FilmStruck Down: Corporate Greed, “Niche” Viewership & Building A Bigger Boat

On October 18th, I wrote a piece about the Asian streaming site DramaFever and how it had announced, very suddenly, that it would be shutting down.  In the week since then, the Kdrama and Asian television online community (centered within Facebook groups, Twitter and Reddit comments) have been wildly searching for other ways to access television content legally.

It looks like a site that previously only provided TV shows in Korean (OnDemandKorea) is stepping up to the plate, advertising one of the more popular shows in recent years, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon 힘쎈여자 도봉순 as “coming soon with English subtitles” along with other programs. So it’s clear that other streaming sites know that what AT&T called a “niche audience” and cast off like yesterday’s trash is worthy of attention. Which brings me to today’s topic: the devastating news of the loss of yet another streaming site owned by WarnerMedia and their corporate parent, AT&T- FilmStruck.

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If you think that this page looks similar to the one DramaFever had, you’re right. The biggest difference is that FilmStruck is giving their members a good month’s notice instead of, oh, like 24 hoursSo if you’re a FilmStruck-er, go and watch a shitload of movies RIGHT NOW. Or at least catalog your watch list and take advantage of the amazing ORIGINAL content that they created.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that you never had FilmStruck. Or that it didn’t work for you on your platform of choice. Or you didn’t don’t care for classic/arthouse cinema. And the same with DramaFever and its offerings of Asian cinema and television. OK, totally your choice. That saidthe way these channels were removed and why they were removed and the carelessness and thoughtlessness behind the process is unforgivable. We need to start examining the way these larger corporations are eating up smaller media-providing organizations because, in my mind, destroying them is just a “quick fix” so they don’t get accused of becoming a monopoly. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe the destruction of channels like DramaFever and FilmStruck solidifies their monopolistic practices.

paramount 1948

I just keep thinking about the Paramount Decree of 1948 and how that stopped the Hollywood Studio System from having total control over the films that were being shown and (equally as important, especially to the topic at hand) HOW THEY WERE BEING SHOWN. Block booking became illegal and many of the exhibition practices that the major Hollywood Studios were forcing on theaters all over the country were shown to be discriminatory towards independent theaters and were, essentially, bullying tactics.  This case…it’s still important. I feel like it’s useful here because I think AT&T is not-so-subtly removing independent media from viewer accessibility and establishing a dangerous monopolistic precedent only to jockey for first place with another corporate entity.

As I documented in my previous article, AT&T is looking to compete with Netflix. They are the parent company of WarnerMedia who, in turn, owns the streaming sites that have been dropped: Boomerang (a cartoon network) [EDIT: I read that Boomerang was going to be one of the losses in at *least* two different publications when DramaFever was axed- as of today, 10/26/2018, I could no longer find confirmation of that channel’s removal so this is an inaccuracy on my part- apologies!-AS], DramaFever (Asian television), and now FilmStruck (Classic/Arthouse Film). AT&T is chomping at the bit for what I see as “a bigger boat.” They want to create a Mega-Monster Streaming Channel with HBO at the helm (sorta as the selling point), and within the Monster Belly it will contain all the bobs and bits that have been swallowed up from the sites that they have killed in the building process.

As a media archivist I know that one of the trickiest things in our business is licensing.  Full transparency, these are only my thoughts and my musings so I haven’t done deep research on who has the streaming licenses for the films on FilmStruck but I know that there may be multiple bodies since the film content came from Warner Archive, Criterion and TCM. That said, I also know that Criterion still has content available to stream on Kanopy (a library-based media streaming site) so they may have multiple streaming licenses going (or they may have an educational license for that one?). My point with the licensing? Who has the contracts and for how long? Does AT&T own the streaming rights? Are they going to sit on those materials until they create their Monster Channel and then have a Special Classics/Arthouse section? That’s what they promised the DramaFever community.

The people in the DramaFever community have already moved on. We don’t wait for some über channel. We will find our TV shows and our community where ever and however we can. More importantly, we don’t like being treated like second-class citizens. We watch media that is high in emotion and it’s traditionally considered “trash media” since Western society is uncomfortable with the raw display of emotion. So…we’re a “niche” market.

niche meme

With FilmStruck, I hope that there can be an equal bounce back. What I would like to see happen is for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu to jump in. They could easily do it. Classic films, arthouse cinema, this community is analogous to the one I align myself with in the Korean Drama world. There are films that are high in emotion or extreme in some way- costume, language, make-up. Geez- no one talks like Katherine Hepburn anymore, amirite? And musicals? But FilmStruck has a MUCH higher draw than the dramas that I watch, and I will readily admit that.

The interesting thing about FilmStruck is that, unlike DramaFever, many (certainly not all) of the materials that are being streamed are available on DVD or Blu-ray which (of course) then begins the conversation (as usual) about viewers being “so glad” that they kept their physical media. I’ve seen the word “hoarding” being used a decent amount which…always makes me a little queasy but if that is how you want to refer to your media library, hey- who am I to stop you?
Obviously, this whole situation brings up ideas of access and economics and such. Streaming is far more economical (and thus accessible) for people who are on a lower budget which is more common in this not-so-awesome landscape right now. So it is something to keep in mind.

As an archivist, I will certainly advocate physical media 100%. But we need to look at all sides of streaming and accessibility and what digital might provide and who/what audiences it might welcome. Additionally, if AT&T is going to put all of this content behind an expensive cable paywall…that certainly doesn’t allow for the kind of openness that FilmStruck was known for.

FilmStruck-themes-500-copy

There is a great danger in not speaking up when these corporations swallow us whole. We simply don’t know what parts will be left. If they are holding the licenses to these films and we have to wait…which ones will they come back with? How long will we have to wait? Can we access only part of the package? I HAVE QUESTIONS.

To all of my wonderful friends and colleagues who have put so much work and love and goodness into FilmStruck: you are why we watch. You are why we will always watch.
I love you from the bottom of my sprocketed reel heart.

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DramaFever-less: The Drama of K-Drama

So here’s a thing. I know most of you are not interested in my interest in Korean Drama (Kdrama) but some of you ARE interested in rights/licensing, media technology, labor & economics. This may be a little long but it’s INTERESTING!
 
So DramaFever, the Netflix of Kdrama (owned by Warner Bros), shut down yesterday with **ZERO** warning. No disclosure to the large fan communities that consist of mostly women viewers. Long story short, it’s a corporate decision. All DramaFever (referred to hereon as DF) materials & their licenses are to be subsumed into a larger channel that AT&T is creating with WB content so they can compete with Netflix. This monster channel is planned to launch sometime in 2019.
 
Some women were quite LITERALLY in the middle of watching an episode of a beloved show. Imagine being in the middle of watching an ep of Game of Thrones and it just STOPS. A black screen appears with a message that says: Thank you for your loyalty to HBO but like…Sorry. We decided to shut down the company. We’ll be back in a new form sometime next year. OKTHXBYE.
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As you can imagine There’s a LOT OF UPSET FANS RIGHT NOW. And I have been chatting with them A BUNCH on the (mostly FB) forums that I am on. Many of them are trying to find other ways to watch particular shows that they were in the middle of watching (Terius is the primary one, at the moment & I’m kinda glad I didn’t start watching that myself). Lots of folx are going the torrent route which I actually am not against in this situation at all. DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES, Y’ALL. GOTTA HAVE YOUR DRAMA. I AM TOTALLY HERE FOR THIS. So lots of ladies sharing info with the community on how to survive but also acknowledging the shitty subbing (subtitling) on occasion, possible viruses, & non-reliability of sourcing the materials this way. 
 
Enter Viki & KOCOWA. They are like the Amazon Prime & Hulu of Kdrama. You can get two different plans on Viki: standard and plus. Standard is a basic Kdrama, no-frills package & some of the content is limited. Plus is no-holds-barred, ALL KDRAMA ALL THE TIME, LET’S DO THIS. Now, Viki & KOCOWA share content but KOCOWA *also* has its own streaming channel but it’s only available on certain platforms (like not on AppleTV or Roku). So some shows are *only* on KOCOWA and some shows are shared and on Viki *and* KOCOWA.
 
Got that? Good.
So DF destructs yesterday and we are left reeling. A good chunk of the community is just like OMGWTFBBQ. Many are really kinda like: What about GOBLIN?

Goblin aka Guardian: the Great and Lonely God aka 쓸쓸하고 찬란하신 – 도깨비 is a TvN drama starring Gong Yoo, Lee Dong-wook and Kim Go-eun that rocked people on a level that is comparable to, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Game of Thrones in how intensely its audience feels about it. Admittedly, I am one of those people. I actually could not tell you precisely why…yet. But goddamn. That show. To this day I cannot hear the song from it without crying.  I’m including it here & it has bits from the show but like…no joke. I’ve never been so internally in pain from a show in my life. I can’t even describe it to you. I think there’s subliminal shit in there somewhere. 20 years of watching things & this show turns me into a complete. and. total. hot. mess.

SO GOBLIN IS A PROBLEM. Because guess who holds the license? DF has it. DF has a lot of shows that it advertised as “DF exclusives” and those were programs that they held exclusive US licenses for and you can BET YOUR ASS that they are not going to give those up to anyone else.
 
So we, the fans, lose. Meanwhile, it’s sure as shit that the hard-copy purchases and torrents of some of those “DF exclusives” have gone WAY up in the last 24-36 hours. I have no doubt that many fans now have actual physical discs of certain dramas heading to their homes because they were like: fuck this. DF is ready to betray me like that? OH HELL NO. I rewatch this show anytime I’m having a shitty day. I can’t have y’all do that. I’m taking charge here and making sure I can have my dramas when I want them and where I want them TYVM. DF? Suck it.
 
With DF out of the game, the community is relying on each other and we are kinda going: so…do we upgrade? Do we find other legal streaming sites? Are there other legal streaming sites? (the answer to this is a resounding not so much).
 

Which brings us back to Viki. Full transparency, I totally upgraded to the Viki/KOCOWA Plus package. I don’t gamble with my Kdrama.

