Nostalgia and the Wrestling Fan

Works-In-Process

We should perhaps reconfigure [nostalgia] in terms of a distinction between the desire to return to an earlier state or idealized past, and the desire not to return but to recognize aspects of the past as the basis for renewal and satisfaction in the future. Nostalgia can then be seen as not only a search for ontological security in the past, but also as a means of taking one’s bearings for the road ahead in the uncertainties of the present. This opens up a positive dimension in nostalgia, one associated with a desire for engagement with difference, with aspiration and critique, and with the identification of ways of living lacking in modernity. Nostalgia can be both melancholic and utopian.  –“The Modalities of Nostalgia” by Michael Pickering and Emily Keightley, Current Sociology ✦ November 2006 ✦ Vol 54(6): 919–941

No photo description available.

Just under 200 hundred people have gathered at Embassy Suites by Hilton Bloomington, 2800 American Blvd. W for an event in appreciation for the American Wrestling Association.  The audience skews male, white, and older — but with a surprising number of women and folks too young to remember the AWA in its heyday.  We sit around the table, waiting for the meet and greet to end, talking to each other — one person at our table old enough to have been employed by the AWA when it was still in operation, behind the scenes, a few who remember the Showboat era, a few who remember the syndicated TV era, a few who remember repeats on ESPN Classic — a spectrum of people coming together with one thing in common — a nostalgic connection to the American Wrestling Association.

What was the AWA?

According to Wikipedia, “the American Wrestling Association (AWA) was an American professional wrestling promotion based in Minneapolis, Minnesota that ran from 1960 to 1991. It was owned and founded by Verne Gagne and Wally Karbo.”

The AWA first appeared in my [David’s] life on All-Star Wrestling, syndicated televised wrestling that ran in the Milwaukee market.  [John lived in Michigan, which was within the Big Time Wrestling territory.]  For point of reference, this was AWA televised wrestling in the 1980s:

The history of the AWA is chronicled in multiple places.  In brief, you can find it in this essay in Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine.  It’s chronicled in greater detail in Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling: From Verne Gagne to the Road Warriors.  Audio interviews with Schire can be found here.

The AWA was a regional promotion, first and foremost.  It made an attempt to go national, in the “Showboat era” [after 1985], when ESPN aired shows from the Showboat Sports Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. By 1989, the promotion contracted, and by the 1990s, it was a memory.

The story of AWA, as a trademark and as an intellectual property, continues forward into the 21st century, as recorded by the Minneapolis City Pages.

Fan-Wrestler Interaction

The event is broken into four phases:

  • A “Meet and Greet,” which is another way of
  • Lunch
  • A Question and Answer session
    • Awards and Inductions into the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame
    • Ken Resnick told the crowd that the biggest difference between working for the AWA and the WWF/WWE was the emphasis on the house shows.  The AWA still saw TV as a way to generate heat for the house shows, while the TV shows were the apex of the WWF/WWE productions.
    • “Sodbuster” Kenny Jay was one of several wrestlers to salute the role of spouses — making the career of wrestlers possible.
    • Other wrestlers talked about the move from AWA to WWF, about suing McMahon for violation of his contract — reminding us that the talent was not only at the mercy of the promoter.
  • A Trivia Competition, with 25 questions.  In a moment of wry irony, the prizemaster noted that the questions were about the AWA, but the prizes largely reflected the WWF/WWE, because the WWE is ubiquitous.

The Power of Nostalgia for the AWA

Nostalgia is a homesickness;  it is a space of vulnerability that marketers take advantage of.  And yet, we think, it is also a site of possible social power.

Michael Pickering and Emily Keightley tell us that “the term nostalgia derives etymologically from the Greek nostos, meaning to return home, and algia, meaning a painful condition” — it “was related to prolonged and usually involuntary
absences from home… associated with a sort of homesickness for a lost past.”  According to Pickering and Keightley, changes in the term his involved “a shift from spatial dislocation to temporal dislocation.  Nostalgia moved from a sense of loss over a place to a sense of loss over a time passed.”  In a room full of wrestling fans, the AWA is the lost past, the moment when wrestling was bigger than life but still in your living room.  These fans are homesick, in this sense, for an experience not just of wrestling but of family connection in front of the TV or in the Civic Center watching a house show.

That homesickness is a tool for sales.  An event like this is clearly marketing and sales, capitalism — selling us photos and autographs because we feel nostalgic for classic wrestling.  After all, nostalgia can “counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety,” and “evoke feelings of security, comfort and trust.”  And, Forbes tells us, “those sentimental feelings make people increasingly willing to spend money on consumer goods and services.”  Nostalgia loosens our pocketbook, and there are people waiting to take our money.

But there is positive power to nostalgia.  Researchers Lasaleta, Sedikides and Vohs claim that “when people have higher levels of social connectedness and feel that their wants and needs can be achieved through the help of others, their ability to prioritize and keep control over their money becomes less pressing,” according to the Journal of Consumer Science.  I want to shift from the marketing implication to the social implication.

