Monday, May 21, 2007
It's interesting because tonight my friend went to go watch the Judgment Day PPV and he made the comment that I mentioned in the title. Yes, it seems a lot of the show was downright awful. Add to this a number of recent firings, key injuries, and the general disintegration of the 3 separate show structure with WWE, and I'm left feeling like I did well before the class: wrestling is on life support (or a change has got to come).
Yes, now I understand more about what aspects of the show have origins in carnival, how injury send-off angles depict a sacrifice of the body, why fans like the townies at Good Times insist on chanting at the TV screen and why my friends like to razz on them, and how it all ties into the need to sell t-shirts. I think I will approach wrestling in a more thoughtful way. However, it appears I'm still going to spend a majority of my time bitching about how it could be better.
Not that I expected the class to make me a radically different type of fan, or even just a better one. That was part of the class disclaimer, as I remember. I just felt it important to note that for all that has changed, not much really has.
I wanted to thank Sam and the rest of you for letting me come in on Monday nights and add my two cents in, even when I had scarcely any clue about the most recent readings. It's the first time I was a part of any blog community, and I think we did get to develop our own cast of characters and get some discussion going back and forth. Good luck to everyone still taking finals and writing theses. I've enjoyed my time with you.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Friday, May 11, 2007
Thank you to all you MIT students for reading this. I suggested to Sam, that since class time is limited and the subject matter so broad, I would give you some links to some of my blog posts and this document you’re reading now. The blog posts cover the subject of “independent wrestling” – what it is, what that broad and general term means and what that expansive category contains. This document will be specific to my company, New England Championship Wrestling – how and why it started, what its goals are and what we’ve gone through along the way.
Some of what I’d also like to touch on with you is the future of this professional wrestling business as I envision it.
I am really looking forward to meeting you all in person and getting further in depth on some of these topics that I’ll be covering with you.
Before I get down to business, let me say that you have had an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the sport and business of professional wrestling from some of the greatest members of its ranks. I told Sam Ford in a recent e-mail, that you’ve probably had more and better schooling on pro wrestling than a good deal of the people who are actually in it. Following J.R. and Mick Foley might seem like a daunting task, but I find that to be an exciting prospect and look forward to some well-informed dialogue.
Introduction to NECW – Playing The Changes
NECW was established in 2000. Prior to its formation, I had been in business with the late “Boston Bad Boy” Tony Rumble – a wrestler, manager and commentator for Mario Savoldi’s ICW promotion, which had national TV syndication in the late 80’s. After breaking away from Savoldi, Rumble started his own local promotion, initially called the Century Wrestling Alliance and later became NWA New England, the New England branch of the National Wrestling Alliance.
With the major territories disappearing and no controlling regional presence to take their place, anything other than WWF or WCW was considered “independent wrestling.” The absence of established wrestling companies promoting locally and regionally did two things: It lowered the entry standards, so that basically anyone who could put together a group of wrestlers, rent a ring and a building, could be a wrestling promoter. It also created an opportunity for those with the skills and knowledge to fill a niche that had been left behind by the national expansion era of pro wrestling.
Taking advantage of these changes in the landscape of pro wrestling would not be an easy task, as almost every aspect of the business had changed. In fact, you could say it was a whole new business entirely.
In 2000, when NECW started up, the local wrestling scene was in a pretty mediocre state. Prior to this, what passed for “independent wrestling” in this area were shows presented mostly by a few promoters who specialized in “sold shows” or “bought shows” as some describe them. The formula was simple. Take one or two or four ex-WWF wrestlers and put them in the main event. Use local wrestlers, mostly wrestling school students, as filler to populate the rest of the card. Sell the events as fundraisers to local police, fire departments, school booster clubs, etc. for a fixed price which includes a profit, and bingo, you are a wrestling promoter with no risk. Shows where the promoter actually rented a venue and sold tickets were not unheard of, but they were not the norm.
In the late 1990’s, the game was changed. It was a combination of factors. WWF started to keep their talent under wraps and not allowing them to take these “third party bookings,” which was the term they used for independent dates. The arrival of DX and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and their rise in popularity, which included children mimicking the crotch chop and “flipping the bird,” made local schools ban the wearing of WWF T-shirts and the decision to keep wrestling events out of local high schools, where most of these “sold show” events were held. The fundraising shows began to dry up and it was clear – at least to me – that promoting wrestling locally meant re-examining the business model and using a different approach.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Wrestling Company
NECW was started based on an idea that was almost completely against the conventional wisdom of the time. That idea was to recreate the concept of the “wrestling territory” as a local organization using almost exclusively local talent with locals in the lead roles. The events would be held in small venues (500 or less seats) and run on a regular basis, eventually creating a “circuit” of towns, with cheap ticket prices. The shows themselves would be storyline driven and not just a collection of matches. It would be marketed town-by-town on a grass roots basis, with the idea of building a loyal local following.
The easiest way to fully grasp what was being done here is to break it down two ways. There is the wrestling side and the business side.
On the wrestling side, New England was and is an area that produced a lot of pro wrestlers. Killer Kowalski, the legendary villain from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, had one of the first widely known wrestling schools in the country based here in the Boston area. (Kowalski ran numerous “sold shows” off of the students from his school and even had a local TV show for a brief period in the early 80’s.) The school attracted students from all over the country and even some from overseas. Kowalski boasts an alumni that includes some who went on to become big stars in the business, such as Triple H, Big John Studd, Chyna, Perry Saturn and Chris Nowinski. The school also produced local wrestlers some of whom would then go off and open up their own schools. The result was a lot of wrestlers in the area and a significant talent pool to draw from.
On the business side, New England, which was always a top drawing area for the old WWWWF (precursor to the WWF and later WWE), had a great built in fan base. In later years, when ECW would tour to New England, the major cities in the area were always top grossing towns. Even the sold shows that went to suburban towns once a year traditionally drew well. The fans were definitely here.
With the perception of pro wrestling being dominated and dictated by WWE, and the enormous media platform and high level production values that drive that perception, there was real fear that without name stars or TV exposure to create them, that our company wouldn’t draw fans in any great number. Being on TV, when we started, was a simple matter of paying out money to buy a time slot on a local station and supplying them with a tape every week. The problem was that the cost of the time was too high given our economics and the time that TV stations were going to sell you was time that they couldn’t sell or program with anything else, which generally means fringe time when no one is watching TV.
The goal of NECW was to have a circuit of towns run monthly, along with a TV show to support it. It was clear to me very early on that the company was going to have to be grown to reach those goals and that it would take years and patience.
Much of what was done with NECW was patterned after the business model for minor league sports teams with adjustments made for the unique requirements of pro wrestling. As a fan, I wanted to recapture the fan experience of going to the matches on a regular basis and following the story from month to month. There are three keys to the business of NECW:
• Intimacy – NECW presents a wrestling event that is up close and personal, creating an experience that WWE, or any other arena attraction, cannot duplicate.
• Affordability – Like minor league baseball, inexpensive admission is a major key to attracting families with children and making them repeat customers. A recent study published in local newspapers stated that for a family of four to attend a Boston Red Sox game, including parking, refreshments and souvenirs, the cost was $318. The cost for a WWE event is approximately $180. For the same family of four, the cost to see an NECW event is roughly $50.
• Availability – With the locations of our events in suburban area armories, we are able to target those specific areas and the surrounding towns. Families can attend events closer to where they live, eliminating the hassle of driving into Boston and having to find paid parking.
Combine those three elements and you have a very potent combination.
Problems and Patience
The NECW business model did not develop without problems that had to be faced and handicaps that had to be conquered.
Talent: While there were plenty of wrestlers in the area, there was no precedent for what NECW was trying to do. The concept of “local stars” was non-existent. Very few of the talent locally understood the idea of working main events and being the focal point of the promotion. This was a problem that only time has begun to solve. Now, as we close in on seven years of operation, we are seeing “stars” develop from within our ranks that can carry the company in the leading roles. At the same time, there are a lot more companies in the area trying to do what we do. Oftentimes talent is pulled in different directions, though we have managed to stay fairly consistent.
