Monday, December 8, 2008

Wrestling conventions yesterday and today

Wrestling, like any form of entertainment is about conventions and how they are handled. Fans of Superman are willing to believe that a yellow sun and Earth's lesser gravity empower Superman to well, superhuman levels. They also are willing to believe that a pair of eyeglasses is enough to conceal Clark Kent's true identity. Wrestling fans have their own conventions too. There is the idea that wrestlers want to settle their differences in the ring. It doesn't matter if someone robbed you of a title, jumped you in a parking lot, or stole your wife-the place you settle your differences is in the ring, not in court. There's also the idea that wrestlers can absorb an insane amount of punishment. I remember when I was a kid, announcers would boast about the superhuman endurance of wrestlers and how they could take beatings that would hospitalize a normal man.

Over the years, new conventions have come out. One of the strangest is the idea that wrestlers can be seen backstage but no other wrestlers seem to know what has happened (even though they can see everything on TV should they have access to a set). Case in point, a couple of years ago the WWE did an angle where Stephanie McMahon drugged Shawn Michaels' bottled water on-camera and in the ensuing half hour before his match, no one bothered to warn him. That would be believable except the whole premise of wrestling is that it's a legitimate real-time sporting event, not a drama about a sport. I remember when TNA first came out and they tried to be more realistic by sending camera crews to the back if something was going on but before long, they said screw it, and adopted the WWE "cameras are everywhere" bit.

The WWE has also become notorious for their supernatural bits. Whether it's Kane using fire or the Undertaker returning from the dead, some superstars have magical powers that no one else can use. Does it make sense? Usually not. The Undertaker can return from being buried alive and yet he has trouble with chair shots in the ring. Kane can be thrown into a dumpster that is on fire and return the next week without a scratch and yet a beatdown with a metal pipe puts him on the shelf.

As someone who's followed many kinds of entertainment- soap operas, comic books, science fiction & fantasy, and of course wrestling, I've come to the conclusion that as long as conventions are consistent within the storyline world, fans will usually go along with them. Take comics for example: We know bullets bounce off of Superman without anyone getting hurt from the ricochet. That's one of the conventions Superman fans buy into. Likewise with kryptonite, whip out a little green K and Supes is flapping around like a fish out of water. That's why a lot of fans had a problem believing Big Blue could lift a land mass made out of kryptonite in Superman Returns (just one of many things that turned off fans to that film).

A good example of this is Randy Orton's punt kick to the head. While I applaud the WWE for building the move up as something devastating, it doesn't fit in with the rest of the moves around Orton (and I know I'm far from the only person who feels this way). The basic problem is that people can get piledrived, blasted with chair shots to the head, and put through tables without any long-lasting effect and yet Orton's boot to the head equals an automatic concussion?

It's all about making rules for your fictional world and keeping them consistent. When you stop doing this is when you start getting into bad storytelling.

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