4 Reasons The Best Awards Show In History Is WrestleMania
Near the beginning of the year, the top names in entertainment gather to put on a show and celebrate the work and talent that goes into their chosen craft. Ha! Bet you thought I was talking about the Oscars, people who didn't read the title! I'm actually talking about WrestleMania -- or as it's known to wrestling fans, "Punch Christmas."
I watch the Oscars and WrestleMania every year, and after a decade and a half of research, I've come to the conclusion that WrestleMania is more culturally conscious and important than the Oscars. But how do Tables, Ladders, and Chairs matches have more gravitas than tuxedoed white guys giving statues to other tuxedoed white guys? It should be obvious, but just in case you're not in on it ...
WrestleMania Is The More Sincere And Positive Option
The Oscars are a painful mix of jokes that sum up the past year in popular cinema and awards that are given based on the whims of dudes who are old enough to remember when Jurassic Park was just called Jurassic. It goes from painfully aware to oblivious every five minutes, and these jarring tonal shifts do nothing to make it feel like it isn't twelve hours long. If I wanted an overlong, abysmal experience with an unfulfilling conclusion where people awkwardly thank those who helped "make it happen," I would go back in time and figure out a way to lose my virginity again.
Despite the best attempts of Hollywood to make the show seem like a billionaire's version of a "We're all in this together, guys!" theater troupe, it never fails to remain a mutual back-patting between guys who are trying to convince the world that films should be judged based on an arbitrary "Best" basis instead of, for example, anything that matters.
"And the winner of Best Movie That Should Have Been An HBO Documentary goes to ..."
WrestleMania contains no smarmy self-awareness. It all starts with the title "WrestleMania," which sounds like something a frat boy yells over a rowdy party just after he realizes that he's not getting laid that evening. WrestleMania is Vince McMahon's child, and he does everything that he can to make it seem as important as possible. He even growl-screeches "WRESTLEMANIA!" with the intensity of a jaguar gargling a bulldozer. There's no part of it that isn't driving as fast as it can. And whether it drives off of a ramp and into the stratosphere or straight into the wall of Madison Square Garden is determined at the actual event.
WrestleMania -- sponsored by Ricola throat lozenges.
To make it seem important, Vince often gathers what celebrities he can to bring star power to this battle for pectoral supremacy. These range from singers like Aretha Franklin, Motorhead, and Limp Bizkit, to actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pamela Anderson, and Mickey Rourke, to famous figures like Donald Trump and Vanna White. It often seems like Vince is choosing from the random array of celebrities who would be left after the apocalypse, but it's always more entertaining than what the Oscars have to offer. Rather than simply say, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, a Facebook trending topic for the next four minutes!" like the Oscars would, Vince does his best to get these people involved, often in hilarious and clumsy ways.
Spoiler for the 2017 presidential inauguration.
This can range from playing the wrestlers' theme music, as Motorhead and Limp Bizkit have done, to saying "It's time to play The Game," which they had Arnold Schwarzenegger do last year (a sound bite which gave me a ton of ideas for my wedding vows). They can also be involved in skits, such as when Flo Rida, the greatest rapper to ever incorporate the word "Florida" into his name, seemed to push wrestler Heath Slater so hard that it's surprising that Heath's skeleton didn't momentarily chatter in the air like a cartoon before flying backwards with his flesh suit.
Heath Slater: trained wrestler, years of experience, former multi-time champion
Flo Rida: famous
Flo Rida wins.
Floyd Mayweather had a match with the Big Show at WrestleMania 24, and despite everything you thought while reading the sentence up to now, it wasn't the most embarrassing thing ever. All in all, Vince really wants to make these people seem like a big deal. The guests at WrestleMania aren't coming in to play a guitar amidst an orchestra of body slams. They're an important part of his grand, insane show.
One that wouldn't have been complete without a real-life Little Mac / King Hippo showdown, apparently.
