Sunday, February 11, 2007

Never Really a Fan

Like some of you, I can remember wrestling being the "cool" thing to watch when I was younger. A lot of my friends would show up to school with t-shirts glorifying wrestlers like Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Undertaker. Even our class shirts featured a spin off of the NWO logo. I never really understood what the hype was all about, and to be honest, I still don't.

For the longest time I considered wrestling to be the tough man's soap opera, a rehearsed and overly dramatic spectacle with poor "actors". I never bothered to watch any matches long enough to know the different story lines surrounding all the characters. I could only handle so much of the machismo and over-the-toppedness that I thought was the mainstay of wrestling's entertainment value.

As a form of entertainment, how does the viewer classify wrestling? Is it appealing because one gets caught up in the episodic drama that the story lines provide? Or is it the "sport" of it that keeps people coming back for more? As someone who appreciates both the sense of competition and entertainment that sports foster I can't consider wrestling a true sport. With outcomes that have been preordained and no real criteria for becoming a champion (except maybe a bodybuilders physique and charisma) wrestling falls way short of being considered a serious sport. I mean, the combat's not even real. I'm not questioning the athleticism of the wrestler's themselves. I doubt the average person could waltz into a ring day in and day out and pull off the kinds of acrobatic feats these guys do.

If not entirely a drama with a multitude of characters nor solely a spectator sport, then perhaps pro wrestling is in a league of its own. It must be this middle road that wrestling has paved over the years that makes it so appealing and continues to draw a large audience. Even so, I wouldn't consider myself a part of pro wrestling's following; but who knows? Maybe I'll be a fan by the end of the semester.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Whether or not you become a "fan" of pro wrestling, the main goal of this class is to at least help you address some of the questions you have about why people become involved in pro wrestling and what has been its major cultural appeal.

Wrestling seems to go through periods of major cultural relevance in America, spiking for an older generation during the early days of TV when Gorgeous George was a household name for many. In the 1960s and 1970s and early 80s, with each region having its own wrestling organization, different groups peaked in popularity at different times, but the mid-1980s saw the rise of Hulk Hogan and the WWF on a national stage. That was the era I grew up in. Then, as you mention, there was the late 1990s wrestling phase, with the nWo and Steve Austin and The Rock and others. There's been a sense that wrestling is cyclical in its popularity, but it still remains quite popular even when it "bottoms out."

Poor acting is an interesting term. It's certainly something wrestling is sometimes knocked for, as soaps are, and something the fans debate about. WIth soap operas (since I am a close follower of the soap opera industry as well), there are just so many actors in the genre, for many of whom it is their first gig. And the thing that sits wrestling (and soaps) apart is that there is often not multiple takes. There is five hours of WWE original programming each week, and it's performed live on a stage. The fact that some of it is improv and much of it has to be gotten right the first time helps explain some of the ways in which it is categorized by fan.

Another circumstance to keep in mind when thinking of the "bad" acting is, as you mentioned, the blend between an emphasis on drama and an emphasis on athletics. Someone who is a bad actor AND a bad wrestler is likely categorized differently than someone who isn't the best talker in the world but who can perform well in the ring.

But I would like to see others' takes on this comment in particular, which seems to get at hea heart of those who question wrestling's relevance as a sport: "With outcomes that have been preordained and no real criteria for becoming a champion (except maybe a bodybuilders physique and charisma) wrestling falls way short of being considered a serious sport. I mean, the combat's not even real."

One observation I will make is that there is very much a criteria for who becomes champion that you miss, with wrestling ability mattering some and charisma mattering a lot and physique being important: $$$. As was alluded to in the documentary we just finished, wrestling is like figure skating or any "rated" sport, except it is the fans who are the judges. Drawing fans is by far the major criteria for who becomes champion. That sense of having control of the outcome to some degree as a fan is one of the draws of wrestling for some.