Friday, September 19, 2014

Don’t Forget about Ole

We have, as I intended to, been posting our limited class discussion time and our blog posts on the analysis pieces about wrestling, rather than talking at length about our ongoing learning of the world of of pro wrestling in the territory era from Ole Anderson.

I appreciate Ole’s book for a few reasons for the purposes we are discussing in this class:
  • He was a wrestler, and he was a booker. And he writes extensively about both.
  • He takes great care in talking about the logic of the art of professional wrestling, evaluating good performance and bad performance, etc.
  • He is very plain-spoken and—while he seems invested in being admired in his own way—he’s not deeply invested in being liked.
  • His career spans the 1960s through the 1990s and demonstrates the massive changes in the world of pro wrestling from someone who didn’t necessarily come out on the best side of it all.
In our round of reading from Ole for this week, I was particularly taken by his continued great pains to describe what made for logical booking and what didn’t: for instance, the exception he took when people like Harley Race insisted on booking just to surprise people with something they didn’t expect, or the pride he took in finishing a match by throwing his opponent’s head into the head of his partner, Gene, in order to win…It certainly demonstrates the logic and narrative in thinking about how shows were booked.

Of particular interest to me, though, was the chapter on Johnny Valentine, a character we have watched in the ring and who really is known as one of the oddest performers in wrestling history. As noted, Johnny was one of those guys who seemed to be working all the time. He was described as going into a trance often during matches, that he didn’t even break backstage. It was somewhat unclear how much he was just weird or how much he was just invested in performing the character he developed at all times.

But I thought it was of particular interest to see Ole lay out how Johnny’s act eventually came to mesmerize the crowd and how, if promoters hadn’t had patience in him, they wouldn’t have realized the brilliance behind how Johnny conditioned the audience to react to him. (Not to mention, of course, the truly disgusting sorts of practical jokes Johnny engaged in…)

But I hope Ole’s first-hand account of understanding the world of pro wrestling in the Carolinas, in Georgia, and in Florida (among other territories) has been a helpful complement to all we’ve been discussing thus far.


Timothy S. Rich said...

Ole seems like a good example not only of the territory mentality but the logic behind weaving a storyline together. Although I don't remember Ole saying this directly, his book reminds me about working within the expected confines of accepted suspended reality.

Audiences are conditioned to a certain extent, expecting a modicum of logic to a match or storyline. For Ole and others of his time, a logic in even move sequence is part of this suspension (e.g. working an "injured" body part). Similarly no-selling chair shots not only breaks this suspension but sets an increasingly high bar for future matches. After all, when as the last time that just *one* chair shot resulted in a wrestler losing?

I agree with Ole's sentiment that something unexpected does not equate to a good idea, especially if the unexpected becomes a common motive in the performance. That said, breaking from the constraints on occasion may enhance the suspension of reality. For example, the build up of Summerslam's main event conditioned fans to expect, as usual, a strong competitive main event. However, the one-sided match broke with the convention and could be seen by some to reinvigorate an audience to believe that anything could happen. In other words, breaking from expectation should only be done with a clear goal in mind (which I assume the WWE had with Summerslam).

Sam Ford said...

Agreed. I appreciate this "logic of booking" perspective and understand the reasons by which people might find it tedious, on the one hand, but also very helpful for helping fans to get in, and stay in, a "kayfabe" mentality themselves...I still particularly love his description of Johnny Valentine's way of working the crowd...

Timothy S. Rich said...

Another way to think about booking logic is that it creates parameters for a story that when broken motivates an emotional response from the audience. Even simple parameters (making it a "rule" to shake hands before and after) makes the deviation later all the more important.

Sam Ford said...

Well put. If the rule is always broken, then it ceases to no longer be a "frame," to borrow Erving Goffman's language.