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  1. #1
    Do I shit in the woods? BEAR's Avatar
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    Greetings Grapple Fans: Generic Column to get things Moving

    Harry Houdini confidently strode across the stage of the New York Hippodrome. The date was 1918 and a legion of diehard fans, nearing 5,000, had gathered in the vast auditorium to watch the legendary Hungarian in a feat billed as the world's most shocking conjuring illusion.

    "Ladies and gentlemen," Houdini bellowed and gestured towards an already ruffling curtain. To the audience's alarm, an adult Asian elephant, topping 8ft tall and weighing over 6,000lb, came skipping into view. "Allow me to introduce Jennie, the only vanishing elephant in the world."
    Jennie the elephant elegantly raised her trunk in greeting to the bemused crowd, before taking her place on a brightly coloured box with wheels. The doors were delicately closed behind her, there was a quickening drum roll and the stage hands threw open the doors at both ends of the box to reveal nothing – Jennie had disappeared.





    The overused term 'mark' finds its origins in the carnival. Its exact conception is mostly found in oral history, with dozens of scenarios spelling out its exact birth. The most ostensible refers to an age-old practice where, once somebody was deemed to be particularly gullible, the person running the stall (or usually an acquaintance) would pat the guy on the back in good spirit. Their hand would have chalk on it, thus marking the victim out for the rest of the carnivals money makers, who ensured that his run of bad luck would continue. The word 'Kayfabe' has even more varied origins. The most likely to me anyway, is that it's a form of pig Latin for 'fake'. Most sources however, suggest that it's likely that it was also coined in the carnival.


    Carnivals are fast becoming a thing of the past, a dinosaur to the newer fast paced world. Outdone, outshined, and outsold by amusement parks and online gaming, they've been neutered by a ‘PC’ state, and out-smarted by people's newfound ability to travel around the globe. In this century our sense of community has taken second place to an e-world that gives us instant access to whatever we want. We no longer wait for the amusements to come to us. Whether physically, or virtually, we now travel to amuse ourselves with ease, and when you have the ability to talk to somebody anywhere on the globe with no effort, we don’t need to have that community feel. The world is constantly changing, and with that, our entertainment has evolved... So have our expectations about what we see. Some carnivals still exist, but very few travel anymore. An age old part of entertainment is close to extinction.


    We still get a carnival fix though, through its bastard child of professional wrestling. It’s not hard to see the link. Professional wrestling came out of the womb of the 'strong man' act, challenging the audience with super-human feats. Meanwhile, the majority of early wrestling promoters were carnival men. And as that way of life evolved, a lot of its language has changed. The word 'Mark' changed from being a soft, gullible victim, to being a term for those that were fooled by the drama created by wrestling. On the other hand those that were in the know were 'smartened up', which quickly shortened to 'smarts'.


    Of course, over time things begin to change more and more. Misdirection is the key to a good illusion. By mischievously duping the audience to either look away from the illusion's flaws, or by managing to convince them to accept an illusion as something other than what it is, the trick is carried through by the mastery of the illusionist. But these carnival tricks weren't made for television. They were custom made for a prolonged single, distanced view. In the nineteen twenties, there was no such thing as a zoom lens, or recordable settings, and that's where the illusions begin to fail. We look out for the tell tale signs. That there is a slight of hand. That the magician is standing in front of one single point on the stage throughout their act. That the cabinet is far larger on one side than the other. That they seem to be touching their forehead moments before they start gushing with blood. That they're stomping their foot on the canvas when they're hitting someone. These things just don't stand up to television.


    Most magicians were artists, they were able to adapt to accommodate television, and use that to make their tricks more of a spectacle. Wrestling, failed to adapt. Not in the most obvious way anyway. Instead, it slowly changed its approach. It no longer went out of its way to convince people that what they were watching was legitimate - instead, it came clean, and became ‘Sports Entertainment’. Instead of being a mocked, frowned-upon sport, it became a brand new form of entertainment, embracing what it had been, it became to resemble a soap opera, where the storylines weren't designed to make sure people kept on viewing - they were the reason for its existence. Professional Wrestling stopped being a carnival, and became a Product of the times.


    The ideal customers for such shows were the 'marks'. They'll purchase tickets, they'll collect merchandise, and they'll support the product, but they don’t want to question watch they watch. 'Smarts', on the other hand, were plentiful, because what was fake and what was real held less significance. If you knew that it was fake, then in comparison to a mark in the 'forties, you were smart. But now that the product had changed, we had an audience constantly changing between being marks, and being smarts. They could enjoy the product, and they quickly realised that the spirit of the carnival still lived strong. Backstage politics became public knowledge. Enjoying one didn't necessarily have to influence the enjoyment of the other. A smart could flip between itself and being a mark. A smart mark... A smark.



    The ‘orange tree’ was, in its time, the most bedazzling trick of the mind a person could lay their eyes on. It was created in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when the majority of magic shows were made up of subtle theatrical stories. The great Eisenhower took to the stage, with nothing more than a seedless plant pot. As he majestically motioned towards the pot a single green branched reached over the pot revealing itself to the elated audience. It grew and grew, feeding off the energy from Eisenhower. Minutes later there proudly stood an orange tree, with fruit as ripe as any. An audience member was called up and told to sample the fruit. He stood there amazed, with a single trickle of orange juice dribbling down his chin. It was a marvel of the age.