Did attendees at this event “have higher levels of social connectedness and feel that their wants and needs can be achieved through the help of others”?  Sitting at a table where the youngest man present was in his early twenties, the oldest well more than seventy, with scatterings between… Sitting at a table with modest racial and other diversity… brought together by a common affection for the AWA…  There was an atypical social connectedness.

Sitting in this room, we wonder about the productive power of nostalgia — what Pickering and Keightley call “a means of taking one’s bearings for the road ahead in the uncertainties of the present.”  Could this energy be harnessed not just for cash for autographs, but something more positive, more powerful?

List of Attendees

The following is a list of attendees at this event, recorded mostly for future scholars who might find this info useful.

* “Precious” Paul Ellering, former wrestler and manager of the Road Warriors!
* “Sodbuster” Kenny Jay, one of the AWA’s most beloved wrestlers!
* Steve Olsonoski, an AWA mainstay in the 70’s and 80’s!
* Mick Karch, former AWA announcer and “The Voice of Minnesota Wrestling!”
* Eddie Sharkey, the “Trainer of Champions” (Road Warriors, Rick Rude, Jesse Ventura, Barry Darsow and many more!)
* Ken Resnick, former AWA and WWE announcer!
* The Terminators, a rugged tag team who appeared in the latter days of the AWA!
* Al DeRusha, former AWA TV Director, referee and promoter!
* “The Golden Idol,” co-owner of Steel Domain Wrestling who at one time managed The Sheik, Ray Stevens, Chris Markoff and more!
* “The Architect” Ed Hellier, co-owner of Steel Domain Wrestling who was mentored into the business by the great Nick Bockwinkel!
* George Schire, noted wrestling historian and AWA “authority!”
* Amy Hennig, former wrestler, daughter of the late Curt Hennig and grandaughter of the late Larry “The Axe” Hennig!
* Scott and Stacy Kowalski, son and daughter of the late Stan “Krusher” Kowalski, one half of the 1st AWA Tag Team Champs!
* Carol Castle from the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame!

References

Pickering, Michael and Emily Keightley.  “The Modalities of Nostalgia.” Current Sociology ✦ November 2006 ✦ Vol 54(6): 919–941


by John Heppen [Professor of Geography, UW-River Falls] and David Beard [Associate Professor of  Rhetoric, University of Minnesota Duluth]

The Emotionality Behind Ciampa/Gargano: Part 1 Pre-Tag Team Titles

Works-In-Process

One night while working on the Ciampa/Gargano slash project i.e. reading fanfic and luvin it), I realized how all these fanfics are not attempts to recode the Ciampa/Gargano (CG) NXT story (e.g. characters, plot points, facts) but to recode the emotions of the stories as those emotions play a role in how fans decode the stories.

For these fans, their emotional reactions to wrestlers are important, and Ciampa and Gargano have encoded some pretty powerful emotional beats into their NXT story. Even before their break-up, fans had a lot to decode about their bond, and the fanfic pre-break-up explores those emotions. The fanfic post-break-up explores different emotions, but also tries to reconcile the negative feelings between the duo to reunite the pair. Being faithful to the story’s facts doesn’t matter as much as exploring the emotional text and subtext of these wrestlers.

To understand how the fans are decoding and recoding the emotional beats encoded into the story, I decided to go back and chart Ciampa and Gargano’s matches across NXT. I wanted to plot the emotionality of their matches, both as a tag team and as singles, to understand what the fans are reacting to with their stories.* And, as a fan myself, it has been fascinating to go back and watch these matches. Especially for their first matches, I didn’t have the emotional investment in them then that I do now (like, seriously, I haven’t loved a “fictional” character this much since David Tennant’s run as The Doctor). This means I am rewatching matches I only vaguely remember with my complete love for them.

While I do not remember the beats, I do remember the results. And knowing what happened does make it easier to pay attention to peripheral aspects of the match, like how they act on the apron or their facial expressions. Those moments are what I focused on to chart the emotional beats — and boy am I finding out some interesting things, like how much of a hugger Ciampa was!

Because there are so many matches to cover since their debut, I am breaking this timeline over several posts. This first one focuses on their work leading up to their tag team win against the Revival in 2016. Basically these are all the matches to build up the duo and the fans’ love for them.

2015: In the Beginning…

Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano are introduced in backstage segment on September 2, 2015. They appear with GM William Regal to set them up as participants in inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, and to set up the comedy-team of Tyler Breeze and Bull Dempsey. In this segment, neither man displays any real emotions other than intensity — even when Regal mispronounces Ciampa’s last name.

