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How much "storytelling" is actually the story you as the viewer are telling?


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#1 JerryvonKramer

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 09:22 AM

I happened to be reading over the discussion here earlier: http://prowrestlingo...-a-mini-series/. Looking back, the debate in that thread was remarkably measured and pitched at a level of respect, insight and intelligence that I was pleasantly surprised to see.

From it, one post stood out to me, I thought it was interesting and might be pulled out for discussion here:

I listened to part one and mostly enjoyed it even though there were objections I had throughout, and one much bigger principled objection that I won't go into right now.

I will say that the strategy discussion sounded like a couple of PWI writers getting together and trying to organize their thoughts on how to approach an article dealing with Flair's talents in a kayfabe context. I really enjoyed it, even if I left entirely convinced that the bulk of the argument was about what the hosts read into Flair's performances, and not Flair's intent.


Just leave Ric aside for the moment. I was more interested in the general principle in the sorts of reviews people write all the time here. A lot of the stuff written on the 90s AJPW classics between Misawa, Kawada and co, for example, all talk about the deeply layered pyschology, call backs to certain moves, etc. Is there anything that guards them against this same charge? That the psychology is being "read into" it by the viewer? Imagine we went down to Kawada's sushi shop and asked him if he really indended all those little wrinkles we love so much in those matches and his answer was just to shrug and say "I was just working, it was something to do. It was just my job". Would that matter to the matches or our various "readings" of those matches?

#2 Matt D

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 10:06 AM

Two quick thoughts/questions.

 

1.) Does the storytelling exist in the text? To this, I say yes. Personally, as I watch things, I try to "find the narrative." That's how I watch wrestling (or devour any other sort of fiction). I try to keep track of how they got to this moment and anticipate where they may be going. If I am going to seriously write up a match, I will take notes. I'll keep track of what happens, what it leads to, where transitions are, how they're executed, hope spots and cut offs, the run to the finish, callback spots (including revenge spots), etc. Then I use those notes as a guide to compile and figure out the narrative. They are dots. You connect dots to make a picture, but you can only ever go off of the dots you see. If a line connects two dots that are too far away, it suggests weaker architecture in the match. 

 

2.) Does Intent Matter? This, I think, is the bigger question here. For #1, either the dots exist or they don't exist (though how you draw the lines between them and how much you value the picture you get at the end, or even certain elements of the picture is subjective). The question then becomes: did the wrestlers intend for the dots to combine to allow for the lines that create the picture? I think the answer to this is a personal one and it matters far, far more in comparative listmaking like the GWE project than it does in enjoying and even in analyzing the match. For the former, you can (and must) find patterns between the match and other matches, storytelling over time and in many different situations, in order to corroborate to the best of our ability what may or may not have been intended. As for the analysis of a match and the story within, even in comparison to other matches, intent matters far less. 

 

This is a divide Loss and I have quite often, actually. Matches vs Wrestlers. Analyzing the knowable vs seeking the broader truth underneath it. Both approaches are valid but they have different aims.



#3 Loss

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 12:42 PM

Intent is owned by the creator. Interpretation is owned by the beholder. I suppose there's no good reason to ever full stop factor out information if we have it (yes, I realize that's different than what I've said on this topic before), but as a general principle, I just don't care. If I pick up on a piece of psychology that was just happenstance on the part of the performers, so be it. The end effect is the same either way. I admit that it may or may not say anything about the workers, but that's in a way the whole point.

 

Where the water gets muddy is if you then use that heavily distilled, biased knowledge of intent in some cases to pivot to judging the talent involved based on these decisions that you assume they are making. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't, but I see that as irrelevant. If a viewer sees it, it's real. It's equally valid whether it was calculated or not. When I judge a match, I might sometimes comment on what I think they're going for, but what I'm ultimately interested in is the viewer impact -- not just on me, but on their intended audience. 

 

Intent matters if we are judging wrestlers personally, but I don't see that as my role. It's just not something I'm comfortable doing, not only because I don't feel like I have enough information to do it fairly, but also because it feels deeply personal in almost an aggressive and judgmental way. If I'm going to review and critique stuff, my role is to judge the meal, not the chefs. So to me, the best chef is the one who makes the best meals. Grandma's homemade risotto may have been made with more love and care, but if the kid who went to chef's school and followed a recipe made a better risotto, then he's a better chef within the confines of my ability to understand on the other side. In pursuit of omniscent truth, he may or may not be a better chef than Grandma, but I don't have that knowledge and I am not capable of getting it. I can only comment on what I see with my own eyes, or in this example, taste with my own mouth.



#4 El-P

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 01:31 PM

"Storytelling" is the most overrated aspect of pro-wrestling criticism. Really, those guys don't tell very complicated stories, and not a whole lot different stories either. Time to dig up that quote about luchadors not doing anything that old grandma at ringside couldn't grasp from the get to.



