Friday, May 4, 2007

Stepping Away From Fantasy

I distinctly remember the day that I heard Owen Hart had died. At first I wasn’t sure if it was part of the wrestling storyline because someone had told me that the Blue Blazer died. I just thought that they had killed off the blue blazer character. The next night when they showed the RAW tribute, I knew for sure that tragedy had fallen on the WWE. Owen Hart’s death brings up many interesting issues concerning the way in which the situation was handled.

In watching the clips from the PPV that he had the accident, it is interesting how they continued on with the show. It looked like the fans at first thought that it was some kind of wrestling angle and that it was part of the stunt. You can see the crowd was unsure what to think after some time had passed. Being in the crowd and removed from the action, I don’t think that the fans understood the gravity of the situation. The WWE fans had been tricked and thrown with al types of surprises in the past that you can’t really blame them for wanting the show to continue. You can obviously tell that the wrestlers’ and commentators’ heads were not in the event, but with Hart.

The next night on RAW, the WWE made a 2-hr tribute to Owen. The tribute consisted of candid interviews of wrestlers who knew Hart and their memories of him. You get the feeling that he was really loved and respected in the WWE. Although he did not play as big of a role in the storylines, you can tell that he was a big influence behind the scenes. I did feel like they were trying to come away form the fantasy wrestling world and into real life. Several wrestlers are shown crying for the loss of a friend and are able to convey the kind of person Owen was outside the ring.

I think Jeff Jarrett explained his character best in one word: integrity. In Sex, Lies, and Headlocks it’s explained that Owen was forced to make that entrance because he refused to be involved in a storyline that was offensive to him and his family. Vince has proved that he would never make a wrestler do something that he wouldn’t do himself. A similar high flying entrance was also performed by Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XII. In a clip we watched earlier in the class, Vince was shown to be the first person to test the harness out. I don’t think Vince intentionally put Owen in harms way, but an accident did happen.

The thing that made me feel uneasy was the way in which the fans continued to play the role of a wrestling fan during both nights. It is more understandable that they might’ve been confused at the PPV and just thought it was part of the show. The next night, however, they seemed to be celebratory at times. Even during the ringing of the bell, the fans are still cheering by the time it is half way through. The wrestlers were able to step back from the fantasy world for one night, but the fans were stuck somewhere in the doorway. I guess it is hard to step back form the situation when you’re in the wrestling environment and ultimately the show must go on.


B said...

I've read your class' blog for a while and thought I'd comment.

You mention how the night of the Owen Hart tribute the fans continued playing the role of the "wrestling fan". I too watched the PPV and the Raw tribute show and felt the same way.

More recently I've become very upset when fans can't "turn it off". An example being the Hall of Fame ceremony of Wrestlemania 22. If you watch the DVD you can tell that Sherri Martel is getting heckled throughout her entire speech. I was there and was sitting a few rows behind the fan who didn't realize that this night was for the people on stage, not those in the audience. Many people in my section were getting upset with thiz guy and even after countless requests to security the guy was never kicked out. I felt bad for Sherri who didn't deserve the crap she got from this guy.

There is a time and a place for a wrestling fan to be a "wrestling fan". However I think for some wrestling fans they have a hard time determining such time and place, especially at a live event. There will always be the few who can't find the off switch.

Anonymous said...

Chick in the wrestling industry weighing in again--from Steviehunter:
Honestly, at the Owen Trib, they had a right to be celebratory, as it WAS a celebration of his life.
I don't think complete Japanese style silence was called for there. It wasn't his funeral or wake. It was a wrestling show. But that's just my opinion.

But that is a completely seperate issue from the other one you raised, the one of really bad hecklers. Especially on indy shows, this unique breed of scumbag can really kill a show, as well as hurt a young wrestler's performance. I've seen people who have probably never had girlfriend tell an obviously stunning girl that she's fat or ugly. On an independent level, these people are right in your face and you can really hear them. They scream you f'ed up to someone who makes an error and really hurts themself. These people suck. But they are a part of the business that will always be. There are bad people everywhere, wrestling fans (and workers) are no exception.

