What really grinds my gears? Episode 6 - Suspension of Disbelief
by, 11-22-2012 at 05:05 PM (5504 Views)
grinds.jpgWhen I talk about the suspension of disbelief, I don't mean that everyone should become stupid and naive to the point they think wrestling is real... I mean that wrestling should go back to it's roots, and keep the strict rules in place, so the fans can suspend their disbelief easier, and thus, get into the show more and enjoy it.
"So I'm sat there with my beer... watching the wrestling in my local bar... and some dude comes up to me and says... 'You know wrestling is fake right?'. I turn my head to look at this guy in the face... and I think to myself... Does he think I am incredibly stupid, or is it just him who is incredibly stupid?
So I tell him 'Yes, of course I do, it's just something to watch ya know?' He looks at me with a confused look, like he can't understand why I would want to watch fake fighting... but I don't blame him really, he's not a wrestling kinda guy, he sees it as childish and silly.
He turns away and walks off, and I go back to my beer. I become annoyed, as I see lots of examples of what he was talking about during the show. I see little guys beating big guys, I see trash can lids that look like they couldn't hurt a fly... I see wrestlers breaking the fourth wall and reminding us just how fake and bad wrestling has become.
I finish my beer, and I think... why am I watching this, I can't get into this, it's just not believable anymore... not that it was ever completely believable... but it doesn't make me want to suspend my disbelief so I can enjoy it. I finish my beer, and walk out of the bar, not really caring how the show ended. If they ain't willing to make the effort to suspend my disbelief, then why should I go that extra mile? Wrestling used to be about keeping in character, keeping kayfabe at all costs, having blood in cage matches to emphasize the brutality...
That is what really grinds my gears... It's not real to me anymore."
Episode 6 - Suspension of Disbelief
Back in the old days, of greats like Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz, the wrestling business was all about keeping kayfabe. The audience was different, it was mostly adults, and if you ever watched World of Sport in the UK, the audience was mostly elderly men and women. They would get into Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy, and think these guys were really hurting each other. The shocked faces, the reactions of those elderly women as they destroyed each other, they didn't know any different, to them it was a fight, and it was very real.
The World of Sport, where greats like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki fought every Saturday night.
So what happened to the suspension of disbelief? Well it comes down to two men that I have already done blogs on, Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon. They purposely broke the rules of wrestling that had been laid down for decades. Hulk Hogan had an over the top, super patriotic character who no-sold moves like Superman on steroids. He changed the business to be about entertainment, and it was like nothing anyone had ever seen in wrestling. True it brought in a ton of exposure and money to the wrestling business, but Pro Wrestling truly lost it's innocence, the rules of kayfabe and how to put on a match changed drastically.
Characters like The Undertaker pushed this even further. How can anyone believe that someone who is dead, has come from beyond the grave to destroy everyone in their path? It was obvious that it was all a gimmick, and although the gimmick was and still is huge, we can't ever suspend our disbelief enough to think Mark Calloway is actually dead.
This brings me to the next era of wrestling.
How the Attitude era killed the rules.
In the old days, you only ever saw the Heavyweight wrestlers in the main events. You didn't see wrestlers hanging around together, you didn't know anything about them. There was no internet, no way of finding out every detail about a wrestler unless they came out and told everyone. Privacy was essential, but this died in the attitude era. With the creation of the Internet, mobile phones and cameras being more accessible, wrestlers became celebrities who couldn't even take a crap without someone knowing about it. This brought a lot of stories to light, it brought the real tensions between performers to the surface, and eventually they needed to be addressed.
The Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels rivalry was the beginning of this. The reason why the screw job was so big, was because it was real. It was disgusting, it was everything that wrestling should not be, and people hated the decision so much that fans continued to boo Shawn for a long time after. In the old days, those kinds of issues would have been sorted out backstage with no reports to the public, not in the middle of a Main Event PPV match.
Yes Bret.. they broke kayfabe at the expense of yourself and everyone else.
What also died in the Attitude era was the weight restriction. Kevin Nash recently told everyone that he felt wrestling died soon as Benoit and Guerrero became World Champions. There was outrage from the fans over his comments. Even I was upset with his comments, because Eddie and Chris were two of the best athletes the business had ever seen.
But then I thought about it. If you had say... Andre the Giant in the street, and someone like Rey Mysterio picked a fight with him... Andre would have crushed Rey in his huge hands every single time.
It is the same in boxing, the biggest title has always been the Heavyweight title, and it would usually be a mis-match to have a World Heavyweight Champion against a Bantamweight.
Sheer size and power has always dominated any fighting sport. So to see guys like Benoit, Eddie, Rey, and all of those smaller wrestlers holding onto a World Heavyweight Championship, it didn't help the suspension of disbelief. Of course we were happy to see these hard workers get what they deserved, even if that meant losing some of the believability.