Advertising/PR: Small venues equal small grosses and with Boston being a major media market, the city and surrounding suburbs are high prices when it comes to finding mainstream advertising outlets. Radio is so expensive in Boston, that the cost of a decent schedule far exceeds what a typical event can gross. The negative image of pro wrestling also hurts when it comes to publicity in the mainstream media. While NECW is the most-publicized company of its kind in the region by a very wide margin, free publicity is never easy to get and never a predictable resource.
TV: Television is the life blood of pro wrestling. Without it, you must rely on grass roots effort, street promotion, and whatever advertising you can afford. Without it, it is impossible to truly establish the stories and personalities that comprise the promotion.
Again, I realized early on that solving these issues would take time and patience, as well as some creative solutions.
Answers an Inch at a Time
In a grass roots business like NECW, problems are solved by having a clear set of goals and a path mapped out to reach them. Sometimes that path is traveled in feet and inches and not miles.
Early on in NECW, I knew that the company needed to establish an aura of credibility to be able to grow and flourish. That aura of credibility was demonstrated, first in the wrestling product itself, which was storyline driven and presented seriousl
Secondly, we needed publicity of the right kind. Relationships I’d built up with local media through the years yielded some good stories focused on the NECW as a company. All press was geared as much toward the promotion as possible and not about the wrestlers themselves. This was because the wrestlers changed constantly.
Minor league baseball people will tell you that the most important figure on a minor league team in the mascot, but that’s the only consistent personality present on the team from year to year. In NECW, I filled the role of the mascot – company spokesman, “rule maker and enforcer” in the company storylines, TV announcer and front of the house greeter to those in attendance. There are a multitude of other reasons for me assuming this role – some having to do with convenience and others having to do with wanting to leave a personal impression on our fans.
Lastly, we needed to be on TV. This was going to be the toughest hurdle of all. And while we have not arrived on TV yet, that reaching that goal is eminent. We got to that place by approaching it in a series of steps.
Normally, when a local wrestling promotion wants to be on TV, they first go for local cable access. It’s free and it is TV. The problems with it are that no one really watches it in great number and you have to place the show on systems town by town, which is time consuming and in the end not very effective.
My solution was to go directly to the Internet. Before we had any video up there, our website was attracting roughly 3,000 unique visitors per month – far more than were attending the shows live. It stood to reason that there was interest in our company far beyond the fans we brought in live. By broadcasting matches and conveying the key angles and storylines on an Internet broadcast, we would be opening that window into our business wider to those who were already looking at our site and creating the foundation for an eventual move to conventional television. This was 2004, long before You Tube. In fact, NECW was the first wrestling promotion to produce a weekly original long form TV show specifically for the Internet – a concept that was quickly copied by TNA, WWE and scores of other independent promotions.
I had originally come up with this concept in 1996 when I was working for the late Hiro Matsuda. Matsuda, who was a great wrestler and trainer, as well as a partner in the old Florida territory, had the rights to the TV shows produced by New Japan Pro Wrestling in Tokyo. The shows were edited and re-voiced and syndicated overseas under the name Ring Warriors. We produced a few episodes for the Internet back in 1996 as way to introduce the product to North America, but since few people had Broadband access in 1996, that attempt quickly fizzled. I always knew, even back then, that the Internet would eventually become a viable alternative means of distribution.
NECW TV debuted in November 1994. We even established a separate site – NECW.tv – to host the videos. The concept was an instant success, though not a substitute for conventional TV. It did have a lot of benefits though. The shows get anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 views a week in over 60 countries. The talent now has a platform to get used to the concept of working matches for TV and to develop promo skills. It is also a means to promote our live events and DVD’s.
Present & Future
In 2006, NECW merged with PWF Mayhem, another local promotion to form a unified company that operates under the New England Championship Wrestling name. At that time, we also launched a “sister” promotion – World Women’s Wrestling – which features an all female roster. Triple W, as we call it, is unique for several reasons. It is the only regularly scheduled women’s wrestling promotion in the country. WWW, like NECW, is storyline driven with women in all the roles men portray in a typical pro wrestling promotion.
World Women’s Wrestling was a way to diversify the company without going outside what it normally does. As a product, it was something that was long overdue in my opinion, and the talent base was there to accomplish it. This is another case of having to grow the talent and the business over time, but the enormous publicity received for the launch benefited both NECW & WWW. The women’s matches on NECW cards are now billed as WWW Feature Matches and storylines cross between NECW and WWW events.
Since the merger and the launch of WWW, NECW’s business has grown steadily and substantially to where sellouts are frequent and new towns are being added.
We have recently made substantial investments in video equipment and physical production as we prepare for an eminent move to conventional TV. We are also setting up our own screen printing shop to produce our own T-shirt and other merchandise. DVD sales will be a growth area, as we ramp up our production capabilities and staff.
Last year, we ran a total of 28 live events. This year, we will be closing in on 50 before the year is up.
NECW is, in my view, what the future of pro wrestling is going to be. It is impossible to compete with WWE on their level for many reasons: the buy in would be enormous, an equal TV platform would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain and the competition for talent on that level would be fierce.
The concept of a local/regional wrestling “territory” is viable and getting more viable as time goes on. Changes in television between technology and channel capacity will open up opportunities for those who are savvy enough to be ready to take advantage of them.
There are some entries in my blog – sheldongoldberg.blogspot.com – that cover the subject of independent wrestling that may shed some more light on our discussion for Monday.
You can also look at some of our recent Internet TV shows – NECW.tv – which will give you more of an insight into our product. Our websites – NECWwrestling.com and WorldWomensWrestling.com – are also good resources.
I look forward to seeing you all on Monday.
New England Championship Wrestling
Thursday, May 10, 2007
And that was Plato's problem with the arts in general and theatre in particular.
Plato's problem rested with the act of persuasion and he somehow thought the the multitudes wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the truth and the lie.
I've noticed that a lot of you have been struggling with William Congreve's "the willing suspension of disbelief" concept. Its really quite simple, you are either 'willing' to believe in the story being told or not!
Theatre attempts an act of persuasion through the art of storytelling. You know that no one really dies during a production of Hamlet, but if the actors, designers, directors and stage managers have done their job its a moot point.
Its the art of storytelling and our reception of it that guides us in our quest to be entertained. There are a myriad of actor-audience receptor theories out there, but most of them miss the point: its just more fun if you can buy into the story!
Professional wrestling is no different than theatre. Its 'actor's' are telling a story and you can either buy into it (say, for example, a David and Goliath match) or not.
It all depends on the level of engagement you are willing to provide. And as long as the actor's don't drop the ball/line/cue, the level is where-ever you want to place it.
Theatre and professional wrestling are both a lie, but then again so is Santa Claus and we all know how much fun it was to believe in that kind of magic.
Thanks for listening and good luck in your journey through academia.
See you at the turnbuckle,
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
What I didn't realize until very recently, is that artists largely adopt the same strategies of dialectics between face and heel with this work. Some of it is meant to shock, to create disgust or distaste for the artist. This is true of Gina Pane, who engages in acts on her own body that invoke anger or disgust in her audience very deliberately. “Put in the right condition by several months of theoretical preparation (notes, sketches, reading and daily practice of existence), as well as by physical preparation (swallowing rotten meat, prolonged standing over lit candles, physical tension, etc.), the body, having become a thinking and suffering matter, transforms itself in a coadjutant of thought” (Pluchart, 'Risk as the Practice of Thought', 40). Also true Vito Acconci, who places himself under a gallery floor and masturbates to exhaustion/ pain.
On the other hand, we see imaging of the liberated body in art, the body that has been freed of its cultural shackles, that uses instruments or physical force to achieve some greater power than previously identified as possible. We see this with Nauman, Chris Burden, Elizabeth Streb. These are bodies engaged to inspire the collective body to a cultural action.
