Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Big Men in Small Trunks

In Catherine Salmon and Susan Clerc’s, Ladies Love Wrestling, Too, the “why” women love to watch wrestling is explored. This is an area I have not explored before, and found the chapter most interesting.

The authors explore the transition from post WWII female fans, where females watched big men in small trunks, and had fan clubs, to where women utilized the more modern Internet age aspects to communicate between themselves, through chat rooms, blogs, forums, websites, email groups, etc. In short, women “have developed their own strategies for obtaining pleasure from the visual media” (p. 170).  Many forums and websites contain pictures of close-ups captured from screen shots, depicting unguarded emotional moments or smiles.

There seems to be a theme in the article as to why women are attracted to wrestling and how women express themselves. In addition to the sexual aspect, the themes depicted by the photographs of the forums and websites cover the need to have glimpses of happiness, emotion and vulnerability. The women fans are romantically interesting in the wrestlers, and the contrast between the hypermasculinity of the wrestler’s bodies and that of the moments of emotional vulnerability that of a smile, or candid moments or intense embrace, appears to be very evident. By the way, this is very true to form for any photojournalist who craves capturing the above moments.

The authors contrasts two common features in male and female wrestling sites, where the male wrestling sites contain role playing and fantasy bookings. Female sites are likely to write fictional stories and fill empty spots in story lines. Women create expansive character and meaning to the storylines in a personal way—“the softness of their hair.” A feature prevalent among female sites is the “desire,” where physical bodies and emotions are intertwined becoming the objects for desire.

I found this chapter most illuminating as it explores the female wrestling fan’s perspective, and this is something that has not been looked into before.

Wrestling as a Self-Help Book

Sharon Mazer's "Real" Wrestling/"Real" Life comparison of wrestling to reality offers another really interesting way that wrestling logic can be applied to other things, in this case, life in general. Her discussion of boardroom meetings as wrestling matches near the end of the piece can almost be read as a suggestion to treat life as a work, which is at the same time an amazing and absurd idea. Asking oneself "how can I put myself over today?" seems both indicative of a dissociation from reality and the ultimate motivator. Mazer says she would be interested in writing a book on living as a wrestler does, and I think there is a lot of potential in holding that sort of worldview.
Life is a very serious business for a lot of people, but I think treating one's conflicts in life as if they were wrestling angles would take some of the stress off. With this in mind, I would like to attempt to delineate some of the necessary steps to be included in any self-help books modeled on professional wrestling:

1. Analyze yourself as a person. Write out your strengths and weaknesses, your character traits that you admire and dislike, and any other pertinent information, as though you were doing a character study on yourself.
2. Utilizing your strengths, come up with an idealized persona for yourself, noting any dichotomies between what you envision as the perfect version of yourself and reality. Be sure to include high feelings of self worth and an overabundance of confidence, because this is necessary for all wrestlers.
3. Begin acting as though you were this perfect version of yourself 24 hours a day. Do what the ideal version of you would do, regardless of how you actually feel. (ex. It doesn't matter if you're too tired to go to the gym today, ideal you loves the gym and wouldn't skip it for the world.) Treat all matters, especially stressful ones, as though they were wrestling matches in which you were going to be put over. The outcome is fixed, you just have to work the angle and improvise until you get there.
4. Slowly blur the lines between ideal self and real self until the two are one and the same.

This book would sell like hotcakes. The concept of the "real" is pretty mutable, especially in the human mind: it's just a matter of finding that place oft-discussed in regards to wrestling where the real and the fake blend into something that is neither, but still authentic. Mick Foley discusses this in his book Foley is Good when he writes about the breakup of the Rock 'n' Sock Connection. Mick mixes his personal feelings with the parameters of the angle that he is working, and when he starts yelling at the Rock he creates his own reality.
Many academics have written that whether wrestling is real or fake is a moot point to wrestling fans. I think it would sell a lot of self-help books to argue that whether a person as a human being is real or fake is similarly moot, in that if one makes a conscious effort to think and act a certain way that becomes reality. In conclusion, I would like to propose our class project consist of a philosophical/self-help text based in wrestling logic/philosophy, so we can cash in on our collective labors.

PSA to to the Ladies Who "Love Wrestling, Too"

In regard to this twisted romance fan-fiction in which you've been indulging:

Ladies, you need to pull yourselves together.  When you watch a play and see an intense stage kiss, do you assume that the two are really in love?  No!  Neither should you assume that a pair of wrestlers who spend a few minutes once a week touching each other through spandex are lovers in reality.  They are professionals—coworkers—and entertaining you is their job.  Implying or fantasizing about anything less than that is disrespectful to the men (and women) who have spent their whole lives trying to be able to stand in the ring in front of thousands.  I had no idea that this was the kind of fan fiction that you were writing for yourselves, but, really... it has got to stop.  You're tainting the reputation of the female wrestling fan.

