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 Some of the details now are out-of-date so it is no longer a relevant paper (this is the way that wrestling goes…cie la vie!)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?

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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]

tumblr_lio8u7TRk81qc6yqqo1_500

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.

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The Devil You Know: History, Technology and Family in Warrior

Within the last few years, we have had a preponderance of sports-related dramas released. Notably, many of these films have centered not on football or baseball but on more violent sports, such as boxing or wrestling, and they seemed to serve the dual purpose of revealing certain truths about the sport and about those who engage in it.

But sports films (even violent sports films) are nothing new. Even the revelatory “insignia” of most of these films which seems to be the troubled or remarkably dysfunctional family situation was present back in the days of Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947)

John Garfield in Body and Soul

with John Garfield’s boxer Charley Davis, whose parental situation is compromised or Champion (Mark Robson, 1949), with Kirk Douglas’ Midge Kelly, a boxer with a crippled brother and a unique ability to step on whomever he needs to.

These days, to use this insignia as ample explanation for characters’ motivations towards sports engagement is dreadful oversimplification. Realistically, if anyone were to argue it for the older set of films, I would say that not only were they rejecting the dynamics of genre conventions that these films employ (noir, melodrama) but they are also highly representative of social conditions. These films, whether they are The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008), The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010) or Requiem for a Heavyweight (Ralph Nelson, 1962) are based on more than individual protagonists’ surrounding environments. While not discounting those elements, the characters these movies focus on participate in sports such as this for a multitude of reasons, and the larger “picture” of the picture should not be shrugged off. It’s far too important.

The filmic texts of sports films become even more multi-layered as the years go on, underscoring not only individual reasoning and impetus but a variety of other sociological factors that come together to provide much richer pieces. Even a film as seemingly innocuous or “cheesy” as Over the Top (Menahem Golan, 1987) counts in that it adds an extra patch to this “quilt” in the way that it handles issues of social upheaval within the family unit as well as masculinity (even if arm-wrestling isn’t widely considered a national past-time).

In the world of Over the Top, arm-wrestling can be as professional a sport as wrestling or boxing, and being so…it is accompanied with the same issues: damaged family, economic problems, and many larger over-arching things like, well, concepts of the masculine. Aside from the Kenny Loggins power ballad.

It has come to my attention that the simple “he came from the wrong side of the track/bad family life” summation is trite and kindergarten analysis for the depth of these examples of cinema. There are much more fascinating treasures within these films to be unearthed, and it is our job as viewers to look a little deeper. These films work on contradiction and criticism: their narratives pivot upon the carnivalesque celebration of primal, base acts. If we take these simply at face value, then we are doing something wrong.

This year’s example of what I am speaking of is a film directed by Gavin O’ Connor called Warrior. Although at first glance, the film may seem to play off the same tired clichés of alcoholism, bad family life, economic tension and the “east coast,” Warrior is a multidimensional film that methodically examines the themes of conflict and technology all underneath the waving banners of family and sports. O’Connor manages to communicate his story within terms of familial struggle as well as within terms of media complicity. In doing so, Warrior becomes a tale that makes the audience at once aware that they, themselves, are complicated figures in the schema of the film as they are at once made active participants and passive empaths, no matter what age they might be. O’Connor’s multigenerational technological “mash-up” creates a space in which any viewer can find an avenue through which to join the narrative. It is all intentional.

Reality v. Fiction

Posters for the released film, when put together, were intended to create the one face

This lay-out of the film poster exemplifies the way in which the film was intended to run: a match-up game that didn’t quite match-up. Instead, it was more of a mash-up game. From a distance, one might mistake the two posters as one singular image, one person. Up close, there was no question that it was the actors playing the two different roles, Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy. This visual division of the one “pseudo-image” into two, is the reiteration of the narrative split of the characters. However, this is the first example of how conceptions of reality and fiction are played upon from the very beginning. Had you chanced upon the two posters previous to seeing the film, you might have mistaken them for one whole person (together), or, seeing them separately, each poster might’ve appeared to be half of the same person (unless you were quite familiar with the actors in the film). Either way, the message behind the poster was the enmeshing of the two different beings into one; incongruous realities coming together, not fitting, creating a fiction, a trick for the eye.