#5 JerryvonKramer

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 02:56 PM

"Storytelling" is the most overrated aspect of pro-wrestling criticism.


Further reading and views on this particular topic: http://prowrestlingo...atch-overrated/

#6 El-P

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 03:30 PM

Damn. I was pretty much saying the same thing five years ago, only in a more assholish way. At least I've been pretty consistent on this one. :)



#7 GOTNW

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 03:32 PM

I hate storytelling as used and represented in the majority wrestling criticism. It's a BS phrase thrown around that doesn't mean anything. It reminds me of the time I dissected why everything in the Triple H-Brock Lesnar cage match was a bunch of nonsense (specifically the "narrative" of the match if you will-what the established characters were, what the match was going for, why it wasn't efficient and wasn't enjoying to watch) only to get replied with "well, you don't get it, the match told a great story". Think more how Jim Ross or some other old dude would use it than Matt D. Of course everyone is going to talk about stories of matches, because that's just how we perceive things-but not unlike other modern artforms it often doesn't really give us answers that could be as good and precise if we stick just to that very primitive way of looking at it. What I want to come understand from watching every wrestler is what they represent-how they come to certain conclusions, how they try to achieve something, how that lines up with what I like in wrestling and so forth. I LOVE colorful characters in wrestling, and I love watching battles of said characters, but just leaving at "great storytelling" instead of looking at individual skills that are primarily those that make anything work in wrestling doesn't do much for me.  And since people just LOVE analogies with music over here-too much of it is centered at lyrics that don't mean anything and wouldn't interest anyone if it were not for the noise/composition holding everything together. Wrestling matches don't need a story-just like films, songs and so on. That doesn't mean we still can't come to understand and appreciate abstract art in those art forms, and maybe even form our own narratives that will have........questionable basis in reality. Wrestling is an exaggerated artistic exhibition of a fight, not a novel. Sometimes "hate/violence/struggle/desperation" or "battle of skill" is enough for a match to work and even reach the heights of the art form, and that we greate big narratives around those in cases like those is just an indicator of how we communicate. It might also be why I found it quite hard to express my love for some shoot style and lucha matches heavily based on matwork.

 

I'm not sure I have a good answer for the specific question in the thread title. I'd guess about as much as in poetry, where we're taught we can't know what the writer was going for but still mostly reach similar conclusions and learn "stories" about the work in education despite not being able to know for sure and have the same "you can interpret it how you want".



#8 Childs

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 05:27 PM

I hate storytelling as used and represented in the majority wrestling criticism. It's a BS phrase thrown around that doesn't mean anything. It reminds me of the time I dissected why everything in the Triple H-Brock Lesnar cage match was a bunch of nonsense (specifically the "narrative" of the match if you will-what the established characters were, what the match was going for, why it wasn't efficient and wasn't enjoying to watch) only to get replied with "well, you don't get it, the match told a great story". Think more how Jim Ross or some other old dude would use it than Matt D. Of course everyone is going to talk about stories of matches, because that's just how we perceive things-but not unlike other modern artforms it often doesn't really give us answers that could be as good and precise if we stick just to that very primitive way of looking at it. What I want to come understand from watching every wrestler is what they represent-how they come to certain conclusions, how they try to achieve something, how that lines up with what I like in wrestling and so forth. I LOVE colorful characters in wrestling, and I love watching battles of said characters, but just leaving at "great storytelling" instead of looking at individual skills that are primarily those that make anything work in wrestling doesn't do much for me.  And since people just LOVE analogies with music over here-too much of it is centered at lyrics that don't mean anything and wouldn't interest anyone if it were not for the noise/composition holding everything together. Wrestling matches don't need a story-just like films, songs and so on. That doesn't mean we still can't come to understand and appreciate abstract art in those art forms, and maybe even form our own narratives that will have........questionable basis in reality. Wrestling is an exaggerated artistic exhibition of a fight, not a novel. Sometimes "hate/violence/struggle/desperation" or "battle of skill" is enough for a match to work and even reach the heights of the art form, and that we greate big narratives around those in cases like those is just an indicator of how we communicate. It might also be why I found it quite hard to express my love for some shoot style and lucha matches heavily based on matwork.

 

I'm not sure I have a good answer for the specific question in the thread title. I'd guess about as much as in poetry, where we're taught we can't know what the writer was going for but still mostly reach similar conclusions and learn "stories" about the work in education despite not being able to know for sure and have the same "you can interpret it how you want".

 

This is well said, and I agree that all too often, people reflexively cry "storytelling" instead of describing what the wrestlers actually do. 



