Monday, March 12, 2007

Further Removal of Pieces of My Chest

Excuse me for not responding for so long. I heard there was an interpretive dance exhibition in Montreal and I just had to go. Sipping on fine wine and analyzing the movement in French with people I know from McGill is such a cultural experience.

I guess I struck somewhat of a chord with people on this blog and that was entirely my point. It was not a heel turn, there will be no redeeming face turn, nor will I cut a promo. I was simply telling you what I was seeing as an outside observer.

I'm not going to go through each of the responses to my initial post line by line. This is the not the Zapruder film.

I will quickly say to the two people who thought I was delivering a heel, just telling it like I see it. To the person who picked on my spelling...whenever anybody doesn't have a logical response to an argument, they usually go right for spelling and grammar. It's very 1995 Prodigy chatroom and it's weak. I enjoyed the last poster's comments and will comment further on those in a moment. I think there was another post in there, but you just weren't memorable enough since I don't recall what you said. Take cues from your classmates and blog with personality.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea about me. I love pro wrestling. I love the history. If you saw my bookshelf at home, it looks like the Sports/Wrestling shelf at Barnes and Noble. I love watching it on television and live. And yes, I like discussing all aspects of it.

Here's the thing: there's a big difference between discussing it and overanalyzing the hell out of it. You can still have a very worthwhile, effective class discussing wrestling without overanalyzing it. It's the difference between holding a "dinner party" and simply having friends over for supper. There's a level of academic discourse going on here that is so far off the deep end it starts to lose its meaning. Some of your readings are like this, but if you look at authors, it's almost always professors who need to show the school something to keep their jobs.

There is nothing wrong with discussing what you think will happen at Wrestlemania. There is nothing wrong with discussing why you don't like being around the low-art loving wrestling fans. There is nothing wrong with looking at how a story line is written and how it is supposed to get the audience involved. There is nothing wrong with discussing why the merchandising drives the product these days. There is nothing wrong with looking at the inviduals in front of and behind the camera.

These are all tangible options (and only a few, there are dozens) that will both teach you about wrestling and give you a stronger appreciation for it. Doesn't it make more sense to create an environment now that will allow you to flip on Monday Night Raw in two years and understand why one wrestler has a certain kind of pyro and another wrestler a different kind. Or, do you want to turn to the person you're with and explain how the subtext of the pyro is just an analogy for the audience's thirst for danger. Would you like to smartly point out that the match/storyline you are watching is similar to one they did in the Mid-South in the 1970s, or would you like to point out how that angle shows how both race and sexual orientation standards have changed for wrestling fans and then compare and contrast differences between the 1970s Mid-South audience and today's WWE?

I know many of you think you're looking at pro wrestling as an art, but you're not. You're looking at it like a science project, full of wild theories that can never be proven...and since this is wrestling and not quantum physics, who cares if they're ever proven? Most of you will just chalk this class up to experience, go on your comperative media studies ways, graduate, take a crappy PA job at the Fox TV affiliate in your hometown and wonder what happened.

Professional wrestling, he says for the 100th time, is a business. Comparing it to music or theater is a bit off because you can do Shakespeare in the Park or play your flute in your local park, today, right now. If two people go to have a wrestling match, they'll be booked for assault, disorderly conduct, or disturbing the peace. Professional wrestling must exist in a controlled environment more than any of those other things on many levels. For instance, how much security do you see at the opera? With wrestling, many buildings will only let you do your show if you've got a certain number of security guards per person and/or a certain number of police officers per person.

As a promoter I first had to book a building, then I had to get insurance, then I had to book talent, then I had to write the show, then I have to go advertise and market it. Then I have to arrange for souvenirs, concessions and proper audio equipment. The day of the show, I need to get a crew of 20 or so to get the ring up, set the chairs up, put the entranceway together, get the souvenirs, concessions and audio set up, go over with the talent what I'm expecting, get the ticket taker/money guy situated and wait for little things to go wrong. Before I've collected one dollar, I've spent $2,500 to $3,000 on the show, and that's without a big name on the card. It's another $500-$1,500 depending on who you bring in. Let's say the show costs $4,000. If my average ticket price is $10, I need 400 people to come through the door just to break even. If 300 people come through, and I average $2 per head on concessions and $1 per head on souvenirs, I still end up losing $100 for what amounts to probably 70-80 hours of effort to put the show on.

