Wrestling With The Forum and Identity Part 1
Heading into the historical Iron Man Match between Bayley and Sasha, both women posted papers they wrote in school about being successful in WWE.
An old English essay from high school. In one week I will have a 30 minute Iron Man match. Dreams come true. #WWENXT pic.twitter.com/XT7hjnSoA6
— Bayley (@itsBayleyWWE) September 30, 2015
.@itsBayleyWWE please excuse my terrible 11yr old spelling! I always wanted to make history!#TakeoverRespect pic.twitter.com/5tP6xeDfZX — WWE Sasha Banks (@SashaBanksWWE) October 1, 2015
This motivated me to look through some of my old college papers that I wrote about wrestling. One of the papers I wrote was for my Television Criticism Class called Wrestling With the Forum and Identity. I feel like a lot of the points I made in this paper can be applied to what’s going on now in wrestling. Keep in mind that I wrote this paper five years ago. The paper was long so I decided to split it into two posts. Here is the first part and be on the lookout for the second part tomorrow.
Wrestling With The Forum and Identity
Attitude Adjustment, Styles Clash, Gutwrench powerbomb, and God’s Last Gift are names of some of the top finishing maneuvers that you will see in professional wrestling today. But there is more to professional wrestling than awe-inspiring and risk-taking maneuvers. Professional wrestling is a form of sporting theater, which contains strong elements of mock combat and catch wrestling. There are several professional wrestling companies in the world, but all seem to follow a particular formula when it comes to constructing entertainment. Parts of that formula are wrestling personas and gimmicks that all represent a certain identity. I believe that professional wrestling is structured as a battle of good versus evil. Furthermore, there seems to be a misrepresentation of identities such as race, gender, and ethnicity when it comes to certain wrestlers and their personas and gimmicks.
In this paper, I will be arguing how professional wrestling constructs entertainment through the battle of good versus evil and how it fits into the cultural forum of television. I will be examining the top three televised American professional wrestling companies, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Total Non Stop Action Wrestling (TNA), and Ring of Honor Wrestling (ROH). I will also be arguing how identities such as race, gender, and ethnicity have been misrepresented by examining several different characters and gimmicks featured in professional wrestling. These issues are important because it shows how television tries to reach an audience by relating to our culture by using its medium as a forum.
The Good, The Bad, And The Cultural Forum
In Horace Newcomb and Paul M. Hirsch’s article, Television as a Cultural Forum, they propose that there is a bridge between a concern for television as a communication medium, central to contemporary society, and television as an aesthetic object, the expressive medium that, through its storytelling functions, unites and examines a culture. Newcomb and Hirsch are suggesting that what we view on television has complex issues that relate to the complex issues that we experience in our culture. The cultural forum takes an in-depth look at how television shows are constructed. It proposes that each show’s content and rhetoric that needs to be understood. Each show may use the same situations or storylines, but the meaning of the situation or storyline will vary with each show. Every producer strives to make sure their meaning is different by writing for a particular genre, expressing certain political, moral, and ethical views.
The issue at stake here is how professional wrestling reaches its audience through the cultural forum. Professional wrestling follows Newcomb and Hirsch’s model of the cultural forum as it tries to construct entertainment and reaches its audience. The cultural forum is used to show a struggle between good and evil, right and wrong. It uses the struggle to emotionally hook viewers. In professional wrestling, a rivalry occurs between a good guy also known as a babyface or face for short, and a bad guy also known as a heel. Matches and television segments such as Pre and post match interviews, backstage skits, positions of authority, division rankings, contracts, and news stories on their websites are used to tell a story between a face and a heel. Also, commentators have become important storytelling devices. Commonly, a heel will hold the upper hand over a face until a final showdown, heightening dramatic tension, as the face’s fans desire to see him win.
A great example that demonstrates the battle between good and evil was the recent rivalry that involved the “Heart Break Kid” Shawn Michaels and the Chairman of WWE Vince McMahon. In this rivalry, Shawn Michaels was the face and Vince McMahon was the heel. The story began on the December 26th edition of WWE Monday Night Raw when McMahon and Michaels had a confrontation ending with McMahon threatening to end Michaels’ career. During the following couple of weeks on Raw, McMahon continued his attack on Michaels by forcing Michaels into a match where if he were to lose, he would also lose his spot in the annual Royal Rumble match. Michaels won the match and kept his spot in the Rumble but after the match, Vince met Shawn backstage then stated that lady luck was on his side and that his luck would run out at the Royal Rumble.
During the Royal Rumble match, Vince distracted Michaels allowing his son, Shane McMahon, who was not an official entrant in the match, to eliminate Michaels after attacking him from behind. One month later, Shane hit Michaels with a steel chair and forced him to “kiss” Vince’s ass, thus joining Vince’s “Kiss My Ass Club.” Vince then announced that he and Michaels would have a match at WrestleMania. Vince continued his assault when he forced Michaels to take a public drug test all due to Michaels being deceived and drugged by Vince’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon. Later that night, Michaels was forced into a five on one handicap Steel Cage match. Michaels lost after Shane interfered and slammed the cage door on Michaels. After the match, Shane continued attacking Michaels, causing him to bleed in the process and executed a corner-to-corner missile dropkick. Vince announced that his match against Michaels at WrestleMania would now be a No Holds Barred match. Their story ended when Michaels defeated McMahon at Wrestlemania avenging the humiliation and abuse he took over several months.
This rivalry took fans on an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. This feud followed my proposed formula of professional wrestling perfectly. At the beginning of the feud Michaels is introduced as our face and McMahon as our heel. Throughout the rivalry, McMahon held the upper hand by abusing his power and publicly humiliated Michaels. Through every altercation, the fans felt Michaels pain and desired for him to defeat McMahon at Wrestlemania. The story ends as McMahon is defeated, Michaels gets his revenge and the fans go home happy.
As a professional wrestling fan for eighteen years, I have caught on to the formula of good versus evil. In Global Underground Wrestling, an underground wrestling promotion that I ran, wrote stories, and wrestled for. I followed this same formula that professional wrestling uses to construct entertainment. All of the rivalries in GUW emphasized on the battle between good and evil. During my experience in GUW, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several professional wrestlers and have been trained by a few of them. One of the most important things that develop a match are the roles of the face and the heel. A face’s job is to get sympathy from the crowd and have them support him. And a heel’s job is to help the face get sympathy and support from the crowd by beating the face down and letting the crowd know their hero is not going to win. The professional wrestling industry has discovered that our culture enjoys the battle between good and evil and have used it as their main focus of constructing entertainment.
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