Anonymous asked: Why do you watch wrestling? Isn't it fake?
To be sure, some may object to calling professional wrestling a sport. Certainly, if a truly competitive outcome is the sine qua non of sport, wrestling does not qualify. In professional wrestling contests, “the outcome is generally known.” Today’s professional wrestling organizations carefully point out that they provide “sports entertainment” rather than truly competitive contests. Matches are scripted, moves are choreographed, and punches are pulled. As on World Wresting Federation (WWF) official pointed out, their contests are “entertainment no different than when the circus comes to town.” An unnamed wrestling fan expressed a similar view: “I say wrestling is like a good fiction book; it may be fake but it’s very exciting.”
Nonetheless, professional wrestling is not without its dangers; injuries are common, and sometimes the blood is real. A recent example resembles Longstreet;s backcountry fighters all too well. Michael Foley, who at the time wrestled under the name “Cactus Jack,” had his right ear torn off after a botched attempt at performing the “Hangman” maneuver, in which his head and neck were to appear to be entwined in the middle and top ropes of the ring. Foley had successfully performed the maneuver some seventy-five times, but on this attempt the ropes were too taut, and his ear was ripped off as he tried to free himself during the match. Surgeons were unsuccessful in completely reattaching Foley’s severed ear, and he now wrestles with a leather mask under the new name “Mankind.” Despite these occasional injuries, however, truly competitive professional wrestling is as much fiction as Longstreet’s description of the fight.
The lack of competitive outcome should not exclude wrestling from the world of sport. To most who ponder the role of sport in American life, the competitive element of the contest holds the least interest; such concerns are the province of collectors of statistics and play-by-play antiquarians. It is the social and cultural elements in modern spectator sports that draw scholars to study the phenomenon. Modern sport is an entertainment that draws spectators into an emotional involvement with individual sports figures and teams. Spectator sports have become narratives in which conflict is ritualistically reenacted. All modern sport is spectacle, a struggle between good and evil, between one’s “team” and its despised rival.
Taken in this light, professional wrestling’s scripted matches and predetermined outcomes make it no less a sport than any other bona fide sporting endeavor. Professional wrestling’s formal theatrical conventions, or as Barthes put it, the “iconography” of wrestling, make “reading” its symbols a straightforward affair. Like true theater, professional wrestling broadcasts its cultural and symbolic meanings with greater clarity than sports constrained by binding rules and truly competitive outcomes. Moreover, the mutability and elusiveness of wrestlers’ identities, their self-conscious irony, and their willingness to flout, or “transgress,” cultural and moral conventions make the sport especially well-suited to these postmodern times.
PS- Louis M. Kyriakoudes and Peter A. Coclanis are avid wrestling fans (going all the way back to Bruno Sammartino ) who happen to be legit and respected economic, business, Southern, race, and gender historians.
Honestly, I’ve found that one can’t swing a stick within the field of academic history without hitting a wrestling fan.