    Recently, the smark become the most annoying part of the audience, although it hasn’t always been the case. When wrestling was at its peak, smarks were actually treated as high society. The product made it easier for them to garner their ‘smarts’. Columns, websites, magazines all became the normal way to let people know your knowledge.


    But then a fall in popularity began, and being a smark began to be seen in a less favourable light. When the product stops being as popular, it’s the fans that don’t care as much about the product that cause the damage. If the ‘smarky’ fans are criticising the product, the casual fans will realise that the product is no longer a ‘cool’ thing, and be turned off by the criticisms of smarks.


    Then similar to the fate of the Carnival before it, they’ll move on. They will find different forms of entertainment, and different shows to feed their need. Wrestling is left in an awkward and difficult posistion. There are an array of smarks everywhere, but if you appeal solely to them, you’re in danger of making the product to niche. If you limit yourself in such a way, you alienate too many people. So, in order to try and quieten the Smarks, the columns, magazines and websites are adapted in order to be more Kayfabe. The problem is, by this time, the smarks make up a high percentage of the fanbase.


    Smarks can be deemed to have been misunderstood, certainly on a base level. They have been taken as a group so desperate to be smart and individual, that they’ll criticise for the sake of it. And since the criticisms are usually so obvious, it’s too easy to tar them same brush, and accuse them all of saying, and wanting, the same things. Once you are accustomed to such patterns, it becomes too easy to ignore them.


    “Why can’t you just be a real wrestling fan? Stop criticising, and enjoy it, get behind them.”


    The above has been said more time than I care to remember. And often the smarks, who are confused because they’re constantly being accused of not being real fans, reply by stating that they are only trying to improve the situation, and how others can’t understand that. They will even write a blog, stamping their pseudo-authority down with tired, dated suggestions, simply because they may have seen a glimpse of what the reality of the show is like.


    In there lies the problem.


    Smarks however, aren’t smarks because they are trying to help. They’re smarks for another entirely different reason.


    If I took the time to explain that Houdini’s trick was easily achievable with mirrors and perspectives, would it take away your enjoyment of the illusion? And if I was to explain that the orange tree was simple mechanics that created the illusion. Would you question the person who performed it? Possibly it may change the way you look at the illusionist, but then your buy-in for the product has already been irreparably damaged.


    Smarks don’t purely go for the product, and they’ll never settle for the product, because they’ve had a glimpse of the carnival spirit that lingers backstage. They are drawn in by the array of characters who play the wrestlers, and they’re equally fascinated in the direction each character should take. Our own Eldandy wrote about the suspension of disbelief recently, it really is something unique. It merges both politics and drama, with economics, marketing and credibility, all brought together at understandable levels. All without delving into the skill of the performance.


    Placed in any other industry, smarks would not be seen as a negative, especially as most want the product to improve, even if they fail to see their ideas have already failed. When we watch a magic show we don;t want to see poor showmanship, even if we know how the trick is done. Smarks are enthusiasts, plain and simple, and we don’t want our carnival experiences to end. We want to nurture it, and learn from it, we want the carnival spirit to possess us once again.


    If you have no real understanding in how an illusion works, it’s difficult to truly appreciate the artistry and skill of a performer such as Houdini. It is only once you delve in deeper, and are taught the basic skills that you learn about it. Then, as you delve deeper and deeper into it, you become more appreciative of a well done illusion, and you begin to understand the difference between the great performers and the awful ones.


    In order to understand why Houdini making an Elephant disappear is such a great feat, you have to appreciate just how difficult it was to do it in the first place.

  2. #2
    LOP's mid carder for life DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Not sure I'd call this a generic column, this was a fine piece of work examining the history of wrestling fandom and why it may not be as popular now as it has been in the past.

  3. #3
    Senior Member 205 Clive's Avatar
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    Excellent stuff here, Bear. Nothing to criticise at all regarding the technical side of your piece, and what you had to say was, for me, an important issue.

    I randomly learned the origin of the word "mark" in Stephen King's "Joyland" of all places (a nice wee read for any King fans who haven't bought a ticket yet).

    Smarks are entitled to their opinion, as is everybody else. But the hijacking of TV shows has become an issue personally. You've got wrestlers, wherever they are on the hierarchy, trying to entertain the fans and tell their own story. But you have people chanting what they chant. It's their money, they can do what they want, etc etc. But there comes a point when what is ruining a "mark's" enjoyment of a match isn't the quality in the ring, but the deafening CM Punk chants that are ruining it.

    I actually fear this Smark vs The Man battle will only intensify as the year goes on. Independent wrestling, from a name value and quality standpoint, overshadowed on Wrestlemania weekend. Now All In is sold out. The smarkier than thou warriors are having their voice heard more and more. Does that mean more WWE matches will be hijacked and sabotaged?

  4. #4
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Great read Bear. Really enjoyed the comparisons with magic because, as you said, everyone knows it isn't real but we go to have our breath taken away and to have our critical minds switched off as we are taken on a joyful ride.

  5. #5
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    I thought this was a great read, I think Mark is an over used term a lot of the time and a lot of people don't understand the true meaning behind it. I feel the same can be said about burying someone, when they don't understand the term and just throw it out when they feel the need. Great Column.

  6. #6
    Enjoyed this, man!

  7. #7
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    I love you. This was flawless. Do more of them.

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