Sunday, April 29, 2007

Washington Post article about Austin

Just read this in the WA Post today about Steve Austin, WWE films, etc.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What's so bad about Beyond the Mat?

I remember that Beyond the Mat came out when I was in high school, when I would read the Washington Post's movie section cover to cover. While I never got to go see the movie, I remembered that it stayed in theaters for quite some time, and the Post's review made a sincere case for Mrs. Foley to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that year.

I also recall that it was described as "the movie Vince McMahon doesn't want you to see!" After seeing the movie, along with the "Mania of Wrestlemania", I'm a bit confused as to exactly why the WWE was upset with the movie. The hyperreality of wrestling was clearly acknowledged and appreciated by both the fans and the WWE itself at this point in time. As was mentioned in class, "Mania" turned the story into a sacrifice of the body. While Beyond the Mat was much more a story about wrestling sacrificing one's psyche, and may have been WWE's initial revulsion from it, I kept thinking about the number of times that the Wrestling shows have actually embraced the idea of wrestling as a story about emotional sacrifice. Take Kurt Angle. During his feud with John Cena, and when he started to turn on the fans chanting "you suck" during his entrance, Kurt mentioned all that he has sacrificed in his life just so he can perform each week, including how he was currently going through a divorce but was still performing (as he was a heel, a small portion of the crowd actually cheered this). When he eventually moved to TNA, it would often be promoted that TNA "saved Kurt's life". This was in the sense that the WWE travel schedule led him to a painkiller addiction and a ruined personal life, but TNA's program helped him focus back on what he loved, heal his personal crises and kick his drug problem. I kind of see this as the flip side to Beyond the Mat's depiction of the wrestling-psyche: wrestling not as dramatic or physical redemption, but an emotional redemption for the wrestlers.

This says nothing of Mick Foley talking about his family and passions while in the ring, or the open manner in which the WWE talked about Eddie Guerrero's drug addiction that he overcame by (among other things) rediscovering his passion to wrestle. Or how Stone Cold Steve Austin's marital/life problems often bubble up in storylines (his return was hyped with an explanation as to why he left in the latest WWE magazine, and his divorce was even mentioned in Mania). The willingness to explore the issue is certainly there among wrestling promotions. The frequency and depth is not on par with the backstage politics or health issues, certainly, but it in no way is it considered off-limits.

So again, what would be so preturbing about Beyond the Mat? Was the real concern with the documentary that wrestling was viewed almost entirely in emotional terms, a lens that was too much for the current tastes of WWE execs? Or could it be that the emotional story arc just didn't have a satisfying ending, or that corporate didn't have a hand in guiding it?

Wanted: Professional Wrestling Posters


I realize this is off topic, but hey I'm a wrestling fan!

Does anybody in the class have and/or collect posters from local wrestling promotions?

I'd be happy to swap some doubles I have for whatever you may have.


Marking out: The willing suspension of disbelief

"If there's no audience/there just ain't no show"
~ Chilliwack/Raino ~

Professional wrestling, like theatre, relies on an unwritten social contract. Simply stated that contract concerns the obligations of both audience and entertainer: the entertainer is expected to give a satisfactory performance and the audience is expected to respond accordingly.

The ideal effort by a performer involves them keeping the 'ball-in-the-air' throughout the show and not dropping it. The audience rewards the effort by applauding or energizing their response in other ways : smiles, oohhs and ahhs etc.

The difference between theatre/wrestling and sport is simple: you can hold a competitive sporting event without an audience and it will still count in the standings. If there's no audience for a theatrical event or wrestling card it will eventually close. Make no mistake, theatre and wrestling are economically driven entities. They are businesses and therefore need a cash flow to stay afloat.

You don't have to 'buy in' or 'mark-out' at a professional wrestling card, but it makes it a whole more fun if everybody does.

Hopefully we will get a chance to discuss this issue further during the May 2nd lecture!

See you at the turnbuckle,


Career Endings

When I think of the end of a wrestlers career, I always think of someone like Jake the Snake Roberts. Usually the end of a wrestler’s glory days does not end with drug addiction and loneliness but that is usually not the case. There are so many ways that a wrestler can end their career and I think it all revolves around the fact that there is no pension plan for wrestlers. Can you really ask a wrestler who makes their living in the ring what they are going to do afterward? Is there a plan for when they are too old or get a career ending injury?

The really sad end is that of wrestlers like Jake the Snake. He just got sucked into the drugs and the life on the road cost him any possible family life. There have been other stars have been kicked off the stage because of the same kinds of problems. Scott Hall was always one of those guys who perplexed me. He got drunk so much and it cost him his job at the WWE and now he has fallen off the map and wrestles independents. And his problems persist. He is not retired but it is not hard to see where he will end up.

Death could be considered an end but it seems to be a freak occurrence when thinking of it as a career ender. But so far, we have read about many stars that lose their place in the spotlight but then you hear about them later having died. So many wrestlers I saw like Rick Rude, Davey Boy Smith end up dead at a relatively young age. You could say that Eddie Guerrero ended his career this way but it was his prior drug addiction that caught up with him.

But the worst way to end a career would be injury during a wrestler’s prime. Kurt Angle put it best, he would rather have died that be told he could not do what he loved any more. All other endings for a career can really be attributed to choices that one makes but usually, an injury is something that is out of the wrestler’s hands. And it is understandable that it can be heart breaking to have to stop performing. You can see how much these wrestlers love the business when they stick around even though their in ring time has expired. Shawn Michaels was the first person I saw this happen to. I thought his character was great but was disappointed he only made sporadic appearances after losing the title to Austin. He made comments about how he would still want to be in the business even if it were not in the ring when he made his return as commissioner. And the same thing happened to Austin later when he had to retire because of his injuries.

With the way careers end is what I think puts sports entertainment into the same category as traditional sports. So many times you hear about players in the NFL failing drug tests or players in MLB taking steroids and promising players getting injured and never being the same or losing their spot on the team. All these happen in the world of wrestling and continue to happen to this day. And just like football players, those that don’t really make it have to go back to a normal life or try to work somewhere else. I guess you could say there are minor leagues in wrestling and you have the independent circuit and I guess TNA. But this aspect of life is where wrestling is more sport than entertainment. Entertainers get hurt on the set but they can keep making movies and TV shows. Getting hurt in wrestling could mean the end of a career.

So why are there no unions? Why don’t wrestlers try to come up with a plan for being ditched if they get hurt or try to keep from being worked too hard. If there are unions and rules to stick to, a promotion would find it harder to get rid of talent that doesn’t bring in crowds and is just wasting money for the company. Then more money would be lost if wrestlers had to perform less. Also, there are only a few wrestlers who actually make it big out of the large talent pool and only a few can actually retire with the money they made while being on top. So a large part of what happens to a wrestler at the end of their career really has to do with the choices they make and whether or not a crowd embraces them. Can a company really be held liable for what happens to a wrestler if their career does not flourish or they decide to use drugs? Perhaps for the drugs part. Jake the Snake told of how he got into drugs from always having to work so hard and not being able to rest the right way. From what I have seen, it seems like an unglamorous end is usually the outcome of a career and people who manage to stay in the spotlight like Ric Flair and Mick Foley are the lucky ones.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fixed and real injuries/tragedies

It's in the nature of pro wrestling to overexaggerate everything. From the moves to the promos to the facial expressions, everything is over the top. But there seems to be a line of sorts that when crossed, is hard to return from. This is particularly true when it comes to injury angles. From Matt Hardy and Edge knocking each other clear off the stage, to Kurt Angle "breaking his leg" and being in a wheelchair for a while, to Shawn Michaels collapsing in the ring, the business thrives on working over the fans emotionally by playing up these injury angles all the time.

But then something like Bret Hart breaking his sternum in a match happens. I still remember in Wrestling With Shadows I think it was, where Bret said that the fans in the front row were yelling at him to get up while he was injured on the floor. Or Mick Foley's story about the guy in ECW who busted his head open on the ground only to be greeted with "You F***ed Up" chants." The fans have been groomed to expect these things to be fixed, to look at a guy writhing in pain and say "hey, he's really good at selling that move/making it look real." So it's only natural then that when Owen died, the jaded fans still thought it was a work.

I will say here that, being caught between a rock and a hard place, I believe the WWE made the right decision to continue with the show. However, as many have already said, the mistake was with not letting the fans in the audience know that Owen had died due to his accident earlier that night. JR's infamous line that "this was as real as real could be," however, made me remember all of the fixed injury angles I've seen, and I've seen quite a few. It's no wonder that there were fans who refused to believe what they had seen. This line between distinguishing when a real injury happens and when it's fixed has become so blurred, that when a legitimate injury does come up in a match, it's hard for WWE to share that with the fans. Not because they can't, but because it's so hard to believe when you know that they like pulling one over you all the time.

