Wednesday, April 25, 2007

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,



Sam Ford said...

I would also argue that you can have a sports game without a spectator present but that any wrestling "match" without any sort of audience is inevitably considered practice or rehearsal or training.

katejames said...

After reading Mazer's text in Steel Chair to the Head and hearing her thoughts in class yesterday, I'm starting to believe that it's a fruitless enterprise to make clear definitions about where sport, wrestling, theater, and everyday life are divided...
I was curious about the issue of audience/ spectator presence validating the action. Indeed, there couldn't be a match without an audience. But, in relation to Mazer, when she was in the gym, the wrestlers were performing for her, playing things out more than if she wasn't there (as recounted by Larry de Garis yesterday). So, does an audience of one make for the same social contract between performer and audience? When does it become a match?
When Mazer talked yesterday about reading performance in everyday life, I asked where intention comes into play. The same movement in sport and in theater mean vastly different things because of performative intention (or lack thereof). The suit who 'performs' at the meeting doesn't have the performative self-awareness of a wrestler entering the arena to put on a show. But Mazer spoke of the fluidity between these situations-- the ubiquity of performance and spectatorship in life, with more or less acknowledgment in various situations.

I wonder how that effects the 'suspension of disbelief' model. Are we then constantly in a flux state between performance and spectatorship. belief, disbelief, and suspension of disbelief in our lives? Are wrestlers the only ones that really understand how appropriate all the confusion, hyperbole, and blurred boundaries are?

david everard said...

HI Kate,

Great points!

I think that the 'suspension of disbelief' describes a personal choice in the viewing of an event.

If you want to 'buy' in you just let yourself go.

A few years ago a number of actors met regularly in NYC to perform Chekov's "Uncle Vanya' (Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street) for themselves --- without an audience present. So, does that make them both actor and audience?

Boy, did that ever open up the theory of 'meta-theatre': theatre that refers to itself, a play within a play, etc.

So, for the purpose of my lecture lets give an operational definition to the term 'suspension of disbelief' by saying that it involves a audience who has paid to see an event involving actors and/or athletes. And we'll leave the more advanced theoretical definitions to the other academic disciplines.

However, let me leave you with this: does the term still apply if you are reading a book?



david everard said...


Just a couple of quick clarifications to my earlier post!

When William Congreve coined the term "willing suspension of disbelief" he was referring to the theatre and the theatre alone.

When I mentioned athletes in my operational definition, I was, of course, referring to professional wrestlers.

By the way, I am not a theatre theoretician, I leave that to the Ph.D.'s. Hell, I'm still trying to find the funding to become one!

Thanks again for your comments and I can't tell you how much I would've liked to hear Sharon and Larry's lectures: and, of course, the Q & A with your class!

meet you at the turnbuckle,


Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

The contract theory calls to mind one of my fellow grad students, Alec Austin, who's thesis work involves such a principle as applied to other media texts. He suggests that texts (or, in this case, performances) engage in a subtle tension between meeting expectations (i.e. the terms of the contract assumed by the viewers) and breaking them for dramatic effect, and that this process is how new genres are created. That's my memory of it, anyway.

It makes me wonder if perhaps the transitions we've seen in wrestling in the last hundred years might be well described by the traditionally literary domain of genre theory.

Rob said...

Along this line of questioning what the audience knows and doesn't know, and is obligated to do and not obligated to do, and what they should and shouldn't do, one of my "big ideas" about wrestling ahs been that it differs significantly from many other media texts in that the audience is supposed to take into account the fact that they are watching wrestling, and on top of that, there is a layer of fiction of them watching wrestling!

In a more traditional text, there is the fiction on the screen, and the audience is supposed to suspend disbelief for a moment and consider that real. In wrestling, I feel that there is an off-screen fiction that the audience is watching the wrestling match and believes that it is real (or perhaps as though it were real?), that the audience has to suspend their disbelief for to really engage the medium.

Of course, since the audience is a part of the fiction themselves, they become part of the performance, etc., etc., as we've discussed before.

The interesting thing about wrestling is that I don't think it makes sense when you just try to suspend your disbelief and watch the match as though it were real. You have to suspend your disbelief and watch the match as though you were someone who could (or didn't need to) suspend their disbelief to watch the match as though it were real.

It is a very strange thing...

And at the end of the day, I think covers both your idea about how wrestling is just more fun when you can pretend, and also about audience participation.

Very strange!

Sam Ford said...

Rob, I think that distinction, about how the audience knows they are playing a fictional role, does set wrestling apart from almost any other live event. I tried to capture some of this in my essay on types of fan engagement because WWE isn't quite like sports or most modern theater. As with sports, fans are more active, but the fans in wrestling are playing a role in an extra layer of performance that sporting events don't have.

I think this is a key point, though: "You have to suspend your disbelief and watch the match as though you were someone who could (or didn't need to) suspend their disbelief to watch the match as though it were real."

david everard said...

Hi Rob,

The term is "marking out" and it simply means that, for whatever reason, you buy into the story and let it take you on its journey.

And for what its worth, the complete quote is "the willing suspension of disbelief" (William Congreve). The key is in the word 'willing'!

When you attend a movie do you buy into the Superman story even though you know its impossible for a man to fly?

Good luck in your studies.

See you at the turnbuckle,