Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reflection on my Early Beliefs

The reading by Workman explores the perceptions of wrestling as either sport or drama. In it he gives generalizations and common beliefs of wrestling fans. He argues that most all wrestling fans perceive wrestling as a mixture of sport and theatre. This made me think of my perception of wrestling. Now, of course I know that wrestling is scripted and outcomes are known months in advance. But as a child, I had a completely different view on wrestling.

Since I started watching wrestling at such a young age, with my first memories being around the age of 4, I thought wrestling to be completely real. I thought that the characters were a reflection of who the wrestlers were in real life. When a wrestler got injured, I completely believed that they had gotten hurt in real life. One example I remember was when the Ultimate Warrior got into a feud with Papa Shango. After one of the Ultimate Warrior's matches, a curse that Papa Shango put on the Ultimate Warrior caused him to vomit violently. Being such a young an impressionable child, it was pretty scary to see the greatest wrestler of all time in one of his lowest moments. Another memory I have is watching the Undertaker place his defeated opponent in a body bag after his matches. Again, I would believe that the Undertaker had killed his opponent or if the opponent was somehow still alive, he would soon suffocate in the body bag.

I don't really remember when I began to characterize wrestling as being "fake". I guess it was a combination of age and common sense. I do remember, however, watching a special on tv that showed some of the tricks and secrets behind wrestling. I thought it was a big deal because I had never seen anyone directly address wrestling in such a manner. This didn't really have an effect on my wrestling beliefs. Knowing that the outcomes were predetermined and the actual wrestling moves were not devastating, I still watched with the same intensity and forget that I knew wrestling was fake.

Looking back on my early beliefs, I see how ridiculous they really were. Luckily, I wasn't traumatized in any way from watching wrestling at such a young age. My early and current beliefs made me realize how special wrestling is. It' amazing how people can just get lost in it and forget all of their common sense. Whether wrestling is characterized as sport or drama, it will always be characterized as unique.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Workman's essay is one of the first to look in-depth at fan beliefs from a qualitative perspective, not focused on gathering statistics from a questionnaire or something of the sort but engaging with various "types" of fans and insiders in in-depth interviews. This piece was just a small portion of his study, but I think it's interesting the range of people he talked to and the various responses he got.

Gorilla Monsoon, who Workman calls one of the smartest and most articulate people he met in his studies of the wrestling business, was talking to him as an official representative of the wrestling industry, so it is no real surprise, during the 1970s, that he took the line he did, trying to "protect" the business and find ways to explain how the various crazy antics were legitimate. Monsoon was part-owner of the WWWF, which explains why he remained an important part of the company as commentator and later as the president of the WWE, until his death in 1999.

But then you get the expose of sorts from the wrestler no longer in the business and various layers of fan responses. And I think Workman's point that wrestling has a variety of meaning to people depending on their positioning of reading the text is important in understanding what makes wrestling what it is. While I think it's true of any phenomenon that the reader has the power to interpret as he or she wishes, in wrestling, the symbols are particularly ambiguous and excessive, leaving even more of the meaning up to the readers. As Workman points out on page eight, there is really no point in wrestling without an audience.

Here's what I mean. Play basketball with friends and it's still a game. Perform a wrestling match with friends and it is training, not an actual match, because there has to be an audience, just like performing a play is rehearsal unless there is an audience watching.

Another key to keep in mind is that Workman's ethnographic work stems directly from the folk studies work of Gutowski, and my understanding is that Workman studied under Gutowski when doing his graduate work, which is where the ethnography comes from. Gutowski's account of the showdown between Baron von Rashke, who we have all seen as part of the AWA documentary and clips ("and that's all you need to know..."), and The Mighty Igor looks, much as Barthes did, at the visual signs and tropes of the wrestling world, in order to understand how wrestling connects with ancient ritual, etc. Workman comes along and adds individual perceptions into the mix, pointing out that while these signs are present, the variety of meanings they can conjure up are limitless.

I think that's what your account points out as well, looking at your perception of wrestling and how it has changed at various points in your life. In that way, one can do a pretty effective self-ethnography as a longtime fan just to try and pinpoint how one's own perceptions of wrestling have shifted in various phases of knowledge of the wrestling world.