Tuesday, April 17, 2007

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


Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Speaking as someone who suspects he belongs to the second group...

My first comment on your first post assumed you were playing a heel. My assumption was shaken when Sam claimed to be somewhat in the dark--it didn't occur to me until a few days ago that he might have been in on it.

I suspected the heel angle because your post read like a certain type of parody common on the internet, in which one attempts to defend a plainly indefensible position without giving away the joke. As you went on, your arguments got more focused, and more plausible--generally. They also got a hell of a lot meaner. I would be tempted to respond in anger, but then you'd trot out a sentence that was so far out of left field that I regained some small measure of skepticism. (I particularly enjoyed the bit about women not needing to worry about being excessively theoretical, since they just needed to marry well.)

By your last post, though, I bought it. I could ignore the fact that you were agreeing with the person in the class most directly opposed to your views, because the views you had articulated made you look like a cretin. Mostly, I bought it because by that point you had abandoned content altogether, and moved into a long string of personal attacks. The bit about Emerson actually made me wonder if you might not merely be an insufferable asshole, but actually insane as well. I didn't bother to comment on that post, and resolved not to comment on any more of your posts, since you had ceased to contribute anything. I also poked around with blogger's functionality to see if there was an "ignore" feature. (I couldn't find one, in case anyone was wondering.)

I did, however, consider changing my paper topic to writing about you and your interaction with this class.

So, now that it's out that this was a joke, I'd say that you probably played it a little too well. I'm generally pretty slow to anger, but you managed to get under my skin. I had been planning to stay home when you visited. So, glad you had some fun playing bad-guy wrestler; it wasn't much fun reading you.

Laury Silvers said...

A lesson in the lack of irony in wrestling, isn't it?

Your response is absolutely perfect, I am marking out for you being upset about being a mark.

Carolina said...

I got a kick out of reading your posts, just because you made me really step back and wonder what to defend and what not to defend. The first post you put up had me thisclose to posting a very negative response, but I chose to ignore your post instead in the old adage of 'if you've got nothing nice to say, then shut the hell up.' Then when your posts kept coming, I started getting more amused by them, even if you were totally slamming my classmates, my school, and almost everything I hold important when it comes to school. But I'd be lying if I told you I didn't enjoy them, because I did. But then again, I'm a complete sucker for heelish actions and all the heels in wrestling, because I appreciate the effort and creativity. You made the blogging experience interesting, and if a heel role was what you wanted, then you slammed that role out of the park. Best of luck to you, it's been fun.

Anonymous said...

Heh, you got me. While there was debate about whether you actually were playing the heel, I bought into it, because after watching and taking in part in so many flame wars over the years, I have seen plenty of fires get stoked such that very serious people will write just the same way you had. I have seen enough people become just as irrational and talk just as thoroughly out of their asses, because they think they're right, which is exactly how you played it, and well played it was. Good show. You made me a mark, 'you son of a bitch!'

Sam Ford said...

Sorry that Joshua won't be able to join us, but I think it's key to remember that Joshua was playing himself as well. Peter, I'm particularly intrigued by your response and suspected you might have decided to stay at home, but the performance of the heel is interesting. To truly be good at what you do rides a fine line between mildly entertaining people and making them hate you. Joshua did that as well, perhaps resolving to entertaining you at the point when you may have started completely hating him.

I'm particularly interested by your comment, Peter, "you probably played it a little too well." One of the interesting parts of Joshua's "act" is that it never bled into the rest of the blog but remained in self-contained posts, so in that way he did create an environment where he could be easily ignored by those who didn't want to read, yet I'll admit I found his posts oddly compelling.

As for my in-on-it-ness, Joshua e-mailed me at the post saying he wanted to take a more antagonistic approach, based on the wrestling heel, but we didn't have much continued conversation about it outside of the blog, so I was amused and as perplexed as everyone else by most of his arguments--particularly his agreeing with a student's objections from the class when it made no logical sense for him to do so! :)

But, then again, in wrestling, bad guy wrestlers often make some 180, some attempt at redemption. Maybe I'm not buying Joshua's face turn!

narwood said...

I'm not surprised at this recent revelation, what I am confused by is the consensus that Joshua's heel performance was a good one, and by his claim that no one called him out as full of it.

