It was just like you've always imagined. It was a Sunday, Sunday, Sunday and the arena was huge. It was cold out, but the rowdy line into Hooters still ran up the block, where people planned to watch the Pay-Per-View event that was actually happening right up the street. The Fleet Center in Boston seats 18,000 people, and it was packed solid. It was the beginning of the road to Wrestlemania. Lock up your daughters: the Pro-Wrestlers are in town.
Or maybe that's wrong.
Let me start by saying that I've never been a huge wrestling fan. I watched what was the WWF (and is now the WWE, as the result of a fabulously funny lawsuit) back in high school a few times. It was amusing, but I never had the urge to follow it. I never tuned into any matches on purpose. It was something to watch on cold winter afternoons after school when I wasn't at the theater. But, a few weeks ago when my buddy Joe* offered a chance at a free ticket -- well, how could I pass it up?
The world of WWE is just like you'd expect it to be. It's big. It's spectacular. It's not an evening of entertainment; it's a superlative. There were lights streaming from everywhere illuminating both the ring and the crowd. There was a full wall, maybe 40 or 50 feet high, of projection screens. One of the screens was there only to display the ever-morphing logo. The rest were awash with a constant barrage of light, graphics, and videos of wrestlers as they were entering. Music boomed, filling the air so that you had to yell to the person next to you. It was bigger than big. It was more enormous than enormous. It was the Royal Rumble.
The crowd was exactly what I expected. It was mostly men, primarily in their late-teens through early-thirties. They were, for the most part, lower- to middle-class. Some were wearing John Deere baseball caps over unwashed hair, hands tucked neatly into the pockets of old, grease-stained denim jackets. Some were vast and unshaven, sporting more hair on their second chin than I have on my entire body. I only saw one woman that wasn't wearing a half-shirt and she did not look happy to be there. They were the type of crowd that, when two wrestlers came out waving flags of their respective nations (Tag Team: Lance Storm of Canada and William Regal of England) they started chanting, immediately, "U-S-A! U-S-A!" To flags of Canada and Britain. Make sure you get that part: Canada and Britain. So what am I trying to say? Overall, it wasn't the most sophisticated crowd in the world. These are not the people who carry subscriptions to National Geographic and go the symphony. These are people that get subscriptions to Swank and watch "Fishin' with Bob Dillow." You get the idea: the stereotypical American Male.
What came as a complete surprise to me was that there were female wrestlers. This was not something that was around when I was tuning into the WWF in high school. This was new. This was fun. This was something, I thought, that I could sink my teeth into and really enjoy. I'm a heterosexual male in good standing; I've paid my dues; I have my membership card. "Bring on the Stepdaughter vs. Stepmother match," said I. And they did. It started off on the big screen like most of the other matches. Being a serial television show they, of course, need to reference previous plot points to give the present match context and to provide plot points for other matches in the future.
Let me see try to sum up the plot: At some point in the past, Dawn Marie married Al Wilson, father of her arch-enemy Torrie Wilson. Shortly after the hot throes of passion on their honeymoon (I think), Dawn Marie returned from her shower to find that Al, poor old Al, had died. Cut to the wake, Dawn Marie crying over the casket: the widow. As she's grieving over her husband's body, who should show up at the wake but his daughter (the gall)! Dawn Marie freaks out, blames Torrie for her own father's death and breaks a lamp over her head. A lamp. Over her head. At this point, there's a little bitch-slapping that goes on and the decision is made to settle the disagreement "in the ring."
Thus we come to where we are at the Royal Rumble. Having seen the soap opera play out on the screen, I'm eager to see the part where two scantily clad girls roll around on the floor for a while. The only thing that could have made it better was Jell-O. Dawn Marie comes out wearing her skimpy little number, including a veil (she is, after all, in mourning). Torrie comes out in her white wrestling garters (did you know that they make wrestling garters?), and they begin. This is exactly the kind of thing that guys go for: scantily clad women rolling around on the floor. People pay for this kind of thing at strip clubs all the time. So imagine my surprise when a group of people start yelling out, "BO-RING! BO-RING! BO-RING!" The match ends (with Torrie winning, for those who are interested), and the crowd barely even notices.
But what comes next surprises me even more: Brock Lesnar enters. He is a mass of solid muscle. He is wearing something around his waistline that I would consider too small to do my dishes with. He is either oiled, or shining with the perspiration of anticipation. In short, he is a Chippendale Dancer, but more muscular. The crowd erupts. They're crazy. They can't get enough of this man and his body. The same thing happens for Scott Steiner. This is a man who wears nothing but a chain mail hat and a black Speedo that says, on the ass, in big red letters, "Big Poppa Pump." And the same thing happens over, and over, and over again.
My confusion very quickly joins in with World Wrestling Entertainment and becomes a superlative.