Their emotional bonding starts during the Classic. In their round 1 match on September 9, where they win to advance. There is emotional intensity from Gargano on apron trying to get Ciampa to give him the tag, which interestingly sets up a recurring theme of a hot tag from Ciampa to Gargano — like Ciampa needs to be saved by Gargano. More importantly, they hug after win and keep their arms around each other when facing the hardcam during their post-match celebration. They also get down on their knees on the ramp before exiting, with commentators saying how they cannot believe their luck. There, Gargano hugs Ciampa again, basically cradling Ciampa’s head to his chest. This motif would be a recurring aspect of their hugging, with one (usually Ciampa) cradling the other’s head to his chest (see the example below).

Their next match is in the second round on September 16. In their first promo, they respond to Baron Corbin/Rhyno, again bringing intensity. They receive a decent pop with their entrance, given how new they are, and during the match start to show more teamwork. Both men are definitely playing to the crowd and getting crowd behind them. The commentary positions them as faces and underdogs from the beginning. This match also has their first knee/kick move, which would come to be called the Meet in the Middle, but not as a finisher. Importantly, the commentators talk about their chemistry. The crowd is really into match, hoping CG would win. After losing, Ciampa goes to check on Gargano, who got the End of Days from Corbin, and stays at his side, checking on him until the end of the clip. This show of care and concern would become a motif in their matches.

After losing the tournament, they started doing singles matches. The next time they are on NXT together is October 30, only to be defeated by Chad Gable/Jason Jordan. Once again, CG have loads of crowd support, especially for how Gargano interacts with the crowd and his expressions. The match got “This is Wrestling” and “This is Awesome” (x3) chants. CG show teamwork, but perhaps are also the heels in the match given the types of tandem attacks they performed — as well as the intensity of their expressions. This character works suggests NXT was still trying to figure out who CG were in their roster. After loss, Ciampa rolls in pain in ring, with no sign of Gargano. Then the clip shows Ciampa outside the ring next to Gargano, both in pain. No real sign of emotional bonding between them in the match — which, if the goal was to position them as heels, makes sense.

This feeling them out also explains the singles work they did, that were pretty unspectacular, which is why I am not interested in discussing them here. The goal here is to understand how these two men interacted with each other on NXT, and their evolution as a tag team demonstrated that their strength was going to be through their relationship in and out of the ring. Once NXT realized that as well, CG would light up the arena.

2016: Becoming Official…

Ciampa and Gargano signed their Tier 2 WWE contracts on April 2nd, 2016, meaning that they could still go on indie dates. And they did so through summer 2016, which was great for me, as I got to see them a couple more times at AAW.

On April 13, 2016 they take on the Vaudevillains, and the commentators said they are reunited. By then the Vaudevillains had already appeared on SmackDown, so of course they were leaving. While waiting in the ring to start, Ciampa pats Gargano’s back, which is a move he does a lot over the year. The commentators said Ciampa had seemed out of his mind but seems relaxed  now, and that they both seem relaxed together, being more confident and comfortable. Gargano demonstrates how very skilled he is at showing pain, and got a power-up chant from the crowd. Otherwise the crowd is so quiet I can hear Ciampa trying to encourage Gargano. Hot tag to Ciampa. CG wins, but they just do their cornerpost poses, with no other interaction in the clip.

On May 25 they faced TM-61. When they pose together in corner, Ciampa pats Gargano’s back. Commentators in this match describe how TM-61 are people who really know each other because of wrestling together for so long. This positioning helps establish the relationship for CG: if they can defeat established teams after recently reuniting, then it means they are great. Ciampa calls for crowd support for Gargano. Miscommunication leads to CG collision in ring — they are still new to this, after all. First time they use their finisher as the finisher for a win. High-five after win, then sign of respect to opponents, clapping for them.

Their June 1 is their first match against The Revival. The Revival starts the episode by cutting a promo in-ring against Gable/Jordan (aka American Alpha), the current tag-team champions, but CG come out to support American Alpha and push themselves. Ciampa and Gargano show their mic and burn skills. CG kick Revival out of ring, leading to a match. CG poses together in corner when they come out in a show of unity. The crowd is behind CG, who often call for support, with Revival as the clear heels. A hot tag to Gargano and a quick cover by Gargano to win. Then Revival attacks both separately, with Ciampa attacked more, but saved by American Alpha. No sight of CG after the champions arrives.

At this point it is clear that CG are very good technical wrestlers and able to create matches that are unlike anything seen on Raw or SmackDown, especially for tag-team matches. Their emotional relationship is really just starting, and it would take the next two big matches featuring them both to cement their relationship as central to their NXT story.

CWC and TakeOver II…

In 2016, the WWE produced the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC), which led to reinvigorating the cruiserweight division on the main roster. On June 23, during the first round of the CWC, Ciampa and Gargano created an instant classic.

