Wednesday, April 11, 2007

ecw fan performance

The question came up while viewing 'The Rise and Fall of The ECW' of whether we would be afraid to attend an ECW match. I would say yes to this question, for two reasons.
First, the energy of the crowd and the dynamic between the wrestlers and the fans seemed really chaotic and borderline(...or not) dangerous. The fans were amazing to watch, being so completely behind the product and involved in its production. What surprised me most was the complete removal of distance between fans and performers. While we see grandiose, wide aisles and expansive stages in the WWE matches from that time that keep a certain available distance for the performers to use in creating dramatic effect. In the ECW matches, we saw Sandman standing practically on top of his screaming fans. yelling and spitting beer on them. The whole concept of the fans bringing their own weapons to offer for the matches is supremely irreverent in these days of metal detectors and bag checks at any major event. The fans were so engaged with the playing of violence, and so close to it, that I would be terrified to have gone to and ECW match, for fear of getting my ass kicked by a fervent fan as much as by the wrestlers.
The second reason why I would be scared to attend an ECW match is that the cohesiveness of the fan base, their seemingly incredible standards for involvement and consistent passion-- I doubt there can be a casual ECW fan. It does have a certain cult quality to it. There is a definite feeling of exclusivity/ fan pride and doubt of outsiders in wrestling in general. This seems like it would be amped up in the ECW.
The wrestlers all seemed to really appreciate this level of engagement with the fans. I wonder how different it felt to perform in matches with the fans so closely knit into the action. I also wonder if fans ever got really hurt. Has anyone been to a match who could reflect on their experience there? (Sam and Josh, I'm sure, have been to many...) Is the performance of the fan we've discussed before more or less conscious in this supercharged audience atmosphere?


Ian said...

I have attended multiple ECW events, sadly, the WWE-ECW brand, and not the original Philadelphia based product. But still, the crowd was extremely energetic, much more when compared to an average Smackdown taping or RAW live event. I attended three ECW-WWE events in the first few months of the program's re-introduction to television, and they were a few of the better shows I have been to.

Sadly, what we are presented with today in ECW is totally different than the footage seen and discussed in The Rise and Fall of ECW (one of the best wrestling documentary's ever produced); the matches are hardly ever "Extreme Rules" matches anymore, and like you mentioned, the fan involvement is limited now a days due to security measures.

Michael Wehrman said...

I was hit in the face by a rock intended for one of the Impact Players once upon a time.

However, while I attended an ECW show, it was not one at the ECW Arena. That was a whole monster of its own, and I think that the security and accommodations at the show I attended were vastly better than the Philly shows. I went to 3-4 ECW Classic shows, and all of them were like that (anywhere from Cincinnati to Chicago, so it wasn't the same place each time).

The violent participation for ECW in general, I think, is overstated. The ECW Arena was the oversampled extreme in this case - because they had so many shows there, it appeared to be common, even when it wasn't. Perhaps Hammerstein can be included here as well?

Thomas Harknett's "Slap Happy" was an awful, awful book that, on the whole, I can't recommend to anyone. However, the first 20 or so pages discuss his initiation to ECW, from getting on the bus in Jersey to the show in Philly and back. It's a fantastical account of what ECW was like at "the Arena," but doesn't describe the crowd as a whole.

Sam Ford said...

I went to one ECW show because, in the old days, it was located on the East Coast, and I was located in Kentucky. But when ECW launched on TNN, they had a show in Nashville where Masato Tanaka won the world title in a typically brutal match with Mike Awesome (R.I.P.), and my friends and I rode down with one of our friends' grandfather. It was a scary night, as he didn't know where he was going, and we got lost multiple times. We had just seen I Like to Hurt People and had become dedicated to Lou Firpin's "Stop the Sheik" movement, since it was so campy, so we wanted to stop Sheik's nephew Sabu and took some signs saying just that.

I think I mentioned before that, during some of the matches, we stood up and were cheering, only to have the fans behind us chant, "SIT THE F*** DOWN!" We started chanting "PAY MORE MONEY." Oh and Sandman brawled through the crowd with someone and came right by us, best I can remember.

That back-and-forth among the fans was a major part of the event, but it was nothing like ECW Arena. As Micahel points out, it's not nearly that dangerous of a place, but it thrived on having that reputation. Reminds me of New Orleans, in that it drove on that unpredictable quality, the slight feeling of danger, but a contained danger nonetheless.

Perhaps Mick could talk to us about the Terry Funk feud, "Cane Dewey," and the flaming shirt on a chair.

Omar said...

I never wanted to be at a match so badly than after watching the The Rise and Fall of ECW. As I've mentioned many times, I was never a big fan of wrestling. But watching the ECW crowd so pumped up during various matches made me want to be part of the crowd.