As someone who has been studying media and tech issues for as long as I have, I feel like maybe this is a huge thing that is happening right now whether you care about Korean/Asian television programming or not.
So DF has all these licenses. The channel itself is no more but the licenses are still being held by WB/AT&T and are essentially dead/hibernating for the time being and the content will go live again when the new channel is “resurrected” in 2019. But by then all of their fans will have moved on to new shows and more content. Because that is what we do. We keep watching. We are active and interactive viewers. The Kdrama fandom is not a passive group. It is a collection of (mostly) women who take a lot of pleasure from the programs they watch and we watch them in large quantities. By taking themselves out of the equation, DF has erased themselves from the market itself even though they feel that they will be bringing this content to new audiences.
 

SO. DF is out of the picture. Whether or not they had the good manners to let Viki & KOCOWA know is still up in the air. If not, Viki has really jumped into the game quickly: they started a 30% off sale on their standard pass yesterday, the same day that DF went down. While no one mentioned it on any of the forums yesterday and I didn’t notice it when I was on their site last night, it is entirely possible the sale banner may have gone up late. Even so…their business instinct is quite sharp. They’re clearly going to benefit from the loss of DF.

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There have been comments about Viki/Kocowa’s subbing taking a little longer. But here’s the thing: they use volunteers for subbing. Before anyone decries the labor policies, people volunteer to do the subbing and the work on these shows because of the fan dedication. It is part of an very special and incredible international community that really wants to provide access to everyone who wants to watch these shows. It’s really remarkable being part of these communities and being able to watch the subbing on shows (especially on Viki) because you can tell that the teams really go that extra mile. That said, with this influx of memberships rising from the death of DF, will Viki be able to keep up?
 

Some thoughts:

1) Is Viki ready for the kind of online traffic they are about to receive? Do they have enough servers? Are they prepared? I already read one comment from someone who was unable to complete her Kocowa subscription because their servers were overloaded.
2) Will Viki/Kocowa be able to increase the speed in their subbing so that new members are satisfied? Will they be able to negotiate better and more interesting content licenses now that DF is out of the picture? 
3) Will another legal streaming site spring up to try to compete with Viki/Kocowa?
4) Will Viki and Kocowa divide licenses and content so that they actually do become more disparate channels, thus making it “worth it” to have both channels for more than just one or two shows?
 

There is a lot to unpack here. While large communities of viewers have been left in the lurch without any warning, it is equally important to recognize that the US corporate television culture clearly views Asian materials as not valuable or worthwhile. Whether these dramas on Viki, Kocowa or DF are Thai, Chinese or Korean, the primary viewing audience is women and that makes a difference as well. Much like soap operas or melodramas, these works fall into a television genre that has a long history of being relegated to the “trash culture” section or simply being viewed by critics as “low culture” and easily dismissible.

 

We are going to have to wait and see what happens with Viki and the economics and labor issues. We will have to see whether they hire more staff, whether the subbing system changes at all, whether their servers go down in the next few weeks or whether they totally rock it (I’m crossing my fingers, I wanna continue watching my shows).

 

But all of the women, including myself, are having some pretty large feelings about Corporate America making decisions about what we should or should not have access to and why. These works are important to us. The women I have spoken to on these forums are not just from the US. They are from all over the world and somehow they find connections to these shows and feel very strongly that having someone else pull the plug was not just rude but removed their agency to explore whatever it is that they love about these shows- fantasy, strength, humor, escape, history or just a good story.

Anyways, the future remains to be seen.
 

 

Anarchy in the TV: 2016 Discoveries in UK TV

I’ve given up on a great deal of media work in the US. It just doesn’t do it for me anymore. The representation of women is awful, discussions on culture, ethnicity and class are disappointing, and my crime shows are just not satisfactory.

So, I’ve turned to the English. They have an insane amount of content that not only centers women & POC as dynamic and powerful players but also examines class and subcultural topics.

For a punk rock intersectional feminist like myself, it’s good media food.

Also, they just hit it so much better with crime/detective things (or at least they have in the past) and I’m getting to discover a bunch of stuff that I didn’t know about before. So, although I am picky, if it’s British, I’ll usually give it a shot over any US TV program.

I can’t say that all of these are easy to find. Sometimes you have to work at it. But they are ALL worth it.

Here are my pix for this year.

1) HAPPY VALLEY (2014-

happy-valley

Available on Netflix.

While I LOVE Olivia Benson & Law & OrderHappy Valley is all that and then some. If the first 10 minutes don’t grab you, I don’t know what will.

2) SCOTT & BAILEY (2011-

scottandbailey

Available on Amazon.

Another show by Sally Wainwright. Best cop team ever. Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp are insanely great actresses.

3) OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH (1996)

our-friends

Mark Strong. Christopher Eccleston. Daniel Craig. Malcolm McDowell. Gina McKee.

After I watched this, I was stunned. I wished there was more than 6 eps. But…no. There’s a cadre of reasons that it won a bunch of BAFTAs. Tells the story of a bunch of friends in the north of England from the 1960s to the 1990s. Brutally good.

4) THIS IS ENGLAND (2010, 2011, 2015)

this-is-englandthis-is-england-all

If you haven’t seen the movie This is England (Shane Meadows, 2006) you should. This show is a continuation of those characters and it’s ABSOLUTELY GREAT. If you have (or have had) any history in the punk rock or ska scene, it’s a must. But even if you haven’t, the writing is great, the characters are unusual and well-formed, and, like Our Friends in the North, it does an amazing job of covering long periods of time in people’s relationships.

5) PRIME SUSPECT (1991-2006)prime-suspect

Available on Hulu

Helen Mirren is the best DCI that I have come across. Sarah Lancashire, Lesley Sharp & Suranne Jones are amazing in their own ways, but Helen was first. This show is so great at discussing feminist issues in the workplace AND being a top notch crime show that it’s bonkers.

GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN: Professional Wrestling and the Female Fan

Hello!

So in the mid-2000s I was in graduate school for the first time and I wrote a paper that I REALLY loved on a subject that I REALLY loved (and still do) and made the wonderful choice to submit it to a highly esteemed international conference on feminism and television called CONSOLE-ING PASSIONS and they accepted it. I had just graduated at that point and I was high on academia like a 90s raver on Ecstacy. But, as Frank Sinatra said, I was going to do it MY WAY. That probably cost me the PhD stuff that I was applying for, but looking back on the whole thing, I’m not sure if I have any regrets. I love how my life has gone and I have produced some incredible things & work in my career so far. I’m blessed.

THAT SAID, this piece is my favorite piece that I did in my Critical Studies (now called Cinema and Media Studies) program at UCLA. I got me a nice MA sitting on my desk and I *loved* doing this paper. Every day was bliss. Talking to these women, getting to know them and their stories…I guess I shoulda known then that I would be some kind of oral history & documentation whore at that point, but this paper is still something that I hold with more pride than almost anything that I have ever done & the only thing that I regret is that I never submitted it for actual publication in a journal. Some of the details now are out-of-date so it is no longer a relevant paper (this is the way that wrestling goes…cie la vie!) but I submit to you that my theories- in particular the Discourse of Disgust and Viewing Transvestitism are as fresh and useful today as the time they were written back in 2005ish.

Of note:

1) This is an academic paper and not *technically* published in a journal but if you wish to use or quote ANYTHING AT ALL…ASK ME FIRST!!!!!!! It’s the nice thing to do. Don’t plagiarize. This is my baby. I worked really hard on this.

2) All interviewee names have been changed, with the exception of those who gave me explicit permission to use their real ones.

3) Enjoy the hell outta this. I love it & it fills me with happy feelings to know that I made it. It’s long, but I think it’s good. Ladies love the wrasslin’! It’s a true thing!!! ❤

4) Be somewhat kind…I wrote this a while ago…not sure if my work has gotten better or worse, but if it’s not entirely sound, I was in my 20s. Forgive?

************************************************************************

In the early 1950’s in America, when the Cold War was in full effect, Joe McCarthy and company were running Hollywood, and everyone who was anyone had credit, a brand-new refrigerator, and a ranch-style home, Bess Truman was asked what she would miss the most about the White House, now that her husband was ending his term of office. Without missing a beat, the sharp former first-lady responded, “Wrestling on Thursday nights.”[1] While her response may seem extraordinary to the average, non-wrestling fan, Bess was not alone in her affinity for the events that took place within the “squared circle,”[2] and she is still not. In my experience as a wrestling fan and in my research for this project, I have found that there are (and have always been) female fans of professional wrestling, who are just as vocal and just as dedicated to it as the men. However, to my great disappointment, what I have also discovered is that there is far less coverage or attention paid to female wrestling fans. It is almost as if we don’t exist. As an academic scholar who aligns myself both with feminism and subcultural concerns in general, I found that this invisibility presented me with a perfect chance to give these women a voice, and therefore break the institutionalized silence.

First of all, I would like to define a few of my terms. For the purposes of this project I will be working with information regarding the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and its two primary television shows RAW and Smackdown! As an aside, a small (but important) piece of background information is that the WWE was formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Occasionally, there might be references to Pay-Per-Views, as that is a huge element of the WWE organization (not to mention their revenue). There will be some discussion about live shows, as well as shows watched at home. Primarily, I will be concentrating on the televised text, but the live experience is also well worth noting. Because wrestling has a huge history, complete with its own terminology and main characters, I will be periodically defining terms within the footnotes. Much of the vocabulary used in wrestling has an even longer tradition within the carnival and circus world, and much of it was borne out of that tradition. For the sake of this piece, and aligning myself with the people I interviewed, the time period that will be discussed will be focusing mainly on professional wrestling from the last 20 years. Wrestling has an exceptionally long and involved history, of which many books have been written. However, for the scope of this paper, my concentration will lie with current trends and information as that maintains the most relevance to my area of investigation.