Now, leading up to it, the WWE produced a package for the match that questioned if their friendship survive. Gargano talks about being thrust into the tag team with Ciampa, but how something clicked instantly. Commentators say CG has chemistry. Ciampa talks about the past year of traveling and rooming together and depending on each other, which has led to their bond growing. He even mentions being in Gargano’s upcoming wedding party, saying “we’re as good of friends as you can get at this point.” The package shows them hugging on the ramp from their first win. Gargano confesses how he perhaps talks to Ciampa more than his fiance. Ciampa discusses how sometimes you hit family harder than others. Overall, the package does a great job summing up the relationship CG has been building and really foregrounds that aspect of the duo to create tension for the match: will they still be friends after one loses to the other?

Their pre-match interview adds to the package when the interviewer asks how being partners affects the match. Gargano says it matter if Ciampa is his partner or like a brother, and Ciampa is upset on how all he ever hears is people talking about “Johnny Wrestling.” They both posture about who is going to win, with Ciampa saying he will hurt the other, to which Gargano says “You do what you gotta do.” This exchange basically foreshadows Ciampa’s heel turn in 2017.

The match itself — is simply amazing. It is their first time fighting each other in the WWE, and is the main event of the episode. Being the main event also foreshadows the one-on-one matches they would have in 2018. Interestingly they are wearing the same colors: black, white, yellow. At the start, Ciampa is reluctant to shake hands and is intense, according to commentators, who call his attacks on Gargano vicious. Tommaso mockingly chants Johnny Wrestling to the crowd (again, foreshadowing his heel turn). The commentators play up Ciampa’s Psycho Killer history and position Johnny as the underdog, under assault, weaker, less intense. The commentators are worried about Gargano getting so many shots to the head, and are surprised he is taking so much violent punishment from the brutal Ciampa.

Ciampa routinely performs violent moves on Gargano, who keeps kicking out, making Ciampa frustrated. Commentator worried about the glassiness of Gargano’s eyes while Ciampa takes down knee pad to knee the other in head. But Ciampa pauses as commentator says these two are a tag team. Gargano looks back just in time to see Ciampa hesitate and question what he is doing, potentially to his friend, allowing Gargano to rest and then superkick him.

Ciampa comes back with vicious lungblower, but Gargano again kicks out of pin, making Ciampa scramble away with shocked look and leaving Gargano completely dazed. This leads to a “This is Awesome” chant as Gargano struggles to get up and an annoyed Ciampa questions what to do. Gargano legit looks like a wounded deer as he reaches out for Ciampa as both men lay on the mat — and Ciampa looks like a mountain lion. Commentator says how much it means to win this CWC if two friends are willing to beat each other up. They are also getting a “Fight Forever” chant.

Ciampa chops Gargano, spits in his hand to chop the other again. Gargano gets angry. Ciampa grabs Gargano’s jaw to force him to stand, as Gargano just stares at Ciampa. Ciampa shakes his head in disappointment, giving Gargano the opening to slap his face. Then Gargano has the opening for the pin.

Immediately after the match, Ciampa is visibly upset in the middle of the ring, while Gargano has retreated to corner. Ciampa still upset when referee raises Gargano’s arm in victory. After the referee leaves, both men are still in the ring, with Gargano kneeling and Ciampa standing. Gargano gets up, looks at the other, who doesn’t make eye contact with him. Gargano extends his hand for a handshake of respect, looking at the other who still won’t make eye contact. Ciampa walks away, shaking his head, and goes to leave the ring as Gargano sits on the mat.

Ciampa stands on ring, hits his own head, then goes back in. All the while the crowd is chanting to try to get him to go back to Gargano. Ciampa sits next to Gargano, grabs the other’s head and pulls Gargano to his chest in a hug as the crowd cheers. Ciampa then raises Gargano’s hand, and it is then that he makes eye contact with Gargano as they nod at each other. Then Gargano hugs Ciampa, who is visibly still upset about his loss. They shake hands as they get up, and then they hug again. Gargano then raises Ciampa’s hand.

In their official post-match interview, Gargano is asked what his victory means for their partnership. Ciampa comes into the interview when Gargano starts talking about him as a best friend. They just make eye contact. Gargano asks if he had to hit so hard, to which Ciampa responds with just “Johnny Wrestling” and walks off, to which Gargano laughs and says “that means he loves me” and says he considers Ciampa like a brother. Fraternal love cannot be easily broken.

Then, on August 20, the duo would make their first NXT TakeOver appearance at TakeOver: Brooklyn II versus The Revival for the tag-team championship. This match would go on to be voted as one of the best matches of the year.

Before the match, backstage, Ciampa gives Gargano the #DIY shirt, says its because they do things their way. This announces them as being finalized as a tag team, and sets up their relationship as being foundational to their story and success. In a pre-match package, when they meet with Regal after the CWC,  he says he hopes the CWC match won’t prevent them from acting as a team. Ciampa said that most teams don’t get to chose, but they do, and that he chooses Gargano every day. Saying this just drives home the point they are not brothers, but are not just friends. They seem to be something more, and they are going to tell their NXT story their way.