What is interesting is the level of manipulation of reception and formal signifiers in both the wrestling and the performance art context. In both medium, the body is engaged in a way outside of expectations, making it a discursive body. Though the reception is vastly different, the artist's and the wrestler's bodies are both political palettes, meant for working out their own meanings and cultural implications in a social arena:
“In a sense, destruction art is a warning system, an aesthetic response to human emergency that occurs in the lapse between theory and practice in terminal culture; it presents the pain of bodies, the anxiety of minds, the epistemology of technology, the specious claims of ideology, the absence of ecological responsibility, the loss of human integrity and compassion, and the violence that structures both gender and sexual relations. Just as destruction art is the image of resistance in the form of an even, it is also an important means to survival that must be continuously explored” (Kristine Stiles, “Survival Ethos and Destruction Art”, 1992.229).
Coming into this course, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what wrestling was. I had been a fan for many years and I thought I was pretty knowledgeable in this subject. Now, I see how much more there is to wrestling than just wrestling. Its history spans back to the Greek and Roman empires and has evolved greatly over time. Wrestling also addresses many social issues that might not have been discussed otherwise. By watching and analyzing wrestling on a regular basis, I was able to develop a greater appreciation for wrestling itself.
Originally I thought that wrestling began with the WWE. I started watching wrestling in the early 90s and it was the only wrestling program I knew of. I can see why they would never have mentioned any other wrestling promotion, past or present. The problem with doing this is that wrestling fans may never know the rich history of wrestling or the path wrestling has taken to be what it is today. You are also able to appreciate the pioneers that revolutionized wrestling and were responsible for its early popularity.
Wrestling deals with many social issues that are present in society but are less often addressed. Issues concerning race, sex, politics, and class are just a few that come to mind. The WWE often parodies these issues in a way that is obviously meant to be entertaining, but at the same time allows the audience to make their own judgment on the issue. The way that the fans play as much of a role as the performers, we are show our approval or disproval of different storylines or matches that deal with these topics. The readings in the class helped to give a different perspective on the subject. I was able to make more well-informed judgments after reading different sources and comparing them to my own views. This also made me realize that wrestling could be studied in an academic setting, which would probably make most people laugh at the idea.
I now realize that it is the different styles in wrestling make a wrestling performance unique. I would always look forward to the heavyweights battling in the main even of a PPV and just kind of sit through the other matches to get to it. Only a small fraction of the PPV, however, is actually composed of the main event. The matches before the main event are just as important as the main event itself. You don’t want an audience to be bored by the time the main event comes around so these matches often showcase some of the best talent in wrestling. Hardcore, lucha libre, technical, power, and traditional are the most prevalent styles in wrestling that I can think of. Each one has a different purpose and tells a different story to the audience, which is what I now focus on and appreciate during a performance.
My appreciation for wrestling has dramatically increased in the course of this class. I feel like I have such a greater understanding for the wrestling performance than I ever had. Before, I would watch wrestling mainly for the big matches, storylines, and divas. Now I think that I can watch an entire wrestling show and appreciate every aspect or it. After stepping away from the wrestling scene since I entered college, I now have motivation to continue enjoying what I grew up watching as a kid.
Vince McMahon's regime of professional wrestling has consistently taken themes from ongoing political/social affairs and transmuted them into gimmicks for old and new wrestlers. Almost every major current issue and event over the past years has seen itself become a part of the farce that is the McMahon style of professional wrestling.
Though McMahon's tactics are certainly not new, they do push the envelope of what is considered socially acceptable--would we, could we expect any less.
The wrestling character JBL (John Bradshw Layfield) is a prime example of the WWE's attempt at social commentary. It makes fun of the right wing conservative politician by completely blowing up his views and making him extremely close minded. JBL's character makes us realize how ridiculuous some of his very real opinions may be. We are able to take a step back and see this archetypal character in a different light; we can assess the reality of the claims made.
Another example of the WWE's use of parody was the inception of the RTC (Right to Censor) duo. In this case they do something similar to the JBL character making a parody of the idea of their program as a corrupting influence on young viewers. In actuality, the RTC was a way to retaliate to the claims made by a specific group against the WWE--the PTC (Parent Television Council). The WWE was attempting to discredit their claims by ridiculing the PTCs attempts to censor them. Once again, the WWE was putting a new spin on a specific set of beliefs that existed outside the ring.
McMahon often makes the claim that the WWE may never go out of business. It's kind of hard not to believe him when there is so much fuel for his program in the everyday going-ons of society.
The essay that Sam wrote on the WWE in Japanese culture was interesting because it dealt with a subject that isn’t often talked about. I’ve been a wrestling fan for quite some time and the only thing I had head before about wrestling in Japan is that there was a very large Japanese fan base. It was never really described, however, how the Japanese fans perceived the WWE or what the WWE has done to reach out to the Japanese audience.
The first issue that comes to mind in selling the WWE product to Japan is language. It’s hard to imagine the Japanese audience following an episode of wrestling without some sort of translator. This seems like it would take away from the overall effect of the WWE performance. I’ve watched RAW in Spanish before and it gets distracting sometimes hearing the commentators dub over the wrestlers’ voices. You hear the wrestler’s voice then you hear the commentator’s voice at the same time competing with one another. Even though this is entertaining in itself especially when they imitate female voices, I think that Vince saying “you’re fired” would have more of an impact than a translator saying it. Sam deals with this early on in the paper by describing how Shane kicked the translator off of the stage, by the request of the fans, and proceeded to speak in English. This shows that the language of wrestling can be universal because wrestling deals with universal themes and conflicts.
Another issue that came to mind is storylines in wrestling. A storyline that we as Americans find interesting may not be understood at all in
With little information known on
A consensus media is the dominant media form of a culture, in which conservative, modern, and liberal voices negotiate cultural change and anxieties.
From our current position in history it may be hard to imagine what this means, but consider the age of movies, before television was widespread. Most of the country was at the movies weekly, if not more often, watching the same set of shows, the same set of cartoons and the same sets of news reels. With the advent of television, especially with the broadcast system, the consensus media shifted from the movies to television. Television was more prevalent than movies (it's located in the home) and the limited number of stations meant that every week "I Love Lucy" was being watched by a vast population. Over time, we see development in the way topics are treated in shows. One particular example is the treatment of women: from "I Love Lucy," to "That Girl" to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," we see increased autonomy of the lead female character, and decreased moderation of this liberal perspective (Lucy was always thwarted in her pursuit of fame, and That Girl lived alone, but displayed reliance on her boyfriend and father.)
Once cable comes into the picture the audience becomes fragmented, and it can be said that today the leading media is the internet, which has yet (and may never) take over the role of a consensus media. Evidence for this comes from situations like 9/11, when the nation needs a central place to gather, which was fulfilled by the news organizations, primarily the televised ones.
A consensus media is defined by cultural group, and so we can look for the same trends in any media form, particularly those linked to a particular culture (even down to wrestling.)
Horse and Buggy
The first cars looked a lot like horse drawn carts, even though the internal combustion engine makes no such restriction on form. We see the same scenario every time a new media arises. Early movies were filmed plays, many thought the cable market would never take off. It is true that we drag history along with us each time, but not because people are not forward thinking: development takes time, especially when exploring the potential of a new media form.
It is the individual's interaction with a text that gives rise to meaning. Meaning is not something that's packaged by the authors into a text and unpackaged with the audience, but is a result of an interplay between these locations. This relates to the ideas of consensus narratives in an interesting way, and it is important to keep track of from what perspective you're looking at a media.
If there are other terms/concepts anyone is curious about, or thinks should be listed, let me know.
Catherine Salmon, my co-author, asked me to record Raw and Nitro as Hall and Nash were leaving the WWF, as it was then, to go to WCW. Her cable company didn’t carry TNT…I’m not sure why I also needed to tape Raw. I think the Canadian network might’ve been editing broadcasts. Or it was a cunning plan to get me hooked on wrestling. In any case, I moved from really just taping shows for a friend to saying “no, really, I’m just taping them for a friend oh my God did you SEE THAT?”
Next thing I knew I was badgering Catherine with questions, memorizing the Hart family tree, and holding up lewd signs at Wrestlemania 13.
