Monday, September 8, 2014

Sport to Sports Entertainment

Lou Thez
http://www.onlineworldofwrestling.com/
20313/time-machine-the-early-years/
The basic idea that I came away with from reading the first few chapters of Steel Chair to the Head and Ole Anderson’s Inside Out was the drastic change that has taken place in the industry of professional wrestling.  Ole Anderson, recalling wrestling in the ‘60s and ‘70s, would never tell anyone that the business was fake.  Vince McMahon, on the other hand, blatantly told the fans that “wrestling is all phony,” which really “ticked off” Ole Anderson at first
(Inside Out, 85).  What caused the shift in wrestling from mostly shoots (according to Anderson) to McMahon’s “sports entertainment”— requiring in-depth plot and action scripting— that we know and love today?  Laurence de Garis (mentioned in Steel Chair to the Head, 12) thinks that the “mainstreaming” of wrestling “signals the decline of the form as craft and the disempowerment of wrestlers as workers,” though I doubt that a single phenomenon can aptly point to the change.  Now, wrestlers are “commodities,” according to Sammond.  They have their own products that they are trying to sell (literally or figuratively): action figures, t-shirts, personal/sexual appeal, storylines.... For the most part, they are as expendable as the action figures they resemble.


WWE RAW
http://www.allwrestlingnews.com/wwe-extras/
wwe-raw-highlights-ajs-pipebomb-gauntlet-match/
I really like how this phenomenon is explained in the passage on page 24 of Steel Chair to the Head: in a wrestling match, the audience couldn’t care less about “the rise and fall of fortunes”—who is winning or losing the match in that moment—but instead expect “the transient image of certain passions”—anger, jealousy, lust, greed….  The wrestling fan is not really interested in the outcome of a match, but in the sum of the passions that led to that moment.  This is shocking at first, and I imagine that many would argue against the statement—that they really do care that Brock Lesnar beat John Cena at Summerslam, for example—but those two competitors could be replaced with any other face and heel combo, built into a similar rivalry, and still draw the same fan reaction.  It’s not based on who’s fighting or who wins.  It’s about the emotion, the drama—the passion.



...and apparently about acrobatics...
WWE Divas' Match?  No, just some acrobatic friends.

5 comments:

Sam Ford said...

You picked out a core theme, Melissa, that I agree merits some study. One thing I have noted about professional wrestling is that it exists on several "story planes" at the same time: there is the storyline of the moment--as Roland Barthes describes it, that depiction of emotion and pain, etc., at any one time in the match. Then, there's the storyline of one match itself--the beginning, middle, and end of a contest. This is what we will read about from Larry De Garis and what Ole Anderson is often talking about...what Lou Thesz cared about deeply...the ability to tell a story from bell to bell in a single wrestling match..the logic that gets fans involved in the physical performance. Then, there is the logic of the "card," the way one show builds a logic from opening match to "main event." Then, there's the logic of the "cycle," the building up of the grudge match, culminating in the big arena show (in the old model) or the big event/pay-per-view (in the more modern model), in which all storylines are constantly building for the "mega-event." Beyond that, there is the yearly "season," for WWE running from Wrestlemania to Wrestlemania, in which there's a certain sort of annual symmetry, with Wrestlemania acting as culmination point and also the beginning of the next cycle. Then, finally, of course, there is the storylines that exist "over the years," the story of the development of a character throughout the course of the career...as well as their major rivalries/histories with other characters. As some other blog posts have discussed, much of the scholarly discourse about wrestling has focused on the performance of a single match itself, or talking about "wrestling" as a type of performance, rather than the study of particular storylines within wrestling, as a literary or film scholar might approach it...

Timothy S. Rich said...

Great points Melissa. Connecting to your point and that of the authors, notice that rarely does wrestling ever talk about win-loss records. When records are mentioned, it is largely fictionalized to move a storyline along (think Goldberg in the late 90s). To draw attention to win-loss records would shift attention from the emotional to the logical.

Marshall Metcalf said...

Wrestling has really changed a lot. In just the few "episodes" that I have seen in the viewing sessions, it's very apparent that things have changed to be more theatrical.

Melissa Smith said...

I still think that the match-- "from bell to bell," as you put it, Sam-- is largely flexible in the actors it uses. That is why cycles like a top hero fighting a circuit of bad guys can exist. It doesn't really matter who's in the ring; the wrestlers are the physical manifestations of good and evil, their match is a battle of passions. Empathy with the hero, outrage at the backhanded tactics of the heel, justification in the retaliation of the face, along with the long standing feeling of injustice built up in the story... The final match is very personal between the two wrestlers, yes, but at the same time, it could have been developed that way between two other wrestlers just as easily. I really do appreciate the big picture of the "story planes" that Sam laid out, and I think that's where the most interesting aspect of wrestling comes into play. I think it would be beneficial to the wrestling universe to have some kind of study by a literary or film scholar, examining long-term storylines within wrestling. Maybe one of the members of this class will be one to write some such piece.

Sam Ford said...

You've thrown down the challenge, Melissa. We have to start talking soon about what our class project will be and what we will decide to tackle as a class. Maybe you've figured out what could be the meta-challenge for us?