Say It Ain’t So.

26 06 2007

I had to post about this sooner or later; because this blog is a journal of my life, because this was a meaningfully large event, and because I want to sort my own thoughts out about it.

You may or may not have heard about the details surrounding the death of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit. I’ll summarize if you haven’t, since that plays part and parcel with the nightmare.

Monday evening I had started uploading my vacation photos, as promised in a previous entry, when David IMed me out of the blue to say Chris Benoit was dead.

This is something I’ve heard way too much lately, that a wrestler has died. People in the business wear their bodies and minds down with constant road touring, constant in-ring abuse, and the everpresent paradox of steroid and HGH drug abuse vs. your career suffering because McMahon doesn’t think you’re beefy enough. The toll isn’t just on your health, it’s on the health of your family and your relationships as you’re forced to spend five days a week away from home. These conditions claimed the life of Eddie Guerrero notably, in recent times, and Kurt Angle’s been on a deathwatch list for quite some time now.

But this time, things were different. This was Chris Benoit. Consummate professional, skilled wrestler, a noble veteran of every single franchise there ever was. He was the good guy. The one who didn’t use drugs, didn’t hurt anyone, didn’t live the wild party lifestyle some of the younger guys did. He was the quiet and sensible role model that was never at the top of the game, but kept the game going by making everybody else look better than they actually were in the ring. How on earth could Benoit die?

Then it got worse and worse. It wasn’t just Benoit, it was his whole family. Raw started that night and decided to go with a tribute show format, which has unfortunately become a standard practice. (It shouldn’t have to be a practice at all. This sort of thing should not be happening. It’s part of the reason I’ve faded away from the fandom despite still appreciating it.) Segment after segment of Benoit’s best career moments, of friends missing him and mourning him and singing his praises…

…then a few hours into the show, it turns out that the cops were calling it a double homicide / suicide. This wasn’t just a senseless tragedy, it was a DARK and horrible senseless tragedy and it was looking like Chris wasn’t a victim of the industry, he was a psychopathic murderer.

Consider that for a minute. It doesn’t fit in the head. Here’s a guy I honestly looked up to, respected, admired. Like some folks look up to pro atheletes like baseball players or football players, the good guys, the ones you want your kids to be like. Then all of the sudden, one bad day later and they’re pariahs. Their names are struck down from the book of life. You can’t say “Rest in Peace” because they no longer deserve it, they’re hideous abominations and outcasts. ONE DAY and everything you knew about a person turns upside down… leaving you to reconcile good memories with current events.

Next day turned, and details thickened, in gruesome detail. The murders were planned and spaced widely apart. No accidental death, no crime of passion, just the sick details of a guy who completely unravelled and systematically executed his family. Again. BENOIT did this. Square peg into mental round hole. It’s like Mister Rogers shooting a hooker in Reno. It doesn’t add up…

The WWE’s reaction was hilarious and predictable. During the night Raw’s tribute show was taking place, their website was plastered in testimonials, retrospectives, heartfelt and emotional messages of missing him. Then, those articles started to disappear. The event was officially renamed the “tragedy”. Now, there’s only one article, which pretty much shuns Benoit and frantically tries to clear the company of all wrongdoing. All the testimonials are gone. Friends poured out emotions onto tape that are now 180’d. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to them, this betrayal.

Things like this are hairline fractures in the pillars that keep one’s world view stable. I never met Chris, and honestly I stopped watching wrestling awhile ago, but it was still a solid fact in my mindset that if there was anything good left in wrestling, he was part of it. Crack, wrong. Now I have to hate the man I respected. I don’t know if I can. I can’t feel sympathy for him. I don’t know WHAT to feel. But this thing that doesn’t make sense is another hammer blow to what keeps things sensible and realistic. Not a huge one, not 9/11 or the Iraqi war or some other devastating event… but little by little, things fall apart.

Since this is Livejournal, I think I’m required to post a song lyric summarizing my emotions, so I’ll close with one of the most depressing songs I own about lives in ruin; Harvey Danger’s “What You Live By.”