Let's put it this way: When Lady Gaga performs at the Oscars, it's because they need an entertaining distraction while the crew sets up the next segment, changing sets, getting the podium in place, stuffing the teleprompter with letters. "We need three minutes and ten seconds. Have her sing something about that long." When WWE does it, it's because they're setting her up to run into the last match of the evening and hit John Cena with a chair.
Comedians are only available in the summertime.
WrestleMania and the Oscars are huge moments in the year, with WrestleMania being a beginning and the Oscars being an end. What I mean by that is the Oscars celebrate what happened over the previous 365 days. WrestleMania is telling you with each match, "These are the guys we think are doing the best, and this is who you can expect us to go with as our main attractions for the next year."
After turning in this stellar performance, Snooki went on to win the WWE Championship, and she holds it to this day.
WrestleMania Has Moved On From The "Golden Age" Better Than The Oscars Ever Could
Thanks to the Internet, it's hard to hide the movie-making process from the world. If you want to know which of Chris Hemsworth's shaven chest hairs is currently succulently blowing in the wind on the set of the new Thor film, you can find out. If you want to know the insane extremes actors went through to pull off tough roles, here you go. And if you're ever wondering how lopsided the awards world is when it comes to honoring female and minority filmmakers, the Internet will tell you in wonderful detail.
The Oscars haven't changed since about 1959, and they still operate as if people haven't been clamoring for more diversity for the past few decades. They can make winking jokes about it as much as they want, but until progress happens, they may as well award the Best Everything to Gone With The Wind and let people get back to binging Daredevil.
"Please enjoy four hours of jokes about how racist we are,
followed by four more decades of us not doing a thing about how racist we are."
People asked for more women's matches, and WWE has tried to respond in kind. They have two non-comedy women's matches at this year's WrestleMania, which might not seem like much, but is huge when you consider that for about a decade, the WWE was obsessed with having one legitimate women's match and then a much more hyped, half comedy / half panties match at WrestleMania. "Check out the rest of the female roster -- women who have trained for years to get better in the ring -- in a Soaked Thong and Pillows Match, with special referee The Situation." These were a WrestleMania staple, and served to do nothing but show you what breast implants look like when you cover them with feathers and pudding.
She was fined for taking off her heels.
WWE messes up a lot. As Cracked has written about before, they often approach characters or comedy as if they were suddenly frozen in carbonite in the middle of a showing of Song Of The South and awakened in the modern age with the order "Jokes! He's disabled. Go!" But the WWE has recently been willing to try to adjust itself to fit the demands of people who would like to see more than just white dudes flopping on each other. It wants to evolve. And WrestleMania is usually indicative of where it is on the evolutionary line.
WrestleMania Honors Older Performers Better Than The Oscars
The night before WrestleMania, WWE hosts a Hall of Fame ceremony that includes wrestlers -- either retired or on the cusp of retirement -- who have made significant contributions to the business ... and Snoop Dogg. While the selection of who goes into the Hall of Fame is usually limited to those who have maintained a friendly relationship with the organization, it's nice to see them get the chance to thank the audience (and their mothers) for giving them the opportunity to live out their million-dollar dreams of wearing bathing suits while pretending to slap people.
"And in our main event, Rowdy Roddy Piper and the Iron Shiek each have five minutes to out-crazy the other."
No matter how safely you choreograph every match in your entire career, the human body is not really meant to be forced through a breakable announcers' table on a monthly basis. Bodies wear down before spirits do in wrestling, often leaving wrestlers feeling betrayed, in a sense. The Hall of Fame gives them one last shot to bask in the adoration of fans, and a really good montage to go with it. If you're a famous wrestler who has died, video editors will stop at nothing to collect the world's tears. And if you're a famous wrestler who still has partially working knees, WWE will find a way to base a match around you. If you've ever wondered what your favorite childhood star would look like getting kicked in the head today, WrestleMania has got you covered, brother.
It's normally not OK to cheer for abuse of the elderly, but if they were NWA Champion 25 years prior, then fine.
