Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cultural Models, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Gorgeous George

Something I was wondering, watching the George fight last night...a few of the major tropes seemed to be a) an overly effeminate vanity, b) a reluctance to lock up or otherwise engage in "honest" wrestling, c) a savage anger after he's been hit. The result is most unscientific in terms of wrestling, someone who either avoids violence or engages in it overly emotionally.

I've seen these tropes elsewhere in popular culture, and I'm sure you all have as well. Every step plays into audience response. The vanity is associated with pride, smugness, wealth, etc., all elements that help build an effective villain (though I wonder to what extend the effeminacy was, at the time, associated with homosexuality). The reluctance to get in the trenches and wrestle like a commoner exacerbates this, while also implying a kind of cowardice underlying the superiority complex--the Dell article touched on this. The angry, emotional response to a successful hit is the payoff, when the bad guy's cool, prideful exterior breaks and the cool, tactical hero makes a fool out of him by reducing him to a an angry animal. It's a great bit, and all the pieces fit together nicely.

What I'm wondering is the effeminacy that sets up the first part of the equation. Specifically, do any of the female wrestlers follow this model? Female wrestlers are already in a largely uncoded space in terms of gender, and I'm not sure vanity has the same degree of negative associations when applied to a sex that is often stereotypically assumed to be vain by default. On a larger scale, it might be a contradiction in terms to describe a woman as "effeminate." Then again, it might be entirely appropriate for a female wrestler.

In short, I have no clue. What do you guys think?


Alex Maki said...

I think Gorgeous George is one of the greatest characters in wrestling history. I think Sunny did a good job showing her "George-esque" effeminity.

Brian "Louxchador" Loux said...

>>On a larger scale, it might be a contradiction in terms to describe a woman as "effeminate." Then again, it might be entirely appropriate for a female wrestler.

I may have to defer to Sam on this one for a history, but you're absolutely spot about describing women's wrestlers as a mixed bag. Just going through the names they've been given - Divas, Vixens, Nitro Girls - points to a validation that they are above all effeminate, beautiful, not to mention sexual. Yet today most are expected to do some modest amount of grappling. In the high times of the Women's division, you had storylines and matches that were (for my money) on par with the men's division. I point to Victoria, Lita, Mickie James, and Trish Stratus. Both babyface and heel were still effeminate and sexual. Heels instead took on characters such as violent psychopaths, sluts, and double-crossers. So to some extent, there is a tinge of anti-feminism in their depiction.

The most interesting case has to be Chyna of the WWF days. The woman was an enormous bodybuilder, but hardly a pretty sight by any standards. The thing is she could manhandle a lot of the guys, and she was running with DX, the top stable of guys at the time. Still, not a lot of fans really accepted her role, and wrestlers, too. She would actually go on to win a male title belt, but allegedly not before the original title holder agreed to a payout to lose clean to a woman. The move didn't seem to do much to get her over with the fans. Fast forwarding a year or two, she gets extensive plastic surgery, appears in Playboy (of all ironies, touting a new era in women's beauty and independence), serves a love interest for Eddie Guerrero, becomes a much more typical female wrestler, and is adored by the crowd.
I was actually one of her staunch defenders until she made a complete ass of herself on all those VH1 shows.

Sam Ford said...

Peter, a very valid question, and I wonder if today's viewing may have given you some extra insight on your own question. There seem to be a lot of tropes for women's wrestlers in the modern era, but one has to think about how they were positioned on the card in the era we were just watching.

There was no need for developed characters for these women. While the men may have all wrestled regularly on TV or at least regularly in a territory so that the fans got to know them and follow their exploits on a weekly basis, the women were in a different position. They came into the territory as a special attraction, only on rare occasions, so they did a lot more traveling from territory to territory than the men did. In that case, the women had to immediately fill stereotypical roles.

in one way, it seems that the idea was often the too-rough female against the good-looking but naive face. This is not all that different than the set-up the men often used, from Jim Londos' "beauty versus the beast" act to the many matches where an ugly veteran pummels the "All-American boy."

In that case, I don't think the women were given as much room to develop the act quite like George did, in that he became such a massively known character that he could be a little bit more nuanced, but I do think there is the idea of the vain woman, too obsessed with her looks, in wrestling, as compared to the more wholesome face. We'll read Henry's essay about this a little more, but it's the difference betwen the "girl next door" and the "woman of the street," the lady and the whore.

As for George, his act does come together so well, and I think that you are right to question whether his effeminate act brought about questions of homosexuality. The idea of homosexuality and feminine actions may seem to be a modern logical marriage, but George seemed to anger people more for the vanity, the arrogance, and--above all--the hypocricy. He was so nasty in the ring, yet tried to pretend he was so dignified. He complained about the very rules he was breaking, accusing his opponent of doing exactly what he was doing.

I think Jares' piece is excellent in describing the cultural fascination with George Wagner. Do I know if people really were paid $250 a week to write jokes of him, or if at least seven songs were written about him? Not quite sure, but the point is not far off.

P.S.: As for the Gorgeous George Turkey Ranch...well...I really don't know what to say. I think Jares tells the tragedy of George's fate, dying broke so soon after his major fame, that it just adds to the legend of perhaps both one of the most well-known and also one of the least understood performers in wrestling history. While the history books may emphasize the wrestlers of the era who held the main titles on a more regular basis, George captured the public imagination like few others.