Meet me up on ninety-nine
Beneath the Marco Polo sign
I’ll be the one with a box of wine
And a hundred dollar car

We could talk about the lives we’ve led
And count the reasons we’re not dead
Or maybe we could talk instead
About the ways in which we are

Lay me down in the bed that I made
Starved for sleep by the shrill serenade
Singing over and over:
You die by what you live by
You will die by what you live by
You will die by what you live by
Every time…

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14 responses

27 06 2007
cmdr_zoom

I’m sorry to hear of this horrible thing, and how it’s touched you as a fan. (In a bad place. :p)
If I may offer my thoughts on a side issue, the de-rigeur “tribute” episode? I submit that they’re also damned if they don’t; some people with existing grudges against the organization will use that as an excuse, claiming that the org didn’t care, didn’t love the dead wrestler like they, the FANS, did, that the org just USED him, and so on.
Which is fuckwitted when it comes to things that really should be kept private, but a lot of fans crave shared experiences – even bad ones. They want to feel that they’re part of a community, a commonality, something larger than one guy in his basement… bound together by those shared experiences and values.

27 06 2007
pockyman

From what I’ve heard, I think it was less that he was evil, and more that he was broken, mentally.
I don’t remember who mentioned it to me, but Chavo supposedly said that after Eddie’s death, Benoit wasn’t the same anymore.
So it might have been the work of a madman. :/

27 06 2007
omahdon

The threads that make up the grand narratives of the world seem to be unraveling a heck of a lot faster these days. Only a little over two months ago we had the VTech shootings and now something like this – things that just do not make sense and do not fit into our notion of what makes “the world”.
Maybe that was the point. Maybe it was simply inevitable that, amongst the millions on this planet, there would be some people who stop in their daily routine, look around and realise that the structures we have built our entire lives upon exist nowhere except within our own heads. That love, truth, mercy, hard work, play, education and so forth are games we play amongst ourselves to wile away the time between when we are born and when we die. And that maybe they don’t want to play that game any more, and they were going to make damn sure to upset the board before they leave.
And in the end it’s up to the rest of us who are still in the game to pick up the pieces and reset the boards to come to some sense of normalcy – business as usual, the threads you know as reality are still quite intact, thankyewverrmuch. If the final severing was senseless then we will find a way to make sense of it – he was beaten as a child, he spoke with a lisp, he was a tremendous bed-wetter, he had a hidden addiction to illegal substances, he wore black and listened to death metal. And then it will make sense, it has always made sense we just didn’t find out about it sooner, and we smile and keep right on playing.
And we make sense of it because the alternative is far more frightening – that a perfectly good man, in the same frame of mind, can be a terrible monster at the very same time and that there is no explanation. That there is, in fact, no contradictions, only revelations of previously hidden facets.

27 06 2007
jssaxon

I was going to write an LJ post on this but I figure that since you and I watched it for all those years I should just comment here. When I heard about Benoit killing his family I was driving in the car listening to the radio and I was looking at Joey in the mirror and thinking that there was just no way that I could EVER do ANYthing to him for ANY reason whatsoever. Of course I couldn’t… I’m his dad! I couldn’t hurt Maria or Joey EVER.
Then I got to thinking about my medication and how it has changed my life because I live in a much more sane world now as a result and I realized that I couldn’t ever go off of my meds not just because it would have bad results for ME but it would RUIN my family. It was one of those moments where you realize that the wonderful world that you live in is held together by tiny strings that you tell yourself aren’t even worth thinking about severing because the fallout from doing that would be incomprehensible.
I can’t imagine what Benoit’s parents are feeling right now. In a way I could demonize Chris Benoit and say that a truly responsible father and husband would not do what he was doing with the drugs in the first place. I firmly believe that providing a stable place for you family includes making sure that you YOURSELF are stable and taking painkillers and steroids and whatever else he was taking was a cocktail for disaster.

27 06 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

The unfortunate side effect of the absolute rule that there are no absolutes is that “I could never do that!” is always wrong. Everybody is capable of anything, from kindness to atrocity. That was one of the main themes behind Sailor Nothing, after all. Humanity is simply capable.
What makes the string snap… drugs, grief, chemical imbalance, or just One Bad Day like in DC’s “The Killing Joke”… what makes it snap is almost irrelevant. The potential is THERE and it’s up to us to fight against it as much as we can, to be the person we want to be.
Obviously, Chris made some severely bad decisions, including the steroids. There were things going on in his life none of us were privy to due to only seeing his outward, public projection of self. There’s plenty of blame to put on the WWE for not providing a good environment, one that encourages drug use while pretending it doesn’t, but in the end it was them, him, and no one responsible. It just happens because he’s human and we are capable and in this case, he couldn’t or didn’t stop himself.

