Sunday, September 7, 2014
Professional wrestling as scholarly?
In Steel Chair to the Head, the authors claim that professional wrestling can be analyzed beyond a superficial coverage of whether it is sport, entertainment, or something in between. In doing so, the authors treat wrestling as any other art form or part of modern culture, going as far as to compare it to "vaudeville, jazz, rock n' roll, and punk" on the first page. A reader may view this as an ad hoc justification for a book on wrestling. However, Sammond and the other contributors deliberately lay out examples of how wrestling can be viewed from a scholarly lens, focusing in large part on the symbolism.
This leads to two larger questions: to what extent can professional wrestling be viewed in scholarly, analytic terms and does this change how a fan of wrestling views it? Barthes in 1957 highlights the role of symbolism and characters, in essence equating wrestling to plays, with themes that would resonate to either audience. This reminds me quite a bit of the anthropological works of Clifford Geertz, analyzing cockfighting in Bali. Even Ole Anderson, one loathe to refer to industry as "fake", references the importance of telling a story, not only within a match, but how a wrestling card should build in emotional intensity from the first match to the main event. If we accept wrestling as cultural symbolism in another form, what parts then should our analytic eye focus? Is it the actions, the words of the participants, or something else? Similarly, does this prevent one from enjoying the performance as simply entertainment?