My methodology was quite simple: in order to achieve any information about why women would participate in a fandom organized around what is summarily a hyper-masculine and at times misogynistic display of events, I clearly had to speak to the women themselves. As a fan, I was aware of why I watched it, but why did other women? I knew a few women who liked wrestling personally, and I asked them if they would be willing to participate, and, without hesitation, they agreed. I then turned to a World Wrestling Entertainment online community that I am part of, and placed a small “advertisement.” I identified myself as a female and as a fan, and said that I was working on a project about female fans of professional wrestling, and asked if anyone would be interested in participating. I then left my email address and waited. It was crucial, in my book, to identify myself as a fan, in order to gain trust and access. As Henry Jenkins notes, regarding his own experience in studying fan culture, scholarly work surrounding fan culture has not always been kind, and professional wrestling is no stranger to heavy criticism. In order to demonstrate that the work that he was doing would be sensitive to fan concerns, Jenkins revealed his own personal affiliations with fan communities and identified himself as a fan, to the fans. In doing this, he was able to secure a better line of communication, as he had “reassured” them that he was not going to exploit them or denigrate their position.[3] I concur with Jenkins’ theories about self-identification for entry, thus I made certain that the people who would be participating in my study knew that I was an academic, but was also a fan. I feel that this revelation led to far more fertile results, as the fact that I, too, was a member of the marginalized group, gave the participants greater freedom to speak their minds.

I initially had approximately 25 women enthusiastically respond to my communiqué. Out of those, I was able to secure 13 solid interviews, which I conducted through email. While I recognize the problematic nature of this method, I feel that it was an amazingly successful way of getting information about this particular subject. Besides being an extremely international bunch, wrestling fans are very computer literate. Thus, the capacity that the Internet gives for communication over cities, states, and even oceans is quite positive. I was able to interview women from locations that ranged from California to Canada, Texas to New Jersey, Kansas to Australia. The age range and ethnicities that I came into contact with were just as diverse as the locations. These women placed anywhere from 16 to 32 years of age, and identified themselves as African-American, white, Vietnamese, and of Native American descent, as well as mixed ethnicity/race. Unfortunately, the Internet “problem” is still one to be recognized. Because of the impersonal nature of computer dialogue, I had no way of saying for certain (with the exception of the women I knew personally) whether any of the information that I received was true (i.e. responses could very well have come from men impersonating women, etc), and I also missed out on having the benefit of tangential information that one can acquire through personal inquiry. The questionnaires I received, however, were quite amazing, and the similarities in their responses were so prevalent that for the sake of this project (and in my own subjective opinion) I will defend their veracity.

Women are generally not expected to be fans of wrestling, let alone of sports. As one of my interviewees noted, the stereotypical view of women when it comes to watching sports is that they are usually “sitting around in the kitchen, annoyed at the boys for watching sports.” In an event that unabashedly presents misogynistic discourse and hyperbolic celebration of masculinity, it is no surprise that most people would figure that we would prefer the kitchen. But the simple fact is many of us don’t. Personally, I dig the living room couch. I have a better view. In this study, I will work through various issues in and around women and their experiences in being an otherwise neglected group in wrestling fan culture. Their deviation from the “standard sports fan” (read: male) creates their subcultural status, which gives them as much freedom as it introduces culturally imposed reminders of their supposed limitations.

Within this work, I will present issues in and around the pleasure of the wrestling text for women and why these women truly do find pleasure in it. I will also consider what I term the “Discourse of Disgust” that is present alongside the enjoyment of wrestling; a practice that I feel is singular to this particular subculture made of women. I will then account for their experiences as wrestling fans, and how others react to them, and how they deal with this interaction. Finally, I will conclude with talking about what I call “Viewing Transvestitism,” which I fell is one of the most salient aspects of professional wrestling spectatorship. Together, all these issues combine to form a community that is not only present, but also growing, and as such, deserves to be heard.

women at ringside, standing and reaching as if to catch something thrown by wrestler Gorgeous George who, though not visible in this image, was standing in the ring

Several women at ringside, standing and reaching as if to catch something thrown by wrestler Gorgeous George who, though not visible in this image, was standing in the ring.                                             Photographer: Stanley Kubrick
Date: 1949
Call Number: LOOK – Job 49-O46, frame 12 [P&P]
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Image from Look photographic assignment with title: Chicago city of contrasts.
Frame 12 of a contact sheet.
Forms part of: LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

The Whole Package

So why do women get so much joy out of watching guys beat each other up for hours at a time, anyway? In his highly attentive account of sports spectatorship, Allen Guttman notes that “not all spectators…are sports spectators…By this apparently paradoxical remark I mean to refer, for instance, to dandies of both sexes who strut and preen about the venue and never glance at the game…to spouses dragged by spouses to an afternoon of tedium, to parents who come because someone must…and to all others whose motives are extrinsic to sports, per se.”[4] While several of my interviewees noted this fact, the significant point in nearly all of their narratives was that they were not of this ilk and they actually enjoyed watching. The women that I interviewed genuinely love watching professional wrestling, and enjoy being part of the fan culture. One young woman stated that, “I had to get into it by myself. That is to say, I had no older brothers who were into it or anything. I saw RAW one night when I was 9 years old and I was hooked.”[5] In addition to this idea of self-motivated watching, many responses dealt with the evolution of their relationship with wrestling. Some may have started out as the kind of spectator that Guttman describes, but they quickly evolved into an avid fan. “My younger sister, who is 19, actually got me hooked on it,” one viewer related, “I used to catch the tail end of RAW when it was on USA because I used to watch The Highlander, which was on right after it. It would happen that way every week, and eventually I began picking up with whatever storyline was going on at the end of the show. My sister had a habit of taping both RAW and Smackdown! so I watched her tapes to get caught up and eventually started watching them on my own.”[6] What is particularly compelling about this woman’s story is that it was another female that got her “hooked.”  A good number of other viewers spoke of boyfriends or uncles or fathers who they watched wrestling with, and, although not interested at first, they too became “addicted.”

But what is the actual draw? In his highly influential piece on wrestling, Roland Barthes discusses wrestling as the “spectacle of excess,” and likens it to what one might have seen in “ancient theaters.” He deconstructs the absolute pleasure (and expectation) of seeing what he calls “the great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice,” and states “wrestling fans certainly experience a kind of intellectual pleasure in seeing the moral mechanism function so perfectly.”[7] While this is inarguably one of the central themes of enjoyment of professional wrestling, the women I spoke with, added more technical aspects to their enjoyment, beyond simply an intellectual satisfaction at seeing the good guy win, and justice served. One woman, Jessica, stated it quite simply as “the whole package…good in the ring, great with the mic[8] and not so bad to look at either.” Upon being asked about who their favorite wrestlers were, and why, most women cited this same “package,” and defined the pleasure that they got from watching these figures based on skill first, dramatic performance second, and aesthetic appeal third, if at all. Yet there was the feeling that Barthes’ concept of the theatrical playing out of good and evil applied. “The best thing about wrestling,” Catherine noted, “is the hero factor. You find a certain wrestler and they embody some hero complex in you…or your inner bad guy. It’s the classic story of bad vs. good.” One woman even referenced silent film iconography as one of the best things about wrestling. “I think [wrestling is] melodrama at its finest. Like those black & whites with the mustached [sic] bad guy that ties up the heroine.”[9]

Beyond the immense pleasure that these women find in the “real athleticism and grace” of wrestling, many of them described the enjoyment that they experience as being part of a kind of “vacation” mentality. Upon being asked if wrestling has impacted their lives, one woman responded, “Wrestling gives me a way to vent…If not I think I would go crazy from the pressure of [work]. There are so many things I have to keep my composure about at work or life. Wrestling (and sports watching in general) gives me “permission” and a forum to be out of control.”[10] Although Heather’s reasoning is slightly different, as she sees wrestling as a relaxing tool, not a cathartic one, the benefit she got from watching wrestling was “having a period of time each week where I sit down and watch TV instead of running around like a crazy person.” While other women noted that it gave them a kind of “stability” in their lives, knowing that they had a place to be on certain nights, and a program that they loved watching, others still maintained that watching it “is an escape. I work hard and I want to forget about work as fast as possible when I get home. Wrestling is perfect for that.”[11]

In David Morley’s work, Television, Audiences & Cultural Studies, he looks at issues of leisure time and families, discussing viewing habits of men versus those of women, and the power plays that occur within that dynamic. Although it is of note that his work represents quite a different population from my own, his discussion of Janice Radway is crucial. Concerning dynamics of power and gender relations within television viewing, Morley writes that

This issue raises the further problem of how difficult it is for most women to construct any leisure-time space for themselves within the home- any space, that is, in which they can feel free of the ongoing demands…[corresponding with this issue] Radway found that many of the women she interviewed connected their reading of romance fiction with their rare moments of privacy from the endless demands of family and work life. In effect, her respondents seemed to feel that romance reading was almost a ‘declaration of independence.’[12]

00901v

Spectators at wrestling match in Chicago.
Photographer: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1949
Call Number: LOOK – Job 49-O46, frame 6 [P&P]
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Image from Look photographic assignment with title: Chicago city of contrasts.
Frame 6 of a contact sheet.

Thus, even though the social set-up is different in most cases (in my study, those who had children seemed to be single parents, and those who had significant others had no children), the need for leisure time construction of their own creation was still present, thus giving support to the socially enforced idea of a woman’s work “never being done.”

Not unlike those with marriage and familial responsibilities, these women have a necessity to make their own time, and create their own space. Thus, we can at least partially read these women’s attraction to their wrestling as a catalytic agent, giving them space from the hustle-and-bustle, and serving as the key to unlock the handcuffs they feel constrained by on a daily basis. They are their own liberators.

The bottom line is that women do find exquisite pleasure in wrestling. Whether it is through brilliant physical display or whether it is because it provides a much-needed respite from daily responsibilities, it is clear that there is an attraction to the “whole package” for these women. They love watching the performances of physical skill, and love to participate in viewing what Barthes called the “intelligible representation of moral situations which are usually private.” Wrestling creates in these women a freedom that they do not have in their normal day-to-day lives.  With wrestling, they have “permission” to scream at the television, or to relax with the stability of scheduled time/space for themselves, and a program they get pleasure from. As well, as female sports fans, they are given the ultimate freedom of participating in what is commonly accepted as a male viewing space, thus erasing gender role confines.

