Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Bleeding-Heart Cosmopolitan Appeal of a DDT

Hey again Sam!

Will have to keep this quick as I'm at work. But I had to post this.

So National Media, a republican polling firm, did a study of sports fandom as broken down by political affiliation. Most results were predictable. Republicans/Centrists dominate most fan bases. Except for a handful: NBA, Tennis, Soccer, and

professional wrestling.

Think about that. Pull a section of a crowd at a RAW taping and pull a section of a crowd at a baseball game, and there is a strong probability there are more liberals in the former.

Now there is somewhat of an easy way out for this : they're predominantly young, which means they skew liberal and seldom vote, case closed.

But there is more to this. First, there was strong enough interest in this class at a higher-educational institution like MIT, whose makeup is pretty liberal. Deadspin (part of the Gawker blog network popular with the hipster crowd) has a Dead Wrestler of the Week feature, drawing in tens of thousands of pageviews (most usually get <10K). Most wrestling fans/writers/bloggers we interacted with were liberal or measured and apolitical at most. We spent months dissecting the theatrical aspects of wrestling events, which can be classified as a pretty liberal pursuit. The wrestlers who are the most over aren't those with the best moveset and the clearest identification with the concepts of good and evil. It's Randy Orton, HHH, CM Punk, and Cena v. 3.0, the gray characters who can deliver a great 5-minute rant.

Whether this result has shifted over time now that the WWE style of presentation has become the norm, and everyone is generally in on the act now, I cannot say. But it is worth mentioning:

Wrestling is not the regional cultural relic of good ol' boy tea partiers. Nor can it just be classified as the new haven for disaffected youth. It speaks to something much more broad.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Viva las Cholitas!

Hey Sam,

I know that we haven't posted to this since even before the Benoit tragedy, but I wanted to share this article with any of those who stop by the blog still. Nat Geo covered a wrestling league on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia, and how women wrestlers use their position to overcome the barriers of tradition and culture that women face in South American life.

The league generally keeps to your more traditional good and evil "separate and simplified sphere of reality" storylines like we saw during the regional days, but there's a twinge of self-reflexivity in there too. I like how the lady heels say "I'm the ones the gringos came to see!"

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/wrestlers/guillermoprieto-text

Enjoy!

Monday, May 21, 2007

WWE and High-Def

I thought you might be interested in one of my latest Convergence Culture Consortium pieces here.

"Jumped the same shark as fonzi"

Well, traffic on the blog has died down for a while now especially now that the required postings are complete. The last few weeks have allowed me to reflect on what I have gained from participating as a listener and what - after all this time - has stayed the same for me as a fan.

It's interesting because tonight my friend went to go watch the Judgment Day PPV and he made the comment that I mentioned in the title. Yes, it seems a lot of the show was downright awful. Add to this a number of recent firings, key injuries, and the general disintegration of the 3 separate show structure with WWE, and I'm left feeling like I did well before the class: wrestling is on life support (or a change has got to come).

Yes, now I understand more about what aspects of the show have origins in carnival, how injury send-off angles depict a sacrifice of the body, why fans like the townies at Good Times insist on chanting at the TV screen and why my friends like to razz on them, and how it all ties into the need to sell t-shirts. I think I will approach wrestling in a more thoughtful way. However, it appears I'm still going to spend a majority of my time bitching about how it could be better.

Not that I expected the class to make me a radically different type of fan, or even just a better one. That was part of the class disclaimer, as I remember. I just felt it important to note that for all that has changed, not much really has.

I wanted to thank Sam and the rest of you for letting me come in on Monday nights and add my two cents in, even when I had scarcely any clue about the most recent readings. It's the first time I was a part of any blog community, and I think we did get to develop our own cast of characters and get some discussion going back and forth. Good luck to everyone still taking finals and writing theses. I've enjoyed my time with you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Another of my segments from UCW

Here is the transcript of another of my scenes from the wrestling promotion back in Kentucky.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Notes from Sheldon Goldberg

Sheldon Goldberg sent along a message to be put up on the blog that gives some background to his work on the independent scene. He also suggested folks read his short blog posts here and here.

From Sheldon:

Thank you to all you MIT students for reading this. I suggested to Sam, that since class time is limited and the subject matter so broad, I would give you some links to some of my blog posts and this document you’re reading now. The blog posts cover the subject of “independent wrestling” – what it is, what that broad and general term means and what that expansive category contains. This document will be specific to my company, New England Championship Wrestling – how and why it started, what its goals are and what we’ve gone through along the way.

Some of what I’d also like to touch on with you is the future of this professional wrestling business as I envision it.

I am really looking forward to meeting you all in person and getting further in depth on some of these topics that I’ll be covering with you.

Before I get down to business, let me say that you have had an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the sport and business of professional wrestling from some of the greatest members of its ranks. I told Sam Ford in a recent e-mail, that you’ve probably had more and better schooling on pro wrestling than a good deal of the people who are actually in it. Following J.R. and Mick Foley might seem like a daunting task, but I find that to be an exciting prospect and look forward to some well-informed dialogue.

Introduction to NECW – Playing The Changes

NECW was established in 2000. Prior to its formation, I had been in business with the late “Boston Bad Boy” Tony Rumble – a wrestler, manager and commentator for Mario Savoldi’s ICW promotion, which had national TV syndication in the late 80’s. After breaking away from Savoldi, Rumble started his own local promotion, initially called the Century Wrestling Alliance and later became NWA New England, the New England branch of the National Wrestling Alliance.

With the major territories disappearing and no controlling regional presence to take their place, anything other than WWF or WCW was considered “independent wrestling.” The absence of established wrestling companies promoting locally and regionally did two things: It lowered the entry standards, so that basically anyone who could put together a group of wrestlers, rent a ring and a building, could be a wrestling promoter. It also created an opportunity for those with the skills and knowledge to fill a niche that had been left behind by the national expansion era of pro wrestling.