#9 joeg

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 10:00 PM

I think that is the thing about art, great art. Whether it be film, literature, music, sculpture, etc, whatever the artist intended to convey is only part of what the patron takes away from the experience. Every patron approaches with their own biases and past experiences which shape how they view whatever they are seeing. Its why so many people are able to take so many different things from a great work, many of which the artist never intended. It doesn't mean that any of them are wrong. And if pro wrestling can be considered a performance art, which for this it can be. So it would make sense that watching the greatest matches, by the great in ring story tellers, we could all come away with different interpretations based on our own experiences and backgrounds. And the more detailed and more layered the match is, the more open to different interpretations.



#10 Microstatistics

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Posted 14 October 2016 - 11:02 PM

Simple answer: a lot. Two people could watch the same match and interpret the overall story and individual spots in completely different ways.



#11 gordi

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 06:26 AM

This thread highlights the importance of not being all bi-polar, "it must be this or that" when talking about pro wrestling. 

 

SOME matches absolutely tell a story. Often, but not always, a simple one. 

 

If I were to say:

 

- in match A a veteran main event star faced off against a younger up and comer. The veteran not only respected the younger wrestler, he was close to the younger man's family as well. However, the younger man wanted to take back the title the veteran was holding. So, while there was respect, there was also animosity. 

 

In match A, there was a point where the referee was out of commission. The veteran had a clear opportunity to win the match and retain his title, by cheating. He had to decide, did he want to win this way? He chose not to cheat. In the end, the veteran lost his title but gained a great deal of respect from the crowd.

 

In match B, the younger wrestler from match A had risen to the point of being a top world title contender. However his younger brother, who had always felt like he was living in his older brother's shadow, was consumed with a jealous desire to prove himself the equal of his more successful sibling. On this night, the younger brother would pull out all the stops, and prove to the world that he was in fact as good as his older brother.

 

 

In match C, the same wrestler from matches A and B had become the respected veteran: a former world champion, tournament champion, considered one of the best ever. An up and comer, himself a recent tournament winner, challenged the veteran to come and fight. At the beginning of match C, the veteran was generally considered the good guy and the brash challenger was more or less playing the role of heel. But, as the fight progressed, the younger wrestler won more and more of the crowd over with his toughness and determination. In the end, the younger wrestler, bloody and beaten, passed out from pain rather than giving up when trapped in the veteran's submission finisher. 

 

 

I doubt anyone here would have great difficulty figuring out what matches I am talking about, based just on the stories they told. 

 

SOME matches tell stories. Sometimes they are more complex. 

 

There were these two tag teams, you see: One, a pair of handsome athletic heroes. One hero, the Ace of the company. The other hero, his right-hand man and protege. The other, a pair that was perhaps less handsome, less athletic, less heroic... but they were tough as nails and over time maybe even if they were not portrayed as the heroes so much, you could get behind them as the never-say-die under-dogs. Time and again the Ace had saved his protege's bacon against the two ungainly tough guys. In this match, the protege was coming in with an injured leg, which the two tough guys wasted no time in going after, dealing out hellish punishment. With the protege all but out  of the picture, they turned their attention to the Ace, just beating him horrifically. Eventually, the protege sacrificed himself to try and save the Ace...

 

Do I need to continue? Is there even one person on this board who had to think long and hard to figure out what match that is, based simply on the story it was telling?

 

SOME matches absolutely tell a specific story. It's fine if you wanna add your own perspective to the interpretation, but if you think Bret vs. Owen from WMX (or their cage match, for that matter) was NOT in any way telling a story about the younger brother needing to prove himself... well, you are kind of a dumb guy and you just don't get things. 

 

Not all matches are like that, though. 

 

Indulge me for a moment: Most of Richard Strauss' orchestral works are meant to paint a very specific image. In Ein Heldenleben there is CLEARLY a passage where what is going on is that Mr. and Mrs. Strauss are getting it on. In  Don Quixote there is a passage where sheep are being disturbed and if you know the story you can easily tell what is happening. Any person with adequate hearing, not suffering from any kind of specialized musical synesthesia, and at least aware of what sheep and sex are should easily be able to distinguish between those two passages, and understand which is which. Even a dumb guy who is bad at getting stuff should have no problem. 

 

The problem was, at one point there were all kinds of musical bozos who wrote about EVERY Classical piece as if it were meant to paint a very specific picture. That is simply not the case. So, the pendulum swung 100 per cent in the opposite direction. It became, and remains, deeply unfashionable to write about any piece of classical music as if it is meant to tell a specific story or paint a particular picture. 

 

Both extremes are stupid, and wrong. 

 

That's also true in pro wrestling. Some pieces tell a particular story. Some matches tell a particular story. Some. Not all. 

