-WWE stars. To be fair to TNA, much effort has subsequently been made in the building of new and original acts and less than two years ago, when Scott D’Amore abd Dutch Mantell ran the show, the Knockouts division was a vital component of the fledgling TNA product and its growing fan-base. Alas, thanks to Hogan, Bischoff and champion fatty Todd “Bubba” Clem, the once proud Knockouts division is floundering.
In times of strife it is usually the brightest, biggest and most vivid that survive the ensuing cull. TNA engineered many characters in its drive to establish the original Knockouts division and whilst many have fallen by the wayside, one particular act has ridden the peaks and troughs and retained its importance and popularity amongst management and marks alike. Cleansing the world one ugly person at a time, they are of course the ever welcome and utterly magnificent Beautiful People.
It is undeniably ironic that I proffer such high-praise at this precise time, as the Beautiful gimmick has arguably reached its peak. Even the very best ideas can grow stale and lethargic, and the general torpor afflicting TNA only accelerates this process. Nevertheless, the gals who never quite “seal the deal” on the ring apron have succeeded in exploiting the basest impulses of numerous wrestling fans, and created something to remember in the process.
What sets the gals apart from their contemporaries is a creative tendency that has found expression in every major success story to be found in pro-wrestling: Authenticity. It was Jim Cornette who remarked: “The best characters in wrestling are those where the volume has simply been turned up on a real life person”. The likes of Steve Austin, “Hollywood” Hogan and Ric Flair flourish so completely because a fee-paying audience believe in the fabric of their character and thus achieve suspension of disbelief. Without being churlish or, heaven forbid, rude, the above logic applies absolutely to the Beautiful People. It is the very essence of their success.
It has been remarked that imitation represents the sincerest form of flattery. Perhaps no finer illustration of the success of TBP exists than the “Lay-Cool” gimmick in WWE. Observe the high school antics and bullying, incessant screeching, provocative posing and matching outfits. WWE has outright pinched the Beautiful People look and gimmick and foisted it on two vastly inferior performers. The net result is a pathetic facsimile that lacks the raunchiness, knowing humour and authenticity of the original gimmick, and succeeds only in continuing the charisma-free conveyer that typifies WWE women’s wrestling.
Case in point: When TBP strut out, a big stupid grin forms on my face and I pay close attention, knowing as I do that a cheap but hugely enjoyable distraction is mere moments away. With Lay-Cool I can’t really comment, as that would require me to watch WWE television; something I do my utmost to avoid unless absolutely necessary. WWE has displayed customary arrogance and delusion in declaring Lay-Cool “more popular” than TBP. Using that logic, Zack Ryder is “more popular” than AJ Styles, Rob Van Dam and Ric Flair because more wrestling fans watch him – per week – than the TNA trio. It’s logic so retarded, only WWE could possibly consider it credible.
In truth, Vince McMahon was utterly furious that a female creation more effective than any he’s ever produced found lease on another channel. The hacks penning his PG-13 piffle were hurriedly instructed to better TBP and quickly. The result of their head-banging was yet another push for (soon to be Mrs) Deadman in a rather gruesome twosome, that utilised scripted cruelty and unedifying buffoonery as a substitute for wit, black comedy and plain old innuendo. Presumably, one glance at the more salacious aspects of the TBP routine would disqualify the gimmick in Vinny Mac’s jaundiced eyes. WWE is family-friendly entertainment, after all. Don’t believe me? Just ask “Piggie” James.
It’s been said many a time that you have to witness something in order to believe it, and I have witnessed firsthand the success of The Beautiful People. Several months ago, this writer attended a TNA house show in my hometown of Bournemouth. Velvet Sky and Madison Rayne were late additions to the show and arrived mid-interval for an impromptu autograph session. The Bournemouth International Centre ground to a halt as the punters scrambled to catch a glimpse of the gals (and those magnificent tushies.) When the gals subsequently arrived for their match, the pop that greeted them was the fourth loudest of the night, behind only Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Kurt bloody Angle. No female gimmick in history has generated that sort of support and audience participation. It was extraordinary (and splendid) to behold…
Beyond the Beautiful People, it is difficult to gauge the evolutionary path of the TNA Knockouts scene. It will be a difficult job to replace them, and I personally see no evidence that this can be accomplished quickly. Therefore, an NWO-style burnout of TBP is virtually inevitable. Oh well. It’s been (and remains) tremendous fun having them around and, in all seriousness, if a reader of this column has access to a male “The Beautiful People” t-shirt, black, in a size “L” or “M”, I’m officially interested. It’s been said Americans “don’t do irony”. Well, The Beautiful People and the smiles, leers and entertainment they generate, says otherwise, and to paraphrase Alan Shore: “They’re fun!” After all the darkness in wrestling, a little carry-on can only be a good thing…
Daniel R. Browne.