As the eulogies for Vince McMahon’s career pile up in the wake of his not-in-any-way-forced retirement on Friday, they follow the usual script of any powerful and ungodly wealthy man’s career coming to an end. His offenses, crimes, and responsibility for the misery and violation of basically countless somehow come in under his accomplishments. Because in this country, being rich is the ultimate accomplishment of all. We value someone’s bank account more than just about anything, especially women and low-level workers, and usually mistake it for some genius we couldn’t possibly attain. Even if the only “genius” involved was having all the money in the first place, it all gets muddied.
Because was Vince McMahon really a genius? Or did he just have more money than everyone else, and was left alone in the industry of wrestling where his vision and ideas were the only ones that we just had to assume were next level because there was no one else providing an alternative for decades? His lifelong insecurity about being known simply as a wrestling promoter and his failures in any other line (XFL, his bodybuilding league, etc.) tells its own story.
Yes, wrestling was a fractured business made up of various, loosely associated territories throughout the country before McMahon “unified” them. And McMahon was the first wrestling promoter, but not the only one, to see the power cable television could and would have on the industry. But McMahon was able to rise to that position of power by pissing all over the agreements and rules the territories had so that they could all survive and prosper, stealing talent with the allure of television exposure. Is having all the money and being an unmitigated asshole prepared to do whatever to gain more money really a mark of genius? Well, in this country, yeah, it is. Because, somehow, most people like to envision themselves as just an unfortunate millionaire dealing with some hard times and if just given one chance, if they could just be as ruthless, if they could just play the game that way…
Yeah, WWE (then WWF) hit the mainstream in a way that no wrestling company had in the mid to late ‘80s. But then again, they were essentially the only game in town. And yes, McMahon did create WrestleMania, the biggest event that wrestling had ever seen. He was also the only wrestling promoter even capable of such a thing. And all of it was created on the back of the mass appeal of Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan (another cretin himself, but undeniably a unique star of history at the time). Both Andre and Hogan were stars in the industry before taking WWF to new heights, though they reached the stratosphere thanks to the platform that McMahon could provide. Most likely six in one…
Meanwhile, in the whole process McMahon was allowed to railroad and run over whoever he wanted because he was in charge and had money. He could allegedly rape his company’s first female referee in a limousine, crush any chance of his workers forming a union to improve their working conditions, pump said workers full of steroids (or at least hint that they should), put them on a work schedule where their only salvations were painkillers, drugs, and alcohol — which would kill more than a few of them — or subject perhaps his greatest wrestler to a fatal stunt simply for aesthetics that pleased him, and face no consequences for it. Because that’s how it works here.
Sure, WWE and Vince helped create other crossover stars that are some of the biggest in the world, like The Rock and John Cena. But how much was Vince and how much of it was the natural gifts of Rocky and Cena? Again, we didn’t have any frame of reference to know for sure. No place the Rock and Cena could go to see what else they might do. It’s not fair now, completely, as it’s been years since Vince cared about putting out an interesting product, but seeing as how both Bryan Danielson and CM Punk have continued their careers unfettered while in their 40s in AEW makes one wonder if it wasn’t more of a case of Vince vampire-squidding off his stars than vice versa.
Sure, there was competition at times. WCW took a run. It didn’t fail because Vince outthought or outmaneuvered them. The company collapsed under the weight of its own incompetence, a process hurried along by a Time Warner-AOL merger that saw wrestling fall completely off the conglomerate’s list of priorities. And then when WCW died, Vince bought it. With his money. Real visionary thinking. ECW showed fans a different way of wrestling… and Vince bought it with his money. The tent kept swallowing up everything simply on its need to feed.
WWE and Vince’s “art” will be defined by its various phases — the Mania era of Hogan, the Attitude era of Stone Cold and The Rock, and so on. But again, these were about the only things on offer. Were they that good or just looked good because there wasn’t anything next to it?
But the Vince Express rolled on, and the more the profits rolled in the more he was allowed to do. He could profit more and more during a pandemic killing millions while firing more and more workers in every department, which only boosted those profits more that allowed him to do more of what he was already doing that he couldn’t be touched for. The TV deals rolled in, so did the sponsorships, because for so long Vince and his business was the only one of its kind around. It stood alone, so most everyone it stood because it was the best possible. Was it really?
And like all of our powerful and rich, McMahon will get to duck out before the shit really comes down. He’ll get to retire and live in whichever of his mansions he chooses, instead of even the indignity of being fired, much less the prison time he almost certainly deserves for any of his crimes. He’ll have his daughter leading cheers from his Vince-pilled cult in Boston on Friday, even while his employees grumble about how unfair it all is even though they know there’s not much they can do. They need his money.
That’s the true American Dream. Success that only you can achieve thanks to your position, that keeps growing on a cycle simply because of your position, and there are no consequences for whatever you do. You can have no new or good idea for years and years, and it doesn’t matter .Your status is so exalted it’s unimpeachable. McMahon was a shitty person with a shit-heap of money that hurt far too many people that put out a garbage product for a long time when it didn’t matter anymore because of just how unimpeachable it all was. But none of that matters here, because hey, he was that rich and he was, technically, self-made. Even if that “made” had a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time.
He’ll never get what we think he deserves, but he’s gotten what he thinks he does billions of times over, and that’s what really matters, right?