CONFESSIONS OF A PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING FAN
by David Sisler
I have a confession to make. There have been others in eight years of writing this column (and today starts my 9th year). I live with a family of dirt balls (update: unlike fine wine, they have not improved with age). I am a Trekker (the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy are still the best — the rest is Trek Lite). Although they haven't "won it all" since 1979, and may not win much this year, I have been, and always shall be, a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I have to be careful, because my mother reads these pieces, but, alas, the worst confession may be yet to come. Close your eyes, Mom. I am a fan of professional wrestling. But the suits who control the action are working hard to cure me of this affliction.
Before you say it, professional wrestling is not fake. It is drama, it is choreographed sports entertainment. To paraphrase a recent documentary on "rasslin," you wouldn't call Hamlet fake. You don't brand Hollywood special effects as fakes. The actors all know their lines and have marks to hit, and so do the wrestlers (although wrestlers and their promoters are more adept at hitting marks than anyone else in the entertainment business).
Professional wrestling has a language all its own. There are "faces," "heels," and "works." And there are "marks." A face is a good guy, a heel is a villain. Works are the story lines, but when something happens outside of the script, when a wrestler is hurt during a performance, for instance, you will hear fans say, "That was not a work." The marks, well, the marks are the people who swallow the whole thing, hook, line and Stinger. Marks are the ones who do not know that Vince McMahon, head of the World Wrestling Federation, and Eric Bishoff, top conniver for the World Championship Wrestling, plot all of these things out in advance. Whatever sells tickets dictates the story lines.
I started watching "rasslin" in the days of Bruno Sammartino and Ricki Starr. I remember Argentina Rocca, Gorgeous George, the Masked Assassins, and the Kangaroos.
I saw my first professional card in the old Madison Square Garden. I went to the cards with my Dad, and I go with my sons. But people who control wrestling are about to get the better of me.
Up until a few years ago there was actual wrestling, we saw big matches, and not just hype of next week's pay-per-view. Increasingly, the time is filled with infantile interviews and incipient harangues. The heels were always accompanied by a manager who cheated, distracted the referee, or kicked the face when he was down, but we expected that. Today, in wrestling's version of a bench emptying brawl, entire members of rival gangs storm the ring and most matches end in disqualifications.
Vulgarity is replacing showmanship and acrobatic ring skill. Obscene gestures are common place, with performers vying for new lows. It is the way the owners are writing the scripts. Unfortunately, the new "how low can you go" style is effective — the four top-rated shows on cable television are all wrestling shows.
The last two house shows here in Augusta have been fan rip-offs. Each featured seven contests, but five were jobber matches — third and fourth rank players who fill time until the big names appear. If the big names appear at all. The promoters announce top flight attractions and, in small print, warn you that the card is subject to change. Two of the main stars did not show up for each of these shows. The skeptic in me says they never planned to be here — they were merely the draw which got into our wallets. And still we go. We must all be marks.
Professional wrestling is a lot like life. There used to be clearly defined good guys and clearly defined bad guys. Whether you did it or not, you knew right from wrong. No longer. This week's face is next week's heel. The lines have blurred to the point where there are just winners and losers. And sometimes the lines blur so much that there are just participants with no one knowing who will win and who will lose. The best that most people hope for is that we will all simply be disqualified.
There is another parallel. At the most recent house show, Diamond Dallas Page and Raven were the no shows. The card before that it was Diamond Dallas Page (I sense a pattern here) and "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair. In this world's main event, soon to be seen, Jesus of Nazareth is scheduled to appear. He will be here. Count on it. In fact, your eternity depends on it. That is not a work.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 5/9/98
Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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