Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mick Foley and Atticus Finch

One thing that stood out in Sam's article was the mention of Atticus Finch, and the conflicted relationship with violence associated with masculine ideas of justice: "Foley was positioned much as Atticus Finch was in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Foley, like Finch, was a man with a great reputation who only agreed to use his abilities again when there was no other choice, as Finch uses his marksman abilities only when there is no alternative left" (26).

I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird in ages, so I won't dwell on the comparison so much as the idea to which it refers: the reluctant warrior falling back on his skills as a last resort. This is a pretty common trope in American culture: off the top of my head, I could list a litany of action movies that use some variant of it, at least a couple of which star pro wrestlers. I've always felt there was something of a contradiction in the appeal of this idea: we want to watch/read about/play violence, but we want it to be moral violence, a complicated idea we've been kicking around for the last six thousand years or so. We want to see the good guy kill people, but we don't want the good guy to want to kill people.

The simplest theory of moral violence would probably be that violence is moral when it's used to stop other violence, the good ol' lex talionis, and this is the one that seems to pervade our action movies. So all we need, as voyeurs, is someone to initiate the need for that violence--a heel, so to speak. However, an issue I've always had with the retaliation theory is that it defines intentional violence against humans as something that is good only when used to annihilate itself, and that seems philosophically strange to me. But this objection only applies to real-world, lethal violence. The violence in a wrestling match (let's think earlier, "real" wrestling for a moment) has an obvious function in and of itself. In a sport, you don't play offense because the other team has previously done the same to you, you do it because it's part of the game, and the game rules compel you to do so. So the idea that returning to the ring and wrestling would be something inherently sad and shameful--comparable to Atticus falling back on his skills/reputation as a marksman--seems out of place with the actual act of wrestling. It only makes sense in the narrative context that these are real fights, with real moral consequences.

Of course, the issue might not be Foley's return to wrestling so much as his breaking of his promise not to do so, and not being a viewer, I'm not privy to the context on that decision. But in the promos we've seen, Foley always seems to depict wrestling as a brutal, difficult game from which a nobler man might abstain. The reluctant warrior is out of place in a sport, but fits nicely enough in sports entertainment.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

The promise Mick made to retire was somewhat important, primarily because Mick always bragged about being a man of his word, and most pro wrestlers claim they have retired and then return again and again (see Terry Funk, most prominently). Another aspect of Mick's character that moves this into the narrative is the fact that his wrestling style is not traditional athletic wrestling style, either. In fact, he is known as the "hardcore legend," so the idea of some barbaric skill he does not want to unleash makes even more sense in that regard.