Rasslin’

Some thoughts inspired by the rise and fall of Professional Wrestling, via this comment at Z Man’s.

As [smart] fans [who were in on the con, thanks to the then-new Internet] grew in number and expressed their knowledge by bringing signs to shows that referenced backstage events, the creative minds at WCW decided to give great consideration to smart marks when booking their shows. Fooling the marks became a priority. What resulted was a steady stream of swerves and plot twists that defied simple logic. Unfortunately, they greatly overestimated the number of smart fans and they wound up turning off a massive amount of casual fans. In the space of two years they went from a multi-million dollar profit to a multi-million dollar loss and then quickly went out of business.

Now, you could write what I know about rasslin’ on recipe card and still have room for the recipe, so take all this with a grain of salt. But there seems to be a political, and organizational, lesson here for those who want to find it.

When I say “everyone has always known, on some level, that pro wrestling is fake,” I want y’all to bear in mind that I grew up in the South. I know from rednecks. Rasslin’ might have its fans in the Northern states, but it’s a redneck thing through and through. And trust me: Nobody, I mean nobody, thinks “The Undertaker” is really a ” macabre entity who…held links to the supernatural.” Though they’d never be caught dead at anything so faggy as the theater, they know full well that’s what rasslin’ is: Theater, performance art.

Which leaves the brain trust behind pro wrestling with a very tough job. The commenter’s point is, the people who make the loudest noises quite often aren’t the biggest fans. For instance, “Sports Guy” Bill Simmons used to write about Wrestlemania all the time (google “‘bill simmons’ wrestlemania”). Simmons was one of the first and best of the “new new media” people; he was doing the “sperg out and whine and over-share like a jilted 16 year old girl” Twitter thing years before Twitter was a gleam in the CIA’s eye. He had, and has, a huge audience. Yuuuge. I guarantee you the Powers That Be in pro wrestling read his column.

Simmons knows it’s fake. His readers all know it’s fake. They openly declare, all the time, that they love it because it’s fake. Like everyone who went to college in the Clinton Years*, they caught a morbid case of Postmodernism. And that’s Postmodernism’s genius: It relieves you of the aesthetic burdens of your social class. College-educated people shouldn’t enjoy wrestling, or rap music, or chop-socky movies, or what have you. Before Postmodernism, you had to either admit to “guilty pleasures” — you’d buy your Sugar Hill Gang tapes the way your seedy uncle bought Playboy, wrapped in a brown paper bag — or you had to go to grad school for many years to become a PhD level “cultural critic.” Postmodernism, though, lets you enjoy redneck ghetto shit ironically. Hence, Simmons and his six million social media followers spooging over rasslin’, or Eminem, or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or pretty much everything else that only existed in the late 1990s – early 2000s because middle-class, middle-aged White people willed it into existence.

The question then becomes: Who actually buys this shit, as opposed to squee-ing over it online?

Again, I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that pretty much all entertainment these days works like the music biz. Nobody buys music anymore. Certainly nobody buys albums anymore. It’s almost a mirror image of the 1970s. Back then, artists went on tour to support their albums, because album sales made most of their money. These days, artists drop an “album” as an excuse to go tour… if they even bother touring (the bigger acts, your Taylor Swifts and whatnot, do Vegas “residencies” like old-time lounge singers). The money is in the show.

Did Simmons ever attend a Wrestlemania event in person? Did his fans?

I strongly doubt it, because see above: Middle-class people shouldn’t enjoy these things, and they know it. One can enjoy them “ironically” in one’s own home (pay-per-view, in Wrestlemania’s case), or among a select group of friends, or as part of one’s online persona. But actually going to the show would involve rubbing elbows with the kind of people who don’t enjoy the show ironically. Bubba from Meth Acres Trailer Park doesn’t really believe The Undertaker is some kind of demonic revenant… but he nonetheless takes The Undertaker’s stage persona very seriously indeed.

[If it helps, think of some Bill Simmons type attending, say, Hamilton on Broadway, making snarky comments the whole time. “Oh yeah, that guy could totally kick Aaron Burr’s ass. Right. He’s 5’2″ in platforms. Eye roll. And I’m sure he’d totally bust out in song right there.” He wouldn’t dare, though it’s all but certain that nobody in the crowd has ever even seen a fistfight. Think he’s going to do it at a WCW show, where lots of the crowd have started fistfights?]

As the original commenter said, the WWF (at the time) badly misjudged their core audience, then, by paying attention to the guys with the biggest microphone. The tiny fraction of so-called “smart marks” (in the original poster’s terminology) would’ve kept watching regardless. They were perfectly willing to be “marks,” so long as — indeed, because — it allowed them to be “smart.” The few who actually attended the shows would’ve kept themselves in check… or the not-so-“smart” marks would’ve done it for them. Instead, the rasslin’ brain trust decided to pander to the “smart marks” and pissed off the not-so-“smart” ones, the ones for whom “wrestling fan” wasn’t an ironic pose, but a deadly serious identity.

Postmodernism, then, has a very steep price. Irony, late 20th century-style, is parasitic on a stable identity. You can only enjoy rasslin’, rap music, chop socky pictures, whatever, ironically if you know deep down you’re not supposed to. By the turn of the century, Postmodern irony had been pushed as far as it would go. The Matrix (1999) had to go all-in on pseudo-philosophy; it only worked because enough people back then had heard of Descartes’ demon, in one form or another, to recognize it. What if we’re all, like, just a brain in a jar, dude? Nudge nudge wink wink. And oh, I know kung fu.

Further examples: Look at all the remakes — not reboots — of Schwarzenegger films since the turn of the century. They have to lard on all kinds of extraneous bullshit to disguise the fact that they’re recycled Arnold movies. There have been upteen Predator movies, for instance… that all focus on the alien (but it’s the humans — specifically, Arnold — who’s the real predator. Dude. Mind….blown). I can’t be the only one who noticed that Liam Neeson’s Taken franchise is just Commando with a different accent.. can I? Or that the Bourne Identity films look an awful lot like Total Recall, minus Mars and the three boobs? Then look at all the actual attempted reboots: Conan the BarbarianTotal Recall itself. And the whatever-you-call-thems that are both remakes and reboots of Schwarzenegger movies, where Schwarzenegger is still in them but isn’t the star: the latest Terminator movies, for instance, not to mention also-rans like The Expendables franchise.

The reason you can’t make an “Arnold movie” without Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man, in a starring role isn’t because he’s such an indispensable thespian. It’s because Schwarzenegger doesn’t have an ironic bone in his body. Even when he’s doing comedy (and I think we can all admit, now that he’s in his 70s and effectively long retired, that he could be quite funny), he’s deadly serious. No matter how ludicrous the situation, he’s always 100% in it. No scriptwriter in the 1980s ever felt it necessary to explain how this enormous Austrian bodybuilder ended up being a colonel in the US Special Forces, or a small-town sheriff in Bumfuck, Idaho, or a New York cop, or a CIA agent, or whatever else.** He just went with it, and because he did, we did.

In other words, buying a ticket to a Schwarzenegger flick was — like attending a rasslin’ show — an agreement to step outside of ourselves for two hours. We know The Undertaker isn’t a vampire (or whatever), just like we know there’s no possible sequence of events that ever could’ve happened in the real world that would end with an Austrian bodybuilder as a mattress salesman in Minneapolis. So why bother trying to “explain” it? We all agreed, when we bought the ticket, to put “the real world” aside and enter another. In this world, the spectacle’s world, there are vampires who can body slam and bodybuilders who save the world from Satan.

Those are the givens. It doesn’t matter how ludicrous they are, so long as you don’t break your own rules.

Note that the rules can be broken from either side, the spectacle’s or the audience’s. Movies these days are most often guilty of the former, while rasslin’ bankrupted itself doing the latter. The last Star Wars movie I saw, for instance, was the first one with Girl Luke. It broke its own in-universe rules by having Girl Luke do everything Luke did, minus the training and effort and self doubt. She was just instantly awesome at everything, because grrrl power, and now that franchise is in the process of bankrupting (oh God, let it be so, and soon!) the entire Disney empire. Rasslin’ first tried to fool the “smart marks,” then went the nudge-nudge wink-wink route — both fatal to the suspension of disbelief for the majority of fans, who were still operating under the old contract.

