Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Watching Too Much

I have been watching wrestling for a while and I was watching Raw this past Monday. Now I have gotten to the point where I expect certain things to happen and can narrate and tell other people what will happen before it does. I wonder sometimes though if this makes wrestling harder to enjoy as time goes on since the drama seems to be very predictable sometimes. I suppose what keeps me watching is the action and the different characters.
I was watching Raw with other people from my dorm and last match was between John Cena and Randy Orton. The match had been going on for a while when the match reached a certain point where my mind just started recalling all the previous similar situations and I started to tell people around me what was going to happen. Of course they were wondering why I liked to watch this in the first place. Now as soon as John Cena (the face) was in a position to apply to his finishing move, I knew that the match was going to be over. Since Randy Orton has a parter, Edge, you know that heels will interfere in the match and so I told everyone in the room that Edge would get into the ring and hit Cena with a spear, Edge's finishing move which can be summarized as a tackle into the gut. The two started stomping on Cena and I told everyone that you would see the crowd react and Cena's parter would head down the ramp and help him out and clear out the ring. Next I told the people in the room that Cena and Michaels would have a stare down since they are both faces and they have a match coming up at Wrestlemania. It happened like that and I kind of felt bad because at that time it really lowered the enjoyment for me. I wondered whether or not I had been watching too much wrestling and should stop thinking so much.
There are so many visible patterns in wrestling and it really does seem like any other drama in that it does certain things that are known to elicit great reactions from the crowd. A wrestler running down the ramp is a classic one. So is the betrayal but that one is harder to predict. It just makes me wonder how can wrestling fans continue to enjoy wrestling if the outcomes for the drama and actions seem to have a patter to them. If A happens then B will happen. It seems to follow that kind of system. I suppose, like a drama, though things may unfold similarly, the outcomes are never the same. A beating that a wrestler may take always seems to mean that the night will end that way for him but sometimes he will miraculously prevail. It is those moments that a person still tunes in for.
Reading pieces from the wrestling observer's website makes it a little harder to enjoy wrestling. There are reviews of the latest shows but they also reveal secret insider info about results that have yet to be shown on television. Seeing the results without watching the drama unfold defeats the purpose of being a wrestling fan or at least the mainstream wrestling fan. So I wonder how people who have the inside scoop on wrestling still find a way to enjoy it. They know what will happen and all that might be left to enjoy is the action. I believe you have to be a fan to write about wrestling in the way they do but how do they maintain their interest?


Kathe Lowney said...

After analyzing five hours of WWE a week for the past 6 year, I get mad at myself if I cannot predict plot lines at least 5-6 months in advance. I SHOULD be able to figure that out by now, is how I manage this issue! But what I enjoy is seeing how the plot unfolds -- the smaller contests that will be created to build the interest in what's to come; seeing how any one performer sells (or doesn't) the plotline, and of course, the sometimes sudden changes that have to happen with injuries, stars falling out of favor, etc.

So for me, I enjoy the insider knowledge and testing it against what is actually happening. BUT -- reading your post made me realize -- I tend to watch it in a solitary fashion or else with my husband and he's heard me talk about wrestling so much that he knows just about as much as I do. So I don't have the perception that I am "ruining" it for someone else who is in a different category of audience, like you did. So perhaps that is a variable to consider -- the kind of viewer/fan with whom those of us with more insider knowledge watches.

Omar said...

I think your experience speaks a lot about how the interest in wrestling has evolved over the years. From the many matches we've seen from the 50's and 60's era it becomes pretty apparent that the audience then had a different interest in wrestling than we do today. I mean, some of those matches lasted over an hour and still the crowd's eyes were still glued to the ring. I think that since then, wrestling was evolved to give us different reasons to keep watching. The advent of the television made it possible to make wrestlers well-known in many of the territories in a matter of days where it would often take months of traveling around the country. I believe that this is what led to the focus on wrestlers' personas and the development of a storyline as a means of specializing interest in different wrestlers. After years of seeing many of the tricks played out to make and break champions in the ring, I suppose you really can't help but to know what is going to happen next.

Sam Ford said...

Your questions are ones many wrestling fans face and raise questions about spoilers in general. I am also very interested in soap opera, and fans of the soap opera genre often struggle about whether or not to read the spoilers. In this case, the feeling is that the reason most people enjoy soaps is not the plot but rather the performances in acting that plot out, so people feel they don't lose much by knowing what is planned to happen.