In particular, this was sadly more evident in 2005 when Eddie Guerrero died. Believe it or not, there were fans who thought his death was a fix. Yes, there were fans who thought that the emotional tribute show to him a day after he passed (he was found dead in his hotel room the day he was scheduled to win the WWE Championship) was all a work. Now, I know that pro wrestlers are performers and essentially athletic actors, bringing about the overexaggeration that I was talking about earlier. But to say that a man like Chris Benoit breaking down in tears on television in front of millions was an act on his part was and still is an absurd statement to me. Pro wrestlers aren't that good of actors to fake that intense emotion, and I'd like to think they're not that malicious to do it in the first place over someone's death. There was actually a website, and I'm sad that I don't have the link anymore, but there was actually a site that went into details of why Eddie Guerrero was still alive, and how they were going to "bring him back" for a huge return.

As sad and perhaps as malicious as that might sound, the really sad part is that the WWE gave him legitimate reason to think that Eddie Guerrero really hadn't passed. Now, I wasn't watching wrestling when Owen passed, but I was watching in November of 2005 when Eddie died. I was never more sickened to be a wrestling fan than I was in the next few months, when the WWE blatantly exploited a man's death. After a heartfelt tribute along the same vein as Owen's, and some wrestlers sporting "EG" bands on their arms, I thought they'd let his name and memory rest in the minds of the fans who remembered and loved him. Instead, they bring in Eddie's wife to partake in a storyline, they have Rey Misterio dedicating every other match "to Eddie" instead of letting it lie, and then they actually had Randy Orton say that Eddie was in hell. Is it any wonder that there were fans who thought Eddie might've been alive and well and just waiting to exact his revenge on Randy by helping Rey defeat him and Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 22 in April?

I think in a wrestling business with the landscape of the WWE, the tribute shows are fitting. Yes, it's strange and ironic that they have up their stage names while the men behind the wrestler images are talking about a friend who's tragically passed. But Owen's show was the first, and I do think that Eddie's tribute show might've been a little classier, not because the emotion was anymore real, but after having gone through a show like that before, the WWE knew what to do the second time around. What's not fitting is the aftermath. I don't disagree with including Eddie in the Hall of Fame, but I did stop watching SmackDown when every show seemed to revolve around Eddie. It passed from keeping his memory alive to flat-out exploitation, leading to idiotic sites like the one I read where fans are lead to think that maybe he's still alive.

In the end, I know that they won't ever stop using serious injury storylines. But I would like to see them scale back on using them, just so the next time something "very real" happens to someone in the ring (hopefully a long, long, long time from now), the fans won't be so jaded and can respond accordingly, instead of just thinking some guys are good actors...

Logic, Street Fights, and Metagames

After spending most of the semester looking at wrestling largely in terms of the "entertainment" half of "sports entertainment," it's a nice change of pace to spend some time with the "sports" aspect. That said, I was particularly interested in de Garis' description of logic, most specifically the Johnny Rodz quote "Would you have done that if you were in a street fight?!" (202)

I am here reminded of Bernard Suits' definition of a game as being an activity with rules added to make it less efficient. "If the goal of a boxing
match is to make the other fighter stay down for a count of 10, the easiest way
to accomplish this goal would be to take a gun and shoot the other boxer in the
head," says Rules of Play.

So, we now have three entities to work with: wrestling, street fighting, and, for lack of a better term, "sports entertainment." Earlier in the semester we read historical backgrounds on wrestling, but nobody seems to have a specific origin point on the activity, or a clear idea of what it was for, if anything. If it is, like fencing, paintball, or future sports that simulate driving in Boston, a bounded recreation of an ancient, historically valuable survival skill, a street fight might not be a bad place to start. (I haven't led a violent life, and find the norms of street fighting to be highly confusing; pankration is easier, since nobody's armed and everyone agrees on the terms.) So wrestling, being a sport, which is generally agreed to be a type of game, could be interpreted as combat made inefficient: you can't shoot the guy in the head, nor can you punch, bite, headbutt, etc. The style of wrestling that became canonized in American pro-wrestling is self-consciously a mixture of styles, including things like street fighting, which ought to take some of the inefficiency out. So, assuming pro-wrestling were "real," in the colloquial sense, we'd have something with a very thin veneer of rules--applicable only when the ref happens to be watching, with no external review--but would still, overall, function as a sport. The object is to pin, disqualify, knock out or kill one's opponent, and there are rules that apply in certain situations. (And, even in WWE, you can't shoot the guy, at least not in the ring.)

It seems to me that pro-wrestling functions as more of a metagame--a game about a game. It is a game about the (thankfully imaginary) sport described above, in which actors must generate drama while not breaking the rules of the "real" game. But the metagame has its own rules, and its own demands for inefficiency: at the PPV, we all discussed the suspension of disbelief involved in all the rope work. Part of the reason for the breakdown in logic is that, at risk of inviting a discussion of Baudrillard, pro wrestling is approaching a fourth-order simulacrum: a simulation that refers to nothing but itself.

In fact, since I believe this is my last required post, I wonder if I could riff a bit...the first order is mimicry, the second conceals a profound reality, and the third conceals its absence. I don't pretend to understand this stuff--William says I need to read it in French, which I doubt will actually make it simpler--but I wonder if wrestling as a whole could be said to have followed that trajectory. From a survival skill to a reenactment of that skill to a sport to a "fake" sport to a simulation of a sport that couldn't be real to nothing but itself...hrm.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

One Ring Circus: Lecture outline for May 2nd










Back on Barthes

Not to tromp all the way back to the beginning, but I was just re-reading Barthes for my research paper, and a few things struck me...
What I am really interested in is the use of 'spectacle' to describe that which is in the liminal space between real and fake, sport and drama. “What is thus displayed for the public is the great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice. Wrestling presents man’s suffering with all the amplifications of tragic masks. The wrestler who suffers in a hold which is reputedly cruel (an arm-lock, a twisted leg) offers an excessive portrayal of Suffering… “ (27). The identification as spectacle connects to the Jenkins' view of melodrama; it implies hyperbole, legibility, action. However, what I find interesting in the concept of spectacle and its application in wrestling is that spectatorship is defined as passive; it is the act of looking and therefore explicitly not the act of acting. But in wrestling the symbiotic performative relationship between performers and fans defies the exclusivity of either role.

I was reading Ranciere's "The Emancipated Spectator" this week (it's in the March ArtForum) where he builds on theories of theater and spectatorship posited by Brecht, Artaud, and Debord among others. At the core of the talk is the impassible gap between performer and spectator, the idea that there is reciprocity in the relationship, but never coincidence. Instead of being a proponent of 'activating' the audience through direct engagement or demanding response from them in designing for specifically for collective engagement, Ranciere suggests that: "Spectatorship is not a passivity that must be turned into activity. It is our normal situation...We don't need to turn spectators into actors. We do need to acknowledge that every spectator is already an actor in his own story and that every actor is in turn the spectator of the same kind of story" (Ranciere in March 2007 ArtForum, p.279). Wrestling, as a medium, seems to be a perfect explanation of this proposition; indeed, the fluidity between spectatorship and performance is always in flux. The fans are often acting in the performance, as much as the performers are often acting in reality.

Foucault opens 'Discipline and Punish' with a description of the public application of torture to the body of a criminal. He then writes : "Among so many changes, I will consider one: the disappearance of torture as a public spectacle. Today we are rather inclined to ignore it; perhaps, in its time, it gave rise to too much inflated rhetoric; perhaps it has been attributed too readily to a process of 'humanization', thus dispensing with the need for further analysis" (Discipline and Punish, p.7).
But wrestling is exactly 'torture as a public spectacle." But without the actual torture, mostly. Watching wrestling takes on all the issues of the public torture session, all its lessons of power, justice, vulnerability, and formalizes them in a way that allows for the safe engagement with Ranciere's more fluid, active ideas of spectatorship.

Mazer and the Real

Ah, this is the big one, isn't it? The issue that just won't seem to die, no matter how many times we throttle it: how "real" is pro wrestling?

Mazer doesn't really give us an answer, which we should expect. She doesn't even give us much of her answer, because it turns out reality is kind of fungible. The most interesting part, for me, was her claim that the more fans understand the nature of illusion, the more they want to believe: "The more insistent fans become in their exposes of wrestling's fakery, the more they look to experience the real. As they expose the con-artistry of the game, they revel in it and, on some level, seek to be conned, at least momentarily" (82). This behavior is, like most of the fan behaviors we've studied, not limited to wrestling. Skepticism, practiced insistently, has a way of making its absence seem attractive. In my experience, one sees this behavior most often when the paranormal is involved. People know to be suspicious, but being so suspicious whets their appetite for something they can't be suspicious of. It could be argued that the same phenomenon exists among people who actively follow politics: it's perhaps not an accident that some fans play with converging the two (75).

