Skip to main content

Word on the Rings: Intertextual Chocolate


Professional wrestling is a part of culture that lends itself well to theorizing: after all, when you put wrestling in the real world, it doesn’t make sense. Why do people with microphones shout at each other, when they’re just at an arm’s length away? Why must fighting involve acrobatics and contortion, when you can beat someone up with a flurry of punches and kicks? Or how Max Landis put it: do we tolerate people beating others up with sledgehammers and baseball bats covered with barbed wire?

The simple answer is that people who watch wrestling get it. In his introduction to "The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling," David Shoemaker writes that what makes wrestling "fake" is that it is the mythology that matters the most in wrestling: "We make our own gods for our own purposes. And we love them, and that's the whole point."

And in a little corner of the Filipino wrestling community, why are Filipino wrestlers using other wrestler’s moves? Why are people chanting "fight forever" on Philippine soil? Why can't people make a better move than a Rainmaker? And are all those things bad?

I came across a great, well-produced video from Joseph Montecillo—another wrestling fan—who frames this issue from the point of view of “intertextuality.”


The word itself is big and impressive—the sort of word that you would reference often the first time you would hear it in freshman Philosophy class, or a literary criticism session held over coffee and cigarettes—but some nuances of its meaning may escape you. Badly put, intertextuality is when one text is woven and interspersed into another text, transforming meaning altogether. In literature, it often takes the form of retelling. A popular example is how James Joyce retells The Odyssey with Ulysses. Or how F. Scott Fitzgerald invokes the legend of Midas in The Great Gatsby. Or Shrek, for that matter.
Wrestling stories may come across as unoriginal and derivative to some, but that doesn't mean that JDL vs. ZT is devoid of meaning and nuance.
The French philosopher Julia Kristeva frames it in the best way, I think: when we read text, we are influenced by text we’ve read before, and thus any text is a “mosaic of quotations.” Could wrestling—Filipino wrestling, at that—be a “mosaic of moves?”

In his video, Joseph makes a point to show how the match between Jake de Leon and Zayden Trudeau is less of a story, and more of a checklist of references to, say, NJPW matches. Spots, if you will: whether it’s an outside dive, a technical wrestling exchange, or fans chanting “fight forever.” I don’t know if I watched it right, but Joseph seems to appeal for more originality in the act of wrestling, and stepping back from the execution of moves in favor of a good story.


Not that he’s completely wrong—there are a lot of things that Pinoy wrestling (be it PWR or MWF or AoW or backyard wrestling federations with cardboard belts) can improve on—but one match does not (and should not) frame our entire view (or a good part of it) of professional wrestling in the Philippines. If anything, a lot of the flaws of Filipino professional wrestling stems from the context of “the industry:” it’s not like we get weekly shows with stellar production values, monthly pay-per-view events, or pyro-laden four-hour quarterly specials.

At most, what we have right now is a scene: enthusiasts and practitioners with day jobs, and work towards their dreams in the small-ish shows that we have. Like any great film or TV series, building sophisticated, solid storylines require time, money, and energy. When what you have in abundance is heart and commitment instead, the expectations should be managed. While this doesn’t mean we should accept mediocrity in things that we pay for, our implicit knowledge of the “industry” should frame our expectations.

Which brings us to moves and movesets, and when these moves are invoked: I don’t wrestle, but having been a fan of pro wrestling for the better part of two decades makes me wonder if there’s any other way to book a match outside of a checklist, written in the name of safety and entertainment.

After all, wrestling is about approximating desired outcomes: the safety of the wrestlers, and the entertainment of the crowd. Safety, of course, critical: people have to know what they're doing, lest the whole thing spirals out of control. The entertainment of the crowd can take the form of both story and athletic spectacle: one does not have to take a step back because of the other. But again, acknowledging the limits of Pinoy wrestling has to come into play. You can only put so much story and so much nuance in a show that—compared to bigger federations—is occasional, and continuity is often played through in social media instead of actual shows.

Granted that a lot of wrestling moves are copied, or derived from another move: there are so many variants of the Powerbomb that it's been played out. But there's also the fact that we may have just scratched the surface of what the human body can do in a wrestling ring. Wrestling has grown over the past decades that the originality we're seeking isn't in the contortions or the springboard moves that we are often wowed by, but in sequences. And that's where new norms start figuring out in the narrative: finisher kickouts are relatively new things in wrestling, but if it elicits the desired reaction and makes sense in the layout of the story, why not use it? After all, isn't that what wrestling is?
A lot of things about wrestling don't make sense in our everyday world, but that's the whole point: fans get it. 
All that brings us to the contested word: "intertextuality." It may not even be the right word, for all we know: maybe the dive spots and cannonballs are allusions to wrestling moves that the crowd is familiar with, and don't have to have the same rigor and dimension as intertext. Wrestling stories may come across as unoriginal and derivative to some, but that doesn't mean that JDL vs. ZT is devoid of meaning and nuance. Sure, we've seen the "old lion vs. young lion" narrative play out in a century of pro wrestling storylines, but I leave it to the most avid fans of PWR to reckon what makes it appealing to them. (And we've all seen the narrative before, but it doesn't mean it shouldn't be enjoyed. Remember Jeff Hardy vs. Undertaker?)

It's great that this conversation is happening in the Filipino wrestling community, where a deeper appreciation of wrestling emerges from the new knowledge that people get as they grow older and wiser. But such conversations require care and genuine concern.

Roland Barthes—the very guy who wrote that fantastic piece on wrestling—writes that any text is a "new tissue of past citations." He wrote that the wrestling he saw in France references Racine, Baudelaire, Jansenism, and gladiatorial combat. In the process of watching many matches in that venue, and his careful contemplation and referencing, he reveals insights about morality and nature and justice that others wouldn't have seen otherwise.

While we'll probably never get to a point to read wrestling as deeply, perhaps we can take cues in reading it carefully. Or be careful when taking it too seriously.

And so a lot of things about wrestling don't make sense in our everyday world, but that's the whole point: fans get it. We revel in its fictions, we appreciate its existence as an escape, we marvel in the athleticism of all of it. And we demand more of it: we demand better. And in the process, we get it.

Wrestling, like any text, is supposed to be a conversation: when we don't know what happened in an episode of RAW, we ask others who may have watched it. We look up the storyline on the Internet, we follow along until we catch up. That act of backtracking and researching is to be rigorous about the (inter)text, and discovering relationships in the process. Meanings, in the process, become enriched. Wrestling becomes richer as a consequence of it.

But if we all founded our criticisms of wrestling matches on our unquestioned assumptions about it, then we may not really "get it" at all.

Photo from TCHuang Productions


*****
Marck Rimorin (@marocharim) is an advertising professional, writer, bookworm, and overthinker. While a lifelong WWE fan, he also watches puroresu, lucha libre, and old clips of European wrestling. When not caught up in reading, making brand communications, or eating waybread under the shade of mallorn trees, Marck writes the overthink piece for Smark Henry: The Word on the Rings.

Comments

Trending This Week

NXT in the UK (11/14/18): Queens of the Ring

#FinisherFriday (11/16/18): Clotheslines and Lariats For Dummies

The Smark Henry RAW Review (11/12/18): Under Siege 2018

SmackDown RunDown Live (11/13/18): Bryan Breaks Bad

"Survivor" Series: Bakit Nauna Si Mayor?!