Thursday, August 16, 2012

String Pullers: The Evolution of the Creative Process in Professional Wrestling (Part 2)

This is the second part of my Senior thesis. This part covers a deeper look in the change of kayfabe in the creative process that allows for fans to peak behind the curtain and know the ins/outs of professional wrestling.

The Curtain Jerker: Removing the Veil

            Jimmy Jacobs says, “When I started in nineteen ninety nine, wrestling was in a huge boom. It was wildly popular. Fast forward eleven years later, pro wrestling is the black sheep of the entertainment business” (Jacobs). Jacobs had started his career during the creation of the rift in professional wrestling. He had seen the curtain pulled away as not only a fan, but also a budding wrestler. This boom in popularity in professional wrestling created a need for a new kind of writer, as professional wrestling had moved its focus from the tens of thousands of fans in local arenas towards the hundreds of millions of fans around the world viewing professional wrestling on various mediums during the dawning of the digital age.

            With this shift in professional wrestling writing the view of wrestling also shifted, as stated by Jacobs, that no longer was wrestling its own sports genre, but soon wrestling became known, and judged, as entertainment. This began in “2001 when World Wrestling Entertainment began putting ads in the trade magazines for television writers” (Oliver). This was unheard of to publicly admit that professional wrestling was theater. The largest professional wrestling company in the history of the business had placed a classified ad for the biggest secret in professional wrestling. At this moment the traditional role of professional wrestling booker had changed and been replaced by the more modern, television friendly, creative writer.

            Professional wrestling had evolved into a new age and the creative process needed to evolve with it. For the first time the audience was in on the story lines of wrestling, and the writers needed to create the sense of reality without an illusion of legitimate sport. While this sounds impossible, Roland Barthes believes this task was not because he sees that the belief in the reality of the story isn't what is truly important to the creative process in professional wrestling. Barthes believes that in professional wrestling “there is no more a problem of truth than in the theatre. In both, what is expected is the intelligible representation of moral situations which are usually private” (Barthes 18). This belief in the purpose of professional wrestling is a strength for the modern creative process as the currently sought after colleges educated English majors with backgrounds in creative writing, and television, possess the exceptional ability and trained skill to create these moral situations for the modern wrestling fan.

            The advantage of hiring professional writers with degrees in creative writing is the talents and developed skills they possess over a traditional booker. Due to professional wrestling protecting the secret of the creative process the position of booker was usually held by former wrestlers or performers. In being a former, or even current, performer gave a booker the knowledge of how to manipulate a crowd to believe what they were seeing was real. Bookers didn't write story lines like a television script with written interviews and detailed segment break downs. It would not be farfetched to have the whole show for an evening written out on the napkin of the restaurant the booker had eaten dinner at.

            When wrestling became entertainment the ability to acquire highly skilled writing talent also became available. No longer did companies have to search amongst the secret circle of wrestling to find the creative minds behind the stories and characters. World Wrestling Entertainment could find the greatest writing minds of the twenty first century. With all this great ability and skill professional writers had a very prominent weakness when compared to a traditional booker; they had a disconnection with the essence of professional wrestling.

The Mid Card: The Booker vs. The Writer

            The issue with the creative process of professional wrestling moving into this new need for professional writers, instead of traditional bookers, becomes the loss of the connection to professional wrestling's history. While most of the professional writers will have their own personal histories with professional wrestling, the exposure can't compare to the pedigree instilled in a traditional wrestling booker. This knowledge of wrestling's history also becomes an important part of knowing the limits of the creative process in professional wrestling.

            Due to professional wrestling's authentic connection to reality as a fun house mirror that reflects reality back onto reality; there are certain limitations of reality that have to be respected in writing a wrestling story line. These types of limitations on creativity don't apply for other mediums that professional writers work in. When asked about these limitations, Jimmy Jacobs says,

“There's nothing really like wrestling. The range for the suspension of disbelief from the audience is very small. What I mean by this is that in any given TV show there can be terrorists, rape, flashbacks, and a number of other scenarios and tools the writers can use. In wrestling all of that is very limited. So often creative writers in wrestling come up with an idea that may work on a different stage, but for pro wrestling, it's either offensive or cheesy” (Jacobs)

In presenting such a wrestling product that relies on a genuine connection with its audience, this violation of the limitations creates the rift that is present in the current state of professional wrestling. This limited window for creativity gives wrestling a sense of reality that can be used in developing the characters that will be the roles of the wrestlers.

            The role of the wrestler is crucial to the creative process in wrestling. Barthes says that, “wrestling is an immediate pantomime, infinitely more efficient that the dramatic pantomime, for the wrestler's gesture needs no anecdote, no d├ęcor, in short no transference in order to appear true” (Barthes 18). Barthes is stating that for the genuine connection of wrestling to happen between the wrestling match and the audience, the role of the wrestler must come from the wrestler. This is something that, as a former performer, a traditional booker has a better grasp on than a professional writer, who find actors to take on characters. The characters that wrestlers take on are like the sport of professional wrestling, exaggerated realities.

            Gabe Sapolsky approaches his creative process the same way when it comes to developing characters for his writing. Sapolsky believes “in developing a character out of a person's real life personality. I think if you develop a character and then force someone to play it you won't quite fit” (Sapolsky). This has become the pitfall with the current process of professional writers who have been trained to create characters and find actors after creation to fill the roles. The roles become hollow and without the spark of reality to create a connection with the audience. In looking at wrestlers as having the same skill set as professional actors, creative writers produce roles that don't transfer the ideas from the story lines to the audience with the same effect as when those characters are forged from the personalities of the men and women who will assume those roles. The opposing roles of booker and writer create a paradox where one side’s weakness is the other side’s strength resulting in a perpetual struggle between the two styles. The solution to this struggle is the eventual evolution of the role into a hybrid resembling a yin yang of writer and booker.

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