Under the old contract, “wrestling fan,” like “Star Wars fan” or “Schwarzenegger movie fan” or what have you was a temporary identity. You went to the spectacle to put your real self aside for a few hours. You buy the ticket, and cease being Joe Schmoe the mechanic or the plumber or the customer service rep or the shmuck who still lives at home because he just can’t catch a break. Instead you’re transported to a galaxy far, far away, where bodybuilders are time-traveling robots and men in spandex come back from the dead to body slam their rivals.

For that kind of person, breaking the fourth wall, as the lit-crit types call it, is a slap in the face. Ha ha, fuck you, you loser! You don’t get to enjoy a few hours in a galaxy far, far away from your normal life, because we’ll be constantly reminding you that all of this is fake fake fake fake fake! You can watch the body slams and light saber fights, but every time you’re just starting to get into it and forgetting yourself, we’re gonna pop back up with an in-your-face aside! You’re a loser, and the very fact that you’re here watching this proves you’re a waste of oxygen! Take that!

In other words, loser is the fixed identity on which Postmodern entertainment is parasitic. This is just aces for the dorks-with-big-microphones who write the Tweets, since nudge-nudge wink-winking each other about what losers those other fans are is what keeps them, the Postmodern ironists, from feeling like losers themselves. But see above, with wrestling. Or Star Wars, or now sportsball, or pretty much anything else. The Postmodern ironists don’t buy tickets. They don’t go to the show in person, because they know that bringing their Postmodern ironic act into the theater would likely end with them getting their asses kicked.

Because they themselves are losers who live on Twitter, the Powers That Be have been convinced by the Postmodern irony crowd that the entertainments they’re ruining will continue to exist — indeed, will be better — by pandering exclusively to the Postmodern Irony crowd. Everything’s overtly fake and getting worse. NBA goons are wearing “social justice” shit on the backs of their jerseys. The Houston Astros won a World Series by stealing their opponents’ signs, and nothing happened to them — and, more tellingly, nothing happened to the other clubs also credibly accused of stealing signs (but the Astros went to batting practice in “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts, so all is forgiven). College football is going to conference-only play, if indeed they end up playing in the fall at all, so whatever cachet the various “bowl games” had is now gone — they’ll simply anoint whichever teams have the biggest tv revenue streams the “conference champs” and have them play. The NFL, of course, is a cesspit. How many times have the Patriots been caught stealing signs now?

At this point, I truly would not be surprised if someone goes full Kim Jong Un for Colin Kaepernick whenever some team finally signs him — whenever he’s on the field, the defense will simply shuffle their feet in place while he scores at will, because social justice. Might as well. Any illusion that this is about anything so prole as “fair competition” went the way of the dodo long ago.

One could go very far, very far indeed, by simply bringing back sincerity.

 


*1988-2001, for benefit of newer readers

** It’s telling that the Terminator series actually did, at one point, attempt a retcon in which they “explained” how their supposed-to-pass-for-human infiltration cyborg ended up as a gigantic bodybuilder with a ludicrous German accent. It’s a deleted scene in Rise of the Machines (I think), and the significance, for our purposes, is that they decided to cut it. T3 isn’t a very good entry in a series that has been absolutely shameless about twisting itself into pretzels, but even back then they realized that “explaining” stuff would do more harm than good. See also: All the Terminator movies after that one, where they try to explain every damn thing and lose their audience.

 

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15 thoughts on “Rasslin’

  1. cheekibreeki2020

    I think Americans have a deep seated need for fire and brimstone religion. All the great religious revivals had angry preachers railing about fallen people and original sin. Unfortunately, modern religion has taken on a do as you will, everything is permissible tone. Basically cancelling itself.

    So to fill the void in America’s collective soul, they are conjuring up our current leftist theocracy. In this the fourth wall can never be broken, and nothing must ever be explained or allowed to make sense. That suspension of disbelief is a cornerstone of the movement, and none of the marks should worry about how any of it is supposed to work out in the real world. Just have faith.

  2. Pickle Rick

    It’s just like anything. Over time, organizations, and nations, like people, age. It slowly degenerates over time into a shadow, or parody of itself. 80s wrestling was full of outsize personalities (seriously, Randy “Macho Man” Savage should have had a second career in Hollywood) but the lightning in a bottle can’t be replicated forever. The culture and the moment has to be right. Much like pro wrestling, 80s metal was full of masculinity and swagger, but eventually became a parody of itself, leading to hubris and downfall. Axl Rose gets knocked off by a degenerate, effeminate junkie named Kurt Cobain (who killed himself my sophomore year in college). Guess who stood the test of time in my ears? GnR, not Nirvana.

