Anatomy of a Promo: Dusty Rhodes – Livin’ on the End of a Lightning Bolt

Context: Before this promo aired in 1986 on Jim Crockett’s World Championship Wrestling, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and Ole Anderson had an eight year on-and-off rivalry dating back to their days in Georgia Championship Wrestling.  They were on opposite sides of plenty of tag team battles through 1978-79 until Ole Anderson slowly started to learn the error of his ways and “befriended” Dusty.  They had a tag team match against The Assassins inside a steel cage. Each team was able to choose a special referee. The Assassins chose Ivan Koloff, another former Dusty rival, and Dusty and Ole choose Gene Anderson, Ole’s kayfabe brother. Once the cage door was closed, all the men jumped Dusty in what became known as “The Big Turn,” which turned into a feud that set the territory on fire.  Years after, in late 1985, the original Four Horsemen formed, which consisted of Ric Flair, Ole & Arn Anderson, and Tully Blanchard, broke Dusty’s hand and his ankle in two separate instances, and this once again ignited a feud with Ole Anderson.

Transcript: Ya know, for seven, eight, nine years, Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream, and Ole Anderson done battled throughout this country.  It’s always been a way with Ole Anderson and Dusty Rhodes to cripple me or hurt somebody. The American Dream seems to be something he don’t wanna believe in.  He’s stuck in this redneck attitude about the way the country should be, about what should happen. You know whether you’re black, white, green, yellow, it has never mattered to the American Dream, and he has always went on television and said he believes in one way, I believe in the other.  He’s a bigamist. He’s bigger than life, he’s a redneck, he is nothing more than Ole Anderson. He laid up in Wisconsin with a broken leg feeling sorry for his self.  Now, once again he comes, try to tear my ear off and get into my personal, ya understand?

Now when you play the dozens with Dusty Rhodes through the years, you know that something gotta happen. He say, “Dusty Rhodes, this is me and you, this is the end.”  All the skeptics in television land, all you people that are interested in watching the comedies on Saturday mornin’ and think it’s wrestling got to get on this right here, this is the real deal.  This is the American Dream Dusty Rhodes, this is my livelihood, this is the way I make my livin’ day in day out and for every skeptic, every lawyer, there are twenty million people daily that love professional wrestling, that love Dusty Rhodes The American Dream, and believe the way I do.

You think, Ole Anderson, for one minute, I’m gonna tell this guy over here, this little bitty kid no matter what color he is, there’s not a real American Dream out there, that you can’t reach out in life and be the best you can and go through this life, like Dusty Rhodes, livin’ on the end of a lightning bolt, nurturing wounds, and offering up my innocence?  And every time I do what you do, you pay me back in scorn. Well, the fans say come here, Dream, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.  That’s what it’s all about, Ole.  If it’s me and you, if this is the end, if it’s all over, if it’s no mas, no more, then let’s go for it. Let’s go for it. Leave no stone unturned, leave no rock not thrown, and no glass broken. If this the end, I’m glad it’s me and you. Ain’t that the way it should be, hoss?  You got it, Jack.

Why It Works:  The biggest strength of this promo is Dusty’s use of emotional appeals to the value diversity and, ultimately, unity.  First, he characterizes Ole Anderson as a “redneck” who thinks there is a specific “way the country should be.”  Dusty then clearly labels him a bigot (although he accidentally says “bigamist”), which is antithetical to “the American Dream.”  Dusty, who took the nickname “The American Dream” because he feels he embodies the concept, says that it doesn’t matter if someone is “black, white, green, yellow” when it comes to deserving respect and being successful.  In discussing these matters, Dusty is clearly trying to draw minority fans and progressives to his cause be appealing to diversity.  He takes the the appeal further by incorporating other languages and slang into the promo.  At one point, he uses the Spanish, “no mas,” and at another, he uses the phrase, “playing the dozens,” which is African-American slang for “talking trash.”  By including these, he is showing knowledge of and respect for the culture.  His delivery also has a strong black influence on it as Dusty, in a fairly well-known story now, used to sneak into black churches on Sundays when he was growing up in Texas, and this is where he learned to give speeches.  His fast-paced and off-the-cuff delivery, occasionally elongating a word,  then suddenly slowing down into a slower rhythm at times to emphasize a point has much in common with traditional black preachers as does his delivery of “and every time I do what you do” where he clips his syllables so tightly that they trip over one another.  Towards the end of the promo, he brings this appeal together with another appeal toward unity and community when he says that “the fans” offer him “shelter.”  The fans, no matter their race or ethnicity look out for the American Dream, just as “The American Dream” looks out for them.

Dusty also uses alliteration, consonance, assonance, and rhyme to give extra flourish.  The most noticeable rhyme is when he slows down and says, “And every time I do what you do, you pay me back in scorn. Well, the fans say come here, Dream, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”  Dusty emphasizes the rhyme of “scorn” and “storm” here, but the alliteration, consonance, and assonance, which are highlighted above (alliteration and consonance in bold, assonance in italics), are notable as well and allows the words to flow more smoother and become more memorable.  Examples of alliteration and consonance litter the promo from start to finish, even the most famous line, “livin‘ on the end of a lightning bolt.”

Moreover, he adds strength by strategically using repetition, a common oratory tactic, throughout.  The times he repeats specific words and phrases are fairly obvious, but Dusty often uses a specific form of repetition called anaphora, which is when the same word or phrase is used at the beginning of clauses to emphasis them and make them more memorable.  One of the most notable historical examples is Dr. Martin Luther King starting sentences with “I have a dream” in his famous Washington speech.  Dusty uses this is a more realistic, less stylistic, but still calculated way.  For instance, he  says near the end, “If it’s me and you, if this is the end, if it’s all over, if it’s no mas, no more, then let’s go for it. Let’s go for it.”  He begins each clause with “if” to extend the thought and push the “then” clause out further.  It builds anticipation and and places more emphasis on that “then” clause.  He even repeats the message of the “then” clause twice, “let’s go for it.”  He does this in other times during the promo, such as in the beginning talking about Ole, saying, “he’s” this, “he’s” that, “he’s” that.  In another part of the promo, Dusty implores, “All the skeptics in television land, all you people that are interested in watching the comedies on Saturday mornin’ and think it’s wrestling got to get on this right here, this is the real deal.  This is the American Dream Dusty Rhodes, this is my livelihood, this is the way I make my livin’ day in day out.”  Dusty here is using the anaphoric device, “this,” as an appositive, a word that refers to a noun or phrase used to redefine another noun, to redefine what “real deal” means.  In this case, “real deal” means his and his family’s survival.

Finally, Dusty displays the key attributes of a babyface hero: he shows confidence in himself yet still shows a measured respect to his rival.  Early on, Dusty mentions that Ole “laid up in Wisconsin with a broken leg feeling sorry for his self.”  Dusty at this point had had his fair share of injuries, many of which Ole had helped cause.  By saying this, he is implying that he himself never felt sorry for himself during those injuries.  Instead, he accepted his fate and came back to fight.  Later, he defines the American Dream as reaching out in life and being “the best you can.”  This is where the titular, “livin’ on the end of a lightning bolt” line comes into play.  Dusty is showing the utmost confidence in himself.  He is the best he can and always makes a dramatic impact on his surroundings.  This the the type of confidence older babyfaces exhibited that made fans believe in them.  Yet, despite that confidence, it’s not arrogance.  At the end of the promo, he says that if this is the end of the feud between the two men, “I’m glad it’s me and you. Ain’t that the way it should be, hoss?”  Dusty is implying that despite being the best he can be, he might lose this war, and if he does, then he’s glad it’s his opponent.  This shows not only some measure of respect for his rival but also a sense of humility.  His confidence is not ego, not overconfidence, but simply a belief in himself.  He accepts the possibility of defeat just as he accepted his injuries.

Dusty’s delivery is extemporaneous as opposed to scripted, and that shows throughout parts of the promo where he misspeaks (e.g. “bigamist”) and stumbles on his words, but the positives of that delivery style is that it increases the realism of the message as fans truly believe Dusty’s passion and it also makes him seem like any other person that misspeaks on a daily basis.  He utilizes techniques of the preacher, the poet, and the politician to generate a promo that might live on for the one phrase, “livin’ on the edge of a lightning bolt,” but serves as a master class of message and delivery.

 

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