Despite how interesting it was to read Salmon's and Clerc's article in Steel Chair to the Head, I cannot say that I found much to be proud of in these pages.  As a female wrestling fan, I feel as if these two ladies were trying to explain my attraction, but if that was the case, they have failed.  I don't participate in fan-based blogs and forums (unless you count this class...), but if I did, it would not be to talk about the "fine, hot sexy men" that I saw on TV.  I would probably be excited about seeing Ryback return, and want to talk about his rise and fall and why he would make a great champion—reasons that have (almost) nothing to do with his physique.  On the other hand, I'm not looking for an emotional (romantic) outlet in wrestling, either.  I don't think I would be posting pictures of wrestlers embracing or of them showing "true emotions."  Nor do I feel the need to flesh out the WWE's storylines with  post-match fan fiction.  

I guess I haven't really asked myself why I enjoy wrestling.  For me, wrestling is social; I watch with my classmates and other friends, mostly while talking and eating and laughing and such.  In that sense, wrestling is a fun excuse to hang out and make jokes.  I also like wrestling because it so aptly portrays the struggle of life (from a middle/lower class perspective).  It seems like Stone Cold Steve Austin really hates his boss as much as I hate mine (kayfabe; I don't really hate my boss), but the fact that Stone Cold can go and punch his boss in the face while retaining his job somehow makes it easier for me to refrain from punching my boss in the face (which would likely result in the loss of my job).  I also really like the way storylines overlap and are multi-tiered (which we've discussed before).  I do not enjoy reading fan-written wrestling porn that is somehow deemed acceptable because there are no pictures, or because it's far-fetched (as in the case of alternative universe stories).  Thanks to the internet, people get to make stupid choices anonymously, without retribution, like fantasizing about famous people without a filter for everyone to see.  I am not a fan.

October 29 2014

I was reading "Steel Chair to the Head" by Nicholas Sammond, and during the article by Sharon Mazor she kept using the quote "real"...quotation marks in all. That's really interesting to me. I feel like saying "real" wrestling compared to real wrestling automatically gives your opinion on wrestling. For example, I'm going to compare myself to a real wrestling fan. One of my childhood friends is actually a huge pro wrestling fan. I talked to him about me being in this class after I posted the picture of our class field trip. During our discussion, I would use quotation marks around the word "real" quite often actually. However, he never did. I think this is because he is willing and able to suspend the disbelief of wrestling being real. He can watch wrestling and truly get into it and participate in it as an active fan who "believes." However, I do not have this life skill. I, instead, watch wrestling thinking the whole time about how it's fake. I think this is where the difference between us comes in and why I say "real" wrestling and he says real wrestling. I also think this is to do with him growing up watching wrestling. He informed me that when he was younger, he did believe that wrestling was real. Maybe he holds onto this memory and continues to "believe" in it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

As I was reading through Sammond's article, "Squaring the Family Circle: WWF Smackdown Assaults the Social Body," I was reminded of the uproar caused by Smackdown gracing the screens of prime-time television. People were disgusted by the idea that this show was promoting violence and rebellious behavior, negatively influencing the nation's youths. What struck me as interesting was the following: "The audience for Smackdown [fared] best with men aged eighteen to forty-nine, garnering an enthusiastic following on college campuses, and drawing significant numbers of women...If the show reaches far more than children, why are they its imagined audience?" And I've been trying to answer this question ever since. Why does the world seem to assume that wrestling's primary audience is children when, in reality, they're not? Yes, wrestling is violent. It's wrestling. And it's really no more violent than America's beloved football. Or hockey. Wrestling just also happens to include a soap-operatic story line. Critics are also more angered by the fact that wrestling stories blatantly portray sexism and racism instead of being angered by the fact that they are simply reflecting our own society back to us. In a previous reading of Foley is Good, Mick mentions that parents will get angry at the WWE for portraying such violence before they will actually take the time to sit with their kids and explain to them that wrestling is a theatrical performance and the stories they tell are exaggerated and fictional. The bad guys are misogynistic because they're bad guys and that's what bad guys do. You have to have an unlikable bad guy. I feel as if these tired out arguments could be remedied if people would just take the time to educate themselves and their children.

The Role of the Announcers in the PTC/RTC era

Kathleen Lowney’s article, Wrestling with Criticism, was a very good read and humorous. While I will be leading the discussion on this Monday, I would like to narrowly focus on the role of the announcers during this PTC/RTC era, as I found the additional role of the announcers in framing the irony and satire used against the PTC interesting.

