(Idea stolen shamelessly from the heart and soul of the CF, Mizfan - was kind enough to approve of my jacking of ideas.)
I love the Saw movies. Love 'em. The traps, the gut-wrenching gore, the twisted dilemmas a tortured soul forces people to make – right up my alley. Most of my peers who aren't fans of the Saw movies can't stand the gore. That's OK; I don't consider it a weakness if a person can't sit and watch a movie character dig through a pit of used needles for a key. In fact, I'm far from a hero – I've cringed plenty of times whilst watching the series. One praise I frequently sing to prospective Saw viewers, should they find the ability to get past the torturous scenes, is the frightening questions about human psychology and morality posed by the movie series. In my eyes, it's much more than people bleeding, breaking bones, and tearing skin. That element exists, of course; it's in fact shouted about in the movies. But there's a lot of depth, I find, behind all of the gore. Contrast that with, say, Piranha 3D, a movie with which I struggle to find any kind of profound meaning. I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to hearing an analysis of the statements Piranha 3D makes about human nature, but at the moment, I find it, quite simply, a shallow blood 'n guts flick. Its gore is its whole element; Saw uses gore as a tool for a deeper meaning.
The movie industry, obviously, is not the only genre of entertainment for which these tools can be effectively used or grossly misused; if it were, this column would be stained with irrelevancy. WWE has had its somewhat oscillating and innately controversial history with blading – an admittedly less extreme version of the gore used by the likes of Saw. Most know that the frequency of blood in the WWE has sharply dwindled in the last half decade or so, with a rogue blade job by a CM Punk or a brutal affair between Cena and Lesnar standing out as rare examples. Gone are the days of Triple H's monthly post-PPV forehead band-aid; much rarer are the days of the Eddie Guerrero and Randy Orton blood waterfalls (see Judgment Day '04 and New Year's Revolution '07) and the oft-familiar crimson mask of Shawn Michaels. The issue I aim to explore is the extent to which WWE has suffered from their severe decline of the employment of blood during matches. There's an obvious argument with regards to the safety aspect of cutting out cutting, but I think that's another column for another time. I aim to simply discuss how matches have been affected.
Why use blood in the first place? On the surface, probably a somewhat juvenile question. Wrestling is a physical form of entertainment, and intended to portray competitors beating each other up, so the sporadic use of blood would seem to add to the physicality of the genre. Makes sense. Or perhaps it is used to attract the naturally bloodthirsty sides of fans – you almost always hear a collective gasp or sign of awe from a live crowd when it's revealed that a wrestler has been visibly lacerated. Like the now cliché car crash, it's difficult to peel one's eyes from the visual. That makes sense to me, as well. However, it was by recently re-reading Bret Hart's book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, that I found a reason that exhumed truth for me. Why use blood?
“Though I'd bladed when I thought it would increase the artistry of the match, the practice was clearly stupid, and stopping it was a step in the right direction to protecting wrestlers. What bothered me was that Vince banned blading four months too late. My forehead had so many deep cuts in it from our recent run of cage matches that I could easily pull the slices apart with my fingers.”
“It would increase the artistry of the match.”
Brilliant matches aren't simply a collection of athletic maneuvers haphazardly bundled together; they're a sequence of athletic maneuvers sewn together with the help of several intangibles. Some intangibles are subtle, including facial expressions from the likes of greats CM Punk, Eddie Guerrero and Booker T, and nods to history, such as Dolph Ziggler's pre-match kiss with AJ at WM29. Some are more overt, such as crowd reactions (think Cena/RVD from One Night Stand '06) and the topic of discussion, blood. All of these extras, so to say, are tools used to increase the artistry of a match. They can make a diagram a painting, turn an otherwise three and a half star match into a four star match.
Watch the Bret Hart/Steve Austin match from WrestleMania 13, and imagine it without a drop of blood. Would it still have been great? Almost unquestionably. The match was far, far more than the bloody face of Austin...and yet, the simple visual of Austin trapped in the Sharpshooter, with blood trickling down his face and into his teeth...
That's increasing the artistry of a match. The blood all over his face adds that extra amount of emotion to viewers; you know how much pain he's in as he literally tastes his own blood. When he eventually passes out, the fact that it's into a pool of his own blood adds just that certain extra bit. Like the gore employed in Saw, the blood here represents something deeper. It's not blood for the sake of blood.
