I’ve been on one heck of a rollercoaster ride these past few weeks. Some great matches and compelling stories across the promotional spectrum have provided exciting highs. On the other hand, consistent negativity and heavy doses of smarkish cynicism posing as honest critique (mostly from the same familiar voices in the vocal minority) have made for some frustrating lows. A large portion of WWE’s fanbase clearly wants to be excited about the current product, yet that excitement is being restrained at every turn by so-called experts who make a living guilting people into forgoing their genuine feelings for a more jaded view of almost everything. It never ceases to amaze me how much energy some people waste finding new ways to be negative.
I refuse to play along.
I’ve chosen to write about particular topics recently for the express purpose of providing an alternative view from those who use repetitive, outdated and oversimplified language when appraising the worth of a pro wrestling story. Likewise, I’ve warned of the dangers of taking many of these flawed concepts as gospel; an effort to help the masses view pro wrestling in a more enjoyable and substantive manner.
As a sportswriter in Philadelphia I wrote about everything from high school soccer to professional football. As a war correspondent in the US Navy I learned how to maneuver around political sensitivities while still maintaining journalistic integrity. As a published author I’ve had the opportunity to explore fascinating aspects of American pop culture. In recent years I’ve shifted away from my work as a professional writer in order to peruse another passion, mechanical engineering. Now, I’m just another guy with a laptop and the motivation to provide groups of sentences for consumption on the internet. While I’m incredibly proud of each of my past endeavors I can honestly say none of them provided me the same satisfaction I get from writing weekly columns for Voices of Wrestling. I can say that because I love few things as much as I love pro wrestling.
With that in mind, even a self-assured non-cynic like me requires a gentle reminder every now and then. Lucky for me, my wife was in the right place at the right time – even if she didn’t realize it at the time.
It started innocently enough three weeks ago. My kids were in bed for the night, my wife had just come home from work and I was getting ready to sit down and watch Raw. Around this time every Monday is usually when the two of us part ways for the evening; me to the living room to consume my weekly dose of WWE shenanigans and her to the bedroom to catch up with pro wrestling’s little cousin: reality television of the housewives variety. But this particular night was different. Rather than our customary farewell my wife inexplicably sat down next to me in the living room. I was too busy feverishly writing in my notebook to take notice; rhetorical questions designed to help me critique the upcoming episode on one page, some ideas for future columns on another.
By the time Raw began I was already deep into the secondary reality created between a writer and his subject, so much so that I hadn’t realized I was being carefully observed the entire time. About halfway through the opening sequence my wife started laughing. After the initial shock of another human being’s presence in the room wore off I asked her what was so funny. Apparently it was me. “You freaking live for this, don’t you?” she asked in a loving manner while still laughing. I didn’t understand the question. She proceeded to mimic the expression on my face as I rapidly wrote and flipped from page to page in my notebook. Then she imitated my body language as the, Tonight is the Night theme concluded and Raw began. “Tonight really is the night,” she continued. “This is like the highlight of your week; you love it so damn much.”
We shared a laugh and went on to watch the first few segments together before the lure of the housewives from wherever finally pulled her away. Of course my love of pro wrestling is no real surprise to my wife. More than anything else it was just the kind of innocent teasing we regularly inflict on one other. Innocent as it was, the brief encounter stayed with me for the remainder of the night.
I really enjoyed Raw that night, start to finish I was a satisfied customer. Then I woke up and listened and read why Raw was not enjoyable and how nothing WWE produces convinces casual fans to stick around for a consistent period of time. Talk about a buzz kill. Naturally I rebelled, writing a piece critical of the importance placed on the viewing habits of casual fans.
The following week it was back to the normal routine, Raw in the living room and housewives in the bedroom. Three hours later I was a happy customer once again. The rare back-to-back satisfaction I haven’t felt in quite a while. The week after that was the same story. I can hardly remember a period of time within the last three years where I’ve enjoyed three consecutive episodes of Raw as much as I enjoyed these recent episodes.