The next time this reality/fiction mash-up plays itself out is within the actual film itself. Like other recent films, Warrior placed actual sports figures into the quilted layout of its story. Darren Aronofsky’s may have hired real-live wrestler Nekro-Butcher and assorted other wrestling announcers to give The Wrestler that true-to-life flavor, but O’Connor hired the flavor, turned up the heat, and added one more element: he mixed it up.

Kurt Angle as the MMA badass from Russia, Koba

Kurt Angle was the pride and joy of the WWE for many years. He was the one person that they could say had gotten a “real Olympic gold medal” and they played that for all that it was worth. Angle, in playing the character of Russian-MMA champion Koba, also played that part for all that it was worth. It is true that Kurt’s career has included a modicum of MMA bouts in the last few years, but his primary celebrity has always been within the world of televised wrestling. It’s what he is known for. Additionally, it is important to note that Mixed Martial Arts, as we know it, would not be what it is without the showmanship and the carnival-like atmosphere that Vince McMahon brought to the extreme sports-world. Kurt Angle’s appearance within the MMA spectrum is both shocking and also a historical “post-it-note” to the past, reminding those “in the know” where MMA came from.

While there are a variety of announcers and other real-life MMA-figures in the film, it is Kurt Angle’s appearance within the Warrior text that is one of the bigger reality/fiction matches. Like any non-fictional performer put in a fictional storyline, it hinges upon the audience’s familiarity with the real-life extreme sports world. In wrestling terminology, can O’Connor truly “put him over” as a MMA-champion and not the all-American wrestling hero that he’s been known as for years?

The use of non-fiction characters, whether they are big champs like Angle or just well-known announcers, represent the attempt to invite audience members into the front row; make them feel like they are part of the V.I.P section. Realistically, in a certain sense, they are. It’s like knowing a secret or being part of a tribe; you’re the one who gets those jokes, you get those “in” moments, you are the film’s reality. This makes a huge difference on how familiar you are with Kurt Angle. If you are familiar with who Kurt Angle is, his placement in the film relays a sense of history and gives the MMA-world a context to exist in. For people who are aware of Kurt Angle, he is history. Seeing as the Mixed Martial Art world is still a relatively new sport, and Angle himself has been wrestling with the WWE and then TNA for an inordinate amount of time (ok, maybe not Ric Flair amount, but a goodly bit of time!), recognizing him as a major wrestler and not a MMA fighter is pretty much a no-brainer in this arena, literally. The other bit of traction here is that, aside from the history, as a walking part of fan culture who has just been sewn into the filmic text, you are also well aware that everything is a little upside down, a little bit in conflict. The reality is in the fiction, the old history (wrestling) is at odds with the new (MMA), and there is nothing you can do about it but be fully aware. Because you know what only other fans know.

But I’m not an extreme sports fan, you say. I don’t know who any of those big muscle-y guys are! That makes no difference to me. It’s simply a film. I can watch it without being troubled by outside issues. Koba/Angle doesn’t matter to me! Well, my dear friend, you may be right. Unfortunately, there is the distinct possibility that you are not. If you have borne witness to film and pop culture in the ’80’s, you (very likely) have access to Koba in a different manner. If you cannot engage in the fan’s position of Angle-intimacy, you can also access him through the cinematic analogy. Within the narrative he is being used as The Russian aka the Ultimate baddie, the “anti-American” antagonist. Hrmm. Sound familiar? Well, Rocky IV (Sylvester Stallone, 1985) fans, it really should. Kurt Angle had a predecessor: Dolph Lundgren, the most Soviet Swede (if ever there was one) played the incredibly intimidating Ivan Drago, threatening America and Rocky Balboa, should he not beat him in that boxing match!

Rocky (USA) vs. Drago (USSR)…politics, sports or hair?

So even if you are unaware of Koba from his reality as Kurt Angle, there is bound to be the analogy between fictions, causing a similar rift between sports types as that which came up within the Angle-intimate situation. Boxing, like wrestling, played its own part in the creation of the sport of MMA, thus helping to give it a certain groundwork. Here once again we are shown another example of the clash between that which came before (boxing/Rocky IV) and that which is here now (Mixed Martial Arts/Warrior), a battle between kinds of histories and physical techniques, or, one could almost say, technologies.

