Non-Diegetic Wrestling

God. Do I really want to have my first post since….Marchish being about a musical theater segment in a professional wrestling show? I could be cleaning, I could be programming, or playing a game. I could be exercising (in theory).

Fuck it. Let’s talk about Le Diner Debonair. It’s one of a series of surreal segments that wrestling legend Chris Jericho has been bringing to the table for AEW. Previously he had engaged Orange Cassidy (smartest wrestler alive – fight me) in a debate with Eric Bischoff moderating. This time, he met with fellow devious heel MJF over a steak dinner to discuss whether it’d be possible for the two of them to join forces. They have a little bit of macho posturing, they have a moment where they finish each others’ sentence.

And then they break into a choreographed rendition of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr’s Me and My Shadow.

And the Internet was….divided.

Ok. There’s a couple schools of thought here. There’s people who think it’s absurd and hilarious and everyone else should just chill the hell out. There’s people who think that professional wrestling has no place for frivolity, and the fact that other promotions have done goofy things is meaningless. And then there’s people who say it killed their suspension of disbelief.

We’re gonna talk about that last group, cause they’re the most interesting. They’ll acknowledge that an egotistical smarm like The Rock would absolutely think what everyone wants to listen to is him performing a Rock Concert. But two unrelated characters breaking out in song and dance is a different situation. Which is totally fair.

Wrestling, especially in this century, is presented as a real sport thing happening. 95% of the characters can be summed up as “Guy who is really good at fighting” and everything that you see on screen is what happened. To use a theater term I’m not remotely comfortable saying because I’m convinced that I’m getting it wrong – it’s diegetic.

If, like me, this seems to you like this is a made up word, here’s what it comes down to. In a performance, anything that exists in-universe is diegetic, anything that doesn’t but is still part of the performance is non-diegetic. A good example is movie soundtracks. In Grosse Pointe Blank, Martin Blank drives up to his old home and Live and Let Die is playing as part of the soundtrack. This is non-diegetic. It switches to diegetic when he enters though, when a muzak version of the song is playing over the speakers of the Ultimart. Full disclosure – it’s entirely possible that I got the terms reversed. I am not a theater kid, and my source was not helpful at all. There’s a whole thing in musical theater about whether the actors are actually singing and dancing or not. Smarter people than me have talked at length about it.

Anyway. 2020 has been a weird year though, and non-diegetic (hell, post-modernism in general) has been creeping into professional wrestling. It’s always been there in the background – whenever you see a couple heels plotting and noone asks “do they not see the cameramen?” it’s because the cameramen aren’t really there. In-universe I mean. They’re non-diegetic.

That group of fans (remember them? they’re who I’m talking about) might not be ready for a big shift in genres like this though. It’s not the biggest case of it happening – at Wrestlemania Bray Wyatt and John Cena had a legit Battle in the Center of the Mind as the end of their feud and…I think the last thing we’ve seen John Cena do in the ring. If you think people are pissed about a dinner song and dance segment….man, people were fucking livid about that.

[EDIT] I forgot to actually finish my point. The song and dance is a non-diegetic metaphor of them showing that they’re aligned. Jesus. I did this whole rambling thing, and forgot to actually put in the fucking point.

Anyway. I’m done rambling now.

-AP