Taking advantage of these changes in the landscape of pro wrestling would not be an easy task, as almost every aspect of the business had changed. In fact, you could say it was a whole new business entirely.

In 2000, when NECW started up, the local wrestling scene was in a pretty mediocre state. Prior to this, what passed for “independent wrestling” in this area were shows presented mostly by a few promoters who specialized in “sold shows” or “bought shows” as some describe them. The formula was simple. Take one or two or four ex-WWF wrestlers and put them in the main event. Use local wrestlers, mostly wrestling school students, as filler to populate the rest of the card. Sell the events as fundraisers to local police, fire departments, school booster clubs, etc. for a fixed price which includes a profit, and bingo, you are a wrestling promoter with no risk. Shows where the promoter actually rented a venue and sold tickets were not unheard of, but they were not the norm.

In the late 1990’s, the game was changed. It was a combination of factors. WWF started to keep their talent under wraps and not allowing them to take these “third party bookings,” which was the term they used for independent dates. The arrival of DX and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and their rise in popularity, which included children mimicking the crotch chop and “flipping the bird,” made local schools ban the wearing of WWF T-shirts and the decision to keep wrestling events out of local high schools, where most of these “sold show” events were held. The fundraising shows began to dry up and it was clear – at least to me – that promoting wrestling locally meant re-examining the business model and using a different approach.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Wrestling Company

NECW was started based on an idea that was almost completely against the conventional wisdom of the time. That idea was to recreate the concept of the “wrestling territory” as a local organization using almost exclusively local talent with locals in the lead roles. The events would be held in small venues (500 or less seats) and run on a regular basis, eventually creating a “circuit” of towns, with cheap ticket prices. The shows themselves would be storyline driven and not just a collection of matches. It would be marketed town-by-town on a grass roots basis, with the idea of building a loyal local following.

The easiest way to fully grasp what was being done here is to break it down two ways. There is the wrestling side and the business side.

On the wrestling side, New England was and is an area that produced a lot of pro wrestlers. Killer Kowalski, the legendary villain from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, had one of the first widely known wrestling schools in the country based here in the Boston area. (Kowalski ran numerous “sold shows” off of the students from his school and even had a local TV show for a brief period in the early 80’s.) The school attracted students from all over the country and even some from overseas. Kowalski boasts an alumni that includes some who went on to become big stars in the business, such as Triple H, Big John Studd, Chyna, Perry Saturn and Chris Nowinski. The school also produced local wrestlers some of whom would then go off and open up their own schools. The result was a lot of wrestlers in the area and a significant talent pool to draw from.

On the business side, New England, which was always a top drawing area for the old WWWWF (precursor to the WWF and later WWE), had a great built in fan base. In later years, when ECW would tour to New England, the major cities in the area were always top grossing towns. Even the sold shows that went to suburban towns once a year traditionally drew well. The fans were definitely here.

With the perception of pro wrestling being dominated and dictated by WWE, and the enormous media platform and high level production values that drive that perception, there was real fear that without name stars or TV exposure to create them, that our company wouldn’t draw fans in any great number. Being on TV, when we started, was a simple matter of paying out money to buy a time slot on a local station and supplying them with a tape every week. The problem was that the cost of the time was too high given our economics and the time that TV stations were going to sell you was time that they couldn’t sell or program with anything else, which generally means fringe time when no one is watching TV.

The goal of NECW was to have a circuit of towns run monthly, along with a TV show to support it. It was clear to me very early on that the company was going to have to be grown to reach those goals and that it would take years and patience.

Much of what was done with NECW was patterned after the business model for minor league sports teams with adjustments made for the unique requirements of pro wrestling. As a fan, I wanted to recapture the fan experience of going to the matches on a regular basis and following the story from month to month. There are three keys to the business of NECW:

• Intimacy – NECW presents a wrestling event that is up close and personal, creating an experience that WWE, or any other arena attraction, cannot duplicate.

• Affordability – Like minor league baseball, inexpensive admission is a major key to attracting families with children and making them repeat customers. A recent study published in local newspapers stated that for a family of four to attend a Boston Red Sox game, including parking, refreshments and souvenirs, the cost was $318. The cost for a WWE event is approximately $180. For the same family of four, the cost to see an NECW event is roughly $50.

• Availability – With the locations of our events in suburban area armories, we are able to target those specific areas and the surrounding towns. Families can attend events closer to where they live, eliminating the hassle of driving into Boston and having to find paid parking.

Combine those three elements and you have a very potent combination.

Problems and Patience

The NECW business model did not develop without problems that had to be faced and handicaps that had to be conquered.

Talent: While there were plenty of wrestlers in the area, there was no precedent for what NECW was trying to do. The concept of “local stars” was non-existent. Very few of the talent locally understood the idea of working main events and being the focal point of the promotion. This was a problem that only time has begun to solve. Now, as we close in on seven years of operation, we are seeing “stars” develop from within our ranks that can carry the company in the leading roles. At the same time, there are a lot more companies in the area trying to do what we do. Oftentimes talent is pulled in different directions, though we have managed to stay fairly consistent.

Advertising/PR: Small venues equal small grosses and with Boston being a major media market, the city and surrounding suburbs are high prices when it comes to finding mainstream advertising outlets. Radio is so expensive in Boston, that the cost of a decent schedule far exceeds what a typical event can gross. The negative image of pro wrestling also hurts when it comes to publicity in the mainstream media. While NECW is the most-publicized company of its kind in the region by a very wide margin, free publicity is never easy to get and never a predictable resource.

TV: Television is the life blood of pro wrestling. Without it, you must rely on grass roots effort, street promotion, and whatever advertising you can afford. Without it, it is impossible to truly establish the stories and personalities that comprise the promotion.

Again, I realized early on that solving these issues would take time and patience, as well as some creative solutions.

Answers an Inch at a Time

In a grass roots business like NECW, problems are solved by having a clear set of goals and a path mapped out to reach them. Sometimes that path is traveled in feet and inches and not miles.