Mixed Martial Arts itself is a mash-up. As has been shown through the discussions of the influencing filmic and non-fiction works, it is not a pure discipline. The very name of it states that it is Mixed Martial Arts. Warrior uses this sport as its playground for precisely this reason. Instead of using a stripped down, unadulterated athletic field through which to conduct a narrative, as David O. Russell did with boxing in The Fighter (2010), Warrior is playing in an arena that is so jam-packed with elements that it’s ready to explode. The sport is a combination of various different combat sports, all of which are brutal in and of themselves. MMA takes boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, muay-thai, kickboxing, karate and other martial arts and lumps them all together into one vicious mass. That blend is indicative of the film itself, as it seeks to reflect its characters and their own issues with personal history, familial structuring and emotional maturity. The quickness and complexity of the various styles of martial arts play against the very basic nature of the more simple (but no less valid) boxing or wrestling. MMA as a battlefield for the inner fights of these men only underscore how much more complicated any singular fight can be, let alone the variety that are going on within the narrative of the actual film.

Instruments of Terror v. Instruments of Truth

Warrior confronts many different things, but none so interesting as the idea of technology. History is a major theme within the film and technology helps to highlight that in a variety of different ways.

One of the first technological introductions comes in the form of Paddy Conlon, the father character, played by Nick Nolte. When we first meet him, he is leaving a church and upon getting into his old, out-of-date car, he flips on a cassette tape recording of Moby Dick being read aloud. The idea that this man is still attached to various old kinds of machinery is a clear cut sign that he has been stunted on his path somehow. Throughout the film we find this to be the case. His relationship to his tape player (which includes a walkman) and book-on-tape signify his character more succinctly than almost anyone else in the film.

Paddy Conlon meets up with his past in its current state: his youngest son, Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy)

Paddy is an alcoholic, and he spent the majority of his life letting down his family. His wife and children left him due to his patterns of drinking and violence but that didn’t stop him from repeating them. His behavior in respect to technological instruments in the film reflect his personal history which means he will continue to do the same things over and over again. He broke himself of his pattern of drinking through AA, but he is so stuck on the great machinations of the past that he continues to use out-of-date technology to tell him the same fictional story over and over again about a man whose pride was too great and the endless pursuit of what he believed was right cost him everything he had. In a sense, Paddy is punishing himself daily for the loss of his family by showering himself in ancient history. While there are flickers of change that we see occur due to other characters appearances and catalyzing factors, they do not last for very long, and when they are there, they cause such pain and conflict that Paddy is forced out of the present-day-era. In Paddy Conlon, what we see is a broken ghost of a man who lives in the past; the ever-present cassette-player, the semi-old-fashioned clothing and the tired and resigned countenance all part and parcel of his daily equipment.

Sometimes the pain of the clash of then and now coming together can be too much, as Paddy finds out when he attempts to update himself to the “now”

Digital technology plays a large part in this film as well. If it wasn’t for the digital technologies that are shown within the narrative of Warrior, Tommy wouldn’t have much of a story, which says quite a bit about Tommy. When we first see Tommy, he has come to meet up with Paddy, his dad, and he confronts him about a variety of issues and tries to get him to drink with him. Paddy declines, but Tommy continues to drink. As the film moves forward, it turns out that Tommy wants to be back in touch with his dad, but only to get Paddy to help him train for a big MMA match, to which the elder man happily agrees, thinking that it will be a way to “update” his history; move him out of his “dark ages” and help him bond with his son. But Tommy will have none of that. He is as cold as steel and as non-emotive as a piece of computer equipment. Even when his father reaches out to him with old “training items,” Tommy shuts him down quickly.

While at the gym one day, Tommy volunteers himself to fight one of the main fighters.

What he doesn’t know is that it’s being recorded on a cellphone. Shortly after the match, it makes its way from cellphone to YouTube, and goes viral. Due to this, Tommy gets recognized from another incredibly significant chapter in his life. The audience watches the lightning-fast progression as yet more digital machinery is utilized (a handheld HDcam) to show footage of Tommy from somewhere deep in his past. The face from the HDcam tape is compared to the one on the YouTube clip. Clearly, it’s the same guy. Tommy’s relationship to the digital world is a fascinating one. While his entire personal story within the film would have been skeletal without the meat put on it by the above incidents, technology is where he maintains a certain level of similarity with his father. Tommy would rather reject modern media than revel in it. While his reasoning is different from his father’s, it is still a maintained relationship with technology that is strongly significant within the view of being a major participant in a large sporting event. To not only decline but rebuff media and the technological bathing that comes with huge sporting events could be likened to listening to a cassette-player in the age of the iPod. It just doesn’t make sense to the majority of the world- why on earth would you want to do such a thing?

