[In advance of tonight’s episode of RAW, a guest post from frequent contributor Trevor Seigler. As always, let us know what you think in the comments.]
This past Monday night offered a unique opportunity to examine the dichotomy between sports and sports entertainment, if only because I needed an excuse to be flipping between the NBA Championships (Western Division) and Monday Nite Raw. The week prior, Vince McMahon and his wrestling crew were up in steroid-fueled arms over the fact that their scheduled event in Denver would have to be moved because the Nuggets owner had booked it months in advance, considering the possibility that his team would make the finals. (It must be nice for Carmelo Anthony and crew to know that their owner has no faith in them.)
Anyway, McMahon insulted the owner’s business skills, saying that he clearly didn’t know what he was doing. Vince certainly did know, because he proceeded to not-so-subtly show his endorsement of the L.A. Lakers in the best-of-seven series. He did so first by unveiling a Lakers jersey during an interview about the matter which aired on many national broadcasts (including ESPN, which never covers wrestling and rightly so), and then in a stroke of genius he tripped out two different “teams” of superstars in Nuggets and Lakers gear for the main event on Monday Night.
Which team won, you ask? Well, the “Lakers” were current good guys (i.e., John Cena, Jerry Lawler, etc.) and the “Nuggets” were heels (i.e., Randy Orton, the Big Show), and the event was held in the Staples Center, home of the out-of-town Lakers.
What interested me, however, was the fact that as Cena and his “team” were triumphant over the dastardly Nuggets, the real-life Lakers were getting beaten by the real-life (and better coordinated than their fictional counterparts) Nuggets. I had to ask myself: if I were a Lakers fan, which outcome would I prefer?
You know, with a wrestling match or other form of “sports entertainment,” that the actors all know their lines (even if they recite them with ham-fisted Method acting), that a resolution will be reached if not tonight than in a much-hyped pay-per-view event, and that for every time the bad guys get one up on the hero, they will have to pay eventually because that’s just how it works.
The live sports event, however, is up for grabs, unless it’s a blowout. Sport has often been called “dramatic,” and that’s a fitting metaphor: The element of surprise, of upset, or of a last-minute shot that sends the game into overtime works well in its favor for the viewing audience. Anything is possible, as Kevin Garnett shouted to the rooftops last year when the Celtics won…and that’s the problem (that anything’s possible, not that the Celtics won).
There’s a certain amount of comfort knowing first off when something will be over (thirty minutes to an hour for TV shows, ninety to a hundred and twenty minutes for most films, two hours for wrestling) and also what could occur (there could be a betrayal, or an illegal weapon thrown into the ring, or a challenge laid down) and what won’t (wrestling doesn’t have a points system, unlike real sports and even its closest cousin, boxing). John Cena won’t be judged on his technique; he’ll be judged by the ref’s three count.
Still, I suppose it isn’t right to say that audiences prefer fake sports, or scripted events, to those whose legitimacy (even in the age of steroids) are not questioned. Diehard Lakers fans surely cared a hell of a lot more about a real-life loss than a scripted victory. There’s nothing saying that even those Laker fans in the Staples Center that Monday night weren’t just as interested in Kobe versus Carmelo as they were in Rick Flair versus Randy Orton.
I just like the weird “Twilight Zone” effect of having a simultaneous win and loss for Los Angeles. Vince McMahon may be something of a heel himself, but his business acumen is unquestionable (barring any discussion of the XFL). On a night when the home team was away in Denver, winded and worn down by the Nuggets, Vince handed the Staples Center faithful a way to come out on top anyway. You couldn’t have scripted the outcome any better.