Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Henry Jenkins III's article, "Never Trust a Snake," well supports an approach to wrestling that considers it to be a form of melodrama. What it also does, though less explicitly, is to establish a continuum of entertainment forms, and to locate wrestling within this using a 'melodramatic' lens.

On one side are sports. Jenkins notes that it is within the framework of sporting contests that wrestling resides, though it does two things more: intentionally creating narratives using the 'genre' of sports and then maximizing these to greatest effect, and wrestling highlights the personal narrative, foregrounding individual conflicts and emotions. Essentially then, pro wrestling can be seen as sports turned inside out and amplified. We have great, real time documentarians following the volatile athletes, whose contests are more often than not of mythic proportions. You can wait a lifetime for the moment the Red Socks break the Curse of the Bambino (and short of apocalypse, they had to, eventually), but within the quickened pace of pro wrestling a resolution is never so far off.

The other side is harder to quantify, which is why Jenkins didn't bother to try, but include the aspects of drama that rely explicitly on non-melodramatic portrayals. We could say this means naturalistic, though this still runs into trouble since even reality has adopted aspects of the melodramatic: take, for instance, rolling the eyes to indicate exasperation. Mainly, they are highly scripted, might be simply text, and do not rely on melodrama. Beyond that, all I want to point out is that wrestling can also be seen to be built off a loose narrative, with an ad-lib of melodramatic performance taking the place of a smooth narrative flow, and reducing it to a series of high points and low points.

The notion of the "spectacle" comes into play here, since a spectacle is by nature intentional. It's purpose is to awe and overwhelm, to instill feeling and emotion into the spectator by its very presence and without the need for translation or interpretation. The experience of a fan following the narrative is the interface, and the amplification is the spectacle. The other purpose of a spectacle is to inspire curiousity about the specific ways in which the spectacle achieves its effect. Often this is a technological gap, such as the wizard Tesla, and electricity, or the contemporarily cutting edge CGI in Jurassic Park. While there are some technological aspects to pro wrestling, exemplified by the production standards, the real power comes from the melodrama- the way the narratives develop and the tensions between reality and fiction. These are not quantifiable, but only open to comparative and interpretive literature studies, meaning that the power of wrestling should not diminish, as have CGI effects. It must be noted that this does not mean for an individual the power will never diminish: familiarity engenders different appreciation. We see this with all other media forms: Jurassic Park's dinosaurs are always cool, but not now novel, and the first reading of a book is never the same experience as later revisitation. (As a slight divergence, C.S. Lewis, Sherry Turkle, and others have noted that the behaviour of returning to a story/experience indicates a deep relationship about the quality of the media. The first go round one can enjoy the fact of - that is, be surprised, but subsequently one cannot be surprised that Alice was dreaming, and only enjoy the journey. This bond, between individual and journey, has implications for wrestling fans that for now, I'll leave the reader to ponder.)

What this distinction gives us is another way to look at pro wrestling fans. We keep seeing what is essentially a binary split: you can immerse yourself, following along and perhaps participating yourself, or you can step back and theorize about the show. If we consider wrestling as spectacle this is no longer surprising, as these are the two behaviors implied in any spectacle. [Granted, it is possible for an individual to interact with a spectacle in only one, or neither of these ways, a spectacle merely implies that it is crafted for a majority in a certain context.]

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Tess, some interesting notes about how wrestling is placed along a continuum, and I think that seeing wrestling as spectacle, going back to Roland Barthes' first point, does involve a different style of reading.

I'm interested in the gendered aspect of wrestling as well, since it's considered "soap opera for men" yet J.R. says RAW is sometimes the second most popular cable show among females. What does that mean? Both academia and the media industry like to create categories to put things in, but the real world is messier than that. And so is wrestling. But that doesn't mean these lenses through which to view pro wrestling are meaningless, either.