Thursday, March 8, 2007

Getting Things Off My Chest

First off, Sam, if this is a completely inappropriate post, please do away with it. I know that this board is meant to serve as an educational aid for your class, and not a sounding board for guest speakers, but I've got a lot to say about some of your students and the assinine things that they are posting.

I agreed to participate as a special guest speaker in hopes that I'd be able to impart some knowledge and better understanding of this entertainment medium of pro wrestling that I love and respect so much. Between my time doing research on the subject in the mid-90s and then my five years working for and then owning an independent wrestling company, I thought I had a lot to offer, but reading most of the drivel on this board, I'm beginning to wonder.

Professional wrestling is not theater. It was never derived from theater. It doesn't intentionally borrow from aspects of Shakespeare or Greek tragedies. If you believe it does, you're using too much energy to draw parallels that don't matter anyway. Just because Fall Out Boy and Mozart both played music doesn't mean there's any real connection there. Trust me, there are no bookers or TV writers sitting around saying "What would Shakespeare have done in this situation?"

Professional wrestling has no relationship with Greco-Roman style wrestling. One traces its roots to ancient Greece. The other to carnivals of the late 19th century. Simply because they both have the word "wrestling" in the name doesn't mean a thing. See "ice hockey" and "ice cream" for proof that identical words don't mean the same thing.

Womens' wrestling is dead and buried in the US unless it involves pretty girls or physical freaks and it's not coming back. It's alive and well in Japan, but anybody expecting characters empowering for women will only find them if they come with big boobs and sell a lot of posters. The history is interesting, but it died in the late 80s. Any impact female wrestlers have had, including Moolah, is marginal at best.

Analyzing the audience is a waste of time. What are you hoping to accomplish? You might as well go sit in a movie theater this weekend when "300" opens and start psychoanalyzing the people who come to watch the movie. Is it possible, just slightly possible, that the audience wants to be entertained and that's the end of the story. Every person in the audience will have a backstory. Good things and bad things have happened to all of us that we don't try to fix by watching TV. Is it possible they're not coming to search for messiah figures or to subsconsciously rectify negative feelings in their life? Maybe they're just having fun.

Analyzing Andy Kauffman is a waste of time. He was a not-funny comedian who was more of a performance artist. He tossed out grenades of bad taste, outrageous behavior, and over-the-top commentary. That's not very hard or creative to do. He did well with wrestling, but little else. And for the love of God, of course "Breakfast with Blassie" was staged.

Most importantly, wrestling is a business. There would be nothing for you to over-discuss if there were not a host of people putting on shows that don't have the time and luxury to over analyze their vocation the way you are doing. I'm not just talking about the wrestlers, but the promoters, the guys who set up the ring, the booker, the gophers, the sound and lighting guys. If they did not present a visually appealing show filled with enough athletisism and story that could cause fans to pay for a ticket, there would be no next show. Wrestling does not exist to serve as a moral barometer of society. It exists to make money...and that is all.

Reading the opinions on this board, I can't help but think that you guys sit there and watch American Idol and try to figure out why the people who called in chose one singer over another and what that says about the attitudes on the country and what that means in the bigger picture as where we're going as a society. It's just a singing show, enjoy it. Wrestling is just an action-filled soap opera, enjoy it. If you really enjoy overthinking things, you don't need college for that. Marijuana is far cheaper and has the same effect....or so I'm told.

If you're taking this class and you've never been to a wrestling show live, as it's clear a whole lot of you haven't, go to one. You wouldn't take an art class without hitting a museum or gallery along the way. And if you think to yourself "I wouldn't be caught dead at a wrestling show" you're way too elitist to even be learning about it.

You're all going to be entering the real world sooner or later and as a resident in that world, I can tell you that the regular people of the world are going to have you for lunch. Go to a wrestling show and start talking like you do on here. People will look at you strange....not because they don't get it, not because they couldn't converse with you, but because there's nothing of substance behind it. It's diarrhea of the mouth, much like the diarrhea of the keyboard you're providing on the board. It's time to wipe yourself and give me something substantial.


katejames said...

I just came online to blog about some of the material that we viewed yesterday in class, but after reading this post it seems that would be only compounding your frustration with us, so I think I'll reply to a couple of your comments instead...

I can imagine that there is a level of absurdity to reading comments and analysis about pro wrestling from a bunch of MIT students- we 'academic elitists.' Most outsiders we've heard from seem really encouraged, even tickled, that there is a class at our university that is handling the wrestling medium with the discursive lens of theoretical analysis. Sometimes we do stretch for connections; sometimes we do make forced analogies to theater or greco-roman wrestling.

