WHEN WE WERE MARKS
For those of you with an interest in the so-called creative process of writing these columns (and so far no one's telling me to stop), and in the interest of full disclosure, I am writing this column Thursday afternoon on the train from Montreal to Toronto that I am taking to attend WrestleMania weekend. When I had originally committed to CRZ to do this column on a more regular basis, (although to be fair it was more like I hinted that I might do it and he didn't immediately rush to discourage me), I had three columns in mind heading up to WrestleMania. Three columns that I hoped would summarize all of my ol' skool frustrations with the WWF. The three columns that I had intended to write before WrestleMania were The Psychology of the Punch, What If Jacques Rougeau Jr. Was Right All Along?, and In Angle I Trust. Somehow, I ended up deciding (not without some trepidation) that the series needed an introduction which is when Tribute came boiling out of my sub-conscious. Similarly, my article about time limit draws spun off from my Rougeau article. AND the following article came about as a result of a crack that someone made about my article on time limit draws.
So, if you'll sneak with me into the TARDIS, I'll set the coordinates for the Deep South in the time of the NWA, as we Once Again, return to a Time when Men were Men and we wore onions on our belts, which was the style of the time; a Time when Karlos was still a Fox; a Time when Ricky Morton was still learning to play Ricky Morton; A Time in short: When We Were Marks.
WHEN WE WERE MARKS
I do think that bringing back the time limit would baffle and confuse the
audience and it's probably be seen as a step backwards... like, say,
bringing back tag ropes
Well, what's wrong with that, I'd like to know, cause here I go again...
I have a mental picture, a synaptic snapshot, a memory watercolor, if you will. It is of an event that may never have happened, a match that may be a fantasy of mine, and even if the bout did take place, the moment that I'm remembering may never have occurred, may be imaginary.
The scene is a small community arena in Georgia or North Carolina. The arena is packed with a crowd howling with anger and furiously out for blood, literally pounding on the barricades in frustration. On the far side of the ring, Robert Gibson has a tag rope clenched in his fist and is straining forward as far as he can stretch, nearly yanking the rope out of the turn buckle in his fury On the near side of the ring, Tully Blanchard is standing in the ring, taunting Gibson (and distracting the referee) while Arn Anderson stands on the ring apron and nonchalantly strangles a struggling Ricky Morton with his tag-rope.
"So what?" you may well ask. It's not that different a scene that you might see in any WWF tag match, the baby-face watching his heel opponents double-team his partner. The only element that you wouldn't see in the WWF to-day is the tag ropes. But they are a silly and irrelevant anachronism aren't they? A meaningless relic of the past with no bearing on the sorry shambles that is the present-day tag-team division. It's not like the tag ropes were important. Right! Right? Well, yes, they were important.
Now, I don't claim to be an expert on the history of the tag ropes. I don't know when they were first used, although I suspect that Toots Mondt was involved, and I'm not sure when they were last used. In fact, I have no clear recollection of them being used in either the Atlantic Grand Prix or the Calgary Stampede, meaning that they either were not used at all or were not used in a psychologically compelling way (which amounts to the same thing really.) I suspect that the tag-ropes were an invention or innovation of Southern tag-team wrestling, a sub-species of wrestling that I admire for its psychological complexity even if, again, I'm no expert on the subject. None of which means that I can't admire the psychological brilliance of the tag-rope as a prop, or bemoan its passing, its abandonment by an industry hell-bent on abandoning wrestling for sports-entertainment, in the process trashing the most entertaining parts of its past.
To me, wrestling is a way of telling a story. Anything that helps to construct a believable story is, by definition, a good thing. When those things can be added to a match organically that makes the addition all the better. To explain what I mean by organic, think of the difference between the traditional drag your opponent around the arena hardcore match and a Mankind Boiler Room match. In the former, since the pin can take place anywhere, all of the running around can seem forced and artificial, reminding us that what we are watching is fake. In a Mankind Boiler Room match, on the other hand, you have a location for the match that springs naturally from Mankind's character, since the Boiler Room is his sanctuary, his lair, his favourite environment. Because the match takes place in a Boiler Room, all kinds of improvised weapons are naturally available. And since the rules of the match are that the first person to get to the ring from the Boiler Room wins, all the running around which distracts one in a regular hardcore match, here occur naturally. The difference between the two kinds of matches works as a metaphor for the WWF's problems, if you like. The WWF has kept the formula for what happened during a boiler room match and applied it to its hardcore matches, while losing the reason for WHY it happened. Without the reason, the formula is a stale imitation of reality that distracts us from enjoying what we are watching, rather than a reflection of reality that drags us into the match engrossing us in what we are seeing.
Tag ropes were, they are, a natural organic way of helping to tell the story that you are trying to tell in a tag team match. Start with how the two teams hold the tag ropes. The babyface team grips the rope as if it were a lifeline, gripping it in their fist, pulling on the rope as they lean away from the turn buckle. On the other hand, the heel team, if they bother to hold the tag ropes at all, do so nonchalantly and disdainfully. Sometimes they hold the rope in the palm of their hands, sometimes they merely grip it with their pinky finger, and sometimes they only pick it up just as a tag is made. Just by how they hold the tag ropes, the baby-faces communicate their commitment to the rules, how tightly they are bound to those rules, and how fiercely in turn those rules grip them. The baby-face can no more relinquish his hold on the tag ropes than he can relinquish his grip on the rules of fair play. He could let go of the tag ropes, but then he would no longer be a baby-face. By contrast, the heels demonstrate their disregard for the rules and how much they disdain them by how loosely they hold the tag ropes. In fact, their total disrespect for the rules is demonstrated by the way that they pervert the rules by using the tag ropes as a weapon.
Finally, the tag ropes give a dramatic demonstration of the dynamic inherent in most tag-team matches. As Robert Gibson, is straining away at the ropes, he is demonstrating a principle of physics known as potential energy. When you store a book on a shelf, the higher the shelf and the heavier the book, the more potential energy is stored in the book. When the book falls off the shelf that potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy. If a paperback novel is on the bottom shelf, you'll barely notice it when it hits your foot, but when the condensed Oxford English Dictionary falls off the top shelf, onto your foot, you might break a toe. This principle of physics is usually understood on a primal level by most people, even if they couldn't explain the math behind it. When Robert Gibson strains at the tag rope, we, the audience, understand on a primal level, that potential energy is being stored and coiled up like a spring, and that this energy can only achieve its violent release as kinetic energy when Ricky Morton finally makes his way across the ring to make the tag. In the same way, our emotions are coiled up waiting for their violent release with that dramatic tag.
Bring back the tag ropes?
Well, what's wrong with that?
I'd like to know!