Early on in NECW, I knew that the company needed to establish an aura of credibility to be able to grow and flourish. That aura of credibility was demonstrated, first in the wrestling product itself, which was storyline driven and presented seriousl

Secondly, we needed publicity of the right kind. Relationships I’d built up with local media through the years yielded some good stories focused on the NECW as a company. All press was geared as much toward the promotion as possible and not about the wrestlers themselves. This was because the wrestlers changed constantly.

Minor league baseball people will tell you that the most important figure on a minor league team in the mascot, but that’s the only consistent personality present on the team from year to year. In NECW, I filled the role of the mascot – company spokesman, “rule maker and enforcer” in the company storylines, TV announcer and front of the house greeter to those in attendance. There are a multitude of other reasons for me assuming this role – some having to do with convenience and others having to do with wanting to leave a personal impression on our fans.

Lastly, we needed to be on TV. This was going to be the toughest hurdle of all. And while we have not arrived on TV yet, that reaching that goal is eminent. We got to that place by approaching it in a series of steps.

Normally, when a local wrestling promotion wants to be on TV, they first go for local cable access. It’s free and it is TV. The problems with it are that no one really watches it in great number and you have to place the show on systems town by town, which is time consuming and in the end not very effective.

My solution was to go directly to the Internet. Before we had any video up there, our website was attracting roughly 3,000 unique visitors per month – far more than were attending the shows live. It stood to reason that there was interest in our company far beyond the fans we brought in live. By broadcasting matches and conveying the key angles and storylines on an Internet broadcast, we would be opening that window into our business wider to those who were already looking at our site and creating the foundation for an eventual move to conventional television. This was 2004, long before You Tube. In fact, NECW was the first wrestling promotion to produce a weekly original long form TV show specifically for the Internet – a concept that was quickly copied by TNA, WWE and scores of other independent promotions.

I had originally come up with this concept in 1996 when I was working for the late Hiro Matsuda. Matsuda, who was a great wrestler and trainer, as well as a partner in the old Florida territory, had the rights to the TV shows produced by New Japan Pro Wrestling in Tokyo. The shows were edited and re-voiced and syndicated overseas under the name Ring Warriors. We produced a few episodes for the Internet back in 1996 as way to introduce the product to North America, but since few people had Broadband access in 1996, that attempt quickly fizzled. I always knew, even back then, that the Internet would eventually become a viable alternative means of distribution.

NECW TV debuted in November 1994. We even established a separate site – NECW.tv – to host the videos. The concept was an instant success, though not a substitute for conventional TV. It did have a lot of benefits though. The shows get anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 views a week in over 60 countries. The talent now has a platform to get used to the concept of working matches for TV and to develop promo skills. It is also a means to promote our live events and DVD’s.

Present & Future

In 2006, NECW merged with PWF Mayhem, another local promotion to form a unified company that operates under the New England Championship Wrestling name. At that time, we also launched a “sister” promotion – World Women’s Wrestling – which features an all female roster. Triple W, as we call it, is unique for several reasons. It is the only regularly scheduled women’s wrestling promotion in the country. WWW, like NECW, is storyline driven with women in all the roles men portray in a typical pro wrestling promotion.

World Women’s Wrestling was a way to diversify the company without going outside what it normally does. As a product, it was something that was long overdue in my opinion, and the talent base was there to accomplish it. This is another case of having to grow the talent and the business over time, but the enormous publicity received for the launch benefited both NECW & WWW. The women’s matches on NECW cards are now billed as WWW Feature Matches and storylines cross between NECW and WWW events.

Since the merger and the launch of WWW, NECW’s business has grown steadily and substantially to where sellouts are frequent and new towns are being added.

We have recently made substantial investments in video equipment and physical production as we prepare for an eminent move to conventional TV. We are also setting up our own screen printing shop to produce our own T-shirt and other merchandise. DVD sales will be a growth area, as we ramp up our production capabilities and staff.

Last year, we ran a total of 28 live events. This year, we will be closing in on 50 before the year is up.

Closing Thoughts

NECW is, in my view, what the future of pro wrestling is going to be. It is impossible to compete with WWE on their level for many reasons: the buy in would be enormous, an equal TV platform would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain and the competition for talent on that level would be fierce.

The concept of a local/regional wrestling “territory” is viable and getting more viable as time goes on. Changes in television between technology and channel capacity will open up opportunities for those who are savvy enough to be ready to take advantage of them.

Links

There are some entries in my blog – sheldongoldberg.blogspot.com – that cover the subject of independent wrestling that may shed some more light on our discussion for Monday.

You can also look at some of our recent Internet TV shows – NECW.tv – which will give you more of an insight into our product. Our websites – NECWwrestling.com and WorldWomensWrestling.com – are also good resources.

I look forward to seeing you all on Monday.

Sheldon Goldberg
Co-Owner/Promoter
New England Championship Wrestling

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Theatre is a lie!

It doesn't tell the truth!

And that was Plato's problem with the arts in general and theatre in particular.

Plato's problem rested with the act of persuasion and he somehow thought the the multitudes wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the truth and the lie.

I've noticed that a lot of you have been struggling with William Congreve's "the willing suspension of disbelief" concept. Its really quite simple, you are either 'willing' to believe in the story being told or not!

Theatre attempts an act of persuasion through the art of storytelling. You know that no one really dies during a production of Hamlet, but if the actors, designers, directors and stage managers have done their job its a moot point.

Its the art of storytelling and our reception of it that guides us in our quest to be entertained. There are a myriad of actor-audience receptor theories out there, but most of them miss the point: its just more fun if you can buy into the story!

Professional wrestling is no different than theatre. Its 'actor's' are telling a story and you can either buy into it (say, for example, a David and Goliath match) or not.

It all depends on the level of engagement you are willing to provide. And as long as the actor's don't drop the ball/line/cue, the level is where-ever you want to place it.

Theatre and professional wrestling are both a lie, but then again so is Santa Claus and we all know how much fun it was to believe in that kind of magic.

Thanks for listening and good luck in your journey through academia.