Sam Ford said...

Ismael, you raise a few interesting points here, actually, and I thank both "b" and "steviehunter" for adding in. You mention that fans are stuck at the door, and it's an interesting question. We talk about liminality, the ability of wrestling to ride that line, that threshold, between "real" and "fake." Often, we have discussed how fans switch modes back and forth (my research) or how wrestlers can (or can't) distinguish between "real life" and "wrestling," as so many want to theorize about, tell anecdotes about, or warn (Sut Jhally, for instance, with the Steve Austin situation).

The Owen Hart situation is a complicated one, because the fans are obviously excited to be there but also had no protocol about how to respond to Owen's death. It is a celebratory time, but I'm sure that fans were doing a variety of things that weren't really celebrating Owen's life. They are on-stage, and some poeple likely did act inappropriately.

I agree with "steviehunter" that hecklers are a different issue, but a related one, in that fans may not perform the way they "should" in a role, that we can critique a fan performance just as much as anyone else. We saw in the ECW documentary about wrestlers sometimes taking it too far in their act with inciting a crowd, but fans sometimes go too far in heckling the wrestlers as well...I've seen this happen on indy circles as well and have been insulted personally in many ways. I had a heckler on a message board that started writing insulting personal things, who was from my hometown and knew my family...At some point, it definitely crossed a line I was not comfortable with, even as I wanted to blur the line between fantasy and reality.

In my case, it was the mentioning of family members and the like that went too far...Think back to Mick Foley and the "Cane Dewey" situation, except these were more of the insulting variety.

Anonymous said...

While the wrestlers and the WWE may have been trying to step away from the fantasy during the tribute show, some of those tears and rememberances from these wrestlers seemed.... enhanced at least. Remember that these men and women have been trained for years to 'turn it on' whenever the camera is on them or an audience is watching. Even if they were being honest and heartfelt about their feelings and memories of Owen, I still go the feeling that they would hardly be that emotional if there weren't millions of people watching. OS perhaps they didn't step too far away from fantasy as we might like to think.

Sue Clerc said...

As a fan, the worst part about the tribute, aside from the fact of Owen's death, was the segment with HHH and Chyna. He was crying and she didn't comfort him. I still can't get over that. He's sitting right there! Even if you hate the guy, show some compassion!
Second most awkward--Mark Henry. That guy was never not squirm-inducing. And not in a good way.

But what really interested me in a storytelling sense was the austin problem. Austinhad publicly stated his continuing dislike of Owen, stemming from the head-dropping incident a year (more, I think) before. In theory, he could've abstained from an interview segment; he could've just appeared when the bells rang at the opening. But in practice, he HAD to appear and do something different because he was the top performer; his absence would've been too noticeable.

The wordless hoisting of a beer was...underwhelming, but in retrospect it was probably the best they could do. at least there was some closure of the ongoing hostility he'd expressed toward Owen.

Omar said...

Once again we encounter that awkward melding of wrestling's worlds of fantasy and reality. In the interviews proceeding Hart's death we see wrestlers like HHH break down and appear to receive some real honesty from the characters we are used to seing in the ring. It can be difficult to reconcile the gravity and the reality of the situation with the fantastic characters involved.

The night the tragedy occurred, the confusion must have been even greater. In an place where drama and surprise are the name of the game, when can one distinguish fantasy from reality. This idea is yet another recurring theme throughout professional wrestling.

Sam Ford said...

Omar and Sue, you both point out HHH in particular, and I think his does stand out, because his reaction was so completely different than his character...The class didn't watch Mark Henry's response, by the way, but his character often recited terrible poetry, and he wrote a poem in tribute of Owen.

As for Austin, we talked a little bit about Steve. Apparently, he and Owen had their rift because Owen did not check back in with him after his injury, and Austin was hurt by that. But it does provide an interesting moment with the wordless tribute from Steve...

Anonymous said...