Before I go completely solipsistic on that point, I think Mazer suggests a theory for the thematic meaning of wrestling slightly more plausible than the "two capitalisms" idea we've been kicking around: by being fake and appearing real, wrestling implicitly suggests that anything else might be similarly, for lack of a better term, fake (75). This, I think, might do a better job at explaining the backlash against wrestling better than the sex and violence itself: simulation has a way of making the simulated look like the simulation. It's essentially what the media effects people have been arguing from day one, they just got the causality wrong, and underestimated its scope. Wrestling fans seem to have quite a grasp on vernacular theory, and while we consider those who openly profess the world around them to be fiction to be paranoid, we tend to forget that many religious, scientific and academic worldviews begin with an unstated assumption that reality is fundamentally hidden from us, and must be diligently sought out if it is to be known.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Owen Hart: Funerals and Wakes

The Wright piece on Owen Hart got me thinking, on a number of levels, and grieving. A lot of people are talking about grieving right now, of course; Dennis Prager wrote an interesting article about appropriate and inappropriate methods. The article is here. I'm not posting it because I agree with it per se--Prager is a fascinating case study for the art of rhetoric, but he's also, in my opinion, consistently wrong about everything--but because it correctly asserts that people express grief in many ways, some of which are mutually exclusive.

Sometimes, seemingly contradictory rituals go together. The funeral and the wake come to mind: the first, a solemn recognition of sadness and loss, the second a celebration of not only the life lost, but often life itself, in all its undignified glory. In everything we've read about Hart's death, the question is raised about what Hart would have wanted. Specifically, would he have wanted the show to go on?

I think it's this tension that causes the semiotic schizophrenia Wright describes. It makes sense, on a general level, to not break completely from character, from business, or from revelry in a tribute to a dead wrestler. It makes sense, that is, if the wrestler identifies himself with the sport, and with the organization: if celebrating the life necessarily entails celebrating wrestling. It seems to me that an "authentic" tribute, in which there was no gratuitous sex or violence, and in which all performers appeared under their real names, would seem out of place for certain wrestlers, in the same way that I think a eulogy for George Carlin would be incomplete without a healthy dose of profanity. If Steve Austin were to have died while working for the WWE, I can't imagine the tribute wouldn't involve beer drinking or middle fingers. The wake model seems most appropriate.

For Owen Hart, though, who was lionized for his integrity and his recognition that his family was more important than his job, it seems out of place to celebrate the job alongside the man. I see no fundamental problem with the "strong hyperreality" described by Wright in a tribute to an archetypal dead wrestler, but it presents a rather difficult problem when applied to Owen Hart.

And So It May Begin...

Peter said the current events post may have little to do with this class, but he had no idea what he was foreshadowing. The AP story came out this afternoon about Cho Seung-Hui. Adam Geller's article sought to give some description of who Cho was.

Apparently, Cho spent most of his time alone, either on his computer and watching a lot of television. They only mentioned one show he watched in partiuclar in the article, though, which is "Friday night wrestling."

Dave Meltzer says that Hardball has already picked up on that fact in particular, so I wonder if it will take long for someone to turn this into a wrestling violence story. The PTC hasn't been in the press as much lately, but their last round at trying to do this sort of thing didn't go so well...but we might want to watch this unfold amidst our discussions about such things.

Wrestling's Business is Making Money

There are always those products that seem to evolve and adapt to the changing environment. And I don't think that wrestling has any equal in this department. There are lots of entertainment companies follow the model of using their television program to sell other products. Sports is the best example. DVD collections of championship runs, jerseys, ticket sales, team gear and video games are all points of revenue for the NFL, NBA and MLB. But wrestling was at the forefront of merchandise sales. DVDs come out every month because people will pay for pay-per-view matches. How many other companies can sell a DVD of a show they did a couple months ago and expect to sell many of them? Only TV collections which come out a few seasons after ward can equal this kind of sales potential.
I have been part of this kind of expansion because I have bought into most of what the WWE sells. I bought the T-shirts and the video games. I have bought books and DVDs as well as pay-per-views and magazines. I think the only thing I have not gotten into is online stuff because it just seems excessive at that point to pay for something I probably won't use. As it stands I have just enough time to watch the regular shows so I don't need to have up to the minute updates on the world of wrestling.
One interesting point that the "McMahon Media Empire" brings up is the increasing distribution of products that are not shows, like the special DVDs and merchandise and subscriptions to bring in a new revenue stream that is lost when people lose interest and wrestling is not mainstream anymore. I do remember the appearance by the Rock on SNL and Triple H being on Mad TV. You can see it here. So I do wonder if it is possible that this kind of synergy and massive expansion could alienate those that would like to get in. It might not happen since all one needs is the main show but seeing that books and magazines and online subscriptions are part of what the company displays to be the full experience, it might be a bit overwhelming for an outsider. I know I feel this way about other forms of media that have their own universe such as Harry Potter or video games like Final Fantasy. Both of these products have reached out beyond their original media and it seems like a hassle to try and grasp the entirety of the mythos.
It might also be possible that people will not give the empire a second thought and just watch the shows. But then it could be possible that the expansion will continue to increase because new viewers may be placed into that pool of fans who buy a DVD about a wrestler or that video game. And with more people watching, then the WWE will more product but the thing to watch for is the crash, when all of this merchandise doesn't sell because there are too many products out there and the number of people who were there once watching the show are gone again.

Business matters

After reading Sam's article on Vince creating a media empire, I started thinking about how much pro wrestling has changed in the last twenty years or so. The most glaring difference between then and now is obviously the downfall of the territories and the emergence of the WWE as the only real game in town. Sam made a point that stuck with me when he said that at this stage in the game, the WWE has enough invested in DVD sales, PPV buyrates, their book endeavors, their "best of" anthology DVD sets, their CD sales, and everything else to stay at the top even without direct competition and even during a pro wrestling "drought" when the product isn't as popular anymore. I never thought of it that way, but avoiding overexposure is something that was mentioned several times and I feel it deserves a second look.

When I think of WWE producing 12 PPVs a year priced at almost $40 each, the first word that comes to mind is overkill. Seeing as how we're a math and science based school, let's crunch some numbers. $39.95 x 16 = $479.4. That number might be a little off since WrestleMania is around $10 more expensive than your regular PPV, so let's say it comes out to around $490. This is how much money an "avid" fan would spend in a given year on wrestling. This is theoretical of course, since I'd say a small fraction of the fans care enough about both shows to cough up so much money. Let's say a fan orders the "big four" (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series) and for argument's sake, orders another two Joe-Schmoe pay-per-views like Backlash and No Way Out or something like that. That comes out to about $250, give or take. That's still a lot of money...

I know that PPV is the WWE's bread and butter and that a huge part of their revenue is based on how many buys they get, but when is it too much? A pay-per-view each month alternating with Raw and Smackdown will only appeal to the fans that watch that respective brand, and that almost hinders how much money the WWE can actually make. Imagine for a moment that the brand extension was ended and that both rosters were combined. Now all of a sudden, you take the fans that watch Raw and the fans that watch Smackdown, and you have your full audience tuning into both shows and (cha-ching) caring about all of the PPVs that come out each month. It's not as if this formula wouldn't be successful - they were using it before the brand extension when pro wrestling was at its highest popularity, and it worked.

The problem I see in WWE's approach is that it's unrealistic to expect their fans to pay the amount for PPVs each month, especially when Sam's noted that it pays to just wait another month or so to get said PPV on DVD for around $20. Their approach is making them money, yes, but altering that approach might bring them the same amount of success with a little creativity. If the amount of PPVs were cut from 12 down to 6, that alone would make the PPVs worth so much more. They'd be more of a rarity and the anticipation for them would be huge, much more than they are now. It's like Mick Foley said in his book - the only reason WrestleMania is deemed special is because of all the hype, when in all actuality, the following month they have to go out there again and appeal to a PPV-paying audience.

Cutting the PPVs down would in fact knock out several birds with one stone. First of all, it would be a lot more realistic for fans to invest and pay for all the PPVs than it is now. Combining rosters would help because that alone would increase the audience size, which would no doubt result in more buys as well. Also, by NOT overexposing their product so much on PPV, the WWE could relax their pace and build meaningful storylines and characters, instead of rushing one rivalry one month for this PPV, and then rushing into another one for the next PPV while forgetting what just happened last month. And well, theoretically, better storylines + better and more developed characters = better ratings. Better ratings = more fans = more PPV $$$. And everyone knows that more PPV revenue = happy Vince (which is all that matters these days!).