Watch John Cena and Umaga go to war in a Last Man Standing match at the 2007 Royal Rumble. Had we witnessed no blading at all, the match, I believe, still would have been deemed a marvelous success. The fact that Cena won while being busted open is simply a bonus on top of his effort in that match. And yet, what a bonus...
The war-torn Cena has gone through hell to try to down the monster, and as he resorts to choking the life out of Umaga, his screams seem to sap whatever energy he himself has left. It takes everything out of him to put away the seemingly indestructible monster, and the fact that blood is streaming down his face accentuates that.
That's increasing the artistry of a match.
At this point, it may seem that I'm comfortably in the camp of the idea that the vast depletion of blood from the WWE scene is a great loss, and while I'm aware of the plethora of opinions that support that, I am likewise wise to the number of opinions that don't necessarily argue that blood is the make-or-break element to many types of matches. As a matter of fact, it's toward the latter that I slightly lean. Can blood increase the artistry of a match? Absolutely. It has done so countless times.
On the other hand, it's far easier to misuse the tool than it is to use it extremely well. When one finds success with a tool, when it demonstrates its ability to raise an otherwise three and a half star match to a four star match, one is presented with the danger of becoming attracted to that tool. Too attracted. One may fall on it when it's not applicable. The risk exists that the tool could become a crutch. I've stated that blood, like countless other intangibles, has the potential to make a diagram a painting. Though paintings are generally thought of as more beautiful, sometimes it's simply the case that a diagram is more effective. Had my Quantum Physics professor spent a lecture painting a portrait of a particle in a box, I would have understood it with far less certainty than I did based on a ten second diagram.
My point, essentially, is that the WWE occasionally slipped into the overuse of blood when it didn't add to the match in the ways they likely desired. The tendency to include blood for nearly every cage match, nearly every hardcore match, for a match nearly every PPV, caused plenty of increases in artistry, but simultaneously brought us instances of blood simply for the sake of blood. Worse yet, there were documented instances of wrestlers or promoters stating that matches “needed” blood. For the accolade with which I lauded Bret Hart earlier, I would like to share another excerpt from his book that speaks in a rather tangential, if not completely reverse, direction to his earlier sentiment.
“...Roddy and I had planned that we were going to go against Vince's policy just this once. I was going to get a little juice: our babyface match desperately needed it if we were going to steal the show.”
Blood can increase the artistry of a match, but it shouldn't be the artistry of a match. Stone Cold's refusal to tap to the Sharpshooter had its emotive power enhanced by the sight of blood trickling into his teeth, but past any intangible, it was the act of not tapping that contributed massively to the definition of that match. John Cena's savage act in attempting to force Umaga down was made better by the blood splashed across his face, but it was the act of choking a monster with ring ropes that drove home the idea of desperation in that match. It's neither uncommon nor incorrect to think that certain matches ought to have blood to truly reach their highest potential. Any time it's perceived that a match needs blood to succeed, however, the tool becomes a crutch, and it runs the risk of becoming poorly misused.
Allow me to portray an example of a match that, in my controversial opinion, misused the concept of blood by relying on a crutch. Big stars? Big PPV match? Little juice wouldn't hurt, right? Unfortunately, that apparent tenet of WWE past has had matches prove it wrong. Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels wrestled in 2005 not in a barbarically driven, vitriolically inspired match, as, say, HBK and HHH or Orton and Cena have. On the contrary, Hogan/Michaels was primarily a dream match that happened to feature opponents far from fond of each other. It was, if you will, a smaller scale of Rock/Cena or Rock/Hogan. The blade job performed by Hogan screamed by-product of a large PPV match, not a by-product of the story being told by the two legends. The blood in that match was the Piranha 3D to Austin/Hart's Saw: mildly entertaining, simply for the fact that there was blood, but nothing deeper. It didn't increase the artistry, not like the blood in Matt Hardy/Edge earlier that evening did.
For the seemingly limitless positive potential that the employment of blood held, it too lent itself to the dangers of misuse, and it's for such a reason I deem the relatively long-term vanquishing of blood a small loss, not a crippling one. Additionally, it's not as if it's the only way to increase the artistry of a match. Many intangibles, or tools, as I've referred to them, exist, and they've been used to near perfection at times in the bloodless era. Take another look at the images of Austin and Cena above. For how intensely deep and telling they are, examine the image below and tell me it's not just as telling...
It's all about which tools are available and how you use them. Because for every Saw that uses torturous scenes to help portray psychologically deep contemplations of the human mind, there's a Dead Poets' Society that reveals equal amounts of depth without the use of blood and gore.
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