Wednesday, October 29, 2014

PSA to to the Ladies Who "Love Wrestling, Too"

In regard to this twisted romance fan-fiction in which you've been indulging:

Ladies, you need to pull yourselves together.  When you watch a play and see an intense stage kiss, do you assume that the two are really in love?  No!  Neither should you assume that a pair of wrestlers who spend a few minutes once a week touching each other through spandex are lovers in reality.  They are professionals—coworkers—and entertaining you is their job.  Implying or fantasizing about anything less than that is disrespectful to the men (and women) who have spent their whole lives trying to be able to stand in the ring in front of thousands.  I had no idea that this was the kind of fan fiction that you were writing for yourselves, but, really... it has got to stop.  You're tainting the reputation of the female wrestling fan.

Despite how interesting it was to read Salmon's and Clerc's article in Steel Chair to the Head, I cannot say that I found much to be proud of in these pages.  As a female wrestling fan, I feel as if these two ladies were trying to explain my attraction, but if that was the case, they have failed.  I don't participate in fan-based blogs and forums (unless you count this class...), but if I did, it would not be to talk about the "fine, hot sexy men" that I saw on TV.  I would probably be excited about seeing Ryback return, and want to talk about his rise and fall and why he would make a great champion—reasons that have (almost) nothing to do with his physique.  On the other hand, I'm not looking for an emotional (romantic) outlet in wrestling, either.  I don't think I would be posting pictures of wrestlers embracing or of them showing "true emotions."  Nor do I feel the need to flesh out the WWE's storylines with  post-match fan fiction.  

I guess I haven't really asked myself why I enjoy wrestling.  For me, wrestling is social; I watch with my classmates and other friends, mostly while talking and eating and laughing and such.  In that sense, wrestling is a fun excuse to hang out and make jokes.  I also like wrestling because it so aptly portrays the struggle of life (from a middle/lower class perspective).  It seems like Stone Cold Steve Austin really hates his boss as much as I hate mine (kayfabe; I don't really hate my boss), but the fact that Stone Cold can go and punch his boss in the face while retaining his job somehow makes it easier for me to refrain from punching my boss in the face (which would likely result in the loss of my job).  I also really like the way storylines overlap and are multi-tiered (which we've discussed before).  I do not enjoy reading fan-written wrestling porn that is somehow deemed acceptable because there are no pictures, or because it's far-fetched (as in the case of alternative universe stories).  Thanks to the internet, people get to make stupid choices anonymously, without retribution, like fantasizing about famous people without a filter for everyone to see.  I am not a fan.


Sam Ford said...

There's a lot to dissect and talk through from your response, Melissa, and I am looking very forward to this coming up in class today. Appreciate the passionate response! Three thoughts that I'll pose to you that may help frame our discussion:

1.) Am I correct that you express some dislike for the framing of the essay itself because you feel it seeks to "speak for all women" in a way that doesn't capture your experience...You seem resentful for "being spoken for."

2.) I'd be interested to see yourself play your own devil's advocate. What, if anything, do Clerc and Sammond "get right"? Do you feel there are any points they make that resonated with you, or was this a complete offender for you? :)

3.) There's an intense, almost moral outrage in your response here, and I'm curious: would you say that it is particularly fueled by the subject matter of the fanfic (explicitly sexual), by the degree to which it is resistant to the meaning intended by the "primary text" (i.e. wrestling is certainly not AIMING for romance here), and/or by the blending of the real with the fictional (would saying that Orton and Cena are secretly attracted to one another more offensive because their character and the performer are hard to tell apart, in a way that saying that the Rick and Shane on the Walking Dead were secretly attracted to each other would not?

Timothy S. Rich said...

While I can't (or at least shouldn't) speak for female fans, this reading did not sit well with me either. I saw the portrayal just short of the readings from the 50s worrying about women being overwhelmed by the sexual energy of the performance. Sure, I presume there's just as much talk among female fans about X male wrestler's attractiveness just as male fans talk of female wrestlers. That alone only goes so far.

Sam Ford said...

I think it's important to realize, too, that fanfic has its own traditions and backgrounds...and much of what is happening in terms of the slash fiction is applying those traditions to wrestling, rather than this developing wholly and organically in the realm of wrestling itself.

Melissa Smith said...

I was not looking forward to class discussion that day... but to answer your questions:

1. I don't appreciate the fact that the authors try to stereotype all women wrestling fans, but I think they also try to do the same to men fans, as well. It seems like they think that all male fans are using similar sites with inappropriate images and other content, which I don't believe is true, either. So, the stereotypes that the authors try to impose on the wrestling community bothers me. I just really wish that they didn't have so much to pull from to make an argument.

2. I like the use of clever headings, like using "For the benefit of those with flash photography..." (an Edge and Christian saying) as the heading of the section talking about online images. I also appreciated the mention of some film techniques used in television production of wrestling. One instance can be found on page 171 of Steel Chair to the Head (hardback): "close-ups denote and create intimacy with the characters portrayed." I mentioned this to my broadcasting-major friend, who verified this and added that a mid-range upper torso shot from below gives the impression of strength and dominance, while shots from above imply weakness and submission. Wrestlers, he said, will never be filmed down upon (made to look weak/submissive). That's pretty much all I liked in the article.