But I am surprised that you are so offended at our attempts to deal with wrestling from the academic standpoint; our mission statement in the class is not to become the best fans, or engage with the medium on the level of "Wrestling is just an action-filled soap opera, enjoy it." MIT doesn't give academic credit for sitting around and enjoying things.

Personally, I have been a wrestling fan, and have been to live wrestling shows, but I don't see anything wrong with drawing from it what is useful or inspiring on an individual level. As a student in the visual arts program dealing largely with body art and performance, what I am most inspired by are the performative dynamics and the theatrics, costumes, rituals. If having these as my primary set of interests in pro wrestling means I'm 'overthinking,' then I'll accept that. But it doesn't make me elitist-- precisely the opposite-- I think it shows an open-mindedness on the part of the institution, the professor, and the students that a class can be held that confirms the validity of pro wrestling as a medium from which lessons can be learned, and theoretical frameworks can be developed. (Were I elitist, I would have ignored the whole post, since no one should take offense to being called asinine when it's spelled incorrectly.)

Finally, just to clarify, not all of the students in the class have been untouched by the harsh truths of the 'real world'. I'm a 30-year old graduate student, and have spent plenty of time 'in the real world'.

I have appreciated your comments along the way, and wish you would reconsider your outright dismissal of any value in our discussion.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

And see, here I'd chalked this post up to spectacle, but Kate's comment would seem to imply I'm reading it wrong.

Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I am not in this class, but I am a student of CMS.

Do you have the slightest clue what Comparative Media Studies is or what the goals are? Do you understand what the point of this class is, what is being taught and how the students are being asked to think about it?

You are the one who comes off sounding like an idiot who is unwilling to look at the world in more than one dimension. I can't imagine why you would be chosen as a speaker when you clearly have no respect whatsoever for anything this class is doing. You think people shouldn't bother thinking about the audience? You are impressively clueless and shortsighted.

"Professional wrestling is not theater." I can't imagine what you have to offer these students. Just because you can't see deeper meanings and influences in wrestling doesn't mean they aren't there.

And no, they probably aren't planning to take their analysis of this and go to wrestling shows and start chatting people up about it, and no, that doesn't not make it not worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Good heel turn by Mr. Shea; the good thing is that he built to it gradually rather than those often-rushed, underthought heel turns that Eric Bischoff used to book.

Anonymous said...

I almost sympathize with Mr. Shea here to a point, because "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" as Freud says.

His point mentioning the movie 300 gives me a bit of pause. This week I read a few articles online asking "what does it mean when movies emulate video games and not vice versa?" and "why is our society so accepting of a movie that pits 300 buff white guys against every minority in the book and they win gloriously?" when it just boiled down to young males liking high-quality special effects and massive carnage.

Far be it for me to follow kate's sensible retort, but I argue with the "wrestling is a business" point. So is television, so is novel writing, so is broadway, so is the film industry. Yes, wrestling does not have an art-house crowd doing it for the integrity of the work (ooh, Sam, could you look into that?), but they are under the same "keep it profitable" concerns as everybody else.

When they change their means/ways/manners of becoming profitable, there's usually an interesting social reason or two tied in. That's what CMS folks try to get their hands around.

I work in the real world, and have been eaten alive by it, which I recognize is some of the reason I still confide in watching RAW and TNA each week. And I have also been eaten alive by Boston townies at PPV blast screenings when my friend I make fun of John Cena. Yes, most people there would rather us die, but some have been keen to talk about backstage issues or why WWE foreigners are straight out of the 1950s.

-Loux from work

Mike W. said...

Your second paragraph is very telling; it suggests to me that you want to participate as a teller, not a participant. You want your claims to be accepted as gospel truth, and not questioned. You also show, by virtue of this post, very little respect for other people's viewpoints, particularly those who might disagree with you or extrapolate a bit further than you. That's fine, but it's also completely contrary to academia. I hate to see passive participants, and I much prefer to see active disagreement and debate. Participating in a class and not expecting discourse and debate is just plain wrong.

Moreover, I'm personally privvy to anyone who disagrees, but please provide more context and support. I see the same argument again and again in your blog: "this isn't this because I say it is." Fall Out Boy isn't Mozart? I have no idea why or why not. It's your burden to explain that. Wrestling has no basis in greco-roman style? Prove it. Did fighting just occur naturally in the carnival, with no influence from a millenia-old sport? Prove it. Women's wrestling is dead? I don't agree with that by a long shot.