And you're going to tell me this isn't first and foremost a business?

And that's not to say I don't get other things out of it. I loved when I would sometimes play a manager. I loved seeing the same families come again and again. I loved the fact the building we did most of our shows in was where my dad and I went to see wrestling. I loved watching the performance and seeing something I wrote work, and see wrestlers improve and build confidence. There were more rewards than money (which often wasn't there to be a reward) but an opportunity to figure out why fans accept a babyface counted out vs. disqualified, and vice versa for the heel and what that said about them as people was not on the agenda.

When I'm doing everything listed above preparing, I don't have time to wonder if societal mores have changed and my homosexual babyface character will be accepted and help to change the faulty thinking of certain audience members. When Jim Ross comes in, ask him if he sees the fundamental aspects of Greek tragedy overplaying those of Greek comedy. Or, better yet, actually ask him questions about wrestling. The sooner you start talking more about wrestling, the more you're going to get out of this class.


Sam Ford said...

Going to let you all handle responding to this one in full, if you have anything left in your tanks, but a couple of quick points. I do return to Mike's point that theater and opera and all those other things are businesses as well, first and foremost, so I don't think looking at something as a business automatically disrupts looking at it from other angles as well.

Second, I think the two examples you give for overanalyzing wrestling don't belong together. The first, analyzing the meaning of the fireworks, seems to me to be a minor point, and somewhat silly. Sure, it might be worthy to make single mention of, since they didn't just include fireworks for no reason, but I think a whole essay or lengthy discussion of the exact meaning of the fireworks would be pretty meaningless. On the other hand, I don't see your point about how race and sexual orientation has changed not being a relevant discussion. I think that it matters very much that Rey Misterio and Eddie Guerrero were the top drawing cards on Smackdown, and comparing that to the racial demographics of California in the 1970s or Amarillo with Jose Lothario, etc. Thinking about the societal factors behind significant questions, such as how fans relate to a character, is meaningful. I think comparing the audience views and mores of an angle from the 70s to today is very much important, since copying an angle that worked in the 70s without taking into careful consideration the way society has changed in the past 30-40 years would be quite short-sighted.

But that's not to belittle your point about academics making many points that aren't grounded. Of course academics sometimes make assertions that are not easily grounded in the text. What I'm curious, though, is partciularly which of the academics you think are by "professors who need to show the school something to keep their jobs." With my journalistic background, I'm particularly interested in clarity (even if I don't practice it often enough), so I'm curious if you could clarify which of the pieces we've read for the class so far you think are by people just trying to build their vita and who are making a culturally meaningless argument.

Brian "Louxchador" Loux said...

My man's got beef!

I probably shouldn't spend more time at my job doing this but I didn't like being called an elistist in the 2004 election and damn it I don't like it now. The IRS calls me lower-middle class and looking at my own money situation, I agree. Yes, you struck a chord. More french wine and cheeses comments and you'll keep doing it.

Going down the line:

Nobody's doubting your love for wrestling. It's even fair for you to doubt ours. Some of us aren't fans. But I don't think it's fair to declare what aspects are worthwhile and which are worthless. I'm going to bet Sam and you may have some diametrically opposed views on that.

The articles? A lot of times wrestlers and promoters just seem out to cover their own asses about various segments in their career. Sure, some scholarly writing comes off as blowhard, but so can Bischoff and Flair.

When I discuss whether this storyline was the same as the one five years ago, and then I realize it is, I usually get pissed and turn the TV off. This class is the first time I actually discussed backstory and theme. Maybe when I see the same themes in five years I'll get pissed then, too.

Hold up, are we wine-sipping elitists or low-income TV pageboys who can only afford Olde English?