Moving aside from the PPV point, though, I don't get why they don't just combine the rosters. When they did the roster split, they were overloaded with talent, and it made sense. But now with so many "stars" gone, both shows (Smackdown in particular) would benefit from a combined roster. It would make for fresh storylines and renewed interest, and would probably result in more revenue at the actual shows (because now, you can see them ALL). ECW though, well, I don't really know about them. I'd keep them separate, and create "competition" between Raw/Smackdown and ECW. But anyways, these are just some observations I made while reading Sam's piece and while watching the shows in general on how to make more money but avoid the overexposure at the same time. Thoughts?

The Evolution of Women's Wrestling

As I've began to think about my paper topic, I've managed to pose questions to our guest speakers JR and Mick Foley on what their thoughts were about the direction of the women's division in the WWE. A bit earlier, Peter touched on some questions I was tossing around regarding women's wrestling and how it has been changing as a whole, and not for the better it seems. According to JR and Mick, the WWE seems to have been actively moving away from the athletic, competitive women's wrestling that has been prevalent for the last few years, only to introduce the Diva Search contest, which is basically a glorified beauty pageant rather than a wrestling talent introduction. While this has been the trend lately, there may be evidence of a resurgence of the high-impact intense women's wrestling of the past, with women like Melina, Victoria and Vickie James possibly trying to pick up the slack left by the departure of Lita, Trish Stratus and others.

Now, according to Mick, the WWE has actually chastised some of the female wrestlers at points for wrestling 'too much like the guys', and for them to change their style. Now, I know there are several wrestling styles, including lucha libre, technical, etc, but I have never really distinguished between a 'guys'' style and a 'girls'' style. Frankly, the prospect of being told to wrestle/fight/etc 'like a girl' pisses me off. Especially if, as Mick put it, ' there are actual guys who can't wrestle that well, and you're telling the women to wrestle worse in a way'. It seems that WWE has the notion that sex sells, and women's wrestling doesn't, or at least not in the same way that the men's wrestling does. There also seems to be an antiquated idea of women's matches as 'filler', as a means for the crowd to catch their breath between 'real matches.

I heartily disagree. At the time of the Women's Division's heyday, when the locker room was bursting with talented, athletic women such as Lita, Chyna, Gail Kim, Molly Holly and Jazz, the WWE was at its peak. I know fans, male and female alike, paid money to watch those matches, and didn't just watch them as filler. Why? Because they were good, well structured, intense bouts, built up well with good storylines and pushes. These are not catfights, or bra and panties matches, or costume contests, these were wrestling matches, with lots of strong technical wrestling and some highflying moves to boot. They didn't need to take off their tops to get the crowd to pop.

Now, look at a ladies' match on RAW. Lately, they have barely been matches, and there have been a lot more Playboy celebrations and talent contests and yada yada. This is not women's wrestling, this is t&a, and no, not the tag team. If I wanted to watch this dribble, I could go to MTV or E or whatever other channel. But I want to watch good women's wrestling, and it seems to be in short supply. What happened?

The WWE/Vince has prided itself on knowing what the fans want and giving it to them. But is this watered down, sexed up version of women's wrestling what we want? It's unclear. On the average, wrestling tends to evolve with the times, and changes in tune with societal shifts, such as in world affairs like the Gulf War(s), the Attitude Era, introducing a homosexual tag team, etc. But in this case, the WWE may have slipped backwards. As Peter pointed out, there is no shortage of strong female action heroes in media lately, such as Lara Croft, Buffy, and others, and they seem to be quite popular, given the success of franchises such as Resident Evil, Alias and the forthcoming Sarah Conner Chronicles. These are tough, violent and strong women who are earning money for their creators and distributors. So why does the WWE seem to be moving away from the trend? The female wrestlers are more muscular, perhaps, but not Chyna-level muscular, and they are definitely still very sexy and beautiful. Plenty of people pay good money to see Milla Jovovich kick butt on the movie screen, so why would they all of a sudden decide not to pay to see real live women kick butt in the squared circle?

Perhaps the WWE is indeed learning from their societal-reflection folly, and have slowly pushing the women's division back to that athletic, competitive level it was at before, now that they have a steadily improving group of women to base that growth on. Perhaps they realized that all that t&a wasn't actually giving them the ratings they were looking for.Perhaps all of the above, we shall see, and I shall investigate further through the term. I just hope we get phase out the bunnies and bring back the hardcore women's wrestlers that got me hooked on wrestling in the first place.

Foley: Voice of Honesty, Innocence, and Barbed Wire

In the scholarly work of that well respected cultural historian Sam Ford, "....Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero", he examines the many complexities and contradictions in casting Mick Foley, both on-screen character and real-life performer, as a hero, underdog, or male archetype. From just looking at him, only one of those labels seems appropriate, given that our scarred, pear-shaped subject certainly appears to have weathered the sour end of his share of battles, and certainly doesn't look like a masculine hero in the vein of say, a Superman or a Hulk Hogan. But as we well know by now, with Mick Foley, appearances, as well as many other things, can be deceiving.

Mick is far from the image of the traditional American male hero. Instead of being fiercely independent and self-reliant, on screen, Mick has a long history of searching for companionship and connection with others, ranging from the approval of his boss, Mr. McMahon, to the tag-team partnership with the Rock as the Rock n' Sock connection, even to the mother/father role filled by the ambiguous wrestler Goldust. While this longing for connection and companionship make negate any traits of loner intensity, etc, that does not make Mick a pushover. Oh, no no. Mick Foley will take any opponent to hell and back, bringing back souvenirs such as thumbtacks and barbed wire, despite his less than athletic physique and scruffy image. Mick does not need to rely on anyone else to get the job done in the ring, but unfortunately his adherence to truth and honesty can sometimes lead to him being screwed over by his wily opponent or The Man, Vince McMahon.

This adherence to justice, honesty and steadfastness in the ring do indeed lend themselves to the characteristic masculine American hero, one who does the right thing, stands up for truth, and will work their ass off for it. These characteristics in Foley's on-screen persona no doubt stem from his real-life work ethic as a sports-entertainer, having busted his butt all over the world in death matches, ECW, WCW and then finally in WWE, putting his life on the line and wrestling through injuries like broken jaws and severed ears, to entertain the fans and just to keep working, to keep wrestling, even as he barely got any support from the office in WWE and when his biggest supporters were the fans rather than his employers. Those traits of the hardworking underdog reflect the other side of the classic lower-class American hero, while not exactly the overall masculine archetype. Mick as the wrestler on TV and the real-life person becomes a hero to every person who has ever worked themselves to the brink and beyond for a purpose, or even just to survive, against unfair odds, a hero to those who try to do the right thing (or want to) even if it's not in their best interests. Mick becomes a hero even to your average overworked student, who even when they are exhausted and sleep-deprived and think they might crack, you can look to Mick Foley, consider everything he put himself through for his dream, his goal, snap yourself out of it, and get back to work.

This tough-as-nails masculine underdog hero, while seeming to portray a 'man's man' in this way, has also been shown to be an expressive, emotional and intellectual specimen, traits that are not often associated with the classic male hero. Certainly we have seen Mankind show his frustration, anger, sadness and humiliation in several 'candid' on screen interviews with JR, and we know of Mick's means of expression and intellectual pursuit through his various memoirs and novels. In a society where men are expected never to show weakness, never to show emotion or to cry, or even to thoroughly analyze something as that is what the 'eggheads' do, not real men, Mick Foley thwarts those conventions while still retaining his hardcore status among wrestling fans and the greater community. He even manages to remain the underdog in several on-screen storylines via these intellectual, emotional traits and his adherence to honesty and innocence, despite the fact that he is a 3 time world champion and arguable the most violent man to set foot in the ring. Mick Foley, in ring and out, is a hero to guys, girls, geeks and jocks, wrestling fans and literary fans, because of all these qualities. He embodies and thwarts the classic traits of the masculine American hero in both real life and in WWE programming, by both expanding on his own personality and drawing from his imagination. It is a sincere reflection on the evolution of our societal values that we accept this form of hero as possibly the new aesthetic for the masculine heroic archetype.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In which I break the first rule of classblogging...

...that being, current events are not automatically fair game.

Among my favorite parts of Foley is Good was the epilogue in which he took apart the methodology of the UI study. I enjoyed it, and appreciated the work involved, but didn't have a whole lot to say about it.

But then, I came across the following in response to the recent VT shooting:

"As with every American tragedy, we are about to learn all sorts of “lessons” in the aftermath of the VT shootings. And true to form, most of these lessons will be hastily implemented versions of pre-existing agendas, shoddily conceived, and in the long run, more painful than the tragedy itself. It is a uniquely American form of grieving, completely predictable, and equally difficult to stop."
- John Cole, described by left-leaning cartoonist/blogger August J. Pollack as a "conservative blogger who isn't insane." The post in question can be read here.

Jack Thompson has already managed to appear on Fox News as a "school shootings expert," and and Dr. Phil has weighed in on the dangers of a ubiquitously violent media environment. I'm going to try to avoid the usual knee-jerk defensive wankery--I've read far too many of those in videogame magazines--and look into something that's always confused me about the PTC in general, and their treatment of wrestling in particular.

