Saturday, September 20, 2008

If All the World Becomes a Stage...

Although the popularity of professional wrestling in America has ebbed and flowed over the years, one particular aspect of the "sport" has never seeped into culture-at-large. I am referring to the practice of projecting theme music to accompany an entrance. An entire generation of Hulkamaniacs can still, years later and with no hesitation, hum Hulk Hogan's theme song: "I Am a Real American." Personally, I always got a kick out of Ted DiBiase's theme.

Of course, this practice did not originate with pro wrestling. Although wrestling theme music dates at least all the way back to Gorgeous George in the '50s, theme music in movies dates back to at least the Wizard of Oz. And I suspect that lost to history was "Odysseus's theme" as performed by Greek harpists. It is likely that the inextricable association of theme music with the theatrical makes it somewhat taboo in "real life." Since pro wrestling has no pretensions of anything but theatrics, the marriage was inevitable. But it is interesting to observe the tension that has emerged as the concept of individual theme music attempts ever so subtly to insinuate itself into other avenues, which are also playing out a larger tension between "the theatrical" and "the dignified".

The history of professional sports in America is a history of a struggle for respectability. Now that respectability has been more or less attained in the ESPN era, we forget that at one time sports were considered the province of a boorish, uncultured underclass. To combat that, sports leagues instituted a business model built on decorum. As memories of the fragile beginnings of these leagues begin to erode, theatrics and showmanship gradually enter the games' lexicon. But the impulse to censor touchdown celebrations (and yes, names on jerseys as I wrote about a few weeks ago) can be traced to the insecurity that still exists in every professional sports league's DNA. And that is also my explanation for why individual theme songs have been much slower to catch on in "legitimate" sports, even as an entire genre referred to as "jock rock" has emerged. Baseball closers are an exception to the rule, as they are granted an extra dose of indulgence due to the extra dose of theatricality commensurate in what some call their "high wire acts."

Another arena in which the subtle creep of theme music is fascinating to observe is political campaigning. Particularly at the highest levels of politics, contestants must find a way to strike the perfect balance between a theater that will energize potential voters and a dignity that will assure them. Bill Clinton famously found that balance in Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop." Alan Keyes infamously lost that balance when he jumped in a mosh pit accompanied by the sounds of Rage Against The Machine.

Yet I wonder if Keyes wasn't ahead of his time. My prediction for the future is that as postmodernism continues to creep into everyday life, theatricality becomes more legitimized, and technology allows more power of individual expression, the theme song will become a trend not just on grand stages, but in everyday interaction. Already the cell phone ringtone presages this direction. There now exists such a thing as an mp3 playing taser. In due time, I think it will be a matter of course for anyone making an entrance in a social setting to project a song. Maybe we'll get to the point where composers can make a living just selling people original theme songs. And the first person that recognizes this market gets DiBiase's song.


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8:38 AM  

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