Monday, March 12, 2007

body types

In the Campbell text, Professional Wrestling: Why the Bad Guy Wins, I was pleased to see a discussion of physicality/ body type in reference to the good-evil paradigm in wrestling. 'In wrestling today, the bodies of the most popular villians are usually of such an extreme nature that they even make the atypical physiques of professional football and basketball players look normal by comparison. The bodies of professional wrestlers are excessively beautiful and muscular or they can be extraordinarily large and obese or grotesque.' (127) What is interesting about this observation in relation to the heel and babyface is that there's no assertion of a consistent alignment of good with a beautiful physique or bad with a grotesque one. As we've seen, there have been plenty of good guys with less-than-athletic builds, and plenty of heels that are really chiseled and agile. It's more on a character-by-character basis, and the physicality supports the specific character.

Of course, there are physical catagories or types that get repeated: the wrestler so beautiful that he is enamoured with himself (the Gorgeouses), the giant who must be evil simply because he's so seemingly undefeatable, etc. As Campbell says, 'Wrestling is an extreme form of television, like mtv, which uses a visual style characterized by an insistence on the importance of the signifier, physical sensations, the surface and the body.' (127) So the physicality is an important signifier for the audience to read, both in the arena and on television, both in terms of body type and physicality/ style of action. Is there an 'evil' way of moving and being physically present is the ring, or is the reading of the physicality more of an associative game (that move is particularly sneaky or has a history attached to it) of signifiers?

When we were watching the Hulk Hogan footage last wednesday, I was struck by how much he reenacts a tightly choreographed physical routine. Hulk had an amazing ability to physically deflate and resurrect himself over the course of the match. The culmination was the aftermath 'puffing' show, where his strength and corporeal perfection is projected out to the audience in a repetitive physical ritual. Does it read as 'good' physicality? I guess so, you've got to have faith in a guy that shows you his 24 inch bicep with such fervour...

5 comments:

Sam Ford said...

Kate, you make some great points as far as how the wrestling body is an important part of the text. Roland Barthes talked about the physicality of the wrestlers and how it mattered in this "spectacle of excess," by looking at the flabby heel and how his grotesque figure plays into his character.

But you are quite right--phsyical types may shape the characters, work with the persona, but it doesn't automatically designate whether they will be face or heel. Andre the Giant was a face, yet many other giants were almost always heel.

Nevertheless, the importnace of the body in the wrestling text cannot be understated and explains why there are always concerns of drugs to enhance physiques, etc., since the body is one of the most important resources the wrestler has.

Ismael said...

It seems like wrestlers' bodies add interest to the wrestler. Most of the time their physique is on display. There seems to be a tendency for a wrestler to change his body as he becomes more popular or as a means of becoming more popular. One example I can think of is Scott Steiner. While he was teamed up with his brother Rick Steiner, he was well-built and they became one of the most popular tag teams. When he came back as a solo wrestler, he adopted a freakishly large body that was an obvious result of steroids. Nevertheless, he gained fan interest with his sheer size. He became quite a spectacle, referring to himself as a genetic freak. His grotesquely large body became his character and profited off of it.

Sam Ford said...

Ismael, Scott Steiner is definitely a good example. I have never paid as much attention as some has to the body aesthetic of wrestling, although it is inevitably part of the spectacle. I have friends, though, partially because they are bodybuilder types, who notice minute changes in people's look from month-to-month, etc. In a way, then, body is pretty important to every wrestler, but you are right that there are certain guys who build their whole character around it, Scott Steiner being one of them.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

I remember watching Killer Kowalski earlier in the semester, and thinking that the way he walked was scarier than any of the violence he was purporting to perform. Something in his gait, and the way he craned his head down at opponents...he looked the way I always imagined Frankenstein's monster would.

I'm sure mankind has developed a pretty rigorous series of archetypes over the years that signify good and evil at a bodily level, beyond pretty/scary. It's certainly hard to imagine a better test case for the relevance of ancient archetypes than pro wrestling.

Deirdre said...

Given that wrestling in and of itself tells a story through physicality, naturally the body and physical presence of wrestlers plays a big part. It's just the way it's used that can be so intruiging, such as Andre being the face instead of the usual giant heel, or Steiner building a persona basically on his physique alone (see also Chris 'The Masterpiece' Masters, who has a similar gimmick). Wrestlers can use their bodies and change them to help develop their characters, or completely change directions even in spite of a perhaps limiting shape or size (eg Viscera, who went from an almost demonic blob monster to a Love Machine).