Monday, 22 November 2010

Back to Wrestling: Drama, Story and Character 1

There have been studies of wrestling's gallery of characters but they are, as far as I am aware, mostly American. I have no immediate interest in American wrestling, though I have read a couple of American wrestlers' autobiographies. I am fascinated by the British range.

In essence it is simple. Good fights bad. Good doesn't necessarily win, in fact Good often loses, but it's a long game, since Good will angle for a rematch, which is followed by another rematch and so on, and so it is always possible that Good might triumph in the end. That hope must always remain.

The bad must also win, and more often than the good, because wrestling must refer to something in real life. In real life, the crowd know all too well, the winners are seldom good and the poor are less powerful than the rich.

Because this isn't fair, it is frustrating. Frustration is, in effect, suppressed energy. The product is transferred energy: energy must be expended on it. A display of violence something close to anarchy is required, but the anarchy - in British wrestling particularly - is essentially pantomime. The anarchy seems to resemble Bakhtin's idea of carnival, but, unlike carnival, it doesn't reverse the order of society. It curses it, laughs at it and guys it, but in the end, accepts it. There isn't an equivalent of the wealthy or tyrannical to be defeated or mocked. The wealthy and tyrannical never enter the arena. Authority, however, does.

Authority exists in the form of the referee. The referee, like everyone else involved in the spectacle, is a character within the drama, not an arbitrator following some external procedure. The referee represents authority and authority is blind. In a typically British understanding of authority, the referee figure is never corrupt, merely stupid and easily taken in. This might reflect the underclass view of the state: it certainly enacts it. The state often supports the unworthy and the crooked through simple blindness not out of sheer hostility. The referee, by the way, never resorts to the signals in the diagram above. The diagram shows how justice might work if it had eyes.

It is only the 'manager' character who is truly wicked and corrupt. The manager may appear with one of the fighters, inevitably the villainous one. Manager manipulates, distracts attention, harms the heroic opponent in any underhand way he can. His business is in the dangerous space between the ring and the front row. If the identification of the manager with a real boss is too powerful then Manager is in the front line for a beating. The suspension of disbelief has to be balanced quite astutely for Manager, because real violence has been known to have been visited on him (or indeed her as in the case of local Sweet Soraya / Saraya once, if I remember right.)

Among the contestants themselves the villain role is often preferred to the hero or 'blue-eye' role because the villain generates heat. The excitement of stage hatred trumps the excitement of stage affection. Heroes will get cheered partly in themselves but more for punishing the villains. Justice - the deepest formalised instinct here - must be served.

Of the two qualities desirable in heroes one is tribal, the other aesthetic. The hero represents the local, and the local is very narrowly defined. It is the same in wrestling as in all supporter sports, in that your greatest rival is the next and nearest and most comparable. If you are from Norwich, then the devil is from Ipswich. In aesthetic terms, you are expected to be handsome, but if you are local enough this goes by the board.

I'll think a little about the specifics of heroes and villains next, but also about the form of the drama.

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