Last weeks’ “Art” of WrestleMania column generated a lot of feedback, and much of it was pretty interesting. Although a lot of people disagreed with my views on the big show, I didn’t receive even a single email that felt like an attack on those views. Instead, what I got was a lot of well-reasoned argument against what I had written, as well as a bit of support and encouragement from people who agreed with my opinions. So, this week I’m proud to present The Art of Wrestling’s first ever Mailbag column.
If you’d like to send feedback, please feel free to click here (that’s mr.gordi at gmail dot com). I’ll most likely answer you.
This column comes with a theme: Is there really a division between people who like wrestling for the matches and people who like it for the show?
In my opinion, the most interesting arguments on this subject came from Ryan, who subverts a lot of the common misconceptions about our hobby just by being a fan of professional wrestling who is currently studying Law at Harvard. He wrote, in part:
I watch wrestling mainly for the sheer, absurd, over-the-top spectacle of it, and on that front I felt that HHH’s entrance delivered. I tend to agree with Russo (yes, I know, the IWC’s Antichrist), if only to the extent that I see the matches themselves as secondary to the promos, storylines and spectacle. I’m not at all a fan of sports or athletic contests; it’s the circus aspect of wrestling that entices me (yes, I am that most dreaded of IWC types, the sports entertainment fan)… I realize that my particular tastes in wrestling mean that I am not at all the target audience for your column, but I felt like responding anyway; I hope that is not totally unwelcome.
…I was honestly entertained by HHH’s Conan entrance, mainly because it was ridiculously overblown. I’m usually a HHH-hater, not because of the backstage politics but because I find him horribly dull. I saw this as a welcome bit of fun from a usually-stale character. I don’t, however, feel that this means “that they’ve successfully educated [me] to accept damn near any kind of crap as good entertainment, as long as it’s got their brand logo on it.” There are quite a few elements of WWE storylines that fail to entertain me in the slightest..every time the Boogeyman’s worm-eating act begins, I become physically ill and cannot watch until his segment ends; this kills any entertainment value the character might have. I can’t stand blatant T&A matches, as they serve little storyline purpose and the divas involved tend to have very little promo ability. As a flaming liberal, whenever the WWE gets political, I start to cringe…
One of the things that really caught my attention was that Ryan had written his response about half an hour after my column had been posted. What really impressed me was that he had so quickly managed to pick out exactly the phrase that I had inserted into my column in an attempt to generate some angry feedback: “I guess that WWE have really found their target audience, and I guess that they’ve successfully educated them to accept damn near any kind of crap as good entertainment, as long as it’s got their brand logo on it. Good for WWE. More power to them!” Furthermore, I was surprised that Ryan used an intelligent and reasonable argument to refute my point, instead of just swearing at me.
I wrote to him expressing something to that effect. His response, in part, was:
…to be clear, I appreciate well-done matches as well, though my definition of “well-done” has more to do with storytelling within the ring than with matwork. It’s something I’ve never quite understood with the IWC in general, that it seems like people are expected to either only go for the matches or only go for the sports-entertainment stuff…I really see no reason why a promotion couldn’t do both well. It’s just that, if I absolutely had to choose one or the other to be done well, I’d choose the latter. You’re not one of the people I’m talking about with this comment, but I don’t understand why so many seem to see it as a hardline either-or issue.
This genuinely made me think. I tend to concentrate both my viewing and my writing on pro wrestling matches, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the other stuff when it’s done well. Having some kind of a story behind a feud can obviously make the matches more interesting. I think what makes people like me draw an artificial line between fans of wrestling and fans of sports entertainment is that current WWE stories are so often sophomoric, misogynistic, xenophobic, or otherwise offensive, that they are so often so far over the top, and that there so rarely any kind of continuity from one story to the next. Currently, sports entertainment is in kind of a sorry state, so I think a lot of wrestling writers want to distance themselves from it. The problem may be that this also distances us fromt hose fans who still appreciate a good interview or sketch from time to time.
I think that most of my fellow wrestling snobs tend to prefer old-fashioned, straight-forward story-telling that pays off in the ring (Bill Watt’s Mid South/UWF, for example), but I believe that most of us do like a good story with our wrestling.
Ryan was far from alone in enjoying Conan tHHHe Barbarian’s entrance.
Dorian had this to say: I was in a room with ten other people watching WM id say fifty fifty casual and hardcore fans and pretty much everyone thought HHH’s Entrence was bad ass. From the wicked new music (which he should really switch to) to the awsome crown I really was hoping The King Of Kings would return to his throne.
