Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pro wrestling is why society's falling apart

Mick Foley's book, "Foley is Good," may have been the best book I've read since "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown. In fact, it was so good I went and bought his third and newest, "The Hardcore Diaries." I wanted to get his first, since that seemed to make the most sense, but Borders and I didn't seem to be on the same page that day and they only had the third on sale for me to buy.

I don't know why I never bothered to pick up this book before. It's not as if I shunned pro wrestling autobiographies - I've read Rock's book, Shawn Michaels's book, and half of Eddie Guerrero's (a feat in itself, since I always shied away from it since his tragic death in 2005). Kudos to Sam though for making it required reading because it's a fascinating book that made me laugh so many times I lost track. It was warm and heartfelt, and so very genuine, and well worth the money.

However, I didn't plan on having this post praise Mick's book, even though it wouldn't be that hard to do with how impressed I am with the book's quality. Instead, I'd rather focus on the last chapter or so in his book where he addressed some of the many criticisms that pro wrestling still faces today.

Does professional wrestling on television cause violence, or do violent people tend to watch professional wrestling? This is a question that just goes back and forth, a strange "did the chicken or did the egg come first?" kind of thing that you hear a lot of when you study psychology. The truth of the matter is that the Monday Night War, while providing terrific viewing and innovative storylines and characters, further enhanced wrestling's status as trash by the media. It's a popular notion that pro wrestling, specifically the WWE, is riddled with sex and violence. And in some cases, it's true... okay, in most cases, it's true.

The real truth is that the media needs a scapegoat. I was surprised to see Mick state in his book that the PTA actually linked the Columbine attacks to the WWE. They must've grown tired of blaming rock music or twisted video games, and must've needed something new to blame instead of putting the blame on the shoulders of the parents. I always wonder where the parents are when these situations occur. They're usually nowhere to be found until after the fact, and that's sad. Nowadays, the focus has shifted back to video games like Grand Theft Auto, who brainwash teenagers who can't differentiate reality from a video game. Those teenagers, suffice to say, must be more lacking in brain cells than Al Snow. :)

In all seriousness though, when will the media figure it out? Pro wrestling is entertainment. It's meant to draw fans who'll pay their hard earned cash to see John Cena take it to Triple H or Edge or whoever the heel du jour is (unless they're like me, in which case, they're paying to watch him lose. The green is still green!). It's in much the same way that I shelled out around 20 bucks (rip off galore!) to go watch Rocky Balboa in the movies when it came out late in 2006. Why would I do such a thing to watch violent depictions of an older man almost getting his head knocked clean off his shoulders when it's not even real?! Because I, along with millions of other people, enjoy the story. The violence is supposed to enhance a story. I'm sure Sylvester Stallone must've taken a legitimate shot here and there in his quest of six Rocky movies, but even the man himself acknowledged in some interview on wwe.com that what wrestlers do is no joke and takes a lot of athletic skill to do, day in and day out. And if pro wrestling isn't violence enhancing a story, I don't know what it is.

But are Rocky (movie, not wrestler) fanatics being touted as more violent in nature than people who enjoy, say, Happy Feet? Doubt it. What exactly distinguishes a movie that airs this kind of violence, like the Rocky series, from professional wrestling except for in one you're staring at a screen and in the other you're actually watching them perform? Is there a difference? Does watching either make you more of a violent person? The notion is assinine, at best. If you're not old enough to appreciate the story of Rocky Balboa as an underdog and you want to go out and try to knock someone out because of that movie, you might be too young to watch it in the first place. Same thing goes for wrestling, and violent (rated M for mature) video games, and HBO shows like The Sopranos (best show ever, by the way).

Before the school year started, I remember reading about a 19 year old boy who killed a homeless person because he was "imitating wrestlers." I'm 19 years old as I type this, and from one 19 year old to another, I hope they locked that lunatic up and never let him see the light of day again. Besides enhancing the "teenagers are stupid" stereotype, he also beat an old horse to death by shining the WWE in a negative light. No, the WWE isn't to blame for violence in society. Just like McDonald's isn't to blame for someone eating there every day and weighing over 400 pounds. Just like beer companies aren't to blame for an alcoholic who gets raging drunk and beats on his family. People make their decisions, and when they decide to use pro wrestling as an excuse for criminal behavior, it'd be nice if the media could look through that and see it for what it really is - nothing but a desperate blame game played by people with everything to lose.


Sam Ford said...

Carolina, I know we won't be able to unpack all the thoughts you have here in this post right now, but hold onto some of these observations. They are going to come into play in blog posts and class discussions from now until the end of the term. These are the types of issues we'll be tackling regularly, I hope, as we move from this discussion of wrestling as blurring the line of reality and fiction and into a space where some researchers and cultural commentators, from both the left and the right, come together to say that it's that blurring of reality and fiction that is so troubling about wrestling.

What is the worth of media effects research? Does wrestling go too far? Should media companies be to blame, in any degree, when people imitate what they see? More than blatant imitation, what are the subtle influence of watching wrestling on the fan base? On the other hand, what degree of autonomy and credit should we grant fans? And what are the politics of this intense debate?

We'll be talking more about the PTC, about Joe Lieberman, about Wrestling with Manhood, and so on, all of which play back into these questions that Carolina raises here. Everyone should definitely play particularly close attention to Mick's epilogue, what Henry Jenkins calls the best criticism of the nature of some media effects research that he's seen, because it will come back up again and again, and I'm interested in both the merit and the criticisms you all have of Mick's argument.

By the way, Walt Gantz--who conducted the study at Indiana University mentioned in the epilogue--has been following the class and wanted to do a teleconference for today's class, but he was unable due to scheduling issues on his end. I have, however, invited him to the blog if he has anything he'd like to add regarding his reserach process.

Rob said...

I don't want to agree with the notion that "pro wrestling is why society's falling apart," though I don't think you can quite fall back on the idea that going to see a wrestling match isn't any different from watching a movie like Rocky.

For starters, I think the biggest and most important distinction is something we've touched on throughout class, and that's the way wrestling plays with reality.

In a movie -- like Rocky -- you go and watch this story that you pretend is real.

In wrestling, I think you go and watch a story that you pretend is really real.

Gosh, that sounds silly, but I think that sums up exactly the important difference that distinguishes something like wrestling from a movie, and makes people more uncomfortable with the violence.

In neither case does anyone quite believe things to be real at the end of the day, but with a movie, there's a clear boundary of where you know it is fiction and where you are supposed to pretend it is real.

In movies, you are watching a story that you pretend is real.

In wrestling, I almost feel like you are supposed to pretend that you are watching a story that you are not pretending is real, but actually think is real.

Both are still pretend at the end of the day, and the physical product of music, violence, and advertisements on a flat screen is still the same, but the path between the two is a bit different, and I think that's an important distinction to consider.

Once again, I'm not agreeing with "pro wrestling is why society's falling apart," I'm just saying that there is a significant difference between the violence in wrestling and the violence in movies, and that's the reason why it gets made a scapegoat, and not the movies.

(Of course, I don't think they're right in doing that.)

Sam Ford said...

Rob, you make a good point in that, even if you disagree with a perspective like the one Foley is rallying against, you still have to think fully through the implications of your response to the contrary. Wrestling is fictional, and the fans know it's fictional, but you are right that it's a different relationship in the movie, precisely because of that blurred reality and that shorter distance between "performer" and "character."

katejames said...

I think the fact the professional wrestling becomes the center of this debate is only testament to its fantastic inhabitation between fact and fiction. I really enjoyed the record of the conversation/ debate between Foley and Ganz, and Foley's analysis with Home Alone and soap operas. He has a well thought out methodology going. He takes on role of level-headed realist in this debate, exposing the flaws and inconsistencies of the academic method applied here for the purposes of proving wrestling's negative impacts. The whole debate becomes an issue of criteria-- is it reasonable to compare the impact of the violence in wrestling to the violence in movies? Or in sports? Soap operas? I think the shortened space between fan, character, and performer is exactly what creates the instinct to judge it more harshly as a factor in the generation of violence. It doesn't declare it's violence clearly-- it isn't quite the real vioence and injury of sport, and it isn't quite the completely performed violence of theater (fake blood/ stagefighting)- or rather it's both of these things, giving it a stronger value in terms of societal impact.

But the more I read about violence and pain in sports theory, the more I buy the theory that there is some release in the performance and viewing of 'controlled' violence. In that respect, I guess I disagree with Carolina a little bit; I don't think the violence is there as a secondary mechanism to support storyline in wrestling. I think violence is very much at the center of this, in a (mostly) performative form, and it is central to its success and connection with the fans. But that doesn't mean that its a medium for generating violence- violent content and incitement of violence are two different things, as Foley points out in various ways.

Sam Ford said...

Great point about the place violence has in wrestling society. I invited Walt Gantz to post to the blog, since we weren't able to do a phone conversation with the class. He had wanted to do so during Wednesday's class, while Mick was here, but he ended up having to teach a colleague's class that day. Walt said to me, though, during Mick's being here, that he was sure glad his 15 minutes of fame were now up.