Foley goes out of his way to connect the PTC with McCarthyism, a claim that would seem gratuitous were it not both well-researched and historically accurate. But wrestling is not Doom, and it's not rap music. Wrestling, to my knowledge, doesn't play into existing agendas about gun control or voting demographics. Put simply, it's hard to define exactly what agenda is served by attacking pro wrestling.

Foley suggests that it's just about money, that attacking wrestling consistently puts money in the PTC coffers. And that's plausible enough on its face, since the great thing about money is that it serves no purpose except to turn into stuff. So attacking wrestling could fit into any existing agenda the PTC leadership has; accusing the WWE of killing children could be part of a long-term plan to reestablish teacher-led prayer in school for all we know. It's a non-profit, theoretically, but the American political system has been very good at producing explicitly political non-profit groups with a loose definition of non-profit.

So, here's where I (as usual) appeal to the knowledge of the fans here--assuming, for the sake of argument, that it's about wrestling and not a smokescreen for something else, why do you find, in your experiences as a fan, that people might find wrestling distasteful or dangerous? What preexisting agendas might it fit to get Vince off the air?

The importance of the promo

Last night, I took advantage of the fact that we had no viewing lab to go to and tuned in to watch a full episode of Raw. I was excited to do so, because I (surprisingly) missed my Monday night wrestling viewing habit, and so I just wanted to make some observations on the show.

I was buying the show, and I got a kick out of the "fan" that won the Intercontinental title. I thought it had a good build to the Bobby Lashley interference, and the fans seemed to be buying it as well. But then, Lashley was passed the microphone, and he gave the most underwhelming promo I've heard about all year long. It killed the intensity of the match, of the segment, of just about everything. It was so lackluster in its delivery that it made me laugh instead of making me believe in his character.

This made me remember an argument I once had with a fellow fan, and so I decided to bring the topic here. I know that in this day and age, promo skills are almost a necessity... or are they? Let's take Umaga for example. All this guy does is growl and pant and destroy people in the ring. Between Vince and Armando Alejandro Estrada (I love how he says his name), they pretty much do all of the talking for him. He hasn't said a word and everyone buys his character, at least, most people do. Between them helping him by showcasing his voice through him and his in-ring intensity, Umaga doesn't need much else.

Enter Bobby Lashley. This guy has the look of a champion and he has the moves of a champion, but I would rather Moolah and Mae Young try to wrestle now than hear this man on the microphone. And yet, if promo skills are so important, why is this guy the focus of the show apart from the champion himself, John Cena? Granted, not everyone can be a Ric Flair or a Rock on the microphone, but guys like Chris Benoit and Rob Van Dam were often criticized for their rather underwhelming promos (they got better). Shelton Benjamin in particular is a phenominal athlete, but he never got off the ground for a singles push because he couldn't "connect" with the fans. But I'm supposed to believe in Lashley and want him to win... right. It's the same problem on the blue show with Batista, although he's gotten better, he still sometimes leaves something to be desired on the microphone.

But does it matter? In my opinion, it doesn't, because to me, it's what goes on in the ring that's the most important thing. You can say what you have to say in the ring, Chris Benoit being the premiere example. But nowadays, it seems like more and more emphasis is placed on the dramatic storylines instead of the actual in-ring content, and if that's the way it's going to be, then they should put some effort into guys like Lashley and his microphone skills. After all, he's a big name now, and he's involved in a high-level feud with the McMahons. It reminded me of what JR said when he came to visit - some guys are shot to the top and they're just not ready for it. If Bobby Lashley doesn't fit that criteria right now, then I don't know who does...

Joshua Shea says goodbye

I was supposed to visit your class this week, but as I explained to Sam in greater personal detail than I will here, that simply is not an option for me. I've happened upon a bit of bad luck and can't spend the time or money it would cost coming from Central Maine. Of course, you're all welcome up here provided you give me a few hours to clean up.

In the first weeks of this blog, I played it straight, but realized that it could use a bit of life, wrestling-style, so I asked Sam if he wouldn't mind me, in essence, playing a heel on the board. Like the best heels, I think I just put on an extreme version of myself. I'm far more entertaining when I'm manic vs. composed and tried to capture that mania here on the board. I came up with the formula of telling the truth half the time, lieing 40 percent of the time and trying to appear completely irrational 10 percent of the time. Of course I'm sure everyone asked themselves if I was serious at one time or another, but a big piece of me was shocked no one insisted I was full of it.

So what was I trying to get out of this? First, entertainment for myself. Second, I was curious how you'd react to different attacks. How would you defend your school? How would you defend analysis of wrestling? How would you react to someone acting these things that you hold important. I think that there were three groups of people: those who ignored the posts, those who read but didn't often respond and those that responded every time. While I think the second group genuinely didn't like me, I started sensing a bit of amusement or even enjoyment with my posts with the last group toward the end. Otherwise (and yes, this is old guy advice) just ignore people who don't like you and you don't like. The population is growing so fast that there will be plenty of people you get enjoyment front. I liked each and every one of your posts, even those that called me names because they all showed passion.

That passion is what kept me going on this board. You could say I was just baiting people, but I think that it was more of a challenge to give me your opinion. And usually, I was impressed and surprised with what you had to say. For a bunch of CMS students at a math school (heh heh) you did very well.

For the record, I don't watch much wrestling anymore. I booked and owned an indy group, but I also was ill equipped to handle either role since I was in my early 20s and wasn't capable of handling either the creative or business end. I also have no college degree, having started working at newspapers when I was in high school and just sort of stumbled my way to place 99% of people need one. Don't be a fool, stay in school. One of my largest clients is a college preparatory magazine, so I don't hate college life. If I did, I'd want to kill myself with the amount of time I have to be on campuses overseeing photo shoots. I congratulate all of you for going to MIT and hope you can make school as synonymous with media studies as math.

I will step away from the blog at this point and let you finish up without me tossing grenades.

Thank you all for the opportunity to reprise a "heel" character. I enjoyed my time here very much.

Joshua Shea

Chyna v. writer's block

In the course of sifting through sources for my project, I came across an article entitled "No Cage Can Hold Her Rage? Gender, Transgression, and the World Wrestling Federation's Chyna," by Dawn Heinecken, and thought I'd try to work with it a bit. The author divides Chyna's career into three stages:

"When she first emerged, she was a reviled, contested figure because of her muscular body and the way she transgressed gender norms. She was described as a monster and not a "real" woman. Her marginalization continued when she was demonized as a feminist who challenged male dominace. Her latest, and most popular incarnation, was that of a sex symbol, a role that required substantial body modification. The different framing of of her various incarnations is telling. While Chyna ostensibly projects an image of rebellion, a figure that threatens to melt down the male-dominated world of professional wrestling, her popularity, may, in fact, be due more to a process of normalization than to her transgressive qualities. Thus, her case is useful for what it has to tell us about the ways in which female unruliness is framed by popular media." (183)

I can make no claims as to the factual or thematic accuracy of these claims, not having been watching at the time, and I've read enough pop theory to know that some people don't let the actual text get in the way of a good reading. But there seems to be a pretty well-defined split among female wrestlers, in terms of fan perception, between "real" wrestlers and models affecting catfights. By her third incarnation, Chyna is noticeably less muscular than before, more obviously identifiable as "feminine" (as opposed to merely "female"). I'm not sure if this made her less effective as a wrestler or not.

In fact, my ignorance of the actual mechanics of wrestling makes this difficult to read. You need to be in good shape to put on a good show, obviously, and you need a certain amount of raw muscle to throw your opponent around, since (as noted before) you can't fake gravity. But I remember the clips we watched from the 50s, how slow the action generally was, and how flabby some of the performers looked. (Granted, flabby by modern wrestler standards is still light years ahead of the average American, but I digress.) The Mick Foleys of the world aside, WWE seems to work with a pretty specific body type that's both lean and ridiculously muscular. How much of that muscle is necessary for categorical criteria (stamina, endurance, speed), and how much of it is mostly for hypothetical criteria (i.e. lifting one's opponent's weight)? Does a woman need significantly more muscle to wrestle men than to wrestle other women? Do women need to be particularly muscular to wrestle in the style currently popular in the WWE?

