Reading Between the Ring Ropes.
The point of this column and why you should read it is bolded and italized
about a dozen paragraphs down.
If you want to skip past who I am
and use me for my knowledge
start reading from there.
Years previous to this, I wrote a weekly column entitled “The Friday Night Write” - the title being a quick way to let your readers know you’re a thirteen year old kid whose mom won’t drive him anywhere on the weekends. My first column dealt with the personal experience of attending a live WWE event, and how eye-opening an opportunity that can be for a fan of any age. My last column, if memory serves correctly, was a commentary on how the Wrestling World and Pop-Culture in general would react if Vince McMahon would suddenly pass away (knock on wood). My best column was, or at least what I thought was my best column, warned people to not be too close minded when choosing a style of wrestling. At the time of it’s posting, the ROH buzz was at an all time high and posters on this board were proclaiming that they were quitting WWE and watching ROH exclusively, citing the skill of the wrestlers and overall greater quality of the shows as the main reason. As if they were forced to decide, implying they didn’t have the time to watch all three major United States Federations. As if we were living in a wrestling Highlander
I stopped writing columns when I began writing and studying fiction. I told the owner of this site that I was planning on giving up my spot on the main page because I simply could no longer write about WWE. The main reason being I could no longer watch WWE. It was a mix of lack of time, lack of desire, and lack of interest in the poor product they were churning out at the time. Admittedly, my tastes grew more and more snobby as I grew as a reader and writer. It was difficult for me to wrap my brain around Camus, Kerouac, and TS Eliot period - let alone juxtaposing that with the somewhat ludicrousness of World Wrestling Entertainment. I was unable to pour over lines of prose in the mornings, marking my favorites, only to in the evening be subjected to the dullness of some World Wrestling Entertainment television.
The reason was simple - there are such stark differences between Professional Wrestling and Literature. Hard hitting analysis, that is. That’s what I get paid for.
For one, literature is both more and less tangible. It’s difficult to nail down a concrete image of things like “injustice”, “freedom”, and the trauma of War. The words themselves are the physical manifestation of those ideas, but the words are always going to be nothing but ink on paper. And you, enjoying them in the silence of your bedroom or at a cafe or on an airplane or bus or wherever. Reading is an isolated act. Vonnegut can sum up the idea of loss, both of the physical and mental variety in three words “So it goes”. These three words perfectly encapsulating the absurdity of war, of suffering, of life. And when you read that, all you can do, granted it really hits you, is look up from the page - take a second to allow the words to sink into your mind forever, and more on to the next sentence. So it goes.
To contrast this, in the world of Pro-Wrestling three spoken words can send an audience of 20,000 people into a tizzy of hollars, hoots, and utter jubilation.
“I’m Randy Orton.”
I couldn’t find the balance between the two - the silent beauty of literature and the public awesomeness of professional wrestling. These lines are placed into scripts to induce that type of reaction. The audience is trained to give the performer the correct corresponding __ - either a cheer or a boo. Or they give the man in the ring nothing - because they couldn’t care less whether he wins or loses. This is the worst possible scenario in both the wrestling world and novels. If we’re not cheering for Oscar Wao by the end of Junot Diaz’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize Winning novel “The Brief Wondrous Life” of Oscar Wao, then the author has completely failed. This is is something all art and artists share - we are introduced to a character, we watch them change in some fashion, and we decide whether or not we approve or disapprove of that change. In wrestling, the reaction is immediate, the payoff instantaneous.
I couldn’t balance both. I didn’t see a way to transition from the immaculately cut and clean prose of Nabakov:
“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour).”
to the utter incompetence of, say, the words spoken by a character like Jack Swagger. These were my thoughts as seventeen year old - thoughts of grandeur, thoughts of elitism, incorrect thoughts of a boy who thought he was better than that childhood obsession. I had grown out of that phase, and was transitioning to a higher form of art. Wrestling is the lowest common denominator of writing. Right?
All of these beliefs proved temporary. Most of all, they all proved incorrect. Wrestling, when it hits it’s mark, can be a transformative form of art. Comparable to filmmaking, almost identical to television scriptwriting, with elements of dance and performance art. And while it’s rare we see someone with the artistic vision of say Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, or a performance artist like Marianna Abramović or more contemporary Russia’s “Pussy Riot” which has been in the news incessantly. But there is no doubt about it - if you were to take TV Characters like, say, the Wyatt’s and placed them on a street corner of NYC to reenact their usual cavalcade of tropes, speaking the words “the devil made me do it” or rambling about some “Sister Abigail” while one wears a Sheeps mask, one stares off into an unexisting abyss of nothing, and the leader rocks maniacally with a smile on his face that assures all unlucky enough to witness this sinister scene that he is in charge - not just of the two goons behind him but of each and everyone subject to the performance.
The “point” of this performance would be for the viewer to decide, of course. People assume that all art has specifically defined parameters for what it can be interpreted into. That is far from the case. Experience all art - literature, oil on canvas, music, performance, or wrestling - is a personal experience. It draws from us what we draw from it - as confusing as that may sound. Regardless, there are certainly aspects to the Wyatt family that we can assign meaning to.
