I think pro wrestling is awesome. I try to stay current with the personalities and performers. I have read no fewer than four books by wrestlers about wrestling. At least the book jackets said that they were written by those wrestlers. I actively seek out news about the current state of wrestling every few months. I find the whole business fascinating. Now I haven’t actually watched a whole pro wrestling show in at least a decade. I have watched a few isolated matches, some great japanese and mexican stuff, a couple of smaller american promotions. I started out this paragraph by stating that I think pro wrestling is awesome. As a concept, I do, but I also think that, as presented, it is pretty terrible most of the time.
I like the absurdity. Giant muscley men, and increasingly women, yelling about how badly they are going to injure one another. They then engage in precision acrobatics and careful, practiced, stunt work in an effort to ensure that none of them are ever actually injured. Occasionally one of the characters will be particularly odd, or the audience will be informed that a wrestler has some sort of super power or magical ability. The more absurd it is, the more I enjoy it. If a well performed wrestling show was put together where every single character was a bizarre superhuman or wizard or alien or something, I would be all over that. Any time a wrestling show attempts to dip into some sort of realism, or plays off relationship problems, or interpersonal squabbles, I rapidly lose interest. None of those storylines jibe with the rest of the proceedings. The more ridiculous the move, the more preposterous the spot, the more pro wrestling works. Saddling that with a narrative about one of the performer's personal lives is kind of gross. The story and the action are at odd with each other.
I have talked a bit about how games like Uncharted fall into this same trap. The attempt to humanize the player character during the story beats falls flat when he or she is essentially a walking tank through the gameplay sections. The only way to balance this dichotomy is to either let the story blaze off into the realm of the fantastical, or reduce the action to something believable. Through the century or so of pro wrestling history, the issue of story being at odds with presentation has seemingly not been solved.
Comics, specifically superhero comics, tend to skirt the issue of story and action subverting one another by making sure that all proceedings live fully in the realm of the absurd. Super powered humans clad in flashy primary colors defending the city, the planet, the universe, from equally bizarre villains. This is where myths live. This is the territory of gods and monsters, titans and demons. When anything is possible, nothing seems corny or trite.
Something very interesting happens when your characters and narrative occupy this heightened state of fantasy. A small, quiet, personal moment from the likes of a Batman or Superman can land with all of the emotional intensity of the finest drama. Spider-Man can make you cry, Daredevil can test the boundaries of your empathy, and Galactus can make you consider your small and profound place in the universe.
Absurd is never the tagline. Absurd is not the word that hollywood and literary luminaries use to pitch projects. The words gritty or grounded or realistic get tossed around. We’ve been there. Pro wrestling attempts gritty or grounded week in and week out, with almost universally awful results. Absurd, works. Absurd opens the door for affecting metaphor, for illuminating the personal and small by contrast with the inconceivably large. Let absurd be your watchword.