See you at the turnbuckle,

david

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

the wrestling body

As I get further into my research topic, I'm amazed at how well the discourse of the body in art applies to the wrestling. Artists have a dense history, especially post-war, of invoking physical danger to get at some deeper truth or challenge normative body images.
What I didn't realize until very recently, is that artists largely adopt the same strategies of dialectics between face and heel with this work. Some of it is meant to shock, to create disgust or distaste for the artist. This is true of Gina Pane, who engages in acts on her own body that invoke anger or disgust in her audience very deliberately. “Put in the right condition by several months of theoretical preparation (notes, sketches, reading and daily practice of existence), as well as by physical preparation (swallowing rotten meat, prolonged standing over lit candles, physical tension, etc.), the body, having become a thinking and suffering matter, transforms itself in a coadjutant of thought” (Pluchart, 'Risk as the Practice of Thought', 40). Also true Vito Acconci, who places himself under a gallery floor and masturbates to exhaustion/ pain.
On the other hand, we see imaging of the liberated body in art, the body that has been freed of its cultural shackles, that uses instruments or physical force to achieve some greater power than previously identified as possible. We see this with Nauman, Chris Burden, Elizabeth Streb. These are bodies engaged to inspire the collective body to a cultural action.
What is interesting is the level of manipulation of reception and formal signifiers in both the wrestling and the performance art context. In both medium, the body is engaged in a way outside of expectations, making it a discursive body. Though the reception is vastly different, the artist's and the wrestler's bodies are both political palettes, meant for working out their own meanings and cultural implications in a social arena:
“In a sense, destruction art is a warning system, an aesthetic response to human emergency that occurs in the lapse between theory and practice in terminal culture; it presents the pain of bodies, the anxiety of minds, the epistemology of technology, the specious claims of ideology, the absence of ecological responsibility, the loss of human integrity and compassion, and the violence that structures both gender and sexual relations. Just as destruction art is the image of resistance in the form of an even, it is also an important means to survival that must be continuously explored” (Kristine Stiles, “Survival Ethos and Destruction Art”, 1992.229).

Final Thoughts on this Course

Coming into this course, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what wrestling was. I had been a fan for many years and I thought I was pretty knowledgeable in this subject. Now, I see how much more there is to wrestling than just wrestling. Its history spans back to the Greek and Roman empires and has evolved greatly over time. Wrestling also addresses many social issues that might not have been discussed otherwise. By watching and analyzing wrestling on a regular basis, I was able to develop a greater appreciation for wrestling itself.

Originally I thought that wrestling began with the WWE. I started watching wrestling in the early 90s and it was the only wrestling program I knew of. I can see why they would never have mentioned any other wrestling promotion, past or present. The problem with doing this is that wrestling fans may never know the rich history of wrestling or the path wrestling has taken to be what it is today. You are also able to appreciate the pioneers that revolutionized wrestling and were responsible for its early popularity.

Wrestling deals with many social issues that are present in society but are less often addressed. Issues concerning race, sex, politics, and class are just a few that come to mind. The WWE often parodies these issues in a way that is obviously meant to be entertaining, but at the same time allows the audience to make their own judgment on the issue. The way that the fans play as much of a role as the performers, we are show our approval or disproval of different storylines or matches that deal with these topics. The readings in the class helped to give a different perspective on the subject. I was able to make more well-informed judgments after reading different sources and comparing them to my own views. This also made me realize that wrestling could be studied in an academic setting, which would probably make most people laugh at the idea.

I now realize that it is the different styles in wrestling make a wrestling performance unique. I would always look forward to the heavyweights battling in the main even of a PPV and just kind of sit through the other matches to get to it. Only a small fraction of the PPV, however, is actually composed of the main event. The matches before the main event are just as important as the main event itself. You don’t want an audience to be bored by the time the main event comes around so these matches often showcase some of the best talent in wrestling. Hardcore, lucha libre, technical, power, and traditional are the most prevalent styles in wrestling that I can think of. Each one has a different purpose and tells a different story to the audience, which is what I now focus on and appreciate during a performance.

My appreciation for wrestling has dramatically increased in the course of this class. I feel like I have such a greater understanding for the wrestling performance than I ever had. Before, I would watch wrestling mainly for the big matches, storylines, and divas. Now I think that I can watch an entire wrestling show and appreciate every aspect or it. After stepping away from the wrestling scene since I entered college, I now have motivation to continue enjoying what I grew up watching as a kid.

Parody in the WWE

Parody has become a staple of the wrestling program, especially with McMahon as the figurehead of the professional wrestling. As a dramaturgical device, parody is defined as a composition that imitates somebody's style in a humorous way. In wrestling, parody is most interestingly employed as a means to provide social commentary.

Vince McMahon's regime of professional wrestling has consistently taken themes from ongoing political/social affairs and transmuted them into gimmicks for old and new wrestlers. Almost every major current issue and event over the past years has seen itself become a part of the farce that is the McMahon style of professional wrestling.

Though McMahon's tactics are certainly not new, they do push the envelope of what is considered socially acceptable--would we, could we expect any less.

The wrestling character JBL (John Bradshw Layfield) is a prime example of the WWE's attempt at social commentary. It makes fun of the right wing conservative politician by completely blowing up his views and making him extremely close minded. JBL's character makes us realize how ridiculuous some of his very real opinions may be. We are able to take a step back and see this archetypal character in a different light; we can assess the reality of the claims made.

Another example of the WWE's use of parody was the inception of the RTC (Right to Censor) duo. In this case they do something similar to the JBL character making a parody of the idea of their program as a corrupting influence on young viewers. In actuality, the RTC was a way to retaliate to the claims made by a specific group against the WWE--the PTC (Parent Television Council). The WWE was attempting to discredit their claims by ridiculing the PTCs attempts to censor them. Once again, the WWE was putting a new spin on a specific set of beliefs that existed outside the ring.

McMahon often makes the claim that the WWE may never go out of business. It's kind of hard not to believe him when there is so much fuel for his program in the everyday going-ons of society.