They come out in their new shirts and Ciampa puts his arm around Gargano, pulling him in, as they take in the scope of where they are and what they are about to do. Throughout the match, the crowd is loudly behind them, chanting “Let’s go Ciampa” and “Johnny Wrestling.” At one point in the match, both Revival guys are chasing after Gargano but Ciampa jumps into the ring to stand by his side and face down the Revival. The commentators say CG are long time friends who know each other very well, billing CG as they have done for past tag teams, thereby cementing them as officially working together as partners.

And then it seems like Johnny has pinned Dash Wilder after a Meet in the Middle, but Dawson puts Wilder’s foot on the rope and the referee calls it a two-count. Meanwhile Ciampa hugs Gargano to celebrate, so before they are made aware, CG are hugging in the middle of the ring as the crowd goes crazy over the supposed win. CG are holding each other in celebration when the referee informs them they didn’t win.

The Revival goes on to hurt Gargano’s knee, which was injured from the CWC. The Crowd tells him not to tap to Dawson’s figure four submission hold, but Johnny, in agony, does. As the Revival celebrates, CG sit in the middle of the ring, heartbroken. Ciampa gets up as Gargano’s hands are over his eyes, despondent. Ciampa then leans down and hugs Gargano, helps the other up, and keeps his hand on Gargano’s back as they thank the crowd. He then helps Gargano walk out of the ring. Outside the ring, Gargano says I’m sorry, and Ciampa pulls him back in for another hug, with his head to Ciampa’s chest. Ciampa keeps his hand on Gargano as he leads the other up the ramp.

With the CWC and TakeOver II matches, CG cement their abilities as in-ring storytellers, able to create emotional moments as they react to their opponents — even when those opponents are each other. In moments of loss, they are able to show their love for each other by being concerned for how each other is doing. Ciampa, in particular, demonstrates a level of tenderness that seems contradictory to his Psycho Killer persona. Ciampa seems to legit care for Gargano, so much so that he is willing to risk not winning the CWC match, and he is not going to hold Gargano responsible for losing the titles. The relationship between the men is becoming more important than winning.

Dusty Rhodes Redux…

The last couple matches to note in this post are not terribly noteworthy as they do not do much to build the emotionality of their story. In the 2016 Dusty Rhodes Classic, CG have a first round match versus Tian Bing/Ho-Ho Lun on October 26, which is really only important for noting it as the first time they came out to #DIY entrance theme. After winning, they moved on to the second round on November 2 versus the Revival; but the match never happens as Dawson came out on crutches, claiming a severe knee injury, and the Revival forfeited so they don’t have to face DIY in the match. The third round on November 9 was against the Authors of Pain. In one interesting moment, as both AOP are about to attack Gargano, Ciampa comes in to stop that double teaming, just like he did in TakeOver II. At the end, DIY has AOP beaten when The Revival shows up from underneath the ring and attack Johnny, but the referee didn’t see it, leaving Tommaso to be pinned.

Essentially this string of matches was just meant to further the rivalry between The Revival and #DIY, which led to the championship match between them at NXT TakeOver: Toronto. That match began #DIY’s championship reign, which would then lead to their breaking up, and the darkness that followed. Those matches will be covered next, in part two of this series.

 

*One thing I also need to chart is the transmedia nature of this story, as both Ciampa and Gargano did a lot on Twitter to build up their characters and relationship. They posted about living together, for example, and their work with Bobby Roode and the Glorious Bombs created a meme that still plays out today. What I have in these posts are just the NXT tapings, but these online appearances are definitely a part of this emotionality timeline.

Nylons and Midriffs: Between a Chamber and a Hard Place (February 18, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: thesouthafrican.com

The first stop on the Road to WrestleMania is behind us, and as expected, we’re left with more questions than answers leading up to the show of shows.

In this post, I will revisit how the women’s division has developed thus far this year, as well as run down the hills and valleys of last night’s pay-per-view, Elimination Chamber. But before I do, I did want to flesh out the main event segment of last week’s RAW. You know the one…

Mr. McMahon suspends Becky Lynch, inserts Charlotte Flair into the RAW women’s title match at WrestleMania

Image credit: sobrosnetwork.com

This segment incited a strong response from fans, as I’m sure WWE intended. I had three main thoughts about the angle.

First, I do not like the involvement of authority figures in this storyline. I am a fan that prefers authority figures that take a hands-off approach to their weekly television shows; I find it overbearing when they become integral storytelling devices in feuds consistently. The McMahons, unfortunately, tend to become this whenever they are a part of a feud, often times inserting themselves as characters into the story. So, especially in a feud so organically hot as this one between Ronda and Becky (and now Charlotte), I felt that the McMahons having a hand in the direction of the feud onscreen was unnecessary. These women are more than talented enough to carry the story; there’s no need for hand-holding.

However, I do understand that they have time to fill between now and WrestleMania, and using the McMahons to drag the story out a bit may just be filler in the grand scheme of things. Therefore, despite my preference to keep authoritative interference to a minimum, I see why it needed to be done.

