April 18, 2009
City Of South Charleston:”We don’t need that kind of business here.”
In an unexpected move, South Charleston recently informed IWA East Coast, the internationally-known wrestling federation, that they would no longer be allowed to use The South Charleston Community Center as a location for their events. This decision blindsided IWA EC, who have been running events in the building for four years without incident. Reportedly, a single complaint about language at the March 22 wrestling show was the reason given for the decision, but Mayor Frank Mullins and city manager Carlton Lee now claim that there have been several complaints in recent months, though they could not actually produce anything formal or written.
Kevin Canady (also known as Mad Man Pondo, the owner of IWA East Coast) denies ever receiving any complaints from the city about the content of their shows.”We were never told of any complaints by anyone from the city before the last show, If they’d said anything to us, we would have bent over backwards to comply. Our final show featured no bad language what so ever.”
I spoke with Lee, and he contends that the language and violence at the IWA shows has grown increasingly less family-friendly over the last few months. As someone who has attended nearly every IWA event since 2005, I can tell you first-hand that this utter nonsense. IWA has never pretended to be family-friendly, and anyone who has seen their DVDs knows that. If anything, recent shows have been toned-down in terms of language and violence. What appears to have happened is that someone high up in city government took offense at the fact that wrestling was being held on city property, and acted to remove it because it brought the “wrong kind of people” into town.
The language argument is laughable, considering the extremely foul tongues of the basketball players who were on the courts behind the Community Center at a recent show. As WVU place kicker Pat McAfee (who wrestled at that show) put it, “I never heard teen-aged girls cuss like that!” I’ve also heard some pretty “R-rated” language coming from the weight room and the pool area. This is the real world, and where ever young people gather, coarse language can be expected.
As someone who has gotten to know the behind-the-scenes crew at IWA EC, as well as many of the workers at the South Charleston Community Center, I can say that I was not aware of any problems the city had prior to the March 22 show. IWA East Coast was never given a chance to address the city’s concerns.
Mullins and Lee are within their rights to hand down an arbitrary decision to boot a business out of town, but they shouldn’t hide behind a fiction to justify it. IWA East Coast has not grown progressively worse, as Lee contends. Canady reminded me, “Our first show there featured J.C. Bailey and me in a barb-wire ropes match.” This is a sudden change of city policy, nothing more, nothing less. South Charleston has made a decision during hard economic times that will hurt the restaurant and hotel industry in their town, as well as lessen their own tax income.
I asked Lee point-blank how South Charleston, which has launched a PR campaign promoting how friendly they are to business, could afford to run a business out of town that generates thousands of dollars for the hotel and food industry and attracts tourists from all fifty states as well as Japan, Germany and Australia. His response was telling, “We don’t need that kind of business here.”
“That kind of business.” Well, there’s your problem. And it’s my problem, too. While preparing this story, I ran into a bit of a brick wall. While many city employees were eager to talk off the record, not one person felt that they could speak freely to me on the record and keep their job. Morale is pretty low in the former “Chemical City.” The fact that the city is turning away an event which has brought thousands of people into the city over the last few years is seen as another example of how out-of-touch the city management has been since Richie Robb stepped down as mayor.
The picture I have pieced together is not a pretty one. One of the prevailing sentiments among the city workers that I spoke to is that, ever since the city took over running the former Kanawha Country Club, city government has grown to have more of a country club mentality, with more than one city worker comparing the mayor and city council to the Ted Knight-led country club managment in the movie “Caddyshack.”
The city workers loved IWA East Coast. They paid their rent and taxes on time, put on a great show, and brought in money from all over the world. The South Charleston Community Center, previously known primarily for looking like a giant bosom, gained world-wide recognition via the IWA East Coast DVDs. City policemen would jockey to get assigned to patrol the events because they had such a good time working the shows. At the last two events, there were never less than five, and sometimes more than ten uniformed South Charleston city police present, all of them laughing and enjoying themselves. When told of the decision to boot IWA from the building, a couple of the Community Center employees were near tears. They loved the fact that IWA brought famous wrestlers and athletes like WVU’s leading scorer, Pat McAfee to South Charleston. And nobody sold concessions for the community center like IWA did.
But someone in city government didn’t care. They didn’t care that IWA EC generated thousands of dollars for business. They didn’t care that they put South Charleston on the map as a place where people got to see Pat McAfee, WWE’s Eugene and Billy Gunn and other world-famous wrestling personalities. The powers that be didn’t care that Necrobutcher, who is featured in the Golden Globe award winning movie, “The Wrestler,” made dozens of appearances at the Community Center. They didn’t care that IWA EC gave young people someplace to go and enjoy themselves. What the City of South Charleston cared about was that IWA East Coast was “that kind” of business, and they brought “those kind” of people into the city.
Mayor Mullins has made it clear in emails to several fans that this matter is closed. The city is inflexible and IWA East Coast will not be welcomed back to South Charleston. I have heard rumblings that the city has also given a hard time to some of the acts that appear at The LaBelle Theater, too. That’s why South Charleston is rapidly gaining a reputation as the censorship capitol of the Kanawha Valley.I guess wrestling was too avant-garde for the current city leaders. It’s a shame that the IWA fan base, who freely spent their money in the city without causing any trouble, has been labelled an “undesirable element” by the mayor and his immediate underlings.