And as was mentioned before, entertainment is a business. Somebody, please throw out some numbers on setting up a play or a tv pilot! How about the numbers of security guards needed to host a rap concert? How about the licensing people in Boston need to actually go out and do Shakespeare on the Common without getting carted away? Yes, wrestling is unique, but by no means is it disengaged from all other forms of entertainment. And it hasn't evolved in a vacuum. And that's why it's fair to look at from the lens we've used.

Maybe JR and Mick Foley will give us all a "will you get over yourselves!" moment like Bill Shatner in that SNL trekkie skit. But I'd like to ask Mick about being a Democrat in a business that draws a lot of Republicans and not just how he thought his feud with Edge played.

Mike W. said...

There are so many areas where "overanalysis" can be had, really. If there is any conversation that's not being had on this board that I'm perfectly fine with, it's the mingling of the pro wrestling hierarchy with what we assume we know about the business. Leave the "why isn't RVD the champ/why does Triple H hog the spotlight" talk to the smart marks.

Overanalysis is just fine in this domain, in my opinion. That's what a classroom is for; nobody's going to assemble a dataset and run some path analyses to find out what the causal coefficients are between pyrotechnics and crowd response. Is it possible, though? You betcha. Sam's done his own ethnographies, Kathe Lowney's done her content analyses. There's no great barrier preventing valid and reliable social science methods from being used to analyze pro wrestling.

After all, what is the dark side of the social sciences if not marketing? Marketing uses these kinds of scientific methods to identify the wrestling audience at events, on TV, and elsewhere. Thtat's why we see video game and motor oil commercials on pro wrestling, and we don't see commercials for the upcoming Hugh Grant movie or for Chef Boyardee. That's because marketing, the business side of TV, has identified who we are as fans, what our education is, what our interests are, and then worked to target products to us.

Marketing is, perhaps, the area where we can come together; it's practical and supports wrestling as a business, and adds an element of empathy (from a businessman such as yourself) that social science methodology has some real-world practicality.

The only part where I can see your point is your complaints about wild postulation. In some cases, all we can do is speculate (unless WWE lets Sam sit in during a character creation meeting, for example); in other, there's potential for data collection, analysis, and proof. Just not in the context of a blog, and not in the limited time confines of one course. It's one thing to say that "women's wrestling has changed in this way, this way, and this way." It's another to categorize and identify the occurrences in a modern show and in a classic show.

In short, I think some of your frustration comes from some hifalutin' academic polysyllabic nonsense. I can understand that, although I'm guilty of it. It's how people in higher education prove their authenticity. We're "selling" ourselves, if you will. If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, after all...

But, ultimately, I think a lot of your critiques are misdirected at attacking the foundation of comparative media studies (what little a sociologist understands of it, anyway) and core research principles in the social sciences. I think that's the reason people might take umbrage (!) with your posts. Not because you're disagreeing with us, but rather because you're telling us not to do what we've learned to do over the years, and trying to tell us it's meaningless crap (really, what's with the petty "PA" comment?). As many an often uncreative heel wrestler will yell to someone in the crowd, "look, I don't come down to McDonald's and tell you how to cook the fries!" I don't mind that you want to make these claims; I just wish that I could understand how you feel so strongly about them and better identify where you think we're overanalyzing.

Luis Tenorio said...

I do hate to see some people pick apart spelling and use that as if it were a valid counter point to what the original poster was saying. It still happens today. However there are some times when it is very necessary to let the person know that their spelling and more likely their grammar is making it hard to understand what they are trying to say.
What I don't see in your post is the fact that there is much room for analysis, not just discussion. Though you do point out that it to you it may be fine to analyze stories for their worth and what they do with the audience.
I for one would like to say that Shawn Michaels will win the WWE championship. I say that because he is one of my favorite wrestlers and the fact that John Cena has been champion far too long. He is a boring champion. Over the past year, DX always seemed to be part of the main event.
Anyway, that is analysis of what I see as being wrong with the way the champion is portrayed or what kind of spot he has on the weekly shows. But I do not claim that wrestling is art but is hard not to do so. Though trying to find patterns, formulas for how the business works and other such scientific conclusions don't seem unreasonable. And in science there are lots of theories that have not been proven yet but we use them because they seem to fit what we see. Doing this doesn't lower my enjoyment of wrestling, it just makes it more exciting when things don't go exactly the way I predict.

