Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Good, Evil, and Glory

Seeing wrestling as an entertainment business is easy; there are drama-heavy storylines and larger-than-life characters that are the physical manifestations of good and evil.  We all know that wrestling is not a show of physical prowess, with wrestlers fighting with all they have for glory and a big belt, yet we still get upset when a match doesn’t look “real” enough.  Stone, Oldenburg, and I share a question, which they word very nicely in their article: “How can the wrestling fan who seemingly has penetrated the fa├žade of the match still be caught up in the ‘heat’ of the performance?”  Made up of mostly lower-status individuals, the wrestling fans’ views are probably infused with a phenomenon termed “working-class authoritarianism,” according to Stone and Oldenburg.  Basically, lower class people tend to see issues in black-and-white terms, caring more about the triumph of good over evil more than the development of a plot.  (I would argue that the plot matters more than they give it credit, but I’ll wait a moment to talk about that.)  Good triumphing over Evil.  That’s what the fans want to see.  Why is it, then, that good doesn’t always win?  Why does the company, who is in business to entertain us, allow our heroes to be beaten?

John Campbell’s article Professional Wrestling: Why the Bad Guys Win seeks to shed some light on that topic.  He retells the story between the Japanese Yokozuna and the “smiling American hero” Hacksaw Jim Duggan.  Yokozuna, being Pure Evil on the wrestling Good-Evil spectrum, of course resorted to cheating at the last moment to defeat the almost certain victor, Duggan.  Not only did he cheat, but he also disrespected the flag of the United States of America.  “For wrestling fans, there was no need to feel guilty about hating Yokozuna; he deserved it,” (Campbell, 129).  Yokozuna may have won the match, but fans know that it doesn’t end there.  They will fight again, and Good will ultimately triumph.  This is where the plot becomes so vital.  Campbell’s article goes on to explain how the week following the match would continue the story through interviews with Jim’s family, emphasizing his American pride and devotion.  The outcome of Duggan and Yokozuna’s rematch is certain: Duggan will have to serve justice, by whatever means necessary.  The temporary loss of Good is just a move to further the plot.  Just as a movie’s protagonist seems to fall deeper into despair before he triumphs, so does the wrestler allow for a larger dramatic climax by upsetting the balance of good and evil.  It's just a way to make sure you tune in next week to see Good win... or you could subscribe to the Network for just $9.99 a month and watch it anytime!

6 comments:

Katie Clark said...

I promise I'll comment with something more substantial later, but oh my gosh, Melissa. Haha. I burst into audible laughter at the end of your post.

Timothy S. Rich said...

I laughed too.

There's an inherent tension here of providing a compelling story today and being able to string this along for episodes (or to a pay-per-view). Similarly, fans are likely to only wait so long before they presume the face can't win and will likely grow tired if the face always wins (especially with little challenge).

This also reminded me of certain types of heel champions. Lord Steven Regal at WCW TV champ comes to mind. He seemed beatable and thus many would watch expecting this would be the time he drops the title, yet he managed by DQ, etc. to prolong his rein. Very similar to how Gino Hernandez was presented in the WCCW documentary as well.

Sam Ford said...

A lot of great points here, Melissa, but I wanted to expand on one that I brought up only at the very end of our class discussion--that the serialized nature of wrestling demonstrates a complication of the "Why the Bad Guy Wins" argument that Campbell is only able to touch on briefly here. By that, I mean that wrestling's serialized nature means that many heroes go down in an effort to ultimately build a "final" hero to win. What the article leaves out is that Jim Duggan was not successful in taking out Yokozuna. In fact, Yokozuna eliminated Jim Duggan from the WWE, just as Doink the Clown eliminated Big Boss Man from WWE. Both ended up going to rival WCW eventually. That means you have to have "fallen heroes" in a larger, serialized quest for justice...but, of course, complicated by storylines of the heel who never keeps winning. A serialized story means that, just like in the world of soap opera, we know very well that any moment of triumph for the pro wrestling face means that disruption and pain is only shortly behind. The champion wins his grudge match, only to be jumped immediately after the match by the next heel waiting in line to take it from him. This means the hope of vanquishing evil may never be extinguished. But it also means that feeling of triumph over evil as well can only be fleeting.

Katie Clark said...

What's so interesting about wrestling is it's ability to keep viewers around despite it pissing these same viewers off week after week. There are so many fans I've come across that complain about the WWE day in and day out, they complain about the story line decisions, the wrestlers, the marketing. But they still tune in every week and buy every pay-per-view. Because there is always that hope, that chance, that things will go the way they want them to. Wrestling is an addiction. That serialized story line set-up is hard to tear yourself away from.

Sam Ford said...

Well, it's interesting. There are a few things at play. Some frustration is good. You want to keep people frustrated to the point that they'll keep watching to see their frustration resolved. As I mentioned in another post, it's like on a soap opera when a couple gets married. If someone doesn't interrupt the wedding, then you know the couple is about to have something terrible happen to them after the wedding--a happy, resolved couple does not a show make. In fact, when a couple gets married and then stays happy, it often means they're about to "get bumped way down the card" (in wrestling terms) or that they are getting written off the show. Similarly so for wrestlers...I do think that WWE sometimes takes its most dedicated fans for granted, figuring they'll stick around no matter what...and could put a little more thought not on literally giving fans what they say they want but rather understanding and trying to cater to their sensibilities, even if you're not "pleasing them" with every match outcome. (For instance, some fans may grumble if John Cena wins...but listening to them literally would make no sense. On the other hand, fans groan every time they do that finish I mentioned in class where someone's music hits and the guy in the ring abandons his match to just stare up the ramp until he gets rolled up and pinned. Fans griping about a silly ending to a match that is overused is the sort of feedback they might want to pay closer attention to...

Timothy S. Rich said...

Frustration is good as long as there is an eventual payoff and that the general expectations of fans are usually met. For example, as long as a face eventually stops the Foreign Menace, frustrating endings up to this point may be forgiven. However, if every main event ends in an inconclusive ending, whether this is in the territory days or Pay Per View days, fans will eventually turn away.