A few years ago – way before the whole Progress article faff – I wrote a piece on Jim Cornette, based on a few problematic things he’d said around that time. However, I ended up shelving it, as it came across too much like a burial of the guy [what are the odds? – Ed] and at that point he hadn’t burned through all the goodwill he’d accumulated from his years in the business. Sadly, at the present moment Cornette has largely become a parody of himself; and indeed, several writers have noted this and written pieces on it. So I don’t want to go over old ground here. I do however, want to make a couple of points which (to my knowledge) have yet to be made.
The first concerns the oft-repeated remark that Cornette is ‘out of touch.’ While this is true for the most part, I don’t think it really captures why Cornette has such a problem with modern wrestling. As I see it, it boils down to this. In any field – be it wrestling, art, science – evaluative standards change. Indeed, as A.J.P. Taylor put it, the mark of greatness is that it survives changing standards – Shakespeare was great to his contemporaries, great to the Victorians; great to us. And it’s the same with wrestling; Bret Hart vs Steve Austin at WM13 was great at the time; is still considered as classic today, and will be (probably) in twenty years’ time.
The issue that Cornette has, in a nutshell, is that he believes that the evaluative standards that were in play when he broke into the wrestling business and had his greatest success – i.e. the 1980’s – are in fact transcendental. That is, they apply for all times and places, including today. But they don’t: those evaluative standards are a product of their time, just as today’s standards will in turn be eclipsed by a future set that come down the pipe twenty years from now. Granted, there is a slightly worrying aspect to such a pronouncement: it seems to imply that what counts as a ‘good’ wrestling bout is subject to the particular whims and tastes of a given era. More work needs to be done on just what the properties of a good match are and whether any criteria of evolution that apply across various eras of wrestling can be found. (I want to do it myself, but alas, day to day life keeps getting in the way of this project).
For now though, the point holds. Indeed, I think in one shoot interview Cornette stated that his intention when he went to ROH was to do old–style angles with new talent; the idea being that said angles were ‘timeless’ in some sense and thus could be re-used. And to be fair, maybe some angles are. But a certain amount of discrimination is needed with regards to which ones will still play in the 21st century: one example of one that didn’t work would be having Haas and Benjamin winning the tag belts using an ether-soaked rag (the outcry over which Cornette forgets when he claims the booking in ROH at that time was “as good as it ever was”). Thus, when we say Cornette is out of touch, it is in the sense that his mentality towards what the fans consider to be good wrestling is outmoded.
This leads to my second point. Around the time I wrote the article that never was, I think Breaking Kayfabe with Jim Cornette had just been released. And it was quite a depressing piece of viewing: here was a guy who was completely disillusioned with a business that he had been involved in for the majority of his life and had poured his heart into; who felt that what he lived for had been taken away from him. I felt desperately sorry for him. However, there seemed to be a silver lining. Towards the end of the disc (and sadly I don’t have a copy to hand to check this, so I’m going from memory here), when they do the usual culture stuff, Cornette mentioned that he’d like to write books on films and whatnot. And so the interview ended on a bright note; as one door closes, another opens. Wrestling was dead for Cornette, but he had other directions to go in.
Except of course, he didn’t. Like many before him, Cornette attempted to have his cake and eat it. Despite having fallen out of love with wrestling, he continued to regularly – in fact weekly – to talk about it. Some might say it’s easy to snipe here: the guy still has to make a living after all. But still, there’s something that slightly grates: if wrestling is indeed dead, as Cornette says it is, then one has to look at what he currently does as trying to flog some semblance of life into it – a process that certainly doesn’t work with horses.
I have no real conclusion for this piece. Cornette was/is one of the all-time great wrestling managers, and a mine of information about the business. But re-reading Tomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (of all things), a quote jumped out at me that seemed to summarise Cornette’s current predicament. Recalling Max Planck’s dictum that one scientific theory succeeds another because proponents of the earlier theory eventually die out, Kuhn remarked that:
Still more men, convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness, will adopt the new mode of practicing normal science, until at last only a few elderly hold-outs remain. And even they, we cannot say, are wrong. Though the historian can always find men-Priestley, for instance-who were unreasonable to resist for as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific. At most he may wish to say that the man who continues to resist after his whole profession has been converted has ipso facto ceased to be a scientist.