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Way back on May 23, 1999, myself and my younger brother were watching Over the Edge, and of course that date has gone on to live in infamy, since that is the day when Owen Hart plummeted to his death because of Vince Russo inspired stunt gone wrong. Yes the non-creative goof ball admitted it was his idea to have Owen do something 'special' on the show in his book 'Forgiven', so I'm not speaking out of turn here... but something else came out of it: the WWE's Show Must Go On Mentality With The Exploitation of Death.
Think about, in October 1997 with the death of Brian Pillman, the WWE exploited the hell out of it by talking non-stop about it during the Bad Blood pay-per-view that year and even having Pillman's wife come on the air to basically have her not blame the company or the wrestling industry for his death... and the WWE was rightfully criticized for it. Now flash forward to 1999 and Owen's demise, not only did the WWE continue the Over the Edge pay-per-view when there was already company precedent for calling off the remainder of a show due to extreme weather (The In Your House: Beware of Dog pay-per-view) but the following night on Monday Night RAW, when looking back on it, it's nothing more than exploiting the death of Owen Hart and the emotions of those employed on the roster, including some of the most disingenuous behavior possible.
For you see, throughout that night the WWE showed a number of its talents speaking to a camera about Owen, and the pure fact that a number of them wanted to be somewhere else instead of clearly being forced to sit in front of a camera, with a good number of them just saying the same thing verbatim is just pathetic.... not to mention having these guys and gals go out in front of a crowd to perform with just about everyone having a 'just get this night over with' approach when it was not in anyone's best interest to do so. What the WWE should've done is simply cancel the May 24, 1999 episode of RAW because they cancelled every other WWE event that week, and air just two hours of Owen Hart's best matches.
But because the night was memorable and later exploited when clips were reused on WWE programming and DVDs in later years... and it allowed them to be much for free to exploit the death of Eddie Guerrero several years later, with not one but two nights of the WWE trotting its roster in front of a camera to 'tell approved stories' with all having a theme and perform in the ring when it was clear that its the wrong thing to do, not to mention the resulting story lines and long term employment of Vicki Guerrero because his death happened on their watch, because one has to know that there were a lot of lawyers around eager to have Vicki sue the WWE.
The funny thing is it appeared the WWE learned its lesson with Chris Benoit... canceling an episode of RAW, showing matches of his career.... of course it turned out Benoit killed his wife, kid and himself... resulting in that back firing on the company, but hey, they took a step in the right direction away from exploiting death... but then again that episode of RAW was set to be the 'funeral of Vince McMahon' who on the previous week's episode of RAW was 'blown up in a limo, so I'm probably giving the WWE too much credit, since the WWE basically turned the death of the Ultimate Warrior into a yearly 'pat on the back' segment during WrestleMania weekend.
I will say this, the WWE has at the very least gotten it right with the simple graphic and a standard 10-bell salute to those who pass away... then again in all recent cases following Benoit's death, most have been retired wrestlers... but you just know the company is chomping at the bit for someone on their roster to kick the bucket in order exploit the hell out of it... and I just bet they already have something in a vault somewhere for when Vince McMahon himself dies, it's probably in his will that the first story following his death will be 'All living members of the family fight over who inherits the company'.
Anyway, one last thing... WCW handled the death of Owen Hart much better than the WWE. They had a simple graphic, talked about him briefly and later allowed Bret Hart to wrestle Chris Benoit in a tribute match. Simple, neat, classy. Then again 'class' is not something one can associate with the WWE 99% of the time.
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