When Tommy gets accepted and goes to Sparta (the huge MMA event he has been training for) he refuses all the standard “bells and whistles” that come with being a main competitor. When all the rest of the MMA fighters have theme songs, Tommy had nothing. Where all the rest of the MMA fighters had outfits shellacked with sponsorships and loud colors, Tommy walked out onto the floor in a simple hooded sweatshirt. Even his style was “unsexy”- one hit, and the competition was out like a light. Was Tommy doing this in order to try to garner less attention (in which case he failed, as the choices he made only made the spotlight on him grow) or did he do this as part of a self-destructive plan, meaning he had more in common with his father than he thought? By negating his history, stubbornly denying the past and not participating in standard athlete’s ritual and behavior, his past caught up with his present much in the same way that Paddy’s did, and the conflict became unbearable.

Technology was the catalyst of Tommy’s evolution in the film and, more importantly, the technology associated with his character’s storyline was totally out of his hands. As a young man who had always felt like his life was beyond his control, it seems only fitting that we watch as he works out his raging pain and anguish against the technological forces and historical situations that ripped apart his plans and ruined his life in a physical manner. In a sense, the grande finale of the film has echoes of Ahab/Tommy battling the white whale/his past, only this time, he finds a way to achieve success without ultimate destruction.

A variety of other technologies are littered throughout the film, adding strength to ideas of history and the connective presence that machinations have between our past and our future. The high school kids that Paddy’s other son Brendan teaches organize a Pay-Per-View event at the local drive-in so they could watch their teacher “large and in-charge” at Sparta, Brendan’s wife refuses to turn the television on or deal with her cellphone until she finds out he’s succeeded in his first match and then she’s “in.”  In a picture that is highly corporeally-bound, there sure is a lot of reference matter to old and new machinery. Perhaps what Warrior tells us then, finally, is that by shutting away our histories, our emotional responses, our familial ties, we become fragmented. We may, like the poster, look whole from far away, but we are not. We are divided and will remain so until we can physically beat ourselves into some kind of submission and finally connect to what is really good for us.

Drug Me: The WWE and The Death of Michael Jackson

Well, fuck.  Am I REALLY going to have to write something about this? Apparently I am, because two things that should have stayed the hell out of the way of each other due to obvious mutual concerns have come up.

So I was on the Internet this morning, because I heard that, yes, once again, ANOTHER celeb had kicked the bucket. What the hell, guys? This week is just NO GOOD to be famous, right? Sky Saxon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and now Billy Mays? Really? Jeez Louise. At any rate, there was yet ANOTHER Internet RUMOR that someone (this time Louie Anderson) had died, and I was looking into that because, well, we had gone past the whole “they go in threes” thing, and frankly? At this juncture? After Michael? ANYTHING was believable. So, I found a REALLY interesting article. And of course, because it was related to wrestling, I totally clicked on it.

Rick Rockwell of the Pro-Wrestling Examiner wrote a very short, but sweet, treatise on the internet hoax of the death of Louie Anderson and how hurtful death hoaxes on the internet were. He made a very incisive statement when he said that “A hoax and false rumors are hurtful and disgusting. Although, WWE tends to create storylines that are hurtful and disgusting, the Trump story was only stupid in the end but didn’t really hurt anyone; unless you count the WWE stockholders who sold their stocks,” referring to the current Donald Trump storyline. HOWEVER, to make Mr. Rockwell’s point even more significant and have even more weight, the WWE has a its own history of death hoaxes as well. It is a company that thrives upon soap opera antics (for more on this, email me- I got a nice long paper for ya to read- I’m a huge wrestling fan) Yet, to be sure, like the current Donald Trump storyline, they hurt no one but possibly the audience whose loyalties and fanships ran, perhaps, a bit too deep and that is only temporarily. As most people know- hoaxes are just that- they always get uncovered at *some* point. That is their point.

The explosive "death" of the head of the WWE...

The explosive "death" of the head of the WWE...

Even the most recent and the most bombastic death “hoax,” that of WWE head honcho Vince McMahon in June 2007 was eclipsed by a real LIVE death, the epically tragic Chris Benoit murder-suicide, which actually cancelled what was going to be a long running storyline regarding McMahon’s “death.”  The death hoax in this case was a major plot point, and would probably have lasted a good long time. However, out of respect for the tragedy of one of their major performers, the WWE had some taste in this situation and cut this storyline way short. However, my point is proven. Large scale company, famous figure, DEATH HOAX. But fictional, so as not to hurt anyone.