These aren't rhetorical questions, I actually don't know. I wonder, though, about something a fellow student whose name I've forgotten asked after a colloquium: what is Buffy vs. Faith if not a women's wrestling match? (The answer, of course, is a rigged MMA.) Videogames and movies are filled with women warriors, of course, and I wonder if that plays into the issue. Sarah Michelle Gellar is not much of an athlete. I could probably take her in a fight, although I cannot at the moment imagine a plausible scenario in which it would be ethically appropriate to do so. She doesn't have to be: she has a plot device that explicitly divorces her physical mass from her fighting prowess, and all the tricks in Hollywood to fake it for her. Videogame women also have no necessary relation between how their bodies look and what they can do. I wonder if part of the reason for a downturn in the popularity of women's wrestling that isn't sexualized to a ridiculous degree is that other media have given a subset of fans the ability to have their cake and eat it too: women who engage in a form of violence coded as explicitly masculine, while maintaining bodies coded as explicitly feminine, to a degree that would not be physically possible in a live event.

E is for Extreme

The documentary we watched the other night titled The Rise and Fall of the ECW, was one of the more interesting documentaries we have watched this semester. Since the events of the documentary took place relatively recently, it is easier to see the impact that the organization had on all of wrestling. The ECW wrestlers’ commentary provides first-hands accounts on the events and we are able to hear their perspective on some of the behind-the-scene issues.

The Extreme in ECW was the single most important motivation for the wrestlers. They wanted to set themselves apart from the more widespread WCW and WWE. Paul Heyman openly admits that they couldn’t compete with the two superpowers’ production capabilities so they focused on being better at their strengths. Consequently, lucha libre and hardcore styles became characteristic of ECW. The wrestlers pushed the limits in both cases and the fans loved every minute of it.

ECW wrestlers and their wrestling style had a very big impact on the rest of wrestling. Up to that point wrestling was very formulaic and somewhat predictable. ECW wanted to break this mold and really put on a show for the fans. I remember I thought that the show was unscripted and as close to real as possible the first time I watched an ECW show. Bloody wrestlers and high-risk maneuvers made the show very extreme and realistic. I thought that the way the show incorporated the fans was a good idea. It made the most important part of the show actually part of the show. Their participation was a key part of an ECW show and it greatly contributed to the cult following that ECW possessed.

One of the things that caught my attention was how those from ECW viewed WCW. Even during the documentary it seems like Paul Heyman still had some hard feelings towards Eric Bischoff and his underhandedness. It seems like the recurring theme in these documentaries is the bigger guy is always trying to “steal” from the smaller guy. The organizations with more bargaining power drew the wrestlers from the smaller companies. First the WWE stole all the talent from the territories. Then WCW stole wrestlers from the WWE and, inversely, the WWE stole wrestlers from WCW. Now, the new story is that WCW was stealing from ECW. I thought it was funny how those wrestlers from the WCW were later stolen by the WWE (but then again most wrestlers would end up in the WWE).

The documentary was able to shed some light on the events that I had only heard of and the organization that almost made it. The current style of wrestling that we have become accustomed to is definitely a product of the ECW’s extreme style of wrestling. Although I wasn’t able to see how the ECW fell, it seems unlikely that they would’ve been able to compete with the WWE. Even though the WWE eventually bought out ECW, ECW was able to make a lasting impression on wrestling.

Mick Foley Stole my Pen

[[[After posting the following, it was discovered that Mick Foley did not, in fact, steal my pen. He returned it to Sam, who forgot he had it. I apologize for my slanderous pen-stealing remarks, and any damage they might have caused. Aside from this note my post is unchanged, and will remain so unless offended parties request differently.]]]


[ First I have to note that I write really small, and there's this one type of pen I use that is perfect: really thin line, doesn't skip. I just can't find them, and have to bribe a friend into bringing me back some from PA whenever she goes. I really did love that pen.]

The other day I was really excited about extending the somewhat irritating story that is my title into a heartwrenching metaphor for my (and a couple of yours as well) academic voice being stolen by the stolidity of the class. I was a little too drunk to type at the time, and now I don't care enough to craft it well, so I'll just let you appreciate the potential brilliance. But let's look back on our illustrious guest speakers. All they really did was tell us stories. Not even very useful stories of the kind Joshua promotes. JR was reminiscing about his entrance into the real adult world, Foley, so far as I can tell, wasn't even that secure and was just trying to get some smiles. Don't get me wrong, I was thoroughly amused, because they both spoke well.

Like the class itself, irregardless of Sam's intent the results have the potential to be useful, we just didn't use them well. In fact: Mick Foley is a brilliant story teller. If I were actually taking a writing course this term I would have lobbied to have him visit our class. There we could have asked him all these interesting questions about stories that I think he would have loved because a) we would have labeled and engaged him as someone more substantive than and apart from a wrestler, and b) it would extend his bragging rights about speaking at MIT. It would also have been a friendlier discourse for him. I flubbed it a bit, because after his initial response to 'academics studying wrestling, ay or nay?' was an uniformed (but enthusiastic, thanks!) sound bite of support, I would have felt bad if the poor guy's experience at MIT ended up intimidating him into incoherency.

Take the colloquium. I know not everyone came but they did this skit about the musical entrance at the beginning. It was meant to work the crowd, and it did. It would have been interesting to poll some of the audience members afterwars about their perceptions of it. I thought it was cheap. What did other non-fans think? Did they notice it was scripted? Did wrestling fans immediately know and appreciate it? Did they chose to pretend it was real to increase their parcipatory excitment? From an academic standpoint, was it cheap because none of the post-hoc analysis was done?

I'm only picking on that moment because it was the only one of interest. Sure Foley talked a little about his own foray into academic research, but the point is if you really care, just read his book. In each colloquia it's a room full of wrestling fans, and a few grad students who apparently have to be there. The grad students get credit and the fans had fun seeing Mankind with all his hair. As noted in one of Joshua's post, fans out there thought JR's talk was pointless. They blamed it on us academics, but once again, no academic types were really asking questions. Fans were asking questions, and for the most part they prove an interesting point: if we go back to Sam's classification of fans, there's a divide between mindless strategies of enjoyment, and analytic tendencies. And we see it! Despite the hopeful fact that many of those people were intelligent, and all ought to have enough specialized knowledge about wrestling to justify our interest in them, there was a derth of good questions in what in theory is an academic setting. I feel like I was tricked out of an education and into a glorified story time.

In my life, academia is sacred. As such, I've been operating under the assumption that this class itself is *meant* to be a serious forum for scholarly analysis of a pop culture phenomenum. I had briefly considered the idea that in fact, it wasn't, back when I was trying to figure out why we're failing at the blog-based critical portion of the class, while spending 6 hours a week watching highlight reels. Now post Foley and JR visitations, I have to applaud Sam for his brilliance. As a second year MASTERS student, he's making himself look really good by 'teaching' his very own course at MIT, wherein he gets to spend all his non-thesis hours playing with his other fanboy obsession, AND his token nod to serious work (the blog) is the perfect place in which to cull the periodic nugget of insight for use in his own scholarly work down the line. Oh, and he's building this really awesome name for himself in the pro-wrestling fan community. Behind the kayfabe it makes a lot of sense.

I guess, looking at it that way, Foley didn't really 'steal' my pen. After all, people lose pens all the time. Instead, my pen is somewhere doing something interesting. It just isn't doing it in my hand, which on the whole is my real objection.

Our Class and Mick in the Cambridge Chronicle

The students who were in the class Thursday, when I had lost Mick somewhere in the student center and people were getting concerned about our whereabouts, probably met or at least noticed that a photographer and journalist were present for the Cambridge Chronicle. They have their story up about the class and Mick's visit, and I wanted to share it with everyone else here on the blog. You can find it here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Foley's Multiple Masculinities (not to be read 'big grapefruits')

In reading Sam Ford's text,'Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero , I got to thinking about Foley as the 'mythic' and the 'everyman'. If the wrestling character is an extension of the wrestler themselves, and then this character is expanded into the realm of myth/ living legend, the original persona is being so multiplied and twisted around, it's no wonder it's impossible to tell what is real or not. What amazes me most about Foley is exactly the multiplicity of personas that he draws upon. Rather than building one character image to perform to the fans, he gives a pile of identifiers: three wrestling characters, plus his 'real' persona: the intellectual side, plus the warm cuddly father, etc. The culmination of which is an extremely successful and likeable character, 'both as a myth created for wrestling fans and as an everyday hero created by wrestling fans' (22). The co-production of Foley's character is very interesting- he is in many ways a palette available for negotiation about issues of masculinity, physicality, individualism vs. collectivism, justice.
Because of the multiple characters, Foley can adopt and cycle through different ideas and represent different versions of masculinity for the fans. He is at once the most violent and the most innocent, most loved and most tossed-aside, most charismatic and most mangled/ deformed by circumstance. He is especially interesting to me because he doesn't move through complicated shifts and reversals between oversimplified/ one-note characters, as many wrestlers do, but he moves through complicated shifts between characters that are each complex and multi-layered themselves.
A last note- reading Foley, watching his matches, and meeting him all made me feel like I was in a Murakami novel or something-- there's definitely a strong sense of alternate realities and multiple faces to this man. In that sense, I thought the entrance music bit at the lecture was more meaningful than just to get the crowd awake.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mick Foley and Atticus Finch

One thing that stood out in Sam's article was the mention of Atticus Finch, and the conflicted relationship with violence associated with masculine ideas of justice: "Foley was positioned much as Atticus Finch was in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Foley, like Finch, was a man with a great reputation who only agreed to use his abilities again when there was no other choice, as Finch uses his marksman abilities only when there is no alternative left" (26).

