Monday, April 28, 2008

How Do They Do That?

Is the question that I had to ask myself after the Undertaker/Edge match at Backlash last night. How do they do that? By that, I am referring to something that happened at Wrestlemania this past March that happened again at Backlash last night. The ‘that’ I am referring to is this way of pacing a match that slowly draws the crowd in and ends with them erupting in a fury, all on their feet and screaming their hearts out when just minutes before there was only passive engagement. This is what Wrestlemania 24 ended on. Only there I was one of the mindless hordes that were completely enrapt with their performance. And last night I had enough awareness of the phenomenon that I stopped and watched the crowd. Amazed that like clockwork they had done it again.

What makes professional wrestling hard to manage is that it has one of the most diverse fan bases in entertainment. Some are going to be socially inept, some are going to be theater sophisticates, some are politicians and some are athletes in other sports, and the list can go on indefinitely. How do you entertain such a wide audience? Easy, you give them basic entertainment. The classic Greek mythology storylines with a modern twist, it worked for Homer and Hollywood still puts out a high amount of movies that are twists of the standard hero or heroine / villain or villainess dynamic that culminates with some profound self-discovery or violent resolution.

The only other arts that have attained this type of cross racial cross cultural cross everything audience ratio are television, movies and sports franchises. Basically the broadcasted media theory is that people who watch wrestling, basic television and sports in general are stupid and don’t actually require a high level of entertainment. The demographic of fans argues that theory, but how many industries would lose money if it were thought that professional wrestling was a suitable entertainment source? Why else would these factions make a point of telling audiences, you may be stupid, but at least you don't watch wrestling. I digress.

With that said, everything is in the hands of the performer. That is what is astounding about what I’ve witnessed two times in a row from The Undertaker and Edge. That type of consistency is pretty impressive. It’s knowing that Lebron James is going to give you 30 points tonight at least. That Jason Kidd will have double digit assists. That Kathleen Battle will always be on-key and that Jose Manuel Correno will be Jose Manuel Correno. This was a statement, that Edge and Taker will be gold, every time.

It reminded me of Stone Cold and Rock confrontations that left arenas practically ripping apart from the energy levels vibrating through the participants and the crowd. But Rock/Stone Cold was always as the characters were, barely leashed aggression threatening to boil over. Depending on the length of the match you would get quick bursts and pops when people were involved. But like most things that explode, the aftermath is short lived and generally just exhausts the source.

I am recalling specifically Wrestlemania 17, which I also was in attendance for. This pay per view was emotionally devastating from onset. After covering my eyes and cringing through TLC 2 and spending Triple H/ ‘Taker recovering still from TLC 2 and whatever other match happened in the interim, I was finally ready for Rock/Stone Cold. And the crowd was barely tethered. The match was long and the energy was high throughout, but lulled in odd spots. The crowd was growing increasingly exhausted, some fans couldn’t participate anymore because the intensely high energy level. Had the match been shorter it would’ve been outstanding, but the length, the energy, the dips and peaks were just too much. The ideal was the roller coaster effect, sudden pitches, hills and valleys, culminating in the big drop at the end as Stone Cold sells out to Vince McMahon in front of his hometown crowd. There was actual crying among the fans by the way.

I must admit that the slow build ending a pay per view as opposed to a roller coaster end is preferable. After Wrestlemania 24 I was resplendent in the after glow of this slow build match as I was able to slowly get there and burn everything out in the last few minutes, leaving me in a good place where I was properly emotionally exhausted while not being over-taxed. After the roller coaster 4-way elimination match I was agitated, a little jittery and had completely lost the glow from Undertaker/Edge 2. I’m all for diversity but it was hard not to notice the difference in the audience as well. But it accomplished its goal, left the people clamoring for more.

So back to the question at hand, how do they do that? How is it that two, although very talented performers, can go into a match and perform in a way that by increments the crowd is drawn in until eruption? It is amazing to me and mystifying all at the same time. This force, cult of personality that some people have and can channel for this business. How is it that this type of thing continues to not garner the respect it deserves in the public eye?

Vocally I’ve been known to bring down the house, no problem. But the idea of doing it on so many levels with such a widely diverse audience and with a partner is frankly beyond my skill set. Regardless I would like to say Kudos to The Undertaker and Edge, and huzzah. Fine performance gentlemen.