It’s OK. I’m over it now. In fact, after writing the book chapter and presenting 2 other papers based on wrestling, I stopped watching. Not cold turkey, but I didn’t require a patch or anything. Sure, there was a relapse. Possibly two. But I’m OK now. It’s been months since I looked at a wrestling news website, and I’ve watched bits and pieces of Raw the last couple of weeks but haven’t felt an undertow pulling me back in. I do keep a Mankind action figure in my office. During slow moments at work, he and my Librarian action figure occasionally engage in a match, but she’s pretty useless because only her arms have articulated joints so the only moves she’s capable of are a clothesline and maybe flying leg scissors. Also, Amazing Shushing Action is an even lamer finishing move than the People’s Elbow.
But I digress…
Since this is a university class, maybe I should mention our educational backgrounds. Catherine has a PhD in evolutionary psychology and teaches at Redlands in California. She and Don Symonds published a book about slash, Warrior Lovers, and she has written journal articles about slash. I have a PhD in Culture Studies, a JD, and an MLS. I’m a librarian at Southern Connecticut State University. I’ve written other book chapters about media fandom and presented papers on fandom, wrestling, and other subjects. We have both spent years in the media fan community and that was our basis for the chapter you’re reading—comparing and contrasting wrestling fans with the community we already knew.
As fascinating a work of rare genius as the chapter is, I hope we can discuss other things when we meet. I’m going to try to tack comments onto some of your posts now. Much of what I have to say will be tangential to the original post. As I browsed around last week, sometimes a word or phrase would remind me of an idea I’d had, a random observation, a senior moment of “you kids today with your Cenas and Lashleys…” So if I can get this to work, there will be comments scattered around about suffering, camera work and the 4th wall, and why I liked WWF/E better than WCW, Montreal, the deployment of reality in storylines being similar to historical novels and unlike scripted television, and possibly lascivious remarks about performers.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Now I have already had a problem with John Cena being champion. I really don't think he is that good of a wrestler and even though he looks big and tough. His popularity varies from week to week. The fans will be more likely to cheer for Shawn Michaels and boo more loudly for Edge. So he is stuck in between and what is the solution? Put him up against someone who really makes him look good as a wrestler. It is not that I hate John Cena. I enjoyed his white rapper turn, even finding the word Thuganomics to be one of the best catch phrases since the rock came up with Just Bring It. I also like, "You want some? Come get some!" I can understand that the WWE is banking on Cena on being the future Superstar that will carry the company. But what I raising here is that I don't know how the writers will be able to make this a good storyline. Cena just had his feud with Umaga end so I hope we dont see a repeat, hero vs monster story.
The interesting thing to watch here is how the giant Khali will express himself to Cena and to the crowd. He really doesnt talk and doesn't have a handler right now. So far it has actually been pretty good. I think that walking out with the title belt conveys Khali's total disregard of the champion very well. I do wonder what will happen next. One would think that since John Cena has been beaten down two weeks in a row, he would get even this coming Monday, but it is hard to imagine how. Again, chairs do not work. I am doubtful as to what the writing team can get out of this feud but am still hopeful it will be fresh and actually advance the career of both superstars.
My prediction for Judgement day is that Cena will beat Khali. I think they might try a Hulk Hogan moment where Cena pulls off an FU on his opponent. Now we just saw Edge win the Money in the Bank shot and so he might try to take the title after Cena's battle with the giant.
All they had done was insert a Spanish "announcer" track over the audio, but the volume and excitement level meant I could only make out the occasional word from the English track. I don't speak Spanish at all. Yet despite the language barrier I always felt I was being given a narrative. This narrative was derived from 1, the visuals and 2, the Spanish announcer's intonation, and was hampered, so far as I can tell by 3, my personal lack of knowledge and context.
Where this puts me: 1, Previously I would look at a match or a 'back stage' bit and see purposeless activity, such as yelling, violence, and bad acting. This is still what I see, but post hoc reflection superimposes motivations onto the characters. That is, I now assign the characters agency. I think this is due to greater familiarity with the physical 'language' of wrestling, which implies that I've learned the representational vocabulary of the melodrama. 2, Similarily, I find that much of the announcer's role is to keep up the energy in counterpoint to the visual, rather than purely giving me information. On the whole it felt a lot like watching the original Iron Chef, with the enthusiastic commentary mostly letting you know that SOMEONE is finding something to be excited about, though in Iron Chef I don't know enough about cooking to feel as comfortable forgoing subtitles. 3, I think if I was a regular viewer, I wouldn't have lost much by not being able to understand any of the words. If I knew more about the characters the narrative I constructed would be more accurate. I was watching Ric Flair and Carlito, and while I know a tiny bit about each, I don't know the specifics of the conflict. Last time I watched RAW Carlito was definding his honor against some old guy. In retrospect I think the old guy was actually Flair or Blassie, but at the time I presumed it was Flair, and this was part of that conflict.
Essentially, watching RAW this time around I had a contextual basis for the wrestling format and actors, but no specifics. (As opposed to if I had watched in English, when I would have had details from commentator and dialogue.) Details would have left me actively reconstructing a story line, which given my experience with clips in class, I usually have little interest in unless I know more about the characters or situation that makes the information useful for understanding something besides current short narrative. A discussion of transparency could take place here: the narratives I construct for myself are supported by my understanding of the format, and do not necessarily rely on specific knowledge.
This may be an atypical response, especially since my experience with wrestling has been explicitly analytical rather than arising from prolonged exposure. But most telling for me was a spontaneous thought I had later that evening. I've been trained to watch events around me, and imagine what would happen if different characters were put in those situations. I was stumbling down the fire escape with a cigarette in my mouth, almost inhaled it by accident and suddenly thought of a wrestler on a staircase, tackled from behind, swallowing a cigarette and belching fire. That was a more physical reinterpretation of events than is my norm, and I'll go so far as to say that is because it was drawing on a different vocabulary. I still don't think I'm a wrestling fan, but maybe I've learned something (useful) after all.
I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, but I've always liked it!
I would recommend the article itself and I've included the link at the end!
David Haecker, Crossing the Line Between Entertainment and Reality: A Sociological Analysis of Collective Behavior in Professional Wrestling
Why Study Professional Wrestling?
The phenomenon that I believe is important for sociological study is how the wrestlers create an “emotional rollercoaster” that takes the fans on a ride into near riot conditions, and after the catharsis moment (the end of the match), all is in harmony once again. The collective unity of the crowd that the wrestlers achieve is an art form but also a systematic manipulation of the crowd. A set of structures are at hand in how the wrestlers use combat to tell the story of the wrestling match. Professional wrestling reproduces the excitement and interaction from its events on a regular basis. While there are many different variations of these interactions, the persuasions are approximately the same. Wrestlers have seen the world in a way very few people experience. They use their influence for the collective behavior of a vast demographic of people with various backgrounds, interests, and ideals. Professional wrestling may yield answers to the study of collective behavior by how it uses predicted responses of crowd reactions on a consistent basis. This achieves a planned outcome that generates the appropriate conclusion for those who control the shows. The outcome of a wrestling match works as a release of emotion and anxiety that has been built from the ground up in a live setting using unaware but primed people. This I believe is an important area of study.
After reading Serrato’s piece in Steel Chair to the Head and watching the match between Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle I was left with two conflicting impressions. Reading and watching something take place are two completely different experiences. When I was reading the piece on Latino wrestlers, it seemed like there was such a negative connotation in their performances. This is something that isn’t as apparent in watching Latino wrestlers perform during a show.
Eddie had fun with his character and even comments that he knows people from his hometown, El Paso, who act the way his character does and serve as a basis for his character. It’s meant to parody a stereotype that already exists in society. Eddie comments that it’s stupid that some people read too much into the character and it’s only meant to be funny. As a Mexican, I think that I was rarely offended by some of Eddie’s antics inside the ring. I thought that most things he did were pretty funny, even the time he rode into the arena in a lawnmower. His trickster character was also fun to watch. I thought it did more than just show how lying, cheating and stealing can get you to the top. It showed how brains can conquer braun. Eddie used his intelligence to have an edge over the opponent in a way that was rarely illegal. I think that the audience had the same type of attitude toward Eddie Guerrero. The way he was received by the fans shows that he was able to convey that his character was meant to be funny.