Pretty Girls In Spandex

It’s not all love and flowers and positive energy out there in the female fans of wrestling world, however. There’s plenty there that is actively denied, rejected and absolutely hated. Many of the women I interviewed had conflicting opinions about certain wrestlers (some loved Randy Orton, some thought that it was terrible that he was getting pushed [13] as much as he was, etc), and others still differed on which televised show they liked better (RAW or Smackdown!). However, the one thing that they all uniformly agreed on (with rare exception) was the dissatisfaction with the current status of the representation of women in the WWE.

These women seem to be operating with what I have termed the “Discourse of Disgust,” which centers upon three crucial features. The first feature is what I call the “T&A/Catfight Display,” which references the idea that almost all of the female wrestlers in use today are there solely for the purpose of titillating the males in the audience, and not to demonstrate any wrestling skill. The second feature is something that I term the “Humiliation/Degradation Game,” which involves the constant positioning of female wrestlers into positions of powerlessness or subjugation. The final feature of this discourse is the “Paucity of the Protagonist,” which deals with the oft-mentioned complaint about there being a lack of high-caliber female wrestlers available, and the strong desire to have somebody to pick from, instead of just making do with who is offered.

In their perceptive account of the mass media and its representation of female athletes, Mary Jo Kane and Susan L. Greendorfer write about the hyper-feminization and the hyper-sexualization of sportswomen. They discuss that, after struggling for so long just to get into this arena (sports), the images that the media uses of different female athletes

Represent a modernized attempt to reinforce traditional stereotypical images of femininity and female sexuality…these feminized and sexualized portrayals are simply new variations on very old themes: media images as a product or tool of patriarchal oppression of women-and their bodies-through an institutionalized socially constructed system of gender roles and values.[14]

The female imagery that the WWE has used in the last 10 to 15 years ideologically supports this theory. As noted in the book, Sex, Lies and Headlocks, the late ‘90’s was when sex in the WWE (then known as the WWF) became used as a crucial selling point in order to gain viewers away from station TBS who had a competing wrestling show. As the authors note, Vince McMahon (owner and boss of the WWE) has never been much for women’s lib. They cited that “the WWF had a brief flirtation with feminism in the Cyndi Lauper years, but Vince made his feelings toward that side of the business clear when Wendy Richter, Lauper’s confederate, pushed him to expand his ladies’ division. Irritated, he stripped her of her title.”[15] We all know that sex sells. But, in alignment with Kane and Greendorfer’s theories, it is not so much that sex sells, but that sexual representations of women sell especially well, as they reinforce hegemonic notions of male supremacy through the commodification of women’s bodies as sexual objects. Anything that might possibly disrupt the status quo is inherently dangerous, and must go. Thus Wendy Richter was stripped of her title.

Now *that* is a look that should come back into style! Putting some riot into grrl!

Now *that* is a look that should come back into style! Putting some riot into grrl!

As for the sexual objectification of women in wrestling, Patrice Oppliger writes

Sexuality is used to exploit and subvert women…women are presented individually, as objects for consumption. Wrestling shows use many excuses to parade women around in next to nothing. Bikini contests are very popular anytime, but other events are used to get women in sexual outfits such as Halloween or Thanksgiving costume contests. Bra and panty matches were created to strip women within a wrestling competition.[16]

Watching any amount of wrestling, one notices that there is no equivalent of the “bra and panties” or “evening gown” match[17] for the men, nor has there been a significant change in the amount of clothing that the male wrestlers have worn over the years. Style might have changed, but the male uniform has stayed basically the same. Oppliger notes a definite change in the visual portrayal of female wrestlers over the years, stating that “many critics focus on the more recent exploitation phase, skipping over the early days of women in wrestling to a time when females began to wear fewer clothes and started getting breast implants.”[18]

Stripping female wrestlers of their clothing, dressing them in high heels and “strongly advising” (as Vince McMahon is rumored to do) that they get breast implants, are just more ways to disempower these potentially powerful figures, and place the focus on their sexuality and what they can do for the heterosexual male viewer, rather than what they can do in the ring. The hyper-feminization of these wrestlers only serves to uphold the idea that they are there for a “T&A” display, and their wrestling talent is negligible. This is a totally ridiculous practice, for many fans, as Oppliger notes. “Fans get tired of hair-pulling and ‘fake’ falls. In real life, men and women train together in wrestling schools, so they get similar skills.”[19]

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This is a pic from a Tumblr called “Diva Dirt” of wrestler (aka WWE Diva) Torrie Wilson smacking her co-Diva Jackie with a crossbody blow at Wrestlemania 20 in a tag team Playboy Evening Gown match in 2011. One can only assume that the evening gowns were removed earlier due to being an annoyance and catching on bra straps and garter belts?

The women I interviewed felt very strongly on this issue. Due to their adoration of watching a good physical display, and feeling that the WWE was concentrating too much on this “T&A/Catfight Display,” they almost uniformly preferred to watch the men wrestle rather than the women. One viewer, Maggie, expressly stated, “I think the state of the women’s division is…pretty bad. They really have been demoted to just ‘pretty girls in spandex.’…Women [in wrestling] today also wear significantly less clothing than did the women of just 10 years ago. I don’t know how these things would impact younger viewers, but they certainly disgust me, even now.” Joy stated simply, “Not that I don’t like women, but so much of women’s wrestling is just T&A. They lack skill, but can flip their hair or swaggle their hips at the drop of a hat,” while still another took offense to this display, saying that she doesn’t “appreciate that some of the female wrestlers have no skill and are strictly used as eye candy. It’s a waste of time…”[20] One viewer even cited the “bra-and-panties/evening gown” matches as offensive, saying that having these women come up there “mostly to show off their tits and ass” in a match that generally involves them “stripping each other’s clothes off, and whatnot,” actually is direct incentive to watch the men wrestle.

The “Humiliation/Degradation Game” is also offensive to these women. One fan, upon being asked what the worst aspects of wrestling are to her, strongly responded, “some of the God awful storylines involving the girls on occasion. Things like Dawn Marie/Torrie Wilson and Torrie’s dad Vince McMahon making Trish Stratus bark like a dog, etc.” [21].  Yet another complained “these days, the WWE features women like Torrie Wilson and Lita, who cower in the presence of large angry men. It’s insulting…I hope the young fans don’t look up to these weak women, as I looked up to Madusa [older generation female wrestler], and I wish there were stronger female figures in wrestling.”[22]

Former female WWE Champ Madusa aka Madusa Miceli aka Alundra Blayze. Pictured here in her famed feud with Bull Nakano

Former female WWE Champ Madusa aka Madusa Miceli aka Alundra Blayze. Pictured here in her famed feud with Bull Nakano, circa mid-90s

In answer to my question about how watching wrestling impacts the female viewer, Jessica wrote, “I think its bad when they have storylines that degrade women. To me, that’s the biggest insult you can give a female viewer.”[23] These women’s rejection of the subjugation of women is a strong facet of their presence within the female wrestling fan subculture. In order to maintain their fanship, they must be able to watch and experience these segments, yet negotiate their own feelings of offense, in order to continue to participate in wrestling culture. To continue to watch a program that you find alternatively pleasing and insulting is to be placed in a continual location of ambivalence, and takes much dedication and desire to persevere.

Looking at the first two categories of the Discourse of Disgust, it is not a far leap to see the conclusion of this issue, the “Paucity of Protagonists.” While working through the T&A/Catfight Display and the Degradation/Humiliation Game, one can see the development of the third feature. By the WWE’s insistence upon women displaying their bodies over their talent, and performing roles of subordination to male wrestlers through humiliation and degradation, female fans are not left with much in the way of “favorite female wrestlers.” As a result of the first two categories, there is clearly a dearth in strong female iconography for the female consumer to a) identify with, and b) enjoy. The women in my study noticed this, and actively stated that they wanted this situation to change. One woman stated, frankly,

 I prefer watching men wrestle, because there don’t seem to be all that many good female wrestlers around today…Too many of them are fitness-model-gone-wrestler…the women’s division was better [in the past]. Those women could really wrestle and they were entertaining to watch. Today, a woman’s wrestling match has been stripped down to a “Puppies!”[24] comment from Lawler [Jerry “the King” Lawler, wrestling announcer] every thirty seconds…Unfortunately, with     such a small pool of talent, the women can’t consistently put on good matches.[25]

Her dissatisfaction was echoed by another woman’s sentiment. When this fan answered my question about whether or not viewing wrestling/being a wrestling fan can formulate a kind of feminism, she remarked that wrestling has “helped people see that women can get in there and mix it up just like the men, [but] when you have the Stacy Keiblers [female wrestler] getting in there who can’t wrestle, I think it takes it all back a step.”[26]

Her dislike of Stacy Keibler came from the fact that, in her opinion, Keibler was a participant in the T&A/Catfight Display, and had very little wrestling talent, and was there based upon looks alone. As a result of the compromised location that most female wrestlers occupy, there are very few available for women who appreciate the actual physical display of wrestling to choose from. Some fans noted that there are certain female wrestlers who they will watch, as they appreciate their wrestling ability, but unless those wrestlers are on, they choose to watch the men, as the men exhibit a more consistent display of entertainment and high wrestling caliber. As well, the low number of female matches also seems to play a part in this, as one woman criticized the WWE, saying that she would really “prefer if women’s matches got more air time, rather than RAW going to a commercial during the only women’s match of the night!”[27]

In the formulation of a female wrestling fan subculture, you clearly have the features that give them immediate pleasure and satisfaction in viewing, but I would argue that to a certain extent, the participatory nature of negotiating their displeasure, and their identity as players within the Discourse of Disgust, also formulates a large part of their pleasure as fans.

