In 2009, I had two live event experiences where I felt “out of place.”
The first was in April, when I was in “the pit” (at the front of the floor section) for a Bruce Springsteen concert. My brother was there as a big fan who had never seen the Boss in concert before, whereas I was there because I was travelling with my brother, and because I enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s music in a purely casual fashion. So when the people around us started discussing how they were there at the Darkness Tour in ’78, and how this was their ninth show, and how they had already seen him twice on this tour alone, I felt more than a little bit of an outcast (loved the show, by the way).
Then, in the fall, I went to a WWE House Show here in Halifax, where I felt out of place in a different way. While I have never been a big Bruce Springsteen fan, I used to be a big pro wrestling fan in my childhood (and, okay, my teenage years as well), so the kid in front of me elated to be able to slap the hands of the wrestlers going by in the aisle and the douchebag who yells and insults the wrestlers and thinks its funny were people that I used to be, or used to relate with on online message boards (oh, those were the days). And while Springsteen made me seem out of place, there was something about returning to the world of professional wrestling that felt more profound: I used to be part of this world, and even if I no longer relate to either of those roles (I had a lot of fun taking photos, though) personally I understand them enough to continue to find wrestling an intriguing element of the cultural landscape even if I could no longer find a place in that universe.
And so I’ve watched with only moderate interest as the WWE brand has expanded into providing something closer to “entertainment” than “sports entertainment” with their recent (brilliant) decision to bring in guest hosts to their weekly Monday Night Raw episodes in order to boost revenue (the spots are effectively being sold) and exposure (both in terms of bringing in fans of the hosts and in terms of media coverage of more high-profile guests). I haven’t written about it largely because there’s no real nuance to it, as they readily admit that it’s a business decision first and foremost, and because the creative results haven’t been enough to convince me that the actual WWE product (from which I’ve been disconnected for the better part of the past decade) is worth diving back into to catch Jeremy Piven or (later this month) James Roday and Dule Hill from Psych stepping into the ring.
It’s no coincidence that, with a healthy dose of nostalgia guiding the way, my first foray into the world of wrestling in the context of television criticism comes when the new “Guest Host” format engages with my childhood wrestling fandom, as Bret “The Hitman” Hart (the obvious choice for my favourite wrestler growing up considering I was Canadian) returns to the WWE after a decade-long absence, and after an infamous Montreal screwjob that was a rare “storyline” with real world implications. And this week’s episode of Raw is a unique glimpse into how the injection of “real” drama heightens the fictional world of professional wrestling, and how nostalgic remembrance and wrestling’s traditional Good vs. Evil storytelling converge in order to turn twelve years of bad blood into a narrative that can capture old and new fans alike.