Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Wrestling with Divas

Another issue that Wrestling with Manhood raised for me (apart from, as we discussed in class, the ethical questionability of the entire film) was how women are treated in wrestling. I'm particularly bothered by the direction that WWE has taken in the past few years around de-emphasizing women as wrestlers and presenting them more as generic Barbie-ish eye candy. Along these lines, I may somewhat be agreeing with Sut Jhally (horrors!) but as Sam mentioned some of his basic points are good even if he doesn't really prove them convincingly or draws conclusions about them that are far too wide ranging based on the available information.

WWE's recent strategy regarding women competitors really puzzles me for two reasons. One is that wrestling audiences have always seemed to respond really well to women who can actually wrestle. I don't get the sense that fans are clamoring to see women in the ring who are incompetent wrestlers but look good in a bikini. In fact, my impression that things like the WWE Diva Search are treated with disinterest at best by wrestling fans, since the purpose is not to find women who are wrestlers but women who are simply there for decoration (if I recall correctly, the open call for the most recent WWE Diva Search specifically stated that wrestling experience was not necessary). The other is that given the, uh, very easily accessible alternatives (e.g. porn on the Internet), I am not sure why WWE thinks that having skimpily clad non-wrestling women on its shows will make those shows more appealing or interesting, or make people more likely to buy or watch them. If a 13-year-old kid with raging hormones has the choice of looking at a partially clad Diva on a WWE show or PPV, or seeing a whole lot more of women on the Internet for free, it seems pretty obvious which will be the choice.

Some of my male wrestling fan friends observe that the "look" of the divas - the quasi-porn-star look, with silicone-enhanced chests and bleached blond hair - is too generic and that the divas would be more interesting to them not only if they could actually wrestle (or if the ones who can wrestle were allowed to do so, rather than having to tone things down to work with the non-wrestlers in matches), but also if there were more "types" and they looked more like real women. Do others agree?

12 comments:

Deirdre said...

Your viewpoint is pretty much what I've held all along. Really, I don't mind scantily clad women with bleached hair and enhanced features (hey wait, those are the men too!) as long as they can actually wrestle. That's why I watch a wrestling show, for the in ring action. A certain amount of T&A is acceptible and understandably appealing, but focusing too much on it diminishes the impact overall, and fans can even become desensitized after seeing so much flesh and one too many racy gimmick matches.

I certainly became hooked in part because of the strong and talented women's division at the time, including Lita, Trish, Ivory, etc. Having solid female wrestlers probably attracts the female fan base as well, and I think it is more beneficial to reach broader demographics than just targeting to the same core repeatedly with the T&A-laden content. I hope WWE starts moving away from the Playboy Divas and focuses more energy on their already talented women, including Melina, Victoria and others who have the promise to rebuild the women's division back to a respectable, athletic demonstration of talent, instead of a tittilating peep show.

Sam Ford said...

I am with both of you on this one. Divas only have attraction at gaining casual viewers flipping channels. No one is going to buy a PPV for a diva talent contest or bikini contest, but people might flip by and watch. WWE does not get revenue any longer from commercials, though, and just get a flat fee from the network, so their show should primarily be viewed as a driver for PPV buys, merch sales, and house show tickets. Divas aren't going to sell those.

I agree completely about different body types and personalities. I can't tell most of the divas apart, so I just fast-forward through most of their stuff. The women's division earlier this decade, when Fit Finlay was in charge of the division, was so much stronger because Jazz wasn't like Lita and Lita wasn't like Trish and Trish wasn't like Gail Kim and on and on.

I don't mind non-wrestling females if they are in strong managerial positions, either, but my biggest problem of all has to do with the raison d'etre these women are there. I used to complain about Torrie Wilson all the time. Why is she hanging around backstage? She's not a wrestler. She's not a manager. She at the time had no relationship with anyone on the show. Is she a groupie? There was no logical reason why she would be at the show. At least now she's Carlito's girlfriend, but that's a pretty poorly scripted relationship as well at this point. The wrestling fans DON'T care, and WWE no longer gets any benefit from a quarter-hour spike in the ratings, so there's no logical reason for throwing those women out there in Diva Seraches and the like...

katejames said...