Lowney mentions she spent two years studying the wrestling aspect and, in my opinion, made some great observations regarding the role of the announcers as they certainly helped develop the feeling of the fans feeling censored and the development of the hypocrisy of the RTC wrestlers being bad boy heels, using whatever means to win while professing ethical purity.  

Historically, two announcers would each play a role—one verbalizing the virtues of his heel, the other, praising his good guy, face. The announcers would start with their wrestler’s history and then develop the duality of the wrestlers, defending why the heel had to do his bad thing, or why the face would do his actions in response, and proceed with the color commentary. So, what we have is both the visual wrestling match, and the verbal sparring match between the announcers, in essence two matches.

During Lowney’s two year observations, she noted that the role of the announcers broke this pattern, but changed only during the RTC matches, and no other matches. The change was that both announcers never said one positive thing about the RTC matches or wrestlers, and that both called the RTC moral hypocrites, and verbalized disgust for their conservative ideology. The announcers commented on whether the RTC wanted to shut down the WWF or that their families would be in financial trouble. Jerry Lawler’s (then announcer) comments on not having the ability of showing “women’s puppies,” would be the saddest day in TV history is classic.

In short, the announcers now set up a potent rhetorical weapon against the PTC/RTC and it was used effectively.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Protecting society from the evils of wrestling

Katherine Lowney's article "Wrestling with Criticism" and Nicholas Sammond's chapter "Squaring the Family Circle" (in Steel Chair to the Head) both address how organizations frequently see professional wrestling as a scapegoat to societal ill. The irony Sammond points out on page 136 is that the WWE's rise in popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s was in large part by mimicking reality more closely, not by pushing the envelope compared to other forms of entertainment. This contrasts considerably with the view within the wrestling industry, where the the product evolved from a largely kid-friendly (some say cartoonish) structure in the 1980s to a more PG-13 format.

Attempting to play moral defender, groups like the Parents Television Council (PTC) commonly cite little to no evidence linking their target with violence, crime, or other ills. Nor is wrestling alone as a target here. Media watchdog groups complained about how impressionable youths listening to Ice-T's "Cop Killer" would contribute to violence against cops despite a long history of violence referenced in music beyond rap. What I found particularly interesting is Lowney's assessment of how the WWE was able to use irony and satire as one means to challenge the PTC. Unlike other targets, the WWE had multiple weekly television shows to showcase indirectly their narrative of the PTC (through the characters of Right to Censor/RTC) as anti-constitution, conformists who enjoyed others suffering. Lowney identifies that the WWE had a clearer means to repeat their framing both to would-be supporters and a generally audience than the PTC could ever hope to attract. This contrasts cases like Ice-T, where means to confront opposition to "Cop Killer" was largely limited to debates on news shows.

The authors, especially Salmond, also address the inconsistency of groups condemning wrestling as a corrupting influence. If it's the vulgarity or the violence against women, then why are dramas in prime time or the NFL getting a pass? Even Vince McMahon himself addresses this in terms of the lack of guns and knives in his product. This inconsistency also reminded me of the short-lived ban by MTV of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" in 1992, despite the station routinely playing songs referencing drug use, gangs, and violence against women ( a point Sir Mix-a-Lot was quick to address).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mick Foley vs. 20/20

First and foremost, I knew Mick Foley was a pretty down-to-earth guy. That's made blatantly clear through his interviews and his documentary. But it wasn't until starting to read Have a Nice Day! that I began to realize how seriously awesome Mick is; his love for his kids shines through as well as his ability to write in a relaxed way with such a unique fluidity. Brilliant.

But the brilliance doesn't stop there. He puts forth some seriously poignant ideas about wrestling. There are people continuously attacking wrestling, unable to understand how it can be so popular if it's "fake." But Mick puts forth the idea that the real world is more fake than wrestling. And he makes a solid point. After seeing his interview with 20/20 about backyard wrestling, he sees that his words were twisted and taken out of context. They made him out to look like he encouraged reckless and dangerous backyard stunts. He was furious. And even more so after he realized there was literally nothing he could do about it. Their journalism was considered legitimate journalism. And that's what's horrifying. All journalism is like that anymore. A combination of sound bytes and video clips arranged in such a way as to paint the picture they want painted. We saw this happening a lot after the Ferguson shooting. Everyone was twisting the story to fit their opinion and it got to a point where no one knew the whole and complete truth except for the cop and Michael Brown. At least with wrestling now they're up front about the fact that it's all pure entertainment. Yes, people do get legitimately hurt, but the story lines, the characters, they're all very much fake. They only maintain kayfabe to preserve the fun and excitement of it all. But it's not because they're trying to seriously fool anyone. The news, however, does try to fool you because they want you to believe their version of the story.