Wrestling in Japan

The essay that Sam wrote on the WWE in Japanese culture was interesting because it dealt with a subject that isn’t often talked about. I’ve been a wrestling fan for quite some time and the only thing I had head before about wrestling in Japan is that there was a very large Japanese fan base. It was never really described, however, how the Japanese fans perceived the WWE or what the WWE has done to reach out to the Japanese audience.

The first issue that comes to mind in selling the WWE product to Japan is language. It’s hard to imagine the Japanese audience following an episode of wrestling without some sort of translator. This seems like it would take away from the overall effect of the WWE performance. I’ve watched RAW in Spanish before and it gets distracting sometimes hearing the commentators dub over the wrestlers’ voices. You hear the wrestler’s voice then you hear the commentator’s voice at the same time competing with one another. Even though this is entertaining in itself especially when they imitate female voices, I think that Vince saying “you’re fired” would have more of an impact than a translator saying it. Sam deals with this early on in the paper by describing how Shane kicked the translator off of the stage, by the request of the fans, and proceeded to speak in English. This shows that the language of wrestling can be universal because wrestling deals with universal themes and conflicts.

Another issue that came to mind is storylines in wrestling. A storyline that we as Americans find interesting may not be understood at all in Japan. As we have seen, the WWE does try to include storylines that appeal to its fan bases. With Latino fans, you have Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio and with Japanese fans, as Sam mentioned, you have Tajiri. I thought it was interesting how the WWE would play up Tajiri in Japan and make him seem like he was a bigger wrestler than he actually was, even receiving a title shot in Japan. Looking back on the mid 90’s, I’m curious as to whether Japanese fans knew that Yokozuna, one of the WWE’s top stars, was not Japanese. If they did know that he wasn’t Japanese this might’ve been a source of disinterest for Japanese fans during this period.

With little information known on Japan’s interest in wrestling, Sam’s essay serves as a valuable tool. It is the first step to understanding how other cultures perceive wrestling. As a fan, it’s interesting to see how the wrestling performance can relate to cultures outside of the U.S. and that wrestling has a much bigger following than most people can even imagine.

CMS arsenal

Given the recent discussions revolving around the questions "What is CMS?" I thought it's past due time for a little overview a couple of the background contextualization CMS students would come into the class possessing.

Consensus Media

A consensus media is the dominant media form of a culture, in which conservative, modern, and liberal voices negotiate cultural change and anxieties.

From our current position in history it may be hard to imagine what this means, but consider the age of movies, before television was widespread. Most of the country was at the movies weekly, if not more often, watching the same set of shows, the same set of cartoons and the same sets of news reels. With the advent of television, especially with the broadcast system, the consensus media shifted from the movies to television. Television was more prevalent than movies (it's located in the home) and the limited number of stations meant that every week "I Love Lucy" was being watched by a vast population. Over time, we see development in the way topics are treated in shows. One particular example is the treatment of women: from "I Love Lucy," to "That Girl" to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," we see increased autonomy of the lead female character, and decreased moderation of this liberal perspective (Lucy was always thwarted in her pursuit of fame, and That Girl lived alone, but displayed reliance on her boyfriend and father.)

Once cable comes into the picture the audience becomes fragmented, and it can be said that today the leading media is the internet, which has yet (and may never) take over the role of a consensus media. Evidence for this comes from situations like 9/11, when the nation needs a central place to gather, which was fulfilled by the news organizations, primarily the televised ones.

A consensus media is defined by cultural group, and so we can look for the same trends in any media form, particularly those linked to a particular culture (even down to wrestling.)

Horse and Buggy

The first cars looked a lot like horse drawn carts, even though the internal combustion engine makes no such restriction on form. We see the same scenario every time a new media arises. Early movies were filmed plays, many thought the cable market would never take off. It is true that we drag history along with us each time, but not because people are not forward thinking: development takes time, especially when exploring the potential of a new media form.

Meaning Making

It is the individual's interaction with a text that gives rise to meaning. Meaning is not something that's packaged by the authors into a text and unpackaged with the audience, but is a result of an interplay between these locations. This relates to the ideas of consensus narratives in an interesting way, and it is important to keep track of from what perspective you're looking at a media.

If there are other terms/concepts anyone is curious about, or thinks should be listed, let me know.

Introduction

Hello, I’m Sue Clerc. We’ll be meeting tomorrow but I thought I’d give you some background now, and then quickly lower the tone of the conversation by responding to some of your posts.

Catherine Salmon, my co-author, asked me to record Raw and Nitro as Hall and Nash were leaving the WWF, as it was then, to go to WCW. Her cable company didn’t carry TNT…I’m not sure why I also needed to tape Raw. I think the Canadian network might’ve been editing broadcasts. Or it was a cunning plan to get me hooked on wrestling. In any case, I moved from really just taping shows for a friend to saying “no, really, I’m just taping them for a friend oh my God did you SEE THAT?”

Next thing I knew I was badgering Catherine with questions, memorizing the Hart family tree, and holding up lewd signs at Wrestlemania 13.

It’s OK. I’m over it now. In fact, after writing the book chapter and presenting 2 other papers based on wrestling, I stopped watching. Not cold turkey, but I didn’t require a patch or anything. Sure, there was a relapse. Possibly two. But I’m OK now. It’s been months since I looked at a wrestling news website, and I’ve watched bits and pieces of Raw the last couple of weeks but haven’t felt an undertow pulling me back in. I do keep a Mankind action figure in my office. During slow moments at work, he and my Librarian action figure occasionally engage in a match, but she’s pretty useless because only her arms have articulated joints so the only moves she’s capable of are a clothesline and maybe flying leg scissors. Also, Amazing Shushing Action is an even lamer finishing move than the People’s Elbow.