It seems quite possible that I have completely misjudged the audience that World Wrestling Entertainment has garnered over the years. I would have taken the majority of them to be completely closed-minded, homophobic hicks. It would seem, though, that this is the kind of cultured audience that can look beyond the low-brow entertainment of near-naked women rolling around in a ring to the more refined amusement afforded by a large man in a Spandex diaper rubbing his (certainly) sweaty buttocks in another man's face and thereby delivering "the dreaded Stink Face."
Here's the truth, though: I didn't misjudge the audience at all. I misjudged the reason that they're going to the event. This isn't about the wrestlers and what they look like, it's about the superlative. It's about the swath of easy-to-choose black-and-white decisions, and it's about violence. That's why the audience didn't like the all-girl fight. If the women had been doing a strip tease the audience would have been all over it, but when you're there to see a piece of superlative about violence you want to see something big. You want to see a 7'2", 500 lb. guy being hauled about the ring like he was a bag of potatoes and having the shit kicked out of him. You don't want to see a couple of rag dolls that weigh a buck-twenty soaking wet pulling each other's hair and battling it out with lumps of silicon. It's not what you're there to see.
All of it -- the scripts, the huge intros, the music, the drama, the pyrotechnics, all the spectacle -- it's all there to support one thing: the violence. People (well, most of them) aren't going because they like Scott Steiner's biceps, or think that Brock Lesnar's pecs are really fabulous. People are going because they want to watch somebody get beat up. They're there because they identify with the clear cut eye-for-an-eye, you-hurt-me-I'll-hurt-you decisions they're fed in the plot lines. It's no wonder that we live in such a violent culture when this is one of our most popular forms of entertainment.
It seems a clear conclusion, then, that we, as a society need to pay more attention to sex. Were the attention to shift from violence to sex, the spectacle would be forced to follow. The superlative would be forced to keep up. Maybe all the men preening themselves in the ring would actually be the kind that enjoy all the Spandex and oil. Maybe us heterosexual males would get to see more women strutting their stuff and maybe, just maybe, we'd all enjoy it.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
2.17.03 @ 1:52a
Erik, I was unaware that Boston had rednecks, let alone rednecks with repressed homosexual desires. You opened my eyes and now I desperately want them closed again.
It's been 25 years since I was a rasslin' fan...well before the WWE and the pageantry. Saturday morning wrestling shows were local bouts featuring in-state grapplers and the occasional guest star; Andre the Giant and Rick Martel made regular appearances back then. There was also a popular tag team featuring Superstar Steve Strong and an ex-Navy guy named Jesse Ventura...
2.17.03 @ 2:17a
It's nice to know Boston has maintained its cultural appeal.
2.17.03 @ 10:35a
Wrestling = reality TV.
2.17.03 @ 11:09a
I love this! I never gave a second thought (or a first thought, for that matter) to wrestling, dismissing it as distraction for pubescent boys who can't get girls. I still think it's goofy, but I never considered the "clear-cut good" vs. "easily identified evil" angle. I guess it does fulfill a need.
2.17.03 @ 9:50p
Wrestling = reality TV.
That's what I think. I can't imagine that there's any less scripting going on in most reality television.
I have to add, though -- it's not like I didn't enjoy myself. I'd go back. It was fun... it's just... different.
2.17.03 @ 9:51p
And Russ! Jesse Ventura! We have his autograph in my office -- of course it's Jess "the Governor" Ventura.. but still!
2.18.03 @ 12:10a
The best part was when I looked over at Eric when Lance Storm of Canada and William Regal of England came out I could swear that he was chanting U-S-A.
Actually my favorite part that Eric didn't mention was a wrestler named Chris Nowinski who graduated from Harvard came out in a Harvard letter jacket and a big Harvard H on his rear. Eric seemed to really get a kick out of that, I wonder why no mention of that. Makes me think about his heterosexual male comment (lol).
2.18.03 @ 7:15a
Yeah.. that was one of my favorite parts, I just couldn't find a good place for it. Seeing him come out in the Harvard letter jacket was incredible. It just made me laugh.
2.18.03 @ 12:31p
The best part was when I looked over at Eric when Lance Storm of Canada and William Regal of England came out I could swear that he was chanting U-S-A
Just a thought, guys, but from my wrestling experience, I think this chanting of U.S.A is to show their distaste of the entering fighters who are 'foreigners'.
Just sayin'. Yep, I admit it, I grew up watching rassling. Quality entertainment. I thought Hulk Hogan was a hero.
Yes, it's very different. That's kinda what makes it funny. Next time, Erik, I would SO got to an event with ya!
2.18.03 @ 3:05p
Hulk Hogan was a hero. 'Nuff said.
I got that they were showing their distaste of the "foreign" fighters, I was just amazed that they thought that Canada and Britain were so different.
I mean.. Canada? C'mon.