Something rather interesting happened last night on the annual “Old School” edition of WWE’s flagship show, Raw. It was as if USA Network executives spontaneous changed their programming to a combination of Hoosiers, Field of Dreams, and Mike and the Mechanics’ “The Living Years.”
I don’t want to type out a lot of factual history, but briefly: Jake “The Snake” Roberts returned to WWE after a nearly ten year absence. His appearance was brief, at the closing of the show and was a complete surprise. After years of self-destruction, Jake Roberts’ stint in Diamond Dallas Page’s so-called “Accountability Crib” seems to have paid off, at least in terms of getting him back in much better physical condition and on TV.
I’m interested in how Jake’s new resurrection story plays against his portrayal in the documentary Beyond the Mat and the fictional (but eerily similar) The Wrestler. In The Wrestler, there’s a very specific finality to Randy the Ram. The film suggests that he can only be redeemed (?) by killing himself to entertain. Or maybe it suggests that he had no other choice. Either way, there’s a kind of suicidal bent that seems to dovetail with the persona of workers like Mick Foley.
The theme of bodily sacrifice is a major tenant in professional wrestling. (I liken it to Batman’s attitude in The Dark Knight Rises, where he insists he hasn’t given Gotham everything.) Beyond the Mat problematizes this heroic sacrifice of the body, somewhat, by focusing on Foley’s family during his brutal match with The Rock. The Wrestler cuts hopelessly to Marisa Tomei’s character several times during the final scene, but there’s definitely more of a feeling of inevitability there. The film couldn’t end any other way.
Jake Roberts could have died at basically any point in the last couple decades and I suspect no one would have been shocked. For now, he’s rewritten his story with a triumphant new chapter. Granted, He may not be able to do much in the ring ever again. Last night, he essentially just walked to the ring and stuck a snake in a man’s face, but the appearance was symbolic. Obviously, this prodigal son-like storyline works out much better for WWE, as The Wrestler really did them no favors. Everyone loves a redemption story and this could be a great one. I wonder if The Wrestler could have been more successful with this kind of ending: a redemption story rather than an all-out tragedy. People probably would have proclaimed it “too Hollywood.”
Of course, it is too Hollywood. It just wasn’t produced by Paramount or Universal. It was funded by Page, the thousands of fans who crowd-funded Roberts’ surgery, and (for the final shot) WWE. We don’t know how long the “new” Roberts will last and it’s impossible to maintain a fairytale ending forever. Maybe that makes this one particular moment all the more satisfying.
Jake Roberts is a strange, massive fan investment. The dividends were paid last night.
Also, I’d forgotten that Jake Roberts has a seriously 80s-yet-timeless entrance theme. It sounds almost M83-like now.
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