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It's a shoot! How '90s wrestling and Vince Russo mirror today's outrage culture

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Compared to most games on the market, Destructoid's c-blogs rarely cover wrestling games ("Probably because there's only one or two of them at any given time," says everyone reading this; to which I say, "You're right, that shut me up pretty quick.")

Though suffice to say, Destructoid's community is fairly familiar with wrestling terms and wrestling culture. For instance, we had a Destructoid championship tournament, and we also had a call for bloggers due to someone's "heel turn." For those not in the know, a "heel turn" is when a good guy suddenly and surprisingly low blows someone out of spite.

Above: "It's Pearl Harbor all over again!" says a WWII veteran and wrestling fan.

And so this post does delve a bit into wrestling, while also relating it to more current events on the interwebs, social media, and gaming in general. Call it a lighthearted introspection, lest we work ourselves into a "shoot" brother.

Above: Sources of "cancer."

Consider the following whenever you're online.

Outrage Culture: Publications and media outlets speak of "outrage culture," essentially where angry voices come together based on some offense or wrongdoing, and this becomes a rallying cry, a cause worth fighting for. In turn, opinion pieces are published. These are meant to provoke you into feeling more outraged.

That behavior seeps further in every nook and cranny of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and forums.

And it's marketed really well. Outrage sells.

Experts cite that because the present-day's news/social media platforms compete for our attention, certain techniques are used to incentivize what we click/read/watch - and more often than not, we're likely to share things that outrage us.

Psychologists would note that this can be a force for good (such as in sexual harassment cases where people are becoming more vocal; or school kids fighting for stricter gun control laws), or it can lead to potential unwanted problems (such as more xenophobes declaring themselves openly).

Above: Top result when searching for "angry guy pointing."

In terms of gaming - think of the last time you watched a video review or a streamer, and take note of expressions or words being used. 

How about written reviews or opinion pieces from gaming sites. Notice a certain slant? 

How about the title of the article itself? 

What about the tagline on the sidebar of a review for additional emphasis?

Think on Gamergate a few years ago, and how a personal blog post turned into a talking point in various forums. Then suddenly it became a rallying cry for gamers who felt the need to harass people and call in death threats, all in the name of that spark of outrage they felt from the stuff they kept reading.

If you check out any gaming community, or video review/stream, and notice a more aggressive, angry, or negative tone, that's a way of getting you to watch, like, upvote, or share something because outrage culture, and our inherent "negativity bias," primes us into thinking that way. A negative expression, criticism, statement, or a simple word will have more impact than something that's equally positive.

And here's a thesis thrown around for good measure about product/customer reviews and how "a negative review is more impactful than a positive one," but at the same time also advising dissatisfied reviewers to "avoid explicit expressions of anger," or "rants," and instead "provide more informative content" (and that informative content usually gets lost within an exasperated rant in itself).

"What the bloody hell does that have to do with wrestling?"

"Well, sunshine," (faux William Regal accent), "the things you're seeing now on social media and gaming, truth is, wrestling already did that - 20 years ago."

"You see, sunshine, when you clicked on this article and saw an image of me, you immediately thought 'What a fine gentleman he is,' which therefore led credence to the author's viewpoint, thus influencing you to hit that 'Like' button due to your slowly fading endurance as the match article goes on."

No, we're not talking about the long blonde locks of Shawn Michaels (or his armpit hair), or Doink the Clown's attempts to scare kids like Pennywise.

We're talking about Vince Russo and Crash TV during the Attitude Era.

Crash TV, in the wrestling world of the '90s and early-2000s, was meant to stun the viewers based on sex/nudity, gore, gratuitous violence, swearing, and anything that went outside of conventional norms of the cartoony product (when Hulk Hogan told you to "say your vitamins and eat your prayers" - or something like that).

This is why when World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, or WWF - World Wrestling Federation) was feuding with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) at the time, the idea was to top one another in terms of controversial, edgy, and stunning turns of events each and every week.

This was known as the Monday Night Wars - where WWE and WCW battled it out in the name of TV ratings, pushing the envelope for prime time TV and ensuring that a rabid fan base had something to whet their appetites.

Oh and there was another promotion who played the third wheel even though it got the ball rolling, but that's a story for another time.

The greatest moment in pro wrestling history...

... until last Friday.

Vince Russo's Crash TV and his writing were instrumental in wrestling's heyday in the '90s, and certain aspects of that are mirrored in today's digitally interconnected culture.

Do you hate Electronic Arts with a passion, as well as any developer that earns a lot of money or has dubious means to maximize profits?

Do you want to fight for the downtrodden gamers who are being stepped on, manipulated, and preyed upon by these vicious corporations?

Insert: "!!!!!1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!!!!!" - for additional emphasis on anger.

Attitude Era got you, fam!