27 06 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Or, for instance, “Violent video games made him do it.” It’s comfortable to have a reason for why things went south that hard and that fast for one person. We want to have an easy explanation.
It’s to convince ourselves that a normal person can’t just snap, but there’s also a matter of reassuring ourselves WE cannot snap. That’s a subjective view. Whenever someone dies of cancer, what’s the first question? “Was he a smoker?” If yes, we feel comfortable because WE don’t smoke, etc. Finding something different between you and a sociopath makes you feel better about not having the potential to be a sociopath yourself.
But in the end, there’s no one X factor. There can be a LOT of X factors but they’re more common than anybody wants to believe. Our job as humans is to hold it together and try to avoid becoming something like them, and we like easy to avoid factors, but the struggle’s more complicated than that.

27 06 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

That’s my thinking. If the rumors are right (and you never know, unfortunately) then his paranoia was ramping up over the last year, and he was coming apart at the seams. No sane man would do what he did — it wasn’t a flash of passion, or roid rage, he did it quite deliberately and over an entire weekend.
The saddest part is that, before we found out what happened, a fandom poster said “Somewhere in the great ring in the sky, Eddie’s hugging his friend as confetti falls once more.” Now… I don’t think they’re in the same ring, speaking from a metaphysical altitude.

27 06 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

If any industry knows how to flog its underbelly in public, it’s wrestling.
Everybody makes a big deal about kayfabe, about presenting the story and not the presenters, but that’s a load of crap. The fans know better. We follow our favorite performers just as much as we follow the characters. When shit goes down we want to share that experience just as much as we want to share the fiction.
The only quibble I have over the tribute show is that some of the gory details WERE breaking just prior to air — the whole family dead means 90% of the time it was a murder from within. They may have wanted to hold back and just run a clip show and wait to see before going ahead with the tribute. But, it’s hard to make that cold of a decision when things are running hot, and there was an immediate need for his friends and coworkers to say their goodbyes, so there we go. …NOW they can be cold and distant, apparently.

27 06 2007
omahdon

I was going to quote Joker’s “one bad day” line from The Killing Joke here but you’ve beaten me to that particular analogy.
Humans are such fragile things, really. If we weren’t so alternatively complacent and then paranoid we would be gods.

27 06 2007
jssaxon

In essence you’re right. The “absolute rule” is never absolute and I was trying to expound on the fact that life is always a matter of perspective, hence my mood-altering drugs!
You’re also right in that we’ll never know what all of the factors were in the leadup to this terrible event but there is one thing that is certain: the WWE has a LOOONG history of pretending to discourage drug use while we watch the more steroid ripped bodies get more and more screentime, we see higher divorce rates, domestic violence, etc,.
I DO maintain, however, that a RESPONSIBLE person does not put themselves in the type of uncontrollable jeopardy that Benoit did when he started popping CDS into his system. I see it in Maria’s dockets everyday. Father/Mother starts taking CDS and things go HORRIBLY wrong in their lives and the lives of the people around them. It’s simply a mathematical certainty. You mess yourself up and the people around you suffer.

27 06 2007
omahdon

Oh yes, I’m reminded of a joke by Jim Carrey back when he was still doing stand-up comedy. How you could be talking to a friend you’ve known forever when you suddenly realise “My god. I could just…. reach over and punch him in the face right now. And he’d never expect it. He’s my FRIEND”. Just little decisions, countless of little decisions in everyday life, from moment to moment, that let you walk on THIS side of the sanity parade.

27 06 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I definitely agree that he was irresponsible. Hell, to work in the WWE at all requires degrees of irresponsibility… voluntarily yanking yourself away from your family life at one end of the scale, voluntarily taking drugs to further your career at the other.
I really wish McMahon would get off his bodybuilder fixation. It’s getting in the way of everything the WWE could be accomplishing. It’s partly a product of public perception — in the same way supermodels get eating disorders because the public demands they be thin, the public demands wrestlers be herculean gods — but the man at the top has to step up and try to take control of the problem. Turning a blind eye, or with the ‘wellness program’ a half-blind eye, is no answer.

27 06 2007
jengagne

And speaking of bodybuilder fixation:
And speaking of body image and pressures thereof, here’s another aspect to the story that might hit a bit too close to home.
The news is now talking about how his kid had some form of dwarfism (real or imagined because they wanted a tall kid? Dunno) and that the kid was all tracked out due to hormone therapy.
… which draws me to suspect… I mean, considering Benoit turned out to be somebody cracked enough to kill his family? It leaves me wondering if he had some kinda massive complex about his kid, too, considering his own life hinged so heavily on physical prowess.
I mean, who knows if that seven-year-old even really needed to get juiced up. I hope at _least_ that he only got shots Officially Sanctioned by Medical Professionals…
All that said, I am trying to avoid assuming the worst on that front. Not like it matters now, I guess. But.

9 07 2007
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