by Raywat Deonandan
July 11, 2002
This column is a regular feature on 411wrestling.com. It is reproduced here with the author's permission.
Okay, riddle me this: What does an Internet columnist do when he’s pressed for time? He breaks out the mail bag! That’s right folks, this is the first ever No Gimmick Required mailbag edition. Mind you, everyone who writes to me gets a personal response. But a few choice nuggets I stash away for more thought-out responses in this public forum. And while I’m a huge fan of Eric Szulczewski, I don’t believe in giving morons more publicity or validation than they deserve, so I usually choose to ignore abusive or idiotic letters.
In the future, if you would like your email exempt from public reproduction, please indicate so in the body of the letter.
If the WWF were to incorporate more theatrical elements in their storylines, much time would have to be invested in backstage skits and angles that would be needed to explain the reactions of the wrestlers. It means that what should be the center product, the sport of pro wrestling, would be secondary -Alex B.
Interesting point, Alex. But when I talk about the “athletic theatre of wrestling,” it’s not the acting or skits that I’m talking about, but rather the telling of a story by whatever means are at hand, most desirably athletic means.
My first exposure to the idea of “telling a story in the ring” was through a quote from Bret Hart, when he actually thanked Vince McMahon for all the stories they told together. Bret was rarely involved in backstage skits. His angles were projected through promos, confrontations and, most importantly, artistic athletic achievements in the ring. His double-turn with Steve Austin is a good example: superlative theatrical storytelling without uttering a single word or preparing a single script
Seriously, that WM 7 match [wherein the Macho Man took back Miss Elizabeth] might rank as high as #2 on my all time favorite match list. Not only is that match excellent but it deals with issues such as backstabbing, loss of livelihood, and then redemption. Most importantly, we really LIKE Macho and want to cheer him again when he reunites with Liz. The only similar thing today would be a HHH/Steph reunion but it won't work. The fans have never LIKED them, they have been heels for as long as they were together. -Cabbageboy316
Cabbageboy is my kind of wrestling fan. Like me, he’s turned on by redemptive storyline arcs. Gotta lose the name, though, Fella.
I’ve given some thought to a potential HHH/Steph reunion. I think it’s money in the bank IF the writers don’t “hotshot” it, there’s a credible thick storyline underpinning it, and Steph takes many many acting lessons. In my opinion, the only way this would be interesting and new is if the reunion is one of a babyface Stephanie rescuing a heel HHH from himself, i.e. preventing him from committing a truly foul deed. The two of them would then be a babyface couple, with HHH’s dark side simmering under the surface. Trip’s innate character complexity would provide much storyline fodder for the subsequent weeks and months.
However, I have no faith in the writers’ abilities to string out a sufficiently lengthy arc, nor in Steph’s ability to play a sympathetic and strong babyface role without trying to overpower the role’s necessary subtlety.
Absolutely brilliant column once again. The comparisons you drew with Star Wars made me think of Hogan in a whole new light. To me, WM18 was his duel on the new Death Star. He lost a hard fought battle to a young hero who was himself flirting with the Dark Side at times during the contest. When he tossed the nWo out of the ring, he was throwing his own personal "emperor" down the shaft. After that, Hogan has been exactly what Anakin was...a shadow. WM18 was his redemption, not only from that storyline, but for his entire career. Thinking of Hulk Hogan as the Anakin Skywalker of professional wrestling has allowed me to be at peace with the dual nature of his character...and his career. It allows me to smile when I think of him, rather than resent him for the damage he did when his power got to his head... -Masie A.
There were a few readers who commented excitedly on the Hogan arc, about how they could now see its mythical template. I included Masie’s because he called me “brilliant,” and that’s always worthy of a plug!
To be honest, I’ve always seen Hogan’s career as more Homeric than anything else. (Homer the Greek writer, not Homer Simpson.) Hogan is like Odyssyeus, a powerful king who has lost his way back home. He returns at the end of his voyage to find usurpers in his house, and must fight one last epic battle before he can rest.
Of course, knowing Hogan’s ego, he’ll be milking a waning crowd pop from his wheelchair for several decades to come, something Odyssyeus would never have done!
But I disagree on Buffy's season finale...weak-ass. As soon as I heard Giles "dying" words about how it would take something not supernatural or violent to defeat Willow, the words of Mickey Knox (yes, from Natural Born Killers) rang out in my head: "Love beats the demon". And true to form, Xander just loved her to death. A promising, and interesting stand-off was thwarted in such anti-climactic fashion, it ruined the entire two hours by not giving us the "breath after orgasm", but merely a sad coda, tying everything up in a nice neat package. -Jed S.
Yeah, but sometimes we’ve got to get what we expect. Personally, I was relieved that it was Xander who redeemed Willow. They had a lifetime of unrealized love, after all..... Oh, sorry, back to wrestling...
