I wanted to talk about how as we get older, our expectations for wrestling become unrealistic. The term “great expectations” popped into my head, and I decided to borrow from Hugh Firth’s practice of using quotes as a jumping-off point.
“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
The “her” I’m employing here is wrestling. Why do we stick with her? How does she get into our blood, making it difficult to ever throw in the towel for good? I often say it’s because we’re constantly lying in wait for a jaw-dropping, a heart-wrenching, or a fist-pumping moment. You never know when it might happen, but the waiting makes for a delicious habit. It’s a great escape, but with it comes great expectations.
It’s different when you’re a kid. It’s just silly fun. You feel a lot of the same emotions that adults feel about wrestling – anger, happiness, frustration – but it’s more fleeting. Kids don’t tune in to wrestling in hopes that Bray Wyatt will take it to the next level and John Cena will start to show some vulnerability and versatility. Bray Wyatt’s going to get a pretty wide berth on what he needs to say in order to creep out a kid. It doesn’t need to make sense or have deep meaning. John Cena is a simple man, and as long as the catch phrases are delivered intact, the kids are satisfied.
And maybe that’s all there needs to be. This is a form of entertainment that isn’t far removed from the carnival days, where barkers would lure people in to swap a swindle for a dime. There’s art in it, I’m sure, because there’s no other way to account for how it makes me feel sometimes. I’m a sucker for the theatrics and I admire the athleticism. The code of protecting and elevating your opponent, the psychology of feeling your way through a match: I romanticize wrestling enough to get me through the dry times. “The stories were terrible this week, but Alberto Del Rio was brilliant in the way he carried that match with Big E!” Or “Nothing happened at all this week but sometimes you need these ho-hum placeholders to get to the next stage.” Not every week can knock it out of the park, but we’ve always got a finger poised over the Mutiny switch in anticipation of too many placeholders in a row.
Adults (like me) who take to the internet to write about wrestling need to give it more importance than maybe we should. It justifies our act of writing about it, and creates a vicious cycle of feeding into our heightened expectations. Bray Wyatt may have already shown us his deepest depths, his most complex dimensions. The writers may not have anything else. Vince may not want anything else. This might be the plateau that Bray Wyatt will ride for a very long time. It’s a hard blow to our expectations after almost a year of solid character development. But this ain’t Breaking Bad, baby. We might need to turn the channel to get that kind of fix.
There has never, ever been an era of pro wrestling when they have gotten everything right all the time. High times, sure, but no time can be considered unimpeachable. World Wrestling Entertainment seems to put certain mechanisms in place to ensure that perfection can never be attained: requiring the Creative Team to read minds and deliver to a moving target, all with both hands tied behind their backs. Said Creative Team has a high turnover rate, due to said crazy treatment. Backstage antics are managed by a long-standing cast of cronies and evil geniuses. And I will be the first to say thank god for all of it. If Vince was a proper due-diligence kind of civilian, with a hired-by-merit team of straight-shooting professionals, we wouldn’t have nearly as much to talk about.
Wrestling blogs are a dime a dozen, actually cheaper, and we’d all dry up and blow away with the wind if wrestling didn’t sometimes suck. I have a distinct memory from a high school English class, when we had to write a movie review (we all watched the same movie). I really didn’t like the movie, and so I went against my usual instincts of being a people-pleaser and totally skewered the film. Not only did it feel GOOD to channel those negative emotions into a piece of writing, but it was a lot more FUN to find the right words. And now I’m a grown-up who relishes an opportunity to criticize a match, or the announce team, or someone’s wardrobe. Nothing is too precious to escape our writerly talons, and it feels great to crack a joke at WWE’s expense. Sometimes it even feels like they’re lobbing softballs our way (remember when Batista made fun of Daniel Bryan fans for reading comic books, when he’ll soon be promoting his comic book movie?). For every moment that’s just plain bad, there are moments that make up for it – even by being so bad that they’re delightful.
How many other shows on TV are targeting such a large age range, and juggling so many balls in the air at once? This is in no way excusing the times when WWE falls short, but it’s helping to keep my own lofty expectations grounded when I feel like I just got cheated out of 3 hours of my life. It’s my choice to keep watching, and sometimes all it takes is one amazing 6-man tag to make it all worthwhile. I know you feel the same way. It’s a testimony to our love for pro wrestling, and I’ll go back to that Dickens quote: it’s a love against reason and against promise.
I spent most of WrestleMania XXX jumping off the couch, dancing around, re-enacting things, high-fiving people, and whooping like a buffoon. An experience like that can go one of two ways thereafter. It can translate to a more generous reserve of goodwill and forgiveness during the low times, or it can translate to a more flammable sense of betrayal and disappointment (“I know Extreme Rules won’t live up to WrestleMania but WHAT IN THE FILTH FLARN FLYING FECAL MATTER IS THIS CRAP??!! P.S. SETH ROLLINS RULEZ.”) Aside from the opening match and The Shield/Evolution, I realized there is a third way to go after the high of WrestleMania: it’s neither forgiveness nor disappointment, but boredom.
And not necessarily because the show was that bad. There was nothing too wrong with it, but I have found myself in a state of being difficult to impress. Is it because the months leading up to WrestleMania were quite enthralling, with a satisfying finish, but have offered no follow-up cigarette to savour? Is it because I’m no longer a kid, and I need adult levels of sport and entertainment to keep me happy?
I actually know the answer, and it goes right back to expectations. If I’m a grown up looking to watch an entertaining wrestling show, it will behoove me to remember a few things:
1. I’m not the only one in the audience that they’re catering to.
2. The players have real human bodies that are in the trenches most days of the year.
3. Those players are acting on the whims of a capricious god, Mr. Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
4. Maybe I need to keep my shit in perspective. All analogies to wrestling as a lover aside.
5. You’re always hardest on the ones you love.
Talk about your expectations in the comments below, or tweet me @kickyhick.See you next week!