[sidebar] The Portland Phoenix
August 29 - September 5, 2002

[Letters]


SPIN JOB

Did I read Lance Tapley’s article right? (Cheap News, Aug. 22-29) Did he really trash the Press Herald’s ethics over a sloppy poll? Did Lance Tapley, of all people, suggests that political bias might be tainting press coverage of Maine’s gubernatorial race? Lance Tapley — Jonathan Carter’s almost-campaign manager, trusted confidant, bosom buddy and full time promoter — accuses others of hidden agendas? The Green Party apparatchik who’s on a short list for Carter administration press secretary — did he really speculate on conflict of interest? The Peggy Noonan wannabe who in the last year has used the pages of the Phoenix to exchange feature-length love letters and campaign advice with Carter while waging a vicious smear campaign against John Baldacci — is this the same guy who now waxes indignant over the ethical state of Maine’s political journalism?

What bullshit!

If any politician other than Jonathan Carter had so brazen a propagandist as Lance Tapley masquerading as an objective journalist, the cries of outrage from the Green chorus would be deafening. And entirely justified. But Tapley, one of the chosen, is exempt from such considerations. Hypocrisy is a characteristic of all fundamentalist beliefs, I suppose, but rarely is it this baldfaced.

Now about that supposedly flawed Press Herald poll: strip away Tapley’s snarky innuendo and what you’re left with are a set of results that are clearly consistent with almost every other poll that Tapley cites in his sidebar. For the last few months, Baldacci’s support has held steady at about 50 percent, Peter Cianchette is in the teens; and Jonathan Carter’s doomed campaign doesn’t register any better than 4.5 percent anywhere except for the 8 percent and 10 percent he gets in a pair of mysterious polls whose source the intrepid scribe cannot reveal.

Where could those excellent Carter numbers possibly come from, one wonders? Well, in the aftermath of the Press Herald poll, none other than Jonathan Carter himself publicly declared that his own internal polling showed him at 10 percent! What a coincidence! You don’t suppose Carter was the source of Tapley’s information, do you? And you don’t suppose Tapley was worried that the higher poll numbers would look less reliable if readers knew their “provenance”, do you? You don’t suppose Lance was spinning us to make Carter look good, do you?

No, of course not. That would be unethical. Only the Press Herald does stuff like that.

Paul Proudian

Gray

AUTHOR’S RESPONSE

Lance Tapley replies: This letter is hysterical. Did I suggest that the Sunday Telegram was tainting its polling out of political bias or that the newspaper had a conflict of interest? Not at all. In fact, I debunked this suggestion. I showed instead, I believe, that the poll was shoddy because of the newspaper’s stinginess.

And where has been the “vicious smear campaign against John Baldacci”? I can’t find that in any of my articles. I have devoted a lot more space to criticism of Carter’s campaign than to Baldacci. On the other hand, I have always been straightforward with readers about my point of view, which includes sympathy for the Greens and Carter. Better have it out in the open, I feel, than hide it. And a point of view in magazine journalism is not only acceptable but usually required. Incidentally, it doesn’t get in the way of factual reporting.

As for Proudian’s defense of the numbers in the Telegram poll, I never suggested that the numbers on Baldacci were wrong. I suggested they were right. But Carter at two percent and Cianchette at 14 percent are wrong. You will find nobody in politics who’d honestly say that those were anything but grossly unfair.

Lance Tapley

THAT’S HERESY, MISS WHITON

I am writing this letter in regards to the article entitled “Assault in the Armory: What’s more American than senseless violence?”; as published in the Portland Phoenix, cover date 8/29-9/5/02. As an active independent wrestler, I relish almost any publicity that myself, or one of the federations that I work for, are able to generate, particularly when we are covered by the “mainstream” press. The days of pro wrestling being viewed by the public as nothing more than smoke and mirrors, more deserving of placement in a traveling carnival than an arena such as the Stevens Avenue Armory, are long gone. Its popularity among the masses firmly established, wrestling has in recent years been studied in depth by many facets of America’s think tank, and several universities today offer courses based SOLELY on the study of professional wrestling in the context of modern culture (generally as American Studies or Sociology courses).

Imagine my shock when I read Miss Whiton’s article, only to discover that she is able, in an incredibly pragmatic way, to review not only the specific Eastern Wrestling Alliance show in question (which took place on August 17, 2002, next show is October 4, 2002), but to analyze wrestling’s reflections of American culture as a whole, and summarily dismiss most all aspects of it! As a recipient of a B.A. in Sociology who held a 4.0 GPA at Rutgers, I was duly impressed by Miss Whiton’s ability to summarize, in one article, the question which entire university courses now set out to answer (that being, how does professional wrestling reflect upon and impact American culture as a whole?). Further, as an independent wrestler who just this calendar year alone has performed in a geographical spectrum ranging from Maine to Florida, I was floored by her ability to criticize the crispness of performer’s moves (i.e. their punches), their selling (i.e. their ability to convey pain), and she picked up on something I was not even aware I was doing — trying to repress a grin throughout my match! What a versatile reporter/reviewer/sage you have at the Portland Phoenix!

