Thursday, July 17, 2014

Into the (Comforting) Void: The Value Of Wrestling

Daniel Bryan and his peers provide escapism
Photo Credit:
The world is pretty cruel. Unkind. Unfeeling. To be honest, real life ain't everything its cracked up to be, especially if you are prone to be sensitive to the suffering of others. After a point of time even a public spirited person wants to close his mind and lose himself in fantasy mainly because, in modern society, an individual is powerless. You cannot do anything. You are inured to the routine tragedy. Things. Can't. Change. This might be overtly cynical but its true. Not 30 miles from my urban third world city, couples get murdered by kith and kin for daring to love each other and not marrying the person chosen by their parents. Women are stripped naked and paraded around town if found guilty of having sex before marriage. Human beings are dropping missiles on other human beings after giving them a one minute warning in "self defense". That's reality.  Even if you don't really care about others, the fact remains that unless you are an upper class elite you are pretty screwed too. You are a pawn, to be discarded like a lemon peel. 

There are various methods to escape this powerlessness. Most people use alcohol, pot and wanton sex if possible. It's why escapist entertainment is quite popular. 

I have often used wrestling as a therapy. I escape into its comfortable confines to get rid of this feeling of powerlessness, forget the lack of agency I have in deciding ones own fate by seeing larger than life characters who get to decide their own story line fate in the ring. It's a story where, unlike real life, you can triumph by sheer willpower, courage and physical strength. It is a place where battles are fought and decisive victories won by heroes who (should) stand for everything a human being is supposed to be - a courageous, straightforward, honest person who defends the weak and is just and equitable, who does not stab anyone in the back, looks his opponents in the eyes and values means over ends, the spirit over material gains, kindness over contempt, humility over elitism, sacrifice over self-aggrandizement, love over lust, empathy over greed.  

Those values are the dividing lines between a heel and face - the ones that WWE/wrestling in general has been using for a long time. The bad guys win battles but they lose in the end. Any other outcome is unacceptable, and who cares if its predictable, hell, that is why I come to wrestling in the first place! For its predictability, not in the minute changes in the convoluted stories but for the ultimate outcome! Anyone denying this is deceiving himself - would any other winner but Daniel Bryan have been acceptable at WrestleMania XXX? Even if your answer is yes, it will be surely qualified by a condition subsequent i.e. provided that the villains get their comeuppance later on in the story. That's always the disclaimer.    

And herein lies wrestling's inherent value as an art form - as pure fantasy fiction for the hurting masses (predominantly the salaried, powerless class) tired of real life. Not in the actual wrestling, which is cool like the circus but in the end meaningless. Of course it is, otherwise what is the need for giving people a reason to fight? We could just watch two wrestlers go hammer and tongs without the pomp and pageantry, the aesthetics, the backstage interviews, the lengthy in ring promos, the cultural stereotypes etc. 

The beauty of wrestling is that it never ends, unlike other escapist entertainment. We are always getting new stories to latch on to, to get our fix. When the alternate reality world you have submerged yourself into is taken away from you it can be pretty brutal, it is not so with wrestling. When Edge retired they gave us a Christian title win to soften the blow. When Eddie Guerrero died they tried to give us Rey Mysterio. When Daniel Bryan won the title I felt happy but as the screen faded I also felt a profound sense of emptiness, like I was in a dream where I was happy but it was all gone now. The true happiness I had vicariously experienced was gone and I was back in my own skin, in my own wretched reality. The only way I could continue is to watch Monday Night RAW and relive the triumph or become anxious for the next big challenge facing him.    

I realize that all of this has pretty depressing implications in general and about me in particular and to be perfectly honest I am not sure that I had a specific point to make. 

At the most I can say that I needed to articulate the above to understand my distaste for the current WWE product. The whole experience is sterile, like because they know that we know therefore they don't bother to enter into their characters completely, the writers don't feel the need to provide catharsis or actually commit emotionally. If the performers and creative can't suspend disbelief and believe in their bizarro land how can the audience? Don't nudge nudge wink wink you fools and allow me to suspend disbelief. Its the only reason that I bother. I don't want to see mechanics, I want to feel pain and suffering, elation and triumph. I want to be betrayed, to have my trust justified.