That seems to be the root of the problem. The fans of IWA were not the type of people that the current administration of the city wanted to attract. Maybe they were too vocal, or had too many tattoos, or were too fat, or their presence was offensive to the people who run the city. For whatever reason, IWA EC has been asked to leave what had become their home base. It’s not the end of the world. IWA will thrive where ever they wind up. I’m sure that somewhere out there someone has a nice facility and won’t mind bringing tons of money into their community. IWA East Coast is holding their next show May 6 at Skateland in Campbell’s Creek (Necrobutcher will be there along with many other top names), and IWA’s owner, Mad Man Pondo, is mulling over several offers.
It is sad to see IWA leave the community center. It was easy to get to, being right off the interstate. It was the perfect size for IWA East Coast, It’s a great building, with wonderful amenities, a hard-working staff staff and ample parking. Too bad about the location.
Maybe IWA East Coast can make a return to South Charleston someday when a more business-friendly administration is in City Hall.
Run Wild With No Pants Saturday Night
The No Pants Players return to the La Belle Theater Saturday with yet another fine evening of improv comedey in the vein of “Who’s Line Is It, Anyway?”
The NPP have recently added three new members to their troupe, and one of them will be on display Saturday night. Hopefully, they will not repeat the mistake of putting him or her on display in an air-tight glass case, as that has resulted in some unfortunate incidents in the past.
If you haven’t been to one of the No Pants Players shows, you’ll be in for quite a treat. Troupe members play “games” where they have to act out situations, incorporated suggestions from the audience. So you can sit in the theater and yell things like “Henry Kissinger,” “Wankle Rotary Engine,” and “Galvanized aluminum turkey baster’ without being asked to leave, like they do when you yell those things during a Light Opera Guild show.
The No Pants Players show starts at 8 PM at the Historic La Belle Theater on D Street in South Charleston. Admission is a mere six bucks. I’ll be there, unless the mayor has armed guards turn me away at the city limits.
Them Paintings Sure Do Sing Purty
The CYAC production “Norman Rockwell’s American Paradise” can be seen this weekend and next at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater on Summers Street in Charleston. If you’ve seen this week’s Radio Free Charleston, you were treated to one song, “The Right To Know,” courtesy of the very large cast of this show. “American Paradise” brings to life several famous paintings by America’s master artist, Norman Rockwell, through song and clever staging. Written by Dan Kehde, with music by Mark Scarpelli, this show features dozens of the area’s brightest young talents performing a wonderful, locally-produced, work of theater. I’ll be at tonight’s show, after shooting host segments for RFC 67.
The show starts at 8 PM tonight and tomorrow, and there’s a matinee Sunday at 2 PM. Next week, you can catch “American Paradise” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM at the Capitol Center Theater. Tickets are $9.50 for adults, with discounts for seniors and students.
Cool Comic Of The Week
The Doom Patrol was the DC Comics superhero group that never got any respect. In the comic book, a wheelchair-bound genius gathered together a group of people who were gifted with amazing powers in accidents that left them branded as freaks. Under his guidance, they were able to get past their disabilities and do good in the world. Though celebrated as heroes, Elasti-Girl, Negative Man, and Robotman were always treated as sideshow freaks and were never fully accepted by society.
They never really got a fair shake by comics fans, either. Though they were first published a few months earlier (in 1963), many fans considered them an imitator of Marvel’s “The X Men.” Both teams featured heroes who were considered outcasts, but were gathered together by a wheelchair-bound genius. With the X Men it was Professor Xavier. The Doom Patrol was lead by “The Chief,” Dr. Niles Caulder. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would prefer The X Men over The Doom Patrol. The X Men, after a first issue by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, was handed off to a rotating crew of lesser talents, and was widely considered one of Marvel’s “B Titles,” if not a “C” level book. The Doom Patrol, on the other hand, featured highly-evolved scripts by the versatile Arnold Drake, and incredible artwork by the sadly-overlooked Bruno Premiani.
The 1960s Doom Patrol comics hold up really well. The early X Men comics don’t. It wasn’t until a major reboot in 1975 (by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, followed by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) that The X Men became a powerhouse title. Sadly, The Doom Patrol didn’t get so lucky. In the final issue of their comic book, they were killed off. In an unusual move for comic books, most of them have stayed dead for the last forty years. New teams built around the surviving member, Robotman, have had short runs over the years (notably a Vertigo Comics series written by Grant Morrison) but none of matched the success of The X Men.
But the original comic book, the Arnold Drake/Bruno Premiani masterpieces, those hold up really well, and DC Comics has reprinted a ton of them in their black-and-white :”Showcase” series. This 500-plus page collection reprints the first 22 stories of The Doom Patrol, along with the covers of those comics. This book has been cited as a major influence by artists like Mike Allred (Madman, Rocket Red) and Darwyn Cooke (New Frontier and The Spirit). You should seek out this collection and catch up on one of the most under-rated comic books of all time.
Next Week In PopCult
Next week we’ll have our usual features, Sunday Evening Videos and Monday Morning Art, plus the production notes for Radio Free Charleston’s 67th episode, and if I can find more hours in the day, you will get to see the long-gestating return of “Cool Toy Of The Week.” Until then, read the blog, watch the show, and leave comments. The PopCulteer is a work in progress, and I’m open to suggestions on how to improve it, or how to make it worse, if that’s what you’re interested in.