In terms of other things I was surprised to find out, I was intrigued to read that I was slapped in the face to start my match (I was not), that my music goes something like “devil bark-bark-bark HERESY!” (it does not; it is “Hooked on Swing&” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra), and that I beamed at the prospect of taking a $5 Polaroid with a fan during intermission (I was not, nor have I ever at ANY Eastern Wrestling Alliance show taken part in any photo sessions at intermission . . . wouldn’t really be becoming of a “bad guy,” now would it Miss Whiton? Looks like I’m not the one who forgot my character 3/4 of the way through the show). Objectivity be damned, she knew more than Miss Cleo!

Hey, what do I know, I am just a performer who is paid to travel to Ohio, Georgia, and West Virginia to do something I loved as a child, and after numerous injuries, constant training (included, but not limited to proper dieting, cardio, lifting, practice, hell, even tanning) and sacrifices of most other aspects of my life, I still love and respect incredibly. Maybe if I were a reporter for a paper given away for free at grocery stores and other elite locations I would be a little more “in the know” (and given her target demographics, I think Miss Whiton’s writing style tends to run away from her a bit; give Updike a rest, target USA Today’s style instead — in general say more with less . . . it will read better. At least, that’s what this guy who likes to “dress up and strut around” thinks). I hold no grudges against the Phoenix as a whole, or Miss Whiton in particular; I was the subject of a very flattering article by the Worcester Phoenix a few years ago, when they were still in publication. Rather, I wanted to point out how easy it is to dismiss the work which someone does at first glance, and without proper review. And thanks to Miss Whiton for labeling me as “handsome”; evidently, even she could not miss that undeniable fact. Thank you for your time.

Jeremy Barron

“Dr. Heresy”

Charlton, MA

BARTHES COMES IN SWINGING

Tanya Whiton’s commentary on EWA’s most recent show was brought to my attention and as a fan of EWA in specific and professional wrestling in general, I felt a need to comment.

One of my main problems with the piece was that it was obvious that Whiton had little if any experience with or interest in professional wrestling. Repeated comments about the competition not being real and on the attire of people at ringside seemed to me akin to what would happen if one was to send someone only familiar with chamber music to review a punk show.

Professional wrestling is an often misunderstood and abused storytelling art. French literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an excellent essay presenting it as such to open his volume Mythologies. The wrestlers involved are not, as Whiton suggests, superheroes with or without anything to save. The point is that they are men in many ways no different from the audience. Each participant tells a story on a match-to-match basis. The overall story is a simple one of good and evil but there is variation and many stories from other art forms are the same.

Does the audience-at-large cognize professional wrestling on this level? Perhaps not, but I imagine that the audience-at-large at the Globe Theatre didn’t look past the bawdy jokes and swordfights. (This is not to say that professional wrestling is Shakespeare, although it can approach it but probably never will in EWA or WWE. I would even separate WWE from professional wrestling, as it’s strayed far away from it.)

Stephan Ramsey is not the bad guy because he is bald. He is the bad guy because of how he interacts with the audience before the match and with his opponent during. The good guy tries to win using only his skill, energy and support from the audience. The bad guy short cuts and cheap shots and tries to steal the win from the good guy. The stories don’t involve middle management or capricious gods. The wrangling of matches by figures like Alexander Worthington between matches is only there to lay out the peril that awaits the good guy or cause further incentive for the audience to be outraged and cheer the good guy on next time.

This was exemplified in a match not discussed by Whiton. Kid Krazy was punished for standing up to Worthington and questioning the status quo. He was put into a match with two opponents who double-teamed him and distracted the ref so their manager could triple team him. Eventually the arrogance and hubris of the villains gave Krazy an opening and he wound up victorious. The audience cheered that virtue had triumphed. This doesn’t always happen in wrestling — much like it doesn’t in real life — making the victory all the more sweeter for the winning character and the fans who cheered him on.

Whiton’s pointing out that the competition wasn’t real and the punches were pulled was again missing the point. The audience is aware that wrestling is not competition (which both Barthes and I say should mitigate wrestling’s ignominy), with perhaps the exception of the youngest spectators. Nobody feels the need to point out that the boxing matches in Rocky are faked and criticize it for it. Professional wrestling is like Rocky in serial form and limited to just the matches.

The question of violence in wrestling again strikes me as odd. Wrestling does have simulated violence involved (as a legitimate freestyle wrestling or boxing bout would have legitimate violence involved), but it is simulated controlled violence. The participant characters are presented as willing entrants into a competition. What is allowed and not allowed is clearly defined, even when not observed. (As stated above, it is the bad guy’s non-observance that makes him bad.) These are not fights, but matches occasionally becoming fights when the bad guy leaves the good guy no alternative.

Perhaps the most telling line in the piece, however, was this one: “Later, during intermission, I see him hand her five dollars for a photo with the Doctor, and he watches, beaming, while she poses.” Considering that EWA only has their good guys in the ring for Polaroids and Dr. Heresy is a bad guy, I wonder how Whiton saw this scene.

