It's Fake! Why Do You Watch It?
from the author:
Never have I sat down and written a paper on a topic I truly had a
passion for. In WRT 109 professor Dawnelle Jager handed out course
guide that told of the many assignments we would have during the semester.
There were three major writing assignments, and all of them were to
deal with a media moment that personally affected me. As my fellow
students started mentioning music, movies, and musicals, I immediately
The first paper highlighted a specific media moment in my past that
influenced me. I chose Wrestlemania VII, when the icon Hulk Hogan
wrestled Sgt. Slaughter after Slaughter turned on the U.S. and became
an Iraqi sympathizer. The following assignment - which is the paper
that follows - was a broader topic where I was instructed to analyze
a particular aspect of my choice of media. I looked no further than
the program I was about to view later that night, WWE Raw. After reviewing
the thesis with Professor Jager and making several key changes to
early drafts, I began my in-depth journey into Raw.
In retrospect, I can honestly say this was an enjoyable experience
to analyze something I love, and I don’t use that word loosely.
Whether it was easy or hard is irrelevant, as I attribute more importance
to its effect on me. We seldom critically look at TV or a show we
really enjoy, and through this paper I have gained a new perspective
on professional wrestling.
from the teacher, Dawnelle Jager:
“It’s Fake!” was in response to the second assignment
in a sustained inquiry project in WRT 109. I wanted to push students
to use analysis and writing to challenge perceptions and knowledge
of a topic they were passionate about. Mark used
description, comparison, juxtaposition and other writing strategies
to analyze the appeal of WWE’s weekly show, RAW. He explored
gender, political, social and cultural contexts in his analysis, and
his writing demonstrates deep thinking about a familiar topic.
prompted to identify every professional sport in recent history, the
typical response would consist of: baseball, basketball, football,
soccer, hockey, and golf. However, one very significant and deeply
rooted sport is absent from this list. This sport is interestingly
labeled as “Professional Wrestling,” the seemingly “advanced”
level of amateur wrestling. Stemming from the gladiators of ancient
Rome, this phenomenon has survived the greater part of 3000 years.
Shunned and passed off as simply being fake, modern wrestling is commonly
regarded as the least competitive of the professional sports. So why
does fake, scripted competition have such a massive and deeply loyal
fan base? The answer lies in one simple viewing of WWE Raw, a wrestling
program that embodies all the unique elements that cultivate such
a large following.
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is simply one cross-section of
the modern form of wrestling. The flagship program produced by the
WWE is Raw. Aired live every Monday night from arenas across the United
States, this program attracts thousands of live audience members and
millions at home. Yet the fact remains that everything from the punches
to the storylines, unlike their gladiator predecessors, are fake,
a fact acknowledged by WWE representatives as well as their fans.
Thus, what would possess a person to spend two hours of their evening
watching an utter facade? They watch for the same reason they spend
two hours watching “Must See TV” For entertainment. However,
wrestling takes this a step further becoming a multi-faceted entity
blending music, athleticism, drama, comedy, violence, and sex.
This mix of mayhem is clearly seen in the episode of WWE Raw on October
13, 2003, emanating from Pittsburgh, PA. WWE Raw begins with separate
images of the two general managers of the “Raw Roster.”
In a bold move to validate wrestling and possibly bring it closer
to other pro-sports, the WWE split into two brands - the Raw Roster
and the Smackdown roster - showcased on their respective programs.
Thus, with two brands, general managers need to be appointed to facilitate
pertinent issues on the programs. Raw is driven by the battle between
co-general managers, Stonecold Steve Austin and Eric Bischoff. This
is a case where drama unfolds in a very “real” way. What
intensifies this interesting feud is the background of each individual
in a non-scripted sense. Steve Austin was once fired by Eric Bischoff
when he legitimately ran World Championship Wrestling (WCW), the bitter
rival company of the WWE from 1993 to 2001. In true over-the-top WWE
fashion Eric Bischoff was controversially hired as the general manager
of Raw. Though he plays the character of general manager, there is
an authentic hostility between himself and his former employee. Hence,
the bitter hatred and tension between these general managers is amplified
for the cameras, ultimately benefiting the audience. Similarly, reality
television in its purest form is extremely popular due to the genuine
realness that it projects. The WWE fans are intrigued to see how the
scripted program echoes this substantiated real-life drama.