There have been two dialogs surrounding his posts: in one, people responded (often emotionally) against wild claims and inflammatory language. I found these responses very interesting - they occur when he had 'gotten under someone's skin' and provoked them to respond in this way. Crucially, then also tend to coincide when he has made a valid point.

The other dialog, however, has been the continuing charges that most of what he was saying was, in fact, hot air. The rhetoric, if you remember, went something like this: "what exactly are you referring to?" "this argument is factually incorrect" and "the generalized statements are impossible to respond to." This vein did periodically lead people to 'give up' and get pissed, but if this is appropriate heel behavior, I'd have to call it "cheap heat."

katejames said...

I'll plant myself in Tess's category of those who responded emotionally, hell, hysterically! to Josh. Though only to his first post; after that I'll throw myself into Josh's category of those who read his posts but didn't engage with him. (I feel a but over-catagorized, but that's the least of it...)
The reason I tried to ignore what I found to be inappropriately mean-spirited blogs by Josh (and others) is that I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding at work here about how much we should stray from basic ideas of academic decorum just because the topic of the class is one that is aggressive and hyperbolic.
The thing about the heel in wrestling is that we hate them firmly within the framework of the suspension of disbelief. There may be iffy moments of real or fake, but when confronted with a 400 pound man in pink tights, you can pretty well be sure he's performing (obviously this extends to heels without tights- let's say, if you're watching wrestling at all, you know it's a performance). They might perform well, and encite real aggressive feelings, but these are all useful and productive engagements because of the performative platform.
Yeah, we should have figured it out. People can come on and say that those of us who didn't were fools. But I didn't see anyone in pink tights (we;;, except me, but that's irrelevant). While I do think the posts spawned a really interesting conversation that has arched over all the topics covered in the class, I can't get onboard with the method taken to get to that conversation. I was also going to stay home when Josh came, in an effort to reserve all my venom for my soon to be ex husband instead of this crap. There is agency in being a wrestling fan at a match hating a heel, there was no agency for us as puppets rather than members of a real conversation.
The blog is not an arena. I have no respect for the brand of performativity at work here, regardless of how intelligently it was performed.

narwood said...

But of course, it is only since Vince that it has been presumed that the audience is aware of the performance qualities of the heel. Before that, irregardless of what the audience might have known, kayfabe ruled - the heel was meant to be drawing real heat from an audience that thought wrestling was real. And once fans cross the border into harming wrestlers, in any age, there are signs that suspension of disbelief is more of a fallback than a truth.

Would it have been different if Joshua's first post was 'hey, I'm going to play a heel - feel free to define yourselves in terms of this' ? How would people's behaviours have changed? Would this have accomplished the ends of maintaining the blog as a 'safe place'?

One final note - the fun in wrestling seems to perpetually come from the places in which 'that seemed real!' If anything, we should applaud Joshua for giving us that line - his statements and attitudes have not been invalidated by saying he was playing heel. It just explains the discrepency between his lucid and rational comments and the more extreme ones.

Laury Silvers said...

I was at wrestlemania this year and went to all the extra events. At one event Mick Foley was giving out awards to make a wish kids. After the awards a few wrestlers answered questions from the fans. Matt Striker amazed me. He was old school kayfabe. It was disturbing, really. When the make a wish kids were getting acknowledged again, Striker looked at them disdainfully and clapped for them in a tired way. Very much like, yes, yes, little deformed and dying children, very good, now move along. It was horrifying and utterly brilliant.

Sam Ford said...

Laury, we talked earlier in the semester about Larry Zbyszko making comments right after Louie Spicolli's death to continue the feud even after Louie died, which seemed quite out of taste, even for kayfabe. But I like your mixed feelings about this one. It wasn't blatant enough to be considered disgusting but still an interesting place at which to retain one's character.

