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Wilier Than Your Average Coyote
November 5, 2004

by Erin Anderson
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


One of my favorite websites (OO aside, of course) is Television Without Pity. If you've never gone there, go check it out, because it's a hilarious source of television snark for shows both good and bad. One of the terms that I picked up from the site and have begun using whenever I watch a particularly bad television show is "anvilicious," and boy, is it ever relevant to storytelling in professional wrestling. Confused? Here's a definition, according to TWoP:
Anvil/anvilicious: Used to indicate obvious or heavy-handed writing that has no regard for the viewer's intelligence, thus bludgeoning them over the head with parallels et al. in the manner of Wile E. Coyote and his Acme Brand anvils.  

Remind you of any shows you may be watching on Monday and Thursday nights?

I understand that, to a point, wrestling needs anvils. It needs anvils in the performances of its participants, it needs anvils in its writing, and it needs anvils in the commentary. Professional wrestling needs to be simple and direct in its storytelling, and the performers aren't often given a chance to be subtle because they have to perform live in a large arena to thousands of fans (many of whom are young children.) Their message, and their story, needs to reach all of those people. To understand wrestlers' motivations behind their actions, we need blunt, direct promos that are often heavy on the exposition. Subtlety is not a goal, it is a luxury; it often must be replaced with intensity, charisma, or humor for the sake of a coherent story. And I don't mind that at all.

But for god's sake, WWE has the market cornered. Is it too much to ask for a little moderation in the anviliciousness? A mantra of any creative writer is "show, don't tell," and that adage is a slightly less smartass version of "Stop single-handedly keeping Acme's anvil division afloat." Don't tell us what's going on and why, WWE. Show us, and let the viewers figure it out for themselves. It's more fun that way.

Did you hear that sound when Evolution told Randy Orton told Randy Orton that if he couldn't beat Ric Flair, he would never, ever, eeevvvveeeer, no, not ever get another title shot against Triple H? Yeah, it was the sound of anvils falling all over the arena. Trips was lucky he wasn't hit, they were so numerous. And written on all of those anvils was, "Randy Orton: 2005 Royal Rumble winner."

Anybody who's been watching wrestling for more than a year was thinking it. Why does WWE insist on being so obvious, especially when they used a very similar storyline for Chris Benoit less than one year ago?

If you'd like a more recent example of anvils at work, look no further than Simon Dean's debut on RAW this week. I was mildly amused by his schtick, sure. I'll also tire of it by the end of his next promo. In his introduction, we learned that 1) Simon is an asshole, 2) he hates fat people and wants them to buy his weight-loss system, 3) he has a background in amateur wrestling, and 4) he has a short temper. Got that? Good, because you won't learn a single new thing about this guy in his tenure with WWE. I expect him to be headlining Heat in six weeks.

Contrast that with the way Eugene was introduced to us (and before his character was shoved down the fans' throats during his feud with Triple H.) We slowly learned what this kid was about: one week, we find out that he's Bischoff's nephew and that he's mentally retarded. The next, we learn that he drives William Regal absolutely batty and gets into trouble when he's unsupervised. The next, we discover that he's quite proficient in the ring. And through it all, we gradually discovered that, despite his best efforts, Regal had taken a liking to that dear boy Eugene. So had the rest of us. We didn't need a heavy-handed promo to tell us this; we were gradually shown what Eugene was all about through a series of brilliantly executed backstage skits.

This is why I will invariably prefer a backstage skit to a promo. On any other television drama, the audience learns about characters and their motivations through their words and actions; they don't turn to face the camera and spell it all out for you. And the reason they don't do that is because it would be fucking stupid. I learned more about how Triple H felt towards Randy Orton when he hesitated to shake his hand after Orton earned a title shot than I did when Evolution turned on Orton and destroyed him in the ring. A severe beating didn't intrigue me, but a strange look on Triple H's face and a slight hesitation before a handshake did.

That's also why I enjoyed RAW's Love Rhombus so much, and it's probably why Rick still mentions it every now and then. He found it frustratingly compelling, and I think the reason for that was all in the execution. Even when the rest of the show sucked out loud, we knew that we would be treated to a few minutes of blissfully Anvil-Free Theater between two characters that we actually cared about. We saw that Trish obviously liked Jericho, and were able to figure out for ourselves that all of Jericho's macho posturing was only for the benefit of his buddy Christian. He denied it vehemently to everyone who asked, but it was clear that he was smitten. And the best part was that WWE didn't feel the need to come right out and tell us that. We were shown, we learned, and we were intrigued by the ambiguity and the possibilities. It's a shame that we don't see more storylines with those same qualities.

If I could sit down with The Powers That Be at WWE and could make only one request about the product, it wouldn't be, "Push Benoit and Jericho!" It wouldn't be, "Uh, can I have a job?" either. It would be, "Give me more of what I saw in the main event this past Monday." Did you notice what was going on in that match? Orton, Maven, and Jericho had a field day when they faced Evolution in a handicap situation. They cheated. They choked out their opponents with the tag ropes. They double-teamed their enemies. They delivered low blows when the ref's back was turned. And if everyone else watching was thinking the same way I was, they smiled knowingly.

They smiled because Evolution was finally getting a taste of its own medicine. The faces didn't have to go out and cut a promo telling us about the plan and how they couldn't wait to use Evolution's own tactics against them. They weren't shown discussing strategy backstage, and they didn't throw that into their trash-talking during their locker room confrontation. They just went out and did it, and that made all the difference.


Erin Anderson is an Atlanta native and a student at Georgia State University. Since writing about wrestling didn't go over too well with her English professors, she vents here at Online Onslaught.

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