John Fiske writes, “the meanings found in the text shift towards the subject position of the reader more than the reader’s subjectivity is subjected to the ideological power of the text.”[28] Fiske’s conception of an active audience fits the population of female wrestling fans to a tee. These women, through their rejection of the ideologies that the WWE is putting forth, are tailoring the program to fit their own subject positions. Their choice and preference of watching men wrestle over women, is a dynamic location of spectatorship, where they are given the freedom to pursue their own pleasure in the program. The disgust that they show in their consideration of the representation of women wrestlers should not be taken lightly, as their protests are valid. However, they do not let these misogynist ideologies rule their personal viewing pleasure. In his deconstruction of Stuart Hall’s theory of preferred reading, Fiske notes that the “value of the theory lies in its freeing the text from complete ideological closure, and in its shift away from the text and towards the reader as the site of meaning.”[29] These women, therefore, have stripped the text of the offensive elements, freed wrestling from its “ideological closure,” and brought it back to their own site of subjective textual analysis.

Many of these women did re-read the texts given, placing them in an ideological space that was more pleasing and gratifying to their own subject positions. One woman wrote, of the aspects involved in the Degradation/Humiliation Game, “we’ve seen storylines where females are mishandled or emotionally abused by the males and they overcome it and get out of it. And while it may be just a storyline to some, to others it is reality and it gives them the courage to be like the wrestler and get out of that situation.”[30]  Sara explains that her adoration of wrestler Stephanie McMahon has affected her life greatly. “Stephanie McMahon…has done wonders for my personality and self esteem. She’s shown me that, yes, a woman can succeed with men all around her…Everyday when I get up, I can turn over and say to myself, ‘It can’t be as bad as I think, because Stephanie Marie McMahon has been through worse.’” Fiske’s discussion of Turnbull’s work with female spectators of the television program, Prisoner, is exceptionally useful in this capacity. According to Fiske, Turnbull’s results related how he found that

Images of strong, active women fighting the system, gaining minor victories (although eventually succumbing to it) give them pleasure (in the resistance) and a means of articulating a discourse of resistance to the dominant ideology that paralleled the discourse (often called rebelliousness) that they used to make sense of their social existence. The contradictions and struggle between authority and resistance to it existed in both the program and their subjectivities, and the meanings that were activated and the pleasures that were gained were the ones that made social sense to the subordinate and powerless.[31]

These women expressed feelings of marginalization, periodically, whether it was as a result of being one of the very few female fans that they knew, as a result of working in a traditionally male field, or just as a woman in general. However, many of these women were able to combat those feelings through their reappropriation of female figures in wrestling. As Henry Jenkins has written in his seminal text on fan culture, “fans have chosen these media products from the total range of available texts precisely because they seem to hold special potential as vehicles for expressing the fans’ pre-existing social commitments and cultural interests.”[32] Although many of the same people who wrote about how they “now have people to look up to, i.e. Lita, Trish Stratus, rather than actresses,” exhibit all three features of the Discourse of Disgust, they occupy a wonderfully free and paradoxical space where, as an active reader, they can reclaim Trish Stratus as someone they look up to, and see as a strong woman. On the other hand, because of their subject positioning, they can also reject the T&A/Catfight Display, and regret the Paucity of Protagonists.

Surprises and Eyerolls

Another way in which female wrestling fans have formulated an active subculture is in the way that they “react to their reactions.” Although some fans, like Jacky, are “usually shy to mention it anyone, it’s like I am afraid, I don’t know why,” others will go ahead and tell people of their fan status. Upon being asked how other people act in response to the revelation that they are female and a fan of wrestling, many of these women have been met with pronounced derision. Sara states, “what surprises me most about being a ‘female fan’ is when people realize that I am one. Apparently, since I’ve gone away to college and have a good job and a normal social life, there’s no way I can be all of those things and a wrestling fan. Newsflash: I am, and that’s just the way it is.” Kelly stated that the typical response she receives is “’Oh my god! You know it’s fake don’t you?’ followed by hysterical laughter,” while Jennifer reported, “They think I’m crazy and ask if I know that it is fake. They usually are shocked…like I don’t fit the profile of a wrestling fan.” Heather deconstructed the reaction in three ways. She said that when she tells someone that she is a wrestling fan, she gets one of three responses:

a) Getting laughed at/made fun of- to this day, I still get the “hey ask Heather, she watches wrestling” whenever something comes up that might be categorized as “white trash” comes up (nascar, monster truck, etc)

b) I find kindred spirits- there is a fairly large group of people I work with who are wrestling fans- mainly male Hispanic. They are always pleasantly surprised to find I like wrestling because they didn’t expect a girl, and didn’t expect me, in particular, to enjoy it.

c) I get a generic “I used to watch that” with an undertone of  “but I certainly wouldn’t watch that anymore” type of response. Wrestling gets tagged as being something you watch when you’re a kid.

Joy said that her general reaction “varies between surprise and eyerolls,” while Jessica actively marked the response up to gender. She said, “I usually get a ‘Really?’ and I think the reason is because I’m female.” All of these women exhibited similar conditions of reception to their fandom. While many of them accounted for the response as a result of gender deviance (girls aren’t supposed to like wrestling), academic/social status (“you’re too smart to like that!”), or underestimation of their intelligence (“you know it’s fake, right?”) others, like Heather, did report a positivity that they encountered, when they found “kindred spirits.” In fact, more than one of the women I interviewed said that they had met their significant others through their wrestling fanship, as well as many good friends.

These women seemed to encounter criticism from every section of people they told, except for the “in group”- other wrestling fans. Jessica said “some of the guys I know are actually impressed, especially when we start talking about wrestlers or shows. They like to have someone different to talk to about what’s going on in the world of wrestling,” while Maggie stated that her “liking of wrestling is met with a sense of wonder and awe by other wrestling fans [but] meeting other wrestling fans seems hard to do, these days.” Within this section of responses, it seems that women occupy an almost revered position, as unusual fans. Their narratives seem to account for a certain glory that they take in being a subculture within a subculture. As these women are straying from gender convention within the fan culture of wrestling, which is made up primarily of men, these women are given respect and admiration for their fanship. Their own personal gain is that they find other “kindred spirits,” which, as Maggie related, is not a simple task. Within other fans’ responses they are given support and recognition, while in mainstream society, their tastes are infantilized (wrestling is only watched as a child), their intellect devalued (don’t they know it’s not real?), or their academic accomplishments used as weapons (you’re too smart to watch wrestling).

Jenkins maintains, “sports fans (who are mostly male and who attach great significance to “real” events rather than fictions) enjoy very different status than media fans (who are mostly female and who attach great interest in debased forms of fiction).”[33] I would like to address the issue of the problematic nature of being a sports entertainment fan, and discuss the fact that wrestling (which many consider to be a sport) fans do not enjoy the same status as “regular” sports fans. While Jenkins’ point is, on the whole, probably an accurate one, the idea of sports entertainment brings out a whole new way of looking at that statement. While the matches are fixed, and there are writers and fictional storylines, wrestling is a conundrum in its sports identity. Not only do these women experience discrimination because of their pleasure in wrestling, but so do the men. Wrestling fan culture is not a far cry from any other fan culture, where the participants are continually mocked for their affiliation. What makes wrestling particularly fascinating, however, is its conflation of sports (real) and “media”(fiction). Lori brings up a crucial point when she says, “the worst thing about wrestling is mostly the general public’s attitude towards it (ESPN’s 2nd most hated sport, I believe the poll said). Just because there is an element of choreography doesn’t mean that all of it is ‘fake.’ You can’t exactly fake getting thrown through a table, can you?” The fact that ESPN, a major sports channel, classifies wrestling as a sport, yet everyone feels the undying need to remind wrestling fans that what they are watching is fictional, locates this program in a liminal space, haphazardly jumping between elements of reality and fiction, without a fixed identity, causing critics left and right continual frustration. Wrestling’s fiction/non-fiction identity causes its fans unending strife as well, because they must deal with having to defend their fanship, as well as the authenticity of their program. Sara says, about having to stand up for her love of wrestling, that she has learned to “take it with a grain of salt, people just ‘don’t get it,’ and I brush it off as much as I can.”

In Ien Ang’s study of Dallas watchers, she outlines the ideology of mass culture as a process where “some cultural forms- mostly very popular cultural products and practices cast in an American mould- are tout court labeled ‘bad mass culture.’ ‘Mass culture’ is a denigrating term, which arouses definitely negative associations. In opposition to ‘bad mass culture’ implicitly or explicitly something like ‘good culture’ is set up.”[34] Female fans of professional wrestling are subjected to the same tyrannical ideology of mass culture that Ang’s Dallas fans were. In my reading of their narratives (which, like Ang, I tried to do “symptomatically,” to try to find out what the viewing pleasure in wrestling meant to these women), I encountered multiple instances where the fans either maintained a silence about their viewing habits for fear of ridicule, or, more often than not, when they expressed their love for wrestling, they were laughed at or told that what they watched was, in some way, “bad culture.” However, like Ang’s participants, many of these women were able to express to me their own ideology of populism, developed as a result of being attacked for what they liked one too many times.

As Ang defines it, the ideology of populism is “first and foremost an anti-ideology: it supplies a subject position from which any attempt to pass judgment on people’s aesthetic preferences is a priori and by definition rejected, because it is regarded as an unjustified attack on freedom.”[35] I would like to suggest that the participants in my project have a special dualistic relationship to the ideology of populism, as they occupy a very distinct marginal space. First of all, they are already predisposed to this ideology, as they are breaking gender stereotypes by taking pleasure in a hyper-masculine product that is not generally marketed to women, and thus forming a subculture all their own. Hegemonic standards can be likened to the ideology of mass culture in their dominating structure. Thus, by breaking conventional ideas of gender propriety, these women already have a highly developed sense of the ideology of populism, requiring the freedom that conventional standards of femininity refuse to allow.  Secondly, as participants of a subculture (wrestling fan culture, in general) that is consistently assailed as being exemplary of “bad culture” or “low class/bad taste,” they have had to counteract this as well, by formulating a strong sense of freedom of taste. So when I read about “taking things with a grain of salt,” or the ardent statement, “Newsflash: I am [a wrestling fan], and that’s just the way it is” I saw these responses as a strident inflection of the ideology of populism, and the “taste freedom” that it supports.