In a week like we have had, where people’s childhoods have had the door closed upon them, and steamy adolescent dreamings have been laid to rest, do we REALLY need to hear that Jeff Goldblum might be sharing Vibes on a higher plane right now? Or Louie Anderson, for that matter?

No, we really don’t. I’m sorry guys, but not this week. Take your “funny” elsewhere, it just ain’t “haha.” I don’t feel like I wanna be checking Snopes.com 80 times a day nor do I want to have a flipout everytime I check my Twitter or Facebook and SOMEONE ELSE’S name pops up, k? Can we have some GOOD news, please? And look, celebrity ain’t everything, in fact it just happens to be a big area of academic study for me, but…..HELL. If it ain’t that important, why don’t we go back to looking at the children dying in Iran and not some poor shlemiel comedian who died and didn’t fuckin’ know it, eh?

So on to my next point, and where the title comes in. So I keep reading Rockwell’s piece. It’s cool. Whatever. I’m thinking about wrestling, the veritable plethora of hoaxes that get pulled all the time that, in real life, would be really really bad, hurtful and painful…when I see this headline: Ultimate Warrior Rips on the Death of Michael Jackson

Oh hell no. Really? C’mon guys, for reals? So I make with the *clicky*

For those of you who are not wrestling fans, this is the Ultimate Warrior:

Ultimate Warrior- cuz all guys can get that buff naturally! Check out that vein! Ooo!

Ultimate Warrior- cuz all guys can get that buff naturally! Check out that vein! Ooo!

Yeah, so that’s the guy. He didn’t have very many nice things to say either on his blog, no sirreebob. And, y’know, in general, I’m fine with people having and voicing their opinions. Absolutely. That’s what this whole blogosphere thing is all about. And I’m fine with him having his. But I’m going to come out on the record and say that he’s a total hypocrite for the things that he’s saying and, while he doesn’t hold much weight in the wrestling community anymore, he holds weight with people and fans and sometimes (most times) that is even more powerful that holding sway in the company itself.

In his blog, where he (I fear) was attempting to be as righteous as he was humorous,  the self-proclaimed “Founding Father of Intense Sarcasm” discusses how all the celebrities are probably quite upset now that they have nowhere to drop off their children for playtime. He calls all of them “drug-soused entertainment freaks.” Oh Warrior. Really? Didja have to go there? Cuz NOW I have to write about this. NOW I have to rip into you. Now I can’t just leave you alone to your poor, pathetic, paranoid has-been existence. I mean, honestly, I have a great amount of sympathy A GREAT AMOUNT for ex-wrestlers or ex-WWE-wrestlers, but from the bit of research I’ve done on you and your blog today, um, well??? I think I can confidently say that you are not one of them.

If any of you have seen The Wrestler, then you know its really tough to go from the 80’s and the highest highs to…well, what the WWE is now. Which is not exactly what is *was,* per se. Not that its not still one of the largest and most economically viable companies in the nation, but…it sure isn’t what it was back in the day. And many casualties have fallen to the wayside as a result, mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s like a war- only there really is no support group for former wrestlers, there is no WWE “Vet” group…there’s just shattered kneecaps, shattered souls, and most likely a lifetime addiction to painkillers and assorted other *fun* substances! Hurray for entertainment!!

Aaronofsky's film is a great look into what the reality of wrestling truly is. You can only get thrown through a table so many times.

Aronofsky's film is a great look into what the reality of wrestling truly is. You can only get thrown through a table so many times.

The interesting thing to note is that wrestling, while indeed following a fictionalized storyline, is also choreographed, like a dance number on broadway or a fight scene in a film. When people take on the condescending tone with me about wrestling (which happens right after the “OMG, you’re a girl and you like wrestling” face- it’s pretty similar to the “OMG you’re a girl and know something reasonable about comics” face, but we can discuss facial antics at a later date), they generally say “You know its all fake, right?”

Sure. Sure, it’s fake. Tell that to Owen Hart, who died when he fell to his death at a WWE (then WWF) event in Kansas City Missouri. Or tell it to Plum Mariko, the Japanese female wrestler who died from injuries received inside the ring that reinjured former ring injuries. Tell THEM its fake. Or tell the innumerable men and women who have passed away in the last few years due to the high levels of physical stress that they have suffered due to extreme conditions of travel, and years of drug abuse and physical conditioning and sheer performance on a nightly basis. Tell their families that it was all fake. The surgeries? ALLLLL fake. Yup, indeed. An elaborate game of pretend.

