Episode 53: When Fiction Is Shaped by Real Tragedy

There are many topics on which I was planning to write about tonight. Some books that I read over the last few weeks, my experiences teaching today, even a cool anime about boxing. But then something happened that has a lot of people just the wind knocked out of them. As I mentioned in one of my first posts, I’m a big wrestling fan and tonight I was watching Raw like I normally do when the unimaginable happened. Jerry the King Lawler, wrestling legend, hall of famer and funny color commentator for the program, who had just wrestled in a tag match with Randy Orton against CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler (and won by the way). A few moments later, the concentration of the crowd left the ring and focused on the announcer’s table, rather than being shattered at the end of a match, Jerry the King Lawler collapsed.

Not caught on camera, but seen by thousands on the live performance, Jerry’s voice stopped being part of the program as Michael Cole continued to provide commentary. A few moments later, Cole explained that Lawler had collapsed ringside, doctors rushed out took him backstage, were performing CPR, and took him to the nearest hospital. The silence became palpable, as segments and matches continued sans commentary, something not audible for the live audience but a constant presence for the viewers at home.

Twitter was immediately flooded with the hashtag #PrayForLawler as it trended worldwide almost instanteneously. Perhaps more interesting was the connections that it drew from past tragedies. The most obvious of course was that of the 9/11 anniversary coming up only an hour after the night’s broadcast. Wrestling fans however made the connection to a more personal tragedy from about 13 years ago. In a stunt gone horribly wrong, Owen Hart ziplinned from the rafter’s to the ring only to fall tragically. He was immediately taken on a stretcher out of the arena. The pay per view continued as normal and at the end, good old JR had the unenviable task of having to tell the world that Owen Hart had died. Tonight, his brother Bret Hart had made his triumphant return to Raw in Montreal. For some reason one tragedy reverberates with the other and circumstances began to be reflected. Owen died almost on impact but his death was not reported until after the event itself. A lot of us feared that the same was happening now. Cole would come back and put these anxieties to rest as he said that Lawler was breathing on his own. You don’t ease someone into sad new by saying that things were getting better, that hope was clear even in the darkest of skies (unless you’re an evil bastard and not even in kayfabe would anyone try to pull that).

Perhaps the most real moment came when Michael Cole clearly said that this was not part of tonight’s entertainment. This was code for saying that this was not scripted, as pretty much every second of the actual program. Somewhere in the midsts of tragedy , there are two mindsets that appear amongst performers and viewers alike. The show must go on vs we need to stop this. Now. Raw is a live show and hasn’t missed a program in decades. The most that has happened is that the deaths of wrestlers greatly impact the program content. When Owen died the matches, interviews, and overall segments were a tribute to him as a person and an athlete, even when his character at the moment was a heel. A few tyears ago something similar happened when Cris Benoit died, and it was known just hours before the show, they scrapped the live performance and proceeded with interviews and clips of his greatest matches, even having to abort the storyline of Vince MacMahon’s Kayfabe death. It wasn’t until the more gruesome details of the murder/suicide of his family that Benoit was almost erased from the annals of wrestling history.

From a serial literature perspective, a lot of things happen in between installments that can change everything. Important events can easily overshadow or hampen the delivery of any part of the narrative. Charles Dickens had to postpone installments twice because of a death in the family. It gets even weirder with the events of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in which Dickens died by the time that the third installment had just been published. He had written up to the sixth installment, and thus the question arised, do we stop the story now, publish what we’ve got, or find someone to basically finish the novel. They inevitably chose the second option, thus leaving the narrative officially unfinished and any event occurring to the characters after the sixth installment is pure speculation, guesses, and maybe even qualifies as fan fiction.

As for tonight, the most recent reports show that Jerry is responsive, breathing on his own, and getting further tests to see what’s going on. Further addendums of, “this is not part of the show” and “this is real” still ring through all reports. Either way, my thoughts and preayers are with Jerry and his family. Hope yours are as well. Let’s see how the shows and performers go on.

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