Wrestling is a genre, and it has a lot of familiar formulas. The best way to act those out is either to execute the tried-and-true formula so well that you get pleasure in seeing the story progress, even though you know what will happen, or else to give it some interesting twists and turns along the way.

Some people feel that a plot should always surprise you, that there should always be a new variation, but I think this loses sight of why people enjoy wrestling. Maybe it's like Michael Ball said in the documentary, when he claimed that it's all about ritual, but I think it's more than just ritual. People like "the psychology of booking," of being able to know what's about to come because of proper foreshadowing and cheer on when it is executed to perfection.

Think again to that moment we've talked about when the heel has cheated and the referee has seen it. Fans want to see the good guy bend the rules as well, to get revenge, and they cheer when they see this happen. Goffman, when he briefly wrote about wrestling as an example of his framing theory, said that it was this moment that drove the wrestling fan's passion, to see the good guy cheat, "fight fire with fire."

And I think that captures part of the magic. I enjoy when a story progresses so well that I know where's it's going, and them I'm satisfied when they give it to me. Think about how wrestling fans often know how they want the final chapter of a story to be. At ECW One Night Stand, fans had a large banner that said, "If Cena Wins, We Riot." Of course, since these fans know wrestling is booked, they are saying to the promoters, "You should finish this story like we want it to end."

So, while surprises are good, I think part of the enjoyment of wrestling is to see the story progress and to be satisfied with the ending you feel they've been building for. Unfortunately, the wrestling storylines sometimes feel like Lost..that the writers are making it up as they go, and that angers these fans who want to see the completion of the storyline and foreshadowing along the way.

Mike W. said...

I think there are two kinds of patterns that we can discuss in wrestling. There are the character and storyline patterns (as Sam points out in his references to Goffman and Ball).

There's also stagnance in the actual performance of a match, which is what appears to be the topic of discussion. I find myself disillusioned with the idea that I forget what happened on the wrestling shows three weeks ago, whereas in high school, I'd trump everyone in wrestling trivia ("Who beat King Haku to wing the crown?"). Today, it's one blur.

As you watch all the older wrestling matches (those I wish I were around to see), I wonder if you get the feeling that I do - that many of these moves look commonplace today, even if they were spectacular or devious back then. That wrestling can only change in one direction that builds upon a foundation, and that it can only become more violent, more extreme, and more spectacular to avoid looking atavistic.

It makes me think of how benign chair shots are these days - not in execution at all, but in how boring they've become. There's nothing to get excited about, because it's not rare. The change during the 90's of the use of the "powerbomb" as a menacing finisher (used by Nash, Van Vader, and Sid Vicious, among others), and these days it, and all its variations, appear to be uninspired transition moves.

On the other hand, specialty matches (ladder matches, cage matches, etc.) are much the same way. A cage match used to be reserved for a blood feud of Von Erich - Freebird proportions. Now it's a tool spontaneously brought out on Monday and Friday.

The commonality of such extremism makes the overall product seem stagnant. The lack of "down time" makes it all seem very similar, in my view. One good grappling contest, with no top rope moves, no chairs, tables, or blood, would help differentiate matches.

It's also in the style of the match people have, as many wrestlers are accused of being "spot" wrestlers - because fans watch them with the anticipation of seeing this move or that, they lose sight of the actual content of the match. I'd argue that DDP's wrestling matches show that perfectly - while the "Diamond Cutter" was an exciting finisher, since it could "come at any time," viewers waited for that instead of rooting for, or even paying attention to, the match he was in.

Watch Chavo Guerrero wrestle. He's one of the few guys who "make sense" as a wrestler. He'll perform moves that focus on a single area/body part for a match. If wrestling was real, you would picture a match like this - if someone shows their knee to hurt, would you suplex them or give them a dragon screw? Contrast this with Marcus Cor Von's finishing sequence, which is "one" move that has no internal consistency. He performs the "Pounce" (a running body tackle), which ideally harms the upper body. Then, he picks up the opponent and gives them a Russian leg sweep (back/head damage), and ends with a fujiwara armbar (shoulder/socket). He's all over the place, and it doesn't make any sense for a trained, pragmatic fighter to do that.

It's a hard position to be in - some of the most popular moves in wrestling have been all show and little substance (People's Elbow, Hogan's running leg drop, Cena's dropping fist). But when everybody is emphasizing the setup, it becomes common and thus removes something to cheer for.