Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wrestling criticism and the Devo Paradox

I read this article on the AV Club yesterday and immediately thought about wrestling critics and the culture of instant reaction. Here's what I found most relevant:
It’s important to note, though, that the Devo skeptics weren’t “wrong” per se. Devo intended to provoke with its science-fiction mission statements and its emotionless renditions of ’60s party music, so the affronted reactions that the band received from some quarters weren’t just expected, but to some extent, desired. Art and criticism are supposed to be in conversation with each other, and the Devo-haters were just answering the band in the terms its members had established.

WWE provokes its audience in a similar way quite often. "Oh you like this guy? We'll build him up then tear him down, just to get you to really boo his opponent." WWE is not above manipulating fan demands to build up another project they're working on.
Plenty of music-lovers dug Devo back in 1978. If anything, the loudest adverse reactions to Devo were an example of what happens when a solidly entertaining rock band is rejected by writers who’ve been hyped up to expect genius. The Devo phenomenon is representative of the way critics sometimes rush to apply the brakes to a trend or an artist that seems to be racing to premature canonization.
What wrestling critic isn't guilty of this? Someone catches on and the IWC instantly turns on them: The Rock, Steve Austin, John Cena, hell, even before there was an internet, that segment of the wrestling fanbase turned on Hulk Hogan.
Ryan Adams talked about this... noting that each album he releases seems to be greeted with a shrug by critics who a year or two later will cite those same albums as the kind of excellent music that Adams doesn’t make any more. “What’s really happening is this: I’m making records, and people are fucking trying to have an instant emotional connection with something that’s bigger than them, bigger than their immediate response.”
In the 90s, I heard: "Why can't WWE be like it was in the 80s? I miss the REAL wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, Jake the Snake and the Ultimate Warrior."
In the 00s, I heard: "Why can't WWE be like it was in the 90s? I miss the REAL wrestlers like Stone Cold, The Rock and Mick Foley."
In a few years, we'll be pining for the days of Edge, CM Punk and Rey Mysterio.
Consider 2007, when two of the best American movies of the ’00s were released: No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. The buzz on both was high before they were released, and throughout the end of ’07 and into early ’08, much ink was spilled about which of the two—if either—was really a new American classic, and which of the two was better. Who cares about these questions now? Both movies are so rich, powerful, and entertaining that they’ve easily outlasted the immediate attempts to pigeonhole, position, or nitpick them.
I usually shy away from bullshit self-help slogans that people post on their Facebook pages or retweet from Rev Run, but I read something a couple days ago that really stuck with me, "Will this matter a year from now?" And it can be applied to anything like worrying about what happened a work today to critiquing wrestling. Last year, Sheamus and Daniel Bryan were "buried" when they were bumped off the WrestleMania card. This year? They're battling each other with the World Heavyweight Championship on the line. Did their snub last year matter a year from now? Obviously not. Even if it did and they faded into obscurity, wrestling is a continuing form of entertainment that just keeps rolling along. WWE's missed a lot of opportunities over the years, but wrestling's still on every Monday night and WrestleMania still happens every year with plenty of great and memorable moments along the way.
reacting nearly in real time to stories that sometimes take years to play out isn’t always fair to the writers and actors who are trying to develop ideas carefully over multiple episodes. Plus, the need to have something to say every week means that TV critics sometimes scrutinize beats and jokes more than they can withstand.
Raw and Smackdown are on every single week, 52 weeks a year, add in a monthly PPV and you have 244 hours of programming a year. Your average sitcom does about 8. Critically-acclaimed hour-long cable dramas do less than 10. Trying to analyze all 244 of those hours match-by-match, segment-by-segment, minute-by-minute is always going to make it seem worse than it really is. We all go into this knowing we're not dealing with anything like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, can it really stand up to that kind of scrutiny? Does it need to?
I hasten to add that I’m not pointing any fingers here that I wouldn’t point at myself. I know firsthand that when I’m writing about a show, I tend to be harder on it than if I’m just watching as a fan. I also know from decades of TV-watching that sometimes a series that seems to have gone off the rails looks much better than I remembered when I catch up with it again years later.
The Invasion wasn't that bad. The Fingerpoke of Doom could've worked. WWECW was actually a really great wrestling show. But the hype, the refusal to let things play out (both by viewers and writers), fussing over a name, it killed our enjoyment at the time.

I am not as good of a writer as the AV Club's Noel Murray, so I'll leave this piece the same way he left his brilliant piece:
But professional critics and casual enthusiasts alike can always benefit from a little perspective, and a little patience. We should try to remember that sometimes the moment when we feel most compelled to comment on a piece of art is the moment when we’re least equipped to appreciate it.

1 comment:

  1. In mentioning Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, it brings up one of the things that wrestling doesn't really like exploring too much... characters being very much in the grey area. Their actors and actresses are usually in the grey for a show or two while making their way from one of the two polarities in that world.

    And in the arena of things that may or may not matter a year from now... all those whiny entitled people who are now seeking refunds from Amazon because they didn't like the ending of ME3. I think the furore is definitely going to die down, but I hate the precedence this sets and the effect, however minor, this sort of behavior will have on future gaming narratives.