3. I hate what these ladies are doing because they are real people. We're reading Mick Foley's book right now, and he frequently talks about his wife and kids. To think that someone would write these kind of abject falsehoods purely for their own entertainment and pleasure is repulsive. What would his kids think if they stumbled across this fanfic genre when they searched for their Daddy-O's name on the internet? On top of that, it's absolutely wrong for these ladies to insert themselves into his sexual life, even in fiction. How could they feel entitled to infringe on the sanctity of his marriage, put themselves in the place of his wife? It's unacceptable.
At the same time, it's not okay to take already fictional characters and turn them into sexual objects, either. In the case of wrestling, it is more jarring because they are real people, baring much of their real characters in their portrayal of fictional ones, but neither situation is justifiable.

Once you start to see wrestling in the way that these ladies have portrayed it for themselves, you can't go back. Every move in the ring looks sexual, and watching wrestling becomes something you do to feed an addiction of watching men touch each other. That's not what it's about. Come to wrestling with the eyes of a child, and watch for the drama, storylines, and fun, not for sexual satisfaction. Keep wrestling something you wouldn't mind watching with your parents or your kids.

Gary said...

Right on Melissa! I agree with everything you have written, and the fact that this one obtuse purported study of women fans, would exemplify all women as suggested in the article. It is completely stereotyped.

Also regarding the photography, yes I concur, the low angle shot looking up appears to show strength or power.

Sam Ford said...

Thanks, Melissa. I very much appreciate the depth of your response here, and I think (or at least hope) it proves the value of having multiple ways to engage in dialogue as a class--across the blog and in person--because there are certain conversations that may benefit more from one, or the other.

I find the ways in which researchers, cultural critics, and others too frequently homogenize wrestling fans to be irritating and troubling as well, Melissa. (That is one of my primary issues with "Wrestling with Manhood," which I know we'll be discussing today.) But, as I said to you after class the other day, wrestling fans and the WWE alike both give an awful lot of material to fuel such readings.

I think the best antidote to some of these arguments that "male fans do X; female fans do Y" is Sharon Mazer's point...that the most involved wrestling fans often are the most highly critical of the position the show tries to put them within. So it's something to keep in mind: that, just because WWE may tell male fans to objectify women and, in return, some fans's also true that many fans don't and that very critical discussions about gender roles spring up WITHIN the fan community about WWE's positioning of its female characters, as we've seen in our class all semester, with some of the most dedicated wrestling fans taking part in the class among the most critical and nuanced in discussing it.

But I do think there's a valid point that Sue and Catherine are making in this piece at the same time. Whether or not you agree with the objectification of men's bodies or the "real person slash," I think that you probably agree as well that wrestling privileges both a heterosexual male perspective (i.e. you're suppose to sexually objectify the women's wrestlers but not read sexual meanings over the men's wrestlers, for the most part) and also a traditionally masculine view over a traditionally feminine view (the focus is on battle, feuds, rivalries, man vs. man, etc., more than on the social relations of the community of WWE superstars, the emotional subtext, etc.). As you point out from the work plays a large part in this positioning in particular.

Thus, fans who may like wrestling but not want to sit in those positions often have to actively read against them or extract from the text their own meaning, sometimes through additional activities. (We can see how young Latino boys engage in the same sort of activity in how they try to get meaning from WWE texts in the reading from today's class from Ellen Seiter.)

Sam Ford said...

I think your concerns about fiction of a sexual nature about real people becomes even more an issue as we enter a world where a wider range of people might be considered "public figures." Traditionally, the argument would be that people talking sexually about Elvis, or Marlon Brando, etc., are talking about a very elite small group of "stars"...and many would justify wrestling in the same way. But wrestling is particularly disconcerting because the distance between fans and wrestlers is smaller than in most genres, and the fuzziness between the "real person" and the character is equally fuzzy.

But I am particularly interested in the question of whether "slash fiction" or erotica writing about fictional characters is justified or not. Presuming that you would be okay for people to engage in their own fiction writing in general about fictional characters (i.e. this isn't a question of copyright and ownership), the perspective you argue here is that fans would have the right to write about the fictional characters in some ways (What if Kane and Bo Dallas became a tag team?) but not others (What if Kane and Bo Dallas were lovers?).

This gets down to a key question: are fictional activities and imaginative behaviors from fans okay as long as they match the primary intended purpose of the text, but not if they alter that meaning? In other words, if wrestling is supposed to be about rivalry, it's okay to talk about alternate potential storylines but not okay to talk about the wrestlers in completely alternate genres.

In fan studies, we call these transformational versus affirmational activities. Affirmational activities are activities fans engage in that fit the logic of the genre/show itself. (i.e. "Here's my card for Wrestlemania, if I were the writer.") To oversimplify it, transformational fan activities take the characters or the story and do something counter to what the narrative does. (i.e. What are the social dynamics of these characters off-stage?)

I guess I bring that up to question...taking the real life part out of this and thinking of these as only fictional characters...Is the activities of these particular "ladies" egregious because they go against the intended meaning of the text in general or is it particularly so because it involves sex in particular? (If, for instance, someone were to write a fictional story where two heated rivals decided to work out their differences through arbitration or a legal process instead of a grudge match, or if someone were to explore the non-sexual social relationship between two characters in a backstage "soap opera" style exploration of the social dynamics of the WWE community...would that be as "against genre" as a sexual reading?)

A devil's advocate might say that a small sub-genre of fans engaging in an alternative reading of a fictional text don't necessarily detract from the rest of the audience being able to enjoy the entertainment from its "intended purpose"...although the question you raise of whether children, or family members, or others might stumble across these fictional stories unintentionally is a different issue entirely. When people wrote fanfic exploring sexual relationships among Harry Potter characters, I know this was particularly a concern--that young children looking up info on their favorite characters might stumble across erotica about the characters of Harry Potter instead.