So what? What does all this have to do with the Warrior’s rant?

Well, first off, I recognize that the Warrior is a bit of a nutter, and his rant on Michael Jackson as a drug-addict holds no water, coming from a man who was released unceremoniously from the WWE for testing positive for steroids. I think, however, that this issue goes beyond the Ultimate Warrior’s blog, and I think that his readers recognized that as well. Some of the comments made were quite acute as to the Warrior’s own position in the world and I found them to be quite entertaining.

On the other hand, this is a larger issue. It is very likely that Michael’s death resulted from a highly toxic cocktail mix of drugs administered and recommended to him by a “doctor.” Not dissimilar to the doctors that wrestlers regularly depend on. The choreography of a dance is not unlike the choreography of a wrestling move, and a tour is a tour, no matter who you are performing to or when. Sure, wrestling is more physically demanding than what Jackson did, but the parallels are there, the fame issues are there, and, more importantly, the access and opportunity is there.

Michael’s history with drugs was just as unfortunate as many wrestlers. Starting just after the Pepsi commercial, he had a very big problem with pain killers and was in and out of rehab multiple times. Being a performer, a star and a major physical talent, he had to be at the top of his game at all times. ALL times, not just on occasion. And that’s practically impossible to do, especially without the use of synthetic assistance. Michael’s body became racked with addiction and substances until it became a shell of the gorgeous and rubber-like dancer’s skin that we saw back in the day. On June 25, 2009 we saw what can happen when you try to continue to use that system to make your flesh provide.

Your body is not made to do that. Chinese medicine teaches that the body is one whole organ, and that if you are sick, the body as a whole must be treated- that there is blockage in one location which is preventing your system, as a whole, from working correctly. By plugging up your body with painkillers and a whole cornucopia of drugs that make it so that the natural ingredients in your body will not work with each other in tandem, you’re basically just clogging up your own pipes. It may feel better for the moment, but it’s a temporary satisfaction. Tragically, if you’ve fucked your body up as bad as a wrestler has, sometimes it seems like there’s no other way. On the other hand, there are a good amount of wrestlers who have been able to know how to handle their bodies now and know how to balance more today than before (I hope). As for Michael, well? I don’t think he has had anyone there to advocate for him since he was a kid. I think the only people he has ever had in his life who have provided any kind of positivity for him were maybe his sisters or his mom, but were they strong advocates for him?

NO WAY.

What I hope is not to see anymore blogs or anything come out from the wrestling community about the Michael Jackson death. If I do, I’m going to be really pissed. It’s going to be more than any pot meeting kettle or glass house with boulders, man. It’s just a sad situation and in times like this we should be combining forces *not* dividing them.

In a situation like this, we should and could be recognizing the similarities between the parties, seeing the ways in which the entertainment industry in all of its Glorious Intelligence has decided to go the Alfred Hitchcock way and treat its performers like cattle. Well, guys, if you treat your performers like cattle, GUESS WHAT? You are not allowed to be shocked when the most talented, the most amazing and the most incredible ones get their own form of Industry Hoof and Mouth disease and die the fuck off. Nope, instead we, the audience/fans, get to suffer for your inability to treat your performers, be them wrestlers or pop singers, like human beings. Lucky us.

And I end this with a sincere letter from my heart:

Dear Entertainment Industry,

Try to treat your performers better. Keep ’em healthy and for fuck’s sake take oxycontin off the market for celebs. You’ll be doing all of us a huge favor.

Love always,

Ariel

Top 5 Films of 2008…

All right cats & kittens, here we are- end of the year- and I know that AT LEAST one of you would like to know what my top 5 films of 2008 (that I have SEEN) are.

Well, y’know what?
Not only am I going to tell you, but I’m going to SHOW you.

I will post a trailer for each one of my favorite films of this year, with a brief description of why I adore it and think it rocked my socks more than the, well, um, embarrassingly large amount of other films I have seen within the year. Although, that said, truth be told…the large amount of films wasn’t always recent films so I guess that doesn’t really count. BUT THESE DO!!

