Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wrestling: A Game of Charm

For many decades now, wrestling has been a spectacle of both athleticism and theater. It takes two completely different forms of entertainment and melds them into something so uniquely compelling in its own right. Not only must a successful performer be physically capable, but they must also be charismatic and able to captivate an audience. However, in some cases, one may make up for in good storylines and charisma what they lack in mind-blowing skill. An example of this seems to be Dusty Rhodes. While he didn’t quite have the ability to woo an audience with a technical and beautifully executed set of moves, he could work a crowd and a mic like nobody’s business. His feuds with top heels kept him relevant and interesting. It is how he is best remembered.
Dusty Rhodes
            I feel like we can see many examples of this in today’s wrestling. We have so many teams that, as a group, are so intriguing and fun to watch. As a collective unit, their personas and narratives are alluring and entertaining. However, when separate units, they’re true skill bubbles to the surface for all to see and it can sometimes be disappointing. I believe Roman Reigns is a good example of this. When The Shield was a unit, each team member brought something unique and exciting to the table. They were so fun to watch, the matches were mesmerizing. However, when they broke up and they each got an individual push, they could no longer fall back on the safety of a group. Roman Reigns was the powerhouse of The Shield.
Roman Reigns
During tag team matches, he was always saved for last. The anticipation that built up throughout the match was almost unbearable. And when they would finally tag him in, the crowd would lose it as he speared or Superman-punched his foe. But once they were no longer one unit, Reigns could no longer hide behind his brothers. He was front and center stage with his set of four moves.

Now that might have been the end of Reigns if it wasn’t for one thing – people still freaking love him. Everything from his entrance to his intimidating presence to his growling speeches. He has a presence that sells, and it sells well. Like Dusty Rhodes, he may have a limited skill set in terms of moves, but he has the demeanor to make it work. And I think that’s part of why wrestling is so interesting; you may be an average Joe physically, but if you’ve got the chops to sell yourself and to entice an audience, then you may stand a chance.

9 comments:

Sam Ford said...

To draw on some of the points made by Workman and Gutowski from today's readings...Workman says that wrestling is, in large part, about the dramatic tension set up in a match and the ability to get fans involved and engaged in that tension. And, further, Gutowski talks about the various elements of storytelling that construct the performance. While some of the circumstances of wrestling performance has changed in the four decades or so since their work was published...the same general principles ring true in thinking about Dusty Rhodes' work in the late 1970s and 1980s and in thinking about Roman Reigns' work today. There is an ability to heighten the drama and play on crowd emotion that goes beyond in-ring athletic exhibition, to be sure, that both men possess. And, more than that, it's about the skillful stringing together of the various wrestling formulas that Gutowski lays out.

The story of Dusty Rhodes as performer highlights what happens when that formula gets "too" formulaic--which are the sorts of questions that a folk studies analysis of the sort Workman and Gutowski were engaging in couldn't capture--because they weren't looking at wrestling as a serialized, ongoing soap opera outside the run of one particular grudge feud. But the short bio on Dusty Rhodes captures the question well--of what happens when the formula is used one too many times and people get used to--and tire--of it...

michael richardson said...

I would argue that Roman doesn't embody this as well because I haven't seen much charisma to back up his four moves. Within the Shield, Dean did most of the talking and Seth could back him up while Roman just glowered at the camera, saying at most one or two threatening sentences. I'm not sure his character is fleshed out enough, nor that he necessarily has the acting ability to carry this for any length of time. At some point, definitely by the time things are resolved between him and Seth Rollins, people are going to want to see him really find his voice. Unless he does, I'm not sure he will garner anywhere near the enduring popularity Dusty had.

Marshall Metcalf said...

Reading these blog posts helps me understand the reading more and gives me a better understanding of wrestling. I love how every wrestler has to make their fame out of something different. For Dusty Rhodes, his wrestling skills and argumentation skills seem to be his talents.

Timothy S. Rich said...

Arguably part of why Dusty worked was he looked like his working class audience and, when called to, hit wonderful promos along these lines. For example, his "Hard Times" promo (which I'm sure is on Youtube) is directly appealing to working class frustrations in the 1980s. However, this only goes so far. If the in-ring performance becomes too formulaic, especially on a week-by-week basis and as the wrestler ages, the audience is likely to grow disinterested.

Sam Ford said...

Mikey's point here...that Roman Reigns does not have the depth of audience connection that Dusty did in part because he doesn't have the verbal charisma nor the depth of a character story that Dusty did is a good point. We know that Dusty knew how to get a rise out of the audience in the ring--and I'd argue that he was a master of reading a crowd and reacting to them. But, certainly, a good portion of that was tied up in his ability to perform n his interviews...

Sam Ford said...

And also meant to say that Tim is also right that there's a distinction between the character's sort of appeal. A good portion of the audience might identify with Dusty Rhodes, the blue-collar wrestler that didn't look or sound like a champion but who fought hard to be one. I don't think Roman Reigns with his "superman" punch is positioned to be "one of us."

Timothy S. Rich said...

Sam, are you saying I don't see myself as a "Superman"? =)

Katie Clark said...

Perhaps a better example is someone like Mick Foley. He was (and still is) wildly popular. He was an average looking guy with charisma that could entrance anyone and he was willing to put his body on the line in order to entertain an audience. He is by far one of the most committed wrestlers I've ever seen. His ability to develop and portray so many entertaining and fun characters is part of what makes him so unique. He could work the mic and work the crowd like very few others could. In terms of male wrestlers, you don't need to be big and buff and attractive to succeed if you've got the creativity and the charisma.

Sam Ford said...

@Tim: I don't want to interfere with your delusions of grandeur. :) @Katie: Great points regarding Mick Foley. In fact, while I never make the Dusty Rhodes/Mick Foley comparison, I don't think, we'll read an essay I wrote about Mick Foley later this semester, focused on some of these very issues.