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Solie's Tuesday Morning Report: EXTRA!

Friday Morning Edition

Pro-Wrestling and Its Fans: Part 1

by Alex Kreit


Volume 3, Issue 327 - June 18, 1998
News from Bob Ryder:

AUSTIN/KANE FIRST BLOOD

The King of the Ring main event between Steve Austin and Kane will be a First Blood match.

The stipulation will be announced next Monday on RAW.


Here is a letter from Ervin Griffin

Hello readers!!!

Just want to announce that I have two new stories up in my web site!!! The first one is in my "Fan's Writings" page and it features Hulk Hogan VS. Bill Goldberg!!! The second is one of my stories and it also features Hulk Hogan!! This time, he goes against Shawn Michaels for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in a falls count anywhere bout!!!

To check them out, go to http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Labyrinth/5647


Professional Wrestling and its Fans

This is the first of a five part series in which Alex Kreit explores the history of pro-wrestling and its relationship with its fans. It was originally written as a paper for his "Sports and Society" class at Amherst College and represents a scholarly examination of our favorite Sports Entertainment. It is presented here complete with footnotes which are accessed by clicking on the number links scattered throughout the text. Return links are provided in the footnotes section to take you back to where you left off in the narrative.

by Alex Kreit

Part 1: A Phenomenon Examined

When the owner of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) "disclosed that their terrifying towers in spandex tights [were] really no more dangerous to one another than Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy,"(1) it made the front page of the New York Times. Two years earlier, when a crowd of 93,000 came out to see WWF's Wrestlemania III, setting a new attendance record for an indoor event, it was not covered in the Times. Did anyone really have any misconceptions that wrestling was real prior to the WWF's admission to the New Jersey Senate in 1989?

Professional wrestling matches have been fixed since the 1910's and 20's and the fact has been reported many times before, only never in such an official manner. Although the media have reported that wrestling matched are fixed since the 1930's, the opportunity to confirm the news that "millions of grown men and women just don't want to know"(2) was one that the Times could not pass up.

While the news might not have been shocking to most Americans, it did seem to present a "new" question that had been addressed before only by a handful of intellectuals and an unknown number of fans: If not a sport, then what exactly is professional wrestling?

Unfortunately, many did not think to answer the "new" question, seeing the article as an answer to an old one and the ultimate reason to dismiss a multi-million dollar, world-wide phenomenon. The question of whether professional wrestling is real has hindered serious discussion of the "sport" subject since its beginning. It seems as though many thought that every fan must be a fool; if they knew it were fake then why would they watch it? However, this attitude is preposterous because few, if any, adults actually do believe that there is a man named The Undertaker who has risen from the dead and decided to appear each Monday night on cable television.

Does Titan Sports, the parent company of the WWF, intend for anyone over the age of ten to believe that he is witnessing pure competition? The response of Ricky Giri, owner of a prominent professional-wrestling oriented web site and long-time fan, is typical of many who follow wrestling today. "People constantly talk bad about wrestling because it's 'fake.' When did wrestling ever claim to be real? It's really annoying when wrestlers go on talk shows and are asked if it is fake. Do people ask Jerry Seinfeld if 'Seinfeld' is fake on a consistent basis? It's entertainment, just like any other television program."(3)

Certainly, "if we think of wrestling as fake, we're judging it for something that it's not trying to be."(4)

In fact, much of what is interesting about professional wrestling lies in the fact that, in the context of sport, it is fake. "We can easily see why wrestling makes an interesting subject: everybody knows or at least suspects it's not on the level. At the same time, however, not only does it have a core of die-hard fans who watch it week after week but it manages to exercise a mystique over those who doubt it."(5)

The French intellectual Roland Barthes was one of the first to explore wrestling as more than just a fake sport, in print, with his essay "The World of Wrestling." His conclusion is one that is shared by many of today's fans and, at least to some degree, by subsequent authors. "Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of Suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque."(6)

While Barthes' essay was groundbreaking it was focused on semiotics and, consequently, failed to address one of the aspects of professional wrestling that makes it most peculiar. It would not be difficult to read Barthes' analysis and view wrestling as no different from many other forms of drama.