Tess, the distinction between the "cheap heat" tactics and "legitimate" heat is interesting. "Hey there, fat boy." "Your sports team sucks." "I hate MIT." These do exist as cheap heat, whereas the well-reasoned heel becomes even more complicated. Mick Foley was a villain who always had a complicated reason why they were a villain, and you could often see things from their perspective. Wrestling allows for some of both, I think, because there are also plenty of "big bads" that were successful just because they followed that Michael Myers "pure evil" model of having no particular reason for being so mean. The Sheik would be one of the best examples of this character type. We don't really know why Sheik is bloodthirsty and crazy, other than that he is. Most people are shades of gray, though, and I think Joshua's act did just that. By the way, I like your final points in your second comment,asking about whether it would be different if he had been open about playing the heel. In the end, I hope that Joshua's "performances" here on the blog did speculate some discussion, which I know is what he intended.

As for your comments, Kate, I remember that first reaction to Joshua, and I was quite surprised. He had told me he wanted to do a somewhat antagonistic post, and I had no idea what he had in mind, but I felt that it was fine as long as he wasn't creating an environment wherein he would impair class discussion and the ability of others to share. I have a pretty libertarian view on free speech, so I didn't feel much like censoring the blog, but I also didn't want intense personal attacks and that sort of thing playing out, even if this is a class about something indeed quite aggressive. Joshua's posts seemed to be pretty self-contained, yet some of those threads contained some awfully good nuggets of thoughts that related to a lot of other things we're discussing.

But you make good points about the wrestling heel making sense in the wrestling arena. One of my thoughts about having Joshua playing this heel role is that, for the wrestling fan, having a performer "make you hate them" leads to them buying a ticket to see you get beat. Playing a heel in this type of environment raises another question--what's the end game? Our class is not having a final confrontation, unless we want to eschew the traditional final paper and just do a battle royal for the class' final, so the question is how the heel makes sense out of the arena.

You say, "There is agency in being a wrestling fan at a match hating a heel, there was no agency for us as puppets rather than members of a real conversation. The blog is not an arena. I have no respect for the brand of performativity at work here, regardless of how intelligently it was performed." Obviously, while I didn't have much to do at all with Joshua's act, I was at least complicit in knowing his intent. I didn't know much more than you did other than that Joshua's not quite the jerk he came off as in his posts. On the other hand, these were some of his real feelings intertwined with classic "cheap heat" rhetoric. But I hope that you, or the class in general, don't feel those posts truly inhibited your ability to contribute.

In a way, we end up with a situation like Andy Kaufman, in that Andy made sense wrestling in Memphis but didn't really make sense anywhere else, and he didn't understand that the goal to make people hate you as a comedian, etc., etc., didn't work the same as it does on the wrestling stage.

Laury Silvers said...

I don't know, Sam, I think Andy was at his best when people had no idea what was going on. I feel like he was sublime at those moments when I realized I really was angry with him and was no longer "getting it." That is an extraordinary level of performance. Sublime.

I remember the whole wrestling thing and thinking Andy was nuts. One of the things I remember most and can articulate now is that he put the women's movement over. He was such an idiot, so insane, it made no sense, such ridiculous sexism that it turned the women's movement face.

I love wrestling because it doesn't lie.

Sam Ford said...

Oh, I agree Laury, and I love Andy, including his performances out-of-wrestling, but in some ways, I think it's like the argument Kate was making, in that wrestling fans were the ones who "got" Andy, and it raised a question of appropriate platforms. Many would argue that some of the platforms Andy chose for his act were just not suited for it, like this argument over whether a class blog was the place for Joshua to launch the character he did.

Anonymous said...

Well, actually, not to brag but:

"BMN said...
Good heel turn by Mr. Shea; the good thing is that he built to it gradually rather than those often-rushed, underthought heel turns that Eric Bischoff used to book.
March 10, 2007 9:22 PM"


Well, actually, I'm not bragging because essentially I bought into the work anyway even if I didn't believe it. It's funny how entertainment as a whole can work that way. Comparing something like this to the Sokal hoax would be amusing; does the Sokal hoax happen because people are genuinely slack or because they find the discussion afterwards worthwhile?

I always enjoyed Josh's posts because they invigorated us to "stand up and be heard" so to speak. The one part that I really bought into was the "Josh hates MIT" part of the angle (I really got into defending that part of it), it was the great meeting of "cheap heat" (put down the fans' home institution) mixed with Michael Hayes' conviction heat ("a heel is good heel if he knows in his heart he's right!").

I dunno, too bad there wasn't a "blowoff match." Coulda drew huge money.....or a record number of posts, I guess!