In short, much of what you're offering up here is very much up for debate, and yet the context of this post is that you're offended that anyone would try to debate them.

The very content of wrestling shows that it creates its own parallels to society at large. Decades ago, an evil Communist from Russia would have been an easy, ideal, and perfect heel. These days, Ivan and Nikita Koloff are relegated to the cultural dustbin. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest heels in Ohio Valley Wrestling, at this moment, is a guy named Mike Kruel. His gimmick? He drapes himself and his valet in the American flag, sings the national anthem, and heaps praise upon George W. Bush.

And his babyface foil? A Russian by the name of Boris Alexiev! Kruel receives boos when he tries to rouse "USA! USA!" chants from the crowd, and they pop heartily when Alexiev gets his hands on Kruel and gives him a dose of what-for! (Kruel has since aligned himself with Vladimir Kozlov, but to be fair, his ultra-patriotic gimmick had him well hated before Kzozlov joined him).

What can we chalk up a crowd of Americans booing someone espousing the virtues of the USA to? Certainly not passively accepting wrestling being simply that. There's a cultural explanation behind that which helps us understand that, in this day and age, an unabashed supporter of our sitting President is going to be the guy who gets booed. It certainly isn't happening in a vacuum. Wrestling never has.

It's why Steve Austin was popular in a certain era as a babyface, and why Hogan was popular in his era. Favored pop icons were far more saccharine in the 80's compared with the 90's.

I can't look at Cryme Tyme and think that they were created by people out of touch with pop culture and public perceptions of blacks. The reason I can't is because it's impossible. I can't look at Edge's feud with Matt Hardy over Lita and think that this would have happened in any prior era. It was positively too risque to have happened even ten years ago.

Your argument is akin to thinking that singer/songwriters and protest music of the 1960's arose spontaneously , and that it's merely coincidence that happened at the same time as growing anti-Vietnam war sentiment. It's simply absurd.

I don't know what your frustration is, but it's simply impossible to say "wrestling is just what it is." All of our culture is a part of us, and we are a part of it. The cause-effect relationship is reciprocal.

I'd recommend looking at some of Heather Levi's work on Lucha Libre to see the influence of society on wrestling and wrestling on society. I'd also recommend Kathe Lowney's paper on the Right to Censor as a means of engaging cultural criticism of wrestling.

Also, since you disagree with the claim that wrestling is theater, I highly recomend Erving Goffman's "Presentation of Self in Everyday Life." It's one of the fundamental books of social psychology, and explains how Goffman argues that damn near everything we do has parallels to theater. Besides, in wrestling, you have bookers and promoters, who help decide where you fall on the card that night and in the future. National promotions have teams of scriptwriters who structure every moment of the television shows you watch. The only thing ad-libbed on a wrestling show anymore are the parts of the match where there are no planned spots. How can you tell us it's not comparable to theater when it so clearly is?

I'm curious what the origins of wrestling are, in your view; you disregard greco-roman, and you disregard theater. Where, then, do you feel wrestling comes from?

Lastly, this is a plea to everyone: keep it polite. I can handle name-calling fine and well. Even though this is an online forum, it is still the domain for academic discussion. I'll do my best to avoid personal attacks and petty namecalling, under the assumption that we all will. Now, of course, there is room for a fruitful discussion here. After all, the very first rule of sociology (according to Peter Berger, anyway) is "things aren't always as they seem." Nor is, I argue, professional wrestling.

Sam Ford said...

I've purposefully stayed out of this one, and probably will continue to, but I have to say I am reading and fascinated. :) For those of you who have read my essay, and I don't know if Joshua has, I'm particularly interested in the way that fans themselves offered me theories as to why they--and others--enjoyed the show. As I point out, fans engage with the show as theorists themselves, and these weren't philosophers. The way fans articulate themselves may not involve the pomposity of the rhetoric of some of academia, but many of these fans are actually quite introspective.

By the way...great points Mike, particularly about the OVW storyilne. I think one major difference in the types of wrestling products we are talking about is whether you are booking spot shows meant to just be a show in themselves, like most of Wildman's shows from Drawing Heat, or else a serialized show, whether on TV or at regular intervals in the same arena. The way you approach character-building and storytelling differs dramatically between those two. One set of our readings seems to look at the show in itself, as a standalone, while other looks at the ongoing seralized format of wrestling.

narwood said...

So here's the weird thing, cha? People are forming lengthy eloquent arguments in response to Joshua's original post. Which *is* the point of academia. Kinda boring when everyone agrees. (Though yes, lack of discourse is also sad.)