But I digress…

Since this is a university class, maybe I should mention our educational backgrounds. Catherine has a PhD in evolutionary psychology and teaches at Redlands in California. She and Don Symonds published a book about slash, Warrior Lovers, and she has written journal articles about slash. I have a PhD in Culture Studies, a JD, and an MLS. I’m a librarian at Southern Connecticut State University. I’ve written other book chapters about media fandom and presented papers on fandom, wrestling, and other subjects. We have both spent years in the media fan community and that was our basis for the chapter you’re reading—comparing and contrasting wrestling fans with the community we already knew.

As fascinating a work of rare genius as the chapter is, I hope we can discuss other things when we meet. I’m going to try to tack comments onto some of your posts now. Much of what I have to say will be tangential to the original post. As I browsed around last week, sometimes a word or phrase would remind me of an idea I’d had, a random observation, a senior moment of “you kids today with your Cenas and Lashleys…” So if I can get this to work, there will be comments scattered around about suffering, camera work and the 4th wall, and why I liked WWF/E better than WCW, Montreal, the deployment of reality in storylines being similar to historical novels and unlike scripted television, and possibly lascivious remarks about performers.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Not again: Fighting a Giant

So the writers of the WWE have finally come up with something for the Great Khali to do. It is pretty funny to me that we were talking about how some fan communities like to play booker and when something like this happens I get into that same mode. The last feud Kali had I think was with Kane. And that didn't play out very well. It was as if the writers thought everyone would assume that Khali was angry that Kane was seen as the monster. In fact, I think had an announcer reveal this to the audience. Well that feud did not impress me because all it consisted of was Khali beating down Kane after interfering in his match or Kane walking down the people's ramp with a big metal hook that he only looked at instead of even attempting to swing it. That might be asking too much. But the question came up when JR was here. What do you do with a giant like Khali who is billed as this invincible monster? Chairs can't even hurt him! Well you make him the #1 contender of course.
Now I have already had a problem with John Cena being champion. I really don't think he is that good of a wrestler and even though he looks big and tough. His popularity varies from week to week. The fans will be more likely to cheer for Shawn Michaels and boo more loudly for Edge. So he is stuck in between and what is the solution? Put him up against someone who really makes him look good as a wrestler. It is not that I hate John Cena. I enjoyed his white rapper turn, even finding the word Thuganomics to be one of the best catch phrases since the rock came up with Just Bring It. I also like, "You want some? Come get some!" I can understand that the WWE is banking on Cena on being the future Superstar that will carry the company. But what I raising here is that I don't know how the writers will be able to make this a good storyline. Cena just had his feud with Umaga end so I hope we dont see a repeat, hero vs monster story.
The interesting thing to watch here is how the giant Khali will express himself to Cena and to the crowd. He really doesnt talk and doesn't have a handler right now. So far it has actually been pretty good. I think that walking out with the title belt conveys Khali's total disregard of the champion very well. I do wonder what will happen next. One would think that since John Cena has been beaten down two weeks in a row, he would get even this coming Monday, but it is hard to imagine how. Again, chairs do not work. I am doubtful as to what the writing team can get out of this feud but am still hopeful it will be fresh and actually advance the career of both superstars.
My prediction for Judgement day is that Cena will beat Khali. I think they might try a Hulk Hogan moment where Cena pulls off an FU on his opponent. Now we just saw Edge win the Money in the Bank shot and so he might try to take the title after Cena's battle with the giant.

I spy

Near the beginning of the course, a few of my posts dealt with my relationship with wrestling texts as a non-fan. I've been thinking of how to follow up with a post about where I'm at now, but it didn't come into focus until a few days ago, when I was watching a Spanish-dubbed RAW. It was already about half over, and I had no overriding reason to watch, but I was channel surfing and there was nothing else on.

All they had done was insert a Spanish "announcer" track over the audio, but the volume and excitement level meant I could only make out the occasional word from the English track. I don't speak Spanish at all. Yet despite the language barrier I always felt I was being given a narrative. This narrative was derived from 1, the visuals and 2, the Spanish announcer's intonation, and was hampered, so far as I can tell by 3, my personal lack of knowledge and context.

Where this puts me: 1, Previously I would look at a match or a 'back stage' bit and see purposeless activity, such as yelling, violence, and bad acting. This is still what I see, but post hoc reflection superimposes motivations onto the characters. That is, I now assign the characters agency. I think this is due to greater familiarity with the physical 'language' of wrestling, which implies that I've learned the representational vocabulary of the melodrama. 2, Similarily, I find that much of the announcer's role is to keep up the energy in counterpoint to the visual, rather than purely giving me information. On the whole it felt a lot like watching the original Iron Chef, with the enthusiastic commentary mostly letting you know that SOMEONE is finding something to be excited about, though in Iron Chef I don't know enough about cooking to feel as comfortable forgoing subtitles. 3, I think if I was a regular viewer, I wouldn't have lost much by not being able to understand any of the words. If I knew more about the characters the narrative I constructed would be more accurate. I was watching Ric Flair and Carlito, and while I know a tiny bit about each, I don't know the specifics of the conflict. Last time I watched RAW Carlito was definding his honor against some old guy. In retrospect I think the old guy was actually Flair or Blassie, but at the time I presumed it was Flair, and this was part of that conflict.

Essentially, watching RAW this time around I had a contextual basis for the wrestling format and actors, but no specifics. (As opposed to if I had watched in English, when I would have had details from commentator and dialogue.) Details would have left me actively reconstructing a story line, which given my experience with clips in class, I usually have little interest in unless I know more about the characters or situation that makes the information useful for understanding something besides current short narrative. A discussion of transparency could take place here: the narratives I construct for myself are supported by my understanding of the format, and do not necessarily rely on specific knowledge.

This may be an atypical response, especially since my experience with wrestling has been explicitly analytical rather than arising from prolonged exposure. But most telling for me was a spontaneous thought I had later that evening. I've been trained to watch events around me, and imagine what would happen if different characters were put in those situations. I was stumbling down the fire escape with a cigarette in my mouth, almost inhaled it by accident and suddenly thought of a wrestler on a staircase, tackled from behind, swallowing a cigarette and belching fire. That was a more physical reinterpretation of events than is my norm, and I'll go so far as to say that is because it was drawing on a different vocabulary. I still don't think I'm a wrestling fan, but maybe I've learned something (useful) after all.