    My Marine Corps, which used to have men like Chesty Puller, Dan Daly, Carlos Hathcock, now has no room for manly swagger and we get Mattis, trying to fill the shoes of giants…

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8C4lK41SX-Q

    1. cheekibreeki2020

      Yeah. 80’s badassery was just assumed, never explained. Arnold’s last movie of the era was ironically Last Action Hero. GnR and Motley Crue faded away about the same time. Marquee movie heroes and stadium filling rock bands never really returned. Everything degenerated into taking selfies at some fake cultural touchstone nowadays and its not the same. The lament of the X’er.

    2. Publius

      See, I always saw GnR as paving the way for grunge. Appetite for Destruction was s ‘87, and by then, the hair metal look was already tired. Axl May have worn skinny leathers, but he skipped the whole lipstick/Nee York Dolls look. GnR was more like the Stooges.

      And they drank from the same punk aesthetic as Nirvana, but a little less devotedly. But that whole Spaghetti Incident album gave the game away.

      1. Pickle Rick

        Well, yeah, Duff was definitely the punk influence in the band. But I saw GnR in 88, (and again in 92, with Metallica and Faith No More) when they opened for Aerosmith and blew them off the stage. I’ve never seen raw power in a band like that ever again. I saw Nirvana in 93, and they were an awful live band. Kurt mumbled and played shitty guitar, probably because he was high. Dave Grohl was the only legitimate musician in the band. Alice in Chains, however, could play. And they played metal. Maybe grungy metal. I still listen to AiC, but most Nirvana songs grate on my ears now. Still dig Pearl Jam too, because they had talent.

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft2Oyw17-6E

        But the point is, metal was swagger, testosterone and even joyful at times. It could soar. They acted like rock stars. Cobain was the proto-SJW, determined to make music as miserable as he was, and be dammed sure everyone knew it. Can you imagine a 53 year old Cobain in today’s world?

        1. Publius

          I don’t discount a single thing you say, because I never went to enough concerts. I just remember being 14 and catching “smells like teen spirit” and seeing everything I was sick of lit on fire and stomped on. Nirvana wouldn’t have aged well, any more than the Sex Pistols would have. But they were a nice gateway to the underground.

  3. Publius

    AFAIC, anyone who payed money for a terminator movie after T2 was a sucker. Fucking up the timeline was an absolute inevitablity.

    I wish I’d given Star Wars the Hard Pass I gave the T franchise. I’d have saved myself a lot of aggravation.

  4. Maus

    I’ll be the first to confess that I don’t know shit about popular culture, be it movies, music or wrestling. But I do know that irony is poison to the imagination. How can any kid saturated in postmodernist irony possibly imagine a better future? The very concept of “better” has been rendered invalid. If you dive into the abyss of nihilism, eventually suicide seems like a relief. At least Kurt Cobain was a man, like Hemmingway, and used a shotgun. Most of the broken kids today choose the silent scream of opiates. I used to appreciate sports for the atheletic prowess displayed; but the modern spectacle, whether by commercialized professionals or even Olympians, is something divorced from ability and repackaged to support advertising or propaganda. It has become unwatchable.
    For me, books were the means of escaping the shitiness of everyday reality. I think movies from an earlier era provided that for the less literate sort. Cultivating the life of the mind in either case no longer seems vogue. No, it’s about time folks wake up and realize the bread and circuses phase is ending; either the unending toil of serfdom or the swift, efficient genocide awaits.

  5. WOPR

    This would explain why everything in entertainment is meaningless spectacle, gore, and depravity. It is amazing how many writers and producers have nuked their own series. And it isn’t like they create a new coherent story. It is simply random thoughts thrown up against the wall because “Why does it matter? It is a show about people in onesies flying in space.” It is not art or a craft for them. It is a paycheck and social signalling to their fellows.

  6. Southern Belle

    I used to think that rasslin’ was for sissies until my sister dated a rassler in high school. After learning that it was an ancient form of combat, I had a new respect for it. Then Ric Flair came along and that went out the window. But since it’s Southern and my culture and identity is under attack, I’ve stopped rolling my eyes and think it’s great. Well, okay I roll them in private.