Indeed, for most of the piece I got the feeling that Whiton was not even talking about the event that night but editorializing about something else, using the EWA as a ready if inappropriate jumping point. If Whiton wants to editorialize, that is fine, but leave it for the editorials and away from an event barely related. If Whiton wants to review and discuss professional wrestling, I ask that she educate herself towards it first. As far as educating herself is concerned, I’d be willing to offer her my assistance as a critic and lifelong fan of professional wrestling. While I am missing EWA’s October show in favor of seeing Aimee Mann in Boston, I will gladly sit with Whiton during the following show and attempt to give her a crash course in the professional wrestling art form and point out the finer aspects of the matches.

Daniel Herman

Somerville, MA

WRESTLING NOT HOMOEROTIC

After reading the article by Tanya Whiton entitled “Assault in the Armory” in the Portland Phoenix, cover dated 8/30-9/5, I have come to the following conclusion: Ms. Whiton must be an oppressed, man-hating woman with significant anger and resentment toward the perceived male-dominated society in which she has been brought up in. Each time she drives past a flagpole, water tower, or fire hydrant, Ms. Whiton is likely to proclaim the object to be a phallic symbol that has been erected (intentional pun) to remind her of the male species’ triumph in America.

Now, how was I able to arrive at such a conclusion, having never spoken to Ms. Whiton? How could I have been able to extract such a vision of the author, having read only one piece of her work? Surely I must be completely wrong! Perhaps. Actually, I’m probably way off the mark. However, it was Ms. Whiton who used the same slipshod, half-assed research techniques to come to an equally off-base conclusion in her piece about the Eastern Wrestling Alliance.

ýo begin with, her article is riddled with factual errors. Doctor Heresy was not available for photos at intermission, or at all for that matter. Johnny Heartbreaker does not use “You Spin Me Right Round” for his entrance theme. The Doctor Heresy/Antonio Thomas match did not begin with a “bitch slap.” There are several more instances of such inaccuracies, but I need not list them all here. The point is this: Ms. Whiton, you were supposed to be covering this event. Did you even watch the event? Did the idea of taking notes ever cross your mind?

Aside from the numerous factual errors, various statements throughout the piece clearly demonstrate your ignorance and narrow mindedness, both as they pertain to your view of this show and professional wrestling in general. In regards to the evening’s event, you refer to the audience’s response to the performance as “mostly passive.” Again, were you watching the same show I was? The audience was actively engaged throughout the evening: cheering, booing, chanting, and altogether enjoying themselves. While our audiences are much smaller than those at other professional sporting events, the energy and enthusiasm shown by our fans is far beyond anything you’ll see elsewhere. And while you took great pains to include four quotes from nameless ‘fans’ who indicated displeasure with a particular match or the performance in general, the vast majority of the audience voiced their approval and appreciation through their loud applause after each ‘good guy’ won, or with heavy boos when the ‘bad guys’ cheated to win. We would be glad to submit a videotape of the event as ample proof of this.

Ms. Whiton’s assertion that “the stories the EWA concocts to keep its audience engaged are inconclusive and unimaginative” is another fine example of the ignorance and poor research put forth in this piece. The EWA has some rather imaginative stories (in the context of professional wrestling) that have definite beginnings and endings — but not on one evening. Each show is designed and produced as one episode, and a particular story arc could last for as long as six months. Would the author watch one episode of Friends and say that their storylines are inconclusive? Perhaps if Ms. Whiton had done some modicum of research and attended more than one EWA event (or even watched a videotape), she would have been able to come to a much more informed conclusion. Actually, would it not have been wise to interview at least one of these “guys wearing spandex”? In fact, after rereading the piece, it becomes apparent that the author did not even sit through the entire event. That’s some great reporting there, Tanya!

Pro wrestling is not enjoyable for everyone. In fact, many people simply do not like it at all, which is fine. But one would expect a reporter who is writing a piece on the subject to approach it with at least an ounce of professionalism. Learning something about the subject matter, and speaking with the primary subjects are basic, if not absolutely vital. Professional wrestling is not Shakespeare. Nor is it meant to be a highbrow cultural affair that will uplift the masses from squalor with its enriching qualities. Pro wrestling is, however, meant to be a simple and enjoyable form of entertainment, where men and women perform in predetermined bouts. Often times the hits are pulled, many times they land square and forcefully. ‘Good guys’ are in a constant battle with their evil counterparts who stare across the ring at them. It’s life in its simplest form: good vs. evil, complete with costumes and theme music. Ms. Whiton has missed this point entirely. When she entered the Stevens Avenue Armory on August 17th, she seems to have been looking for a cultural bonanza on par with the PSO, and she becomes rather irate when she doesn’t find this. So rather than pay attention, take in the entire show, and learn about the subject, she spews forth this warped piece of literature. It’s a poorly written piece at best and a horrible display of hack journalism at worst. And as for Ms. Whiton’s perception that the EWA contains “obvious homoerotic overtones”? That’s sounds like her personal issue to sort out and solve. Perhaps my initial view of this reporter wasn’t that far off after all!

Brian K. Mailhot

Portland

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