The thing is though, wrestling had already seen smaller guys like Ric Flair and Sting holding onto World titles. It wasn't highlighted as much though. Guys like Flair and Sting got those titles for changing the business and having some of the best feuds and matches of all time, while also being very charismatic and professional.
Heavyweight wrestlers still took most of the spotlight, and even today, with a guy like Ryback, you could put a World title on him and it would just look right. Think about it like this... Who would you rather fight in an actual real fight... CM Punk, Ryback, or Brock Lesnar? The majority of people would think they would have the best chance against CM Punk, simply because hes not built like a tank. The intimidation factor plays a big part in the suspension of disbelief.
Vince Russo philosophy
In my last blog I touched on the subject of Russo. He didn't care about traditional wrestling values, and he helped to create some of the most popular storylines and gimmicks in wrestling. Wait a minute though, did any of his material feel "real"?
I mean, could you believe that The Undertaker and Kane were actually brothers? What about Vince McMahon suddenly being able to go toe-to-toe with a very experienced, and bad-ass wrestler like Steve Austin? It's things like this that make non-wrestling fans bring up the classic line.. "You know wrestling is fake right?".
Russo took this way too far though, by encouraging shoot promos. Although these promos gave short term shock value, it took away from the product, and no one really wanted to know the backstage politics and just how bad it was, they just wanted to see some good wrestling.
CM Punk does the same thing. He constantly references things that ain't part of a storyline, he uses insider terms that casual fans may not be aware of. Of course nowadays, the majority of fans know all this stuff, and if they don't, they can easily find out off the internet. His worked shoot promo was great because of the timing, and just how relevant his points were. His delivery was flawless, and although it was technically planned out beforehand, everyone totally agreed with him.
The bad thing about that promo though, is the fact that he was highlighting all the frustrations with the current product... and when you have one of your best wrestlers doing a promo on how much the product sucks, people are going to agree and tune out when the product doesn't improve.
Wrestling matches - Why do they look so fake?
It is down to the nature of the evolution of wrestling. It used to be about mat wrestling, and forcing your opponents body into a pinning predicament. Nowadays its all about "cool" looking moves, that wouldn't hurt anyone really, and it takes some teamwork to pull them off.
Punching - There are many different ways that wrestlers fake punch, usually its teamwork between the two wrestlers. Some wrestlers punch for real though, like Terry Funk. Punches used to be banned, but referees just seem to let it go with no punishment.
Irish Whip - If you was in a fight.. and someone tried to Irish Whip you.. you wouldn't just keep running in that same direction til you hit something and bounced off? The Irish whip is a silly move that looks fake 99% of the time.
Eye poking - So you''re in the fight of your life.. and instead of punching them square in the nose, you poke them in the eye? And its not even in the eye, its immediately above the eyes.
Headbutts - Anytime you see a headbutt, the one giving it will actually headbutt their own thumb that's on the mans head.
Piledriver - The move that can destroy careers. When done right, the head won't even hit the floor, when its done wrong, expect to get a whole lot of heat backstage for crippling your opponent. And yea, wrestlers actually kick out of this move? They must be invincible.
Choke Slam - The wrestler getting choke slammed always pushes themselves up to get enough height. Otherwise it's not going to happen. Its the same for Power Bombs.
The Worm, The Five Knuckle Shuffle, The People's Elbow - Self Explanatory.
RKO - While the move looks great, you don't really think that the RKO actually hurts? I mean all you're doing is running into an arm, jumping up into the air, and landing chest first onto the mat. A punch to the head would have hurt more.
One big problem with wrestling, is the over the top characters.
While some characters are ridiculous, and far from real, people love them, while other characters are difficult to relate too from a realistic viewpoint.
On one hand, you have the Hulk Hogans and the John Cenas, the supermen who are super patriotic, super charitable, sell more merchandise then anyone, while also not selling wrestlers moves. It is hard for the average person to relate to them, because they just don't act or look like the average person.
Now think of Stone Cold Steve Austin. One of the biggest reasons why he was so popular, was because he was extremely relatable to the audience. They could see themselves in him, they could feel his frustrations and his anger, and they could get behind him.
That's what Bruno Sammartino was like too, people could easily get behind him because he was a great guy, and a great champion, who didn't need to be anything but himself. If wrestling had less over the top gimmicks/persona's, instead of making those wrestlers act and look more natural, the audience might be able to relate to them more.
I'm not saying that every wrestler should be boring, and wearing jeans, while drinking a beer and having a smoke. I just feel like there's too many over the top gimmicks and persona's, compared to those wrestlers who you can really relate too.
Pinfalls and Submissions
Pinfalls have become so fake over the years, mostly because of the trend where wrestlers decide to hook the leg, instead of pin the shoulders.