LC wrote: As for the entrances, I kinda enjoyed HHHs for it’s over-the-top King Conan campiness.
Cena’s entrance seemed to be a different matter.
Dorian wrote: Cena’s (entrance) was a total joke and was just stupid. From the idiotic gunfire to his little “cronies” coming out before hand it just reeked of wrestlecrap.
LC wrote: I thought Cena’s was just badly executed even for the camp factor they were going for.
Smack You! scribe Mike Fitzgerald probably summed the whole thing up better than anyone: …the entrances were ridiculous but I’ve seen much stupider entrances in my time, including people coming out in coffins in Japan.
I can’t argue with that!
As far as the bizarre crowd reaction to the actual match, Ryan once again had a pretty interesting theory:
Though I enjoyed HHH’s entrance, I was not a fan at all of Cena’s entrance, mainly because it screamed “please, for the love of god, cheer me!” while still trying to paint him as “anti-authority”. It’s a plot hole that I’ve never been able to get past, that they want us to believe that he’s a rebel and a fighter against management, but this is negated every time he comes out with some elaborate prop or set piece that the audience can’t possibly believe was provided by anyone other than that same management (see also: Royal Rumble entrance and the spinner belt itself). I don’t ask for much believability; I can even deal with the Undertaker. However, I do at least ask for internal consistency, and on that front overly-elaborate entrances for Cena fail completely. They seem to want to push him as an Austin-type rebellious face, but their approach makes his character look so blatantly insincere that it pushes him directly into Rocky Maivia territory…I’m a bit surprised that no crowd has broken out a “Die Cena Die” chant yet, actually…
That’s something that’s never occurred to me before, but it makes a whole lot of sense. Reading that, I was reminded of the thunderous reaction that Roddy Piper drew by choosing to walk to ring at WrestleMania III, eschewing the little motorized carts that everyone else was riding in. That man was a true rebel, and his WM III entrance proved it. Cena proved something quite difefrent with his entrance at WM 22.
My old internet friend Mathew Sforcina wrote to posit that booing Cena seems to be the only way the fans are able to tell Steph that we don’t like her booking… which explains why it’s the males 18-45, since we’re the ones who care. “We hate your booking and character and the writing full stop.” …at least they are trying to use it, rather than ignoring it totally.
Elton had this to say: Did Cena and H “adapt to the audience”? Probably not. Did they need to, in order to keep the crowd hot? Apparently not. People get so caught up in whether or not thier wrestlers are faces, heels or tweeners, that they act like they NEED to be told who to cheer for. Besides, HHH and (to a lesser extent) John Cena are characters who don’t care what the fans think in the first place. I’m kinda glad that there weren’t any “cheer me…no, not him. ME! I’M the face! ” moments in the match, as it could’ve tainted the unique reaction they were getting. Despite not having “face” and “heel” stamped on thier foreheads, fans genuinely gave a shit about what was going on in the ring, booing and cheering each manuever (how often do you see that in “good guy v. bad guy” matches, where they TRY to ellicit that reaction?) and making a ** match a huge spectacle.
LC saw things more my way: I had no idea that the announcers had been trying to convince the fans Cena was still a face. Due to his entrance, I was convinced he had gone heel. Then I was very confused by how they booked the match, since if he had gone heel, he was wrestling the match backwards. As it turns out, they had not switched roles, and neither was on-the-ball enough to switch just for the match proper.
Catherine made me laugh out loud by letting me know that it doesn’t take an IWC columnist to see what a travesty Wrestlemania, and particularly, that main event was.
Mike couldn’t have agreed less, however: Triple H was clearly the face in the match so the way it was worked was right as the WWE was embracing the HHH fan support rather than trying to ignore it. Besides HHH did a good job of trying to make Cena look good by bumping all over the place for his offence and tapping out to end it.
To sum things up as lamely as possible: I guess we can agree on one thing, WWE certainly got people talking with their main event!
There’s still a lot more feedback to go through, but unless I lose interest what I’d like to do is expand this a little further, into separate columns about women’s wrestling, tag team wrestling, and cruiserweight wrestling.
WWE are letting people vote for the matches they want to see on the WWE History of the World Title DVD. PLLLEEEAAASSSE vote Race vs. Backlund from the 80s section. That match is total Holy Grail material, and people have been seeking it out for years.
Click here to participate
If you haven’t already, please take the time to check out Phil’s column on NOAH’s big July show, featuring guest appearances from Mike Campbell, David Ditch, and yours truly. It’s always a pleasure to find myself in such illustrious company!
Thanks for reading, and see you next week!