Now imagine that every movie is a Michael Bay movie. They’re big. They’re dumb. They’re entertaining to the right audience, but they aren’t exactly what one would call art. A hundred movies are released every year and all of them have Shia LaBoof and robot nutz.
Except you’ve stumbled upon some indie films by some guy named Paul Thomas Anderson. Could you convince anyone that film can be an art form? That it can tell a meaningful story? That it can reveal something about the human condition? That it can make you feel something?
I love professional wrestling. And in several days, I’m taking what amounts to a pro wrestling pilgrimage. I’m going to my first CHIKARA show.
If I needed to prove that professional wrestling can be art, about 85% of my evidence would come from CHIKARA or from WWE guys like Cesaro, Sami Zayn, or Luke Harper who once wrestled in CHIKARA.
Just one year ago, it seemed that CHIKARA had died. (If you’d like to skip the history, jump to the next section)
At “Aniversario: Never Compromise,” CHIKARA concluded what had to have been a storyline years in the making. From our friends at Wikipedia:
The main storyline heading into Aniversario: Never Compromise involved Chikara’s Director of Fun Wink Vavasseur’s struggle to remain in control of the promotion, which had begun to unravel around him. In storyline, Chikara was…bought by Worldwide Media Development Corporation, who installed Vavasseur as the promotion’s…main authority figure. WMD itself was owned by The Titor Conglomerate, an investment company where Vavasseur’s father…worked. The Titor Conglomerate also…owned other groups, including the Condor Security, a paramilitary force who worked as Vavasseur’s personal security force at Chikara events.
As the last match was about to end, Condor Security swarmed the ring, tearing down the set and throwing fans out of the building. All the while, Wink sat by eating an apple, fiddling while Rome burned. CHIKARA was closed down and its assets sold off, surviving only as a handful of small promotions under the “Wrestling Is…” banner.
Several months later, bad guys from CHIKARA’s past tried to destroy the last remnants of CHIKARA by closing down those promotions. As the story went, a few CHIKARA wrestlers and hundreds of fans refused to give in, leading to a standoff between CHIKARA and the evildoers, now known as The Flood, and the rebirth of CHIKARA.
From a storytelling perspective, it was a beautiful payoff to years of planning and execution. From a fan’s perspective, it was a year during which I couldn’t watch a thing I enjoyed while living too far away to get involved.
You love music.
Now imagine that every album was released by Nickelback. Its production is top-notch and it appeals to a certain segment of music-lovers. But it’s also takes no risks, never grows or evolves, and gets pretty misogynistic every one in a while.
You’ve come across this hip-hop artist named Brother Ali and this metal band called Between the Buried and Me and this rock outfit called The Dear Hunter. In a world of Nickelbacks, will you be able to convince anyone that music can be art?
As far as the art of professional wrestling is concerned, CHIKARA is head and shoulders above the competition.
No one is better a storytelling. Every match moves feuds along logically. Rarely are matches “overbooked” (wrasslin’ parlance for “clusterfuck”). They, like I do, gravitate towards long-term story arcs. One story involving a group of invaders called Bruderschaft des Kreuzes (Brotherhood of the Cross) ran for almost three years. Stories last a long time, but rarely get stale or overstay their welcome.
Their in-ring storytelling is phenomenal as well. Matches run just the right length and end when they should. You don’t have guys kicking out of gunshots to the head like Dragon Gate USA or Ring of Honor. That sort of stuff can make for great drama if done right, but it usually just undercuts the viewers’ ability to suspend disbelief.
Better still, matches rarely stand alone. Each match, like any good piece of serialized storytelling, advances a bigger story. At “Under the Hood,” they had an atomicos (four on four) match that advanced FIVE SEPARATE STORYLINES. It was incredible.
In addition, CHIKARA doesn’t pander to the audience or the lowest common denominator. They defy the traditional gender roles and stereotypes that make it so difficult to fully support WWE or Ring of Honor.
Wrestlers wrestle, regardless of gender. The BDK had two women, Sara Del Rey and Daizee Haze, who not only wrestled, BUT COULD KICK YOUR ASS. Del Rey went on to have a knock-down, drag-out slugfest with Eddie Kingston for the CHIKARA Grand Championship. Men wrestle men, women wrestle women, men and women wrestle each other. No one makes a big deal about it.
Lastly, CHIKARA fans are the best. The crowds are generally small enough to be closer to a community than a crowd. Shows are family-friendly, but still treat the audience like adults. Best of all, CHIKARA crowds are willing to be part of the show, rather than trying to be the show. It might seem like an insignificant distinction, but I have seen more than one great wrestling show derailed by douchebag fans.
Yes, those crowds have almost always been from New York.
You love paintings.
Except that every painting looks like this. You’ve discovered some guy named Salvador Dali.
You love novels, but every book is written by Stephanie Meyer.
Except I’m really belaboring the hook? Fine, you get the idea…
CHIKARA pulls off wrestling comedy, a thing rarely done well anywhere else, like…
-The crowd and Icarus interacting over his tattoo
-The Throwbacks’ mid-match sports skits
-A basketball-themed wrestler named Sugar Dunkerton
-Chuck Taylor being a serious wrestler (Part 2)(Part 3)
-Referee Bryce Remsberg’s antics
–Laughing my ass off during a wrestling match
–Archibald Peck. All of him.
-Los Ice Creams’ sprinkles
-Jacob Hammermeier’s stupid hair
-Guys named Blaster McMassive and Max Smashmaster
–Chuck Taylor’s grenade
I have never laughed as hard at anything in WWE. Nothing comes close except for Damien Sandow eviscerating Randy Orton via his own entrance music.
More than anything else, CHIKARA just makes me happy. Is it the comedy? The compelling stories? The lack of pandering?
It’s probably a combination, as well as these other things I want to shoehorn in …
-The Awful Waffle
-Tsubasa Kuragaki destroying dudes (Do yourself a favor and mute your computer before watching)
–Team Uppercut (Yes, that’s Daniel Bryan and Cesaro on the same team)
-Mike Quackenbush’s mastery of European-style grappling
-Hallowicked’s step-up corner kick
-Brodie Lee murdering people (Now, Luke Harper in WWE)
-Arik Cannon snapping off a huge punch out of nowhere
–King of Trios
–BRAINBUSTAAAAHHHH!!!!! (El Generico is now Sami Zayn in WWE)
On Saturday, I’ll be seated in the second row of CHIKARA’s “Quantum of Solace” event. The sudden withdrawal of one wrestler caused some ripples that downgraded the card from “great” to “good,” but I still can’t wait.
Mike Quackenbush, founder of CHIKARA in 2002, probably said it best during CHIKARA’s return at “You Only Live Twice.” CHIKARA works because they love wrestling as much as their fans do. They see themselves as artists, rather than performers.
If anyone is going to be convinced that pro graps can be an art, that’s probably the first step.
I Am Chikara – You Only Live Twice – Quantum of Solace – Diamonds Are Forever – Goldfinger – The Living Daylights – The World Is Not Enough – Permis De Tuer – Vivre Et Laisser Mourir – King of Trios 2014 (Night One)(Night Two)(Night Three) – Thunderball – Moonraker – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – For Your Eyes Only – Tomorrow Never Dies