The Oscars, on the other hand, will reduce your impact on motion picture history to a three-second clip and a photo of you smiling. Now, respect should not be measured in the number of seconds you were given in a tribute video, but this is the most famous annual event in the world of film. You can do better than that, Oscars. Double this with the fact that Hollywood tends to actively push actors out once they get too old to be in that 25-45 "everyage" that all leads need to be in, and you end up with people who have a half-century's worth of experience and contributions being memorialized with a single black-and-white photo.
"OK, we done feeling misty? Cool, on to people who are pretty today."
Does every actor deserve a video of their career highlights set to a pop rock song with relevant lyrics? That's impossible for me to say, but I do honestly believe that they deserve more effort than the "Here's an out-of-context, blink-and-you-miss-it clip from their most famous role! / Here's a photo of them smiling! / NEXT" that they get when they pass away during the year before the Oscars.
The Oscars Don't Honor Stunt People ... WrestleMania Is Nothing But
The Oscars need to include a category that gives credit to stunt workers. With movies constantly showcasing people getting beaten up in new and exciting ways, it seems like it would be a no-brainer to throw a bone to the dude getting Chris Evans' nose broken for him. I don't know if the Academy is still stuck in the days when men were supposed to be inhumanly tough and you were supposed to believe that Robert Mitchum and John Wayne took all of their own tumbles from horses, but there's no reason they shouldn't at least pay homage to the dude flying through the air while Jamie Foxx calls for more coffee from his trailer.
Hot damn, that was a great fight scene.
Stunts are included in what I like to call the "third wave" of film criticism. The first wave is the story, the acting, the characters, and the dialogue. Anyone can critique those, because they're very graspable. The second wave is stuff like the direction, the special effects, the cinematography, and the set design. It's stuff that is also graspable, but requires more technical terminology to explain. Stunts come in the third wave, and they're something that film critics rarely talk about, probably because directors are doing their best to explicitly hide them from all of us. In wrestling, the order of importance is 3, 1, 2.
WrestleMania is one big stunt showcase. You can look at wrestling in a thousand ways, from a fake sport meant to deceive children to a look inside an alternate reality where it's the law to settle all of your disputes with elbows. But however you look at it, it can't be denied that those in the ring are pretty good at getting dropped on their heads and shoulders and walking away from it.
CM Punk, for example, enjoyed getting his brain battered so much that he's doing it for real now.
I pose this question to everyone who's ever wrestled in their backyard or living room: Remember the first time your idiot friend threw you on the ground or off the couch and you spent a moment thinking, "Fuck. I might be dead?" Imagine that feeling as the impetus for being safe and careful for your entire career. "If we mess this up, man, we're probably going to be deceased or paralyzed." And both of those things have happened to WWE performers, in front of live audiences. Pro wrestling, like it or not, requires way more than a solid name and baby oil. It takes talent and precision if you don't want to seriously injure your bloody ballet partner. Copious oil is still important, though.
Randy Orton bathes in oil every day: 12-time world champion. His uncle Barry doesn't: never wins a match.
Wrestlers also become immortalized through these stunts because, holy shit, if you do one and you do it well, you will be in every general wrestling video anything until 2050, when pro wrestling is outlawed in favor of Ricky Trump's Big Time Fun Hurt Fest. And WrestleMania is usually an occasion in which these stuntmen debut special never-before-seen moves, such as when Jeff Hardy had his spine turned into a crazy straw ...
Which he then used to suck down his liquid diet for the next six months until his busted jaw healed, presumably.
... or when Brock Lesnar declared war on both gravity and Seattle ...
... or when Shelton Benjamin auditioned for the actual Justice League.
He couldn't possibly be less interesting than Cyborg.
I'm not saying that the Oscars need a ten-minute skit in which the best fight choreographers and stunt people in the world come on stage to throw down in the most awesome way possible and leave, but I totally am. These are the people who make sure that you still have a living, breathing celebrity for Hollywood to work with whenever they get done with their YA/superhero/sci-fi/fantasy franchise of choice. For that, they at least deserve the chance to be honored in an ultimately meaningless way with a little gold statue, just like everyone else.
Daniel's probably watching Punch Christmas right now. Twitter him.
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