Monday, October 13, 2014

Is Wrestling Logical?

Today in class, we will discuss the logic of professional wrestling.  I think there are two parts to this topic: the logic of a match, and the logic of wrestling in general.  The piece we read from <i>Steel Chair to the Head</i> does a very good job of discussing the in-ring logic of how a "good match" should look.  Where can we find someone to explain the logic behind watching two sweaty men in their underwear pretend to beat each other up?  It's a bit harder to justify.

We'll start with the easy one.  Laurence de Garis has an article entitled "The 'Logic' of Professional Wrestling," which is published in the book <i>Steel Chair to the Head</i>. In his writings, de Garis states that a "good" wrestling match needs three elements: believability, logic, and a story.  The three are closely tied together, but basically de Garis thinks that in a good match, the action follows the natural flow of a legitimate sporting event, the wrestlers react in logical and believable ways, and a story is presented with at least the three basic plot elements of exposition, climax, and resolution.  It's commonsensical, but when something is missing, the whole match loses that magical feel that we want to experience.  In that way, a wrestling match does follow an observable logic from match to match, as well as in a bigger picture view.

As for the logic of watching professional wrestling, people have used the excuse that it's a passion play of life's injustice, or that it's in our carnal nature to be drawn to the flesh-on-flesh violence of wrestling.  To wrestling outsiders, the appeal of the ring is a mystery (as I'm sure Marshall can attest), but to the fan, wrestling is a time for entertainment, socializing, and letting loose.  When else is it appropriate for grown men and women to jeer and scream profanities at their enemies?  I don't understand all of the logic behind wrestling (why don't they wear more clothes?), but I think each person has their own reasons for tuning in week after week.  Choosing to watch wrestling requires a personal logic of sorts, because wrestling is not exactly like anything else on television.

Why do you like wrestling?


Timothy S. Rich said...

Good points here Melissa. I found this reading for the most part a great means to evaluate wrestling as more than scripted activity. This also fits in well with Ole Anderson's comments (and many of his generation) about the logic to a match.

I'm particularly interested in the internal logic of a match, which is often criticized today. If wrestling is in part a public presentation of pain, then this expression should follow the same basic rules outside of the scripted performance. For example, if someone can shake off 10 chair shots, then the same performer should not be phased by most finishing moves. Similarly, if one is actually put through a table, perhaps they should not pop up quickly afterwards, but rather "sell" the potential injury to the back. Maintaining a logical series of actions thus helps build suspense for the conclusion, rather than leaving fans questioning what they just watched.

Why do I watch? I want to see the eternal struggle to get ahead in all its physicality. Wrestling taps into this, as we've previously discussed regarding the common tropes in the industry. In addition, the story never ends, unlike other sports where there is a clear finality (e.g. World Series).

Marshall Metcalf said...

This post allows for so many comments. The question of "Is Wrestling Logical?" can be answered differently by everyone. To me, I don't really think it is. However, it is a huge form of entertainment for many people and so there has to be some logic. A lot of it, to me, depends on if you watched it as a child or with a FAN growing up. Everyone who loves wrestling remembers watching while they were growing up with true wrestling fans. As a child, I was told not to watch it because it was "stupid and fake."

Tony Smith said...

Melissa, I really like this post! I am, as Tim is, intrigued by the internal logic of a match, but I am also interested in the logic of watching wrestling in general. I think watching wrestling makes as much sense as watching a musical. For instance, the characters in “West Side Story” are good examples of how not to act if you’re a member of an ethnic, street gang. Singing, “Boy, boy, crazy boy, get cool boy,” is less effective than telling your gang member buddy, “Hey! Chill! We have to plan out how we’re gonna get even.” Also, pirouettes in front of your enemy makes less sense than punching them in the face. Further, watching wrestling is as logical as watching a political debate. Rarely are there authentic moments in a political debate, where the politicians, who are supposed to represent the people’s interests, rarely stray from their message rather than answer the stinking question they were asked. Also, lying is allowed and not typically refuted by the moderator/journalist, who are supposed to hold accountable people who are supposed to represent our interests. Finally, watching wrestling makes about as much sense as watching a magic show. Everyone knows it’s a trick. No one owns a big black hat but magicians. No one owns colorful ribbons but magicians. No one believes a human being can fly.

