Is Wrestling A Great Form of Storytelling? Bras, panties and puppies. Oh my!
This is a three part article. The second part will be published later this week.
Is pro wrestling a legitimate form of entertainment that has the capacity to tell long form storylines that can rival that of a prestige drama? There’s certainly argument for it and the screenwriter Max Landis (American Ultra, Chronicle) tried to do just that in a 24 minute video on Youtube entitled “Wrestling isn’t Wrestling”.
“Wrestling isn’t Wrestling”
When I say ‘wrestling’, I’m pretty much referring to the biggest promotion in wrestling, WWE or World Wrestling Entertainment (previous known as WWF or World Wrestling Federation). In his video, Landis gives a bit of background on the evolution of WWE from it’s 80’s heyday through the “Attitude” era and into the present day. The “Attitude” era is a period of WWE that ran from about 1996 to 2001 where wrestling became more violent, offensive and titillating to appeal to a mass market of 90’s teenagers. It was a shift in the paradigm of wrestling.
In amongst this period is a wrestler called ‘Triple H’. Landis pivots his video around the career of ‘Triple H’ from his start as this pure-bred, sophisticated character into an anti authority figure as the head of one of the the Attitude era’s biggest stables (groups of wrestlers who team up) and gradually into a corporate figure of WWE. All of these transitions and evolutions of Triple H are backed up by his insecure nature and his quest for validation as being the best wrestler of all time. This whole story covers about 20 years of development and Landis argues, what other form of entertainment media can do that? Not only that, but Triple H is still a prominent part of WWE. He currently has a huge backstage role in production, he’s the son in law of the current president and he’s likely to be on WWE TV for another 30 years continuing his story.
Triple H. From anti-authority to THE authority.
Sure The Simpsons have been going for 25 or so years but have any of the main characters really evolved in that time? They’ve aged about a year but that’s it. I could just link you to the video right now and end the article right here. But I’m going to give you another story that wrestling has told very recently. It’s shorter than the story of Triple H but like Triple H’s story, it’s tied to a shift in the paradigm of wrestling and it’s a really great underdog story.
Women’s wrestling in the WWE has always been…below par. What little women’s wrestling, WWE broadcast, was often a sort of sideshow to the main talent to the point that the WWE Women’s Championship was effectively phased out in the early 90’s before being reinstated a few years later in the Attitude era. However the issue with that is that due to the WWE trying to market itself to teenagers in the 90’s, the genuine female wrestlers were replaced by a new type of a woman. They took a new shape in the form of ‘The Diva’.
‘Divas’ was the name given to all of WWE’s female wrestlers. They were supposed to be a mixture of athleticism sex that couldn’t be found in other forms of entertainment. Large breasts were commonplace as well as layers of make up and they were all overly sexualised. Even the matches that the Divas took part in were different. They competed in gimmick matches such as “Evening Gown Pool” matches or “Pudding matches” or “Bra ‘n Panties” matches in which the aim of the match is to rip your opponent’s clothes off until they’re down to their lingerie. There was very little athleticism involved and of course, it was all a bit sexist. This trend extended well into the noughties to the point where women in WWE were hired more for their looks than their actual wrestling ability to the point where it was just a group of supermodels all fighting for no reason. They were barely characters with their own nuances or traits. The best you could do to describe them is refer to them by their hair or skin colour.
Fast forward to 2012 and things are pretty much unchanged in the world of the WWE Divas. The biggest change is that the WWE Women’s Championship has now been replaced with the WWE Divas Championship. A pink monstrosity that is shaped like a butterfly and looks like a toy rather than a coveted prize. Not only that but women’s matches at this point are referred to as “bathroom break” matches. Ones where the fans don’t care about the action inside the ring and use this opportunity as a chance to get a quick toilet break during the two hour show. Furthermore these matches are on average only about 3 minutes long. Compare that to your typical men’s matches that last 8-10 minutes and you’ll see that women aren’t being given a chance to show what skills they do have.
WWE Divas Championship. Eugh.
Meanwhile, WWE has also launched a new show called ‘NXT’. Think of this as being the WWE Academy where wrestlers learn their craft with the benefit of performing in front of a large audience both in the arena and via television. NXT has a much different atmosphere compared to the main roster of WWE where all the big stories go down (such as Triple H’s). The action is grittier, the crowd seem closer to the ring and the stories are much more simplified. There’s no “dark magic, leprechauns or evil male cheerleaders” as Max Landis states in his video. Instead it’s much more straightforward.
The other big difference is that women’s wrestling seems to mean something in NXT. There’s genuine competitiveness to the matches built on stories the audience can become invested in and the matches tend to go on longer than their main roster counterparts. Plus the belt that the women compete for actually looks nice and has a name that doesn’t undermine the women. It’s called “The NXT Women’s Championship”.The early success of NXT’s women’s roster can be seen the wrestler, ‘Paige’. Billed as the ‘Anti-Diva’. Paige showed raw aggression in her time at NXT. Head to toe in studded black leather and dyed black hair with a streak or two as well as her pale complexion (She’s from Norwich of all places). Paige really did stand out from the pack but she showed her prowess in the ring (she is a legitimate wrestler and comes from a wrestling background) to become the NXT women’s champion twice and was eventually promoted to the main roster.
There was a gap left behind in NXT after Paige’s departure. This hole would be filled by a group who will come to be known as “The Four Horsewomen”.