Friday, September 16, 2005

Witty Title: Spectacle and Narrative in Wrestling

Mostly corollary thoughts to the previous post, in this case concerning the generic precursor of reality tv: professional wrestling.

(Some shared qualities between the two genres to persuade the doubtful: Both wrestling and reality tv at some point or another maintained pretenses to representing some sort of reality. Wrestling pretended that it was actually a sport, and reality tv pretended (or pretends, depending on who you ask) that it's unadulterated life. Throw in slogans ("Smell what the Rock," "Stone Cold sez," "What you gonna do when Hulkamania," and so on; meanwhile: "You're still in the running towards becoming America's Next," "Tribe has spoken," "I'm sorry to say you've both been Philiminated," et cetera), and there are some startling similarities between the two genres.)

I think what I said about spectacle and narrative both applies to and is illustrated by wrestling. Although currently I barely watch it at all, occasionally watching the odd match here and there, I had convinced myself that I'd begun to appreciate wrestling as spectacle, as though all I wanted to see was Benoit's snap suplex rather than waste time listening to Eddie Guerrero talking about how he's really the father of blah blah blah and how he's going to etc.

The experience of coming in and out of the WWE's storylines definitely stripped a lot of narrative context from the matches that I've watched lately (and I've also downloaded a couple old Benoit matches), and the difference between dedicated watching (which allows the viewer to situate himself (cos come on, GIRLS don't watch the RASSLIN) in a narrative mode) and watching a match 'cold' is precisely the narrative/spectacle division.

However, a Benoit match that I downloaded found, from 1992 when he was wrestling in Japan, convinced me of the importance of narrative to wrestling (and in this case, I mean 'narrative' in the storyline sense, not to "telling a story in the ring" that's to do with in-ring psychology). With the Japanese announcers and my ignorance of any storyline and lack of familiarity with Jushin Liger (the opponent of Benoit, who was working as the Pegasus Kid), the only thing that I could judge the match on was spectacle. Super power bombs from the top turnbuckle, suicide dives, and the technique of suplexes, submission maneuvers and so on. Of course, it was a technically crisp match, but I had no idea about its narratological elements. Who was the heel? (Since I'm not well-versed in the vernacular of puroresu, I had a hard time picking up on the heel/face conventions.) And as annoying as ringside announcers are, they end up contributing to the narrative of the match. These elements, which usually affect my appreciation of a match, were stripped from the Liger/Benoit spectacle, and while I liked it for its execution, I've since deleted the match from my hard drive.

So, in a long-winded, roundabout way, I'm going to reiterate what I said in the previous post: even in spectacles that aren't naturally narrativistic, having a bit of story enhances our appreciation of it.

Indie rating: Chris Benoit - "Shooter"

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