Why Study Profeesional Wrestling?

Hi Sam,

I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, but I've always liked it!

I would recommend the article itself and I've included the link at the end!

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David Haecker, Crossing the Line Between Entertainment and Reality: A Sociological Analysis of Collective Behavior in Professional Wrestling


Why Study Professional Wrestling?

The phenomenon that I believe is important for sociological study is how the wrestlers create an “emotional rollercoaster” that takes the fans on a ride into near riot conditions, and after the catharsis moment (the end of the match), all is in harmony once again. The collective unity of the crowd that the wrestlers achieve is an art form but also a systematic manipulation of the crowd. A set of structures are at hand in how the wrestlers use combat to tell the story of the wrestling match. Professional wrestling reproduces the excitement and interaction from its events on a regular basis. While there are many different variations of these interactions, the persuasions are approximately the same. Wrestlers have seen the world in a way very few people experience. They use their influence for the collective behavior of a vast demographic of people with various backgrounds, interests, and ideals. Professional wrestling may yield answers to the study of collective behavior by how it uses predicted responses of crowd reactions on a consistent basis. This achieves a planned outcome that generates the appropriate conclusion for those who control the shows. The outcome of a wrestling match works as a release of emotion and anxiety that has been built from the ground up in a live setting using unaware but primed people. This I believe is an important area of study.

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http://www.uwsp.edu/grantsup/
studentresearch/VolumeV/
Haecker.html

Judging the Latino Wrestling Performance

After reading Serrato’s piece in Steel Chair to the Head and watching the match between Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle I was left with two conflicting impressions. Reading and watching something take place are two completely different experiences. When I was reading the piece on Latino wrestlers, it seemed like there was such a negative connotation in their performances. This is something that isn’t as apparent in watching Latino wrestlers perform during a show.

Eddie had fun with his character and even comments that he knows people from his hometown, El Paso, who act the way his character does and serve as a basis for his character. It’s meant to parody a stereotype that already exists in society. Eddie comments that it’s stupid that some people read too much into the character and it’s only meant to be funny. As a Mexican, I think that I was rarely offended by some of Eddie’s antics inside the ring. I thought that most things he did were pretty funny, even the time he rode into the arena in a lawnmower. His trickster character was also fun to watch. I thought it did more than just show how lying, cheating and stealing can get you to the top. It showed how brains can conquer braun. Eddie used his intelligence to have an edge over the opponent in a way that was rarely illegal. I think that the audience had the same type of attitude toward Eddie Guerrero. The way he was received by the fans shows that he was able to convey that his character was meant to be funny.

As an outsider watching or reading about wrestling, it may appear that Eddie Guerrero is giving Latinos a bad name by being glorified for lying, cheating, and stealing. The piece made it seem like the fans were laughing at Eddie and other Latino wrestlers instead of with them. WCW and WWE were then used these stereotypes as a way of keeping these wrestlers down in the business. I don’t know if I believe that the formation of the NWO was a direct result of Latinos gaining more popularity than the big white wrestlers. It seemed like a series of coincidences that were made into an argument. I do agree with the odds being against the Latino wrestlers to win the Heavyweight Championship and being the central figures in wrestling. This article was written, however, before Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio both won the Championship and became big parts of the WWE. I guess it’s only natural that a Latino wrestler won it since Latinos make up one of the largest fan bases.

I think that it is important to experience both forms of communication. I was able to obtain very different perspectives on an important issue in wrestling from reading another person’s views and making my own directly. Reading about some of the historical aspects allows you to make a more complete analysis on some of the more controversial issues in wrestling. I think the best bet would be to make your own judgment after you have more than just a first person point of view.

Minority and Class Culture in Wrestling

As we've mentioned several times before, the idea of good versus evil is an omnipresent theme in professional wrestling. We've discussed how good and evil are often ideas defined by capitalism whereby hardworking citizens may often find themselves disillusioned by an incompetent and/or indifferent government and individuals who succeed by using underhanded means.

Race has also been used to define good and evil in the wrestling ring. Historically, it was more often the foreigner who was cast as the evil aggressor. Professional wrestling would play off of xenophobic sentiments of the time to invent new characters. Hence personae like Franz Herman, Fritz von Erich, and the Iron Sheik. These villains were pit against familiar American faces.

At the same time, however, fans have been able to identify with minority wrestling characters. These wrestlers have provided a way for foreign, non-American characters to become babyfaces in the ring. Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, there were several Mexican-American wrestlers who were able to build a sizable postive following among the general fanbase. More recently, wrestling phenoms like the Rock, Eddie Guerrero, and Rey Misterio, Jr. have been able to command even greater success.

An apparent difference between the two generations of wrestlers has often been noted. While the earlier minority wrestlers were able to be cast in a generally positive light as hardworking, sportsmanlike faces, the more recent generation of minority characters have exploited many existing racial stereotypes. Nevertheless, these wrestlers have been able to enjoy even greater success and appear to be some of the more popular characters of their respective wrestling programs.

While it is easy to align the popularity of minority characters with the minority fan base, there necessarily exists a deeper source of their widespread fame. As veritable symbols of the fruits of hard work and effort, the wrestlers themselves and not simply their characters can be identified as "good" as per the definitions prescribed by the capitalistic view of wrestling. As a result, these wrestlers are able to transcend race and become heroes of the working class.

Just as we've discussed in class, it is social class that has become the ultimate criterion for defining popular wrestlers, especially as wrestling progressed throughout the latter part of the 20th century. Haughtiness and arrogance has rarely if ever been tolerated in the ring. It is the ability of wrestlers to identify with the blue-collar ideals of the fanbase that has become an important determining factor in their success as performers in the squared circle.