I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird in ages, so I won't dwell on the comparison so much as the idea to which it refers: the reluctant warrior falling back on his skills as a last resort. This is a pretty common trope in American culture: off the top of my head, I could list a litany of action movies that use some variant of it, at least a couple of which star pro wrestlers. I've always felt there was something of a contradiction in the appeal of this idea: we want to watch/read about/play violence, but we want it to be moral violence, a complicated idea we've been kicking around for the last six thousand years or so. We want to see the good guy kill people, but we don't want the good guy to want to kill people.

The simplest theory of moral violence would probably be that violence is moral when it's used to stop other violence, the good ol' lex talionis, and this is the one that seems to pervade our action movies. So all we need, as voyeurs, is someone to initiate the need for that violence--a heel, so to speak. However, an issue I've always had with the retaliation theory is that it defines intentional violence against humans as something that is good only when used to annihilate itself, and that seems philosophically strange to me. But this objection only applies to real-world, lethal violence. The violence in a wrestling match (let's think earlier, "real" wrestling for a moment) has an obvious function in and of itself. In a sport, you don't play offense because the other team has previously done the same to you, you do it because it's part of the game, and the game rules compel you to do so. So the idea that returning to the ring and wrestling would be something inherently sad and shameful--comparable to Atticus falling back on his skills/reputation as a marksman--seems out of place with the actual act of wrestling. It only makes sense in the narrative context that these are real fights, with real moral consequences.

Of course, the issue might not be Foley's return to wrestling so much as his breaking of his promise not to do so, and not being a viewer, I'm not privy to the context on that decision. But in the promos we've seen, Foley always seems to depict wrestling as a brutal, difficult game from which a nobler man might abstain. The reluctant warrior is out of place in a sport, but fits nicely enough in sports entertainment.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Woman Behind the McMahon

Recently we have been reading, watching, and discussing Vince McMahon's dominance in professional wrestling. For the most part it appears that every aspect of the WWE is run by Vince and he is the mastermind behind all of the WWE's success. Although the last statement may have some truth to it, I think that the role of his wife, Linda McMahon, has taken a back seat to Vince.

From what we have read in Sex, Lies, and Headlocks it is evident that Linda played an important role in Vince's rise to the top. She was at Vince's side through all of his initial gambles and failures. Most women probably would think their husbands were crazy if their long-term goals involved the word wrestling. Linda, however, involved herself with all of Vince's business ventures and supported his every move.

As the WWE rose to the top, Linda played an important role in business matters. Linda was influential in involving the WWE in the community and in charitable programs. She has supported organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, USO, and the Starlight Foundation. Linda also contributed to the creation of WWE’s educational and literary program, Get R.E.A.L.. Additionally, she is involved in WWE’s Smackdown Your Vote!, which encourages younger voters to participate in the electoral process. Linda is able to use the WWE’s popularity to bring more important social issues into focus. This shows that the WWE is trying to be more than just a source of entertainment. When the company turned public, the WWE felt a greater sense of responsibility so Linda was able to use the programs to benefit both the WWE and the community.

Linda McMahon brings a strong female personality to the WWE. While Vince plays a role that could never be replaced, the influence that Linda has had on the WWE is almost as irreplaceable. Since fans perceive her on the show as a figure who sticks to her values and acts as the impartial mediator, it seems easier for her business decisions to be supported off-screen. Her womanly touch helps to ground a business that has been predominantly male-oriented. Most importantly, the clear separation between her on- and off-screen personalities helps to balance out the mass confusion that Vince brings with his characters.

More Class Links

The Tech had a story on Mick Foley's appearance last night.

Recaps on Mick's appearance are written here and another note here.

By the way, great appearances by Deirdre and Peter on the CW/NBC nightly news last night about the class. I recorded it if some of you didn't get the chance to see.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Muslim College Professor Joins Wrestling Blog!

Hey all!

I'd like to introduce myself. I am a professor of Religion at Skidmore College in upstate NY. Professor Ford kindly invited me to hang out here and talk with you all about wrestling. I am teaching a section on wrestling in my Theory and Method course right now. Some of my students may pop in to talk to you all.

I am a huge fan of professional wrestling. I just got into it a couple of years ago and now I am hooked. Since I am a historian by trade I do a lot of reading and research on old-school wrestling. I am currently reading Wrestling at the Chase on the old St. Louis scene and promoter Sam Muchnik. But I love all the recent stuff too in the indy promotions and WWE. I am no wrestling snob (did you know you could be a wrestling snob? Funny how there is a snob for nearly everything, eh?).

I am also a Muslim feminist activist. I do a lot of work on women's issues in the Muslim community. I run the website ProgressiveIslam.Org with my friends Sohail and Omar. Every so often, I write about wrestling and religion for the site. I was recently at Wrestlemania and wrote a piece on Muslim gimmicks and finding my place in the wrestling and Muslim communities.

You all be good to Mick Foley today! If I hear otherwise, I'll have to come out there teach y'all a little lesson! (^:

Laury Silvers

Hello Bloggers

Hello all - this is a brief post to introduce myself to the class (and the other blog members) and to say how much I'm looking forward to visiting later this month.
Sam Ford was kind enough to invite me to be part of the course, and I've very much enjoyed reading the blog posts so far and following the discussion from afar that way. The other media coverage of the course has also been very interesting (and quite exciting).
I look forward to meeting all of you in person! If there's anything you'd like to find out about me or my work prior to my visit, feel free to ask.
Cheers, Fiona McQuarrie

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

pain in repetition

Hope Sam doesn't mind, he posed this question to me via email, and I thought it wanted a post:

What did you think of Foley's responses about the reliving of pain and the memory of pain? I think looking at it from a wrestler's perspective is even more fascinating because they can see that event happen again and again...of course, they are also choosing it for themselves in a way that the traumatic events you are looking at were not self-inflicted, but it is an interesting parallel...

It was really interesting that Foley first associated the idea of body memory and trauma with an early experience playing baseball. It was a great anecdote about an associative physical reaction to an inscribed experience. But this was what popped into the conversation about body memory, after all the tremendous impacts and injuries he endured in wrestling?! Pretty amazing. This speaks to his point that it is fundamentally different to perform violence and pain than to actually experience it authentically (forgive my overtired paraphrasing). The way Foley spoke about the trauma of pain in his wrestling career made me think that this was injury with some agency. The wrestlers acknowledge it as part of the job to endure traumatic impacts and beatings over and over again. It's fairly clear that the physical performance of wrestling is anything but fake, the impacts and injury are as real as it gets. But the serialized (scripted/ choreographed) repetition of this pain seems to strip to trauma from it. Foley spoke of bloodlettings and busted knees without any apparent emotional attachments to those traumas.

The idea of the 'self-inflicted' trauma is at the heart of this (back to the 'injury with some agency' idea). And Foley did indeed sign up for the beatings he took. This begs the consideration of psychosomatic (here meaning in terms of body-mind interrelation rather than the context of disorder) implications... what does the same blow to the head mean when one is inviting it, expecting it, performing it, vs. when one is not in that position of agency, and is victim to an act of violence. I would posit that the physical harm to the body can be compartmentalized, removed from the realm of trauma, when it is consciously performed within some parameters/ rules/ script.

The fact that wrestlers can view these acts after they happen just adds to their ownership of these body traumas. I can't imagine that Foley has to watch his stunning fall from the cell over and over in the intro of RAW each week. But I think this only demarcates the act again as spectacle rather than trauma. I get the impression that on some level, when Foley sees the fall repeated, he's watching his character take the hit. Of course, it's his body, and he speaks with clarity about the actual first-hand experience. He just addressed it with more objectivity than I thought would be possible when it comes to such a huge physical impact. But he said that if you're going to do something so completely outrageous to your body, it should be well documented. It should serve some purpose- in the case of wrestling, entertainment, to validate that pain.

I'm reading two texts for my research topic, 'Blood, Guts, & Violence in Sports' and 'From Ritual to Record: the Nature of Modern Sports', in which there is useful context. In the 'Ritual to Record' text, Guttman defines play as 'autotelic. Pleasure is in the doing and not in what has been done' (3). Sport is defined as "'playful' physical contests, that is, as non-utilitarian contests which include an important measure of physical as well as mental skill" (7). But wrestling, for the wrestlers, is work, it is utilitarian. It doesn't involve the indeterminacy of play and contest. The action is, to an extent, determinate, and therefore so are the injuries. I think this determinacy is exactly what allows the body to tolerate such actions, and to not be traumatized by them after the fact.