You watch a Ryback match, and watch as he hooks the legs, and totally ignore the shoulders. Its not just Ryback, tons of wrestlers do it nowadays.
In order for a wrestler to win a match, the SHOULDERS need to be down for three seconds. So why do wrestlers totally ignore this part of the body when they go for a pin? Is it supposed to look better? To me, if I was in a proper amateur style wrestling match, seeing my opponent not pin my shoulders, it would be a godsend.. I would be thinking, does this guy even want to win this match???
It's the same for submissions. They can be poorly executed a lot of the time. John Cena doesn't even hook his arms around the chin of his opponent to yank back the head, and cause even more hurt to the back... he just kind of... places his arms there and it doesn't even look like it would be difficult for his opponent to escape.
Not just that, but when, for example.. someone does a Boston crab, or a sharpshooter, the opponent just stays there and screams in pain, instead of trying to wriggle out of it. I am sure that anyone who was hurting that badly, could find a way out of that, all they need to do is struggle and get the guy off balance.
Soon as the guy is off balance you can just struggle a bit more and hope they fall over. Instead they go through the routine of struggling to get to the ropes... only for them to be pulled back in again.
Selling moves has always been important, but nowadays it seems to have become a forgotten rule. There are a lot of wrestlers who don't sell like they should, and this makes each other look weak. The offense needs to make us feel like... WOW, that must have hurt! Those moves that make you think... Are they injured? I hope they are Ok.
Dolph Ziggler is exceptional for this.. sometimes he does over-sell which is also bad, as you want moves to look realistic. Flying across a ring and half-way up the ramp because someone punched you isn't good selling. There is a line to it, and Ziggler keeps that line pretty well.
William Regal did it too recently, maybe he was slightly over-selling when Kane was punching him in the gut, but if you was getting punched by a big red monster, wouldn't you be screaming in agony as well?
Regal, making his opponent look like gold every time.
A lot of wrestlers don't do enough to make the offense look offensive, but when you get matches where everything is working, and the offense is as good as the selling, you get a really good competitive match with plenty of close pin-falls. This leads to long periods where both wrestlers are down on the mat, and you're more likely to get into that, then a squash match.
Blood also plays a huge part. You would expect someone to bleed if they got thrown into a wall of a steel cage, during a brutal feud with an ultimate nemesis, but nowadays, specially in the WWE, those kind of matches feel useless now. There's no real reason to put two wrestlers in a match like that, if they ain't willing to go that extra mile to suspend our disbelief and take the feud to the next level.
Conclusion - What can be done?
Wrestling needs to evolve. The actual in ring action has followed the same formula for a long time, and the only way to make wrestling seem more real again, is to evolve the in ring aspects and make things look more real.
Wrestling needs to become more like amateur wrestling, with more emphasis on those wrestlers fighting for real. This would kill off fancy moves that used to take a lot of teamwork, but the sacrifice would do a lot of good.
Could you imagine if Ryback and Brock Lesnar got in the ring and had a UFC style fight in the middle of the ring for the World title? They could try and make it look as real as possible, people would really get into it.
In no way, do I want wrestling to become real to the point that wrestlers actually punch each other in the face, because that would just create tons of injuries, but I do think steps could be done to move away from silly, fake moves that are only there as a trademark for a wrestler. They don't add anything extra to the match.. I mean.. how many times can you watch the Five Knuckle shuffle and not cringe at just how weak and pathetic it looks?
What about hardcore matches, where someone is hit with one of those flimsy trash can lids? I could smack any of my friends with one of those all day long and they would just laugh at me.
It's not just about the wrestling either, it's about incorporating the storylines, and keeping them away from real life situations. Cutting segments on someones Bells Palsy, or promos on someones heart attack may bring some negative shock value for a short time, but its not going to really help anything, or push any kind of storyline.
I feel like this won't happen for decades though. Wrestling will continue to be this cartoon-like, over the top facade that people will enjoy for the entertainment value, but it won't be taken seriously by anyone who doesn't fully get it.
When it comes down to it, the "Sport" of wrestling died a very long time ago. The evolution of it has turned it into a money machine, and people gladly pay to watch the product no matter how silly and fake it gets.
And that is what I do too. I watch wrestling for the athletic ability, and if a gimmick or a storyline can make a match mean more, then fair enough, but I will always appreciate a great five star match between two unknown wrestlers, over a main event Wrestlemania match that didn't live up to the hype.
And so.. that is what really grinds my gears. I want my suspension of disbelief back. I want to REALLY get into a match, I want to REALLY get into a feud between two wrestlers, and even though I know its all fake, I REALLY want to get lost in those moments, because that is what wrestling is really about, and I hope all the wrestling fans out there never forget that... no matter how silly it gets.