All The Soap Opera Without Any of the Stupid “I-Love-Yous”

While fan culture can be a difficult location to exist in, women and men who love wrestling are provided an opportunity at what I call “viewing transvestitism.” For men, this means participation in a genre that has historically been rendered “feminine,” while women have the chance to participate in one that has been labeled “masculine.” Through this participation, both sexes have the opportunity to shed the socially decreed gender taste conventions, and, in a sense, “see how the other half lives.”

Wrestling has repeatedly been described as a “male soap opera,” as it contains many, if not all, the essential elements that traditional soaps like Days of Our Lives, General Hospital or One Life to Live contain. First of all, it does involve a family, the McMahons. But wait- it gets better- not only is there a family, but it is the “most dysfunctional family in America,” as many of the WWE advertisements proclaimed, in the late 90’s.[36] While currently the family is not center-stage, it was a huge focus for many years. To this day, divorce, pregnancy, miscarriage, extra-marital affairs, and other “top soap” dramatic elements are still active parts of the storyline. Not only that, but there is never any conclusion. A match may end, Eddie Guerrero might have kept his title because of a disqualification, but that does not mean that the conflict between him and John Bradshaw Layfield is over, by any sense of the word. Professional wrestling works on the same principle that Tania Modleski wrote that soap operas do: “Tune in tomorrow, not in order to find out the answers, but to see what further complications will defer the resolutions and introduce new questions.”[37] Through wrestling’s connotation as a highly masculine form of entertainment, the feminine soap element becomes masked, and acceptable. Yet I find it utterly fascinating that this is the one instance where a male character, totally muscle-bound and alpha-male coded, can get up on stage and shed tears, as wrestler Kurt Angle did a few weeks ago, and the male spectators will not be called “weak” for feeling for the guy. I understand it however- through the diegetic narrative, men are allowed to cross that boundary, enter into the feminized world of the soap opera. In this context, because wrestling is soaked in the hyper-masculine costuming of sports, the soap opera becomes re-named a “male soap opera.”

Female spectators get a chance to break free from the mold as well. As Heather said, one of the great things for her about participating in the wrestling fan culture is, as a woman, you get to “have a ‘boys night’ of sitting around, eating BBQ, and drinking beer, while not being classified as one of the women who are sitting around in the kitchen annoyed at the boys for watching sports.” Lori notes that being a female wrestling fan is “no different than a girl knowing the rules, etc. behind any other sport, like football or basketball. She then becomes more like ‘one of the guys.’” In response to my question of how wrestling impacts the female viewer, Jacky said candidly, “I think it makes them feel like they watch it and it doesn’t matter that it’s a ‘male show.’ I guess it makes them feel like they’re equal and they are not seen as ‘the female watching the show’ but ‘the fan watching the show.’ All these women exhibited strong acknowledgement of the social conventions that gender-type wrestling as “male,” and yet all of them also talked about the pleasure that they get from crossing over into that realm, while still being firmly aware that they are female. The viewing transvestitism that takes place in their engagement with the wrestling text allows them access to what would commonly not be at their beck-and-call. As we saw in the easy acceptance of female wrestling fans by male wrestling fans, this is no surprise, as it is an aspect of the fan culture. However, the ability and freedom that is involved in breaking the strict “boys watch sports/girls don’t watch sports” code is one that gives these women enormous strength, both in their fanship, and in their personal lives.

Newsflash: I Am, and That’s Just the Way It Is

I get enormous pleasure out of watching wrestling. I have my favorite wrestlers, and my favorite storylines, and I have a date every Monday and Thursday night with the television to participate in a program that alternately offends me and gives me suspense, pleasure and excitement. When I turned the questions that I asked these women back upon myself, I found that many of my responses lay along the same lines. There were differences, but overall, I found that the pleasure I received from the wrestling text came from a series of negotiations with my desire to read wrestling according to my own subject position. Just as any of the fans I was in contact with, I am, what Fiske calls, an “active reader.”

I have tried to be as fair and partial about the representation of wrestling and female spectators as I can, but I’ll admit that I can only go so far. I am certain that there is much within these pages that female fans would disagree with me about, but there are just as many people out there who would subscribe to Ang’s ideology of mass culture, and put me down for spending so much “valuable” time on an “invaluable” subject.

On the whole, I think it is crucial to recognize these women’s voices, and their active formation of a subculture within a subculture. It is not easy for a woman to break free of the things that are deemed gender-acceptable or unacceptable. These women’s active participation and intelligent deconstruction of what they watch, and why they watch it, show that not only are they remarkable examples of strength in the face of socially enforced gender restrictions, but they are also engaging in a process by which they are taking the power back, and joyfully transgressing ideas of what a woman “should be watching” or what a woman “should be enjoying.” By joining forces with the rest of the wrestling fan community, they can be seen less as a female, and more as a fan, an experience they might not receive in other areas of their lives. Yet gender is not entirely erased, as shown by these women’s pronounced activity within the discourse of disgust. They are quite aware of the ideological misogyny that the WWE exhibits, yet they make the choice to either re-read it as something that they find positive and meaningful to them, or reject it entirely, concentrating on a different part of the text that does not seem hateful to them. The operative word in this equation, however, is choice. These women know that being part of this liminal group actually affords them choice, and having a choice makes all the difference.


[1] Truman, quoted in Sugar, Burt Randolph. “’Sports Scholar’ Analyzes Wrestling.” Solie’s Vintage Wrestling. 5.553. 18 March 2000. http://members.aol.com/solie3/svwn553.html. 1 June 2004.

[2] “squared circle” is commonly used slang within the wrestling community for the area of the wrestling mat

[3] Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

[4] Guttman, Allan. Sports Spectators. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

[5] I will be used pseudonyms for my participants, in order to protect their anonymity

[6] Jessica

[7] Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: The Noonday Press, 1990.

[8] Being “good with the mic” implies the wrestler’s capacity to dramatically perform their “part” well, and display the given role’s personality in a powerful way. This may involve “cutting a good promo” which is a fictional segment designed to advance dramatic storyline.

[9] Theresa

[10] Theresa

[11] Sara

[12] Morley, David. Television, Audiences & Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1992.

[13] Giving a wrestler a “push” means that they are being given a good amount of wrestling time- many times a new wrestler will get a big “push” at the start, and if that doesn’t work out, the wrestler will either be left out until they figure out a new gimmick for them, or he’ll simply be sent packing

[14] Kane, Mary Jo and Susan L. Greendorfer. “The Media’s Role in Accommodating and Resisting Stereotyped Images of Women in Sport.” Women, Media and Sport. Ed. Pamela J. Creedon. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1994. 28-44.

[15] Assael, Shaun and Mike Mooneyham. Sex, Lies, and Headlocks: the Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002.

[16] Oppliger, Patrice. Wrestling and Hypermasculinity. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2003.

[17] These matches are similar, in the objective is to relieve your opponent of any clothing save the bra and panties. In the Evening Gown match, however, the wrestlers are dressed in evening gowns, whereas in the general Bra-and-Panties match, they might be dressed in other clothing.

[18] Oppliger, ibid.

[19] Oppliger, ibid.

[20] Heather

[21] This storyline involved wrestler Dawn Marie making a romantic play for archrival Torrie Wilson’s father, then blackmailing Torrie into a sexual situation, saying she would call the wedding off. However, Dawn Marie tricked Torrie, and not only “took advantage” of Torrie sexually, but went ahead and “married” Torrie’s dad, anyway. The second storyline featured Vince as a performer in his own program, forcing wrestler Trish Stratus to bark like a dog, as punishment for her participation in a fictional relationship with Vince, when their “relationship” started to “go sour.”

[22] Maggie

[23] Jessica

[24] “Puppies”-a term used by one of the announcers meaning breasts; taken up by a wide population of male fans, who show up in the arena with signs saying things such as “Show us your puppies!”

[25] Maggie

[26] Jessica

[27] Jessica

[28] Fiske, John. Television Culture. 1987.

[29] Fiske, ibid.

[30] Jennifer

[31] Fiske, ibid.

[32] Jenkins, ibid.

[33] Jenkins, ibid.

[34] Ang, Ian. Watching Dallas. 1992.

[35] Ang, ibid.

[36] Assael, ibid.

[37] Modleski, Tania. Loving With a Vengeance. Hamden: The Shoe String Press, Inc., 1982.

Measuring Up: Sarah Silverman: 1, Variety Critic: 0

**DISCLAIMER: DUE TO SUBJECT MATTER, THIS ENTRY CONTAINS A FAIR AMOUNT OF UNLADYLIKE LANGUAGE. PLEASE BE AWARE OF THIS IN ADVANCE. THANK YOU AND HAVE A LOVELY DAY!**

Okay.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have the time to write this piece. I’m in the middle of doing a lot of different things for work right now, but I am taking about 20 minutes out to rant and talk (somewhat intelligently, I hope) about something that I feel strongly about.

Last night a male friend of mine asked me to write about this issue because he felt that he couldn’t. He felt that if he took it on, someone would think he was “mansplaining.” Personally, I think that’s bullshit because he’s a very smart guy and could do an incredible job with this material, but I looked at the article that he was telling me about this morning and….hackles raised.

Apparently some dude at Variety thinks it’s just not ladylike or funny for a female comic to have a dirty mouth. He feels that she is “limiting” herself. And her career.

In fact, his TITLE says it all. The article’s title is, “Sarah Silverman’s Bad Career Move: Being as Dirty as the Guys.” Excuse me?? Bad career move? Where have you been for the last few years, Brian Lowry, TV Columnist? Sarah Silverman HAS A CAREER. And a very good one at that! While I am not the biggest fan of all of her work, I really like her a great deal and I know she is excruciatingly and painfully talented, even if some of her comedy sketches don’t fit my tastes. And…she’s been around forever.  That whole “She had her own show” thing. Yeah.sarahsilvermanprog“Being as dirty as the guys.” Are we, as women, still being measured up to male standards of things, Mr. Lowry, instead of simply being appreciated and valued as funny and valuable parts of the comedy community? And, for the record, not all male comics go dirty. I’ve seen amazing sets by Patton Oswalt and Eddie Izzard that were clean as a whistle and I laughed so much I thought I was going to die. So…dirty like those guys? My question to you, Brian Lowry, TV Columnist, is…HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR COMEDY VALUE SYSTEM AND WHY IS IT BASED ON MEN? Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, some funny ladies…certainly not 100% clean. Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers? Seriously!