For every popular television show, a catchy theme accompanies it.
This is no different for WWE Raw as a rap/rock band, The Union Underground,
was enlisted to write a theme for the program’s opening montage
indicating that WWE mogul Vince McMahon was clever enough to fuse
the widely popular rap/rock sound of the new millennium with his medium.
Many current artists such as Sevendust, Limp Bizkit, and even Kid
Rock have contributed to the WWE with their music and live concerts.
Most appropriately, this music tends to have an intensity that parallels
wrestling. Smooth jazz is not synonymous with aggressive behavior
or violence, yet hard rock and often gangster rap is, enhancing the
rage and deeply intense actions of pro-wrestlers and their fans by
this genre of music.
The Raw program’s opening video montage is equally essential
in engaging the audience. Images of blood, high-flying wrestling,
sexuality, and fireworks capture the audience’s attention drawing
them into the program, shedding some light on what they can expect
to observe. For example, a curvaceous woman is seen dancing, blood
streams down a man’s face, beer is consumed, and various integral
wrestling figures are intermittently placed throughout the video.
Each image has a special significance, as the woman suggests sex appeal,
the blood represents the violence, and alcohol representing the intended
viewing demographic. Additionally, key wrestlers seen in the video
convey a generation in wrestling. Older more legendary performers
appear alongside fresh young stars appear, bridging the generation
gap among the fans.
With the introduction of music to wrestling, this medium took a turn
towards the greater concept of sports entertainment; beyond simply
wrestling in a ring. Topical social issues are often poked fun at
as the new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was compared
to Steve Austin on this particular episode of Raw. The commentator
makes reference to how many in the WWE, primarily the “bad”
guys, are unhappy with Austin as general manager, as many are unhappy
with Arnold as their new governor. The bit of social satire raises
the event above just a sport.
Furthermore, patriotism was also blended into this program. A strong
scene transpires as the program begins with its first bout. The anti-American
French team, La Resistance, waved their French flags proudly while
the boisterous Dudley Boyz chant “USA” in unison with
the 20,000 fans in attendance. This incident is significant for the
live spectators, as they are drawn towards pro-wrestling events to
become part of something; a mob mentality, perhaps. There are very
few events where an audience can chant something in accordance with
thousands of others. Particularly in a time of social unrest, united
patriotism and the union of people in general can become a powerful
force, attracting fans and non-fans alike.
Scripted drama unfolds as Scott Steiner, known as “Freakzilla,”
womanizes Stacy Keibler to the point where someone is forced to step
in. Arriving for the first time of the night, as the signature sound
of glass shattering is heard throughout the arena, Steve Austin, as
“Stonecold,” hurriedly walks to the ring posing the question,
“Is that supposed to make you some kind of tough guy? If you
want to hit somebody...Hit me!” Legally, Austin is not allowed
to assault talent on his roster, unless he is physically provoked.
In this scripted scenario, Austin was provoked, and proceeded to even
up the odds, rescuing Keibler in perfect “good guy” fashion.
Thus, through Stonecold, fans are vicariously living the age-old fantasy
of helping a damsel in distress. Men feel an urge to be a knight in
shining armor, and through this program they experience this desire.
This the classic story of good versus evil deviates from the traditional
sense in the following scene. Instead of walking the distressed woman
off into the sunset, Austin calls for some beer. Austin is the trademark
beer-swelling redneck from Texas, and after a job-well done he longs
for some refreshment. The perception that the blue-collar working
man escapes his worries through alcohol is epitomized here as Austin
vigorously drinks on the job. Additionally, this evolution of the
traditional “good guy versus bad guy” storyline is what
has kept fans engaged over the past decade. The anti-hero is quite
prominent in today’s society. For example, Eminem is the antithesis
of the squeaky clean image, yet is adored by millions. In modern society,
especially in the media, remaining on the cutting edge is vital. One
has to grow with their audience, and the WWE is no exception, as in
the past fans were encouraged to say their prayers and eat their vitamins.
They now have real jobs and seek to liberate themselves in a medium
that provides a form of “real” fantasy, perhaps situations
they can relate to.
Women in wrestling has also evolved over the past decade. In the past,
women wrestlers typically had little sexual appeal and were not performing
to show off their physiques but simply to show how tough they could
be in the ring. Presently, women play a drastically different role.
