Smarten Up - An Education in Professional Wrestling Podcast

Smarten Up - An Education in Professional Wrestling

A Sports and Recreation podcast
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In this episode: Stefan and Drew get silly.Professional wrestling is at its core a variety show, with different segments meant to appeal to different audiences. But while its dramatic aspects are often highlighted, its comedic segments are rarely appreciated in the same way. Sometimes its easier to laugh at wrestling than with it, but there is a proud tradition of wrestling comedy, and the masters of the form are those that understand how to combine fists and farce to make something sublime.
In this episode: Stefan and Drew are en fuego.Wrestling's reach extends far beyond the United States, and as the medium has moved into different countries, it has come to both reflect and influence local cultures in surprising ways. In Mexico, wrestling is lucha libre, and although the basic structures are largely the same as its US counterpart, its substance, presentation, and place in Mexican culture could not be more different. In this, the first of our journeys outside of the American circuit, we present an introduction to wrestling in Mexico, its history, and what distinguishes it as a unique variation on the form.
In this episode: Buzzer. Pause. Music.The Royal Rumble is WWE's crowning achievement in the world of gimmick matches. Brilliant in its simplicity yet endlessly flexible, it is a unique stage upon which to tell stories. The Rumble is in many ways the perfect introduction to what WWE is at any given moment in time. This time around, we explore what makes the Rumble unique, the kinds of stories that it can tell, its significance in the WWE calendar, and what separates a great Rumble from a bad one. With the 2018 edition airing on Sunday, January 28, consider this your introduction to one of wrestling's greatest treats.
In this episode: Stefan and Drew shamelessly ride Jenji Kohan's coattails.With Glow landing on Netflix, a new generation of fans are being introduced to the world of women's wrestling. It's a sub-genre that stretches back far earlier than the neon-soaked 1980s, but its history is not for the faint of heart.
In this episode: Drew and Stefan climb the ladder.Sometimes, the rules must change. Sometimes, the rules exist to be broken. Sometimes, there are no rules. In our semester finale, we explore the matches that go beyond the standard format, where the rules, setting, and objective may be changed all in the name of settling the score.
As we kick off our third season, we are going to dive deeper into specific topics that affect the wrestling world at a more structural level. In this episode, we discuss the decline of the house show and the corresponding rise of the super show, the affect of that shift on both the wrestling product and business, and how we see that trend evolving going forward.
In this brief special episode, we discuss our thoughts on tonight's NXT Takeover event and whether the time is right for Johnny Wrestling to become Johnny Champion, among other topics. 
In this episode: Drew and Stefan walk the runway. (Do you ever run the runway?)One of the primary objectives of any wrestling performer is to distinguish himself or herself from the crowd. In a primarily visual medium, costuming and ring attire are effective tools for standing out from the cavalcade of similar looking athletic performers. Costuming communicates critical information about a performer's character and may play an important role in helping a wrestler get over with an audience. In this episode, we dive into the clothes that make the men, and explore what the choice of attire says about the performer.
A quick note from Stefan on the forthcoming tenth episode of Smarten Up.
Pictured: Lucha Underground, and also Drew (standing in the Lucha Underground shirt) Although we recorded this a while ago, sometimes its worth going into the vault to dig out a classic. Drew walks us through his experience at Lucha Underground live, and what an experience it was!Enjoying the show? Then why not support us on Patreon? You'll be glad you did, and for legal reasons, that's not a guarantee!
In this episode: Stefan and Drew search for stylish accessories to help keep their pants from falling down.The championship is the central MacGuffin of the wrestling world - the prized object for which the men and women of the squared circle ostensibly give their blood, sweat, and tears. But what role do these championships actually serve within the larger construct of sports entertainment, and why do we as fans ascribe meaning to accolades awarded as part of a rigged contest? These questions and more are answered in a discussion tracing wrestling championships back to their origins and then working forward to the present day, where a title win often remains the pinnacle of a wrestler's career.
In this episode: Stefan and Drew break the spines of some dictionaries.The story of wrestling is one of insiders and outsiders. Nowhere is that more explicit than in its language, developed and adopted to separate those in the know from the fans in the stands and maintain the illusion of legitimacy critical to the form. If you want to understand wrestling, there's no better place to start than its vernacular.
In this episode: Drew and Stefan reject the concept of the three-man booth.Even more than in traditional sporting events, the commentator in wrestling has a vital role to play in contextualizing the action and guiding the viewing experience.Want to support Smarten Up? Then back us on Patreon!Michael Cole following Jerry Lawler's heart attack
During office hours, we unlace our boots and break from our usual lesson plan to discuss the news of the day in the wrestling world. This week: we discuss the Broken Hardys' departure from TNA. We have thoughts! 
In This Episode: Stefan and Drew have a price.World Wrestling Entertainment, Incorporated is a publicly-traded corporation worth approximately $2.5 billion. It is one of the largest companies in a global industry, boasting a surprisingly diverse set of revenue streams and one of the most innovative and important media technology services of the last decade. It cannot be overstated: wrestling is a business first and foremost, and the first objective of its leading promoters is and always has been to make money. This week, we dive deep on how that money is made - by promotions in general, and specifically by WWE. We also touch on a number of related issues, including talent compensation, labor market dynamics, and how business practices best suited to the carny circuit have been folded into a modern media empire.
