Does NWA Powerrr even exist?
The debut of NWA Powerrr launched with a great deal of fanfare, seemingly positioning itself as an oasis of wrestling TV that could exist outside of the Wednesday Night Wars. It started strong, half a million people watched the first episode, but those numbers have gradually dwindled into a less impressive, but still respectable 180,000 per week. The show is visible enough to allow discourse and debate, but niche enough to be positioned as a palate cleanser in the inevitable minutiae of contemporary wrestling TV criticism.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Not really. NWA Powerrr is an idea constructed to feed a certain corner of the wrestling world and is perhaps the most blatant Baudrillardian simulation there is.
On many levels, the entire concept of wrestling dances with Baudrillard’s ideas of the postmodern. Baudrillard told us that the world is a convergence of signs. Things, our possessions and objects, don’t exist to serve the function for which they were designed. They exist as a sign for an idea. For example, does your boss drink expensive whiskey because he enjoys the taste, or because that whiskey is a sign that brings a multitude of other values with it? By owning and drinking expensive whiskey, he is telling the world that he is successful. He is refined. He’s a cut above.
Soon, the sign overtakes the inherent value of the object and the object itself becomes meaningless. Only the sign has value. The objects become hyperreal.
The concept of hyperreality is inherent in professional wrestling, to the point that it’s almost irrelevant. A pulled punch is a sign for a punch. The bells, belts and officials are all borrowed signs from competitive sports, brought together to create a self-conscious hyperreality that is unique to wrestling. We know it’s fake and we are cognizant of the signs and simulations. Not only does it not matter, but it’s also what we seek out.
Expect the NWA is “still real to me, dammit.”
NWA Powerrr, and the return of TV studio wrestling, uses signs and simulations as its value. It’s not about the star ratings, cutting edge ring work or telling marvelous stories. It’s a jigsaw of signs that have more value than the actual wrestling show. (As an aside, I should point out that I enjoy the show and would not suggest that high star ratings, cutting edge work and telling marvelous stories is beyond the NWA. It’s just not the primary purpose).
The problem that the NWA has, is that these signs that it smashes together don’t have the same value that they used to have. The reason people value these signs has gone so far beyond their inherent, literal value, that they have imploded. They are meaningless.
I feel I need to offer some concrete examples. The way the show is presented has been meticulously constructed to use as many signs from the old NWA as possible. This might seem obvious – the ring apron has the old fashioned fonts and the logo is firmly retro kitsch – but it goes much deeper and into much more subtle areas. The cameras being used aren’t the high tech, handheld technology we have become accustomed to seeing. They’re old fashioned, weighty monstrosities that look like they need a HGV licence to operate safely. David Marquez’s thick-rimmed spectacles and humongous microphone are subtle yet clear nods to a wrestling past. The modular synthesizers that populate the transitions hark back to the halcyon days of electronic music being exciting. The most important ingredient in the show – the cast of wrestlers – is populated with the likes of Trevor Murdoch (that sign needs little explanation) and The Dawsons. They are so atypical of territorial wrestlers, they could be computer-generated. And, of course, the main theme tune is Dokken.
I may just be pointing out the obvious here. Of course, they are using the signs of the kind of show they want to emulate. Maybe there’s nothing to say about it. Using Baudrillard as a lens, I would disagree. Those cameras aren’t being used because they do the job better than the norm. The grainy filters over the transitions aren’t there to improve the presentation. They are there for their value as symbols and therefore their relative merit as objects has no meaning.
But what are they symbols for? Surely, it’s the idea that wrestling used to be good. That it’s still real to me, dammit. These signs have become mythical over the years, with the territories, for many, being an example of wrestling as morally and socially just. Men were men. The business came first. Everybody thought it was real.
Of course, none of that is true in a literal sense. People have always known wrestling is fake and wrestling has always been plagued with toxicity, but the territory era of studio wrestling has become a bizarre, rose-tinted era of believability and ambrosia. In other words, it doesn’t exist anymore. The sign has more worth than the object.
The most powerful and valuable sign that NWA uses is Jim Cornette. Cornette is an excellent wrestling commentator and he, undoubtedly, has inherent value to a wrestling show. However, we are so deep in the hyperreal at this point that his inherent value means nothing. It’s his value as a sign that matters. Cornette has positioned himself at the forefront of the idea that wrestling is bad now and it used to be good. He is Lady Justice, the chief arbiter in the trial of who killed wrestling and his investigation has become more important than the wrestling itself. His followers snitch tag GIFs that don’t meet his long lost but ever loved idea of what professional wrestling must be, and positions professional wrestling as something that can be done correctly and, therefore, can be done absolutely incorrectly. Wrestlers worldwide run the risk of discovering, through the likes of Cornette, that their finishing move is wrong. Incorrect. Not wrestling.
Having that distinctive, recognizable voice at the forefront of the show is absolutely key to revealing its intentions, and simultaneously it’s hyperreality. It’s not a wrestling show, it’s a sign that real wrestling is back. Unfortunately, a wrestling show is tangible, whereas the concept of “real wrestling being back” is distinctly abstract.
To reduce the show to a mix of signs and to wail about its hyperreality is perhaps a little unfair, because there’s a lot of excellent things about the show. For example, the everyman Tim Storm’s slow decline has been heart-wrenching yet appointment viewing.
There are also hints that NWA is fully committed to the hyperreality of what they’ve created. Eddie Kingston is revelatory, but also jarring. While his promos are visceral and engaging, the Tupac shirt he wears, if understood as another sign, seems to bring a different set of values when compared to everything around him. Tim Storm might be the character of the ‘everyman’ but it’s Eddie Kingston who occupies this role outside of kayfabe. He looks like the real world, not the hyperreality we are swimming in. By juxtaposing Kingston and Homicide against the Dawsons, it makes the signs a little clearer.
The simulation starts to lose its rigor and it all becomes hyperreal to me, dammit.