Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal: The Burning Pants of Popular Culture by Stuart Millard

November 1, 2019

Millard peels back the curtain on the peddlers of tall tales and fantastical bunk, in those subcultures where the nature of truth is subjective. From pro wrestling’s funhouse mirror world of kayfabe, there’s the method-acted insanity of Brian Pillman, and the mad lies of Hulk Hogan. Martial arts gives us super-spy movie stars, deadly men like Count Dante, who can explode your heart from fifty paces, and the strange, forgotten story of James Hydrick, telekinetic Kung Fu cultist; the man no prison could hold. In the paranormal realm, we’ve Derek Acorah, and the spectacular rise and lurid public fall of Most Haunted. Plus, the BBC’s Ghostwatch, a hoax that became the cultural bogeyman for an entire generation of Brits. And could Bill Murray really be putting headlocks on the strangers of New York? And just what is his connection to Purple Aki?

This isn’t a wrestling book as such, but pro wrestling makes up a key part of it, both directly and tangentially. It’s a collection of accounts of a variety of celebrities and other public figures who, for one reason or another, have engaged in bending or breaking the truth.

Two chapters deal directly with wrestling. One attempts to comprehensively list the lies and exaggerations offered by Hulk Hogan in media appearances and books. It’s a perhaps impossible task, but gathered together like this even a small selection of his fibs makes for amazing reading.

The second wrestling chapter puts together one of the most detailed accounts of Brian Pillman’s “Loose Cannon” period in which he tried to fool fans, wrestlers and promoters alike with his supposed insanity and refusal to follow the script. Rather than just poke fun at the more outlandish moments, the book explores both the genius and flaws of Pillman, who was dead less than 18 months later.

The rest of the book deals with topics you may not be familiar with, but are sure to interest anyone fascinated by wrestling’s world of kayfabe. There are in-depth looks at infamous spoof documentary Ghostwatch and supposed psychic show Most Haunted, pieces on the myths of the supposed martial arts gurus, and the amazing story of grade one bullshitter and alleged psycho-kinetic practitioner James Hydrick.

In every case it’s some of the most complete looks at the subject you’ll find anywhere, and whatever side of the Atlantic you lie on, it’s the ones you aren’t already familiar with that may prove the most fascinating.

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