Hey Brian Lowry- three words: DO. YOUR. HOMEWORK. Have you EVER heard of Mae West? C’mon, buddy. Up your game.

You state, “This isn’t meant to suggest that female comics can’t work blue. The lament here is that in the wrong hands it can feel gratuitous or become a crutch, whereas unlike many of her contemporaries, Silverman has enough tools that she can and should do more.” This just seems like outright condescension and patriarchal nonsense. Would you have said the same thing about a male HBO special? Substitute “female” with “male” please, insert another present-day young male comedian (Brian Posehn for example) and see how that sounds. Is this something that makes any sense at all? Listen to how this sounds.

Men who criticize strong, powerful, funny women are scared to death of what they bring to the table. Sarah Silverman is one of those strong, powerful and funny women. Whether you like her content or not.

Louis C.K. is one of my favorite comics. And that fear is completely foreign to him. He knows better. This is why he has had Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Parker Posey, Chelsea Peretti, and Maria Bamford on his television show, Louie.louiemaria

Lowry, I think you would do well to take some lessons from Louis. Well, really, most people could.

So after reading your puerile garbage about how Sarah has “limited herself by appearing determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys,” I have to get this straight. Your point is that if she wanted a “real” career, she would start performing in accordance to more “broad values,” of the comedic world? I guess if she did, she would have a better chance to transition past the “39-seat room, the most intimate of standup settings” where this special was shot and towards that “main stage” that you reference. And- that 39-seater- that was surely not the artist’s choice, right? Did you ever once stop to think that maybe, just maybe, Sarah is in charge of her own career? The one that you keep pointing out as needing to have commercial appeal?

Well, as you say, once all this “unladylike” stuff is ironed out, her “overuse” of the word c**t stops, her career will blossom and she will finally get main stage and become a “success” as you see it, right?

Well, sir, you know what I have to say to that, in all of my lady-like approach? Fuck that. Fuck your patriarchal expectations, fuck your inability to just say, “the content isn’t my thing but I appreciate a strong woman working in a male-dominated field that has MADE a career for herself and LOVES what she does on a daily basis.” Fuck your inability to be a good critic, sir. FUCK THAT. Fuck your condescending attitude and your unwillingness to examine a woman’s work according to a media and vocational structure that may run parallel but not identical to that of Standard Commercial Work.

Most especially, FUCK you for connecting her aesthetics to her talent or career or ability in any way, shape or form. This is one of the more insidious ways that sexism creeps through and whether you are aware of it or not, your comment about “Despite all manner of career-friendly gifts – from her looks to solid acting chops –” may seem nice, but has no place in this review. If you were reviewing Ricky Gervais’ latest HBO Special, would you make a comment on his “smashing good looks” or his “manly appearance” before reviewing the work? If I am wrong on this one, and it is, in fact, part of your writing style, to comment on everyone’s physical appearance when you review their work, male or female, I apologize. If it is not, and you were just (again) trying to give Sarah another pat on the head, saying “See how great you could be? If only you didn’t say that “c” word so many times and washed that purty little mouth out a few times….we can take you so far! You’re a real looker!” then…FUCK THAT.

Mr. Lowry. In the end, I would direct you to a fantastic article by comic Rob Delaney. Please read. Women are funny. And, much like any other comic crossing the stage or film hitting the screen or TV show you watch, no one is expecting you to like everything they chat about or do. But I would say this: Go back and look up the rift between Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson and get back to me on how hard it is for women in the comic world. Go back and look up Mae West and pre-code and get back to me. See how many women don’t get spots on stage at open mic nights just because they are women or see how many of them get made fun of/get people who want to sleep with them/are taken advantage of. Then, Mr. Lowry of the Variety TV Columnist world., THEN you can talk to me about how you are going to be Sarah Silverman’s motherfucking career coach.

Until then? BE QUIET AND LET SARAH DO HER THING.

Richard Matheson is Legend

I have rabidly consumed the works of Richard Matheson all my life and I am devastated to hear that he has passed away.

Matheson changed the landscape of my mind, introduced me to true horror and tension in moving images and really created my tastes and interests in the more unusual and dark.

In full disclosure, while I have always been a huge reader, I made a huge mistake as a kid. I didn’t read Matheson’s literary works until I was much older and I still haven’t read enough. A part of me feels like I was exposed to him by proxy. My childhood consisted of inhaling Ray Bradbury’s works, and they were in the same writing club. There’s a little bit of closeness there, right?

And really? To my mother’s disappointment after my tantrum over demanding the UNABRIDGED version of Les Miserables in the bookstore, I could NOT get enough of Stephen King. Although to be honest, there are certain similarities to be drawn between French revolutionary youth movements and Carrie…who’s with me?? At any rate, King readily admits to Matheson’s strong influence, and as an adult and more critical thinker, I do see his argument. The first time I was ever exposed to Richard Matheson’s literary work, I Am Legend, it had been adapted by Steve Niles in graphic novel form. The comments people kept leaving in the reviews were “really wordy for a graphic novel” and “I dunno, lots of reading for a comic” which made me think that much of the original text had been kept in. I was definitely in. One of my pet subjects is comic book adaptations and its connection to the archeological concept of the palimpsest (another post for another day), I found this work even more intriguing. The graphic novel was really good, I enjoyed Niles’ art and (no surprise to anyone familiar with Matheson or my tastes) the story is phenomenal. I’ve revisited it many times since.

i-am-legend-000fc

Before that, my main point of reference for Matheson has always been that I have been a life-long Twilight Zone-addict. In fact, I don’t remember a year when I didn’t run to my parents’ room and jump on that big bed that got gradually smaller as I got older to watch the marathon. It was Matheson’s episode “The Living Doll” that gave me my strange adoration for children’s dolls and Telly Savalas and it was most certainly the “Little Girl Lost” episode that scared and excited me every night before I went to bed. And, of course, who can forget perhaps the most parodied TZ-episode ever, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”?  Matheson’s skill at flipping domestic situations into ones that would frighten or, at the very least, unsettle the most steely-nerved soul is unreal. If you still don’t believe me, watch the episode “Mute.” I’m a huge Buffy fan, and I enjoy the hell out of the episodes on that show that play with standard forms of verbal communication but…”Mute” will knock you sideways. Why? Because it’s MATHESON.

My name is Talky Tina... (THE LIVING DOLL, S5, Ep6, Orig air date: Nov 1, 1963)

My name is Talky Tina… (THE LIVING DOLL, S5, Ep6, Orig air date: Nov 1, 1963)

Director Edgar Wright had a film festival back in 2011 at the New Beverly. He talked about all the films he’d never seen and how exciting it was to get to explore these titles, these classic and beloved films that people had a strange “OMG, you’ve never seeeeeeen thaaaat???” reaction when he said that he hadn’t had the pleasure. While I deeply, regretfully, heartbreakingly mourn the passing of this genius of a man, I am looking forward to getting gut-deep, ears-deep, pig-tails-deep into his literary works. It is a formidable library and one I know that I will enjoy like the most delicious creme brulee (and OHMAN, do I love creme brulee). To me, it will make this man stay visible, stay alive. In my experience as an archivist and preservation scholar, this seems to be one of the most vital and earnest methods that we can use as admirers of a given artistic work or individual to keep them alive. It’s why I do what I do. Which brings me to my next point: The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957).

Many people do not live long enough to see one of their moving image works become recognized by the Library of Congress and the National Film Registry. In 2009, Richard Matheson’s film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, adapted by him, from his own novel The Incredible Shrinking Man, was chosen as one of the films marked for preservation due to to its “cultural, historical or aesthetic significance.” As the National Film Preservation Board has written about the films that they choose on a yearly basis, “These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.” From my experience (and if I am wrong, please forgive me) I believe that this is what Matheson does best. His exposure of the darkness and the weirdness of normalcy is what makes him so fucking great. How do you make a cat frightening??

You’re Richard Matheson, that’s how. Not only does Shrinking Man reveal issues of masculinity and the domestic environment of 1957, but it does it way before its time. I generally get irritated when people continually harp on about figures being “so ahead of the game” and doing things so “before their time” and, as a point, I make a valid effort not to do it very much. But with Matheson, “pre-game” seems to have been his middle name.

I had the privilege during my tenure as the curator of the Something Old, Something New film series at the New Beverly Cinema to play Incredible Shrinking Man in tandem with Innerspace on a double-bill that I called “Size Matters.” Joe Dante came for a Q&A, discussed Matheson a bit, and our audience, many of whom were there primarily to revisit Innerspace, was absolutely floored by Shrinking Man. As someone who admittedly gets high off exhibiting films and seeing pleased faces, this was my heroin. Overhearing people talk about “the old movie” actually being “really damn good, dude” made my heart soar. Mr. Matheson, your works still work. And they always WILL.

It is so very rare that figures like this come through the world. Salvador Dali worked in film, animation, sculpture, painting, etc., dead-set on taking any straight-ahead visions of creativity and art and cooking ’em until they were twisted and flexible like spaghetti. Ray Bradbury worked in comic books, film, stage, television and literature (of course), introducing entirely new worlds and atmospheres to our media culture and yet…making them ultimately accessible. Who knew that we could speak the same emotional or intellectual languages as people from other planets? Mr. Matheson, you too worked on revelations and explorations. Fear of the known, fear of the familiar, fear of the self, fear of isolation. How to truly examine horror and what is horror anyway? Many have argued about what the antagonists are in I Am Legend. To me, it simply doesn’t matter. It’s about the story and what lies beneath. What is Matheson actually trying to TELL us?

This is just one woman’s opinion and semi-eulogy on a day I find rather heart-wrenching. I really wanted to meet him. I don’t have too many heroes. He was one.

Dear Richard Matheson, thank you for giving me the ability to appreciate horror, fear and tension in an intelligent and creative way. You taught me how to look at them from the alternative, multi-layered angle. For that, and much more, I will be forever grateful.

Ariel

It’s Been 20 Years: The L.A. Riots…This Revolution WAS Televised.

