Episode 619: Wrestling in Silence

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle live entertainment: what makes it special, how we’re trying to cope with not having it, what will change when it returns.

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather gather virtually to overthink gathering in person. We talk about theater, wrestling, comedy and music, and wonder what it would take to create a virtual experience that is as satisfying as the real thing.

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4 Comments on “Episode 619: Wrestling in Silence”

  1. Margo #

    Was the much publisized and ridiculed Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark a good example of “Sexy Danger”?


    • Mark #

      1000% yes. Thank you for bringing that up. I wrote a long article on the Julie Taymor version of this musical almost 10 years ago. Read that and/or skip ahead to my summary thoughts on the show itself in the comments. https://www.overthinkingit.com/2011/03/15/spider-man-turn-off-the-dark-sexism-economics/#comment-28726

      The best thing about this as an example of this point is how ephemeral it was. This version of the show only ran for a few months in previews before it was junked and basically lost to history, outside of the bootleg videos that presumably must exist. But to the point of live performance, that’s no substitute for the real thing. This version of the show will (presumably) never be revived and never go on tour. Probably for the best, but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t the craziest shit I ever saw on the Great White Way.


  2. John C Member #

    Conversations along these lines (not necessarily this one, but like everybody pointed out, this “modernizing the theater” has been a debate for a long time) always remind me of the arguments people used to have in the ’90s about scanning books. In both cases, there’s a psychological urge to lump the story in with “the physical experience.”

    For e-books, I remember a lot of objections to losing the tactile and olfactory experience of a musty old book. When I started going to musicals in the late ’90s, I also remember there was a lot of (literal!) pearl-clutching over those dang new fans not dressing up for the night out.

    So, the question I wrestle with is how much of the desire for a formal theatrical experience is enjoying the experience as such, how much is that we acquired a taste for the “ritual” and can’t imagine the next generation not doing something else, and how much is an unconscious kind of elitism insisting that anybody who can’t submit to the ritual doesn’t deserve the experience?

    I think most people have given up the idea that we’re supposed to get all fancy when it’s time to go to the theater. And while many of us are probably sitting on hundreds of physical books we don’t actually need, I think most people have also come to terms with e-books being a better choice for most readers than sniffing mold spores. So, is it possible that a decade from now, most people will happily watch 2029’s Starlight Express sequel (“Mo Trolley, Mo Problems”) as a playlist of a thousand TikToks? If audience feedback is useful, is there a way to build that into a streaming service that doesn’t disrupt the performance, in a way that Zoom and friends just aren’t prepared for? If that could be resolved, does that re-open Broadway theater in particular, where popular shows are constantly being shuffled out because there are only so many “Broadway” venues?

    And how might all of this interact with a hypothetical version of Quibi that manages to find an audience? They seem (or seemed to have been) mostly focused on convincing viewers to accept arbitrary restrictions on viewing, the most prominent being the horror anthology that you’re only allowed to watch after dark. Is there a place for art that is easily distributed to everyone, but carries in it the quasi-elitist ritual for being allowed to experience the art?

    I’m just making this up as I go, but what if we had a streaming platform for live sports, where you can only get a ticket if you’re part of a group of at least four ticket-buyers that gives you a second-screen video-conference with your friends, and the conference audio is also piped into the playing area (overlaid, so nobody’s offhand comment is getting picked out) with volumes proportional to how much your group paid for its “box seat.” That’s a lot of extra steps, but would that kind of ritualistic addition work for the audience or alienate potential customers? Would something like that provide the feedback of a live performance or is the lag too much? Is the danger sufficiently sexy? Does that change if it’s a concert?

    I’m probably rambling, at this point.


  3. Lemur #

    The comment about the “Civilization culture score” I think deserves a bit more unpacking. On the one hand, it is true that the United States is way behind the curve in terms of official support for the creative arts. On the other hand, you did kind of make a nod toward the equally indisputable fact that the United States nevertheless manages to create a lot of art, including the entire spectrum from highbrow to “the popular culture,” that consistently tops the charts worldwide. Why is that? Is it just that we have a big population and a big economy, so even with minimal support creative people emerge (and in which case there might be a lot of even better stuff that we might be producing if the government did place the priority on culture that other countries do)? Is it something in our system that allows the private sector / free market to do the job of rewarding creatives, which other economies seem to be less willing for some reason to entrust to the invisible hand? Or would you dispute my premise that he United States seems to be very good at putting out not just mass-marketable culture but also highly sophisticated and valuable drama, poetry, film, music, fiction, architecture, paintings, etc?


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