Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fans: know your role

Reading Trujillo's research piece on fan involvement and perceptions regarding pro wrestling and having read Sam's piece dissecting the kinds of fan interaction with the show, it all brought me back to a very cold Chicago morning in October of 2005. I was standing outside of the Allstate Arena, 30+ hours of freezing in the cold and waiting for WrestleMania 22 tickets to go on sale so me and a friend of mine could snag them up. As the WWE is prone to doing, they sent a crew to interview the insane people who had been camping out for a few days waiting for the tickets to go on sale. As luck would have it, they wanted to interview a female fan and all of the guys standing in front of us in line immediately pointed to me and my friend (I believe we were 7th in line - we were numbered).

Before I knew it, I had a WWE microphone in my face with instructions not to stare at the camera as they started drilling me on why I was there. Why was WrestleMania so special that it was worth waiting for hours on hours just to get seats that probably wouldn't be that great anyways? The thing that sucked was I gave a really good answer -- and then my cell phone went off right in the middle of the interview, so we had to start over. I tried again, and my cell phone went off again, much to my embarrassment. We ran it a third time, but I think I annoyed them cause I never did make it on TV -- even though the guy that was standing right in front of me did, robbing me of my 15 seconds of fame...

I just remember this because the question is so simple but yet so hard to answer. Obviously, most fans know and understand that pro wrestling is fixed (I hate calling it fake), so what it is that sets it apart from, say, an NBA game? Well, I went to catch the Celtics game last week, the first indoor sports event I've been to since WrestleMania of last year, and I realized what I had already known for years.

Live pro wrestling has an atmosphere that's unmatched in any other sport.

I've been to many sporting events, being the sports nut that I am. I've been to countless baseball games, a few soccer games, some basketball games, no football games (yet), and 2 wrestling events - one RAW in 2002 and Mania last year. Wrestling stands out and the fans are the reasons why. I like how Sam put it in his piece, that fans can be spectators, critics, theorists, many things, all at once. I think this is specifically what sets pro wrestling fans apart. With, say, football, you like who you like and it basically comes down to being a spectator and a critic. So and so quarterback is horrible, so and so needs more playing time. It doesn't strike as that much different from saying, so and so wrestler should be champion, this wrestler is overrated, etc.

You can pick fan culture apart even more. I think it would be interesting to see the role the internet specifically plays in wrestling, and how that can permanently change the way a fan appreciates the shows. For a long time, I would read spoilers for SmackDown and then decide on those spoilers whether or not the show was "worth" watching. I realized that I was slowly becoming cynical when it came to wrestling, having my expectations morphed by what I'd read online. It was taking all the fun out of being a fan, and I've since cut back on reading a lot of the "backstage news" in wrestling -- until this class, that is (the fun is still there by watching guys who I've only heard about). I was right in Sam's category of being a critic for a while, but as soon as I got the chance to go to WrestleMania 22, I jumped all over it and skipped school to go wait in line for hours on hours. I bonded with the other lifelong fans there. I felt like I became a fan again there, putting me firmly in the class of spectator/performer again.

Wrestling is a business first and foremost, as Mr. Shea won't let us forget, but right on the heel of that, it's performance. There are matches where the fans are so hot and intense that it single-handedly practically makes the match. To draw on my personal experience, I go back to Mania 22. The main event was John Cena defending against Triple H, and the fans were really split on John Cena. When they both got into the ring, we were on our feet, clearly drawn between the Cena lovers and Cena haters. We were practically having our own show in the stands, alternating chants of "Let's go Cena!" and "F*** you Cena!", and trying to see which group of fans did it best (I was firmly in the second). We were so loud that it took them about five minutes to actually start the match while we screamed and stomped until we were hoarse. I'd like to think we helped make that match... but that's what happens when fans are performers. I think that's the best role to be, cause it just makes the show that much better when the fans do their part.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Carolina, you are right in both that it is hard to explain one's fandom on the spot, or at least it seems to be, and yet fans can oftentimes articulate themselves so well, proving that fans do indeed think about how they spend their time and don't just pay money and go to wrestling shows for no good reason. No matter your position toward the wrestling business, whether you work in it, are a fan of it, or are just interested in its cultural relevance, the "why" is a fascinating question.

I'm not nearly the sports fan you are, but I agree that there is just something different about wrestling fandom, and so much of it has to do with that line between performance and sport, between "real" and "fake" that lies at the bottom of every discussion we have about pro wrestling.