My name is Michael Wehrman. I'm a Ph.D. Candidate in sociology at the University of Cincinnati. My only foray into pro wrestling as a scholar is a working paper that I'll be presenting at the joint North Central Sociological Association/Midwest Sociological Society conference in April. Briefly, I examine the frequency of early deaths among pro wrestlers, and try to compare that to ages at death in the past, as well as early deaths of other professional athletes.
My academic interests lie in criminology and corrections, social inequality and social psychology; however, that's likely to be the last you'll hear of that this term. I hope to provide a sociological perspective to the readings and thoughts on the topics of discussion.
Although my academic interests lie elsewhere, I have remained a huge fan of professional wrestling for most of my life. I've long argued that, unlike the more popular book on soccer by Franklin Foer, it is truly pro wrestling that can explain the world. At any rate, I'll do my best to subdue the fan enough that I can contribute to the discourse in this class.
Now, with regard to the readings from yesterday, historical accounts of wrestling always strike me in a peculiar way. Because of the progression with which carnival strongman contests became "sports entertainment," it's hard to tell where the dividing line is when wrestling became "fake." There are a number of reasons for this, including the believability of the characters, the attitudes they conveyed in and out of the ring, the cultural resonance their hometown region or ethnic ancestry helped them bond with or run up against the fans, and so forth. Ultimately, I think that we'll never find a single moment when wrestling became a work - whether it's Lewis v Stecher or something prior to that. But the important thing to keep in mind are the deep performances of the wrestlers - at no point were these wrestlers "out of character." It was a vastly different business then, but as the Kerrick lingo shows, wrestlers are in the business of "selling" you the match, which involves everything from the persons involved to the premise to the buildup to the match(es).
While I'm not ready to make a giant leap 90 years to today and claim that "wrestling was better then because the wrestlers were more believable," I will claim that those wrestlers who are successful today are those who tend to exhibit characters who are (1) multilayered and (2) "worn" 24/7. No different than the grapplers of the past, the most popular guys, loved or hated, are those who the fans "buy" as legitimate characters - Steve Austin, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, The Undertaker, and so forth. Yes, even the Undertaker (proving that one does not have to have an "average joe" name and no facepaint/mask/lavish garb to be perceived as legitimate. Although looking back on wrestling of the past (heck, even 11 years ago), we find a remarkably different product, except in its construction. Let us keep in mind that as much as the presentation of the product changes, it's ultimately the same now as it was 90 years ago at its very core.