Thursday, March 1, 2007

family in pro wrestling

I was first really taken aback by the notion of family in the wrestling world when we saw the little person that Mae and Moolah had sort of adopted in Lipstick and Dynamite. The adoptive, wrestling family was a huge theme in Drawing Heat as well. The relationship of Dave and Robbie is one that seems to be repeated over and over in wrestling-- the promoter/ booker taking in the downtrodden, punky kid and making something of them while also providing them with a sense of family: "He (Robbie) was a pain in the ass. He had been that way ever since the day he came to Dave as a young kid, poor and without a job, and Dave took him in and looked out for him even though he was a bad kid." (101) The relationships the Freedman sets up and develops during Drawing Heat are very much like those of a dysfunctional family-- all the squabbles and the sense of being stuck with eachother, for better or worse.

Freedman, the outsider, is more than an observer, he seems to become part of the dysfunctional family as well, taking a sort of in-law role of being tied in but not quite entangled in the nucleus of the familial structure. In this one-foot-in/ one-foot-out role of writer, he gives us a counterpoint image to the wrestling tour family when he speaks of 'real' family, and especially when he introduces us to the Tolos home: "Their home was authentic, made charming and warm by the undiluted sentimentality of immigrants securing each other's past and future... I told Evangelina how comfortable I felt in a house where there was a close family." (110)

The image of the true family, in a home, connected to past and present, is a relief after the raucous, unsettled description of the wrestling family, where things are more dynamic, more subject to change, more character-reliant. The wrestlers have pasts and futures with eachother, but most of the content of that history and their ties to eachother is character-driven and and least partly fictional all the time. The recurrent blurring of the wrestler and his wrestling persona must plays out not just onthe individual level, but as Freedman describes, also in their interpersonal relationships when out of the ring and the arena.


Sam Ford said...

As I alluded to in class, Kate, we'll see this played with a lot more throughout the semester, both within the wrestling text and outside, particularly in moments when the show breaks down, due to death, etc. The fact that, within the text, these are traveling opponents who nevertheless tour the country together creates an interesting communal/individualistic duality.

So many wrestlers, when telling stories, emphasize that they spend more time with each other than their families at home and discuss wrestling as a family of its own. Often, that breaks down the family at home, whether it be with affairs on the road, affairs back at home, or just a gradual distancing. But this idea of family man who spends much of their time on the road is especially important in an era where people were on the road much more often than they are today. Wrestlers today are given some time home every week, whereas when Vince first launched, people would be on the road months at a time and may barely go back home during that time.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Family is definitely an interesting angle; I can't think of any other metaphor that so aptly describes the Wildman's troupe. It's self-conscious at times, certainly. The fans presumably all have or had families, and it's as good an empathic draw as the human species has got to work with.

It's especially interesting when juxtaposed with the "mafia" structure alluded to by many of the promoters we've heard from this semester. There seem to be two family structures at work: one loose, disorganized and bound by shared goals and experiences, the other corporate, authoritarian and bound by money.

Sam Ford said...

Good point, Peter, and I will reiterate publicly the sentiment that the relationship also almost sounds like that of the porn industry, or the relationship of the pimp or madam and their "girls," somehow nurturing and exploitative at the same time.

katejames said...

I definitely got that 'porn family' feel as well, heartwarming in a way but kind of skeevy and dysfunctional at the same time.
The analogy, though, seems especially apt when looking at the current line-up of female wrestlers-- who all look and dress definitively like playboy models. They might be able to kick your ass, but ultimately they are posited as sex objects. A lot of the men are too. There is an undertone of exploitation to all the muscles and heat. So who's the pimp? The promoter? Vince?

Sam Ford said...

I guess so, in this analogy, anyway.