 

Saying all matches tell a specific story is stupid and wrong, Saying every single match is entirely open to interpretation? Also, stupid and wrong. It's case by case. It depends. 

 

Hector Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique was meant to tell a particular story. According to Wikipedia, "The symphony is a piece of program music that tells the story of an artist gifted with a lively imagination who has poisoned himself with opium in the depths of despair because of hopeless, unrequited love." Which is accurate enough. Good job, Wikipedia. Of course, we are free to interpret it in our own way. Maybe it has some particular resonance for you or reflects something in your life that in no way involves opium or unrequited anything. Fair enough. If we listen to it together and understand it similarly, you and I will likely have different opinions about various aspects of the story being told and that is a good thing... BUT... if you insist that it's about a dude going fishing with his buddies on a cloudy day beside a peacefully burbling stream, and it's right because you are free to interpret it however you want... then, you are stupid and wrong and you have your head stuck up your own rear end. 

 

Beethoven's Symphony no. 5 probably isn't about anything. But, if you think it has an unhappy or even an ambiguous ending, you are mistaken. That blaze of C Major sunshine has a near-universal meaning. If you insist that you have the right to hear it as a bummer if that's what you want to do, you should try listening again with your head removed from your rear end.

 

Same if you wanna insist that Bret vs. Piper from WM8 was a battle of who had the better full nelson (not that anyone ever would, but...) in this case, it's actually possible for an interpretation to be wrong. 

 

So, perhaps, the degree to which storytelling" is actually the story you as the viewer are telling may in part depend on just how far you have yours stuck up there.   :)



#12 gordi

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 06:46 AM

tl/dr version: 

 

- some, but not all matches definitely tell a specific story

 

- we are free to interpret a given match however we like, but it is possible for our interpretations to be wrong. 



#13 Bierschwale

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 07:32 AM

I agree with Gordi, but on the condition that with his second primary point the opposite is often true, which of course is the "death of the author" concept. But I only apply that to narratives that are provided to me that are clearly, CLEARLY stupid. If a wrestler or booker wants to tell me what "X" was, but it held no resemblance to reality, then I'll go with "Y" or "Z".



#14 gordi

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 09:03 AM

I agree with Gordi, but on the condition that with his second primary point the opposite is often true, which of course is the "death of the author" concept. But I only apply that to narratives that are provided to me that are clearly, CLEARLY stupid. If a wrestler or booker wants to tell me what "X" was, but it held no resemblance to reality, then I'll go with "Y" or "Z".

 

I can't disagree with that. For example,my opinion of what was going on with Batman v. Superman as probably wildly different from the Director's opinion... Same could certainly be true of, say, TNA or Death of WCW booking, etc... 



#15 BigBadMick

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 09:17 AM

How much of a part does commentary play in all this?



#16 JerryvonKramer

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 06:53 PM

How much of a part does commentary play in all this?


I've said it before but any match I've ever seen called by Solie and Coach Heath from old-school Florida definitely adds a layer of psychology and understanding.

This is one reason why my examples were from Japan because most of us don't know what they are saying on commentary and the narratives we kinda come up with ourselves.

#17 Microstatistics

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 07:05 PM

How much of a part does commentary play in all this?

 

Very little for me. Commentary in US matches is, more often than not, pretty bad so I try to generally not pay attention to what they're saying. Japanese commentary is great but I don't understand 97% of what is being said so it has no real influence.



#18 gordi

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 08:32 PM

Ideally, promos and commentary play a big role, building up to and reinforcing the story and helping us recognize beats and motivation. In practice, however... it doesn't always work out that way. 

 

I agree that Solie, at his best, was very good at helping tell the tale. Jim Ross, too, at his best, could shine a light on the important details. Joey Styles and Lance Russell were capable of doing it. Even late 80s Schiavone...

 

But then, think of the last three years of WCW and how bad Schiavone became. Think of Mike Tenay's competent color work  in WCW compared to the braying jackass he became in TNA. Think of what Mongo or Mark Madden or Dusty or current, cartoonish Jerry Lawler or JBL, at their get-myself-over worst, take away from the story in the ring. Think about how often a heated, hate-filled promo leads to a flashy, high-spot laden match. Yikes!



#19 Loss

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 08:33 PM

When it's there, it matters a lot. A match is more than a match. It's a presentation.



#20 JerryvonKramer

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Posted 15 October 2016 - 09:26 PM

I think Tony Schiavone is really underrated for talking about match strategy when he's announcing -- especially when he's the colour guy paired with Ross circa 91.

Ventura is also good at it when he's not telling jokes / abusing his partner / putting himself over / cheering heels.

Early (82-5ish) Gorilla Monsoon does a good bit of it too, before he lapses into his bag of stock phrases. Every once in a while, him and Lord Al will get into a bit of ring psychology.




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