One of my favorite Metafilter posts ever went up yesterday, documenting very recent shifts in the presentation and exploration of pro wrestling.
In brief, at the end of June a wrestler named CM Punk brought two things to an episode of RAW that many found surprising: rhetorical sophistication and the impression that he might actually be sincere in biting the hand that feeds him with comments about WWE’s practices, management, and fans. In other words, for a few minutes a WWE broadcast teetered between the experience of reality TV and the experience of reality.
Whether these phenomena are actually novel in WWE or not, CM Punk’s rant (the convincing delivery of which is truly bizarre when paired onscreen with John Cena’s unconvincing hurt-and-stunned act) caught the attention of the mainstream media. More to the Metafilter post’s point, the attention has perhaps been a threshold event for the respectability of writers who cover pro wrestling from an informed-fan point of view.
I can take or leave the smart wrestling bloggers in approximately the same way I can take or leave Television Without Pity coverage, but it’s nice to know that something as large, weird, recurrent, and American as WWE can be treated knowledgeably and not merely caught between the people who think fakery is its only salient quality and the people who don’t register its fakery as anything of particular interest.
As for CM Punk, he’s done a fine job of bringing himself to prominence with charisma; a strange, smart populism; and streets-ahead savvy–but he’s clearly nobody’s revolutionary. He could be, though, perhaps the first non-lunkhead wrestling crossover star, and that could be a very good thing.
If, for instance, we continue needing to remake the everloving shit out of John Carpenter classics, then I believe I could get behind Punk taking Rowdy Roddy Piper’s place in They Live. (Don’t get your hopes up; it looks like they’re going to try to dumb down a Carpenter flick, which is truly some squaring-the-cirle, peace in the Middle East-level science!)
The other undeniable thing about Punk is that he reps Chicago hard. Why, he was even supposed to be on Q101 yesterday before that third fate did her job on the station. His demonstrations of civic pride are never subtle, and they don’t seem to be quite as smart as his phony anti-corporate rants, but given their context, they almost make it a little less embarrassing to admit I might want to watch wrestling this weekend. Samples: