Down For The Count- My Quarantined Wrestlemania Experience
When I was a kid, I was the chief editor of the household newspaper, Captain Courtois News- a publication whose name was mispronounced just as faithfully as locals mispronounce the street that I grew up on, which also happened to be named in Courtois’s honor. I also served as the sole contributing writer, printer, and distributor of the paper, for which I was also the lone reader – a solitary soul entertaining only himself.
Writing this piece feels very familiar.
While the folks at Brunch were kind enough to lend me their blog as a home for my ramblings, I recognize there’s no real audience for such analysis. Yet here I am, about to endure a last-man standing match of my own. My opponent? Wrestlemania 36.
As a very quick recap: as sporting events have come to a halt worldwide due to a global pandemic, Wrestlemania is being held as scheduled, to an audience of none. Just the performers, the announcers, the cameramen, and rows of empty folding chairs.
Vince McMahon is gambling again.
Despite losing millions of dollars in live-show and merchandise revenue due to the national quarantine, McMahon is not pulling the plug on his company’s flagship event. In fact, he’s giving it away for free.
Since its inception, WWE Network (a subscription based streaming service) has been the exclusive home for all pay-per view events. It costs something like $120 a year, which is just about the cost of two pay-per views. They offer a free trial, which I have utilized several times. This allows costumers to subscribe to the network just before Wrestlemania, watch the event, and then cancel their account immediately.
I legitimately have no idea why WWE is doing this.
But if they insist…
I register my WWE Network account under a rarely used g-mail address. From there I opted to pay on a per month basis, through PayPal, in a transaction that will never occur.
While my quest to revisit all prior Wrestlemania main events fell considerably short, I’ve still watched a lot of wrestling in the last few weeks. I’ve been priming myself in order to fully embrace Wrestlemania in the way I did as a kid.
Will there be something in this program, filmed in isolation and broadcast to a literal captive audience, that may speak to our global anxieties and unite us, however briefly, in the art of tactless distraction?
Let’s ring the bell and find out.
Day One, Hour One
-And we’re off. Here’s Stephanie McMahon, welcoming us all to this surreal event, which is made even more surreal by the presence of Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is hosting this year’s Wrestlemania, and as you can imagine, he is here to party.
-Fifteen minutes in and we’re finally watching a wrestling match. Women’s tag-team match.
-It’s amazing how much wrestling sounds like pornography when you remove crowd noise.
-They couldn’t have piped in some rock music or something? Between the sparse attendance and the occasional shots of a lonely Gronk watching from a balcony high above the ring, there’s a definite voyeuristic feel to the evening.
-The amount of screaming emanating from my television really is hilarious. I’m worried my neighbors might call the police.
-Okay we’re onto another match. King Corbin vs Elias. Elias is a character I like. He’s a troubadour. The color commentator, playing devils advocate, says Elias has shown glimpses of talent but should give up playing the guitar. I dunno, personally I think it’s a healthy creative outlet for a man entrenched in such violent culture.
-It’s early, really just the first mile marker in a marathon. But I feel good. I feel strong.
-I’m gonna get drunk.
-The triple threat ladder match was entertaining. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a man climb a ladder from the inside…so I guess that’s something.
-We’ve just started the fourth match…I think. Fourth? Fifth? Much like time itself these days, this is all becoming a blur. And there’s so much more to go.
-It’s pretty funny to hear the wrestlers yell at each other without the cover of crowd noise. “What are your kids gonna think, Kevin?”
-The Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins match was fantastic. Good clean fun.
-You know what? This is working. I’m having fun.
-The #BoneyardMatch was terrible. I know the WWE has had its hands tied with this Covid quarantine situation, and this was a cinematic alternative to a Night One Main Event sans crowd. But, yikes. The Blair Witch style cinematography, mixed with the “dark and stormy” musical score resulted in a student-film level melodrama.
-Could this be the Undertaker’s last match? Honestly it’s probably as good as it’s going to get. ‘Taker is not getting any younger, and a controlled environment such as “The Boneyard” could be exactly what the WWE needs to finally retire this character. The quality of his in-ring matches has been declining for a decade or so, and by adding the luxury of a pre-taped match, the WWE can create its own storyline about the Undertaker’s undying Wrestlemania dominance.
-Okay…that was weird! A WWE sponsored snuff film. Sure, whatever. I buy it.
So that was Night One. Fine. Entertaining, even. Perhaps the most fun I’ve had watching wrestling since my childhood. Still, there wasn’t much to cling to from a sociological stand point. It was just wrestling. But today, wrestling was enough.
I woke up feeling depressed today. I think. It’s really hard to tell these days. I can’t say I’m looking forward to Day Two of Wrestlemania. But I’m also a realist, and I’m aware I have nothing else to look forward to.
It’s time to get pumped. It’s somehow Wrestlemania still…
-I swear to god, the moment the bell rang for the first match of Day Two, the clouds parted and sun shone through the windows of my apartment for the first time all day.
-Rhea Ridley vaguely resembles my therapist. This is making me feel uncomfortable.
-I feel like we’re on the cusp of a LGBT revolution in professional wrestling. Without looking up any evidence, I vaguely remember the first openly gay performer working in the WWE a few years ago. And with the recent surge in popularity for the women’s division, and an influx of androgynous performers, it feels like a natural bridge between two worlds…of course I’m drunk again and haven’t fully expanded on this thought but that’s my instinct.
-There’s something humanizing about watching pro wrestlers perform without an audience. They’re still performers, they’re still working the crowd, except the crowd is just you and whoever else is stuck in your living room.
-My mood is improving.
-Through five hours there has yet to be a single mention of the“coronavirus” or “covid”.
-Oh no. An incel storyline.
-Okay, I’m excited for this Last Man Standing match. It’s been explained to us that the only way to win this match is to “incapacitate your opponent.” Sounds fun.
-The hushed tones of the announcers is a funny feature of a match like this. Trying to sell the gravity of the excessive violence by crowbarring in an occasional “well folks we hate to see this.”
-“If this is what Randy Orton meant by ‘love,’ it is appalling.” This is just a quote I feel like deserves preserving.
-The Last Man Standing match was good in the way that wrestling matches that last way too long are generally considered “good.” Some interesting stunts, a lifetime worth of grunting, and an adequately violent ending. We’re heading into the homestretch on a high note.
-Okay. I’m starting to fade. It happened quickly. As soon as the clock struck 6 PM (PST), I was ready for the main event. Ready for the headliner. Ready to move on with my life. In the last few weeks I’ve watched more wrestling than I have in the last 15 years combined. I’m not saying it hasn’t been fun, but it’s been a lot…
-Wait, it’s almost 6:30. There are still at least two matches left, and this woman’s five way match doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon…they’re not gonna make it. Is it possible that tonight’s event is FOUR hours long?!
The Main Event
Entering the seventh hour of Wrestlemania, I was confident I was ready to dissect this entire experience. Yes, wrestling is fun. It’s a worthy form of distraction from the insanity of our current timeline.
Still, I can’t say I wasn’t a tad disappointed. This felt like a tremendous opportunity, being the only live-action entertainment event taking place during a global pandemic, the possibility of taking artistic liberties to express the depths of our cultural angst seemed entirely feasible.
Like I said, a missed opportunity.
Then, the “Firefly Fun House” match started.
The “Firefly Fun House” is precisely what I had hoped to witness tonight. The faith I bestowed upon Vince McMahon and his creative team has been rewarded ten-fold. How, in the face of the impossible task of pulling off a Wrestlemania without a live audience, would the WWE adapt their art form?
For a while, it looked like the WWE’s answer was stubbornness. Just put on the show the way we have for 36 years, audience be damned. And I suppose there’s something noble in that pursuit. But then, in the final hour, they ran a pseudo-art piece that transcended the conventions of professional wrestling.
For a surreal 30 minutes, The Fiend and his Demented Mr. Rogers alter ego, Bray Wyatt, tortured John Cena physically, mentally…and meta-physically?
A series of flashbacks and hallucinatory visions haunted Cena, as he was visited by his former self, his former idols, and his own psyche. And yes, I’m serious.
Dare I say that this segment was legitimately brilliant piece of television?
Look, let’s be honest. Quarantine has broken us as a nation. We’re all losing our minds. Nothing seems quite right. Nothing matters and everything is made up. The Firefly Fun House is precisely the match we needed at this moment in history. It defied logic, it defied physics, it defied expectations. A psychological thriller fitting the absurdity of the climate in which it was produced.
It was fascinating. It was fun. It was Wrestlemania.
Oh yeah and then Brock Lesnar fought and lost. Who cares? See you next year.