Tuesday, April 24, 2007

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.


Sam Ford said...

Peter, I think that pro wrestling as metagame is quite a useful approach. Sports itself may be constructed, but wrestling abstracts even farther because it is dramatizing a game that would be awfully brutal if it were "real."

Over time, especially, you are right that "pro wrestling is approaching a fourth-order simulacrum: a simulation that refers to nothing but itself." That is why it makes sense that "using the ropes" only evolved over time, as wrestling began to create its own logic no longer tied to the need to see as authentic as possible. Now, there is still just as much a concern with being authentic, but the narrative rules one has to uphold in the ring has shifted as wrestling has developed its own logic, which is of course a plug for the reading for today from Larry DeGaris.

Brian "Louxchador" Loux said...

Interesting points from Peter. I also think his arguments are valuable when considering wrestling's competition with ultimate fighting. For myself and other wrestling fans I know who had a passing interest in UFC, interest was lost because there never did appear to be any semblance of rules, much less any dramatic arc to the matches.

It's very interesting to consider the appeal of a pro-wrestling street fight or cage match and the overall malaise brought forth by a "real" ultimate fight in the octagon. The pro-wrestling cage match is a simulation of what the ultimate fight would be and with it comes its own dramatic archetypes. Watching the ultimate fight often makes me feel like Mick Foley's family every time.