Not to tromp all the way back to the beginning, but I was just re-reading Barthes for my research paper, and a few things struck me...
What I am really interested in is the use of 'spectacle' to describe that which is in the liminal space between real and fake, sport and drama. “What is thus displayed for the public is the great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice. Wrestling presents man’s suffering with all the amplifications of tragic masks. The wrestler who suffers in a hold which is reputedly cruel (an arm-lock, a twisted leg) offers an excessive portrayal of Suffering… “ (27). The identification as spectacle connects to the Jenkins' view of melodrama; it implies hyperbole, legibility, action. However, what I find interesting in the concept of spectacle and its application in wrestling is that spectatorship is defined as passive; it is the act of looking and therefore explicitly not the act of acting. But in wrestling the symbiotic performative relationship between performers and fans defies the exclusivity of either role.
I was reading Ranciere's "The Emancipated Spectator" this week (it's in the March ArtForum) where he builds on theories of theater and spectatorship posited by Brecht, Artaud, and Debord among others. At the core of the talk is the impassible gap between performer and spectator, the idea that there is reciprocity in the relationship, but never coincidence. Instead of being a proponent of 'activating' the audience through direct engagement or demanding response from them in designing for specifically for collective engagement, Ranciere suggests that: "Spectatorship is not a passivity that must be turned into activity. It is our normal situation...We don't need to turn spectators into actors. We do need to acknowledge that every spectator is already an actor in his own story and that every actor is in turn the spectator of the same kind of story" (Ranciere in March 2007 ArtForum, p.279). Wrestling, as a medium, seems to be a perfect explanation of this proposition; indeed, the fluidity between spectatorship and performance is always in flux. The fans are often acting in the performance, as much as the performers are often acting in reality.
Foucault opens 'Discipline and Punish' with a description of the public application of torture to the body of a criminal. He then writes : "Among so many changes, I will consider one: the disappearance of torture as a public spectacle. Today we are rather inclined to ignore it; perhaps, in its time, it gave rise to too much inflated rhetoric; perhaps it has been attributed too readily to a process of 'humanization', thus dispensing with the need for further analysis" (Discipline and Punish, p.7).
But wrestling is exactly 'torture as a public spectacle." But without the actual torture, mostly. Watching wrestling takes on all the issues of the public torture session, all its lessons of power, justice, vulnerability, and formalizes them in a way that allows for the safe engagement with Ranciere's more fluid, active ideas of spectatorship.