In 'Blood, Guts & Violence,' Atyeo says 'Just how much of the 'game' remains in professional wrestling is a question as indeterminable as it is irritating for the wrestlers to whom it is monotonously directed. For their part, wrestlers are unanimous in their claim that, alothough the action may fall short of the grimaces an groans which resound from the ring, the sport is still a hard, painful and serious contest.. in their defense they cite long lists of injuries" (163). This defensiveness may be a little outdated, since there seems to be a consensus about the real physical dangers of wrestling these days. (Foley didn't seem to have any need for proving to us that he endured 'real' physical experiences- this is a given.) But the ambiguity between contest, play, and performance is still obviously prevalent in wrestling, and I think the puts the repetition and reception of pain on equally ambiguous footing.

I wonder about this in terms of how the body impact feels different, or is remembered differently, in a tightly choreographed match vs. a less scripted one. Foley talked about how the level of scripting can vary greatly depending on the wrestlers- that the luche libre matches have extremely careful choreography that is well-rehearsed, while a wrestler lke Steve Austin likes to know as little as possible before the match and let action play out more improvisationally. Is there some higher level of authentic pain when things get looser in the script? Or does the engagement with character allow this pain to be serialized, and therefore objectified on some level, regardless of the level of improvisation of violence?

One last bit, since I don't think it came across very clearly and it's so related to my interest in this class: the project i'm doing in my studio involves serializing and instrumentalizing (through re-envisioning the gym equipment and space) physical traumas embedded in body memory as a method of transcending those traumas and their physical impact. The 'psychosomatic' gym allows repetition of body impacts or experiences, giving the opportunity to gain agency over those physical acts through repetition and relational strength buidling. (In efffect, buiilding the physical and mental fibers of self simultaneously in reaction to specific individual physical memory.) But that's still getting worked out. I really appreciate Foley's comments about it though, he was really insightful and has gotten my head going in a million directions with this studio work and my final project for the class.

Foley is Good: Books and Dreams

When I started watching wrestling, I was amazed by the high production values. Fireworks, a big screen at the top and each wrestler had his own “music video” to enter to. It was great. And then the merchandizing hit me and I was just one of those guys who needed to get a shirt of DX and get the books that were coming out. I didn’t get Have a Nice Day because I wasn’t a big fan of Mankind. I never got to see what was so great about him outside the Rock N Sock Connection. While his matches were great, especially the two PPV matches he had with Triple H, he just didn’t click with me. The Rock was a different story and it was his mic skills that impressed me the most. So naturally when he came out with a book I had to pick it up. If I loved hearing what he had to say, then reading what he wrote could only be as good right? Well sort of. I read his book and it was pretty much an autobiography. Most of it focused on his rise through the WWF and also had some memories of his growing up in a wrestling family. When reading it I had newfound respect for the man name Dwayne Johnson and what all wrestlers go through to make it in the business. While I was hoping for more detail on the in ring action when I picked up the book, I had a new interest in what happens behind the scenes and what really goes on in the locker rooms and how egos can clash with story lines. The Rock’s book didn’t have so much detail but this made me appreciate Mick Foley’s book all the more.

Foley is Good details the end of his career but it also brings up issues that he faced throughout his whole career and what most other wrestlers go through. The point in the book when he is talking about medication and how people can view taking certain medication as weakness really makes me sympathetic towards wrestlers that put there bodies on the line. I have had pain only once in my life when I could not go to sleep but to have most of your day consumed by it seems to be something that I might never go through. I think that we can look down on those who took steroids because there was no reason for it. Maybe to get a career push but they have no one to blame but themselves for the ill effects it gives them. But painkillers are a different story it seems. What can one say about a person who needs this medication so they can literally get through day without screaming or collapsing from the pain?

Mick Foley details lots of his dreams and aspirations and even though one knows the outcomes are fixed, it seems that being the champ is something that means a lot to a wrestler. It says something about the way they perform, the way they get a reaction from the crowd and the amount of respect a wrestler gets from a company. I am sure having to drop the title to other people just to be pushed out of the spotlight must have been hard on Mick. He got taken out of Wrestlemania and then had his title taken from him after Summerslam. It speaks volumes for Mick’s character and loyalty to the business and company. If only other superstars were like him and willing to make someone else look good or have the spotlight, then I am sure bad storylines and bad endings would not occur as often.

The Aftermath Era

The video clips that we saw last week on Thursday were all part of the era in which I become enamored with wrestling. I think that this has led me to try and classify eras in wrestling by the way I have seen them or heard them. This however can only apply to what I have been exposed to so it is not very accurate and not very inclusive of what has been going on in wrestling. The first era I really like to classify as the era of Hulk Hogan. From the moment he won the WWF title till the day that the Undertaker killed Hulkamania. I suppose you could say it was the steroid era, when big guys ruled the WWF. Macho Man, Hulk Hogan, Warrior, just big guys that were also larger than life. So then it came to the era of the smaller wrestler, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Bret Hart: These guys took wrestling in a different direction. While I think that this produced some of the best matches ever seen, (Razor vs Michaels at Wrestlemania X or Bret vs Michaels at Wrestlemania XII) some people look back and think that this kid friendly wrestling is what led to the WWE’s slump. The Monday Night Wars are of course next and this in turn led into the Attitude era of the WWF. I suppose this is the point in history where I wish I had been a part of it because of Stone Cold Steve Austin and D-Generation X. Then what we saw in class on Thursday was the time when I had become a fan of wrestling. It can only be classified as the time after the Monday Night Wars. The time of the McMahon Helmsley Faction and the Invasion. So I suppose that I am trying to find a way to point out what made this era of wrestling unique. I am sure that every era had a running theme through it and I can’t pinpoint the themes of other era’s but I can try to do it for this one.

Most people I have talked to and what I have read in chat rooms and forums tend to remember the 1999-2001 time of wrestling in the WWE as that time when Triple H ruled the show. I can’t argue with that. Triple H was the first champion that I had seen during a full broadcast of RAW. And when he took out Vince McMahon at Armageddon, it just seemed to permeate through the storylines as well as backstage. He was the champ for most of this time. It seemed really unfair in the story where he would beat down Mick Foley and would have his partners in DX to help out. Or how they would just put the Rock through so much as he was trying to get a shot at the title. He lost the title at Backlash 2000 but got it back a month later and finally lost it at King of the Ring. Maybe he didn’t have so much creative control but it was clear that he was the top heel. And this staying on top led to many memorable matches and drew the ire of some fans who thought he was at the top too long and got too many chances.

The second feature of this era was the immense popularity of the Rock. In 1998, the Rock was big but after having just won over the fans, he turned heel and joined Mr. Mcmahon’s Corporation stable. So it amazes me how well received he was after Wrestlemania XV. The number one heel became the number one face in a matter of months after Stone Cold was out of the picture.

But I think the biggest feature of this time was a missing Steve Austin. He was out for much of 2000 and when he came back he didn’t get back to the top until Wrestlemania XVII, where he turned heel and it all just seemed like a downward spiral for him from then on. Steve Austin would not recover his popularity and would soon find himself fighting bad storylines and chronic injuries. So this is the unique feeling this period of time has. No Steve Austin at the top, no more real competition for the WWE. It seemed to be a period of transition and for me was the best period of wrestling I have experienced.

Thoughts on WWF "RAW" Study

My first impression of Dr. Gantz's WWF Raw Study was that it was a little out of place within the context of the wrestling. It seemed way too objective of an approach to understanding wrestling as a form of entertainment (indeed, almost like a bad science fair project). Nevertheless, it helped me understand the point of view of an outsider looking into the world of wrestling.

As someone who didn't really follow wrestling very much, I would have probably adopted Gantz's study as the reason why I didn't watch wrestling. Wrestling was a poor attempt at sport with overdramatic performers who championed stupid sayings, lewd behavior, and really bad acting. It simply didn't seem worth watching.

Taking this class has undoubtedly affected how I feel about wrestling now. I haven't become a full-fledged fan of the performance, but I have changed my way of approaching it. Wrestling, probably more than your average social phenomenon, deserves a good second look. You really can't take it at face value. The gestures, the garb, the overhyped fans are only part of the performance. It is these things--the heart of Gantz's study--that we notice when we're flipping through the channels on our tv sets. For some, it is what makes them keep flipping; for others, it may be what piques their interest. It is not, however, all that wrestling has to offer.

Gantz's work is certainly fuel for those who find wrestling to be an abominable practice. His focus is on elements of the story that the WWF program tells, but not the whole story itself. It takes much more than tabulation to fully appreciate and understand the dynamic that is wrestling. Emphasis should be placed on the social impact that wrestling has on the sports and enterainment businesses and not on a few artifacts of its presentation.