While still wrestling in the ring, they are more regarded for their
sexual appeal. In this episode The Babe of the Year competition was
promoted, as fans were urged to vote online for their favorite “diva.”
Two interesting monikers are used in this context: “babe”
and “diva.” One perspective is male, viewing these performers
as merely “babes,” while females profoundly see something
more. The female viewers tend to see strong-willed women with great
figures fighting on their own a unique form of supremacy. Therefore,
the term “diva” is implemented. Wrestler Trish Stratus
is a Canadian fitness model and former graduate medical student who
just recently published her autobiography, providing a performer a
young girl may adopt as a role model. Consequently, WWE Raw on this
night has provided sexual appeal for men, as well as a role model
for young women.
This specific episode of Raw showcased a combination of classic athleticism
with modern wrestling violence. Ric Flair, a 53-year-old wresting
veteran and 19-time World Champion, along with his protégé
Randy Orton, wrestled Bill Goldberg and Shawn Michaels. Midway through
the match commentator Jim Ross stresses that Ric Flair is “offensively
dominating,” then proceeds to discuss the martial arts and training
backgrounds of several of the competitors reinforcing the presence
of some form of competitiveness, whether scripted or not. The acrobatic
prowess and shear athleticism of the performers captivates many fans,
leaving them in awe of their sometimes limitless abilities. A great
deal of respect is garnered for most wrestlers, as their fans are
appreciative of how physically demanding wrestling 250 days out of
the year can be.
Society is often driven by violence, and in wrestling the appeal of
violence is ever-present. Classic mat-wrestling takes place, yet the
violence is never far behind. During this episode of Raw, a “table
match” was signed for the main event, wherein one of the performers
must be slammed through a table in order for the opposing team to
win. Simply the idea of a human body going through a table is violent
enough, but the sound of the wood physically cracking as someone is
sent through it can send the crowd into an absolute frenzy. The desire
for tables and violence in this match was evident as the fans chanted,
“We Want Tables!” Earlier in the night, a steel chair
was implemented as well. Scott Steiner was struck in the face by the
flat end of a steel chair, much to the delight of the fans, as the
“bad guy” received what he justly deserved.
Rarely do scenes of violence and drama blend with instances of comedy.
Yet, in wrestling this occurs most frequently. For example, popular
superhero character “The Hurricane“ is in the midst of
training an overweight wrestler, Rosie, who lacks fan support. The
Hurricane hopes to instruct Rosie on how to become a better superhero
(read: a more entertaining performer). The Hurricane gives Rosie a
lesson in the proper method of dressing, as all superheroes must change
into their costume in a phone booth. Comedy ensues when large Rosie
becomes stuck in the tiny phone booth. Throughout the night, the fans
are reminded of this comical occurrence, as the mood is lightened
when the image appears of this 300 pound man struggles to free himself.
Even general manager Austin strolls past the phone booth stunned at
what he sees, as Rosie pleads, “Help me, I need to use the bathroom.”
Undoubtedly this comedy strikes a chord with the younger audience,
yet is comical enough for older fans as well.
This juxtaposition of violence, drama, comedy, and sex is what truly
captivates wrestling fans. These fans, though deemed lower than real
sports fans, recognize the fallacy of wrestling, and that is their
motivation for watching, as virtually every program from soap operas
to reality shows are scripted. Many would argue that most forms of
entertainment are heading towards the reality-based concept. I would
disagree, as entertainment exists to satisfy its consumers, and consumers
have varying desires. Some would rather see reality in its rawest
form or maybe pure fantasy, or possibly both. Nevertheless, wrestling
provides me, the consumer, with a never-ending roller coaster ride
of entertainment, regardless if it is fake or not.
McMahon, Vince. WWE Raw. Spike TV, Mon. Oct. 13, 2003, World Wrestling
Mark Melara, hailing from Carthage,
NY, is a freshman Political Science major in the College of Arts &
Sciences. Though others may scoff at the notion of professional wrestling,
he firmly believes it has encouraged him to be unique and stand by
his convictions. Humor, non-conformity, and individuality are qualities
that have shaped his personality, and he feels a day without laughter
is a day wasted. A prospective law student, he looks to a career in
some aspect of the entertainment industry...perhaps with WWE Inc.