Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Some Brief Thoughts on Studio Wrestling

Here's some brief thoughts of mine on studio wrestling, my experiences with it, and different approaches to it.

My fondest, yet vaguest memories of studio wrestling go back to my childhood in the late eighties and early nineties.  These were the days of Macho Man Randy Savage, the Million Dollar Man, Earthquake, G.I. Joe crossover Sgt. Slaughter, and, of course, my favorite Hulk Hogan.  I also received the classic blue ring as a Christmas gift to play with my action figures.  At some point, studio wrestling moved to cable and out of the Milburn house.  I recall wrestling being quite popular during my junior high years with bright stars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.  As pro wrestling movies into the present, I hear it is more family friendly than it was for some time.  I myself watch it from time to time with an old man I work for.

My toys have seen better days.

What is studio wrestling, beyond the obvious, and how does it fit into the broader media sphere?  Studio wrestling is a loose, miniplot, fictional narrative built around a sporting event with the formal aesthetics of a sporting event.  This reminds me of the Colbert Report, which is a comedic fake news and commentary show that utilizes the aesthetics of a news and commentary show.  Many have referred to studio wrestling as a soap opera for men.  This observation is both clever and apropos.

Many pro wrestling critics complain that it is fake as if pointing out that a piece of scripted television is fake is somehow a substantial criticism.  No one ever complains that The Walking Dead is fake.  Some have said that this is
because The Walking Dead is not a fake sport, but does this mean we should be complaining about movies like Rocky and Rudy?  Since when are sports not valid subject matter for narrative fiction?  I would guess that it is because, as I noted above, studio wrestling follows the formal aesthetics of a real sporting event.  This point doesn't matter either, because what studio wrestling does is merely another approach, not something wrong.  There's no absolute rule that you can't shoot a fictional narrative like live television.  Also, I would note that it is scripted, but not necessarily predictable or boring.  Many people find studio wrestling to be more entertaining than a WNBA game, even though in the back of their minds, they know the latter is real.  In fact, they could theoretically script every match to be a serious nail-biter which arguably makes some matches more exciting than some of the blowout Super Bowls I've seen.  Sports programming has always been entertainment anyhow.

Worse than this bad aesthetic logic is the fact that some people think that any significant number of wrestling fans actually think it is real.  Nearly no one thinks it is real.  The only reason they ever talk about it like it is real is because that is how we all talk about our favorite television.  No one complains that The Walking Dead is fake.  When we talk about our favorite shows, we suspend disbelief and talk about the story lines directly, saying things like "I wonder what will happen to the characters on The Walking Dead next" rather than "I wonder what the writers put in next week's script."  Likewise, if someone asked you what happened on the last episode of Mad Men, you wouldn't say "The writers wrote for Jon Hamm to do this and he acted it out like this."  This isn't because we don't know the show is fake, but because it is fun to get lost in a show and talk about it in this way, imagining the logic of the show's universe rather than the writers' room.  Fans shouldn't have to go meta every five seconds to prove the obvious point that they know it's fake.  Many more people think studio wrestling fans don't know it's fake than there are actual fans who don't know it's fake.  This illusion often comes from arrogant superiority and dismissive elitism that has made a straw man of wrestling fans.

Jon Stewart being deliciously ironic and a game host

Who are the fans of studio wrestling?  Just as a minimal observation, they are a real cross-section of America.  They are about two-thirds male and one-third female.  They also include a sizable minority audience.  Few things cross the racial divide in America more than studio wrestling.  Studio wrestling also seems to drive a number of liberal elitists up a wall.  According to internet comment sections, they were disappointed to see their hero, Jon Stewart, involved with it.  One person commented that Jon Stewart, whose sons are wrestling fans, should be spending his time fighting global warming for his sons rather than being on studio wrestling for them.  I guess for some people, there is no break from social justice warrior monomania.

What do I feel about studio wrestling?  It's not something I want to give 3 hours or more a week of my time to, but I appreciate the pleasure it gives to others.  True fans know that there is a lot you can do with the form and there have been good years and bad years.  Within the bounds of the form, there is still a right and a wrong way to do it.  Wrestling, to me, is built around the two poles of the actual bouts and the drama surrounding them.  Pro wrestling is at its best when the fighting is dynamic, athletic and exciting.  One of my favorite recent wrestlers to watch in the ring was the high-flying Rey Mysterio.  The personalities have to be charismatic and distinguishable.  Take for example, The Rock, who has gone on to be a solid movie star.  I would also argue that the show is at its best when it takes itself somewhat seriously.  I was disappointed when they changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment.  They really should have choke-slammed the World Wildlife Fund and made them give up the acronym.  They've given up keeping up the show at all times, even outside the show, the way they used to, but I imagine they make more money releasing real behind-the-scenes content now and fans can now enjoy the show on two levels.  Also, they've got a real racket with the endless pay-per-views that are pretty central to storylines.  Everything is either leading up to or facing the aftermath of a pay-per-view.  Lastly, I've noticed how the new WWE never lets men hit women.  I like that.  It sends a good message to the kids.

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