Friday, February 16, 2007

More on Revenge of Hatpin Mary

I keep coming back to the Dell article. Possibly because, while female wrestlers are mainstream enough for non-fans to be aware of their existence, while female fans, prior to the Vince McMahon era, were rather off my radar.

As noted in the article (and, again, the movie), the postwar period was extremely conflicted in terms of gender roles, since the war necessitated pulling women out of the domestic sphere, and after V-J Day, it seems a rather concerted effort was begun to get them back INTO the household. (On a related thought, it seems the black community faced a similar experience. It's interesting to think of how much social progress ended up being contingent on Pearl Harbor dragging us into a war most Americans had sought to avoid.)

Dell suggests that one of the ways in which women played with this tension was by engaging with wrestling at a participatory level. All right, makes sense so far. Thing is, it seems ALL media have been moving toward increased participation for quite a while, and the behavior associated with women in the article seem commonplace enough among wrestling fans in general now.

We've noted several times in class how unusual it is to see well-dressed and well-behaved audienced at wrestling matches. Could the fans Dell writes about be trendsetters for the fans in general? It's not entirely without precedent--modern fan fiction seems to be almost entirely a female practice in its early, pre-internet days. Is it possible that Hatpin Mary represents not only a change in gender roles and wrestling fan culture, but the beginning of what, in CMS, we are legally obligated to refer to as convergence culture?


Sam Ford said...

Peter, you raise some great points here regarding Chad Dell's work. The book as a whole is worth a look, as he examines women's fan club newsletters, women as represented in the wrestling press, and a variety of other places. But I think your point about the ways in which these women act as a precursor to the way the fandom acts as a whole is key.

By the way, we're going to deal with this issue again week after next when we read and talk about Drawing Heat in class. In that book, anthropologist Jim Freedman writes about local fan Ma Pickles, who becomes a character like Hatpin Mary, the type of phenomenon I've written about before as fans of fans.

I think you are right, though, that this plays an important part in our understanding of "convergence culture." We'll be reading and talking more about the performance of fans themselves throughout the term, but I think Dell's piece illuminates the earliest example of this phenomenon, which was always emphasized more as being among female fans.

Carolina said...

I didn't think about this while reading the Dell article, so I'm glad you brought it up because I do think it's a great point. What I took from the article was the media's fascination with female fans of a pro wrestling product, something which is obviously a sign of the times. Gender roles were seemingly well defined in this era, and even I was surprised by the level of involvement of female fans at the shows. I do seem some logic in the argument that women back then viewed pro wrestling as a way "out" of their everyday lives, because it makes sense within the times, but couldn't the exact same argument be used to day? I think the extreme emotional involvement and attachment of female fans to the characters depicted in wrestling should be attributed more to the performers' abilities to bring the fans into the "show", very much like it is today. And even more interestingly is the fact that I don't think fan involvement today is nearly as extreme as what was written in the article, but the gender lines have definitely become slightly more blurred when it comes to wrestling fans today - as have their respective roles.

Carolina said...

I was going to say more before MIT's Athena cluster kicked me off, so here it is. I really think it's interesting how these actions that were seemingly more associated with female wrestling fans has shifted towards male fans these days. Personally, being a female fan of wrestling myself, I think nowadays we carry the stigma of just being "fan girls", ie. only interested in the product because we happen to find half-naked men attractive. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article because I don't think that stigma has necessarily died over time, but perhaps become more subdued as male fans are probably more involved now - or so goes the perception. In any case, I think this is a good point on your part.