In my life, my “interests” – that is the things I spend my free time pursuing and which manage to hold my attention without a gun to my head or a paycheck being waved in front of me – have all been things which could very easily fall into one of four major categories:
Be it TV or films, be it theater or sports, whatever subjects I find my mind wandering into as a form of escapism can be easily dumped into one of those four. So it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I am as big a pro wrestling fan as I am. It combines all four.
Although most wrestling fans cringe at the idea, at its core wrestling is a soap opera. You take a bunch of stock characters and throw them into ridiculous ethical situations and sprinkle in some shocking twists. Rinse and repeat. No matter how many years both formats have been in existence, the same basic principles have always applied. As a result, both formats have also been shunted down to the bottom of artistic food chain where they are generally mocked by “smart society”. And yet they persist. While even the most popular of TV shows will wear out it’s welcome after about five seasons, soap operas and pro wrestling continue to pump out show after show without looking back. They take no breaks. They don’t exist in re-runs. There is no “off-season”. Which of course explains in part why the quality of both can often be so poor. You aren’t likely to spend a great deal of money/planning on a product that exists only for the moment. Plus, when you’re *constantly* plowing ahead, you burn out of ideas in a hurry. Sure, on occasion someone will come up with something “new”, but it’s rare. In most cases, old ideas are recycled with new faces and the fans accept it, in large part because what works, works.
The one huge advantage wrestling has over a daytime soap is that in addition to the cheesy (but easily identifiable) storylines and melodrama, wrestling also has the illusion of athletic competition. Yes, as a fan I know everything is scripted, but the moves are still exciting. The battle in the ring, while it may not be on the up-n-up in the strictest sense, is still intense and hard-hitting. In fact, its *because* of the fact that they are scripted that most wrestling matches are re-watchable whereas most sporting events aren’t. I mean, yes, I still get goose bumps watching famous sporting events (like the Sox winning it all in ’04), but I don’t really want to sit through the whole GAME. Reliving the highlights and the closing moments is generally enough. With wrestling, the journey is just as important, if not moreso, than the destination.
Take for instance this past week’s Super Bowl. The story of Peyton Manning and the Colts *finally* getting over the hump and winning the Big One was great drama, at least from a storyline standpoint. Years of playing the game at a high level, and playing it fair, only to keep coming up just short of a championship, and then making one last run at it when everyone had pretty much counted them out… that’s a great storyline. It’s a basic dramatic arc that has been used a thousand times over in pro wrestling through the years. The problem is, in the case of Manning and the Super Bowl, the game itself kinda sucked. It was sloppy, discombobulated, and didn’t really build the way a good drama should. It played out like most sporting events play out – in a somewhat random fashion. Rarely does a sporting event follow the dramatic arc the way it should. Even the ones that end with last minute heroics aren’t usually preceded by the proper build. In a wrestling match, there is a build and flow that allows for the final few moments to be exciting regardless of whether or not the outcome is in doubt. Sunday’s game was essentially over by the start of the fourth quarter. Were it a wrestling match, it would have been structured in such a way that either the Colts would have had to make a last minute score to overcome a deficit, or they would have had to hold off one last minute score from the Bears to preserve a lead. The game would have ended on a play that could lead to either a Colts or Bears score, depending on the dramatic need of the situation. But of course in reality the final quarter was essentially just a waiting game for the clock to expire while the Bears desperately tried to come back from a huge deficit when everybody knew they couldn’t. There was no drama, even though the storyline was crying out for it.
All of which brings me to a little half-hour show which has popped up on MTV called “Wrestling Society X”. It is the latest attempt by someone not named Vince McMahon to cash in on the pro wrestling scene. (I can’t really call it a “craze” or “phenomenon” since its both been around for eons and currently in one of its frequent “down periods”.) Being a product of the minds at MTV, WSX is doing what it can to be different. Edgy if you will. They’re using musical acts to cross-promote the show. They’re filming it in a grungy, back-alley setting. Rather than using a traditional ring announcer in a tux, they’ve got a young guy in ripped jeans screaming his head off. Everything about the show is over-the-top and in-your-face. It’s a fairly radical approach to an old formula and for that reason alone I’m interested in seeing it stick around for awhile. As I said before, new ideas in wrestling are rare, so I’m all for them getting a fair shake, even if they don’t appeal to my non-20-year-old attention span.
However there *is* one aspect of WSX that I have to take issue with, and it’s a damn big one. That would be the matches themselves. Yes, wrestling has always been marketed towards teenage boys, so the fact that the MTV-influenced WSX is going “extreme” is not the least bit surprising. Explosions, weapons, dangerous dives, these are all staples of the genre these days. While I tend to be more of a purist who strays away from what is commonly referred to as “garbage wrestling”, I can at least see the appeal. It’s not the wrestling style that bothers me. I can follow the dramatic story of a guy getting launched onto an exploding board of flaming thumbtacks, even if I think it’s ridiculous. Having watched the two premiere editions of WSX though, I can’t tell you what the dramatic story is of any of their matches. Whatever arc existed when they were taped has been removed by the monkeys in editing. Instead, in place of a match, we have been treated to what amounts to a clip show of stunts with no build in between.
Even the greatest Hollywood action epic takes time in between the car chases to develop story. A car chase isn’t really a “chase” unless we know what’s at stake. It’s the consequences of being caught or getting away that give the chase it’s appeal. In WSX, there are simply cars driving at full speed into other cars.
In last night’s episode I saw some skinny dude named Human Tornado do one of the most beautiful topé’s I’ve ever seen. He cleared not only the top rope, but also the ringside barrier, before landing on the poor shmuck who was his opponent. It was awesome. And it meant absolutely nothing. There was no build to it, and there was no consequence from it. Within seconds the two combatants were back in the ring as if nothing happened, in part because the match was edited that way and in part because the two guys wrestling don’t know jack shit about wrestling a match. They know wrestling moves, but they don’t know how to build a match.
If you watch as much wrestling as I do, and if you follow the sport as closely as I do, you’ll invariably read about some old-timer going off in an interview about how “these guys today don’t know how to work”. It’s usually followed up by an annoying rant about “paying dues” and some prehistoric Code of Respect, as if merely having survived in the business gives them the right to be judgmental dickheads who get to say who is “in” or who is “out” of their little boys club, regardless of ability. The rants are beyond retarded, but there is a great deal of truth to the “these guys today don’t know how to work” line. And WSX is a shining example of it.
It’s strange, American pro wrestling in 2007 is in a very bizarre place. While it’s not difficult to find high quality product (Ring of Honor, to be precise), wrestling as a whole is in a “down phase” in large part because the main two companies – WWE and TNA – are producing such God-awful products. WWE is filling up five hours of weekly television (over three “brands”) with a very boring style of wrestling while writing storylines that are, at best, juvenile. Meanwhile, TNA is constantly shooting itself in the foot by building the company around it’s least interesting performers, or at the very least, completely misusing the talent they have in roles they aren’t right for. The market is RIPE for a new company to come in and show the big two how it’s done. With a major network (and it’s money) behind it, WSX has all the potential in the world to be that company. But sadly, I don’t think they will be. Because while they are most definitely “different”, they are missing out on the one fundamental aspect that pro wrestling must have in order to be watchable: