Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Nature of The Sport

One thing that I haven't been able to get out of my mind as we have been watching wrestling matches in class is how amazing it is that wrestlers are getting by with as few injuries as they do. In watching these matches, it seems like the simple acts of stomping someone's head a few times, or having a 230 pound person come down with full force on another person, should be enough to permanently injure -- or even kill -- people. Yet these wrestlers seem to go through a great deal of trouble making sure not to hurt each other.

It almost doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't seem possible for these matches to be real. The level of injury and danger would simply be so high that there's no way humans could go through this and live as long as they do. Wouldn't it make more sense to choose a sport that could be real and stage a drama with that, instead of staging a drama with something that's so obviously fake? Or is the fact that the scenarios are so near-impossible part of the drama and experience?

Having been thinking about this, I found Stone & Oldenberg exposition on why "the nature of the sport" was a major factor in wrestling transitioning from a "sport" to a "drama" quite interesting.

They seem to be suggesting that the dangerous nature of the wrestling sport is one of the reasons that it turned into a fictional drama in the first place. It simply makes economic sense to go through less wrestlers and cause less injury.

However, why then, doesn't it simply stop there? Why does the level of fiction continue to increase? Stone & Oldenberg's theory seems to account for wrestling becoming fake, but only as fake as it needs to be. What I don't think they account for is the continued escelation of fiction past the point where it is simply helping to preserve the wrestlers' careers, and to the point where it becomes more and more clear to the audience that the matches aren't real.

One thought I have is that perhaps it isn't "the nature of the sport" that lends itself to becoming drama, but perhaps it is "the nature of the drama" that lends itself to creating a sport like wrestling. That is to say, I'm starting to think that it makes a lot more sense to not analyze wrestling as a sport which slowly became more of a drama, but as something which really started as a kind of drama at its core from which the "sport" of wrestling grew.

It seems a great deal more consistent to look at how the goal of articulating the simple human drama of two people fighting for an audience evolved into wrestling over time, rather than trying to understand wrestling as some kind of sport that became something else.

Where was the sport of wrestling born if not just two people with a grudge trying to pin the other one down? That sounds like drama first, and sport second, to me.


luistenorio said...

Well, I don't think that wrestlers sustain so little injuries. A lot keep wrestling through a match even though they may be thoroughly hurt. I have seen promoters try to draw up drama for other sports, specifically boxing and ufc but it just doesn't seem t have the same effect. A real sport doesn't allow for consistent twists and turns so they really don't tell a story like a wrestling match does. Also I think that the danger and moves used seem to have evolved like television drama. The wrestlers seem to have to push the envelope like new shows have done since the first television broadcast.

Sam Ford said...

It's true that wrestlers get injured far more than is often let on. While Moolah was surely exaggerating that she broke every bone in her body, a lot of these guys are often performing with several nagging injuries, particularly because there is no off-season.

But Rob poses a really fascinating question here about how wrestling is framed. Because it's seen as a sport that went fake for self-preservation by many, it's been considered a second-class citizen, derivative, fake by many people in the sports world. To this day, wrestling is most heavily classified with sports. Of course, the athletic nature of the content, and its dramatization of sports, links it closer with boxing than with CSI, but this all raises some very interesting questions.

The models of thinking we build for ourselves have everything to do with how something is evaluated, and wrestling is often cut down because of the trajectory we look at it as. Would this opposite trajectory work? Certainly, pageantry and performance have always had something to do with wrestling, as Morton and O'Brien's research indicates. From pageants and festivals to bar spectacles and carnivals, wrestling has always been about public performance.

Perhaps looking at all sports as dramas makes wrestling the most successful model, where the idea of authenticity over performance is thrown out in favor of a diffrerent model.

A quick final thought--since wrestling fans know that wrestling is staged, the feeling of a wrestling spectator or the person buying a PPV is much different. A much better show is expected because there should never be a blowout game between two stars or a disappointing PPV match, since the match is scripted in the first place. When wrestling is viewed as drama, it stands a much better chance than sport of always giving the viewer an exciting show, or else the promoter can be directly to blame for who wins or how the show ends up.