And when you live in a world where professional wrestling is more trustworthy than the 5 o'clock News, that's a horrifying reality.

Get it? WWE Super Bowl commercial

No, Vince, I don't get it. 

I wish the author tag-team who wrote Sex, Lies, and Headlocks had taken a stab at explaining what Vince meant when he asked if we "got" the WWF attitude as a guy falls out of an exploding office building.

The way I see it, Vince's words have a double meaning.  First, the obvious—get it: an imperative statement, commanding the viewer to watch wrestling, buy wrestling gear, come to live events, and ultimately to invest in the business of the WWF.  The only reason I suggest a second meaning is that Vince's line doesn't sound like an imperative statement.  His tone implies a question, like there's some funny joke that was made, if only you could figure out where the punchline was.  I was left with this feeling for a long time, watching and rewatching the clip to figure out what there was to "get."

I think this second meaning is a joke on the broadcasting company that was unhappy with the vulgararity of the new WWF shows.  In the same way that Triple H and Michaels mocked the new restrictions they were being  put under by reading them on the air  in a rebellious way, I think Vince was also making a statement to the company the was putting restrictions on him.  Maybe his "get it?" was not towards the fans, but towards the company that he was trying to ridicule.

Then again, maybe his question was more of an admission to the viewers:  "You know that this commercial isn't real—we don't really fight like this in the office—and our wrestling show is equally unrealistic (because we actually do all of the things that we just said we don't do), but you should play along.  Get it?"  The explosion and man falling from a high window just helps to emphasize the unlikelihood of this being reality.  What Vince is trying to say is that the WWF is about as real as that big Hollywood explosion.  "Get it?"

Whatever he meant, that Super Bowl commercial was definitely entertaining and controversial, especially at the time when it was first aired.  And look, we are still watching it years later and wondering... What did I miss?

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Triple H: Ring General and Backstage Politician"

(I figured, since he's obviously the only reason I'm taking this class, why not write about him?)

Triple H, Paul Levesque, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, The Game.

A lot of people argue that the only reason Triple H made it to where he is today as a major figure in the WWE is due to the fact that he married the heiress, Stephanie McMahon. But his in-ring prowess, sharp wit, and ability to work a crowd is simply unmatched. The WCW didn't give him a chance to shine as a singles player and so he made the smart decision, left, and signed with the WWE. It's here that he was able to truly develop his character and refine his skill. It's safe to say that he is probably one of the most dedicated and hard-working wrestlers in the business. In a tag team match with Steve Austin against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, he tore his left quadricep muscle clean off the bone...and still kept fighting. He was committed to finishing the match and making it a good one--he even let Jericho put him in his signature hold, The Walls of Jericho. And when he returned, he received one of the biggest "pops" in wrestling history. People missed him. He's a heel, but he plays a heel so well, people can't help but like him. He's had other injuries during matches where he continues to play out the match, heals, recovers, and returns in record time. He made a solid name for himself and now, standing next to Stephanie as COO, he has simply enhanced his political power. He not only knows how to play (and work) the Game, he has most definitely (and quite literally) become the Game.

First Fun with Foley

My favorite reading for Monday was definitely the beginning of Mick Foley's second book, Foley is Good, and the Real World is Faker Than Wrestling.  So far, I am liking Mick Foley a whole lot better than Ole Anderson, and I would say that I really like Ole.  I love Mick's humor and outdated pop culture references, even though they worries me a bit; I want people to be able to read his book ten or twenty years from now and not have to look up every reference he makes to get the joke.  Even now, there are many references that I don't understand because I wasn't immersed in pop culture in the 90s (I also love the fact that this hardcore, overweight, middle-aged wrestler could be such an avid Britney fan).  Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mick's first twelve chapters, and I think I am starting to understand how the real world could be faker than wrestling.  The story of how Mick was going to "be an author" just blew me away.  I had no idea that so-called "autobiographies" of celebrities and superstars were not actually written by the superstar (how can they be called autobiographies?).  This revelation is definitely worse than finding out that the tooth fairy isn't real (p 126).  Mick Foley tried to work with Larry, the autobiography-biography-novelist, with disappointing results.  Thankfully, Foley decided to take matters into his own hands and actually write his own autobiography.  Foley also experiences the deceptive ways of journalists and creative editing in his interview with 20/20.  I think Foley has a valid point in accusing the "real world" of often being a little fudged, and I am excited to see what other topics he brings up to make his point clearer.