Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mazer and the Real

Ah, this is the big one, isn't it? The issue that just won't seem to die, no matter how many times we throttle it: how "real" is pro wrestling?

Mazer doesn't really give us an answer, which we should expect. She doesn't even give us much of her answer, because it turns out reality is kind of fungible. The most interesting part, for me, was her claim that the more fans understand the nature of illusion, the more they want to believe: "The more insistent fans become in their exposes of wrestling's fakery, the more they look to experience the real. As they expose the con-artistry of the game, they revel in it and, on some level, seek to be conned, at least momentarily" (82). This behavior is, like most of the fan behaviors we've studied, not limited to wrestling. Skepticism, practiced insistently, has a way of making its absence seem attractive. In my experience, one sees this behavior most often when the paranormal is involved. People know to be suspicious, but being so suspicious whets their appetite for something they can't be suspicious of. It could be argued that the same phenomenon exists among people who actively follow politics: it's perhaps not an accident that some fans play with converging the two (75).

Before I go completely solipsistic on that point, I think Mazer suggests a theory for the thematic meaning of wrestling slightly more plausible than the "two capitalisms" idea we've been kicking around: by being fake and appearing real, wrestling implicitly suggests that anything else might be similarly, for lack of a better term, fake (75). This, I think, might do a better job at explaining the backlash against wrestling better than the sex and violence itself: simulation has a way of making the simulated look like the simulation. It's essentially what the media effects people have been arguing from day one, they just got the causality wrong, and underestimated its scope. Wrestling fans seem to have quite a grasp on vernacular theory, and while we consider those who openly profess the world around them to be fiction to be paranoid, we tend to forget that many religious, scientific and academic worldviews begin with an unstated assumption that reality is fundamentally hidden from us, and must be diligently sought out if it is to be known.


Sam Ford said...

Peter, you make some great points here in response to Sharon's essay, and I hope you raise some of them with her in the discussion Wednesday. I think your connection to world views in which truth must be discovered from a world that is essentially not "true" is an intriguing way to look at wrestling, especially when many scholars look at wrestling as a religious text within itself...

david everard said...

My only problem with Mazer is that she never gives an operational definition of the term 'legitimate theatre' in her dismissal of wrestling as theatre.

Other than that, her book, flawed as it is (and this is due to the wrestler's refusal to give her much, if any, respect), is very good and her discussion on 'equal turns on top' is excellent!

As a side note: do you think her article should have been titled "The Dog EAT Dog World of Professional Wrestling" instead of the "Doggie-Doggie World of Professional Wrestling, or is it just me?

See you Tuesday!


Luis Tenorio said...

This is the same point we have been discussing all semester and yet this essay seems to bring up questions as to how this fake world and its purpose is viewed. I certainly think that like any other for of suspenseful entertainment, you cannot immerse yourself in it if you do not suspend your disbelief for an hour or two, otherwise you ruin the experience, for yourself and other around you. Like movies or theater, fans of wrestling are looking for the character that feels most real, that can make them feel angry or surprised or glad that someone got beat in the head with a chair.