Sunday, April 1, 2007

Good Vs. Evil Revisited

In Cambell's "Professional Wrestling: Why the Bad Guy Wins" we revisit an important theme in professional wrestling: the ongoing battle of good versus evil.

Unlike real life, wrestling can easily divide its players into two groups: heroes and villains. Though each may borrow qualities from one another during combat, the ideologies of good and evil are preserved by each character.

For those die-hard fans of more traditional sports, wrestling is an abasement of the time-honored values of fair play and hard work. Wrestling, however, is not part of the same arena. It exists just outside reality where excess is the name of the game. The good guys are often overly patriotic and conservative, villains are often "larger than life" and grotesque. This gross dramatization of character personalities allows for a clearer distinction between good and evil. Wrestling fans, then, know exactly where their sentiments lie.

As such, the wrestling arena becomes a stage on which viewers can exhibit their frustrations, whether they be personal (lying outisde the wrestling world) or participatory (lying the drama of wrestling). Venting of personal frustrations is allowed through the portrayal of real life hardships or distress by wrestling personalities. These wrestlers may champion the kind of villainy viewers experience on a day-to-day basis, like cheating and foul play. Fans are invited to publicly display their disdain for underhanded tactics and deceptive players. At the same time, heroes of the ring are lauded as are their attempts to foil bad guys' plans.

While existing outside the norm of professional sports, wrestling still provides an important setting where real world personal sentiments find an outlet. The ability of professional wrestling to adapt and react to these emotions secures it a permanent place in the entertainment business.


Sam Ford said...

I think Campbell's piece does well to explain the WWE, especially the WWE of the time period he writes about. This is the same WWE that Henry Jenkins talked about a couple of weeks ago with the class, pre Austin "attitude" era. That being said, I don't think the theme of "good vs. evil" is gone from the wrestling world at all, as there is always a face and heel. I was talking with someone the other day, and we both agreed that the main problem, though, is that there are very few good complete heels but a lot of anti-heroes. Booking is often all that makes some guys a heel, since it's not clear in some ways what makes Carlito a face and Kennedy a heel since both are arrogant but capable wrestlers, other than that they are booked that way.

This person pointed out that one of the problems with the modern system is that people are rewarded highly for merchandise sales and that sort of thing, but being a truly completely hated heel rather than a "cool heel" doesn't lead to sell many T-shirts.

Ismael said...

The three wrestling villains that Campbell talks about are good examples of why heels draw so much interest. Lex Luger, Yokozuna, and Kamala were all true heels to start their careers. Fans loved to hate them and involve themselves in their every move. I think that their success as heels is what led their characters to eventually take on face roles. I guess the reasoning behind this move was that if they were successful as heels, when fans were supposed to hate them, they should be even more successful as faces, when the fans were given a reason to like them. In the case of Lex Luger it appears that this move payed off more than the others. The success of Lex Luger might've had to do with the fact that he was seen as the All-American hero and the other two were still seen as foreigners.

I agree with Sam that the line between face and heel roles is so blurred in today's era. This might be due to the fact that wrestling is much more fast paced than older times. It was mentioned earlier that titles change hands much more frequently than they did in the past. I remember when superstars would hardly ever wrestle other superstars on weely shows and titles were only put on the line at major events like Wrestlemania. Now titles change hands on weekly shows and there are more major wrestling events during the year than fans can handle. It may be that wrestlers just don't have enough time to settle into one role or the other. They must play both sides of the spectrum as a result of the fast-paced storylines.