Wednesday, September 17, 2014


As I was doing my homework for the History of Professional Wrestling tonight, an acquaintance was watching over my shoulder. He asked me why I was reading up on things about pro wrestling because he knew that I didn’t really watch it. I told him that it was for my class, the History of Pro Wrestling. The conversation continued on and I explained to him that the class went with one of my majors, Pop Culture. He said “Studying Pop Culture makes sense, it illustrates what a generation will leave behind, but studying Pro Wrestling makes no sense.” I didn’t have a well formulated response, so I just sat there in silence. However, I read the article “Professional Wrestling: Why the Bad Guy Wins,” by John W. Campbell, and it gave me an answer. One point that Campbell points out in the article is that pro wrestling reaches its highest views when the wrestlers are portraying a political issue. He gave an example of Mr. Fuji. He was a wrestler whose story had a background in Japan. Therefore, he played an evil guy (a foot) who was constantly doing sneaky things to beat his opponent. The announcers played his part up by saying “He’s about to Pearl Harbor it!” This kind of relation to the fans is what draws them in the most. It helps them get out their frustrations of the world, along with their anger and frustration, in a simple way. This made me think about what my acquaintance said. Wrestling might not be a huge part of pop culture in today’s society but, like studying pop culture, wrestling shows the kind of things that the generation will leave behind. Like it has been said multiple times, wrestling is often times a mirror for what is going on in society. This point can also be related to Gregory P. Stone and Ramon A. Oldenburg’s article “Wrestling.” In the very beginning of the article, it is explained that wrestling is a very ancient thing. Wrestling has been seen as a sport and for fun and entertainment since humanity has really existed. Something so primitive, like wrestling, is bound to remain entertaining for as long as humanity exist.

9 comments:

Timothy S. Rich said...

Good point Marshall. Something that I noticed years ago is that successful wrestling storylines rarely deviate far from the general views of their audience. Thus, Foreign Menaces only work when, at some level, the public has an animosity towards the country. Similarly, characterizations of gay wrestlers (even if never directly acknowledged as gay) has clearly shifted over time. Until the 1990s frankly, such characters could be nothing but heels, while that is certainly not the case now.

Sam Ford said...

Marshall, the way you framed this post is really fascinating to me as well. The idea of the person questioning you--that studying pop culture is valid, but studying pro wrestling is not--is an interesting one. What is being communicated here? Is it a highbrow/lowbrow culture distinction (i.e. studying Breaking Bad or another critically acclaimed show would be valuable because of its artistic merit, while studying wrestling would not because of its low standing)? Or is it a "relevance" stance (i.e. study the top Billboard charting songs, or the top grossing box office of the year, etc...the things that will "leave their sustained mark" on popular culture)? But that also seems a challenge to me, because wrestling is among the top-rated TV shows on cable. When wrestling shows are on, they are frequently "trending #1 on Twitter," as Michael Cole is so ready to tell us. In other words, wrestling's popularity IS massive, even in its relative downtime....which means this idea of not being "mainstream" enough may not be one designated in terms of popularity. Rather, wrestling is polarizing and outside the cultural mainstream. It's not covered on sports pages, as we've been discussing...yet it's also not analyzed in the same way a scripted drama would be and does not acknowledge its writing team with credits, etc. In that way, wrestling's pushed aside as lowbrow and populist, but its "other-ness" also denies it true "popular" status, because it is seen as marginalized as a "deviant" form of popular culture. Or at least it seems to me as I'm sitting here thinking about it in an airport restaurant. :)

Timothy S. Rich said...

I've frequently had similar conversations lately. The significant number of academics I know who have at least at one point been fans of wrestling, but discuss any analysis of it as a guilty pleasure rather that a genuine venue for study.

Melissa Smith said...

It is interesting to see people's responses when the subject of wrestling is breached, even in myself. I am beginning to like watching, studying, and talking about wrestling, but I am not yet ready to defend it. I am at the same time interested in others' reactions and slightly embarrassed every time I print off these wrestling documents in a campus computer lab. While I enjoy talking about wrestling with people I recognize as fans (like the guy in my art class who has worn a different wrestling shirt every day), I am wary of sharing my new-found interest with others. When wrestling does come up, my response tends to initially be on the side of "I have to have this class (HON 300) to graduate..." or "Yeah, crazy, right?" at least until I can see how they feel about wrestling. I've gotten mostly incredulous responses, but none of the disapproval that (I suppose) I fear.
Why is it that I am so reluctant to share my interest in wrestling? After I finally found the courage to say something to Wrestling Shirt Guy in art class, wrestling became a starting point for future conversation between us. Now, he is probably my only friend in the class, and we have plenty to talk about. Why is it that wrestling is looked down upon in current society, especially when it experienced so much popular acceptance in earlier years? Like earlier comments here have said, wrestling fans have a strong influence in pop culture ("trending #1 on Twitter"). Why is it, then, that I had never really heard anything about professional wrestling until my roommate started watching it last year? I've never seen commercials for wrestling on TV, nor have I heard anything about it on the news. It seems to exist outside of society, yet it has its own culture which rivals that of the "real world." When the two cultures overlap, as in the case of social media, the wrestling culture tends to dominate. If this is a "downtime" for wrestling, I want to see what it looks like on the upside.

Timothy S. Rich said...

Part of the reluctance that many fans have of self-identifying is the stereotype of fans as simpletons or not wanting to have the "you know it's fake" discussion again. I have also noticed an increasing number of people who will make veiled references to wrestling in non-wrestling conversation, which could be construed as signalling to others.

Katie Clark said...

I do have to disagree with your comment about wrestling not being a big part of today's society. Quite the opposite. RAW is consistently the number one rated show on television on Monday nights and even sometimes beats out Monday Night Football. This is why it's so important to look at wrestling and it's impact on society. It plays a HUGE part in our world and is very relevant. I would be willing to bet that more people will recognize The Rock before they recognize the quarterback for the Colts. Wrestling permeates through so many channels in our society. It's everywhere.

Melissa Smith said...

I think wrestling culture exists parallel to society. I recognize the Rock not as a wrestler, but as an actor, where the two cultures cross over. I didn't grow up in a family of wrestling fans, so I really NEVER saw or heard anything related to wrestling on TV, on the news, or in advertisements up until my roommate exposed me to it last year. It's a You Know or You Don't situation, and I never knew.

Sam Ford said...

As I'd suggested earlier, these pockets are areas of fascination for me. Soap operas existed in the same parallel for decades--extremely popular yet culturally marginalized in many circles, so that many fans wouldn't openly admit that they were. I think it's even more the case with a lot of people for pro wrestling because it seems to elicit much more passionate response in people. If I tell someone I'm teaching a class on soap opera, they chuckle but don't go beyond that. Pro wrestling, on the other hand, can generate some passionate response, be it good or bad. I think Tim has a good point regarding finding fans making veiled reference to wrestling to "test the water..." use of a phrase in wrestling, etc., to see if someone else gets and acknowledges understanding the wrestling reference...as a way of identifying without risking some denigration.

Timothy S. Rich said...

I recently witnessed a very similar encounter in a class, between one student referencing having a great time at Night of Champions and another immediately changing their tone once they realized NOC was not a concert or sport.