To your specific questions, I can speak with some experience, as a former high school wrestler, that more clothing on the body means your opponent can grab more clothing. Wrestlers should be half-naked in order to be harder to grab during a match. Further, another place where grown men and women can scream profanities at their enemies is at any NFL or NHL game. I think that the UFC has actually exposed the greatest logical flaw of the current wrestling industry. That is that the “big guy” would most likely lose a fight against a smaller, quicker, well-trained, younger guy. In reality if the “Big Show” fought against Daniel Bryan, Daniel Bryan would destroy him.
Finally, I am a wrestling fan because it has all the elements of my favorite kind of art. It is a subculture, its stories are character-driven, it is despised by many people, it is aggressive and filled with anger and fury, it is athletic, it is at times really funny, and it is so controlled by a few powerful people that I can’t wait for the day when fans turn away from their cruel overlords and begin to support something else. Thus, I love wrestling because it is doomed!

Sam Ford said...

Jim Freedman spent quite a bit of time studying why the fans he sat with were watching wrestling. We'll encounter other academics who study the same thing as time goes on.

I wanted to tap into two things here:

-Ole Anderson, Larry De Garis, and the John Gutowski piece we read earlier this semester all make the case for wrestling as an art form of sorts constructed by performers...and they treat wrestling seriously as a sort of performance or folk art that involves a physical storytelling often ignored by others. I think there has been a shift, as I mentioned in class, in WWE wrestling to caring MORE about the internal logic of a match now than they did during the 1980s WWE or the "Attitude Era," but we can point out a long list of logical holes in how wrestling is presented today that can break that "suspension of disbelief."

What fascinates me about wrestling is that it is storytelling on several fronts simultaneously. There is the story of the match, which has its own beginning, middle, and end and can be understood as a standalone, in and of itself. There's the logic of "the show," the particular event you're watching, which starts with an opener and ends with the "main event." There's the logic of the "cycle," which these days would be the build up to and the culmination of a particular PPV event. There's the logic of the "feud," which typically runs a few months and goes across multiple PPVs. And then there's the logic of the "season," which in WWE typically runs Wrestlemania to Wrestlemania. Even beyond that, there are the storylines of the evolution of a particular character over the years, and how they draw on that deep history. So you can read wrestling in a micro way--just the match you're watching at the moment...or you can draw on all these complex layers of storytelling as well.

Melissa Smith said...

I really like seeing the multiple layers of storytelling, too. It's important for an individual match to be interesting as a stand-alone event in order to appeal to first-time viewers (and those dealing with memory loss, i.e. true wrestling enthusiasts), but wrestling really gets interesting when you take a few steps back and look at a longer amount of time. Like you said, the logical storylines emerge at many levels: the match is one of several on a card; the card is made of many feuds; feuds lead to big PPV events; PPV events mark the segments that separate Wrestlemania events; and Wrestlemania is the mega New Year's Eve celebration of the wrestling year. Waiting rooms are always tuned in to some afternoon soap opera that you know nothing about, but you can watch part of a single, mid-season episode and still get the gist of what's happening. Of course, you really need to watch from the beginning (at least of the season) to fully understand who this guy is and why it's so scandalous that he's kissing that girl. In the same way, watching a single match gives you a brief glance into the wrestling world, but to really appreciate the significance of the match, you need to be able to see the bigger picture.

Sam Ford said...

Glad you brought that up, since soap operas are my other major area of study. I'm fascinated by what I've labeled as "immersive story worlds," where the layers of complexity come not from one tightly written work but rather from the accretion of a high volume of the text over time...and, in the case of both soaps and wrestling, there has traditionally been a fan community surrounding the show to help communally work through that history, piece it together, debate it, etc., in relation to what's currently happening in the narrative.