Tuesday, May 6, 2014

prove me wrong

Everybody's writing about pro wrestling. Nobody's doing it well.

Everything's TV now. At one time, this seemed to represent progress: we simpleton wanderers through sports had only the crude tools of rooting with which to appreciate and understand what we saw. We each were bequeathed teams to pull for--usually in some father-to-son transaction--so the story ran--and we watched them and became happy when they won, sad when they lost. For the bookish or studious or strivers there were records to memorize and brandish, a style of history comprising great men and counted things and very little else. We continued on in this fashion, we now understand, with each man his team, with their wins and looses, and an undisturbed shared sense of great plays, as when a Shot was heard 'round the World, and worthy Achievements, whether Wilt going for 100 or Maris for 61 or whichever other wonder of our blissfully unasterixed antiquity. And then one day a man did eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad Art. The truth is complicated but the metonym is simple: Bill Simmons noticed that sports were on TV, which made them TV shows, and he decided a fun way to make a nice living would be to write about TV as though it were a sport and sports as though they were TV.

This added to our understanding. Please do not allow me to avoid or underplay this point. Adding a semi-robusticated system of aesthetic angles to our WIN:LOSS::YAY:BOO rooting system for assessing sports was, for serious consumers, actually transformative, from fans to connoisseurs. Wins and losses, piles of achievement, history and greatness all had a new accompaniment, the murky metrics and swampy subjectivities of taste. (It's probably a bad idea to imagine this as a Cartesian plane, with Yay/Boo on one axis and Good/Bad on the other.)

And it was good, for a couple of years.

The problem arose when a generalized lack obtained. The conversation can't just be "taste" manifested as an endless series of "well...I like it" statements. The first step past that stage is developing the capacity to distinguish "I like this" from "this is (therefore) good". It is not clear that anyone has yet taken this step with respect to television--"we're in a Golden Age", I hear a lot, apparently because torture sequences and breasts abound, not even in distinct scenes, and there's even swears!

The addition of taste, then, stopped being a success because it did not come with any discipline. Taste became a shield to avoid attack--"well...I like it"--rather than a tool for analysis (pace the Why We Watch initiative and its twin, Deadspin's NBA Shit List series) and eventually resulted in the self-indulgent wallowing we see everywhere today. I'm talking, now, about writing about pro wrestling.

Not here to debate the merits or analyze the complexity of pro wrestling itself, I will mention only that its basic structure is both reasonably simple and a good lens through which to examine politics. It's an enterprise which sells fake fights between characters embedded in stories. In the stories, the characters are usually recognizably "good" or "bad". In the commercial aspect, the characters can be popular and unpopular, and this is, of course, the most important thing (cf "commercial enterprise"). There is also a small subset of watchers which judges itself capable of assessing the quality of work it is being presented with, adding "good worker" to "good/bad guy in a story", "popular", etc. Most are still kind of reeling that "bad guy in a story" can be "popular", if you're looking for a quick and dirty idea of the overall quality of these assessments. That is, the rooting and aesthetics are here so hopelessly muddled that no two writers can reliably agree on just who exactly is doing good work: without the objective anchor point of wins and losses, and with popularity requiring actual research to determine, and also seeming somewhat unsavory as an index of quality (cf McDonald's), all the observers are at sea, unable to do more than recount what did happen vis-a-vis what they thought would happen--as if that could possibly be of any interest whatsoever--or what they wanted to happen--ditto, plus infinitely infantile: imagine imposing this review process on any other art form! "I really expected Cordelia to rise to the occasion--everything pointed to it--and it was really disappointing to see her unable to tell her dad how she felt."

The extant writing about wrestling is, then, a failure on every available level. It fails to be either reasonably objective or rigorously subjective. It makes use of no aesthetic judgments beyond "satisfying narrative"--which means, so far as I can tell, "outcome I found palatable after being entertained for some period of time". It appears to be wholly inextricable from nostalgia for the intellect and emotions of pre-adolescence. It exhibits a galling technical ignorance, given that the form is beyond obviously best interpreted as a form of dance, and tends toward the breathlessly conversational and typo-riddled. The extant writing about wrestling is lazy and unilluminative even on its own modest recap-and-rehash terms. It has as much place on a sports site as my uninformed ballet descriptions would, and it has as much place on a good-writing site as fan fiction does.

--Chris Collision, hater

No comments: