Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Understanding Professional Wrestling, Part 2

Posted by nathanpowers22 on March 23, 2017

The focus of this week’s readings (“‘I Was Stabbed 21 Times by Crazy Fans’: Pro Wrestling & Popular Concerns with Immersive Story Worlds” and “The Marks Have Gone Off-Script: Rogue Actors in the WWE’s Stands”) is clearly on Ford’s model of “quintuple viewing” to describe the complicated relationship between fans and producers/performers in the world of pro wrestling. It’s an interesting idea presented in a way that recast the examples of fan behavior presented in an entirely new, refined way for me, personally. Many of these actions reminded me of similar patterns in the realm of live entertainment–specifically music concerts, stand-up routines, late-night talk shows, and sitcoms–though what I discuss is not really as influential in the long-term for the performers involved.

Of course, I realize some of you might be thinking “sitcoms aren’t filmed in front of live studio audiences anymore,” but to that I say, have you ever watched The Big Bang Theory without the laugh track? Regardless of whether this canned laughter is authentic or not, it’s critical to the pacing of the show and probably elevates viewer enjoyment, subconsciously or otherwise. The same might be said of late-night talk shows, where I highly doubt anyone would think any of the hosts were so funny that they couldn’t keep from laughing at even the slightest quip. Everyone watching at home/online is aware of this, but it’s all a part of the comedic atmosphere presented. However, the audience members for both sitcoms and late-night talk shows are really limited to roles as spectators and performers, with no real power for creative direction; they just watch and laugh or boo (or gasp or aww, for sitcoms). In contrast, concert and stand-up experiences have a greater depth of engagement than these media because audiences play critical and communal roles to some extent as well.

Whereas the former media have a pretty stable safety net in that audiences almost always react as expected, musicians and comedians alike must rely on their performance ability to secure the desired response. There are countless examples of musicians getting booed off stage and comics being heckled into submission, but in some ways (or many ways, for comedians) this becomes part of the spectacle. For musicians, getting booed off stage becomes an incentive to practice more (or not, if they’re too lazy or drugged out), while heckling can become an opportunity for redemption by having a battle of wits with the problematic spectator who, while critiquing the comedian’s performance, is performing a comedy routine of their own. Additionally, in the worlds of comedy and music, there is almost always a mix of casual and hardcore communities that control the way a performance is structured. While musician’s try to balance set lists combining new releases with past hits and deep cuts popular among early followers, (successful) comedians often write new jokes to avoid awkward encounters with fans that have already heard all of their old material.


One Response to “Understanding Professional Wrestling, Part 2”

  1. katemilner9 said

    You do a good job at describing how, yet again, we’re seeing how vital fan participation is to the success of many forms of media. Just as you describe The Big Bang Theory without a laugh track, and how unsatisfying that would be, we’re forced to wonder if wrestling without the hype of the crowd would be just as awkward.

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