01 June 2007

Summertime Interest!

I have not been sharing items of potential interest of late, and for this I apologize. I attempted to do so a few times in recent weeks, but technology conspired against me. But it's a new month!

Here are some things I will mention out of self-interest:

Some of my friends run Funnybook Babylon, a blog about comic books. I've been sitting in on their podcasts lately, so if you want to hear me make dumb comic jokes, complain about sexism and worry about being too mean when talking about people who create comics for DC and Marvel, here is your big semi-weekly chance!

Also in the interest of self-interest, I will point out that I did a reading at the 826NYC Knight of Time event this past Wednesday. Here is the essay I read beneath the cut which I should point out I cannot figure out how to do with the new Blogger:

Awhile ago I taught a workshop about professional wrestling, and a lot of people seemed surprised to find out that I enjoy professional wrestling, and not just in a “I thought Andre the Giant was cool when I was ten” way. I still follow wrestling as a nominal adult, and even pay to attend live events a few times a year. Professional wrestling is kind of great. Here are two things about wrestling that the kids in the workshop said they enjoyed:

  1. It is violent.
  2. It is scary.

Both very valid points, but I’d like to add a few of my own:

  1. It is guilt-free jingoism.

Wrestling’s target demographic is probably still pretty “red state”, two chestnuts of “automatic villainy” – foreigners and homosexuals – have largely gone by the wayside as primary character traits. This makes me feel good as an American, and with those stereotypes in the dustbin, wrestling is one of the few venues in which you can join the mob mentality, booing and hurling invective at someone or something with no sense of shame. When people boo the wrestler Edge, they’re not booing an actual person, or a Canadian, or an avowed Democrat, they’re booing “Edge”, who is a huge jerk and totally cheated to beat the Undertaker. There’s no discrimination, no dehumanization, there’s not even that lingering guilt that you’re disrupting someone’s performance – Edge wants to get booed, it’s his job. As long as you don’t think too much about that, going to a wrestling event is great and cathartic. Alternately, you can cheer the bad guys, which usually only intensifies the reaction of people “playing along”, and you get a bunch of little kids yelling at you. That’s kind of great too.

  1. It is its own fascinating fictional construct

I’m really interested in longform serialized narratives on an academic and creative level, and wrestling is a very long-running narrative. It’s also traditionally been a fractured narrative told between dozens of corporate storytellers, and a transient televisual narrative – performers would jump between companies, and promoters would have to sell spectators on the idea that Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan is a big star without actually admitting they had been working for another company for the past 20 years, because that company “didn’t matter”. They could also repackage characters, taking, say, an evil dentist (Isaac Yankem), growing out his hair and putting a mask on him to make him the gothic monster Kane. Now that 90% of American wrestling tape libraries are owned by one company, and that company is aggressively repackaging that material for DVDs and other use, they’re not able to cherrypick so well, which forces them to admit that, for instance, Edge used to wrestle as a deaf-mute vampire/vampire hunter, which creates a lot of really weird moments, considering that the WWE alone has been pumping out in excess of 400 hours of on-the fly television every year for the past ten years. Life’s vagaries – injuries, contract disputes, crowd sentiment – preclude any sort of longterm planning, so trying to force some sort of coherence to the narrative is a fascinatingly quixotic task. I admit this is incredibly wonky and detracts from the visceral joy of watching people inhabit a world whose rules dictate Kane can wrestle Matt Hardy for the right to Lita's hand in marriage, but it’s really appealing to me anyway.

  1. It is in some ways the “realest” entertainment out there

Obviously, wrestling is “fake”. The wrestlers are performers, who plan their matches and interviews in advance, and their disputes are fictional. People still like to trot that out. “You know wrestling is fake, right?” Of course it’s fake. So is James Bond, so is the Simpsons, so is The Apprentice. Anyone old enough to read can see it. But within the realm of “fake” entertainment, it’s as real and visceral as anything. When two guys fight in wrestling, there’s no CGI effects, tape editing or stuntmen, it’s just two guys hitting each other and throwing each other through wooden and metal structures. The fact that they can (sometimes) make this seem realistic and exciting is kind of great. It’s also one of the most participatory entertainments – sometimes it’s not just me and my jerk friends who are cheering the bad guys, or booing the good guys, so when enough people decided that the late Eddie Guerrero wasn’t just a jerk, but a hilarious jerk, and when he cheated to beat the Undertaker it was brilliant, they rejiggered the narrative so he was a good guy. All he had to do was stop insulting the local sports teams, and start cheating to beat the bad guys, and he was a hero to thousands of kids. That sort of mob democracy would be troublesome if it happened to The Sopranos, or James Joyce halfway through Ulysses, but let’s be honest, wrestling is not high art, and a lot of other entertainment might be improved if the bar band actually did play Freebird when people yelled it out, or if the Simpsons stopped stopped overusing Disco Stu. But when the masses speak out, and decide that they want to cheer on Hulk Hogan even after he gets two of his cronies to help beat the Rock bloody with a wrench, and then rams a semi-truck into the ambulance escorting the Rock to the hospital, and then does a victory dance in front of the flaming wreckage, it’s kind of amazing. And violent. And scary. But a lot of other things, too.

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