January 11, 2000
No longer a fencing-sitting fan
Professional wrestling. Those two words, when paired together, have several different effects on people. Some acknowledge the existence of this hybrid sport coolly, then move on. Others vehemently debate its validity as a sport or as a form of entertainment. Still others jump on the words with an enthusiasm that is near-rabid. I here and now confess that I am a proud member of the last group.
There, I've admitted it! My secret is out! My interest...No, I really should say my obsession with wrestling has been a part of my life for two and a half years. I began watching wrestling out of desperation. It was a quiet night in April of 1997. I had nothing better to do, so I gave in to my mother's cajoling to watch television with her. When I realized that she was watching one of the two weekly wrestling shows broadcasted on cable TV, my first impulse was to go in my room and alphabetize the books on my bookshelf. That's how opposed to wrestling I was at that point in my life. But out of sheer boredom, I stayed.
I watched an actual wrestling show for the first time, and I was confused. The storylines in wrestling move progressively, and if (Lord forbid) you miss something, it is close to impossible to figure out why things are happening. Out of pure curiosity, I tuned in the next week. And the week after that. Before long, I knew what was happening. I found myself rushing to finish my homework after school on Mondays so that I would be free to watch wrestling from eight until ten without any interruptions. Somehow, I had become inextricably tangled in an oddly fascinating web.
That was in 1997. Now, my confusion long dissipated, I can explain and predict the direction a storyline may take. My favorite websites are all wrestling websites. My America Online screen name and member profile proudly declare my status as a fan. I avidly read wrestling magazines and scour newsstand shelves for the latest issues. On my bookshelf sits a foot-high stack of dog-eared copies, nearly all with various pictures and articles ripped out. Then, on my nightstand sits a folder stuffed to breaking point with yet more pictures. Would you believe that framed pictures of some of my favorites adorn my bedroom walls? Stacked near my VCR are at least a dozen videotapes filled with various favorite clips and matches so I can watch them again and again.
If we had the choice (which we don't), my very best friend and I would discuss wrestling twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.We share the same opinions and the same favorite wrestlers. In addition, watching wrestling provides a much-needed respite from schoolwork. Though I love to read, translating Shakespeare into familiar language gets tedious, and wrestling provides the perfect relief.This sport is a big part of my life, a major part of who I am.
Yet, so often I am asked how I can watch such a "disgusting display", as I have occasionally heard it termed. Yes, it is very violent. Yes, it can very often be inappropriate for young children. Well, I don't like the violence. As a writer myself, I often critique the creativity (or lack thereof) shown in some storylines. And I'm quite old enough to make my own decisions about what I watch or don't watch.
Recently, wrestling has been in the public eye more than ever before, both for good and bad reasons. First was the election of retired wrestler James Janos, better known as Jesse Ventura, as governor of Minnesota. I cheered the people of Minnesota after the election returns came in, because this proves that not all these men are muscle-headed idiots that can only grunt and push people around to get their point across. Yet, a much more negative light was shed on the sport four months ago when Owen Hart, a young man from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, fell to his death at a World Wrestling Federation event in Kansas City, Missouri. Popular consensus among fans and detractors alike is that this young man should not have died. Yet, he did not die while physically wrestling; he died while performing a stunt entrance designed to impress fans. Yes, there are reasons to degrade this sport. But so often, the reasons that should not be used are the ones most commonly hurled as insults.
Newsflash: Most wrestling fans know and accept that the action shown on television is predetermined. But who really cares if these men work from some kind of an outline, or a script, as it is more commonly called? Don't the stars of every sitcom and drama on network and cable television work from scripts? Don't movie actors and actresses work from scripts? Don't actors in plays and musicals work from scripts? Yes, they all do. Yet, while wrestlers are degraded for knowing what they have to do before entering a match, no one degrades the actors of shows like "ER", "NYPD Blue", "Law and Order", or "Mad About You". No one degrades great silver-screen stars like Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, and Julia Roberts. And I don't remember the last time I heard someone insult actors in a Shakespearean play or a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because they learned their lines from a script.
Granted, a good majority of the events played out in wrestling are unrealistic. But so are many of the things that happen on television, in movies and plays, and even in books. Many of the issues addressed in various storylines are real-life issues pulled right from the ranks of today's society. Racism, sexual harassment, nationalism/patriotism, drugs and addictions, and different types of discrimination are all issues that I can trace in various storylines. More basic things such as family, religious beliefs, and even the most-famed emotion of love have been fought over in the squared circle.
A rarely seen plus side to wrestling is the tendency of fans to identify with characters. Very often, a fan will admire a certain wrestler because they see shades of their own personality in the character that wrestler portrays week in and week out. For example, one of wrestling's most-recognized faces is "Stone Cold" Steve Austin of the WWF. For over a year, this bald muscleman's character lived out a fantasy many people only dream of. He rebelled against his boss in every way possible and still managed to keep his job! Millions of fans identified with Austin because they understood his deep-rooted hatred for his employer, Vincent K. McMahon, Jr. Most people who have been employed could probably think about a boss they absolutely hated and would have loved to strip of his power in the company, pour cement into his brand-new car, or even hit him over the head with a bedpan (these are all things Austin did to McMahon).
So, there are both plus and minus sides to this sports entertainment spectacular that draws millions of fans for up to nine or ten hours a week. True fans see the downsides to the sport we adore, and most of us are either mature or intelligent enough to acknowledge that some things need to change. I would remind anyone who wants to judge wrestling (and wrestlers) of mantras most of us learn as children:
1) Don't judge a book by its cover;
2) Don't always believe everything you hear;
3) Don't let others form your opinions for you; and most importantly;
4) Listen to both sides of the story.
I have been both a fan of and a detractor of professional wrestling. Even with all the crazy things that happen, when it comes down to the bottom line, I like this side of the fence much better.
*Dedicated to the memory of Owen James Hart (1965-1999) *
Melissa Karcz is from Chicopee, MA, and can be reached by e-mail at CBSChick2000@aol.com.