Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sewell and Battema: Trading in Masculinity

As we discussed masculinity and market discourse with Gregory Spicer and Fiona McQuarrie last Thursday, I know we made a couple of references to the essay by Sewell and Battema but didn't get deep into that discussion. I thought it would be good to return to that essay here on the blog.

Fiona's work focuses particularly on pro wrestling in a business sense, while Gregory Spicer focueses on blue-collar masculinity. Sewell and Battema point out that wrestling, in many ways, can "have its cake or eat it, too." It's built on stereotypes, sexism, and a variety of other troubling aspects of our culture, yet it parodies them at the same time. It leaves a big question mark that it never definitively describes. It revels in some of the worst prejudices of our culture, and simultaneously makes them so excessive as to mock them. What does that mean? Is it reactionary or progressive? There's no easy answer to that question. One thing is for sure--the right and the left both have reason to hate the WWE version of pro wrestling, and WWE has rhetorical ways to lash out at both of them, and to embrace both of them at times.

WWE's relationship with the right is particularly interesting. Wrestling, Sut Jhally says, acts like it's cutting-edge but pushes the same old stereotypes in new packaging. Hard to disagree with, to an extent, but wrestling also acts as parody. Kate had the point that, even if women get revenge in the end, their degredation is sometimes the most memorable part of the show. Very true. Then you have Vince challenging God. Some people would defend that from a Christian perspective by pointing out that Vince eventually got his come-uppance. On the other hand, just as Kate is arguing, what people remember is Vince's mocking God. Again, anti-Christian rhetoric or a Christian narrative, where the blasphemer gets his at the end? Can't be be both?

Battema and Sewell write, "Resulting from this convergence was a slippery set of texts with characters and narrative trajectories that resisted definitive articulation and provided a rhetorical shield against critics, while providing viewers a privileged position as idealized consumers from which they could choose either to take the text as is or to unveil its various conceits" (261-262). I think this sums up the point well. WWE has created a situation, much like the carnival did referring back to Bruce Hardy's research, where it is both utilizing stereotypes and parodying them at the same time. Calling the WWE progressive sounds ludicrous, but calling them conservative does, too. We'll get into this more on Thursday, but I wanted to see if you all had further reactions to this.

Do you all have any reactions to Battema and Sewell's essay and partiuclarly their discussions of racial stereotypes, sexism, and masculinity, many of the issues we discussed last night? I'm interested in how they tie what they see as WWE's neoconservatism to market populism, and I think it makes an interesting pull between Gregory and Fiona's presentations last Thursday and Wrestling with Manhood. While I am troubled by calling WWE definitively neoconservative, as they do, I think the nuance they give the issue--pointing out that wrestling gives two types of reading: straight and parodic--at least sets it above Wrestling with Manhood.

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