From the moment the montages began there was a buzz abouts the Wyatts and their buzzards all around twitter and the IWC. The production was unlike anything we had seen in World Wrestling Entertainment. It was new, it was fresh, it had substance. It was more than the usual wrestler introduction of “I’m here, i'm queer, look at my muscles, look at my smile, here’s how strong I am.” The Wyatt’s are different. What the writers are doing with them is ingenious.
I don’t want you, the reader, to begin to think that my proclamation is that the points i’m about to make are only apropos to the Wyatt’s, however. The formal film and fiction techniques showcased within these next few dozen paragraphs and pictures can be seen being used in each and every episode. And time and drive and girlfriend permitting - this will be my general goal of “Reading Between the Ring Ropes” - to highlight the intricate craft details used in the show we all assume is a money vacuum for children that we just so happen to enjoy.
The bullshit is over. Here we are. Read on.
“This is where our story ends” Bray Wyatt proclaims into his microphone.
These are the words he chooses to begin his monologue. They, first and foremost, establish him as an unreliable narrator. This isn’t a new development, of course. Wyatt’s off-kilter personality is the definition of unreliability. But the words are still worth calling into question. Is this something he actually means? Are these words he believes? Or - are these words he simply wants us and Daniels to believe? As active watchers, we should questing everything the leader of the Wyatt’s says. He’s never given us a reason to believe in him or assign any inkling of trust to his words.
“I have no mercy left to give” he continues.
Implying that he’s shown mercy in the past. Implying that the only reason Daniel Bryan isn’t locked six feet in a dirt hole dug by Luke Harper is because Bray, for one reason or another, has wavered from his ruthlessness. This is an interesting development in the Bray Wyatt character. The viewer has seen Bryan Daniels kicked, slammed, maimed, and knocked silly for weeks on end - assuming all the time that the Wyatt’s are unleashing every trick they possess to continually get the upper hand.
But the lead Wyatt here reveals that isn’t the case, exposing the fact that the Wyatt’s aren't yet at their most masochistic. That this is a merciful version of the monsters. This isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but it’s a small detail the writers added just to showcase that this story is far from over, and that the Wyatt’s despicable-ness has yet to hit a crescendo.
He continues to rant on, pacing back and forth like a madman screaming how easier the whole ordeal could have been if he had simply complied. This is a key moment in the entire segment. The audience needs to feel for a second that Bray is telling the truth - whether or not he actually is. We need to believe for the slightest of moments that “Yes, all of this could have been avoided if Daniel Bryan would have simply complied. None of the assaults. None of the embarrassment. None of the beatings.”
This slight suspension of our moral code allows us to for a moment to stew in Bryan’s shoes. Are the beatings worth it? These are three of the biggest and strongest men wrestling has to showcase, and Bryan is historically puny. He holds no shot. This isn’t David vs. Goliath. This is David vs. a seemingly supernatural and sinister trinity of unholy evil. From the beginning of the feud, Daniel Bryan held no chance of winning a physical battle. And yet, he was cheered at each attempt - filled with a false confidence that would never return any physical rewards.
He tried - and valiantly. Attempting to tackle all three in one night. It should be excepted that he would be able to beat all three in a Singles Match Scenario. But that isn’t reality. The reality is, there are no rules behind how many plights we may juggle at once. We can all handle one demon. But it’s the numbers game that ends up catching us. The demons that that pile on - the ones that all arise at once and drown us in depression. And although I hate cliches - this one continually proves true - when it rains, it pours. What happens to a man when his demons successfully defeat him enough times that he finally looks to the sky and screams "OK. You've won"? This false ending provides context for the turn that is about to occur in the ring (when I say turn, I don't mean heel turn).
Ultimately, this is a story that is being told from the perspective of Daniel Bryan. Which sounds like an obvious statement, most stories are told from the point of view of the hero. But WWE varies. For example, when Brock Lesner gave Mark Henry that brutal beatdown that sent the man to the hospital, is there any doubt that the POV of that segment was Lesner? Did we at any time feel like the story was told from the eyes of Henry? No. The World’s Strongest Man was simply a bit part, almost interchangeable, in an angle that was simply used to show that Brock is back, ready for action, and at full strength. Also that he screams like a cave bat.
The WWE production crew successfully puts us, the viewer, in the shoes of Bryan with simply by placing a camera the right spot. The below image shows us exactly what i’m referring to.
This shot perfectly encapsulates the entire narrative. The Mise-en-scŤne is immaculate. Bryan buries his billygoat face in the mat, completely defeated. The silent henchmen stand far enough in the distance to give their leader the attention he craves, but close enough to step in when called upon. And Bray Wyatt, his pristine white pants recalling all of that purity of religious zealousness as he stands above his victim, his body language recalling domination, power, and frustration.
Once this point is developed, the WWE cameramen and production crew really go to work in order to hammer home what exactly this means. And they do so beautifully. The power of the picture becomes so much stronger than any promo Wyatt or Daniel Bryan could ever possibly deliver. Because of that, the words take a backseat here and become somewhat stock. As in the previous image, we stay low to reference the domination of Bray Wyatt, and the power he possess over Bryan.