As an outsider watching or reading about wrestling, it may appear that Eddie Guerrero is giving Latinos a bad name by being glorified for lying, cheating, and stealing. The piece made it seem like the fans were laughing at Eddie and other Latino wrestlers instead of with them. WCW and WWE were then used these stereotypes as a way of keeping these wrestlers down in the business. I don’t know if I believe that the formation of the NWO was a direct result of Latinos gaining more popularity than the big white wrestlers. It seemed like a series of coincidences that were made into an argument. I do agree with the odds being against the Latino wrestlers to win the Heavyweight Championship and being the central figures in wrestling. This article was written, however, before Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio both won the Championship and became big parts of the WWE. I guess it’s only natural that a Latino wrestler won it since Latinos make up one of the largest fan bases.
I think that it is important to experience both forms of communication. I was able to obtain very different perspectives on an important issue in wrestling from reading another person’s views and making my own directly. Reading about some of the historical aspects allows you to make a more complete analysis on some of the more controversial issues in wrestling. I think the best bet would be to make your own judgment after you have more than just a first person point of view.
Race has also been used to define good and evil in the wrestling ring. Historically, it was more often the foreigner who was cast as the evil aggressor. Professional wrestling would play off of xenophobic sentiments of the time to invent new characters. Hence personae like Franz Herman, Fritz von Erich, and the Iron Sheik. These villains were pit against familiar American faces.
At the same time, however, fans have been able to identify with minority wrestling characters. These wrestlers have provided a way for foreign, non-American characters to become babyfaces in the ring. Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, there were several Mexican-American wrestlers who were able to build a sizable postive following among the general fanbase. More recently, wrestling phenoms like the Rock, Eddie Guerrero, and Rey Misterio, Jr. have been able to command even greater success.
An apparent difference between the two generations of wrestlers has often been noted. While the earlier minority wrestlers were able to be cast in a generally positive light as hardworking, sportsmanlike faces, the more recent generation of minority characters have exploited many existing racial stereotypes. Nevertheless, these wrestlers have been able to enjoy even greater success and appear to be some of the more popular characters of their respective wrestling programs.
While it is easy to align the popularity of minority characters with the minority fan base, there necessarily exists a deeper source of their widespread fame. As veritable symbols of the fruits of hard work and effort, the wrestlers themselves and not simply their characters can be identified as "good" as per the definitions prescribed by the capitalistic view of wrestling. As a result, these wrestlers are able to transcend race and become heroes of the working class.
Just as we've discussed in class, it is social class that has become the ultimate criterion for defining popular wrestlers, especially as wrestling progressed throughout the latter part of the 20th century. Haughtiness and arrogance has rarely if ever been tolerated in the ring. It is the ability of wrestlers to identify with the blue-collar ideals of the fanbase that has become an important determining factor in their success as performers in the squared circle.
As a Latino, I had never really considered the implications of Hispanic wrestler's actions in the ring. After watching Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story, I began to understand Serrato's take on wrestling. Under the WWE, Guerrero had adopted an even more stereotypical character than he had been used in his WCW and ECW past. His "Latin Heat" persona was, as Serrato cites, a "womanizer" and a "cheat" who was not ashamed of doing anything to win a match.
I must admit that at first, I was a little suprised to see deeply Latin Heat fell into a lot of stereotypes surrounding Mexican-American culture. As I studied his antics a bit more, I realized that though his character did play with many stereotypes it was nothing particularly malicious. I wasn't especially offended by what Latin Heat did or said. In Serrato's essay, Guerrero describes the fun he had portraying his wrestling alter ego. He relates how much the character reminded him of some of the people he had grown up with in El Paso and how secure he was with his own culture to poke some fun.
I guess it just depends who's watching when. When is it ok to laugh? When should there be a line drawn to discern farce from the excessive? In this age when comedy and entertainment are pushing the limits it becomes difficult to tell when and if these boundaries are to be defined.
While the WWE does play with a lot of risky issues I believe that it does not go beyond that; it really is simply play. Truly there are some social implications, some consequences of their actions that exist outside the ring and the arena. But I don't belive that there is an intent to purposely reinforce racial stereotypes. As far as McMahon may take his program sometimes, he simply feeds off of what's hot at the moment--anything to draw heat from a crowd.
Monday, May 7, 2007
While the King tries to play up that Benoit and Michaels would double-team the champion first and the leave it to themselves, this 'plan' goes out the window from the get go. We eventually get into a pattern of a spot here and there that will knock one wrestler out for a minute so that the other two can trade some blows and moves. There are several attempts by each guy to set up their finishing hold (eg the Crippler Crossface) early on in the match, supposedly to end the bout early, but of course they wouldn't finish up that early. This being Wrestlemania, Michaels bust out a moonsault to the outside, something that I don't ever recall seeing him perform.
later Benoit unleashes several of his classic 'Hat Tricks', three-in-a-row suplexes that probably aren't doing his neck any favors (I still get a big kick out of them), followed soon by a superplex off the turnbuckle by HHH. By this point the crowd is still relatively tame, but still rapt, then suddenly Hunter attempts a pedigree on Benoit which he then reverses into the Crossface, but it is broken. Another hat trick by Benoit to Michaels, who expertly plays them up with his facial experessions. Another common spot in big pay per view matches is the opponent sometimes attempting his opponent's finisher or trademark move on him, such as Michaels attempting a series of suplexes on Benoit, but failing. When successful this move supposedly hurts the moral of his opponent and is part of the taunting 'psychology' of the ring.
Soon we have some Sweet Chin Music, and then soon enough we have Michaels wearing a Crimson Mask very quickly after bouncing off the turnbuckle (now if the pad had been removed from the turnbuckle, i would believe that amount of blood, but it wasn't, so the bleeding seems very unbelieveable). Benoit soon get Michaels in the Crossface, and Michaels is about to tap, but Hunter grabs his hand as it comes down, preventing his title from changing hands (clever!), as under the Triple Threat stipulations the champion doesn't even have to be pinned to lose his title.
Not that long after, Hunter begins prepping the Spanish announce tables for ... something, and soon he and Michaels jointly suplex Benoit through one table, and earn a "Holy Shit" chant from the MSG crowd. This metamorphosizing of heel and face roles throughout the match is classic of Triple Threat or other 3+ member matches, where some characters, who normally are enemies may work together for a little while to eliminate an opponent, and then in the next moment they are battling each other again. In the dynamics of this match, there is no clear heel or face, and an entire autonomous storyline that is rather unrelated to the overarching plot can be contained within this one match.
Now Michaels is covered in his own blood, and Benoit is out of action, so that Michaels and HHH are supposedly left to finish the match, with the audience roaring, but just as a pin is attempted after a Pedigree Benoit breaks it up (duh). Benoit powers back against HHH and locks him in the Sharpshooter, as the crowd goes ballistic - here benoit is clearly the underdog face, who has never won the championship. Michaels breaks it up with some more Sweet Chin Music, but Benoit throws him over the top, turning into HHH, who attempts another Pedigree, which Benoit again reverses into the Crippler Crossface. Hunter fights it, but the Rapid Wolverine is relentless, and the champion taps out, and the Garden erupts, and Benoit tearfully accepts his first WWE HeavyWeight title. Soon after, Eddie Guerrero (the Smackdown Champion) comes to the ring and embraces his longtime (real life) friend in the middle of the ring and raises his hand, a clear moment where plotlines are thrown to the winds for such a personally meaningful moment, and I'm pretty sure the WWE offices didn't mind, as they replayed that moment over and over later on.
This is a classic match which demonstrates the buildup and dynamic of a multi-person match, where there are more variables to deal with, more styles to work with, plot lines to consider and adapt. Here there is always action going on with three athletes, keeping the pace lively while not overwhelming like some other 4 or more person matches. By allowing one wrestler to go out, have the other two go to blows and then change it up over the course of the match, there is enough time to catch one's breath and not get completely worn out, so that the match is longer, consistantly dynamic and high energy, making it a great special departure from the classic one on one matchup, especially when featuring three verterans of this caliber battling for the WWE Championship.