Sam Ford said...

Luis, you make a good point that a theory does not have to work perfectly all the time to be somewhat valid. It just acts as a frame to group together behaviors or to make sense of why something happens. Look at Lee Benaka's work he discussed with the group briefly when he came last week, that wrestling is full of religious symbolism. Once he says that, you can see the ways religious symbolism plays out. Does this mean the promoters were like, "Let's do a storyline that reflects Abraham's decision to sacrifice Isaac to God." Likely not. But it doesn't mean stories from religious texts haven't become such central myths in our culture that we create storylines all the time that reflect them.

How many guys have been called "Judas so far, for instance? We had Eddie Creatchman with the Star of David around his neck. We've seen Hulk make plenty of references to God. The list could go on and on...

If you think about all the religious symbolism, iconography, and references we've seen so far, we see that looking at wrestling as being rife with religious symbols and meanings actually works quite well, but it doesn't explain everything in wrestling by any means.

Brian "Louxchador" Loux said...

This may be a dead horse now, but I wanted to chime in on Sam's comment.

Perennial CMS powerhouse David Thorburn was fond of the mentioning that if you spoke to writers of the Mary Tyler Moore show, and said "so you're making a female character in the image and spirit of her TV predecessor That Girl while turning her whole situation upside-down?" the writer would say not really. But yet they did.

Or the 50's TV show Medic, where the doctor ends up solving medical and social quandries, if you asked the writers "so you consider the role of a doctor / patriarch is to uphold and guide a society, and that women should have a more subjugated role" he would just reply he was just writing a TV show. But those themes are there.

And the judeo-christian religious themes obviously would not be in matches for - say - India or Japan. It is almost always subconscious, but the producers/demanders ways of thinking will be reflected in the entertainment product.

narwood said...

Help, what's a pyro?

The original point about business was actually about tv, novels and movies and NOT theater and opera. Which is rather an important point because it's the difference between mass/low culture and high culture. High culture loses money unless it's snootish enough to successfully charge large amounts of money or rare enough (I presume opera falls here) to get the crowds. Most theatre (and lots of non-popular musical performances) are going to lose money. Literally. They need to be subsidized because they do it for the love of the media. (Like lace makers in Venice). In many cases it's even impossible to break even given the cost of the production versus the run times, seating capacity, and reasonable ticket prices.

On Shakespeare - sorry if someone mentioned this and I missed it, but he wrote for the masses, it was considered low class and vulgar at the time. The fact that it still says something relevant about life today makes it art, but Shakespeare was trying to entertain and make a buck.

The thing is, honestly, I do agree with many of Joshua's points, though given the lack of specific references that are being countered I'm not sure if I would apply them the same. Theory wanking is bad, and is not what we strive for unless we're being silly. There's a reason most papers start by contextualizing the research in a greater academic discourse, and maybe a lack of concrete rigorous background is fostering a tendency to jump off the deep end of the logic pool, so to speak.

I come from a history of flame wars. I'm bad at them, but I love to burn. It's just, and I know it's a blog, but I'm reading some of the responses as emotional and reactionary when it would seem the more academic response would be to consider, ponder, and maybe just go overanalyze Joshua. Do people actually feel threatened? (Or just enjoying the fight?)

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Your first post had me on the fence as to its veracity. Over time, I leaned toward parody, because even on points when your argument made a great deal of sense to me, you'd follow it up with something that seemed to come out of left field.

So, rather than challenge you on any particular points, I am a little curious to know what you expected this class to be. The first post seemed to imply that you were opposed to the entire structure of humanities education--that applying critical techniques devised for interpreting art, primarily literature, to wrestling was simply a waste of time. Your second post has a more moderate feel, suggesting that you support analysis but reject overanalysis.