I'm definitely on board with the call for different body types. I don't mind the presence of an overblown hooker lookalike who has no wrestling skills. That's a great character- we can get decide whether to lust after her or resent her lack of skill. I don't mind the ho-train either; it can make us think about subjugation and the economies of women's bodies. But it only makes us think in those terms if there are other female characters as well, the kick-butt wrestling character that form the strong base of the male cast.
As soon as every female character is the same, there's no reference point anymore, and the image is presented as an archetype instead of a parody. And then it does become negative and out of place in the wrestling entertainment industry.

Sam Ford said...

Exactly, Kate. Wrestling narratives are just far more interesting with visual variety, and wrestlers can help develop their characters through different looks and characters. That's the problem with females in the WWE right now. There's very little in many of their personalities or looks to distinguish one from the other, so it just leads you not to care that much about any of them.

It all goes back to purpose, and talent...Even if you want women to be attractive to be on the show, there's many types of attractiveness, so having every woman have the "same look" isn't even advantageous in that regard.

Anonymous said...

Steviehunter here again:

Unfortunately, you're dealing in WWE with a man (Vince) who only perceives one type of woman as attractive and good. Notice that Victoria, who is a dark haired, brown-eyed woman, is portrayed as crazy, and Melina, a Latina, is a shrew.

TNA has a more diverse group of women, and they are all great wrestlers.

Wrestling is unique for women in the sense that type-casting is very common. For instance, I am in the business, and I wear glasses, so I am often cast as the Commissioner or an Agent--businesswoman roles. My friend who is a Latina is ALWAYS a heel.
Some promoters think that I am beautiful (I am very petite, with small features, and breasts, to be frank!). For others, I don't fit the ideal of what they think a woman in wrestling should be and they won't use me.

Unfortunately, wrestling fans are at the mercy of the tastes of the bookers and the owners of the feds. That will be hard to change.

Sam Ford said...

Steviehunter, I don't know if I agree that TNA's women's wrestling situation is that much better than WWE's, but there is definitely a big letdown from a few years ago when Dave Finlay was running the WWE women's division and there were actually about eight women actively wrestling. But they just changed their minds on that...Are you familiar with Sheldon Goldberg's women's wrestling league here? He is coming to talk to the class about it next Moday.

Anonymous said...

Sam,
I know Sheldon, yes. He is an institution in the business.

I think TNA's women are a step up as far as both diversity and wrestling ability. Jackie moore is a great worker, as is Gail and Traci. They're doing well with the TV time they're given.

Steviehunter

Sam Ford said...

That was supposed to be Monday, by the way, as I don't know quite when "Moday" is. :) I agree that Jackie Moore is talented, and I think Gail Kim and Traci are also both quite good. I have seen Traci live on some shows I participated in and can attest to her performing abilities firsthand.

I just think that TNA is missing the boat a little bit, as one way they could really do something that WWE has missed the boat on is go all out with a women's division, and there are plenty more talented women out there who could be brought in...

Anonymous said...

You have to remember with TNA that they don't have unlimited capital to play with. That could be what deters them from bringing in more women. That, and Jeff Jarrett's attitude towards women in wrestling in general....

---Steviehunter

Sam Ford said...

You are right that the unlimited capital plays a huge part, but I think this is an argument about TNA from the beginning. I think they would be best served trying to be everything that WWE is not. So, aside from a few top name heavyweights, I would argue that it would center on the X Division, strong tag team wrestling, women's wrestling, etc. I think the company has realized this to some degree but in many others create a product that feels too "WWE-like" in nature at times...

Omar said...

The role of women wrestlers that we are used to seeing today and throughout the past decade or so (the view Jhally presents in his documentary) greatly contrasts with the kind of women's wrestling we encounter in Lipstick and Dynamite .

In this documentary we are taken through a more historical view of women's wrestling. In a lot of ways it is similar to the history of men's wrestling in America. Unlike the modern women of wrestling who seem like they are more often lauded for their bodies than their wrestling ability, the women wrestlers of yesteryear (Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young, etc.) were considered legitimately good wrestlers. They were seen as true tough gals and forces to be reckoned with. Their abilities as wrestlers seemed to be taken a lot more seriously.

With todays emphasis on the idea that sex sells, it is truly disheartening to see that the role of the woman wrestler has become more about looks than ability.

Sam Ford said...

Omar, it is definitely a trade-off. Women in the Moolah and Mae days were not given characters at all and were just feature attractions brought in on special occasions. Today, women are sometimes key to the narrative and are weekly components to the show. Yet, they are often stripped of their autonomy in the process and made supporting characters in the tales of the male stars.