A Woman of Honor

When I started doing the Facelock Feministas podcast with my friend Sarah, we were so infatuated with the Lucha Underground product for a myriad of reasons. A major one was how they treated the women who worked for them. They were involved in well-developed storylines and intergender wrestling matches were utilized to demonstrate that their women were on par with their men, not secondary to them. The past few weeks worth of podcasts has highlighted how that seems to have shifted. We have not had a woman in a match in two weeks on Lucha Underground, and we’re now seeing female characters in more stereotypical roles than before. And frankly, I’m disappointed.

This seems to be par for the course in pro-wrestling, though. Just when we think we’ve made strides for women as wrestlers and as fans, we take two steps back. WWE changes the Diva’s Championship to the Women’s Championship in a theatrical presentation in front of record crowds at Wrestlemania 32 and then gives us months of pitifully short segments and matches for women on RAW, not to mention their inability to create more than one storyline involving female wrestlers simultaneously.

Another example is Ring of Honor, a promotion that has Women of Honor on a weekly YouTube segment, but does not have women’s wrestling during their televised broadcasts. Today it was recommended to me that I check out an interview Joe Koff, the COO of ROH, did with Jim Ross in which Koff says “I doubt if our roster will ever be a third [female…] We’re not that deep and […] I’m not even sure that the fans have necessarily the appetite to sit through two or three women’s matches which you would have to have to have that kind of people, to use them, and to let them make a living.” What? You don’t think the audience has an “appetite” to sit through two or three women’s matches? Where does this data come from?! Also, your fan base will rise to whatever you set before them provided the wrestling is of a certain quality. And Koff has something to say on that, too:

“But I think, at the end of the day, the women are not quite at the level, even though they’re getting there. Their matches are very fast and they’re very exciting, and I think some of the Japanese women that I’ve seen that have come over through New Japan are unbelievable. I think people like to talk about women’s wrestling because we’re a society where men like to look and let’s face it a lot of men are pigs when it comes to stuff like that. […] But at the end of the day, they want to see good action. So as the women’s quality gets better, I think we’ll see more women’s wrestling.”

What I’m taking from this quote is mostly that Mr. Koff doesn’t think women wrestlers are as good as men, but ROH puts them on TV in the capacity that they do in order for male to ogle them. Congratulations, Ring of Honor, you just made the top of my shit list. (Never thought someone would oust Striker, but here we are.)

What seems to really be at the heart of the problem is the absolute refusal of the people in positions of power (almost all men) in pro-wrestling to invest both time and money in women as human beings. There is a mass cyclical oppression happening in this industry (and film, music, art, sports, politics, science, ad nauseam) in which the lack of women in the ring discourages both a larger female fan base and potential future female wrestlers to invest in the product. In the same way (though admittedly on a smaller scale) that people of color are grossly underrepresented in film and television roles, the representation of women in pro-wrestling wildly skews the impression on the viewer that women can’t or shouldn’t wrestle, and that the product is not “for them”. To encourage the hiring of female wrestlers, to encourage the hiring of female writers and technicians and designers, is to encourage the diversification of professional wrestling both in product and in audience.

While watching Lucha Underground over the past 19 weeks, I have appreciated that the women were treated as equals to the men and given the same opportunities: the chance to be silly, to be violent, to be cheered, to be booed, and to be rewarded. The recent removal of the Catrina character from TV (though this is canon and will likely make sense in the future) married with the current status of Kobra Moon as a weird stalker girl and Taya as simply Johnny Mundo’s tagalong is a reversal of that. Lucha Underground was doing things with their female talent that no other promotion, save for all-female ones, were accomplishing in terms of equality. I have seen arguments that their women’s roster is much smaller than their male roster, and therefore it’s harder to get them screen time without overworking the female talent they do have. I don’t refute that, and agree that I would prefer not to see the talented women of LU out on injury due to working too many matches in a day of tapings. My response is far simpler: hire more women.

When I’m told the lack of imagination in storylines for female performers is based in the lack of women on staff, my response is the same: hire more. Do all women have the same experiences in life? No. I’m not suggesting that female writers should be creating content exclusively for female wrestlers. Having a diverse writing staff (and I mean to include gender along with diversity of race, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc.) creates an environment that will naturally breed a wider variety in plots. If everyone on the creative team at WWE was different from one another in all of the aforementioned categories, imagine the refreshing, boundary-pushing content they could be presenting to their audiences, even within the constraints of the TV-PG rating. It could potentially rival the Attitude Era in the way it would revolutionize the company and perhaps the entire industry.

I am regularly met with resistance when I discuss the issue of women in and out of the squared circle. I’m told the industry will never change, that some things are what they are. I’m asked time and time again, why do I bother? Why am I a part of an all-female wrestling podcast, why do I blog and write articles for other sites about representation and booking? These questions always seem silly to me, as they have a very simple answer. It’s because I LOVE wrestling. I love it. It has been there for me when I really needed it. And now I want it to be better. I want to give back to it, not just with my money or my time but with my voice. I want to encourage it to evolve and to change with the times and grow.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with me outside of the pro-wrestling world, I went to college to become a playwright. I wanted badly to be a female Aaron Sorkin (who many of you probably know from TV shows, but who got his start writing A Few Good Men as a stage play before it became a tremendously successful film). In my favorite television show The West Wing, which Sorkin was the showrunner for during the first four seasons, one of the main characters is deciding whether or not he should run for congress as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican district – a district that hadn’t elected a Democrat in a dog’s age. In arguing for his running, the character tells the following story:

“I worked in a State Assembly race in Manhattan in a district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans 16 to 1. But everywhere we went, there’d be one lone poster of a right-wing nutbar who wanted to eliminate the income tax. And he was holding up signs and canvassing everywhere and bugging the local reports until we had to comment on it. So I introduced myself to his campaign manager, and I said ‘what are you doing? Your candidate doesn’t have a chance and neither do your issues.’ He said ‘this is what I believe. And no candidate gets to run in my district without speaking to my issues.’ I came this close to voting for him.”

I am a pro-wrestling fan. So are all of the members of the #PWGrrrlGang, and thousands more men and women like us. We believe women should be hired more, booked better, and should be more well-represented in this industry. We believe female fans deserve a fun, inclusive, and safe environment in which to be spectators. If you produce pro-wrestling events, you will address our issues. I intend to make sure of it.

-The Lady J Says

Advertisements

How I Show My Love

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in here (poor blog) but I’m working toward making this a bigger priority and writing more. One of the things that’s been filling up a little more of my time has been the Facelock Feministas podcast (which you can check out via YouTube and iTunes) and promoting the #PWGrrrlGang. I had some thoughts I wanted to share regarding last night’s FF podcast, and thought this might be a good place to put them.

I am a female-identifying professional wrestling fan. If you come here or to the podcast looking for the opinion of someone who has been or is a wrestler, or the perspective of someone who is an industry “insider”, you have come to the wrong place. I don’t think I’ve ever given the impression that I have experience inside the wrestling industry, but if I have, I apologize for the misinformation. I’m just a fan who uses my unique perspective as someone with a background in creative writing and theater to help inform my opinions of what I see weekly on my TV or at live events. My personal journey as a human being walking this earth is also painted by my experiences as a woman; those experiences are going to color everything I do in my life and the way I interpret anything that crosses my path: the stories others tell me, things I read in books, or see on TV. It’s not something I can turn off – not that I would want to even if I could.

As a fan writer and podcast host, I feel my purpose lies in being as honest as possible about how things seem to me. I hope that in my honesty I am never alienating anyone, but rather getting the ball rolling on the beginning of a conversation. If we disagree, I want to hear your point of view, as long as we can both be respectful in how we discuss the issue at hand. Just a few days ago a wonderful friend, Willow, and I were discussing our opposing views about WWE’s inclusion of Chris Benoit in products lately. This is an issue I take very personally and have blogged about before, and I believe Willow understands my perspective but can only be honest with me about how she feels. In the end, we agree to disagree but understand one another better as people.

Sarah and I have received a great deal of support for the Facelock Feministas podcast, a fact we are both proud of and grateful for. The basis for this podcast was always to give a woman’s perspective on wrestling, but to focus it to Lucha Underground, a market we felt didn’t have as many female podcast voices yet. We’ve had our fair share of trolls, but mostly we’ve gotten a positive response from people – fans, other podcasters, wrestlers, bookers, etc. – and we hope to continue to bring you more fun, intelligent content as we progress. But not every episode is going to be the same. Whether I am working alone, with Sarah, or joined by a special guest, the basis of each podcast episode is in the corresponding episode of Lucha Underground that aired that evening. Yesterday, as I worked through episode 17 of season 2 of Lucha Underground, I felt unhappy with what I was seeing on my screen. When it came time to go live with the broadcast, I said what I felt.

I like be extra sassy and have fun on Twitter, but I never really thought I was cutting the Promo to End All Promos on the creative team behind Lucha Underground. Maybe it’s not always a great idea for me to finish watching an episode and then hop straight on air to podcast. But everything I said last night I still agree with. Maybe you don’t – that’s fine. As long as you do so respectfully, I’d be happy to hear your argument! We received a few comments on our YouTube video for episode 15 of people who did/did not agree with me, all of whom were as passionate as me, but very cool to hear from. The only thing that has given me pause was a reply that popped up on the Facelock Feministas twitter account this afternoon:

Capture

This made me feel bad. My intention is never to make the people who create Lucha Underground (and I mean all of them, the wrestlers, the writers, the camera people, the designers, the technicians, everyone) think I am not grateful for the hard work they put in. I am a huge fan of this program and something really terrible would have to happen for me to stop watching (like, say, I would have to be dead. Or the show would have to be canceled. Both are things I would prefer NOT to happen.) I think sometimes it’s easier to just love something and be satisfied with it than to say “usually this is very good, but this one time it was not up to the standards of the rest of the product.” That’s how I felt about last night, particularly the story surrounding the main event match for the Gift of the Gods championship, Chavo Guerrero, and Cage. I don’t expect every main event to be on the same level as something like the No Mas match from episode 15, but the storytelling for this championship seems like dangerously bland waters to get a guy as on-fire as Cage is into.

The Kobra Moon stuff, on the other hand, is personal to me. How women are portrayed is sort of my thing, it’s where a lot of my heat comes from. I want strong female characters, characters who are held to the same standards as men, and ones that don’t play into long-standing tropes and stereotypes typically applied to women. I don’t know much about the writers and producers of LU, and I don’t know how many of them are female. I don’t know how many of them had the experiences many young girls do of being taught to never be smarter or faster or stronger or better than boys at anything, because that’s not how you get them to like you. It is hard when you have experienced certain things not to view moments like Kobra Moon giving Daga the pin in last night’s first match as a reflection of that experience. Do I think there’s more at play? Sure. Very rarely do we have matches that don’t move a major story arch forward on LU. But watching Kobra Moon trying to lick Daga (yes, I know she’s a snake) made me feel Marty the Moth-level uncomfortable.

And here’s the thing: it’s my opinion. Would I rather watch any other wrestling program available to me instead of Lucha Underground? Hell no. But I also don’t see the point in dismissing the times when you don’t like something and giving a promotion a free ride for all of the good they’ve done up to that point. I’m sure we can all think of promotions who became so complacent regarding their audience that they rested on their laurels and thought we wouldn’t find anything else to watch if they insisted on feeding us the same regurgitated shit over and over. Obviously, one lackluster episode of a show does not an abandoned promotion make; I’m not just going to shut the podcast down and walk away from a show I adore. I’d prefer to get a little heat for calling a spade a spade and saying “this was not up to par. Please do better.”

To paraphrase Amy Gardner’s character in the “Red Mass” episode of The West Wing:

First of all, I’m crazy about Lucha Underground. I’ve been crazy about it for longer than you’ve known wat it was. And I’ll keep poking it with a stick; that’s how I show my love.

Love you, LU.

The Lady J Says

Anatomy of a Pop, Pt. 2: Worth the Work

When I did Part 1 of this post, I talked to some people via Twitter about the last time they were genuinely surprised by wrestling. The subsequent blog post was about those moments that we truly “marked out” for, and why they got the reaction they did. I had mentioned wanting to break a pop down, so that’s what we’re going to do today. Let’s take it apart and see what makes it tick.

Now, not all pops are the same. The pro-wrestling wikia has a great breakdown of different types of pops, if you’re interested in learning more. One situation that came up repeatedly on Twitter when discussing surprises was Brock Lesnar defeating The Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXX. But my question is this: is a surprise really a pop? I don’t think so. I think, if anything, a surprise can MAKE you pop, but the pop in and of itself is a separate thing.

Two days ago, episode 9 of Lucha Underground aired and brought us the show’s second incarnation of Aztec Warfare. For those of you new in town, Aztec Warfare is a 20-luchador match which begins with two individuals in the ring and a new participant entering every 90 seconds. The only way to eliminate someone is by pinfall or submission – there are no count outs and no disqualifications, so the match quickly becomes chaotic. The episode (and thus, the match) takes up the better part of an hour and features many of the fan favorites from the LU promotion. For those of us who have been avid Believers, Aztec Warfare is a great moment in the season for many of the major story arcs to intersect with one another, and creates a new jumping-off point from which to build the next part of the season. If such a phrase were ever to be used, I would say Aztec Warfare 2 was the textbook definition of a “Pop Fest”.

The King Comes to the Temple Over the past eight episodes, we have seen a story unfolding in which Rey Mysterio Jr. has been training Dragon Azteca Jr. for his debut inside the temple. Each week, we learn a little more of their story, until finally in episode 8 we see that Dragon Azteca Jr. has received an invitation to compete in Aztec Warfare 2. But he’s not going alone – Rey Mysterio Jr. has received one as well, and debuts in the Temple at number two. This is a great pop. The audience knew he would be in the match, but we didn’t know when he would be entering. For him to come out at number two, knowing it would be a treacherous battle going the distance, the audience couldn’t help but cheer for the mayhem in store. In other promotions, Rey has been overused in badly-developed scenarios or pushed at inappropriate times. This was a brilliant use of his talents, and I personally haven’t been that happy to see him in over a decade. (Pop: 7/10)

Opportunity is Knocking One of the best matches (see also: potential future post) of Lucha Underground season 2 was a No DQ match between Cage and Taya. The match was originally billed as being Cage vs. Johnny Mundo, but Taya came out and proved she could hang with The Machine. The match was violent, and of course Taya’s cohort Mundo had to get involved and eventually cost her the match. So when the two of them were already in the ring for Aztec Warfare, it seemed like an aligning of planets when Cage was the next entrant. Johnny Mundo tried all he could to get rid of Cage, including putting him through Catrina’s office window. But in the end it was a cinder block to the head that knocked Cage out, and Taya, ever the opportunist took the pin. This was a great moment for the only woman in the match to pin her biggest opponent, and because it meant the deliciously violent feud between Taya, Mundo, and Cage is not yet over. I know Taya is a heel, but when the referee hit the three count on Cage, I popped big time. Girl power! (Pop: 6/10)

Slay the Dragon, Slay the Slayer If you watch the Facelock Feministas podcast that I do with my girl Sarah Slam on Wednesday nights, you know right now two of our most favorite wrestlers in LU (Jack Evans and PJ Black, affectionately called “Jack and Black”) have teamed up against Drago and Aero Star in what will likely be a high-flying, spot-heavy tag feud to end all tag feuds. We saw the first rumblings of this when cocky Evans pinned Drago using the ropes and started referring to himself as the Dragon Slayer. When PJ Black was Evans’ next opponent and caught the dragon’s mist by accident when Drago attempted to interfere, he sided with the rudo. Drago attempted to exact his revenge on Evans in a backstage promo, but Black came to Evans’ aide – before Aero Star appeared to even things out. Once these talented gents were in the ring at Aztec Warfare, all bets were off. Drago and Evans spent a good amount of time trying to kill one another before PJ Black entered, followed soon after by Aero Star. In the end, we saw a beautiful double-pin in the ring to let everyone know these four aren’t done. Most impressive was the stunning Top Rope Destroyer (an elevated version of a Candian Destroyer) that Aero Star used to slay The Dragon Slayer – who fell beside Drago as Aero Star and PJ Black got the pin while I covered my mouth in absolute shock. Absolutely the best spot of the night, hands down. (Pop: 8/10)

Zero Fear of Death There was only one promo in the Aztec Warfare episode, right at the top of the show, between Fenix, Pentagon Jr., and Catrina. This is when we find out that Vampiro’s student was not invited to the Aztec Warfare match, as punishment for putting his hands on Catrina a few weeks earlier. Here is where the concept that “a good pop is a surprise pop” comes into play. Much like the excellent pop at Wrestlemania 31 when we were all so engrossed in the beating Brock Lesnar was delivering to new Suplex City resident Roman Reigns that we forgot about slimy Seth Rollins and his Money in the Bank briefcase, we forgot about Pentagon Jr. and Catrina. The Aztec Warfare match had less than fifteen minutes left when entrant number 20, Mil Muertes and his mystical valet Catrina, entered The Temple. We knew Mil was destined to regain his title, as Catrina had secured the final entry spot for her luchador. Except Mil never really had any chance at all, because crowd-favorite Pentagon Jr. had snuck in and quickly attacked 1,000 Deaths with a chair – at which point I was screaming and chanting along with The Believers – CERO! MIEDO! CERO! MIEDO! After the ex-Lucha Underground champion was sufficiently pummeled, Pentagon Jr. rolled him into the ring where Rey Mysterio Jr. took the pinfall, and there was once again zero fear in The Temple. But not for long… (Pop: 9/10)