And these films are EXCELLENT. Seriously. Really really really good. This is the first year I have gone to see new films multiple times in the theater in a VERY long time (many many years…perhaps since Lost Highway or American Beauty) and it is with great passion and cinematic drive that I urge you to partake in these pieces of celluloid. It’s been a shitty shitty year for me in my personal life, but good GOD it’s been a great year for me with movies!

So here’s the way it’s gonna work. I’m gonna post my top 5, but they will NOT, I repeat NOT be in any kind of qualitative order. In other words, there’s just simply no way that I could like one of these over another over another. They are all so different and so amazing in their own ways, and I cannot put one above the other. So, think of ’em on the same scale of Cinema Love, and enjoy.

Lemme know whatcha think, k?

Celluloid kisses and Reel-y big hugs,

Ariel

I don’t play favorites very often, if at all, but if pressed…this was my very favorite film of 2008. The first 45 seconds left me thrilled, stunned, and shocked. This is not your average film. More than anything, this is absolutely nothing at ALL like Waking Life. Don’t even *think* about comparing the two. This film is brutal, gorgeous, and relentless. I think I probably cried through 70% of the film, half because of the sheer magnificence of the art and splendor of the cinematic story before me and half because of content. The animation and the process (of which Folman has several articles/interviews available) are beyond compare.
I can truly truly truly say that I have never seen anything like it.
This film is out now. You will be doing yourself a complete disservice if you do not SEE THIS FILM. The soundtrack, the visuals, the EVERYTHING…perfection. Waltz With Bashir. AMAZING.

If nothing else gets you, the performances ALONE are enough to warrant the ridiculous amount of money theaters are charging for admission these days. However, it’s not just that. This film virtually *drips* with quality. To me, it was like watching the most sensationally intense boxing match I had ever seen in my life. So much so, that at times, it even seemed to be photographed in slightly that manner. Alongside the obviously interesting historical issues and the simply fascinating discussion on the media (including media figures), this film also focuses on the viewer’s own emotional positionality, toying with it a bit, based on the magnificent performances and incredible story in tandem. I dug that part A LOT. Well played, Mr. Howard, one of the best you’ve done!

OK, so aside from my fascination with (read: massive crush on) Robert Downey Jr.for the last 20 years, my absolute adoration for Jeff Bridges and my newfound interest in Terrance Howard (after Hustle & Flow), this movie rocked me. It is a solid and striking film, and I say that not just because I’m a comic book geek, not just because it was fun and exciting, and not just because it was well-written and structured (although it was all of those things and more). What is truly arresting about Iron Man is Favreau’s choice to lay bare the multitude of issues surrounding war as a business and an economic industry, and what that really means, in such an updated, contemporary fashion. Anyone who says that comic book movies are just fluff pieces with no transitive value, needs to experience Iron Man in all its glory. Seriously.

Yeah, I’ve been raving about this left, right & center. FINE. See, I love wrestling. I do. I wouldn’t have written a 35-pg paper about wrestling (that I eventually presented at a international conference) if I didn’t love it. But that’s not the only reason I love this movie. I love this film because it’s accurate as HELL and grips your heart in a choke-hold, refusing to let go. The balls-out emotional intensity is matched only by the wrestling itself, which, I might add, was great. But you DON’T HAVE TO LOVE WRESTLING TO LOVE THE MOVIE. My only criticism was Evan Rachel Wood. She was not good. At all. But the rest of the film was graphic, brutal, and painful in all the right ways. I cried. A lot. Great performances, great characters, and WOW, um, Marisa Tomei? HOT!
On a more personal level, I *finally* feel like a film has been made that will help dispel the myth that wrestling is easy and “fake,” and without any real consequence, something I appreciated beyond measure.

At first, I was just ecstatic about the choice to replace Mrs. Scientologist herself, Katie Holmes, from the first film with…well, anyone. Little did I know it was only going to skyrocket in OMFG HOW AMAZING CAN THIS BE-ness from there. Suffice to say that 2008 was a damn fine year to be a comic book geek who also happens to spend many of her waking hours ‘neath the silvery screen. It’s incredibly difficult to enunciate (at least in a professional or eloquent sense) my feelings about Chris Nolan’s work on The Batman, other than…IT RULES. I kinda turn into a 14-year-old boy. My academic side would like to tell you, however, that this is probably one of the most (if not THE most) faithful comic-to-film adaptations that has been done thus far, both thematically and content-wise. Not only that, but the performances were startlingly good, and the skillful direction and the only-when-needed use of digital effects was gratefully noted and appreciated.