Here's a few tips on writing a paper that I always give my class. I hope you find it helpful in writing yours
My Master of Arts thesis statement consisted of 4 simple words:
"Professional Wrestling is Theatre".
Remember its a statement and not a question!
Your opening paragraph: 4 step model.
1) Introduce your subject
2) State your thesis (a one sentence statement works best)
3) How you plan on proving your thesis (Methodology)
4) Tie the introduction sentence to your thesis and repeat it at the conclusion of your paper
State your points as clearly and simply as you can.
Don't try and do too much: remember to keep it simple
8 easy steps to a better paper:
1) Outline it 1st
2) Write a very rough draft
3) Re-write that into a1st draft
4) Proof read it for factual errors
5) Re-write your first draft --- yes, it will improve your mark!!!
6) Let it sit for a bit, hopefully more than just overnight
7) Proof read it again
8) Look out for the little stuff: title page, staples, etc
Do yourself a favor and Keep it simple!
Trust me: essays are easy and they get easier over time!
Point in case:
As an undergrad, you couldn't get 4 written pages out of me, but as a graduate student you couldn't shut me up after 40! *S*
Thanks for listening!
See you at the turnbuckle!
It was one of the biggest title fights since Lennox Lewis battled Evander Holyfield; it was hailed to be the dream fight to save boxing; and it fell short of all the hype.
This weekend I had the opportunity to watch the greatly anticipated Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. match. As somewhat of a boxing fan, I had my own expectations for the fight. Like most, I really was hoping that the match would be one for the ages. I can remember watching De La Hoya's earlier career fights against greats like Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad. I would sit right in front of the tv and hope the bout would turn into a Rocky-like drama with both fighters struggling to go one more round. I couldn't help but let myself believe I'd actually get to see one last great fight from the champ. But like most, I was disappointed.
As each round went by you could sense the lack of tenacity in each fighter. In fact, in some of those rounds each fighter had thrown only 30 punches. By the sixth round, the mediocrity of the bout had sunk in. There was hardly any struggle until maybe the last the ten seconds of round 12. By the time the final bell rang, both fighters still had the same baby faces they had when they stepped into the ring.
The spectacle, however overhyped and overrated it turned out to be (perhaps for that very reason), reminded me very much of a wrestling match. The show's similarity to wrestling was made especially clear as each fighter approached the ring. Mayweather,the heel of the two, made his way to the center of the arena sporting the colors of the Mexican flag on his trunks and wearing a sparkling sombrero. It was an obvious cheap shot against the self-proclaimed Golden Boy of boxing and the kind of act we see time and time again in the world of wrestling.
De La Hoya walked in to the usual sound of trumpets and traditional Mexican music. Who and what he represents as a well-known Mexican-American fighter has always been clear. Mayweather knew what he was doing when he stepped into the arena. With 90% of the arena chanting "Oscar, Oscar, Oscar" he was not going to deny he was the heel; he simply ran with it.
The fight, like a well-planned wrestling match up, had the makings of a good drama. Each fighter had his own form of pageantry, they were well polarized opponents, Mayweather had even made it "personal" by allegedly insulting De La Hoya's family. The stage was set, perhaps a little too well, for an historic fight. But unlike a successful wrestling main event, the hype does not gurantee a good show. In fact, it is almost always too much to live up to. You simply can't predict exactly how a match will unfold in boxing.
Despite the lackluster performance by De La Hoya and Mayweather, I still couldn't say that I would have rather watched a wrestling PPV event. That's just how big time competitive sports go. You can only cheer for your favorite side and hope you're watching history in the making. Just ask a fan of the Goldenstate Warriors.
The two documentaries we watched in class, Beyond the Mat (BTM) and The Mania of Wrestlemania (TMOW) take you behind the scenes of a wrestling show. The two, however, are very different in content and production quality. This results mostly because TMOW was produced by the WWE and BTM wasn’t. Even though the documentaries differ greatly, they give different perspectives on what goes on when wrestlers aren’t performing.
BTM felt more like a documentary than TMOW. The camera-work, candid interviews with wrestlers, and issues dealt with seem more real than TMOW. TMOW appears to be more like a scripted documentary that aims to promote the Wrestlemania event. Even though Vince appears more in BTM than TMOW, he had no control over BTM’s production. The wrestlers in BTM speak more openly, unlike TMOW where wrestlers have to be more cautious about what they say.
I thought TMOW was surprisingly short. I think this was done intentionally as a way to keep people’s interest. It appeared that the documentary was centered around a few shocking images (injuries from Stone Cold, Brock Lesnar, and Kurt Angle) that drove the stories. I almost forgot that there was a bit on the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels because there was nothing really interesting about the stories. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to stay interested in it if it had lasted another half hour.
Time wasn’t even an issue for BTM. I was able to get involved in every story told and it felt like they weren’t performing for the camera. There was conflict within each story that was sometimes unresolved, unlike TMOW. It shows how stories don’t always have a happy ending in real life. I also felt like I was able to follow the stories more easily in BTM. I never saw Wrestlemania XIX and I felt like could’ve appreciated the documentary if I had watched wrestling during this time period. BTM did not require knowledge of the time periods to understand the effects that wrestling had on the lives of those in the documentary.
The stories in both documentaries have a similar structure, but the content is contrasting. TMOW tells different stories about Wrestlemania XIX from the wrestler’s perspective. It does not really go beyond the mat like the other documentary. It attempts to bring in what the wrestler’s families were feeling about injuries and matches, but it seems very contrived. BTM, on the other hand, gives more than just a story about a wrestling match. It details some of the internal and external conflicts that wrestlers were going through away from the spotlight. It shows how wrestling has affected the wrestlers and their families in ways that have never been seen before. I would have never known about this dark side of wrestling if it wasn’t for this documentary.
Friday, May 4, 2007
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.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
I had some lingering question as I left class yesterday, that has now blown up in my head into a more broad inquiry...
What does a really successful comparison of pro wrestling to ancient theater give us? (I don't mean for that to sound as skeptical as it does; it's an earnest question...). Does it prove that there are some universal values or theatrical structure in pro wrestling because it relates to a performance history? Does it validate wrestling/ give it credibility? Or are wrestling and Commedia Dell'Arte being compared in order to describe/ understand the other? If the relational study of wrestling offers us a new lens through which to read it, what is the new vision (besides the lens itself)?
I mentioned to Sam at some point that I thought it was interesting that almost every text we read had an obligatory section validating the study of pro wrestling. In Sam's Foley article, for example: "Pro wrestling shows are then particularly rewarding texts in which to study the ways in which its character and narratives reflect values and conflicts in American culture, as this case study of Foley has demonstrated." I guess for me it boils down to a question about whether we're studying culture through wrestling, wrestling through culture, or some interactive version of the two.
Forgive me, there's a whole lot I don't know about CMS. I took this class as a 'poacher' more than anything, importing inspiration and theoretical grapplings from the material into my art practice and thesis development. I have done some of the 'comparative' part, mostly in relating what we see to what I know in order to make sense of it. But in writing the paper, I suppose I have some confusion about what hat I'm wearing. Am I an artist thinking about wrestling? Or a student of wrestling adding some thooughts from other discourses? Or an MIT grad student with an obligation to try to grasp what this CMS animal is and work within its rules/ discourse?
I'm glad we've been encouraged to bring our own expertise to the class/ to the blog posts. CMS does strike me as a field based on transgressing boundaries of study, which is why I was suprised at the disdain about the non-cms posts at a certain point. This really got me confused: "CMS classes constantly have this problem - a bunch of kids think 'ooh, a class on tv/wrestling/movies! no way!' and move in, so self impressed that they're managing to get college credit for their weekend amusement that they fail to realize that CMS is actually a disciplined study, which here in CMS we take just as seriously as you take CS, or chemistry, or mathematics. And so class discussion goes to pot, we spend classes re-explaining readings, and those of us who are capable of trying to integrate the theory, practical, and intense body of literature relevant to this field are left to walk each other places after class, bemoaning the difficulties of learning at MIT." Does this mean that CMS is about a comparative study practice only from the starting point of CMS itself?
