Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Latino Wrestling Performer

In his essay from Steel Chair to The Head, Phillip Serrato discusses the waning integrity of the Latino wrestling performer. Serrato focuses on the idea that since the 60s and 70s the role of the Latino wrestler has become increasingly stereotypical casting him in a particularly negative light. He notes the paradox that surrounds this trend considering that issues of racism have improved significantly over time in the U.S.

As a Latino, I had never really considered the implications of Hispanic wrestler's actions in the ring. After watching Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story, I began to understand Serrato's take on wrestling. Under the WWE, Guerrero had adopted an even more stereotypical character than he had been used in his WCW and ECW past. His "Latin Heat" persona was, as Serrato cites, a "womanizer" and a "cheat" who was not ashamed of doing anything to win a match.

I must admit that at first, I was a little suprised to see deeply Latin Heat fell into a lot of stereotypes surrounding Mexican-American culture. As I studied his antics a bit more, I realized that though his character did play with many stereotypes it was nothing particularly malicious. I wasn't especially offended by what Latin Heat did or said. In Serrato's essay, Guerrero describes the fun he had portraying his wrestling alter ego. He relates how much the character reminded him of some of the people he had grown up with in El Paso and how secure he was with his own culture to poke some fun.

I guess it just depends who's watching when. When is it ok to laugh? When should there be a line drawn to discern farce from the excessive? In this age when comedy and entertainment are pushing the limits it becomes difficult to tell when and if these boundaries are to be defined.

While the WWE does play with a lot of risky issues I believe that it does not go beyond that; it really is simply play. Truly there are some social implications, some consequences of their actions that exist outside the ring and the arena. But I don't belive that there is an intent to purposely reinforce racial stereotypes. As far as McMahon may take his program sometimes, he simply feeds off of what's hot at the moment--anything to draw heat from a crowd.


narwood said...

How do you define "simple play"? Because does it matter if the WWE -intends- to puposely reinforce racial stereotypes, if that reinforcement results? You state that there are social implications and consequences outside the ring: how can this merely be 'play,' which is consequence-less? (Otherwise war (real war) is play, so long as I watch it on the telly. Or one day I'll be able to safely sit ringside...)

You also note that the audience reaction drives the performance. In which case the form of the stereotype itself becomes a manifestation of the audience's understanding of the stereotype, while the parodic form allows theraupeutic exaggeration which hosts cultural anxieties.

In this light, the points at which McMahon imposes his preferred narratives on an unresponsive crowd are interesting as a form of 'cultural imperialism.'

Sam Ford said...

Omar, you ask some powerful questions here, and it reminds me of how I felt when watching Borat as well, among others. Borat does intentionally reinforce stereotypes to a degree, even as it parodies them, and the government of Kazakhstan certainly didn't find it funny.

Tess, you raise some equally compelling issues. First of all, does play come without consequences? And your closing points about McMahon the populist versus McMahon imposing narratives is interesting.

Tomorrow, we will hopefully have a chance to discuss some of the issues raised in the piece on WWE in Japan. Looking at the WWE in an international context raises some intriguing questions about globalism as well, particularly in looking at the WWE as a global brand and how these stereotypes that WWE plays with are taken abroad.

Ismael said...

I don't think that a line will be drawn as long as the WWE is able to get it on tv. As long as people are willing to portray and further stereotypes, Vince will push the limit to what goes on in the show. I'm wondering what Vince would tell Eddie or other Latino wrestlers if they refused to portray the stereotypical characters. Would they be afraid of losing their jobs or getting pushed to the bottom of the WWE? It might even be the case that Latino wrestlers are only able to get noticed or make it to the top if they embrace these stereotypes.

Rob said...

Responding a bit to the question of whether or not it is "okay" to display these sorts of stereotypes...

I'm not sure what the answer to that is. However, I think one of the biggest issues you run into for whichever you're side you're trying to argue on, is that by and large I think that the a lot of the stereotypes portrayed by a character like Eddie Guerrero are exactly the sorts of things that Latinos would actively enjoy watching.

Eddie is clever, charming, strong, fast, a bit arrogant... all desirable qualities for the most part.

So whether or not the effects are positive or negative, it is going to be very hard to convince anyone to stop it when the people being stereotyped is the audience itself, and most of them like it and are willing to pay for it.

Now, does it make it "okay" to portray stereotypes like this even under these circumstances? Is this a case of people not knowing what's best for them and needing it somehow imposed on them? That seems like a tricky line to walk. Or is this a case where the subject of the stereotypes aren't really the only people effected, and thus shouldn't be used as a measure of whether or not it is okay? Or perhaps we can all just agree that these sorts of stereotypes are a-okay?

Sam Ford said...

Chris made some interesting points in regard to yours today in class, Ismael...

You bring up some interesting points about when people actively enjoy what would be considered a "stereotyped" character...Whereas Iranians would be offended by The Iron Sheik, Eddie Guerrero was cheered on by his fans.

The short answer to your questions, it seems to me, is that it's never just simple enough to say something is damaging or not. Life is just too complicated...

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