It's an entirely defensible position, and I doubt anyone in the class would argue with you on that count. But you seem to draw the line between analysis and overanalysis in a very different place than we do. What criteria do you use to make that judgment?

"Doesn't it make more sense to create an environment now that will allow you to flip on Monday Night Raw in two years and understand why one wrestler has a certain kind of pyro and another wrestler a different kind. Or, do you want to turn to the person you're with and explain how the subtext of the pyro is just an analogy for the audience's thirst for danger. Would you like to smartly point out that the match/storyline you are watching is similar to one they did in the Mid-South in the 1970s, or would you like to point out how that angle shows how both race and sexual orientation standards have changed for wrestling fans and then compare and contrast differences between the 1970s Mid-South audience and today's WWE?"

Well, I can only speak for me, but on both counts, the second seems a hell of a lot more interesting. Granted, pointing it out to the person next to me sounds like a bit of a dick move, and generally such academic ideas are best discussed when they're asked for...such as when a class instructor sets up a blog. But I can learn why two wrestlers have different pyros, or whether a given storyline is similar to a previous one, by sitting on a friend's couch and watching a few matches over beer and pizza. It's useful knowledge, and it's fun, but I can get it anywhere I find a fan. I don't need the structure of a class to get at those ideas.

Sam Ford said...

Interesting questions, Peter. I wanted to respond specifically, though, to a couple of things Tess said, though. First of all, Tess, you are right that I should not have made the switch to theater and opera. While the buck matters on Broadway, I was dealing with something that involves government subsidy, which probably wasn't the best move. A logical slip on my part.

Second, Tess, you raise an interesting question that makes me wonder about a greater point in academia: what place does emotion have in academia? Do we clearly favor logic and distance and introspection? How does that balance with rhetoric and passion? And what does all this mean within the context of a discussion about pro wrestling?

Sam Ford said...

Oops...and I meant to say that pyro is short for pyrotechnics, meaning the display of fireworks and the sort for wrestlers' entrances, the beginnings of shows, etc.

Anonymous said...

(Apologies for the re-post, there were linkage errors in the first attempt at this reply)

I didn't mean to imply an intentional heel turn, Mr. Shea, rather I prefer to use wrestling dialog as a theoretical lens to playfully refer to what I see around me

To suggest that "theory-wanking" is unique only to scholarship is laughable. This is no different that the accusations lobbed at the overlong solos in prog-rock or the self-referential pomposity of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Just because a guitar soloist or two gets out of hand, do we completely dismiss the entire Rush catalog? Or better yet, just do away with rock music completely?

No, we specifically point out which rock music we like and dislike and why that is. Your suggestion of overanalysis might have better been applied to specific examples rather than making a blanket statement directed at all responses.

Furthermore, I've always found the insinuation that just because I'm capable of discussing something from a sociological perspective, I therefore must do nothing but socialize with lay-about, flannel-wearing, Kafka reading nerds to be hysterically laughable. Especially if you saw my ridiculously "lower middle class" lifestyle of watching sports games all the time and yelling at the television while doing so or if you saw the crowd of people I watch wrestling with in my hometown.

Talking about ANY subject is partially about knowing how to negotiate the boundaries. I get a feel for the person I'm talking to and discover for myself whether or not s/he will appreciate that an "angle shows how both race and sexual orientation standards have changed for wrestling fans and then compare and contrast differences between the 1970s Mid-South audience and today's WWE." You'd be surprised how often they actually DO find such an observation interesting and worthy of discussion.

Contrarily, if I find out the person sitting next to me really believes the "real Ultimate Warrior died" and that "my buddy talked to the guy that does security here and buddy-in-the-ring-there is actually really from (insert place 20 minutes from your hometown)", I quickly appreciate that discussing the finer points of homophobia and homoeroticism in wrestling is probably going to go over like the Honky Tonk Man's 1986 face run.

I think we're all "amongst friends" here to be overly analytical scholars. No one here is naive to how "the real world" treats our observations.

Sam Ford said...

Bryce, interesting points. By the way, I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. Wonder where that places me on the pomposity meter?