Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pro Wrestling as authentic?

After attending Sam's Pro Wrestling course this week and watching two documentaries--The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling and Lipstick and Dynamite, a few thoughts came to mind.

Point one: The difficulty one would have in pinpointing when pro wrestling crossed the imaginary line from sport to non-sport. If one chooses when promoters stopped calling it a sport--mainly the 1990s--this was simply acknowledgment of most of their audience knew for decades. At the other end, if choosing some time before World War II, when reporters and fans alike largely viewed the profession as sport, one still has clear evidence of efforts to ensure entertainment or risk losing audiences uninterested in a six hour match.

Point two: While wrestlers and fans alike from the 1950s-1970s may focus more on technical prowess and legit toughness than gimmickry, in part this is a product of what first hooked them to the entertainment. In other words, one's sense of authenticity is based on one's early exposure. Similarly, those who grew up watching in the 1980s (myself included) may often not connect to the current product because of similar evolutions (e.g. less clear distinctions between good and bad; the declining role of titles). However, I don't see this as unique to wrestling. Fans of baseball in one era may be able to still connect to today's sport, but see yesteryear as somehow more authentic, due to a "cleaner" sport before drugs, before players frequently switched teams or the style of play (e.g. emphasis on home runs vs. stolen bases).

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Well put on both points, Tim. I am particularly interested in the mythologizing of the past that happens, both among wrestlers and among fans. We see in Lipstick and Dynamite this mix of legend/mythology and of demystification among the women performers. They were larger than life, exhilarated by the performance, etc. And it was also deplorable conditions/treatment, heavily misogynistic, etc. I'm also interested--particularly in those old journeying days of being a pro wrestler--in what's revealed about the various personality types who end up getting into the pro wrestling business...why they were motivated, what life was like for them otherwise, etc.

The layers of dynamics among the women wrestlers in Lipstick and Dynamite is especially is the response male wrestlers had to female wrestlers. We heard it from Fred Blassie in "The Unreal Story of Professional" wrestling. "You don't want to eat steak every night. And that's how it is with the women and the midgets" (his words, not mine...). And we read it in Dave Meltzer's biography of Lou Thesz...who liked to refuse to wrestle on cards that also featured female wrestlers, because he saw it as carnival sideshow rather than legitimate competition...