Monday, August 23, 2010

Just pure trash. (It's great.)

So, I've been trying to figure something out for a while. Last month, I was convinced to attend a "guerrilla wrestling" event with my boyfriend and some friends. I have never once watched fake wrestling in any context other than as dramatized in The Wrestler (meta), so I figured it would be boring and that I could just lol at the number of neckbeards in the audience. While I did count dozens of pairs of jhorts on the people in attendance (the event was held at an American Legion in Reseda, btw), when the actual "wrestling" began, my expectations were jolted. I was pretty instantly disgusted by the display, and shortly had to avert my eyes from the hijinks on the canvas. By the end of the hours-long event, I had to remove myself from the spectacle, as I thought I might be sick. I was caught in the midst of a dignity vacuum with no escape.

I couldn't figure out what exactly was so offensive to me about it. I'm not squeamish, nor do I have an ideological aversion to violence. I quite enjoy watching fight sports, such as boxing or MMA, both live and onscreen (though I admit I hate to see bone get snapped). There was something in the intentions, perhaps, that bothered me. When watching two highly-trained fighters compete, I am eager to see them use their skills to better the other. It's a legitimate and respectable competition. At the "wrestling," I was confused. Everyone knew that the personae and feuds were manufactured, and the combat choreographed. The way that the performers (including the "referee") would slap the canvas in order to fake the sound of a huge collision, was so transparent. So I thought, "why are these people so invested in the outcome of this fake thing?" But then, when the performers brought out techniques that could actually inflict serious injury - falls from great heights, metal folding chairs and wooden tables - the crowd was whipped into a frenzy. "They know it's fake, but they really go wild when they think it's approaching reality?" I was caught in a thought circle pertaining to simulacra and Baudrillard's hyperreal.

When I tried to boil it down to a more detailed analysis (so acute was my disgust that I really had to spend a lot of time figuring out how people I respect could be interested in something I found to be so disgraceful and abhorrent), I got even more confused by my own feelings. This intersection of simulacra and Schadenfreude is a part of so much of pop culture. The manufactured dramas of (mostly scripted) reality television suck in millions, and sell magazines. We trick ourselves into caring about the problems that people have in public, whether it's celebrities with drug addictions, or poor people on midday talk/court shows, all in an effort to feel better about ourselves.

As for the actual "combat" element, it occurs to me that "professional wrestling" is no different than a live stage-show version of choreographed fight scenes in movies and television. How can I judge someone for wanting to see a fake luchador hit a fake...whatever over the head with a folding chair, when I want to see Tony Jaa's characters defeat the baddies in movies like Ong-Bak? I know that the feuds are equally scripted; I even know that the stuntmen Jaa is kneeing in the head are probably getting injured worse than the "wrestlers" (and paid less).

I thought about this conflict after watching The Expendables last week. I had been pumped about this movie for a long time (I love silly action movies; Shoot 'Em Up is a favorite), especially after attending the relevant panel at Comic Con. Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Li, Rourke, Willis, Crews, Schwarzenegger. Even Couture (MMA) and Austin (WWE). The poster says it all - no tagline needed. Obviously the omission of Van Damme, and even Seagal, was unfortunate, but that was their loss.

Ostensibly I set out to review the movie in this post, but I don't really know what you want me to say. There's a lot of gunpower. People get shot and their body parts explode in dramatic ways, with blood spatters evocative of the computer generated ones in 2003's Zatoichi. Stallone cuts off a dude's head with a single swipe of the blade, like cutting through butter. Crews throws a rocket at a helicopter and Stallone shoots it until it explodes. Etc. It's fun, it's stupid, and it's trashy. And even though it is physically uncomfortable to look at Sylvester Stallone (much less Mickey Rourke), it was so much fun to see them all onscreen together.

Seriously though, Stallone looks like a burst sausage casing. My going theory is that he died a few years ago, and now someone is wearing his corpse like a suit, à la Vincent d'Onofrio in Men in Black. And if you thought his eyebrows and lips were rough, his saggy 'roid hands are just terrifying.

So, given my understanding of the love we can all have for escapist trashy cinema, I have to acknowledge that people should be free to enjoy "professional wrestling" without judgment. While surely that particular channel of entertainment is not for me, it would be hypocritical of me to consider myself superior to its fans. Am I turning a new leaf, folks? I mean, I really love being judgmental, and here I am being forgiving? What's next, taking furries seriously? Let's hope not.


penix said...

To me, action movies are more enjoyable the less realistic they are. To me, the point of them is to be ridiculous and make fun of themselves, so the more serious or realistic they are, the less I can justify liking them. I don't just have a problem with violence; usually the violence comes along with a lot of misogyny/homophobia/racism, and I find it much easier to not be offended if I'm not expected to take the thing seriously.

I see there being a continuum, with something like Face/Off on one end and actual boxing on the other. Wrestling and Quentin Tarentino movies are somewhere in the middle. Batman is about as far along this line that I can handle.

penix said...

I also think audience participation has a lot to do with this. It's easier to be revolted by a stadium of people all chanting for someone to get punched in the head or some woman to take off her clothes than watching whatever ridiculous movie by myself at home, or in a relatively silent theatre. In the latter situation I can pretend that other people aren't taking it as seriously as they probably are.

Kat said...

I definitely agree with you on all counts. There is a huge difference between a Raimi/Tarantino movie and the violence in something like Irreversible or American History X. And the crowd thing...made a huge difference. Anyway I should tell you about the sexism at the turtle racing thing. The ladies bending over all sexy wasn't as big of a deal until I had to listen to the comments that audience members were making.

vagicle said...

A large part of the appeal of pro wrestling, to me, is the acrobatics & execution of ridiculous athletic feats. 'Extreme' sports also hold a similar appeal for me. As you probably saw, I enjoyed myself immensely at PWG.

(Just quietly, it wasn't a rocket; it was an artillery shell.)