Sunday, 8 April 2012

Professional Wrestling is an ART

Last week was Wrestlemania 28, the biggest professional wrestling event of the year, and I followed it on Twitter.

The day afterwards, a tweet was forwarded to me: "'s so sweet to see grown adults on Twitter tweeting about #Wrestlemania as if it wasn't a scripted event between athletic actors."

Maybe I'm wrong about the intent here, but this is clearly patronising and belittling to fans to professional wrestling and I'd like to make a defence of wrestling as an artform by taking this tweet apart word by word as it perpetuates a few myths about wrestling fans I'd love to see the back of.

(To the author of the tweet: this isn't a personal attack. You just had an easy target made of you when this was forwarded to me.)

1. "...grown adults..." - professional wrestling is aimed at adults

It can be aimed at children as well, and WWE strives to make sure all its programming is suitable for children (PG rated). This meant on a storyline level, as well as banning deliberate blood. However, there is still much there for adult fans

 The Rock's return last year, building up to his match last Sunday, was aimed at adults who were teenagers during The Rock's height, and recent storylines involving CM Punk's anti-authoritarian attitudes, and storyline power struggles are likely to go over the head of kids. They're there for the adults.

The storytelling aspects of the in-ring work - like Shaun Michaels facial expressions during Triple H vs. The Undertaker - are likely to go over the heads of the children who just want to see cool moves. But they're there for the adults who like it.

2. " if it wasn't a scripted event..." - kayfabe is long dead

It was back in the 90's that WWE publicly announced that professional wrestling is fake, the storylines scripted, the outcomes pre-determined. Everyone knows, and this isn't news to anyone. Guess what else is scripted: Friends; Eastenders; Wall-E; all the Rocky Films and any time you go to see a Shakespeare play you are watching a scripted event. If we didn't want to watch scripted events, we'd go watch UFC.

For many fans the script is a good thing. We see stories build up and get resolved in satisfying climaxes, and it allows for spectacle that would never possible in a competitive sport. No-one in their right mind would ever attempt a shooting star press (see below) in a real match.
The script allows higher stakes, higher tension, higher drama than real sport. While the quality of the scripts hasn't always been great there have been some wonderfully worked stories too: Ric Flair's retirement match with Shaun Michael's was wonderfully worked. Shawn didn't want to put his old friend down, but Ric Flair insisted that Shawn had to give his all, which Shaun did, after telling Ric "I'm sorry, I love you" right before finishing the match. Or CM Punk getting (storyline) fired, only allowed to do his contracted match for the WWE Title (the most prestigious title belt in the company). CM Punk promised to win the match and leave the company with the title, and the CEO of the company tried to screw the end of the match to ensure that didn't happen. If you want to find out what happened, and the aftermath, go watch Money In The Bank 2011 (WWE).

So there's variable storyline qualities, but the company are doing close to six hours of airtime per week. That's a lot more than Eastenders (2 hours), with a larger cast of characters, performed live, and having to react to situations on the fly if someone gets injured, or tests positive for drugs. And they don't have a tradition of employing experienced writers, although that's starting to change.

3. "...between athletic actors" - ...ok, I agree with this one

That is what professional wrestling is. Acting with a high level of athleticism, much like ballet, and with long drawn out storylines, much like soaps (and unlike ballet). 

For the past year I've been training to do this because it's simply more fun than other way I've found of staying in shape, and - behind the pantomime personas, the people who do it a respectable, responsible people who want to entertain an audience.

Is that really so worthy of scorn?

(Just because it's really amusing, one of WWE's scariest characters - The Undertaker - does a pillow fight on live TV).

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