Thursday, April 5, 2007

core [values] ?

I was thinking more about the discussion we had last night about the possible reading of any consistent system of core values throughout the history of professional wrestling, given the ever-shifting representatation of religion, politics, ethics, gender roles, etc. While it makes perfect sense that takes on these issues and their representation to the public would shift over time with the correlary shifts of cultural norms, several things make the historical value system of wrestling a little more strange--
-the incredible saturation of these profound issues in the entertainment medium,
-the extremity of the viewpoints expressed,
-the extreme mutability of these viewpoints,
-the seeming lack of concern for the appropriateness of their political, religious, and ethnic representations to the demographic of their audience. (Vince vs. God still completely confuses me, but I guess by now I should understand that wrestling fans do like to be outraged),
-the intertwining of the corporation and the entertainment product (as we discussed yesterday with Bryce in reference to the Apologia thesis)
-the contemporary presence of one man, Vince, as the point of origin and blame for all of these complicated, dynamic positions.

As I was trying to nail down what I see as wrestling's core values in this really complicated scene, I kept coming back to the idea of stance/ adament positioning as the consistent value. It is a well-constructed theater of 'crying wolf' in a way; because there is such constant outrage, and because of all the blurring between entertainment and reality and sport, nothing is taken as more than performatively offensive. There is outrage and offense, but it is somehow buffered by an inability to read that offensive act, portrayal, or statement as a really important, overarching value of wrestling, because it's likely to be reversed next week.

So, I would say that the exact core values of wrestling are it's lack thereof; or rather, its presentation of a rhizomatic map of extreme values, the response to which makes up a significant part of the drama in the wrestling industry.


BMN said...

"its presentation of a rhizomatic map of *extreme* values, the response to which makes up a significant part of the drama in the wrestling industry."

This may be the most successful description of wrestling's core values I think we can approximate. Whatever wrestling presents, it *usually* never succeeds in presenting it subtly (the exceptions, like Nick Bockwinkel, are rare). Everything is over-the-top. Perhaps, more specifically, everything that SUCCEEDS is over-the-top.

I'm not sure that's the core value of the art of wrestling, per se, but definitely the business. When one observes the more "smart" mat-wrestling "geeks" or what not, they perhaps care more about the subtle nuances of a match or character. But the mass audience responds to wrestling's over-the-topness. It's not as important to come up with a move that logically persuades you that it is devastating (i.e. a front facelock) but rather the one that produces the crowd reaction that, in the world wrestling builds for itself, signifies devastation (i.e. "the People's Elbow").

I'm not sure how I segwayed from the "core value" ideal to the "people's elbow" but there you go.....

Sam Ford said...

Kate, I think your point goes back to Henry Jenkins' when he talked about wrestling being a space that people would pay money to see someone burn a flag, the very audience that would want to ban flag burning. Wrestling is a liminal space between reality and fantasy, and I think that the inappropriateness of it all does have a key place in people's enjoyment, even if that sometimes gets taken too far.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

I like the idea of the "core value" being valuelessness, as I'm not sure the "core" of pro wrestling is necessarily tied to any particular value. Rather, I see the constant as being violence itself. All the rhetoric about good vs. evil, which is clearly a problematic assumption, seems to stem from confusion about how we, as a culture, have been dramatizing good vs. evil for the last few thousand years, through physical violence.

In Paradise Lost, Raphael describes what our pop culture would later refer to as the War in Heaven, and tells Adam flat out that he's being largely metaphorical. But, really, how else are we going to grasp something like angels fighting angels? Adam doesn't even have a keen grasp of what angels ARE, let alone how they might resolve political differences. So Raphael gives him a story that sounds very much like a good old-fashioned war story, complete with the invention of gunpowder on the second day.

If it's really not about the violence, but what the violence represents, then it should be no surprise that it's hard to pin down what it's about, because violence can represent almost anything. All you have to do is make a protagonist and an antagonist that represent a binary, and then have them beat the crap out of each other.

katejames said...

Peter, I do think that violence certainly qualifies as a constant in wrestling. Violence is at the center of the history of sport in general, the sports arena being a place for a 'controlled' version of the violence which is considered inevitable in human nature. "Freud decided that mankind was cursed with an inherent aggressive drive, a 'death instinct,' which when turned inward led him to destroy himself and when turned outward drove him to destroy others" (Atyeo, 'Blood, Guts, Violence in Sports", 359). Lorenz theorized that violence in sport allowed a cartharsis that discharged this pent-up aggression. "The only hope for mankind lay in redirecting this dammed-up aggression into acceptable outlets," posited Lorenz. (Atyeo, 363).

There is extreme violence that occurs within the sanctions of organized sport seemingly validated by its value in releasing the need for real violence. Of course, it helps to release this tension in the comfortable, legible binary of good vs. evil. In Blood, Guts, & Violence in Sport, Atyeo quotes Gorgeous George (Dr. George Wagner): "This cartharsis, he reasoned, would best be achieved if the contest was between a recognizable 'good guy' and an equally recognizable, rule-breaking 'bad guy'-- the classic struggle of good vs. evil" (363).

One last note-- It's interesting that Rob identified masculinity as a core value in class; what does it mean about masculinity (here I don't exclude women's expression of or engagement with masculinity) that it partners with violence in the spectacle of sport entertainment?

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

"One last note-- It's interesting that Rob identified masculinity as a core value in class; what does it mean about masculinity (here I don't exclude women's expression of or engagement with masculinity) that it partners with violence in the spectacle of sport entertainment?"

...and here's where it gets complicated. I think any one of us could come up with several answers to this question, any of which would be about as convincing as any other. My first thought would be a variant of that which I shared in class--that it means nothing more than that we've coded violence to be masculine, for what probably seem like good reasons intuitively, but break down on closer inspection.

Empirically, men are more violent than women if we define violence in a certain way, and demographic data suggests that they're also more interested in viewing, reading, hearing about or playing fictional depictions of violence. The biological determinists will point to testosteroneas being associated with aggression and violence, as well as the means (physical and mental) to enact that violence. So that puts us with men:violent, women:less violent (by default). But testosterone also factors into sexuality, doesn't it? And there are certainly no shortage of people who've defined the terms as men:sexual, women:sensual, or women:emotional, or any other variant of women:less sexual (again, by default). There is no attribute that can't be attributed to masculinity, defining femininity as being its absence or opposite in the process, and I'm not sure where to go with the masculinity/violence issue precisely because it's so easy to collapse into a theoretical black hole.

Sam Ford said...

Peter, as you mention, our tying in of societal signifiers with biological "fact" to try and explain gender has always been fascinating, and this plays into our discussion of pro wrestling texts without a doubt.

Pro wrestling is always teasing out another binary as well, that of violence versus competitiveness. Consider the "brawling" style that we've seen so many times, juxtaposed with the athletic competition style. There's the Mexican cruiserweights, on the one hand, and Mick Foley on the other, who says, "I could never fly, but I could climb up to high places and fall off." I've always been interested in that athletic expression of aggression versus the blatant bloody fistfight or "brawl" style match that the Steve Austins of the world were famous for.

Perhaps ECW displays this bifurcation better than any other, known simultaneously for having some of the greatest wrestling matches of its era along with the bloodiest brawls.