The Latino Wrestling Performer

In his essay from Steel Chair to The Head, Phillip Serrato discusses the waning integrity of the Latino wrestling performer. Serrato focuses on the idea that since the 60s and 70s the role of the Latino wrestler has become increasingly stereotypical casting him in a particularly negative light. He notes the paradox that surrounds this trend considering that issues of racism have improved significantly over time in the U.S.

As a Latino, I had never really considered the implications of Hispanic wrestler's actions in the ring. After watching Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story, I began to understand Serrato's take on wrestling. Under the WWE, Guerrero had adopted an even more stereotypical character than he had been used in his WCW and ECW past. His "Latin Heat" persona was, as Serrato cites, a "womanizer" and a "cheat" who was not ashamed of doing anything to win a match.

I must admit that at first, I was a little suprised to see deeply Latin Heat fell into a lot of stereotypes surrounding Mexican-American culture. As I studied his antics a bit more, I realized that though his character did play with many stereotypes it was nothing particularly malicious. I wasn't especially offended by what Latin Heat did or said. In Serrato's essay, Guerrero describes the fun he had portraying his wrestling alter ego. He relates how much the character reminded him of some of the people he had grown up with in El Paso and how secure he was with his own culture to poke some fun.

I guess it just depends who's watching when. When is it ok to laugh? When should there be a line drawn to discern farce from the excessive? In this age when comedy and entertainment are pushing the limits it becomes difficult to tell when and if these boundaries are to be defined.

While the WWE does play with a lot of risky issues I believe that it does not go beyond that; it really is simply play. Truly there are some social implications, some consequences of their actions that exist outside the ring and the arena. But I don't belive that there is an intent to purposely reinforce racial stereotypes. As far as McMahon may take his program sometimes, he simply feeds off of what's hot at the moment--anything to draw heat from a crowd.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Benoit, Triple H, HBK Triple Threat

Since I borrowed Sam's Wrestlemania 20 package over the weekend I made sure to watch every piece of material on all three discs, including the Triple Threat main event match - three times (I was dying my hair, a 5 hour + process). This match is a classic example of how to build a rather complicated match, with 3 exceptionally talented veterans putting every ounce of skill and experience into the storyline of the match, taking their time to give the crowd and audience at home their money's worth.

While the King tries to play up that Benoit and Michaels would double-team the champion first and the leave it to themselves, this 'plan' goes out the window from the get go. We eventually get into a pattern of a spot here and there that will knock one wrestler out for a minute so that the other two can trade some blows and moves. There are several attempts by each guy to set up their finishing hold (eg the Crippler Crossface) early on in the match, supposedly to end the bout early, but of course they wouldn't finish up that early. This being Wrestlemania, Michaels bust out a moonsault to the outside, something that I don't ever recall seeing him perform.

later Benoit unleashes several of his classic 'Hat Tricks', three-in-a-row suplexes that probably aren't doing his neck any favors (I still get a big kick out of them), followed soon by a superplex off the turnbuckle by HHH. By this point the crowd is still relatively tame, but still rapt, then suddenly Hunter attempts a pedigree on Benoit which he then reverses into the Crossface, but it is broken. Another hat trick by Benoit to Michaels, who expertly plays them up with his facial experessions. Another common spot in big pay per view matches is the opponent sometimes attempting his opponent's finisher or trademark move on him, such as Michaels attempting a series of suplexes on Benoit, but failing. When successful this move supposedly hurts the moral of his opponent and is part of the taunting 'psychology' of the ring.

Soon we have some Sweet Chin Music, and then soon enough we have Michaels wearing a Crimson Mask very quickly after bouncing off the turnbuckle (now if the pad had been removed from the turnbuckle, i would believe that amount of blood, but it wasn't, so the bleeding seems very unbelieveable). Benoit soon get Michaels in the Crossface, and Michaels is about to tap, but Hunter grabs his hand as it comes down, preventing his title from changing hands (clever!), as under the Triple Threat stipulations the champion doesn't even have to be pinned to lose his title.

Not that long after, Hunter begins prepping the Spanish announce tables for ... something, and soon he and Michaels jointly suplex Benoit through one table, and earn a "Holy Shit" chant from the MSG crowd. This metamorphosizing of heel and face roles throughout the match is classic of Triple Threat or other 3+ member matches, where some characters, who normally are enemies may work together for a little while to eliminate an opponent, and then in the next moment they are battling each other again. In the dynamics of this match, there is no clear heel or face, and an entire autonomous storyline that is rather unrelated to the overarching plot can be contained within this one match.

Now Michaels is covered in his own blood, and Benoit is out of action, so that Michaels and HHH are supposedly left to finish the match, with the audience roaring, but just as a pin is attempted after a Pedigree Benoit breaks it up (duh). Benoit powers back against HHH and locks him in the Sharpshooter, as the crowd goes ballistic - here benoit is clearly the underdog face, who has never won the championship. Michaels breaks it up with some more Sweet Chin Music, but Benoit throws him over the top, turning into HHH, who attempts another Pedigree, which Benoit again reverses into the Crippler Crossface. Hunter fights it, but the Rapid Wolverine is relentless, and the champion taps out, and the Garden erupts, and Benoit tearfully accepts his first WWE HeavyWeight title. Soon after, Eddie Guerrero (the Smackdown Champion) comes to the ring and embraces his longtime (real life) friend in the middle of the ring and raises his hand, a clear moment where plotlines are thrown to the winds for such a personally meaningful moment, and I'm pretty sure the WWE offices didn't mind, as they replayed that moment over and over later on.

This is a classic match which demonstrates the buildup and dynamic of a multi-person match, where there are more variables to deal with, more styles to work with, plot lines to consider and adapt. Here there is always action going on with three athletes, keeping the pace lively while not overwhelming like some other 4 or more person matches. By allowing one wrestler to go out, have the other two go to blows and then change it up over the course of the match, there is enough time to catch one's breath and not get completely worn out, so that the match is longer, consistantly dynamic and high energy, making it a great special departure from the classic one on one matchup, especially when featuring three verterans of this caliber battling for the WWE Championship.