Monday, January 28, 2002

Expounding on a recent poll comment I made

Yes, dang it - I am a wrestling fan. In it's own way, that's even geekier than being a sci-fi watcher (I'm 35 - for me, Trek ended with Classic, and I haven't seen a sci-fi film that was truly worthwhile since Buckaroo Banzai). I grew up watching Ric Flair, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Andre the Giant, and Chief Jay Strongbow. Jesse Ventura. George (The Animal) Steele. I remember Rocky Johnson before his son out-famoused him (Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock). Wrestling was different back then. You had clear-cut villains, heroic babyfaces, no complex storylines beyond the personal feuds that each story was told by, and champions who held the belts for years.

I watched it on the New York independent stations (WWOR and WPIX) back when I was a kid, and I watched it some during high school. When I left for college in the mid-1980's, though, pro wrestling was one of the things I left behind me. I missed the "rock and wrestling" days, I only saw Captain Lou Albano when he cavorted with Cyndi Lauper on MTV (did she suck last year at the Boston Pops July 4th concert or what?), and I missed most of the whole Hulkamania phenomenon. I was also MIA (busy with trying to establish a career and with a relatively young marriage) when Ted Turner bought a promotion and transformed it into the WCW, then going out and buying all the WWF's biggest names away from them. I was on the sidelines when the "sport" started changing from the competition. I missed the debut of Stone Cold, "Attitude", and the rise of "tweeners" like Triple H.

In late 1999, I happened to channel-surf to Channel 38 (the local UPN affiliate) one Thursday night. Never could stand "Friends". By chance, this was just a few months after "SmackDown!" began airing on the network. I watched it, and it was fascinating. This wasn't the wrestling I remembered. The moves were a lot faster, the ringside pyro was brighter and louder, the soap-opera plots had gotten more histrionic, and battles were spilling out into the audience. The plot twist I tuned in for that first day was the "marriage" of the owner's daughter (Stephanie McMahon) to the aforementioned Triple H ("Hunter Hearst Helmsley", in real life a gym manager from Nashua named Paul Levesque), the biggest heel in the Federation. I kept watching through the relevation the next month that the marriage wasn't a trick by Hunter - it was actually an evil plot by Stephanie to wrest control of the WWF away from her dad, revealed when she turned on him at the pay-per-view that month. Okay, it was hokey trash, but I was hooked again.

Since then, I've seen the rise of new stars (Kurt Angle, a real 1996 Olympic gold medalist, is particularly amazing to watch), the return of old ones (Flair is back! Whooo!), storylines that have been fascinating, storylines that sucked (the whole WCW invasion), characters go from heel to face and back again at a dizzying clip, and I've even gone to their live show (a SmackDown! taping in Boston last July). My wife has become a fan. It turns out that some of my friends (all technology professionals of some sort or another) were closet wrestling fans, too - one even collects them on his Tivo so he doesn't have to miss a show.

Why do I, a upper-middle-class professional person in his mid 30's with a wife and a (soon to be) family watch this mindless trash? For exactly that reason. It's escapist fun, nothing that happens on the show means anything in real life, and the performers are out there pulling off amazing stunts and violent activities that would leave you and I in traction, but they are skilled enough performers to make it look far worse than the harm they actually do one another. I can turn off my brain, watch the show, and not worry about the logic behind any of it. In the world we live in today, it's especially nice to be able to have a world like this that I can spend a little time in - a place where the good guys eventually win, the bad guys generally get their comeuppance, and nobody gets hurt for real.

And what fault can one find with that?

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