It is true that the essence of wrestling is the morality play, but it can not be removed from sports entirely. The biggest difference between wrestling and other televised scripted drama is that there are not many people who would think to call their favorite television character by their screen name when meeting them in person. In wrestling, however, "if you shake hands with Ric Flair, you're shaking hands with the Ric Flair that's going to be in the ring...the actors and characters are the same."(7)

This could be because many fans don't know most wrestlers' real names but there is more to it than that, most wrestlers and others in the business keep up their act in public. "All participants, including fans, present others with at least a bit of "kayfabe," a term which is taken from nineteenth-century carnival, medicine show, and sideshow practice and simply refers to a con or deception... A kayfabian, then, is a con artist; most wrestlers are proud to be called kayfabians because it means they're in on the (con) game."(8)

Furthermore, kayfabians walk a thin line between calling wrestling "fake" and calling it "real."

For instance, a wrestler might say that "...it bothers me to this day when people ask me the question: 'Is professional wrestling real or fake?' I get upset with that question because of the use of the word fake. To me, fake gives the impression that the job of a wrestler is easy. Believe me, it's far from easy. Wrestling is a sport and it's theater as well."(9)

However, when asked if matches are predetermined, people in the business will usually say, "If you don't know I am not going to tell you."(10)

Wrestlers do not keep "kayfabe" to fool the ignorant. In part, they are giving a silly answer to a silly question; the question has been answered and the only reasons one would ask it again is to mock wrestling or because he had a hard time understanding the first time.

More importantly, however, it adds to the drama and the mystery. Sure, fans know that wrestling is scripted but do they know who's in charge of developing the story lines? They know that the outcomes of matches are predetermined; but are they completely choreographed or is there room for some improvisation between the performers? Do the wrestlers do their own choreographing or does someone else do it? These questions add new levels of intrigue for many fans. "They don't so much suspend disbelief as they sustain it while looking for moments in which to believe. They look to see the fake and to see through the fake to the real. They scrutinize performances, examining each punch for its impact or non impact and matches for the logic of the exchanges as they evaluate story lines and angles offered on the basis of believability in relation to the real world.

The pleasure peculiar to wrestling is in the way it engages its audiences directly in its play, in affirming and challenging cultural norms and in believing and disbelieving in what it sees at the same time."(11)

In order to study a cultural phenomenon like professional wrestling, one must understand what it is. It is clearly unlike other activities that are in the category of sports; baseball and boxing, at least in theory, are pure contests. However, it would not take more than one Super Bowl to realize that modern sports are also, at least to some degree, theatrical events. Cheerleaders, pyrotechnics, announcers, and half-time shows are not essential to the contest; but they are staples in today's sporting events. (Even high school football teams have cheerleaders.) These elements are clearly meant only to add to the drama and, as a result, to the ratings and ticket sales.

Although theatrics are a part of both professional wrestling and many of today's legitimate sports, the dramatic element is much more important to wrestling. "...wrestling is an inversion of competitive sports. Most sports begin as games that the press and public then overlay with their own wish-fulfillment in order to turn the game into a melodrama. Wrestling begins with the situations and characters of melodrama and then, through its own devices, turns them into a game."(12)

This is probably the best definition of professional wrestling in relation to sports that one can give.

However, professional wrestling is more than just a fixed sport, "professional wrestling is an athletic performance practice that is constructed around the display of the male body and a tradition of cooperative rather than competitive exchanges between men... what is important is not winning or losing per se. Rather it is, literally, how the game is played... What [most studies] have in common is their presentation of wrestling underlying social and moral ethos as a model of lower-class expressions of the desire for a non ambiguous moral order where virtue may not always prevail, but it is easily recognizable and always worth cheering."(13)

Alex Kreit attends Hampshire College in Amherst, MA where he concentrates on Documentary Video and Film/Political Theory. He is from Oakland, CA and has been watching wrestling since 1989. He says of his reasons for writing a paper on this subject, "I have wanted to learn more about the history of pro-wrestling for some time and thought about writing a paper on it since the summer before I began college. Over the course of my first semester I became more serious about the idea and decided to take a class called "Sport and Society" at Amherst College. I chose to write about the economic class of fans because I am very interested in the way pro wrestling is portrayed in the mass media and felt that the two issues are closely linked".


