Anti-Heroes and Ring Psychology

This morning I was listening to the What A Maneuver podcast this morning. My buddy K. Sawyer Paul was talking Joe and Eric about Starcade 96.  At one point Joe was talking about the rules of professional wrestling.  According to the rules a wrestler cannot strike with a closed fist or any part of the foot than the bottom.  On the podcast they talked about how good guy's don't punch, they use upper cuts. 

This got me to starting wondering, Did Anti-Heroes in wrestling decay the power of Ring Psychology?  When I first started watching ECW, the relationship between the heroes and the rules were clear.  The Rules were something that got in the way of good guys.  Shane Douglas brought in Bill Alfonso to be strict about the rules.   It was clear that the rules were there to keep the fans from seeing what they wanted to see.  Tommy Dreamer dealt justice, no matter what the rules said. 

The subtext in ECW was clear.  The fans were coming to see people kick ass.  Anything that got in the way of kicking ass was a villain.  The fans where coming to see fighting, not wrestling.  One of the biggest heroes was the Sandman, who was promoted as a tough bar fighter.   He had no time to not throw punches.  Any street fighter has to throw punches.

As the Monday Night Wars raged, the WCW and WWF picked up a lot of the ideas of the ECW.  Characters like the Stone Cold Steve Austin, muddied the line between good guys and bad guys.  It was clear when the audience was on his side, but he never played by the rules.

There are a few other things that happened in the world outside of wrestling that impacting the way we see wrestling.   Boxing has fallen off a cliff.  I remember Larry Zbyszko and other older announcers say "Wrestling is not Boxing." I do not think this rings true for wrestling fans anymore.  The rise of MMA has given weight to the idea that anything goes.

On some level, the meaning of wrestling disturbs Ring Psychology.  Is the meaning of a wrestling match to find out who can win an athletic competition (fake as it is), or is it about finding out which man is tougher.   If the point is to find a winner, rules are important.  All athletic competitions are about rules and boundaries.  If the point is to find out who the toughest man in, there are no need for rules.  You cannot cheat to show how tough you are.

I think the idea of showing how tough you are was the all mark of the ECW.  When I started watching the ECW Public Enemy was the most over act.  They were seen as tough and willing to do anything to win.  Every match spilled out to the floor and into the crowd.  Despite being a "tag" team, I am not sure how often the Public Enemy ever tagged in an out of matches. 

At the time, the ECW approach seemed freeing.  I know it caught my eye and made me think about what wrestling could be.  At the time, around 1995, the stories in the WWF and WCW seems less advance and less interesting.  In my twenties the storytelling in ECW seems more to my taste.

The problem now is that so much of wrestling is dependent on Ring Psychology.  If you want to express with only ring actions who is the hero and who is the villain, you need rules.  That is the only way you will get Faces and Heels for the audience to cheer and boo.  How do I pick who I am going to root for, if I don't care if the rules are being broken or not.

In football, baseball, or basketball a fan will look the other way if the rule breaking if it benefits their team.  Are we in the same point in Pro Wrestling?  Are we going to cheer for which ever wrestler we like better?  Are we going to cheer for the wrestlers we agree with their point of view? Are we going to cheer wrestlers we want to see wrestler longer?  Are we just going to cheer for the wrestler we are told to cheer for? 

In art forms like movies and television shows the narrative styles change all the time.  Items are added to the visual vocabulary all the time.  Those items help artist tell stories.  Some times those items go from trope to cliche and get in the way of story telling.  The people reviewing and writing about movies and television are always writing about the changes in story telling.

I am not sure if anyone is writing about these changes with wrestling.  If people are writing about them, I am not sure people who are producing wrestling programs are reading about these changes. 


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