The metaphor here becomes clear. Bray Wyatt positions his body to represent that of the centerpiece of Catholicism - Jesus Christ on the cross. But he does so not in a position of defeat or near death. Bray’s stance recalls the sturdy strength and power that the Church possess. His pose recalls not the defeated man dying whilst his lungs collapse on the cross - it recalls Brazil’s famous “Christ the Redeemer” statue. And thus, redemption becomes a key theme within this scene. Daniel Bryan weakly leans on the planted legs of Wyatt. He clutches at the white cloth that drapes the Redeemers legs. He uses them to attempt to pull himself up. The symbolism here is so, so clear. There’s hardly a need to even spell it out.
Genesis 1:27 -- “So God created man in His own image.” And this is exactly what is occurring here. The key goal of being a Catholic is attempting to be more Godlike, more Christlike. Daniel Bryan does exactly that - mimicking his saviors stance and, simultaneously, opening himself up for attack. Knees to the canvas, arms raised to his side, head angled slightly up - Daniel Bryan has fully sacrificed his body to achieve redemption. He’s not only physically accepting his defeat, but mentally agreeing to be more Wyatt-like.
But there is never forgiveness without consequence. Even through confession, there is a penance to give, a price you must pay to be back in His good graces. Bray Wyatt taking Daniel to his knee recalls Bryan’s childlikeness and also arises shades of Jesus’ mother Mary taking him to her arms once he has paid the ultimate sacrifice. Bryan has fallen. He’s completely defeated, and succumbs to the attack like a deer who has accepted that he’s about to be made lunch for a hungry tiger. Bray slams Daniels once more - the final sacrifice before the new Wyatt is fully accepted into the family. No one flinches at the viciousness of the manouver. It physical pain pales in comparison to the emotional and mental trauma of this experience.
However, his place as a sacrifice, as a Jesus Figure isn’t lost in the mix. He’s accepted his fate, he’s been welcomed into the family, and the transformation has occurred - but the pain is not over. His status as an other is cemented. The key here, being that Bryan refuses the help of the two lackeys and above wobbly knees stands on his own, out of that sacrificial posture and walks to his fate on his power, his own free will. By doing this, we are assured that he isn’t being forced into this decision. He isn’t being strong armed anymore. He’s made the choice. He’s bought the ticket. And he’s about to take the ride. The Daniel Bryan in the ring was him at his most defeated. But now, only a few moments later, we see him arduously standing on his own volition after being helped from the ring by his new brothers.
To me, this is the most tragic moment in this segment. Daniel Bryan is now strong enough to stand on his own. He no longer needs the support of his new leader, he no longer needs the shoulders of the others. He can walk on his own. And yet, he’s already made his promise. He’s already committed to joining the Church of Wyatt in order to avoid any further attacks. He turns, and the camera catches his glimpse from behind the shoulders owned by two of his attackers.
Bryan looks at us directly. The viewers. The fans. The ones who cheered him on. The ones who gave him encouragement. In most film, literature, and art breaking the fourth wall is something normally not done. It’s risky, certainly. But they execute it here with such an acute subtle perfection. We are placed behind the Wyatts because we are the past. We are unobtainable. Daniel Bryan cannot reach us, cannot accept the cheers without first getting through the Wyatt’s. He would have to fight through the two monsters to reach the camera and us at home, just as he will have to fight them in order to win back out hearts.
So close. But so far. Eternally far.
It’s a beautiful shot, and a perfect summary of what we will see in the rest of this storyline. Extremely, extremely well done.
Any and all sports can be truly poetry in motion when played perfectly. There is little more fluid than a Basketball team in rhythm. An immaculate pass and catch. A perfectly timed give and go. When something is firing on all cylinders, it’s easy to appreciate.
This is what happened at the end of Monday Night Raw on December 30, 2013. The WWE hit all of it’s marked with a well-timed, well-written, well-acted, and well-shot segment that shook the foundation of the Wrestling world. There were arguments in the AM hours of the morning about whether or not this was a good thing for Daniel Bryan (the man, not the character) and his career. If this was him being buried. If this was him losing his Wrestlemania Moment. Good points were made on both sides of the argument. But that’s not what caught my attention. Regardless of whether this means future gold for Bryan or whether this is the beginning of the end of his career ---
for one night, on the final Raw of the year, the WWE produced one of the most artistically skilled scenes in the history of Monday Night Raw.
Are they usually this well done? No. Admittedly. But as I previously stated, if there’s one thing that virtually nobody appreciates about the writers and directors of WWE, it’s their use of formal elements and craft to develop stories rich enough, deep enough, and subtle enough to draw multiple meanings from. This religious translation is simply one possibility. Daniel Bryan giving himself the Wyatt’s was one where, simply, they just hit a homerun. period.
Thanks for reading.
Also, I run the LPW E-Fed at the bottom of this here forum. We're always looking for creative minds.