Footnotes


Thunder Report

Thunder comes to us live from the Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA. Wolf Pack music starts up as the program is introduced. Lex Luger and Konnan head down to the ring. Luger takes the mic and says he has something to get off his chest. He rants about wrestlers who think they are "big stars" because they "wear the right clothes and carry a cell phone". He's speaking of Hollywood Hogan and the "suck-ups" that hang around him. He cautions Hogan not to forget that the fans made him a star. He then seems to hint about making a pitch toward recruiting Goldberg for the Wolf Pack. He tells Hogan that the real power lies with the Red & Black.

Tony is saying that there is a major announcement. He talks about what happened on the Tonight Show last night then announces the Tag Match that we have been hearing about for weeks featuring Hogan/Roddman vs. DDP/Carl Malone for Bash at the Beach on July 12th.

Tony then tells us that Randy Savage has a broken leg - supposedly it was Eric Bischoff who delivered the injuring blow while Savage was trapped in the cage Monday night with nWo Hogan. I guess that means Savage is finally going to get the surgery he has needed on his knee for months now. The only question is how long he will be on the shelf. The speculation has it anywhere from 2 to 9 months. Knowing Savage, I would bet on the former... Cut to commercial.

Mike Enos vs. Steve McMichael - Enos attacks as Mongo is still on the apron. McMichael's arm is heavily taped and Enos goes right to work on it. Mongo retreats to the floor which brings Enos out right behind him. Enos slams him into the rail, bodyslams him on the floor then smashes his arm against the steps. Back in the ring, Mongo explodes off of a three-point stance then goes for a Tombstone but Enos slips away and then brains him. Mongo goes down but can't be pinned yet. McMichael comes back and he is hitting Enos with the injured arm!! Moments later he gets his Tombstone and the pin. He gestures with four fingers and then borrows a pro-Horsemen sign from a fan at ringsdie before he leaves the ring. I heard today that Flair and WCW have settled their differences so look for the Horsemen to make a comeback soon... Cut to commercial.

Raven and the Flock head for the ring. Saturn is not with them. Raven rants about putting Saturn out of the Flock - referring to him as a "cancer". He orders Reese to win the United States Title tonight (think again, giant boy...) then send him away. He continues his rant against Saturn - declaring that Saturn betrayed him and the Flock and broke his (Raven's) heart. Saturn comes stalking out to declare his freedom then starts to leave but is waylaid by the Flock. Kanyon runs in and the two of them clear the ring. After the melee ends, Saturn and Kanyon face off then Saturn splits. Cut to commercial.

Brad Armstrong vs. Fit Finley - the former TV Champ comes on with his usual aggressive attack after a rather slow start working off a side headlock. Armstrong recovers with a powerslam and a belly-to-back suplex but Finley comes right back only to get caught in an arm bar. He moves to the ropes to escapes then turns to the crowd in order to break Armstrong's momentum. Turning back quickly he gets the drop on his opponent then applies a reverse chinlock. He releases the hold and drops an elbow then re-applies the chinlock. Another release and he slams his opponent with authority, steps on his chest then bombs him from the second rope. He starts to the top but Armstrong catches him there and drops him on his back. Finley comes right back in a flash and applies a kick to the head then gets the Tombstone and the pin. The second match is a row to end that way. Cut to commercial.

Disco Inferno vs. The Giant (w/Vincent) - Disco struts right up to the broadcast table to announce that he is "the new Icon" then heads to the ring. The Giant lights up on his way the the ring - Heenan calls him "Smoky the Giant". Disco has the temerity to challenge the Giant's smoking in the ring before the match then attacks with no affect whatsoever. The Giant has to stoop to clothesline him out of his boots, lets him get up then kicks him in the mush. Chokeslam city. Vincent hands back the cigarette so the Giant can puff away as he takes the pin with one boot on Disco's chest. Cut to commercial.