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the L.A. Riots. 20 years ago I was sitting in a classroom, wearing a Catholic school uniform.

In my personal life, I was listening to Guns’n’Roses, Metallica, Queensryche and Nelson, about to be 14 years old (my birthday is in May), and things were…well, as good as they can be when you are an adolescent girl with a heavy metal-loving and high culture obsessed personality. That is to say, I was a normal kid with abnormal interests and thus…miserable.

But that day I was just like everyone else. I was an Angeleno, and I was terrified, angry, confused and hurting. At that age I had no ability to break apart the confusion of the news footage. And when I say “confusion” of the news footage, I mean CONFUSION. When the verdict was announced, and Los Angeles blew the hell up, these white, privileged reporters had no clue how to handle it. As a certified media scholar and media archivist in-training, I am beyond grateful that they went nuts on live-camera. We now know WHAT NOT TO DO and who not to hire in a city as diverse as the one that I have been born and raised in. Did I consider this at the time? Not a stitch. I was just scared. I had a baby brother. I had a family that I loved (still have both those things, although the “baby” brother is WAY taller than me now, so…maybe not so “baby” anymore). I had a city that I revered and…It had just erupted into pure, unadulterated chaos, and….THAT was NOT supposed to happen. Only was supposed to have that happen. I was the one with the adolescent whacked-out hormonal shit going on. My city was supposed to be my ROCK. What was going on?

The interesting thing is that as the 1992 “Civil Unrest” (and as an aside- I’ve never understood that term- who came up with it? It was not civil in any way, shape or form. Sure, it was unrest, but…these were RIOTS. Pure and simple. Is it more politically correct to candy-coat them? Is “civil unrest” an academic term for what occurred?) is one of the best examples of the term “this revolution will be televised.” Every breath taken, every person pulled out of a car, every store looted, every shop owner who fought back…was displayed in full color on our screens at home, at work, at university, where ever we might have been, 20 years ago today.

Even more fascinating, in looking back on this event, the footage I wanted to find for this, I was unable to find. I could not find any footage from news reporters from that first day and the initial announcement, when everything went crazy and they didn’t know what to do. When they were “off the script” as they say, and things were not exactly going according to plan. I’ve seen that footage twice- once live, when it was happening and then again when I took a class on television studies, and we discussed the racial make-up and transitions of newscasting in Los Angeles post-April 29, 1992.

If you weren’t watching or didn’t see it, it took on a beyond ridiculous architecture. Some people could argue that people in the middle of an emergency simply handle situation poorly and say things that they, perhaps, do not actually mean. However, it soon became ragingly clear that the sheer WHITENESS and economic disparity of the televisual news medium was ultra-present and to have that be the link to what was happening in South Central Los Angeles? Wow. The individuals and authority figures who had been chosen to give The People the information about an emergency situation were, quite obviously, so far removed from anything like this or, quite frankly, from Los Angeles herself, that it was a media disaster. No wonder I couldn’t find any of the footage when I was looking for it today.

It changed soon after, but that was the revolution of this situation on television. After this happened, we saw more reporters of color, we saw more documentation of different economic situations and we saw a different news-reporting engagement. While the ethnic situation still reflects this, news has gone back to fluff and fodder, but for a minute, we had some real “news” events. Now, not everyone reflected this. Certain reporters have always managed to be reasonable. But the vast majority of Los Angeles news reporting collapsed in upon itself and had a crisis, some of which can be reflected in this video here:

Or this one. This reporter’s discussion of her relationship to the Watts Riots really underscores the huge distance that these individuals have from the communities that they are reporting on. While the act of looting is, indeed, illegal, is it not of interest to her that quite a few of the folks they were just looking at were carrying out diapers?

Anyone who was in Los Angeles on April 29, 1992 remembers the smell, the sights, what they were doing, everything about it. Everyone from Los Angeles remembers what they were doing as well, even if they weren’t here. I can’t speak to the rest of y’all. I was in my science classroom with my teacher Ms. Michaels and the rest of the girls. Ms. Michaels had a crazy buzz-type haircut with a rat-tail and spikey-ness in the front. She was pretty cool. She wheeled out the TV, and we sat there, totally silent as things unfolded and we waited for our parents to come and get us.

I didn’t feel so tough then.

I remembered my mother telling me about the gas lines as a result of the 1973 Oil Crisis, so I forced her to get a full tank on the way home…just in case we had to leave town. There was a curfew enforced, and the looting and fires didn’t remain contained to South Central. They were a few steps from my front door, in Hollywood.

But that stuff didn’t disturb me. I watched my city burn, sitting atop a ladder in my backyard. I smelled the smoke, I listened to my girlfriends talk about “looting at the Beverly Center” and shook my head.

I was, quite literally, glued to the television. And I didn’t remember that until I sat down to write this. We were watching every little thing. I can’t count the number of store-owners I saw sobbing outside their property on live-television. I can’t fathom all the people I saw discussing how wrong they thought it was that people were burning their own damn neighborhoods. I think if I had a nickel for every time I had heard something about burning Beverly Hills or Simi Valley, I’d have a better chance of paying off my student loans faster!

Realistically, seeing Reginald Denny getting pulled out of a truck at age 13 made my skin crawl and I will never ever know what it’s like NOT to have that feeling and image and experience now. It wasn’t like a horror movie, it was something beyond a horror movie. It was the horrors of the real world. That is something that you will never come back from. The remainder of my time spent watching the television and watching the footage only exacerbated that situation. Like the Vietnam War footage (another salient example of how visual media has revolutionized our eyes, ears, selves and souls), the live Los Angeles Riot media work really created a new realm for many people like me.

My first experiences with action footage, really. I watched people with guns. Many many guns. And not the  police, either. I do like a good action movie. But when action is mixed with reality with injustice? I’ll take that in my fictional media, but not in my real life. Revisiting these instances has been not only difficult but enlightening. This video was a doozy.

The L.A. Riots was an incredible event that centered on the visual and what was being watched. It was catalyzed by a video (the Rodney King tape), followed up by the court case (I have distinct memories of a goodly sum of photographs from the trial decorating every news station and paper in town) and completed by the event itself with the voracious coverage, from every angle possible. Not only were the helicopters filming, people were filming, photographers were snapping pictures constantly and every news channel was rabidly running around every strata of the city to get it all covered.

The media archivist in me loves this. We have footage of a historical event, and tons of it (provided it has been archived and preserved properly).

The Angeleno in me doesn’t give a shit and thinks it’s all exploitation anyway. How many of the reporters even cared? This was our city; these were our people. They were hurting, angry, in pain. Justice was not done and everything went to hell and people were just trying to pass judgement and get a good story. People died, lost their homes, jobs, physical and mental well-being. People were scarred for the rest of their lives because of this and half of our news media was simply there to TMZ-it, pre-TMZ. No one gets on top of their roof with a gun, prepares to shoot people and comes out of the situation in a happy place, mentally. Well, not unless they’re in an action film. And how many of those guys are truly “stable” when you think about it?

The revolution has been televised. It was done so via the televised events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago  , it was done by the broadcasting of hours upon hours of the bloody Vietnam War. This event was no different. What was different was that with certain figures who were involved, they were able to synthesize their situation, both event and media-wise, and reflect it back to those who would listen.

This example has a few pretty interesting pieces in it, and a great deal of discussion about the Riots from the social and internal perspective of people within the community.

However, the best example I found within my research was an interview that was conducted by Ted Koppel with two opposing gang members.

There’s a song by Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson. It’s a duet on Brick by Brick  called “Candy,” and it has a line in it that keeps running through my head, “The big city, geez, it’s been 20 years…” While that song is technically about a lost love, sometimes I feel like my innocent affection for Los Angeles was lost that spring day in April when I climbed to the top of the cafeteria steps at Immaculate Heart, high up on the corner of Franklin and Western; that cafeteria that meets the American Film Institute campus, and watched all the fires start with the rest of the girls I went to school with. It doesn’t mean I no longer love my city (that would be impossible), it simply means that this set of experiences forced my hand a bit. Instead of a gradual development, I had to open my eyes really quickly and see the “big city” (and its media) for what they really were.

As it stands today, I look at what everyone else is remembering, and it’s fascinating. I look at what I am remembering and I think that is interesting too.

How far we have come in 20 years and yet…we have not come very far at all. Many of the places that were destroyed during that time are still vacant lots. The dead are still dead and…Rodney King? Well, he is still unimportant. He was only the masthead to the boat. Let it fall, and the larger vessel remains. What will never disappear is the power of the media to change everything and as technology progresses so will the power of the media. A film like KICK ASS (Matthew Vaughn, 2010) used the same Rodney King-DIY-video-principle only constructed it via the internet, having a video made on a cellphone go viral within an extremely short span of time. This is the world we exist in now.

Not much different from the video camera of yesteryear. Just different formats and tools. As we move forward, perhaps we can remember this and try to keep that in our thoughts as we deconstruct both our media and the tools that we use to create it. The more it changes, the more it (and we) stay the same. If we did not take the time to fix ourselves and the problems that we had 20 years ago, how do we expect to move forward with proper and responsible media now? Do we? Can we realistically expect to have a diverse and representative media world if we were unable to rebuild the Los Angeles that broke itself apart almost a quarter of a century ago? Or do we continue to ignore the empty lots?

Los Angeles is a place where you can walk down the street and hear a multiplicity of languages, taste a variety of foods, see a gutload of moving images in different languages. This is a beautiful thing. But awareness is a key feature of any intelligent person and if you think that things have changed much in the last 20 years, you’re dead wrong. The interview that Koppel took with the gang members could’ve been done yesterday. The L.A. Riots changed the landscape of our fair city, but did they solve the problem? Not quite.

To me, the idea that the role of the responsible news media is slowly dying out scares me more than anything else. It means that not only are they no longer being demanded but they are no longer wanted.  When something like this occurs, we are that much closer to Los Angeles Civil Unrest 2: Electric Boogaloo, once more with feeling. Let’s try not to go that direction. I don’t have an answer for what to do, I only know that the first step is awareness and y’know, maybe that’s enough for now.