IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: The Biggest Difference
By Al Laiman
Aug 9, 2012 - 1:03:16 PM
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IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: The Biggest Difference
It's a common trope for fans of professional wrestling to be nostalgic about the old days when everything seemed awesome and it just can't compare to what's on television anymore. Why is it that the big booms in wrestling seem to have captured fans more than they can today? What did they do differently at the time that just isn't computing in the modern era?
One of the major differences in professional wrestling definitely came in the form of the internet. I remember being in eighth grade and discovering "Smackdown Spoilers", and at the time, I was naive enough to think that they did a practice run of Smackdown and then did the entire show live again on Thursday (for the newer viewers, yes, Smackdown was once on Thursday, when someone actually saw it). In the big circle of wrestling fans throughout our classes, I would actually print up copies of the spoilers and give them out. It was like being a hipster at a mainstream concert. We knew what was going to happen before anyone else did.
Other things began to emerge on the internet too. In addition to show spoilers, returns were often rumored on these websites. Granted, half the time they weren't even close. I can't tell you how many times I read that Ken Shamrock was going to come back to WWF. That was over ten years ago though. Since then, leaks have gotten more prevalent. Bitter ex-employees like to spout off about what was going on. Technology has also made it easier to pass along knowledge in a few seconds before anyone can detect it. TNA had to go live to avoid shows being spoiled, but it must be small consolation, given that most people weren't going to watch it anyway. Hell, I only look to see how my friends and names I even remember are faring, given that I haven't seen an episode in a good three years.
To sum it up, one of the biggest differences is simply connected to this evolution of technology; people complain that there aren't any surprises when they read all of the surprises after they click on those little links that say "SPOILERS". It'd be like getting pissed at the ending of Dark Knight Rises after reading the plot on Wikipedia, and then blaming Christopher Nolan for not being surprised. I've received plenty of emails from fans who say they enjoy the product much more when they stop reading anything that involves spoilers and/or rumors.
It's been done to death, but another big difference is actual competition. Without the money of Ted Turner to back up a major wrestling organization, WWE has struggled to retain the viewership it once held during the height of the Monday Night Wars. It makes sense, as a team that is one game ahead in the standings is a lot more likely to play all out than one that is twenty.
One thing the competition fails to realize is that it's not who you put on the roster. TNA hiring Hulk Hogan and failing to move the needle on their progress is living proof that it's not the wrestlers themselves to maintain the name recognition, at least in the wrestling landscape. If arguably the most well-recognized name in professional wrestling barely registers as a blip on the radar, even if it is well past his prime, John Cena could defect to TNA tomorrow and chances are it wouldn't make much of a difference. The popularity lies in the company recognition.
I can't tell you how many times I sat at a WWE show in the mid-2000's, and listen to people wonder where certain wrestlers went; certain wrestlers like say, Christian, Booker T, the Dudleyz, etc, when they were main-eventing in the number two promotion. TNA has no name-recognition, and no amount of roster star-power is going to change that. The biggest thing WWE still has going for it is the name itself being recognized. Without another company even registering to anything but the most knowledgeable of fans, competition is a long way off. Without competition, the sense of urgency to truly create compelling television won't be there, because they know they have a set audience that fluctuates from time to time who are going to come back, no matter what. All the social media in the world could be added to the show to attempt to attract the new generation of viewers into paying more attention, but that core is generally always going to be there.
That's a big reason why they don't listen to the core; they don't give a damn what you want to see, because they know you're going to be back anyway. You can bitch about it all you want on the internet, but they know full well you'll be back next Monday night anyway, even if all you do is hate on it. You can be dissatisfied all you want with the product, but as long as you're tuned in to the show, all that matters is your miniscule contribution to that little number that comes out the next day. WWE is so focused on bringing back the casual fanbase that they had during the wrestling booms that they've managed to almost eliminate wrestling itself from the programming in an attempt to distance themselves from the stigma the phrase "professional wrestling" leaves in certain people. They don't seem to realize that no matter how many Tout videos and Twitter polls they run, those who have the disposition of hating wrestling are likely to remain that way, unless they have a particularly determined friend who exposes them to it. See Greenwoodrosie.
Personally, I miss when I first started wrestling, and every single match may not have been the most technically sound or particularly quality match, but every single match on the card seemed important. Maybe it was because I was a new fan and still riding the euphoria of finding something new I liked, but even the Sunday Night Heat matches before a Pay-Per-View had storylines, preview videos, and commentators that paid attention to what was going on. It gave a sense of thrill to everything, even if I didn't know who the wrestlers were at the time. Was the wrestling itself at its best at the late 90s? Probably not. Did they have a lot of silly, ridiculous, over-the-top angles? Definitely. Did everything at the time seem really super important, even if watching it in hindsight doesn't quite capture that mindset? You bet it does.
For those who read my 30 Thoughts this week, I was commending the WWE on giving us a three-hour show filled with wrestling matches. Not a whole lot of them were particularly good, but it was the fact that the show had matches. Granted, it was the amount they used to get in a two hour show, but we're talking baby steps in the right direction here. For the mid and lower card to truly matter, they have to be exposed on television on a regular basis and have a reason for these matches. That obviously couldn't happen in a single night, but it's progress. It's possible they might start using this extra hour to help with that. One simple "Primo and Epico were once clients of AW" doesn't really help a damn thing. Build on that, work toward it, give the fans a reason to give a shit about wrestlers beyond the big names in the main event.
Independent promoters know that their main event match is what is going to sell the tickets, but they have the rest of the card to sell the roster to make the fans come back. That is because it is the undercard that sells people on the show while they're watching it, and makes the main event anticipated, not the saving grace. If you want people to come back, the entire show has to be good, not just the names they know at the end. Who wants to sit for three hours, bored out of your mind, just to see one possibly good match involving a name you know? The effort has to be spread throughout the entire show. That is what will captivate the audience: Having a reason to care about every match, not just the big ones.
One final thing that I think holds a major difference in our perception of the professional wrestling product? I've said it before, but most of us were kids when we started watching, and let's face it, EVERYTHING was more awesome when we were kids. A lot of the shows we watched growing up were absolute shit, but we didn't realize it until we matured enough to realize it. Some of our favorite movies are ridiculed and laughed about now, but at the time, we were engrossed. I think pro wrestling is the same way in some aspects.
A lot of people critique the Attitude Era and the Golden Age of Wrestling from their perception of it now. I think the biggest asset that professional wrestling has is the atmosphere and the emotional involvement at the time at which it is taking place; the experience, if you will. I even admit to having a hard time watching stuff from the 80s, because it doesn't hold that significance in my mind of remembering going through it the first time.
Whenever you first start watching wrestling, it's likely the period you'll remember most fondly. You don't have anything on which to base your judgment, just the experience of seeing someone dive from a ladder for the first time or win the first truly great match you've ever seen will always give it an edge over anything that follows. Some of our differences and comparative analysis simply lies in the fact that many younger than us are experiencing the same joys we once lived years ago, and those moments are marketed at them and no longer at us, RAW 1000 being a possible exception. Most of the kids didn't know who the APA were, but we sure as hell knew why that was awesome, beyond the fact that JBL was teaming up with the DAMN! guy.
That being said, I can't imagine that even during my most naive and oblivious time as a new professional wrestling fan, I could've found anything redeeming about Alberto Del Rio.
For followers of Jaded Hope, if you haven't seen it yet, check out the best of Season 2 here. This week's new episode is posted at the top, as per usual: