This is an excerpt from Brian Oliu’s “Psycho Mantis And The Montreal Screwjob: The Twilight Of Metafiction And The Reascension Of The Montaignian Attempt” from Machine Wash Warm, the new FlipCollective e-magazine.
Machine Wash Warm can be purchased here.
Psycho Mantis And The Montreal Screwjob: The Twilight Of Metafiction And The Reascension Of The Montaignian Attempt
by Brian Oliu
The fog of war clouds personal accounts to the point that only the most gruesome detail or the most quirky conceit attracts our notice—a fact eloquently demonstrated by the author Tim O’Brien, who in his memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home explains this: “Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories.” It is worth noting that O’Brien’s 1990 collection The Things They Carried, was my own personal introduction to the concept of metafiction: the stories about telling war stories. It is also worth noting that The Things They Carried borrows heavily from If I Die in a Combat Zone, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, whereas the memoir was warmly reviewed but did not come close to receiving the accolades of its reimagining.
This may not mean that the novel is dying: perhaps it means that we are experiencing a rebirth of the author. What matters is that we, the audience, have come to expect some level of awareness, by our writers, authors, creators, that they are in the midst of creating.
So while I am uncertain how Tim O’Brien would feel about having his work and his experiences in Vietnam compared to the current state of World Wrestling Entertainment, there are parallels. If you turn on a World Wrestling Entertainment broadcast, it will ostensibly be the same thing you watched when you were a child: matches involving muscled men in tights, good guys playing by the rules while bad guys attempt every trick in the book to cheat to win. John Cena, 10-time WWE champion and quintessential BoyScout good guy is Hulk Hogan in jorts: he miraculously finds the strength to win matches; he preaches hustle, loyalty, and respect in lieu of saying prayers, staying in school, and eating vitamins, but the mentality is the same.
Alberto del Rio, a former WWE champion, is a Mexican aristocrat who drives a different six-figure vehicle to the ring every match, wears a scarf, and calls people perro. If del Rio sounds like a cross between the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and any of the long-line of “evil foreigners” that have wrestled their way through the WWE’s ranks, it is because he is: it is a formula that is tried and true, and one that has enthralled children for years.
Except that, of late, the demographics have changed. These stories have been regurgitated so many times that the audience needs more, needs something new. (Some of this could be attributed to saturation: the WWE runs over six hours of original programming each week and fields a roster of 52 individual superstars—if this were a Greek play, the name and epithet list would take up the whole playbill).
The reason for this is the shift in the audience. The kids who watched Hulk Hogan and Ted DiBiase now have children of their own. But these new children aren’t the target demographic. The WWE wants the ex-children. 67% of people who watch WWE programming are ages 18-49. A solid majority of this demographic are “smarks”—fans who know that the events are scripted and are either hoping to predict the outcomes of the matches or be pleasantly surprised.
And here’s where shit gets, you know, “meta.” The WWE, aware of the awareness of its new fanbase, has given it a voice: a tattooed, skinny, straight-edge, technically sound wrestler that goes by the name of CM Punk—a character who is also aware that professional wrestling is a sham controlled not by what happens in the ring, but what happens backstage.
Punk occasionally “leaks” information that he is “not supposed” to have: perhaps he speaks ill of the owner’s family, or maybe he has open discussions about how he was held back in the company—things that people in the know “know”, but things that no one expects to hear.
Much like O’Brien, CM Punk takes already existing knowledge and weaves it into his fictional character. To add another element of bizarreness to this situation, during CM Punk’s “coming out party rant,” he name-checked John Laurinitis, the Vice President of Talent Relations, who was not an on-screen character at the time. Thanks to this vilification of John Laurinitis, Punk started to show up as a corporate stooge: yes, nonfictional fans took a fictional character, turned him nonfictional, and that character then took a nonfictional character and made him fictional. This so-called “WWE Reality Era” has altered other characters as well: the WWE is an enthusiastic proponent of the social media network Twitter—when wrestlers make their entrances, their Twitter handles are displayed for the audience at home to follow along. (There is also a character who proclaims himself the Internet Champion and has a QR Code on his tights, but that’s a story for another time.) The Twitter accounts, which in their earliest incarnations were used as a way for the people behind the wrestling characters to interact with their fans, have been re-appropriated to further storylines, but only partly: there will be a few Tweets about how nice Sydney Airport is, or how nice it is to be riding a bicycle around Chicago, followed by some quips about their upcoming opponents at Survivor Series.
David Shoemaker, a staff writer for Grantland, remarks on this phenomenon as follows:
“After Punk made social media ‘cool,’ the company’s corporate influence was sure to follow. If disgruntled wrestlers were to find their voice anywhere, it probably wouldn’t be on Twitter. We were too captive an audience there, too willing to believe what we were reading was honest. Any place we think we’re getting shoots (that is, real talk), pro wrestling will be there to make it into a work (that is, part of the storyline). It’s the nature of the beast.”
Whereas before when we read Jim Ross’s Twitter account we were getting Jim Ross’s Twitter account, now we are getting “Jim Ross’s” Twitter account in the same way that “Tim O’Brien” does not know how to tell a war story.
Much as metafiction is both aware of its form and its audience, professional wrestling lives off this concept: the secret about professional wrestling such as the WWE is not that it is fake, or that the Ultimate Warrior stomps the mat as he feigns an open-handed punch towards Randy Savage; it is that it is an audience-dominated enterprise that is steered, for the most part, by its fans.
To read the rest of this piece, along with other, all-new work from Paul Shirley, Hank Layton, Jenny Bahn, Riley Breckenridge, Rosicky Jones, Tom Dinard, and Mick Shaffer (or have said work read to you by the authors, in the Machine Wash Warm audiobook) buy Machine Wash Warm now:
(When you click the ‘Buy Now’ button, you will be taken to a screen that asks if you’d prefer to pay with your PayPal balance or a credit card. All credit card payments are processed by PayPal. After the transaction is complete, you’ll be immediately provided with the two downloads of Machine Wash Warm. One is the .pdf; the other is the .mp3.)
For more information about Machine Wash Warm, click here.
Thanks for reading!
For more from Brian…