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Monday, December 16, 2013

Great Moments in Literature: The Evolution of "Bob Backlund"

From Howdy-Doody to Criminally Insane to Loved and Accepted, the wonderful character development of Bob Backlund is one of literature's greatest moments.

Glossary of Terms to be Used in Article:

Howdy-Doody: This was a puppet that appeared on NBC in various forms from the 1940s to the 1960s. It was "a freckle-faced boy marionette with 49 freckles, one for each state of the union" who represented polite All-American boys around the great nation of the U.S. of A.

Criminally Insane: To display behavior so anti-social and violent that the only recourse is to either jail, hospitalize, or exile the individual from society.

Love and Acceptance: The concept of an individual being welcomed and appreciated in a group of multiple individuals of varying quantity.

The Cross-Faced Chicken-Wing: An unstoppable, unbreakable, and ultimately undefendable arm-lock submission hold that if you refuse to tap-out will leave you with a fractured limb.

Bob Backlund

Who's Bob Backlund? The Double B was a pro-wrestler who was famous from 1973-1984 and then made a reemergence and was doubly famous from 1994-1997. As everyone knows pro-wrestling is a shtick and not a competition of athletics. It is governed by a rule structure referred to in the business as "kayfabe" which replaces athletic skill competition with over-the-top choreographed drama. Most of the time this "drama" is fantastically and laughably retarded but in some cases it manages to create some interesting characters and satire.

One of the earliest precepts of "kayfabe" was to maximize drama by pitting "heroes" against "villains." The terms were refered to as "baby faces" versus "heels" where a babyface is a well-liked good looking person who the crowd relates to and the heels were foreign people with strange customs who the viewing audience could not relate to. Examples of "baby faces" are Hulk Hogan whilst examples of heels are guys like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik.

In Backlund's first incarnation he was the aforementioned baby face character. Baby faces, naturally, are relative and dependent on their environment, meaning if the audience was Japanese then the baby face would be someone like Rikidozan and the heel would be someone like the Classy Freddie Blassie. In the case of Bob Backlund, he was operating in 1970s America and to pull off this role in that environment it required being a clean cut white "boy" who was constantly draped with American flags.

American flag jacket, American flag undies, American flag singlet. That's what you needed to be the "All American Boy." They should have gave him 49 freckles on his ass to symbolize the 49 states in the union then he'd be perfect.

Many probably know that America went through a cultural revolution of sorts during the 1960s and 1970s featuring all sorts of movements from civil rights to women's rights to aboriginal rights and many others. This "All American Boy" persona did not sell as well as it used to as Americans were becoming less religious, less nationalistic and thus more adults than "boys" so to speak.
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This was the case in other sports as well. A famous case in baseball was in the Yankees organization where Mickey Mantle was regarded as the "All American Boy." You probably don't know that Mickey didn't exactly like being known as a "boy" and he didn't like the howdy-doody persona one bit. In a famous 1973 letter (shown to the left) when asked to speak about his favorite Yankee moment, Mantle responded that it was that one time he got head from some chick in the bullpen in right field, and he sarcastically signed the letter as "The All American Boy."

Wrestling noticed a drop in sales due to their "All American Boy" champion not drawing the crowd's support as it once did. Backlund was made to lose the belt to the Iron Sheik (who in turn lost it to the body building hollywood rockstar 80s babyface Hulk Hogan) and by the year 1984 Backlund faded out of wrestling, into obscurity, into the the no-man's land of "has-beens."

The Hokey Dokies and Howdy Doodies time in the sun was over. These rinky-dinks weren't entertaining anyone and were quickly being regarded as ultra-lame by the society they were meant to be accepted by.

Reemergence and Total Character 180

Backlund was out of wrestling for a full decade before making this appearance in the squared circle in 1994,

I was about 11 years old in 1994 and I saw this bit as some kind of boring little tribute to some old dinosaurs from when wrestling was super boring and stupid. Then Backlund comes out and goes on some angry vicious diatribe culminating with him putting the poor old Arnold Skaaland in the dreaded chicken wing arm-lock! What the fuck is he doing!?

The All American Boy had lost his marbles. This wasn't a one time isolated appearance either, he went on a nation wide chicken-wing RAMPAGE in which he put announcers, managers, wrestlers, fans, old dudes, and just about everyone under the sun in the divine unbreakable arm-lock. No one was safe from this mentally unstable kook and his patented chicken wing.

All-American Bow-Tie?
He wore these silly bathrobes that looked like they were made in the 1930s...he looked like a relic from a past age that was dug up by an archeologist. He still wore the American flag on his person...but as a bow tie.

The bow tie is like the encapsulation of lame, no one can look tough or bad ass in a bow tie. Yes, Bob Backlund still represented America but now he was an encapsulation of everything that was wrong with it. He was a status-quo conservative backlash that wanted to place all of society in a cross-faced chicken-wing and caste it in place so it would never change. He basically wanted to put all of America into 1930s bathrobes and force them to read the dictionary 24 hours a day.

He displayed ultra-conservative views of morality and preached that society was a mess that needed intervention. He was like a fire-brand preacher spraying ludicrous invective on anyone who would approach him, observe:

Bob is now the ugly side of America...he's a living embodiment of the John Birch Society. Hold up though, did you notice something in that clip above? That he's got the belt? Yeah, in 1994 Bob was once again the Champion. Yup, the megalomaniac chicken-wing madman was now the most popular wrestler on the circuit. I'll say this right now, Bob Backlund was my favorite wrestler in that era, hands down. He was entertaining as hell.

He's a criminally insane old man...but he's so darned likeable. It was so weird to watch him look at his hands (sorta like Ren used to on Ren and Stimpy) after the aftermath of a chicken wing atrocity just took place.



Fast forward to 2012,

Look who rises up from the ashes to challenge today's heroes...it's a relic from the past. A beloved relic from the past who the fans cheer for and chant his name. Bob Backlund is an icon, maybe even a folk hero.

Is he an icon for being the rinky dinkin' howdy doodin' All America Boy? No. He's an icon for portraying a criminally insane status-quo obsessed homogenized pasteurized marauding psychopath who wants to put today's society into a permanent cross faced chicken wing.

In Conclusion

Not through patriotism did Backlund achieve love and acceptance from society...he achieved his L&A through good old fashioned satirical kookery.

So next time you see an old bastard in a bathrobe, slicking his hair back with Wild Root Cream Oil, kicking cats around, speaking in tongues, and putting random passersby into vintage submission holds...don't hate on him, just see him as a window into the past...a chilling past where everyone was crazy.

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