Russo's writing under Vince McMahon's direction and participation culminated in a war between the "everyman/antihero" Stone Cold Steve Austin, and McMahon himself - "a megalomaniac who ruled a corporation with an iron fist."

If you ever spot a gamer who believes that corporations are one-dimensional entities, look no further than wrestling which helped popularize that image.

After all, wrestling took the common historical trope of a hero fighting against the odds - be it a tyrant, a monarchy, or a secret organization - and turned it to a redneck from Texas fighting against The Corporation.

Above: The Devil

Below: Also The Devil

With the Monday Night Wars in full swing, Russo ushered in Gang Warfare - "You're either with us, or against us" - storylines wherein factions fought other factions for supremacy, or members were doing hilarious impressions. We saw The Nation of Domination versus Degeneration-X, or Los Boricuas versus the Disciples of Apocalypse (aka the Latino jobbers versus the Biker jobbers).

It eventually culminated in Degeneration-X driving a tank all the way to a nearby arena where WCW's show was being held in, calling out Hogan's New World Order (NWO) stable.

So if you ever feel that today's social media and interwebz forum warz have gone from the simple "Nintendo vs. Sega" of the olden days, devolving into some pseudo ideological battle for supremacy about consumer rights, the gaming industry and gamer identities, "us-versus-them," and all that jazz, look no further than how WWE vs. WCW was booked at the time.

That moment when pointing to your crotch became cool.

Russo also loved the idea of "Bra and Panties" matches which, as the name suggests, would be women wrestlers trying to strip their opponent down to their, well, bra and panties; or sometimes they'd start already in their lingerie.

Or you'd have "Evening Gown" matches that also had the objective of stripping down someone in their... evening wear. The crowd loved it - when Sable stripped down to reveal pasties, the crowd roared in approval! When she was covered up, the crowd booed and shouted their discontent.

Those were the '90s - when people pushed the envelope of what it meant to be controversial and to outrage as many people as possible.

Above: Patterson v. Brisco, Evening Gown match - proving that the WWE promoted gender equality before it was cool to do so.

Russo later tried his hand in WCW. Without McMahon's guidance, and as a gatekeeper for his ideas, Russo started coming up with wackier and crazier gimmicks.

It wasn't just a simple "swerve" - or a "gotcha!" moment (ie. the aforementioned "heel turns that came RKO OUTTA NOWHERE!"). It was to blur the lines between reality and kayfabe (or fake/scripted events).

Russo began to weave storylines where the mysterious" Powers That Be" pulled the strings, and these were the "bookers" (the guys running the show and saying who wins, who loses). And since the internet was fast growing at the time, people were wising up to wrestling being a scripted and choreographed show. Russo's storylines became critical flops.

He would later create matches that put Judy Bagwell (a wrestler's mother) on-a-pole, or Viagra-on-a-pole, or basically "something"-on-a-pole.

He would try to recreate the infamous "Montreal Screwjob" (where wrestler Bret Hart lost a decision via nefarious means in the WWE), this time in the WCW a couple of years after the original happened.

He would popularize "shoots" - or when a wrestler goes off-script in order to angrily rant at his opponent or a certain situation at hand.

And he would make David Arquette of ???-fame WCW World Heavyweight Champion, as well as himself.

Hulk Hogan, Sting, Macho Man Randy Savage, and "this guy."

All of these were done in order to generate as much "buzz" as possible.

Whether it was in the WWE or WCW, whether it was effective or not - Russo's writing was meant to elicit a reaction. To provoke. To generate a conversation, a talking point.

To hopefully get a spike in the ratings.

It was to be controversial for the sake of being controversial.

It was "clickbait" before "clickbait" was even a thing.

That was the '90s and early-2000s. That was Russo. That was Crash TV and the Attitude Era.

And that encapsulates the interactions, promotions, and marketing methods that you'll see in today's internet and social media platforms - whether it's a clickbait article title, an emphasized quote with a negative slant, the rant of a forum user getting a billion upvotes or likes, or a streamer's angry tone mesmerizing his viewers and tugging at their emotions.

Above: The visionary, and sometimes-douche, who saw what social media and internet culture would be like today.

Russo in the WWE defined how easily the audience can be manipulated by certain words, promos, emotions, and stories.

And Russo in WCW went overboard, to the point that the audience finally got tired of it.

As Russo showed, the audience eventually gets tired when you make a mockery of the sport; much like how gamers nowadays feel that an "entitled" generation has popped up that makes a mockery of what communication and criticism used to be like.

So if you're someone who checks the internet a lot nowadays and sees how outrage culture and toxicity has become the norm - and you're slowly, but surely getting tired of it - that's essentially a fan getting tired of Russo's antics... almost two decades ago.

So here's to Vince Russo and Crash TV - and how the '90s paved the way for what we're seeing in the modern culture of digital interconnectivity.

 

SWERVE: Videogames are greedy and you know it!

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