Tony is at the foot of the ramp as we return and calls Dean Malenko down for an interview. Malenko rants about Chris Jericho saying that "the belt doesn't make the wrestler - the wrestler makes the belt..." He vows to get the Cruiserweight title off of Jericho - he seems to be saying that he might even help someone else get it.

Chono/Tenzan vs. Jim Neidhart/British Bulldog - IWGP Tag Team Title match - the New Japan World Tag Champs are putting up their titles in this one. They immediately dump Neidhart and try to isolate the Bulldog but he slips from their grasp causing Tenzan to plant a boot in Chono's face. There is a moment of melee then Neidhart is in against Chono. Chono does his dirty work then tags in Tenzon and they are keeping Neidhart under control in their half of the ring. Neidhart finally gets a scoop slam on Tenzon to escape and tag in Davey Boy. The Bulldog fights off both guys for a while then gets the runnign powerslam on Tenzon. Chono breaks that up with one of the Title belts causing the disqualification. Cut to commercial.

Tony calls Rick Rude out for an interview. Rude tells us that Curt Hennig is training with former Olympic (and professional) wrestler, Brad Reingans for his coming match against Goldberg. The crowd starts chanting "Goldberg!" as he continues his rant. Rude reminds us, rather ominously, that he will be in Hennig's corner for the match.

Alex Wright vs. Konnan - this could be a pretty good match, although Wright's win-loss record hasn't been to impressive since his return to WCW. The youngster attacks his opponent before the bell and then pauses to pose on the turnbuckle. He still manages to get a knee drop in and seems to have control of things. He plants Konnan then stops to pose again before throwing himself from the apron over the top rope and... right onto Konnan's upraised knees. Konnan has it going his way when Rick Rude reappears and distracts him so that Wright can blindside him. Wright is in charge again for the next few exchanges then Konnan rolls him back from the corner and turns the tables. A clothesline drops Wright then Konnan rolls him up again and gets the pin. Cut to commercial.

Scenes from the June 8th Nitro broadcast - featuring Dennis Roddman and Hogan. We will see video of today's Bash at the Beach press conference on Monday night. Cut to commercial.

Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit - this should be an excellent match. Benoit bulls his opponent into the corner and goes right to work on him. Guerrero is reeling within a minute. But then he reverses the field with a corner whip and and dropkick to the back of the head. Eddie is in control until Benoit bounces back from a whip with a clothesline. Eddie comes right back and grabs a leg vice. Benoit escapes and gets two German suplexes then goes for his top rope swan dive headbutt...and tastes canvas. Guerrero tries for the frog splash but misses as well. Benoit struggles for position then drops his opponent into the Crippler Crossface to get the submission victory. Chavo comes out to berate Eddie for losing the match - he goes into an extended rant likening his uncle to a dog that runs across the street and gets hit by a truck... Guerrero is despondent over his current standing in the family and leaves the ring in disgust as Chavo continues to "encourage" him. Cut to commercial.

Public Enemy vs. Riggs/Sickboy - Philadelphia Street Fight - Lodi provides the distraction so that the Flock members can get the drop on their opponents. Of course this match is the PE's specialty so they are back in it almost immediately. I won't even try to call this one. Suffice to say that everything from trash cans, to toilet seats to a wheel barrow are employed by both sides. On the outside, in one highlight, Riggs gets stuffed head first into the wheelbarrow and wheeled into the opposite railing. Meanwhile, in the ring Rocco smothers Sick Boy with a toilet plunger! Riggs takes a spill outside and hits the rail with his head. On the opposite side of the ring, Sick Boy gets the Drive By put on him through a double stack of tables then dragged back in and pinned. Cut to commercial.

Goldberg vs. Reese - US Title match - I suppose they will try to extend this squash in defference to Reese's size but the ultimate outcome is pre-ordained. Reese is in the ring already as we return and doesn't even get an introduction. Goldberg manhandles the Giant into the corner then gets reversed. Goldberg backs up and gets brained with a Atop sign by Horace - no affect! Reese slips in and manages to get a standing vertical suplex on his opponent...who pops right to his feet and then spears the big guy! The Jackhammer tells the tale and we are out of here...

At least that's the way I see it...

Earl Oliver
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter


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