  7. texinole

    Sincerity is lacking everywhere, and I think young people are – consciously or otherwise – desperately yearning for it and latching on to wokeness as at least SOMETHING they can take seriously. As a result they go overboard since they live the life of vapid hollywood flakes online but without the money and affirmation, therefore live a largely meaningless life. We are all humbled by the achievements of our forefathers (if only secretly or subconsciously) and irony is a cheap way to boost your self esteem once you realize you don’t hold a candle to people popularly considered backwards and ignorant.

    I’ve long contended that the only way forward for human progress is an ideology or culture or what have you that emphasizes personal accountability and reciprocity. We had a pretty good framework for such with Western Christianity and the attendant secular checks and balance but the baby and the bath water got thrown out long ago.

    RE Star Wars…Disney is still making money but nearly every product has been either a loss or a Pyrrhic victory. The “Future Is Female” CEO of Lucasfilm will be yet another air-headed religious fanatic who tanked the long term health of a glorious property. We shouldn’t be surprised, in retrospect, that DISNEY made a fan-experience like those flight-simulator based rides you see at theme parks rather than films, but my god if even by those standards it’s been a disaster. I mean, the biggest media company in the solar system is of course going to make soulless money grabs but the short-term thinking and transparent corporate vampirism with the property became apparent to even the geekiest apologist by the last film.

    What I keep realizing is just how few competent people are actually out there. We inherited this incredible machine and have fuck all clue how to operate it.

    1. WOPR

      Disney is part owner in A&E which just cancelled Live PD. The result was the loss of half of their viewership. They seem intent on blowing up the company.

    2. Publius

      Star Wars’ dirty secret is that it’s never been a property taken seriously by its creators. Kathleen Kennedy isn’t some interloper; she’s Lucas’ handpicked successor, whose name shows up in the credits for The Land Before Time right underneath George’s. The new flicks would be more or less the same if Disney has nothing to do with them.

      How anyone watches the Prequels, watches the Sequels, and concludes that what the Sequels needed was more George Lucas is a mystery beyond my Ken. Yet such people exist.

      The best move would simply be to abandon the whole wretched enterprise. Fandom is a hole, and it doesn’t stop being a hole no matter how long you dig.

      1. Severian Post author

        Which speaks exactly to my point. “Fandom” is going to buy tickets regardless. I knew one of those guys who went to see The Phantom Menace when it first came out. He said, with real pain on his face, that it kinda sucked. The next weekend I called him up to see if he wanted to go do something. He said he couldn’t… he was going to see The Phantom Menace again with a bunch of his nerd buddies. You could film two hours of George Lucas doing his laundry, and those dudes would watch it six times in the theater, plus buy three kinds of “special edition” DVDs, and all the action figures (with bonus hampers!!).

        Similarly, the shrieking SJWs aren’t going to buy tickets no matter what. All the fat, purple haired lesbians (I know, I know, BIRM at least 2x) who squeeeeeed over The Adventures of Girl Luke never actually SAW The Adventures of Girl Luke. For them, the whole point was getting their thunder thighs moist hooting at, and then blocking, “misogynists” on Twitter who said the movie kinda sucked.

        So: who, exactly, was The Adventures of Girl Luke actually FOR? I dunno. Which is fine, I don’t own stock in Disney, but they didn’t know either… which you’d think is a big problem. What could’ve made a bazillion dollars as silly escapist popcorn fluff ended up possibly destroying the company, because they listened to bozos whose opinions couldn’t possibly matter to the bottom line. They didn’t pay attention to the identities.

  8. MBlanc46

    When I was in jr high-early high school (a couple of years either side of 1960) my friends and I were great fans of pro wrestling on television. A pro wrestler lived on our road (it was a road, not a street). My mother had gone to school with him and my younger sister went to school with his son, who, I think, also became a pro wrestler. Although there were certainly adults who were paying the freight, pro wrestling always seemed to me to be aimed at early adolescent males. When I ceased to be one of those, I lost interest in it. As far as I could tell, it disappeared. I’m not sure how much institutional continuity there is between what I saw c. 1960 and what you’re discussing here. I wouldn’t be interested in it now, but it’s a reasonable morality play for the young and the young in mind.

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