Does it devalue the work and thoughts of the class that, for me, the endpoint is not in fact a scholarly attempt at reading a pop culture phenomenon within a larger cultural framework or historic trajectory, but to take those ideas and chew them around and spit them back out into my own practice, which is not in CMS, but more closely related to the wrestling content itself (in that it's performance-based)?
Sorry about the ramble; I'm just trying to resolve some discomforts with my position in this... and it helps to look at what other people's goals are in studying this topic (like David and his comparison to ancient theater).
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
WWE's recent strategy regarding women competitors really puzzles me for two reasons. One is that wrestling audiences have always seemed to respond really well to women who can actually wrestle. I don't get the sense that fans are clamoring to see women in the ring who are incompetent wrestlers but look good in a bikini. In fact, my impression that things like the WWE Diva Search are treated with disinterest at best by wrestling fans, since the purpose is not to find women who are wrestlers but women who are simply there for decoration (if I recall correctly, the open call for the most recent WWE Diva Search specifically stated that wrestling experience was not necessary). The other is that given the, uh, very easily accessible alternatives (e.g. porn on the Internet), I am not sure why WWE thinks that having skimpily clad non-wrestling women on its shows will make those shows more appealing or interesting, or make people more likely to buy or watch them. If a 13-year-old kid with raging hormones has the choice of looking at a partially clad Diva on a WWE show or PPV, or seeing a whole lot more of women on the Internet for free, it seems pretty obvious which will be the choice.
Some of my male wrestling fan friends observe that the "look" of the divas - the quasi-porn-star look, with silicone-enhanced chests and bleached blond hair - is too generic and that the divas would be more interesting to them not only if they could actually wrestle (or if the ones who can wrestle were allowed to do so, rather than having to tone things down to work with the non-wrestlers in matches), but also if there were more "types" and they looked more like real women. Do others agree?
The Royal Rumble viewing at Sam’s house was the first Royal Rumble I had seen in years. The last time I had seen a full Royal Rumble from beginning to end was in 1996 when Shawn Michaels won it for the second year in a row. It just so happens that the Rumble is my favorite WWE PPV of the year. In just three hours, it is able to demonstrate what makes the WWE successful.
The Royal Rumble, in my opinion, is the most action-packed pay per view of the year. There was little filler space, having three championship matches and a 30-man battle royal. Each brand, ECW, RAW, and Smackdown, is able to showcase their champion defending their title against the number one contender. In the three matches we watched, the champions retained their title and put on a showing for the fans in the process. Even if you’ve never watched a match before, you can still sense the importance of each match.
The actual rumble is excited former beginning to end. There’s a lot of unpredictability to the match since nobody knows who will enter next. New and old faces appeared in the ring every 90 seconds. I particularly enjoyed this because I was able to see some of my favorite wrestlers from when I last watched wrestling a few years ago. I was able to better appreciate the way in which the match was organized and how the wrestlers had to work together in order to put on a good show. Older wrestlers took charge of the match, big wrestlers cleaned out the ring, and the announcers kept the excitement level at a maximum. In the end the Undertaker became the first #30 to win the rumble. You could tell that he was going to win when he single-handedly took out Khali and nearly 10 wrestlers were needed to take out Viscera.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Royal Rumble viewing at Sam’s house. It reminded me of why I enjoy watching wrestling. Even though I haven’t been able to keep up with it recently, I was still able to follow every match and wrestling move. The structure of wrestling allows you to pick up on a storyline after a lapse in watching. Hopefully, this will be the start of future viewings of WWE pay per view events.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
The backstory. As I said, I wrote the article about six years ago to the day. I remember adding in a bit about the then brand new Hulk Hogan/The Rock match at Wrestlemania X8 in the last set of revisions in order to sound as current as possible. It all started when my Freshman year of college I wrote a final project for UC-Santa Barbara professor Lisa Parks' TV History class on the WWE as soap opera, focusing on the drive-through Vegas wedding ceremony between Stephenie McMahon and HHH in comparison to the weddings that commonly mark major milestones on traditional daytime soaps. That same month I had an opportunity through a class on Writing the TV Script: Buffy the Vampire Slayer to visit the set of Sunnydale in its fourth season (where the Scooby Gang goes to college) and asked Professor Parks to come with us as a chaparone purely on the basis that I had a crush on her. In a complete fluke it turned out she was starting work on a book about Buffy. Fortunately she'd loved my paper on wrestling and had given me an A+ and through our conversations in the van to Culver City I managed to network my way into writing an article for the book. I'd seen it done. I was convinced I could do it, no problem. Somewhat to my chagrin, what started out being an article by me about Buffy ended up being a dialogic piece between my father and I, which we wrote by sending emails back and forth over Thanksgiving break. It was a wonderful father-son time that I really look back on fondly but it proved nothing except that everyone in academia thinks it's adorable that Henry Jenkins has a son who wants to be just like him! How special! So the second time out I was determined to write my own article. Well, as you can see from reading the book it half worked. My dad and I both wrote afterwords, but they were seperate afterwords. I've always been accused of being a journalistic writer, a creative writer, something other than an academic writer, and given a free choice I've always preferred to go with that rather than cover it up. I was lucky that Nicholas Sammond understood what I wanted to do - to use my memories to trace patterns that I could make broader arguments about. I wrote one main draft, which took me about five days, and then went through two or three revisions over the next year, each of which took me about an hour to sort through. They were very nice about letting me print the piece pretty much as was.
It's kind of funny - When I was applying for the job on the real WWE writing staff I recieved the advice over and over again that I should send them a copy of my article, but when I read back through it I realized that I made several references to enjoying Stephenie McMahon-Helmsley in a sexual way, and since McMahon-Lavesque would soon be my boss and would be the one reading it I decided inappropriate sexual conduct wasn't the right foot to start off on. Not to mention that I basically said her father got cow towed by ECW. Yup. That essay's going deep in the vault.
I think the thing I'm proudest of about the article - other than the approach, which is different than I'd read before - is how prophetic the ending was. I said that the WWE was starting to become more melow, more grown up, to push the envelope less, that it was becoming more mature and I believe it did. The current WWE is a lot more clean cut than the WWE of the time I was writing the article. There are a lot fewer cheap heat angles - no necropholia, no gay wedding bashing. The obscenity is for punctuation ("...................................... DAMN!") instead of every other word, which is fine by me. But they haven't taken a step backwards. They've taken a step forwards. This is definately no kids show. Not with Melina's ring entrance or bloody Hell in a Cell matches. This is much more grown up in that they feel the need to act out to get attention less. John Cena is the perfect baby face. He even salutes his enemies when they won't shake his hand. He's patriotic. He's studly. He's Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels rolled into one, but he's his own thing too. He sets the tone for the WWE along with classic wrestlers like Michaels and The Undertaker and Chris Benoit and completely uncontroversial, painfully dull heros like Lashley and Batista. Today's wrestling has the elements I liked about old wrestling - some silly gimmicks like a country western Asian guy or greasers with a rollergirl or an Irishman with a leprachaun - and a classier feel - but it also has the things I valued about its adolescent period - breathtaking high spots and some fun play with sexuality. There are things I would badly like to see them work on. I feel like they're still way behind in terms of seeing women as equals rather than play things. They've gone with such uncontroversial characters in some cases that I'm not sure who the heck they are (Batista, Lashley.) But I think the hour long HBK/Cena match last week and the long term angle they're building with Mr. Kennedy are some of the best stuff I've seen the WWE do in a while and I'm really taken with it.
What do you think?
Mick Foley said in the epilogue to his book that we read earlier this semester that he was amazed no journalists questioned the Indiana University study. Does that mean that we shouldn't discuss violence on television? No. But a nuanced discussion is needed. Similarly, I'm amazed by how little academics question videos like Wrestling with Manhood. I wanted to show it here in a setting where a lot of wrestling fans were in the room where, even if you must agree that some of the issues they raise need to be discussed in relation to wrestling, that the way that documentary was put together does not hold water anyone who actually knows the text.
Of course wrestling "fans" are going to be defensive of their show and their choice of watching it, but this was a case where the documentary-making tactics were unfair and untrue. And they rest on a media effects research that our department has problems with, anyway. As a journalist, one of the reasons I enjoy this text so much is that it's a reminder how "truthy" these texts can seem if you don't know the product, yet how ridiculous they are for anyone who knows the product at all. Many of you all have not watched pro wrestling outside this class, and you all were finding all kinds of holes in the argument as it went along.
Still, I know several of you are doing research that deals with race and gender in wrestling, and I think the piece raises some interesting points that we should continue talking about throughout the rest of the semester. Just remember, don't believe everything you hear and see. That's very true of anything that comes from the pro wrestling world, but it's even more true of academia.
By the way, I promised you some links to the story about WWE being associated with date violence. I wrote a blog entry about this, and Henry wrote a followup. Mike Wehrman also wrote about this. Check out these links:
Mike's editorial is here.
My editorial is here.
Henry's editorial is here.
Fiona's work focuses particularly on pro wrestling in a business sense, while Gregory Spicer focueses on blue-collar masculinity. Sewell and Battema point out that wrestling, in many ways, can "have its cake or eat it, too." It's built on stereotypes, sexism, and a variety of other troubling aspects of our culture, yet it parodies them at the same time. It leaves a big question mark that it never definitively describes. It revels in some of the worst prejudices of our culture, and simultaneously makes them so excessive as to mock them. What does that mean? Is it reactionary or progressive? There's no easy answer to that question. One thing is for sure--the right and the left both have reason to hate the WWE version of pro wrestling, and WWE has rhetorical ways to lash out at both of them, and to embrace both of them at times.
WWE's relationship with the right is particularly interesting. Wrestling, Sut Jhally says, acts like it's cutting-edge but pushes the same old stereotypes in new packaging. Hard to disagree with, to an extent, but wrestling also acts as parody. Kate had the point that, even if women get revenge in the end, their degredation is sometimes the most memorable part of the show. Very true. Then you have Vince challenging God. Some people would defend that from a Christian perspective by pointing out that Vince eventually got his come-uppance. On the other hand, just as Kate is arguing, what people remember is Vince's mocking God. Again, anti-Christian rhetoric or a Christian narrative, where the blasphemer gets his at the end? Can't be be both?
Battema and Sewell write, "Resulting from this convergence was a slippery set of texts with characters and narrative trajectories that resisted definitive articulation and provided a rhetorical shield against critics, while providing viewers a privileged position as idealized consumers from which they could choose either to take the text as is or to unveil its various conceits" (261-262). I think this sums up the point well. WWE has created a situation, much like the carnival did referring back to Bruce Hardy's research, where it is both utilizing stereotypes and parodying them at the same time. Calling the WWE progressive sounds ludicrous, but calling them conservative does, too. We'll get into this more on Thursday, but I wanted to see if you all had further reactions to this.
Do you all have any reactions to Battema and Sewell's essay and partiuclarly their discussions of racial stereotypes, sexism, and masculinity, many of the issues we discussed last night? I'm interested in how they tie what they see as WWE's neoconservatism to market populism, and I think it makes an interesting pull between Gregory and Fiona's presentations last Thursday and Wrestling with Manhood. While I am troubled by calling WWE definitively neoconservative, as they do, I think the nuance they give the issue--pointing out that wrestling gives two types of reading: straight and parodic--at least sets it above Wrestling with Manhood.
One part the sticks out the most is the whole 'wrestling promotes bullying behavior in kids' argument. Well, perhaps their is a smidge of merit to it, perhaps not, that has yet to be proven. They continually reference the top wrestling stars exhibiting 'bullying behavior', like picking on announcers or smaller opponents, verbally and mentally bashing them on top of physically beating them down in the ring, etc. In the documentary, they show footage of such behavior and basically tout it as accepted, encouraged behavior by the stars, the top guys that kids look up to and emulate, whom audiences root for. Well, no, not really. This is the sort of behavior the crowds _boo_, picking on the weak, acting like a arrogant punk, etc - this is all heel behavior, not face behavior. They have confused popular == hero, which does not always work. You can be a popular heel or a popular face, and by popular heel we mean the fans love to hate you.
For example, they specifically target Stone Cold Steve Austin, naturally, because he's been one of the biggest names and draws in wrestling history. They cite his bullying of announcer Michael Cole, his domineering behavior, his trash talking and beat downs of weaker opponents, and so forth as classic bullying behavior, which young fans may then emulate because they saw their idol, Stone Cold, a 'real man', do it. Well, not so fast. All of that behavior, and all the footage they showed of it, was when Stone Cold had turned heel! He was not being a heroic (or anti-heroic as the case may be) figure, he was _trying_ to be someone the fans would hate, and so he acted accordingly, as a bully. One of the surefire ways for a wrestler to get major heat for the fans (and encourage his run as a heel) is to beat down another popular wrestler/character, especially a smaller/weaker/younger one, eg Triple H and Austin utterly demolishing the Hardyz and Lita as they lay prone and unconscious in the ring. This worked because Team Extreme were at the pinnacle of their popularity, and by beating them down it earned Austin and HHH virulent hatred from the fans. While this heel turn was not very successful, it did run for a while, and possibly affected what some casual fans saw in Stone Cold as a character. But no. Fans are hardly encouraged to endorse this sort of bullying behavior, they boo it, as any heel will come off as a bully at some point in time. This is one point where 'Wrestling with Manhood' was trying to make a case, and ended up tripping over itself by not having a clear understanding of the story dynamics and context.
One point where they are slightly more accurate is the issue of violence against women and the sexualization of violence in general amongt wrestling storylines. Yes some of the plots that the women are part of are sexist, shallow, and pure t&a entertainment for the guys. Sometimes these ladies are beaten down, sexually harassed, and all manner of other degrading things. Yes this is all very unfortunate and sexist and all that. Let's all get angry about this, etc.
That's pretty much where they leave off. They don't actually get to the resolution of all the degradation that these women endure, and again, they don't review the _context_ of all the footage the show. For all the unfair beatdowns, and strippings, and so forth, there are also quite a few retaliatory low blows, and comebacks and come-uppances. These women fight (on their own some of the time, no less) for their justice, and in the end, the Bad Guy who inflicted all this pain and suffering gets his just desserts. So are all the sexist actions and plot devices just there to titillate? No, they also build characters and advance storylines, by making heels seem even more horrible and morally disgusting (eg Vince making Trish bark like a dog - the crowd was booing most of the time!), as well as providing that eventual turn of the tide for the victim to fight back and earn their pride and for the audience to cheer. Without that context, this sexual violence seems pointless and horrible and put on air just for its own sake (and it is horrible and titillating, but not entirely pointless). By having our victims fight back and our aggressors boo'd and eventually defeated, the idea that this behavior should be discouraged is enforced, rather than promoting sexual violence as these producers try to argue.
Finally, the one overall thing that irritated me about this film was that they never once considered the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of functionality and societal role of wrestling: as a catharsis of caged emotion, rather than a cause of it. They argue in several ways about how watching wrestling can encourage all sorts of deviant and dangerous behavior, but never once looked at other arguments that say that wrestling, along with other structured, violent activities such as hockey, football, and so forth, acts as a release mechanism, a way for the public to express hate and anger and aggression and passion and all these things that are normally societally unacceptable. In the wrestling arena (or the football stadium or hockey rink) all these emotions are expressed in a controlled acceptable environment, providing that catharsis that allows us to function a little better in everyday, emotionally confined society without all of those emotions bottled up inside. But this perception is never addressed in "wrestling with Manhood', they only push their agenda of 'wrestling influences us to do $BADTHING' like fans have no moral agency at all. It basically portrays us as dumb impressionable animals who can't thing or analyze what we see. That's insulting. While some of their arguments may have some merit, the fact that they were so narrow-minded in their presentations and also that they took all their sources and footage out of context to make flimsy arguments put this presentation low in my opinion.