As I sit here writing this week’s column, my roommates are in the hallway, deciding on the menu for the dinner they plan to eat while watching the premier sporting event of the season. Now, it’s true that the World Series is nine months away, the Super Bowl is over, and the NCAA tournament and the Stanley Cup playoffs are still in the future, so they aren’t watching any of those. No one likes the NBA playoffs. So what could they possibly be watching tonight?
The event I’m referring to, of course, is “No Way Out,” the World Wrestling Federation pay-per-view offering of the season. Admittedly, I am not much of a wrestling fan, and I think the whole thing is pretty much ridiculous (if slightly amusing). However, the millions and millions of WWF fans across the nation are a testimony to its success. WWF events hold attendance records in stadiums from California to Maine.
On several weeknights, WWF shows are always highly rated, and they appear on televisions all over the Williams campus. In Times Square, there is a Warner Brothers store, a Disney store and now a WWF store. Wrestling paraphernalia can be found in a plethora of stores in any mall. How is it possible? The characters are absurd, the outcomes totally and publicly prefabricated (to the point where it is sometimes possible to see results on the Web for matches that have yet to take place) and the ticket prices outrageous.
For all of its absurdity, the WWF is run ingeniously. The storylines have everything great stories need, at an appropriate level for the target audience. Despite the adoration of Williams students, the WWF mostly targets younger teenagers and preteens. It has conflicts between good and evil characters, fireworks, acrobatic leaps, animated announcers, beautiful women, unexpected plot twists and the occasional visit from Dennis Rodman.
The matches all occur in the same format. In general, the wrestlers will be announced, strutting down the long aisle to the ring, flanked by their entourage. At the point when the first wrestler reaches the ring, he will often grab the microphone and fire up the crowd until his opponent is announced.
In the match itself, the wrestlers attack each other viciously. Rules (such as they are) are completely ignored. Foolish referees are distracted while wrestlers are pummeled with moves such as “the Worm,” “the Rock Bottom,” “the Jackhammer” and “the Tombstone.” The matches proceed in a back and forth matter, but they always end with a dramatic reversal of fortune. The crowd goes wild, and, more often than not, a friend of the defeated will race to the ring and utterly abuse the victor, creating rivalries and feuds.
Outside of the ring, the action is just as exciting. For example, last week, Cactus Jack shattered the window of Triple H’s bus with a battering ram, then was dragged away from a later show in a steel cage trailing behind a different bus. Ridiculous? Yes. Contrived? No doubt. Lucrative? Beyond your wildest dreams.
The WWF has become the heir to a long line of contrivances designed to win mass appeal by trading depth and quality for glitz and energy. Throughout history, great playwrights wrote plays that included the most base of human behavior, in order to draw in the masses and raise ticket sales. The WWF does so on a modern scale, where the Communication Age allows them to reach millions of people at once, sell T-shirts, squirt bottles and action figures, and reproduce their product on the internet infinitely.
Now, we can probably draw a conclusion or two about the state of our society and the entertainment preferences of Americans, given the popularity of something so absurd as the World Wrestling Federation. But it doesn’t matter what those conclusions are. People will watch what they want to. So tonight, I’m going to kick back, relax and watch The Rock drop “the People’s Elbow” on the Big Show.