The West Texas Rednecks In this episode: Stefan and Drew do not actually hate rap.A wrestler's entrance music announces his or her presence to the world, providing valuable information about character and priming the audience for what its about to see. But there are downsides to entrance music as well as upsides, and while some wrestlers thrive with their personal soundtrack, others are hindered or even crippled by the tune that plays as they make their way to the ring. Join us as we explore the world of entrance music, from its inception in the Golden Age of Wrestling to its evolution through the 1980s and 1990s to its spread across the American cultural landscape. Links of NoteThe West Texas Rednecks perform "Rap is Crap" LIVESouthpaw Regional Wrestling (Episode 1)
In this episode: Stefan and Drew go dancing with the stars.Breaking out of "sports entertainment" and into the mainstream has been the goal of wrestlers for decades, but only a select few have every successfully crossed over into the broader public consciousness. There is a clear divide between "wrestling star" and "mainstream celebrity", but it can be transcended with a careful, strategic approach to making the transition. We break down attempts to make the move throughout history and try to understand why The Rock could survive The Tooth Fairy but Hulk Hogan couldn't survive Santa With Muscles. Alias The Champ (1949)Tag Team Pilot (1991)
In this episode: say hello to Wrestlebot!With Wrestlemania just around the corner, Drew and Stefan explore the historical origins of the Super Card and its evolution from an excuse to sell more beer to the central hub upon which the wheel of wrestling turns.Drew also recommends a classic of the wrestling film genre for your homework, and you won't want to miss the thrilling post-credits scene in which Stefan almost burns down his apartment.
In this episode: Drew and Stefan call their spots.The match is the central dramatic tool of the wrestling world, and the storytelling tool that separates it from other entertainment genres. Like film, television, theater, and music, the wrestling match conforms to a series of dramatic conventions built over decades to maximize the audience's experience and tell a compelling story within the confines of the squared circle. Join us as we provide an overview of these conventions and explore what makes a great match worth watching.
In this episode: RAM JAM! RAM JAM! RAM JAM!It's one of the most important representations of wrestling in mainstream culture of the last twenty years, but is 2008's Darren Aranofsky film The Wrestler really a "wrestling picture"? It's a question too big for Stefan and Drew to answer even in our tag-team configuration, so in this special Trios Edition podcast, we invite Dr. Derek Long, Assistant Professor of Media and Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and secret uncredited creator of Smarten Up, to join us in breaking down Mickey Rourke's big comeback.
In this episode: at least Stefan and Drew get a reaction.Wrestling is unique as a medium in that the reaction of the live audience can dramatically impact not just the performers involved but the trajectory of the story being told. Matches are booked and narratives written with a desired reaction in mind, but if the live crowd doesn't feel like going along with the script, the consequences can be unpredictable and occasionally disastrous. But why do some crowds boo the babyface and cheer the heels? Why are matches between talented wrestlers sometimes rejected altogether? And how does the wrestling promotion adapt its product to reflect or control the reaction of its loudest fans? In this episode, we dive deep into the contrarian aspect of the wrestling audience and its effect on the product itself.
Vince McMahon's consolidation of power in the wrestling world was not a clean process, nor did it happen in the blink of an eye. All across the country, promotions held on until the bitter end as proud entrepreneurs clung to their dreams in the face of history's inexorable march. But the rise of the WWF and its ultimate victory in the North American wrestling world did not mark the end for the small promotion, but merely a point of demarcation. Those that emerged in the aftermath of consolidation have markedly different objectives and offer a substantially different product than those that held on in the 1980s and '90s. To understand those that have built the new world - and to assess the opportunity available to the upstart AEW in 2019 - it is valuable to start by looking at the old world. In this episode, we explore three of the old guard - the AWA, WCCW, and ECW - each of which changed wrestling, but proved incapable of living in the world they made.
In this episode: Drew and Stefan propose some hypotheses.The history of 20th-Century American wrestling climaxed with an explosive battle between the bombastic WWF and its chief rival, World Championship Wrestling. The outcome of the Monday Night Wars is well-known, but the life and death of WCW remains a topic of heated debate. In this two-part season premiere, we dive deep into the promotion's past and attempt understand whether WCW's fate was inevitable, or if there might have been room for two major wrestling promotions in North America.
In this episode: Drew and Stefan paint in broad strokes.One of the most important things for a wrestler to do is stand out from the crowd, and the gimmick is critical in laying the foundation of character to do just that. Wrestling is a reactive medium, and gimmicks reflect in some ways the genre's interpretation of the broader world around them. But what is the line between a gimmick and a fully-formed character, and when can a gimmick become more of a hinderance than a help?And what is Bull Buchanan doing these days?
In This Episode: Stefan and Drew are circulating the tapes.Wrestling has been at the forefront of media development since its inception, forging boldly into broadcast television, cable, pay-per-view, and now over-the-top services well ahead of more *ahem* respectable entertainment ventures. In this episode, we explore the reasons why wrestling has consistently been at the forefront of changes in the media world, and how not only those changes have influenced wrestling, but also how wrestling has influenced the evolution of media in America.
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Podcast Details
Jan 8th, 2017
Latest Episode
Feb 20th, 2019
Release Period
No. of Episodes
Avg. Episode Length
About 1 hour

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