Second, while inserting Charlotte into the mix in this way was more than ham-fisted, she is going to give the match what it desperately needed: a definitive heel. WWE was never going to turn Ronda heel, even if she would have been the de facto heel against Becky in a singles match. Instead, WWE needed an obvious, detestable bad girl that fans would gladly boo more than Ronda, and that woman is Charlotte Flair. It is commonly agreed across all storytelling mediums that the truest heroes are created in contrast to compelling, dastardly villains. Charlotte can be the villainous foil to both Ronda and Becky seamlessly. Particularly by introducing her into the match as the boss’ “chosen one” — which is how many fans see her anyway, myself included to an extent — fans will be eager to see her defeated at WrestleMania. And perhaps above all else, Charlotte is simply a fantastic heel, in my opinion one of the best in the company. I am glad that WWE remembered this in the buildup to Mania, rather than trying to turn Charlotte into a sympathetic babyface as they did for much of last year.

Lastly, as much as I grimace to say it, Charlotte deserves this spot. She truly is one of the greatest performers the company has ever seen, gender be damned. When you’re thinking of having women main event your biggest show for the first time, you call in the big guns, and that is Charlotte. She is reliable and can deliver the work rate required to make the match a classic. Plus, there is the added bonus that she has worked with both Ronda and Becky previously. She is the common denominator for both women, and therefore can reliably make both of them look like stars. All in all, adding Charlotte to the mix guarantees, at least on paper, that this main event will be a solid one.

Now that I’ve exhausted that segment, let’s take a look at how the rest of the women are getting on.

The Good
RAW and Smackdown Live: The best thing happening on weekly TV for the women is that they feel important. Slowly, they are being included in more segments, and those segments feel less like throwaway bits of filler. With the addition of the women’s tag titles, I am seeing the division come to life before my very eyes. I am elated that finally the women who have been stuck in the mid-card have something to fight for. While some tag teams we’ve seen were thrown together, I think the possibilities for female partnerships will outshine this rocky start to the tag division. Let’s not forget that every member of The New Day were at one time singles wrestlers who had no direction. The women will be just fine.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

Specifically with Becky Lynch, it is more apparent than ever that she is seen as a top star in the company. She has started and ended both RAW and Smackdown to a chorus of cheers every time. While 2018 was The Man’s christening, 2019 is the year that WWE has started to live up the moniker. She’s given the Seth Rollins treatment, the Daniel Bryan treatment, the AJ Styles treatment. She’s carving her own space into today’s Mount Rushmore of wrestling, and it is so wickedly awesome to witness.

Elimination Chamber: As far as the women are concerned, this Chamber will be remembered for its titular women’s match to crown the inaugural women’s tag team champions. I really liked this match! I was nervous to see how a tag match (ironically with no tagging) would work inside of a Chamber, but was pleasantly surprised to see how these women orchestrated the match.

The sequence toward the middle of the match where each woman successively hit a power move on the next standing woman was incredible and clever. The IIconics were surprising stars of this match, scoring a quick pinfall on Naomi and brutalizing the likes of Sasha Banks and Bayley within the confines. Many fans’ pick to win, I truly hope the IIconics win the tag belts one day, as they are probably the truest partnership in the entire women’s division, and they are steadily improving in the ring.

Image credit: twm.news

The Riott Squad as well deserve a shout, for those stellar crossbodies from the top of a pod and Liv Morgan’s big bump before her team’s elimination. I think their team name finally clicked for me in this match, in that these women are high-risk and chaotic in the ring, rarely showing fear in the face of stacked odds.

The right team won, with great storytelling to boot. Sasha and Bayley showed compassion for one another that is required for a believable tag team duo. I loved the parallelism of this year and last year’s Chamber, the latter of which saw Sasha infamously kick Bayley down when she was trying to meet Sasha at the top of a pod. Sasha, in the same position, helped her partner up the pod this year, showing some character growth for The Boss.

There is more that I could say, but I thought this match was booked well and made this new division look strong heading into WrestleMania.

The Bad

Image credit: diva-dirt.com

RAW and Smackdown Live: I can’t recall too many bad things happening for women on weekly TV, but I suppose two booking decisions have irked me over the last several weeks. Head and shoulders above everything is what has been going on between Mandy Rose and Naomi. Where did this feud come from? It appeared on Smackdown one week out of thin air, and since then it’s just been a persistent part of each woman’s every move on TV. The most frustrating thing about it is that for the majority of the feud, Mandy has been coming out on top, even when it doesn’t make sense. With the exception of last night at Elimination Chamber, Mandy always gets the better of Naomi. And even when Naomi does one-up Mandy, such as at the Royal Rumble, Mandy almost immediately squashes Naomi’s momentum. I understand wanting to push someone, but there must be balance, so that we don’t effectively bury someone who is a former women’s champion in the process.

