MAIN EVENT AT CASTLE DANGER
#2 – The Watching Environment
“People sure seemed to like this show a lot less than I did.”
Many of us have been there, where we thought we witnessed a great wrestling show, but the influx of opinions seems to indicate that you’re in the minority. This is hardly exclusive to wrestling, to be fair. Many different factors go into the enjoyment of a wrestling show, including but not limited to: mood, focus, attention, wrestler preferences, storylines, presentation, outside distractions, real life circumstances, terrible cat noises, internet connection, sun glare, migraines, length of shorts, commercial breaks, the position of the moon shadow as it relates to what time a rerun of Back to the Future airs… You get the idea.
But the point of this column is to say that the environment in which we’re watching a wrestling show can make a huge difference of our perception. How many times have you sat through a slog of a Wrestlemania (if you prefer a different company’s example, pick whichever show makes you feel best), but when you talk to the people who were there, they had the absolute time of their lives? That’s an obvious example, or at least sometimes it can be. There are scientific studies surrounding sports and other entertainment venues that indicate the plurality of the collective; to be a part of a crowd is similar to a religious experience (or so I’m told) where mostly everyone is there for the same reason with a specific interest in what’s going on.
There are rituals that go on, anthropologically speaking. Rituals are often thought of as religious or familial activities that are done in private or with close friends and relatives (again, or so I’m told.) Sociologically, however, rituals can be seemingly miniscule until we’re not a part of them, or until someone who isn’t in on the routine observes from the outside and feels as lost as I do during comic book and sci-fi movies. Think past the most common colloquial measure of the term. One thing that kept me around AEW was the embracing of rituals rather than either denying their existence or turning them up to 25 and killing the fun of them within weeks. Both are equally annoying.
Entrance music is a ritual for the performers. As we’ve seen with Wardlow, a wrestling entrance without music is a different experience. It used to be commonplace, but the late 80s brought us the idea of a walkout song that soon encompassed other sports and venues of entertainment. I know themes were already around at the time, but I think a huge influence in the concept of the walkout music was Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn in the movie Major League. It was an obvious influence on at least one AEW wrestler for certain.
The singing of “Judas” is a ritual. Whenever Chris Jericho makes his way to the ring in the last few years, the audience collectively sings a song when given a certain cue. The context of something like that versus a religious service or college football game when the alma mater is sung might be different, but that’s what I love about professional wrestling! The combination of so many different concepts blended; sport, theatre, choreography, spectatorship, concerts, fireworks, and callback. That’s a ritual within AEW and those who are aware of it, whereas someone with no knowledge of wrestling may be very confused, but it would take very little explanation to understand it from the outside. Adam Cole’s entrance cues are another good example. The music and body language indicate when the viewing audience makes a certain sound, and the audience participates mutually to a large degree without thinking about it. These concepts are powerful, whether or not we’re aware of it at the time.
Rituals are part of what makes the watching environment of being at a wrestling show live different from watching by yourself at home. It’s easier for many people to drop a “BOOM!” when 14 thousand other people are doing it, whereas at home it may feel a little silly. YMMV. The energy of the crowd can make a bad match seem good and a good match seem legendary. Take The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan for example as a match where the crowd made it a classic.
But watching with a crowd does not necessarily mean you’re at the arena live. My dad has often told me about watching the first few Wrestlemanias on closed-circuit broadcast in movie theatres. While you may not be there live where the match is happening, you’re still a part of a viewing audience, and that is different than watching alone. You’re not at home, you’re likely not alone, and though you’re not present for the match itself, the collective audience response can be similar to watching a football game at a crowded restaurant. A crowded restaurant, there’s another way that the experience can be different. From someone who has watched many shows in a restaurant, not being able to hear the commentary or a lot of what’s going on can make a huge difference, for better or worse. Commentary gives a lot of cues for people who aren’t in the know, catching them up to where the diehards likely already are. This helps especially when AEW debuts a new wrestler, as uncommon as we all know that is. During last night’s Double or Nothing, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t happen at least once, where I’m going “wait, who the hell is this now?” I remind you of what I said in my first column: I didn’t watch anything for almost four years, so I’m still getting back in the loop.
My father’s experience of watching Wrestlemania in a theatre, however, was a big reason why when I found out that Double or Nothing was showing in theatres yesterday, I was excited to take the opportunity. I don’t know if this is something they’ve always done, or will ever do again, but despite my relative aversion to crowds, loud noises, and traffic, I watched Double or Nothing from the theatre last night. And for someone who hasn’t been in a movie theatre in at least five years, the comfort of watching something for several hours has certainly changed since I’ve attended such a gathering. Reclining and comfortable seats? Yes please! I wish they had those back when I went to premieres of the Lord of the Rings films back in the day… Not dating myself at all there with remembering how long ago that happened.
Watching AEW on a massive screen with 50 or so other people was a lot different than I expected. Whereas restaurants when wrestling is on have had a lot of audience participation in my experience, the audience at the theatre last night was almost deadly silent, except for the one guy who had to make a huge show of clapping for all the heels very loudly. We get it man, you’re a contrarian and smarter than everyone else, good for you. But it was almost like… well… going to see a movie, except nobody cared that phones were out. Or maybe nobody cares about that during movies anymore either. I don’t know, it’s been a long time, as I said.
Despite how the massive screen made the camera views from ringside particularly difficult, which is a lot more undetectable on a smaller screen, I had a really good time last night despite the length of the show. The crowd at the arena seemed louder, the music seemed to blare a little more, and the high-risk moves seemed infinitely more dangerous and awe-inspiring, though admittedly I’m always cringing just a little bit and hoping no one gets hurt.
But to read the reviews from some of my contemporaries of the show last night, at least in my anecdotal point-of-view, I enjoyed the show a lot more than most it would seem.
Yeah, Jeff Hardy seemed a bit out of it (well, moreso than usual anyway). Some of the moves during Jade/Anna were a little rough without someone to carry the match. A surprising number of heels won feud payoffs last night, only surprising due to my limited experience with other AEW PPVs where the faces seem to win out most of the time. And yeah, I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice that Adam Cole and Britt Baker’s outfits kinda telegraphed the finishes a bit, but seeing Dr. Martha Hart and the speech she gave made me forget all about that. As a huge Ruby Soho fan, seeing Lars Fredericksen and Rancid play the song was a lot of fun to see, though yet again she can’t seem to win the big one. But I had a great time watching the show last night, and that may be due to seeing it on a big screen in a very comfortable chair with my significant other.
Does the environment play a factor? Sometimes, not always. I can recall enjoying a wonderful episode of Dynamite on my phone while holding it up for an audience of two in a hotel room in Renton, Washington once upon a time. But I think last night it may have had a part in how much I enjoyed the show as a whole whereas perhaps a lot of others did not, and that’s okay. I’m used to the opposite, where I just can’t get into something that everyone else seems to be into (See: Star Wars and the MCU), but I don’t begrudge them their enjoyment. That’s just not who I am. Above all, I am someone who loves to see people be passionate and enjoy the things they like, whether or not I’m participating in the appreciation.
Last night may have been the inverse of that notion for me, so admittedly for once it was nice to not be saying “I don’t get it, but I see why y’all do, and I appreciate that.” I had a good time, and the environment in which I was partaking in AEW Double or Nothing was likely a contributing factor.
I hope anyone who watched last night had a good time, regardless of whether or not they enjoyed the show/wrestling itself. Shoot me an email at NoDQAD@gmail.com and let me know what you thought, if you so desire.