Monday, September 22, 2014

The Politics of Wrestling

In a wrestling match, there are many different players with many different roles.  Logically, the best fighter should at least sometimes win, regardless of his status.  That doesn’t have to hold true in wrestling, however.  Matches are much deeper than matters of “I hope my guy outperforms your guy.”  Two men might duke it out for a title belt, but “it’s not individual men, but types of men at stake in the ring.”  The baby faces: good guys; the heels: bad guys.  Heels wrestle for money, victory, and/or violence, while faces usually wrestle for someone, to stand up for what’s right.  According to Freedman, the faces represent liberalism ideology, with notions of liberty and equality imbued in their characters.  “If the good guys win, it seems there is equal opportunity for everyone.… When the bad guy wins, liberal ideology loses.”  There is no justice when the bad guy wins through his dirty tactics.  That’s where two other wrestling roles come into play: the referee and the audience.

The ref, although he seems like a solid figure of authority, is nothing but a “perpetual source of disappointment.”  He never seems to be paying attention when the heel is cheating his way to victory, yet he usually catches the face red-handed when he finally tries to retaliate.  Though he seems to be an unnecessary piece on the board, he actually plays an important role in letting us down.  According to Freedman, “Putting one’s hope in the government is like putting one’s hope in the referee, and this is obviously silly.”  The role of the ref is predetermined to be inattentive and ineffective, implying that the authority in our own world is equally inattentive and ineffective.  As the ref lets injustice slip through the cracks, we recognize the real injustice that slips through the cracks of our society.  As Freedman points out, this brings out the vigilante in all of us.  We recognize the problem, and do our best to step up into that role of authority to fix it.  At the end of this piece, Freedman mentions some young boys who had been in the audience of the match.  They started a scuffle which quickly became a brawl in the street.  “Somebody pulled a knife.”  …How far does the vigilante role go?  How far should it extend outside arena?  Sure, we see ourselves in these “caricatures of good and evil,” but how far should we go in our mission for vigilante justice?  How real should wrestling be to us?  Should we really take matters into our own hands, stepping up to deliver justice where the government has been lax?  Is it worth pulling a knife?


Sam Ford said...

That last line is such a compelling, interesting, and disturbing way to end the piece, isn't it? I look forward to talking about it in class in more detail...and seeing how that bridges us into Freedman's book, Drawing Heat.

Timothy S. Rich said...

I reread the last lines of Freedman a few times, still trying to decide how I interpret it. Should it be viewed within the same allegory of capitalism as theory vs. practice? Or should the line be viewed as the distinction between the real world where there is greater expectation that the rules of society will be enforced and institutional incompetence in the world of wrestling? Would my interpretation be different if I knew the social class of the parties involved? I'm not sure.

Sam Ford said...

All great questions...I waffle on that line every time I read it, too. As you say, it may be an extension of the arguments made in the piece. There's a "media effects" sort of question posed here--Did the message of the wrestling matches lead this person as well to "fight fire with fire" and "take justice into his own hands"?