Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pulling Knives

Given that so much of our discussion was centered around the last line of the Freedman piece on Monday, I wanted to give it some extra thought and try to synthesize something more cogent than I did in class. Throughout "Will the Sheik Use His Blinding Fireball? The Ideology of Professional Wrestling," Freedman first sets up that faces fight for family, love of competition, or the fans, utilizing only their bodies without any external aid, while heels fight for money or even just for love of violence, using props and foul play to ensure their victory. The question of the existence of pure competition is, in Freedman's view, nonexistent for the urban laborer fans of wrestling: liberal ideology fails because of the evil forces at work in the world, and especially for the disenfranchised and disillusioned workers, there is no even playing field in the land of opportunity. The heels of the world are going to cheat, and the referee will not do anything about it. Professional wrestling says honest work is never going to get you anywhere, if you want to be upwardly mobile you need to take shortcuts and "sign on with the devil."
Freedman writes that the gap where authority should be is filled by the audience, who responds as vigilantes. The authorities they have given power to are useless to the audience, "and if they are of no help then the people must take matters into their own hands" (79).
So back to the last section:
"After the match, the Simcoe arena opened onto a small street across from a park. On the way home a number of young boys who had been inside started a scuffle and soon there was a brawl. Somebody pulled a knife."
In terms of the lessons wrestling is teaching (based on the article), the young boy with the knife is just responding in kind. His own strength isn't going to be enough, and even if there was an arbiter for the conflict he wouldn't be of any help, so the boy has to take matters into his own hands. I think this closing section is hinting at a Libertarian reading of wrestling, like we discussed in class. It comes back to the failure of capitalism in practice (as Freedman discusses) and how greed ruins the system.
I don't want to end this with a question, but I do wonder if wrestling ever tries to answer any of these questions it puts forward. It is very obviously saying the government is useless, evil people are ruining capitalism and our liberal democracy, but the infinite plot of wrestling seems to preclude it from trying to comment on ways to cure our social ills. Or it's infinite plot is a comment in itself, that there is no way to fix this and humanity is doomed to struggle through these issues forever. In which case, might as well bring a knife to a fistfight because you aren't doing yourself any favors by leaving it at home.


Sam Ford said...

I appreciate your lingering on the question, Mikey. I think it's one that's particularly appropriate for this class--and that may spill into today's discussion, since we're moving on to Freedman's "Drawing Heat" book. I waffle, too, on wrestling as libertarian text; as Machiavellian text; as Marxist text, or as the story of the idealistic person who believes in capitalism and democracy and the ability of the system to "EVENTUALLY" get it right...who keeps coming back. It's sort of like the Lucy character in "I Love Lucy." Society keeps putting the woman back in her place. But next week, there she will be, doing everything she can to "be part of the show" despite her husband Ricky's objections--and those of the rest of a patriarchal society. A single episode can be read as "putting a woman in her place." The series can be read as a woman who refuses to be put in her place--who hangs on to HER "hustle, loyalty, and respect."

But what does it mean that wrestling exposes questions about society without confronting them? Does wrestling have that advantage of "having it both ways"--of engaging in terrible stereotypes while also exaggerating them, in a way that gives them an "out" as parody or entertainment while also profiting on the discord? As we have said in class in the past, we don't see the conclusion being the authority figures becoming both fair and strong and being always efficient at maintaining order. We don't see collection bargaining on the wrestlers' part. Grudges are never settled with a hug and a decision to settle matters with empathy rather than fists. What kind of PPV would that be? So what do we take away from this constant perpetuation of struggle? Or, as Barthes and others have suggested, is it not the conclusion that ever matters but rather the FEELING of the struggle...the depiction of the pain and the injustice?

Marshall Metcalf said...

I loved this post! You said that one of the themes of Professional Wrestling was that being "the good guy" gets you no where, that you have to sign a deal with the devil. This theme is seen all throughout pop culture. It's actually one of my favorite things to research. The Illuminati is something that is woven all throughout pop culture today. Rappers and singers often sing and brag about being in it. For example, Ke$ha once claimed to be the leader of the Illuminati. She then said she was joking, but her just "joking" about it made discussion. Beyonce' and Jay-Z are thought to be the leaders of the Illuminati, and the two of them have some of the biggest fan bases. There are even rumors about people literally worshiping Beyonce' as a religion. When I googled it, it lead me to sites that discussed "The National Church of Bey."