Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Women's Extreme Wrestling or Some Steps, None Forward, Most on the Spot

This wasn't the article I intended to write. I had something quite different planned. You see, I happened to be on Amazon Prime (other streaming services are available) and discovered two series of Women's Extreme Wrestling. For those who don't know, Women's Extreme Wrestling also known as Women's Erotic Wrestling was an early noughties all-female promotion from former ECW promoter Dan Kowal. It is, on Wikipedia, hailed as being a company that ignited a Divas' Revolution long before WWE did despite being the company that dreamt up such pillars of equality as the 'Adult Entertainer Oil Rumble Battle Royal Elimination' match and the 'Winner Get's the Ho' match. It featured an esteemed group of soon-to-be superstars such as Mickie James, Cat Power and ATPW favourite, Jazz alongside famed 'adult' actresses. Now, I know I'm not the first person to stand up and say "just because you're letting women kick the shit out of each other like the men, if you're still putting them on the same level as pornographic performers, you're still making the women less than the sum of their parts also you're focusing more on those parts than what the collection of parts are doing", I almost certainly don't have anything to add to the conversation that would actively improve it. It's not that I can't talk about equality in wrestling, I probably could but honestly, what could I add? There are so many more qualified people than I to talk about it but as I say, that was the article I intended to write, one looking at the weird hypocrisy of giving the women proper matches alongside the 'Sexy Person on a Grease-Pole' match (not a real WEW match but it could have been...).

You see there's something even more fascinating to me about the WEW Brawls Amazon series and it's not just the Episode titles like 'Bloody Ho Ambush', 'Big Pimping', 'Yujiro Takahashi', because the first 6 episodes aren't even episodes of WEW, they're in fact footage from WSU (Women Superstars Uncensored), another all-female offshoot, this time a still-running one that operates in conjunction with CZW. As in they just put these matches up with no discernible story running through, it's odd that really what seems to have happened is they decided to try and make their product more palatable to a (mildly) more enlightened modern audience by showing some solid wrestling ranging from the exceptional to the Solo Darling, trying to appeal to the modern sensibility who might not appreciate the sense of exploitation that accompanies classic WEW, work them in. The oddest thing about this series of matches is that they aren't even that extreme. I'm sure there are still some wonderful displays of ultraviolence performed by women but despite featuring some fine performances by the likes of Athena (or Ember Moon as you NXT people know her), Mia Yim (or Jade as you TNA people know her), it's by no means extreme, in fact I think the most extreme thing that might happen is a DQ finish which makes me wonder why they even bothered?

Then I discovered the reason they bothered. At episode 6, I discovered the WEW that Wikipedia promised me. It suddenly cuts to the low-grade camerawork and seedy discussion of gams and stuff. It's odd that there's one commentator yet he's able to provide a conversation, it still ends up being all 'hoo boy, I'd like to take a Fishermans Buster from her'. Maybe I've undervalued his job, it's clearly harder than it seems. It's not so much a wrestling programme as a perfect representation of Lara Mulvey's theories on the Male Gaze brought to the screen. It's pretty much everything you'd expect from a programme that liberally interchanges the words 'Extreme' and 'Erotic'. Put short, it's awful. It's somehow even more misogynistic than you'd expect. Not that I can completely despise it because at least to a certain extent, even if there's a feeling that the assorted, probably hairy chested, probably seedy men, that work behind the scenes don't take the performers seriously, using the trappings of 'hardcore' in order to pretend that there might be something actually progressive about their output, at least the performers do take themselves very seriously. With a solid base of characters working, they at least manage to make it close to watchable, as long as you turn down the interminable commentary.

Honestly, I don't know what I expected because frankly, WEW delivers exactly what you'd think it would but part of me was genuinely hopeful this would turn out to be a hidden gem. And like all patches of rough, there are some diamonds hidden within it but then again, every time you start to think maybe it's improving, you look in the ring, and see that there's a pole-dancing display and you look at the audience around the ring and you see all the men, all of them, there are no women in the audience, basically everyone in the audience has a disturbing moustache as well. It's the sort of place where a character displays heelish tendencies by refusing to show flesh to said audience, the sort of place where a match between two wrestlers of Native American descent involves discussion of the Tomahawk chop of death and lots of insensitive cries from the audience, where a move is described as a 'Retarded Indian Deathlock' it is in many ways, the most perfectly early noughties thing. Honestly, I don't think that anyone should be judged for having appeared in the ring for this because of fuck, they tried to not make it awful but genuinely, this is the exact sort of thing that you hear someone like Sasha Banks saying she tried to get away from.

All-female promotions can work, Japan has STARDOM, America has SHIMMER, here in Britain we have Pro Wrestling: EVE and I don't think my poor research has even scratched the surface. I think there could be a mindset to look at WEW and tar all women's wrestling with the same brush but the reason those previously mentioned promotions work is because they aren't running 'women's wrestling' promotions, they're running wrestling promotions that just happen to be all-women. I didn't want this to become too much of a soapbox but then, I really don't know what I wanted this article to be. Until it stops needing to be said, I'll say it again, if you're still treating it as women's wrestling like it's a novelty, a special attraction, then we're too far away from equality for any of this to work. Sometimes, it's difficult to justify why I like wrestling, this is one of those times and I accept it has an awful lot of problems. That said, I don't have an answer, all I can say, is it certainly looks more difficult to actually be a wrestler.

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