Variety, along with several other outlets, has reported today that Smashing Pumpkins front man and 90s icon Billy Corgan has signed on with TNA Wrestling as “senior producer of creative and talent development.”
The report indicates that Billy Corgan’s creative vision is to explore themes of “race, ethnicity, and gender” to enhance TNA’s storytelling.
The question is, how well can such progressive and idealistic storytelling fair in a world as largely base and politically awkward as the world of professional wrestling? In an environment that has for decades relied on stereotypes and caricatures for stories, what place is there for nuanced explorations of gender or ethnic identity? And to what extent will Destination America, the network which carries TNA programming and has seemingly been very involved in TNA’s creative direction since the promotion debuted on the network earlier this year, allow Corgan and TNA’s creative team to explore these themes?
Professional wrestling is a wonderfully unique storytelling medium which allows a very long term approach to storytelling. Because of the nature of modern televised wrestling and the need for new content each and every week, there is a tremendous amount of room for detailed character growth. Yet this growth occurs within a context: these characters are inherently fighters who are battling for a top prize within their wrestling promotion. Herein lies the difficulty of telling stories within professional wrestling. At the end of the day, these individuals are meant to be athletes competing in a sport, using their victories as a means to prove that they are right within the context of their story. This context is exactly the sort of thing which could make explorations of “race, ethnicity, and gender” difficult in pro wrestling. Wrestling inherently as a “might makes right” attitude in which, in a perfect scenario, the good guy will succeed through superior strength and athleticism. This is fine in theory, but a “might makes right” approach to the issues that Billy Corgan wants to explore may not be the best approach to take.
This is not to say the attempt should not be made. If there’s anything that more than 5 hours of WWE programming a week will teach a person, it’s that there’s got to be something new and different for folks to try, and Billy Corgan should be commended for jumping on board with TNA to see what can be done. But it’s difficult to picture a successful approach to analyzing serious issues in professional wrestling. Perhaps after having been conditioned with years of terrible caricatures and awkward stereotypes, the idea of seeing a pro wrestling character experience a real, relevant, and relatable struggle just seems far too unlikely.
Wrestling has existed on very simple stories for decades. This approach works because the uninitiated can generally tell who to root for and who to boo within moments of seeing any given character. But perhaps it’s well past time to try something new. Billy Corgan’s approach to wrestling seems like the approach of a person who wants to make these characters seem more real. Where wrestling has existed on very defined roles, Corgan seeks shades of grey. In short, it seems Billy Corgan is looking to make wrestling more human, and less like a live action cartoon.