Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Picking Apart Sources

I was excited about showing Wrestling with Manhood for two reasons: first, it raises some good questions about politics and gender roles that we cannot ignore in a class on pro wrestling; and, second, it provided a stark reminder to question academic methodology.

Mick Foley said in the epilogue to his book that we read earlier this semester that he was amazed no journalists questioned the Indiana University study. Does that mean that we shouldn't discuss violence on television? No. But a nuanced discussion is needed. Similarly, I'm amazed by how little academics question videos like Wrestling with Manhood. I wanted to show it here in a setting where a lot of wrestling fans were in the room where, even if you must agree that some of the issues they raise need to be discussed in relation to wrestling, that the way that documentary was put together does not hold water anyone who actually knows the text.

Of course wrestling "fans" are going to be defensive of their show and their choice of watching it, but this was a case where the documentary-making tactics were unfair and untrue. And they rest on a media effects research that our department has problems with, anyway. As a journalist, one of the reasons I enjoy this text so much is that it's a reminder how "truthy" these texts can seem if you don't know the product, yet how ridiculous they are for anyone who knows the product at all. Many of you all have not watched pro wrestling outside this class, and you all were finding all kinds of holes in the argument as it went along.

Still, I know several of you are doing research that deals with race and gender in wrestling, and I think the piece raises some interesting points that we should continue talking about throughout the rest of the semester. Just remember, don't believe everything you hear and see. That's very true of anything that comes from the pro wrestling world, but it's even more true of academia.

By the way, I promised you some links to the story about WWE being associated with date violence. I wrote a blog entry about this, and Henry wrote a followup. Mike Wehrman also wrote about this. Check out these links:

Mike's editorial is here.

My editorial is here.

Henry's editorial is here.


Steviehunter said...

I was a Graduate student at Columbia University writing about wrestling (hardcore US independent wrestling like ECW, but much more violent, like Japanese Hardcore Wrestling). I have since graduated and gone on to have a job in the wrestling industry for the past 10 years. I am a woman. I love my industry, and am passionate about what I do and that came through in my writing about it. At Columbia, I was constantly told that I should be appalled by the behavior of the performers and promoters both behind the scenes and onscreen. (I wrote about my backstage experiences as well as what was happening onscreen.)

I think that wrestling is a microcosm of the world in the sense that people in my industry act out what other people in more "polite" or politically correct parts of society might just THINK. Women are still seen as inferior or objectifiable in society, but wrestling is unabashedly honest about it, where in other parts of society, this feeling is hidden.

It's hard to be a woman in wrestling, but it can also be very rewarding. Women in wrestling, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera face sexism and extreme sexual harassment and sometimes violence. BUT, in my experience, if you earn the respect of the workers and others in the business, you can go on to have a successful and fun career. I've had great experiences, because I've worked very hard to debunk the stereotypes of women in the industry. If a woman is willing to keep her mind and her eyes and ears open and her mouth and legs shut at the beginning of her career, most of the time she will experience success.

Sometimes women are margainalized because it's the men booking the show (it has certainly been this way at TNA--Jeff Jarrett, long considered one of the classiest men in the industry, makes no mistake about how he feels about women in wrestling), sometimes women are booked badly because they have acted inappropriately behind the scenes and it is their punishment. It's not unlike a misbehaving Randy Orton losing a title shot.

I make these comments as it was notated in the above blog that some of you are doing projects about gender in wrestling, and i wanted to put my 2cents in.

Sam Ford said...

Steviehunter, thanks for stopping by and telling us a little bit about your history in the world of wrestling. Some of the students are indeed dealing with gender issues in their work, and I appreciate your willingness to share some of your own insights and stories. Feel free to stick around and join us in future conversations!

katejames said...

It's great to hear from a woman wrestler. I'm especially interested in the idea that the same difficulties with sexism appear both on- and off-stage in the industry. This seems to me to be a really important distinction... As we've seen throughout the class, wrestling is always in a blurry state between real and fake, and wrestling characters are usually referred to as hyperbolic versions of themselves. So, we might assume that a lot of the in-ring attitudes show up in some mediated, toned-down form backstage and in the industry dealings. But in order for wrestling to be successful in provocatively performing (rather than enacting) injustice, there must be some distinction between the scripted attitudes of the stage and the reality of the industry offstage. Otherwise, the critical distance on all the provocations is closed, and the performative frame begins to dissapate. In which case some of the 'Wrestling with Manhood' concerns about these values being reflected back in societal norms might be more legitimate.

Anyway, glad to hear there are efforts to counter the marginalization and sexism that exists in the industry; though I wouldn't want that sexism to stop being an in-ring topic, a distancing from these archaic views certainly seems appropriate in the industry workings.