The ECW fan base was definitely a great source of their success. More so than the WWE and the WCW, the audience participated so actively from match to match. And for the first time since we discussed Hatpin Mary and Ma Pickles, we encounter faithful fans like "Hat Guy" who consistently follow the wrestling program.

Surely this is a result of their static arena located in Philadelphia. Unlike the WWE, the ECW remained stationed in one city for a good while. Though they weren't able to reach a more national level of influence, they were able to cultivate a very loyal, very active fan base at home.

Brian "Louxchador" Loux said...

Last post for a while here...

While ECW folded before I truly discovered it, I always found myself saying, "yes, I want to be part of an ECW fan base" afterwards. Part of that is because I am their target demographic - an 18-34 y/o urban male smark - and part of it is because it seemed like every event was Sox vs. Yankees. Having been to a few international soccer (or for Peter's sake, football) matches, ECW certainly appeared to have that same rabidity from just being there. If a Premier leauge match is a 4-0 blowout, people are still signing team songs in the stands or booing loudly. If a match is lousy, fans will come up with some pretty innovative jeers and won't stop until the whole building is chanting with them. Both Euro soccer and ECW also have/had the same security fears.

I would have to say that if an ECW live show was my first foray into pro-wrestling, I might have turned tail and ran. I would first need that familiarity with the traditional culture in order to embrace the counterculture.

Today, I am doubtful that I would go to a small indy extreme wrestling venue (XPW and CZW are the ones I'm familiar with). These venues have an equally rabid fan base, and much much (oh god, much) more sicker and frequent high spots than the ECW, but don't have the sense of grander purpose that I got from ECW. They feel like distinctive subcultures as opposed to countercultures. TNA, on the other hand, sometimes seems to be crafting itself as the counterculture to the WWE brands, but at the same time does not have the product to truly separate themselves. So they don't seem to be the new ECW, either, and I haven't brought myself to buy one of their PPVs yet.

Another point, one also mentioned by Paul Heyman: it's interesting to note that ECW's style and prose occurred within the DC-to-Boston megalopolis. Notice that ECW's stories hardly have anything to do with working class faces vs. big boss man heels. It's very much focused on who's more hardcore or more technical. The drama aspects are still there as the documentary showed, but they are leaps and bounds from the archetypes brought forth from rural territories, and they probably could do that because of who their audience was.

Sam Ford said...

Brian, a lot of great points. And to go back to Omar's, the key to ECW having a home base is an important one, and I think it is what cultivated that cult feeling. Again, Hat Guy is a great example. I've written about his type before, and the Hatpin Mary and Ma Pickles types...these are fans who develop fan bases of their own, and they are as important to the performance as anyone else.

John Price said...

I've been a big wrestling fan for the last fifteen years or so, and while I missed attending any "Real" ECW shows due to my location in the Midwest, I have been to many other wrestling events, from WWE to various indy shows.

I am here to tell you that the experience of being in a wrestling crowd. especially a "hot" crowd of rabid fans, is like nothing else I;ve experienced. Perhaps the most important reason for this is that in the wrestling business the crowd is part of the show, almost as much as the talent is. Skilled performers can read the crowd and tailor their moves and the pace of the match to gradually build "heat" towards a massive crescendo at the finish. It's improv theatre taken to the Nth degree.

As I say, it's difficult to explain the rush. I would encourage everyone to check out your local indy promotion to see for yourselves. Especially for those on the East Coast, find out when Ring of Honor (ROH) is running near you and catch a show. They are the spiritual successor to ECW in that they have a dedicated base of passionate fans, and the workers and booker have a knowledge of and respect for the business that makes the cretins running WWE look like the amateurs they are.

Oh, and for those who spoke of their fear of attending, not to worry. My experience is that wrestling crowds tend to be boisterous, but friendly. The worst that might happen is a little shoving if a match spills into the crowd. Take a look, I think you'll be glad you did.

John Price

Jase said...

I remember being only able to get my ECW "Fix" over the internet. They would broadcast the weekly shows on thier website. That Hooked Me. From that point I was able to attend an ECW house show, unfortunatly not at the bingo hall, as well as one of the last PPVs. The atmosphere is total different from WWE/WCW shows. The wrestlers treated you with complete respect. I had some approach Me and ask, what I thought about the show. The times I was at WWE(F)/WCW shows the wrestlers blew you off. At the old ECW events, the wrestlers knew that in order to survive, the fans were the life-blood. It was a two way symbiotic relationship.
Todays WW(ECW)E is so Vince-ifed, that I refuse to watch. He just DOESN'T get it.