Articulate analysis from a motherf**king wrestling website. No bitching, no whining, no smarking out, just good serious, dead on perfect analysis. Well, looks like you won't last long online. -Eric
What? This column was mind-numbingly confusing. It's not the vocabulary, I had no problem with that. I just couldn't follow it. I have no idea what your opinion on charisma is, because you didn't follow any of your points. -Red Dawg
Yes, it’s true. Not my finest hour. I blame the concussion.
Dude, you are way to smart for friggin’ wrestling. Great piece: Really makes you think about the great storylines and feuds and what worked and what didn’t. With the lack of knowledge of wrestling history in today’s fans (I mean, these people didn’t even know about WCW or the NWO, not that Vince did anything with that huge video catalogue to tell us anything about it), would it work to just go back to great angles from the 1970’s and 80’s and simply re-cast them? Were most of the workers back then so scary-good that today’s guys can pull off the same basic elements? -Steven K.
Thanks, Steven. Like most “smart” fans, I’d love to see more video packages showing classic WCW matches (is that an oxymoron?), or at least something to provide more storyline background for those who might not know the legacies of Kevin Nash or Eddie Guerrero.
As far as the 70's and 80's workers being so good, I don’t think I can agree. Today’s workers train harder, are under greater scrutiny and greater pressure to be creative. If we were treated to most of the matches from those earlier decades today, we’d be bored silly. However, the best of yesterday’s wrestlers --Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat, Dynamite Kid— knew how to “tell a story in the ring.” And that’s an art that can be appreciated in any decade.
Thank you. I'm ashamed to tell most of my real friends about my love for wrestling. It's like how some of us mock Rollerjam, well, other people think that Roller Jam and the WWF should be mentioned in the same breath. With so much crap on television, crap that I do enjoy but crap nevertheless, I sometimes forget the classy parts of profesional wrestling. Thanks for reminding me. -Joshua Grut
Thank YOU, Joshua. Praise from one of the Internet writers I truly respect is a valuable thing.
I have a “Dr.” in front of my name, which sometimes gets me some undeserved respect. As often as I can, I dilute that respect by conspicuously piling upon my desk various wrestling books (“Pure Dynamite,” “Have A Nice Day,” “Foley Is Good,” “Under The Ring,” etc.) and challenging people to make assumptions about me based upon my entertainment tastes. It’s important for us to argue the redemptive and superlative qualities of this particular art to those who are more than willing to lump it with tractor pulls and turkey shoots.
Mind you, NWA:TNA is doing us no favours with their redneck-themed shows chock full of country singers and NASCAR drivers. That’s why, despite Eric S.’s dislike of the guy, we need The Rock to be the face of modern wrestling: handsome, articulate, educated, witty, demure and most definitely not a redneck.
I’ll finish off this column with a response to an excellent letter from “Humanmeal.” (Where do you guys get these names?) This reader took me to task for presenting the mythical archetype as the gold standard for storytelling, and rightly suggested that perhaps writers should look beyond the tried-and-true for something more original and interesting. In his words, “Tragedy is timeless, but both it and the audience do evolve over time.”
Here was my response:
It was certainly not my intent to present Star Wars as the perfect example of appropriate and timeless storytelling. I just happened to have seen it the day I wrote the column on redemption. But you bring up an interesting point: at what juncture do we do away with ancient archetypes? When has an audience evolved enough to appreciate different types of stories?
There is always an audience for new narratives. But history shows that there is always an immensely larger audience for standard motifs. That's why Hollywood schlock re hashes always sell more than inventive art films, marketing budgets notwithstanding.
The Greek tragedy lasted in its pure form for centuries. The morality play, its offspring, lasted in Europe for centuries more. Classical European drama (Shakespeare, Marlowe and Moliere, et al) followed the Greek model line for line. Asian standards (Japanese and Chinese operas, for example) are even more boiled down than Greek theatre. And Hindu epics follow the same thread, minus the fatal character flaw that so fascinates Western audiences.
My point here is that the overwhelming majority of human beings, since the beginning of written history, has responded to a handful of repeated dramatic motifs which continue to form the basis for most of our theatre and literature.
Does this mean there isn't room for more? Not at all. I am thrilled whenever I come across a new motif that is actually engaging. But since wrestling's appeal is based on its "common man" morality play rehashing, its best bet for maintaining its widespread applicability, while still appearing to be fresh and exciting, is to remember some of the basics of the archetypes it's trying to draw upon.
Yes, as you say, tragedy is timeless. Does it evolve over time? In a sense, sure; why not. But I do not think the audience evolves. The human emotional core has not changed in thousands of years. Wrestling themes appeal to that core.... to our hearts, not our head. In that sense, I think standard monomyth motifs are most applicable.
Until next time, I’m Ray Deonandan. Visit my website at www.deonandan.com ‘cause I need the hits!