That is not to say WWE’s current creative is running on all cylinders at the moment. The promotion’s flagship show is still littered with structural deficiencies and head-scratching booking decisions. The development of several characters (specifically as it pertains to core consistency) leaves much to be desired. Aesthetically the show feels stale. And then there’s the commentary; an ever-present disconnect between what my eyes see and what my ears hear.
A great deal of my love for pro wrestling is a derivative of my passion for storytelling and storytellers. In my 26 years as a pro wrestling enthusiast I’ve trained myself to view the medium through the same lenses I would use to view penetrating cinema or a Shakespearean performance. Lowering my standards during Raw or any other pro wrestling show would be intellectually dishonest. It’s just pro wrestling is not a sentence I will ever accept. Pro wrestling is not just pro wrestling any more than film is just film or theater is just theater. Pro wrestling is art; a beautiful marriage of athleticism, simulated physical combat and dramatic storytelling. When structured correctly pro wrestling stories have the ability to stimulate each of the senses and elicit powerful personal and emotional investments in a way few forms of live-action storytelling are capable of achieving.
I’ve leapt to my feet in unadulterated joy, chewed my fingernails to the bone in suspense, sunk deep into my chair in utter disgust and even shed a few tears – all while watching pro wrestling. That kind of powerful storytelling deserves the same kind of serious journalistic approach mainstream storytelling mediums are afforded; quite frankly the kind of approach mainstream consumers demand in a way a surprising majority of those in the pro wrestling community do not.
Successful pro wrestling stories start with a spark and culminate with a bang; monumental moments that look and feel monumental at the precise moment they occur. Dusty Rhodes defeating Ric Flair for the NWA title, Hulk Hogan slamming Andre ‘The Giant’, Steve Austin passing out in defiance around a pool of his own blood, the kind of moments that do not require the passage of time before a fresh perspective allows them to be viewed as significant. The episodic build of a compelling pro wrestling stories like these provide a rewarding sense of satisfaction when the time comes for the big finish. Rather than simply fading to black after its natural conclusion, the serial nature of the medium organically allows for every story to then change direction and transform into something else at a moment’s notice. All of these things are collectively responsible for pro wrestling’s inherent goodness.
But that is only half the story. So much of my affection for pro wrestling has been cultivated by elements responsible for pro wrestling’s inherent badness; outrageous scenarios, unbelievable characters and non-linear stories that bounce from one extreme to the other with no apparent rhyme or reason. Only an individual who has not been infected by restrictive cynicism can truly appreciate badness on that level.
If you’re waiting for the Goldust/R-Truth angle to produce a monumental moment you remember forever, well then there’s as much wrong with your expectations as there is with the angle itself. Taking the angle for what it is, a five-minute segment on a three-hour show designed to make you smile, the obvious flaws of the angle become inconsequential. Pick any bad character or story in pro wrestling history and you can likely find at least something of value hidden within the million reasons it fell flat.
I love that pro wrestling has created a world where Cheeseburger exists. I love that I refer to an inordinate object as Mitch the Plant without thinking twice because WWE told me it was ok to do so. I love that pro wrestling has created a world where Abdullah ‘The Butcher’ was placed on an electric chair, survived and no one thinks twice about it. I love that Rusev can be involved in a breathtakingly bad love triangle story for the better part of three months only to be presented as a menacing monster less than a year later. None of it makes any sense, and yet somehow it all creates such beautiful harmony if you just allow yourself to experience it. As bad as The New Day act was when they first debuted on Raw makes their brilliance of today all the more enjoyable. And let’s be honest, the difference between ‘bad’ New Day and ‘good’ New Day is relatively minute.
I love pro wrestling because it remains the only medium that successfully manipulates me into suspending my disbelief, even when I’m unhappy with the product. Changing the channel is not an option because for me there is no channel, but rather an alternate universe governed by laws outside of reality as I know it to exist– a proverbial rabbit hole I have at my disposal at all times. Appreciating the amazing power such an entity can possess makes it impossible to get too upset over a less than rewarding story, an undesirable outcome to a match or worst of all, a Roman Reigns title run…