Another bothersome booking decision is how WWE decided to determine the teams in the tag title Chmaber match. While the women on RAW had to qualify, the Smackdown women were simply announced as entrants. This shows such sloppiness and exposes just how unbalanced each roster’s divisions are. They likely did this out of necessity, since there are far fewer women on Smackdown. But, I firmly believe that there should be some consistency and equity between the brands for logic’s sake. But, because everything worked out with the Chamber match, I am willing to forgive this.

Elimination Chamber: I’ll address my more serious concerns stemming from Elimination Chamber below, but the bad from last night was simply the booking for the RAW women’s title match. Poor Ruby Riott! Getting almost no offense in, Ruby Riott lost to Ronda Rousey in a squash lasting only a couple of minutes. I hate when WWE does this, making it apparent that certain wrestlers will only serve as non-playable characters within a main character’s story arc. It’s sad, and there’s just no other way to put it. Ruby Riott deserves some respect on her name. Perhaps she’ll get it when Ronda is out of the picture.

The Thorny
As I alluded to above, the segment that took place after Ruby’s squash to Ronda is what I’d like to discuss in this section. I won’t describe what happened here, because there isn’t much to detail, but if you have not seen it, I recommend watching that first before reading this. In short, I don’t think this angle did Becky any favors after last week’s RAW, and I’ll explain why.

Image credit: wrestlinginc.com

To start off, there is the technicality of Becky’s presence at the pay-per-view in the first place. How and why did Becky make it to the arena?! I discussed above that I did not have issues with Becky’s suspension by Mr. McMahon. Along with everything else, I felt this would be a great way to get fans to sympathize with Becky and most importantly, keep her off TV for a while. Doing this would have either tricked fans into believing that Becky was truly out of the main event, or make fans crave Becky’s presence the longer she was away. In both situations, fans would remain hot on Becky and she would keep her momentum.

However, why suspend Becky at all if she can just show up at TV tapings, live events, and pay-per-views with no problem? This combined with Mr. McMahon taking her out of the main event has me questioning the legitimacy of WWE’s kayfabe rules. What is the point of WWE canon if at any time authority figures and wrestlers alike can simply disregard it?

Why is there a Royal Rumble match if Mr. McMahon can simply show up one week and decide he doesn’t like the wrestler who earned their title opportunity, and take it away from them?

Why are wrestlers suspended if they clearly can violate their suspensions with impunity?

I have a problem with WWE bending their own rules to fit a storyline. It makes the product feel inauthentic. And I know that as wrestling fans we are regularly expected to suspend our disbelief to enjoy it. But how much disbelief can we suspend in order to find plausibility in a suspended Becky hobbling into a venue, through a crowd, and into a WWE ring without encountering any barriers to entry? It’s ridiculous!

Related to this logical fallacy is how the segment was addressed by WWE personnel, namely the announcers and security. On the one hand, you had Michael Cole and Corey Graves selling what Becky did as barbaric and even arrest-worthy, despite many male wrestlers (and even Charlotte!) doing far worse without such comments. Hell, we’ve had Brock Lesnar intentionally bust open Randy Orton without commentary scolding him the same way they did Becky.

But, at the same time, security somehow incompetently allowed Becky to make it into the ring to assault Charlotte and Ronda for minutes without interception. And then, once they arrived to intervene, they simply escorted Becky to the back.

To me, it seemed that in a weird way Becky’s gender limited the way this segment could be executed and sold. You had commentary berating Becky for her behavior like a rebellious schoolgirl, but you also had men being hesitant with handling or stopping Becky, almost as if they didn’t take her as a serious threat to people’s safety. In this way, there was unconscious bias at play, and it made the segment come off as forced in my opinion.

I believe that having Becky on TV throughout her suspension is the wrong choice, as it runs the risk of burning the fans out on her. But, if they are going to do it, WWE must be careful not to take shortcuts within their own canon to get from Point A to Point B. Becky is not too big to fall, and in WWE’s venture to make her the next Stone Cold, I hope they do not snuff out the magic that Rebecca Quin has created with her character.

***

I’ll be back again after Fastlane, hopefully with some new feuds to get excited about!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

2019 Inaugural Election Results

Works-In-Process

February 18, 2019

For More Information, please contact:

Jack Karlis, jackkarlis@gmail.com

The Professional Wrestling Studies Association announces its inaugural Executive Committee and Editorial Board

The Professional Wrestling Studies Association [PWSA] announces its inaugural Executive Committee, under the leadership of President CarrieLynn D. Reinhard.  The PWSA also announces its inaugural Editorial Board for its blog and for its journal.  The Association represents 100 scholars from a multitude of disciplines across the globe.

