Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sunday Morning Values, Monday Night Raw

In Mark Workman's "The Differential Perception of Popular Dramatic Events," he discusses at length the difference and then sameness between those who enjoy pro wrestling while interpreting it as legitimate or rigged. While Workman looks in depth at the relationship between form and meaning, I was very interested in the implications of wrestling as drama and audience participation, especially as it applies to morality and my last blog post. Workman writes that wrestling as a dramatic form "must call into question a community's values and assumptions, sport calls into question an individual's or team's strength and skill, and while an audience (a moralizing body) must be present for the first, it need not be for the second (8)." As an avid ignorer of sports in general, I think this speaks not only to my uncharacteristic interest in pro wrestling because of my interest in drama, but also to a certain beneficial moralizing element in wrestling.
Despite the concerns of those detractors who Sammond lambasted so thoroughly, I would argue that the definitive Good vs. Evil struggle in wrestling outlined by John Gutowski in "The Art of Professional Wrestling: Folk Expression in Mass Culture" could be a moralizing force for youth who actively watch it, at least in comparison to those sports that do not at all engage with the audience on any level. Despite the extraordinary levels of violence or vulgarity on display in wrestling (especially during the Attitude Era), there is a clear-cut relationship between the heel and face, and eventually the transgressions of the heel will be duly punished. A football game can only be a contest of physical superiority, and will never impart any lessons about values (indeed it could even be a negative influence, as many football stars engage in dubious activities). By contrast, no matter how tough a heel is, how cool they look and act, how many titles they have, or how much backing they have from "the authority," eventually the face will swoop in, full of righteous fire and take them down. In wrestling, crime doesn't pay, and there is some merit to having a child watch a moralizing drama over a physical contest. I'm very interested in constructing my own argument in favor of the watching of wrestling, and hope that as we continue our study I'll be able to amalgamate these readings into something pretty airtight.


Timothy S. Rich said...

Michael, good point. Others have pointed out the morality play in wrestling, especially in an area of clear-cut good and bad. I'd be interested to see if there was evidence of variance in these values during the territory days. In other words, was a different set of values being promoted implicitly if not explicitly in promotions in the Northeast vs. the Deep South vs. Texas vs. the Midwest? I would expect so, but admittedly have never looked into this.

Sam Ford said...

Agreed, Tim. That's one thing to keep in mind in a morality play--is that it always raises the question of, "Whose morality." There are certain moral issues that wrestling will delve into deeply. There are others that may not. "Why don't we resolve this by talking it out instead of with our fists? Might does not make right." That would be a tough narrative to have end in a Texas Death Match. Wrestling seems particularly adept at addressing tensions--workplace tensions, tensions from everyday life and relationships, societal tensions--via over-the-top violence. In some ways, it functions the way horror has sometimes been described to--giving an exaggerated and over-the-top manifestation to the sorts of tensions lying under the surface of our society--and a chance for the audience to work through them.

But you're right that the dramatic tensions are key here. I'm an active ignorer of sport as well, other than admitting that I can get into a college basketball game but typically choose not to. Wrestling is the only "sport" that's ever really held interest for me, and it's certainly the drama, the mythology, etc., that has held my interest. For me, part of it has been the intrigue between separating the on-stage from the off-stage when the line is not clearly demarcated...but a lot of it is the dramatic conventions of what happens on stage as well, and the layers of performance taking place.

For tomorrow's class, we're talking about the dramatic conventions of professional wrestling more overtly, so this seems a good segue...

Katie Clark said...

I definitely agree and I believe that pro wrestling can provide moral lessons for some. Especially back in the day when the line between Good and Evil was very clear-cut. I do believe now though we have entered an age where that line is more blurred. We have people like Dean Ambrose who is technically a "good guy" because he is seeking justice and fighting against the big, bad Authority. However, he acts like a heel in the sense that he interrupts fights and gets in a more than a few punches outside of the ring.

I feel like wrestling has undergone it's own moral development. Looking at Kohlberg's stages of moral development, the wrestling world at one point seemed to operate under the stage of conventional morality. The world is black and white -- good and evil. There are rules and laws that maintain order and are to be followed by the good and broken by the bad. However, it feels like we've transitioned into a wrestling world that operates under a post-conventional morality. Rules are no longer absolute and the faces may bend or break these rules for "the greater good." We've seen that a lot over the past few months with John Cena.

So I think this moral development within the wrestling universe is definitely interesting and something to look at.

Sam Ford said...

As we actually watch this depiction of morality evolve from the era we're watching now to the current day, I look forward to discussing it. How much does it demonstrate the way the wrestling world has changed? Does it demonstrate changes in the society outside the wrestling world? A clear demarcation doesn't necessarily make sense. As we saw in that nonsensical Bruiser Brody/Abdullah the Butcher brawl, there were certainly times in the past where fans might love someone who doesn't "act like a hero," but--on the other hand--there's definitely been a shift in what would be the normal mode of logic in wrestling storytelling. Perhaps there was no more seminal moment in the shift in WWE's treatment of moral logic than this one, BTW: