Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Rant of Nostalgia

As cynical and jaded as any kid who drifted through high school with easy A's and underqualified teachers, I spent a few months dead serious about skiving off college to turn bum around Toronto's film industry. Part of me knew I never would, it being easier and safer to continue living under the protective wing of my parent's bank account and a daily life of intellectual snobbery. The rest of me shied away too - what I wanted was to go where something was happening, to live in the backstage of action before the lowish budget sci fi and movies hit the small screen. And best I could figure, corporate ego's and yuppie professionals had probably infiltrated any and all of the old school work ethics I imagined once existed.

I felt it for film, but the same mystique comes up in any profession we see legends matriculate from, and young kids yearn to join. Baseball, the circus, theatre, wrestling. It's all boils down to the experience. The glitz and glam that make a circus a spectacle wears thin after a while, after that dreams of swinging on the trapeze are only fun if right before you were helping shove a reluctant lion back into a cage and sidestepping the wino strongman. Behind the scenes is the place to be - and even if you aren't, watch closely enough for long enough and the rhythms of the show emerge out of the staged scripts and performances.

That's what I think Freedman is talking about when he says of wrestling and one-man bands and medicine shows: "most of these kinds of things... [are] so old hat or decadent or uncommercial or unpredictabel that no reproduction, no media treatment of them every does them justice." Sure it's a line born of nostalgia, but it's a nostalgia not of a better time or a different way of life. It's all about the personal experience of sitting in a small theatre, or walking down the street past a man on a soapbox. We never lost it really, but while at one time that's what there was for an entertainment experience, now we have canned goods and the pervading sense of a nation of fellow audience members.

And there's the tension. We respect pop culture, after all, we're studying it. Vince has brought out the potential of wrestling, tightening some of the therapeutic aspects because he knows them for what they are. And little kids still dream of becoming big time wrestlers. But with thousands in the stands of tight professional productions, when's our chance to spit on a grimacing face or challenge a wrestling bear? More to the point, where can you find the disgruntled kid signing on to pitch in and get drunk and dirty as an invisible stagehand?

Sure the obvious point here involves the down side of Vince dragging together wrestling into a nationwide televized bonanza, but what I like more is the flip side, what we lose.


Sam Ford said...

Great points, Tess, and I think this deals with the balance well that Dave tries to bring out. The Wildman is a product of his time, a time we can't return to. (If you've never seen A Trip to Bountiful, it's worth a look.) It's one of the saddest stories in our culture, in this case not about a more innocent time, necessarily, since this is a story that doesn't seem "innocent" at all, but a much more raw and visceral and emotional experience.

And it's important to note that wrestling still exists on the independent level, where people come to see wrestling and not necessarily stars (or washed up stars at the very least). People aren't looking for fireworks but the chance to spit on the villain as you mean. As a final point, you may be interested in this:

Here is a text version of one of my interactions with these types of fans, in this small-town experience, that we may talk about more in the future. This was off a message board based on the wrestling shows we were running in rural Western Kentucky.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

I think that's what I found so mythic about it, a way of life I'm used to seeing only in nostalgic depictions of real or imagined pasts.

Dave depicts a world that is, for lack of a better word, real: dangerous and meaningful, in which actions have direct conseqauences and people do extraordinary things. The calculated, commercial, televisual quality in modern wrestling seems to be recreating something that, though itself a fiction, existed in a previous era, a crazy, cathartic, anarchic experience of legitimately terrifying power. It's gone now; we just make a television show about what we imagine it might have been like.