This Is My Temple After Mil Muertes had been counted out, Catrina went ballistic. We haven’t seen Catrina lose her cool like this all season. She immediately turned her attention on Pentagon Jr., who quickly departed, and then on his master Vampiro. She banished him from her sight and when he tried to argue, she hit him (HARD.) But while her attention was on the commentator, she neglected to feel a chill fall over The Temple, as the Devil himself had come to reclaim his thrown. For weeks, we’d seen the original proprietor of LU standing outside a make-shift temple, feeding unsuspecting wanna-be believers to his monster brother. Now, after months away, Dario Cueto was finally back home and he had brought Hell with him. The Believers came unglued – and Aztec Warfare spiraled into chaos as Cueto’s brother Matanza made quick work of the remaining nine luchadors and claimed the Lucha Underground Championship. (Pop: 10/10)

A good pop has structure, like a good story. They don’t always follow typical climactic structure; sometimes a monumental pop really is just a big surprise, like Shane McMahon showing up on Monday Night RAW back in February. Sometimes the best pops are ones you could probably have seen coming a mile away. We all knew eventually Dario Cueto would be back, it was just a matter of how and when. That’s where the real magic comes in.

What is a pop? It’s the pay-off you get for allowing yourself to get worked, whether it be just momentarily or for weeks or even months at a time.

Feels good, don’t it?

The Lady J Says

 

 

The Real Queendom: Lucha Underground

Wednesday was a long day for me – the first back at work after the epic Blizzard of 2016 that basically buried all of DC. Because there was so much to make up for, I was at the office way past closing time and missed the Wednesday night airings of both NXT and the Season Two premiere of Lucha Underground. Last night (after a really excellent bowl of borscht) I decided to check out LU and see where Season Two is taking us.

I really love Lucha Underground. It’s directly in contrast to WWE: an hour long show packed with matches and really crisp story telling. So much happens over the course of a season that it’s almost impossible to imagine how we got from the first episode to the finale. The premiere episode of season two was absolutely jam-packed with story and great matches. (NOTE: If you’ve never seen Lucha Underground, I recommend starting at the beginning of Season 1, or you may be a bit confused.)

There are plenty of things that went on in this episode that I could talk about – the way the stories and matches are paced, the way the entire program is produced, or even the fact that you need to keep watching past the credits to not miss anything. It’s as if Lucha Underground is produced not only for wrestling fans, but fans of comic books and film as well. For me, the thing that drives me back are the characters. They are so complex and can’t be fit into an oversimplified stereotype. Some of the characters are inherently good, some are inherently bad, but none of them are perfect. They make errors – some of them grievous – and they move forward from there. Wednesday night gave me a really perfect example of great characterization and better booking than we’d ever get in WWE. It happened in a very small way, but paints a sweeping picture of where Lucha Underground has built its foundation.

The final match of the episode is where everything suddenly clicked into place for me. I spent most of this episode enjoying Catrina as the match maker for The Temple. She’s very beautiful, has a very sultry voice, and manages to bring the chaos while still remaining loyal to Mil Muertes. Even though she is in charge and Mil is the Lucha Undergound Champion right now, there is nothing about this set up that feels similar to The Authority being in charge and Triple H being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Where as WWE wanders in and out of reality with its programming, Lucha Underground very clearly exists inside of an alternate reality, complete with demons, monsters, and magic. So when she showed up at ringside for Mil’s title defense at the end of the episode, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t even think anything of it when she didn’t administer her kiss to his opponent, and instead insisted he deliver his finisher a second time. And what happens? He doesn’t hit it. There is confusion in the ring and somehow Catrina is the one who ends up taking a spear. She rolls out of the ring to recover as other wrestlers begin to appear, and the story continues.

This is such a small moment, a tiny detail, but it’s also so incredibly perfect. Catrina is in charge, and yet she took that spear like a champ, didn’t oversell it, and let the story continue without trying to steal the attention. By the end of the episode, there were five individuals in/near the ring – and she was certainly not the center of it all. The purpose of an authority figure – of a matchmaker – is to mold the matches and guide the story. I am absolutely infatuated with the fact that the Catrina character fluidly moves between power and purpose. She appeared in almost every single backstage promo without making me feel like we were overdosing on her. Her two appearances at ringside dealt entirely with plot (and in one case a feud that doesn’t actually involve her). She’s being written strong, utilized brilliantly, and performed to perfection. If there is one thing I am confident in saying about LU right now, it’s that Catrina is absolutely my favorite character to watch. I can’t wait to see what they do with her as titles change hands and story lines evolve. You can bet whatever is next for Catrina and Mil Muertes, it’s going to be some pretty dark stuff. I say – bring it on.

– The Lady J Says