The PWSA Brings Academics and Fans Together

Reinhard is associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Dominican University, where she researches audience, media reception and fan studies.  “Professional wrestling has been around for over a century, and seems now more popular than ever. From the standard-bearer WWE to the new AEW, professional wrestling touches upon all aspects of our lives and our world.” Reinhard has led the work to build the association since 2017 and discussed that work at length on her podcast, The Pop Culture Lens, https://thepopculturelens.podbean.com. She co-edited the book Convergent Wrestling: Participatory Culture, Transmedia Storytelling and Intertextuality in the Squared Circle, from Routledge this March.

The Association connects scholars and fans across continents.  The Board includes a nonacademic member from East Sussex, UK, in scholar Luke Flanagan.  “The creation of the PWSA is an exciting moment. It is recognition of professional wrestling as a topic of enquiry. However, the PWSA is about more than academia. It must be a forum for fans to share their experiences and insights.  The PWSA is a community for everyone to make a contribution to our understanding of and appreciation for professional wrestling.”  Flanagan’s work can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dr_lukeflanagan?lang=en

The PWSA Brings Interdisciplinary Work in Professional Wrestling to the World

The PWSA makes scholarship visible via its blog and via an ambitious program of peer-reviewed research.  The PWSA sponsored a special issue of the Popular Culture Studies Journal on Wrestling [see http://mpcaaca.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Volume-6-Number-1-2018-.pdf] and looks forward to the first issue of its journal.  Until then, the PWSA Blog is a resource for scholars and fans of the squared circle.

Officers

President: CarrieLynn D. Reinhard

Vice President: Jack Karlis

Membership Officer and Treasurer: Lowery Woodall III

Member-at-Large: Melissa Jacobs

Non-Academic Representative: Luke Flanagan

Student Representative: Christopher Olson

Editorial Team

Chief Website/Blog Editor: Dan Mathewson

Chief Journal Editor: Matt Foy

Reviews Editor: Christopher Medjesky

Managing Co-Editors: Aaron Horton, Steven Gonzales

Editorial Board: Eero Laine, Darrin Coe, Christian Long, Robin Hershkowitz, Tyson Platt, David Beard, Cenate Pruitt, John Hooker

About the Professional Wrestling Studies Association

The Professional Wrestling Studies Association unites scholars, professionals, and fans interested in the critical and learned appraisal of professional wrestling.  The PWSA gathers scholars to disseminate knowledge of professional wrestling and the PWSA identifies new research areas within professional wrestling.  Finally, the PWSA encourages experimentation in the teaching of professional wrestling as art form, cultural form, business practice, and social commentary.

To join, please click this link.

PWSA Logo by Mario Alonzo Dozal (Manchester University). 

###

Wrestlers in Comics: Leaping Lanny, the Genius

Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

lpaThe story of Lanny Poffo, as told in the recent biography by Squared Circle Press, is a story of family.

Poffo’s first wrestling opponent, in this biography, was his father.  But the story starts earlier, with his father’s record for situps, recorded in a single-panel newspaper cartoon.  Poffo also wrestled with his brother, Randy Savage.

The Poffos created International Championship Wrestling, an independent professional wrestling promotion that, according to Wikipedia, operated from 1978 until 1984.  A portion of the comic biography covers that period, Poffo’s first period as a superstar.

When the ICW closed and Savage went to WWF/WWE, Savage became a superstar;  Poffo languished on the second tier until his “Genius” character took off.

It’s unusual to read one of these comics and see the wrestler depicted with so much humility — but Poffo exudes this humility.  At FortuneBaynia, a regional wrestling event where Poffo both signed autographs and wrestled, he read a poem before the match in honor of his brother, now deceased.

The comic suffers, as many of these Squared Circle Comics suffer, from being more a text-with-illustrations than a comic book.  In Scott McCloud’s terms, these comics are “text-specific.” The pictures could dissolve and the content of the comic would remain largely legible, unchanged.  But as a first draft of history digestible in one sitting, they are fun.

 

 

 

Comic Biography of Bruno Sammartino

Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

Squared Circle comics continues its wrestling biography series with a look at Bruno Sammartino.  The story begins in Italy, and the bulk of the first issue of the series is set in Italy and then Pittsburgh.

Taken together with the biography of Nicolai Volkoff, the first thing that this series of comic biographies teaches me is the number of immigrants who took on roles that filled the imagination through careers in the wrestling ring.

A lot of recent scholarship focusses on what Joy T. Taylor calls “racialized performances staged by World Wrestling Entertainment” [in “You Can’t See Me,” or Can You?: Unpacking John Cena’s Performance of Whiteness in World Wrestling Entertainment].  These broad stereotypes do work “facilitating the transformation of European immigrants into Americans” [Bond Benton, “Lamination as Slamination: Irwin R. Schyster and the Construction of Antisemitism in Professional Wrestling”].  This critical-cultural work is significant and powerful, but I think the immigrant stories of Sammartino and Volkoff offer us a window on the cultural work wrestling did for these immigrants and for their communities.

For Volkoff and for Sammartino, wrestling was social mobility, and mobility made visible for their communities.  I wonder whether anything has been written about that?

Anyway. Part one of this series is available so far…