Monday, September 29, 2014

Tunney, the Wildman, and Emotional Investment

After Freedman's beautiful summation of what draws people to wrestling in his book Drawing Heat, bookending we've been tossing around the last few days, I found interesting the extra praise he gives to the Wildman. The foundation of his analysis of wrestling comes from what he learns watching Tunney's promotion, but Freedman quickly decides that the real magic to be found in wrestling comes from these smaller promotions, and goes so far as to say that watching wrestling on television deadens the performance. Night of Champions was the first time I had attended a WWE match, and after reading his sweeping declarations about the authenticity and depth of feeling to be experienced from these untelevised, local matches, I feel like I am missing out. We talked in class a little about the disconnect between the WWE and fans because of their tour schedule and the sheer volume of spectators, and while there is more a sense of inclusiveness when one is physically present at the match, I felt more connected with the audience members than the wrestlers by any means. Freedman argues that Tunney's promotion is all glamor and no substance, and by extrapolation the modern wrestling performance must seem all the more insubstantial. In comparison to the fervor Freedman expresses in his description of the original Sheik versus Igor the Polish Strongman match, my own emotional investment in wrestling pales.
The opinions of Freedman and I mean relatively little by themselves, but if the model of the Wildman's promotion represents wrestling at it's most simplistic (and, in Freedman's opinion, emotionally valuable), the further commodification of wrestling seems as though it is detracting from the emotional weight of the matches. There is probably no way to measure this empirically, but even with the advantages that the WWE has (writers, technology, social networking, money), it would be interesting to see if there is a difference in emotional investment between larger and smaller promotions. Ideologically, the local promotion is more in keeping with what wrestling seems to tout, and the idea of large, televised productions of wrestling becomes a subversion of these original ideals. The Wildman not only has a hillbilly resemblance to Karl Marx, but is a better embodiment of the lower class struggle than Tunney, and that is why Freeman has a greater demonstrated respect for him, and I hope someday I have the opportunity to see a smaller promotion and click into that depth of feeling that Freedman writes about so passionately.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

I was thinking about this quite a bit as well, Mikey. I've been to plenty of wrestling shows over the years. There's a pristine-ness, a polish, at WWE shows that isn't there on the indie circuit. Not everyone can afford $110 tickets, which were the cost of the section we were in. You're at great physical distance to the ring. More than that, this is a machine...It's an intricate operation. And the show always keeps on schedule, from the promos, to the video packages, to the pyro, etc. There's something that feels slightly hollow in it and/or that the live audience is not a major focus. And, to be honest, it differs from arena to arena. I've been to plenty of WWE shows in which the crowd was much more vocal. One issue with feature-show events is that there's very little mic work done, which means there's less verbal chance for interaction between in-ring performer and fan...