Monday, November 10, 2014

Reading through Wrestling with Theory, Grappling with Politics by Henry Jenkins III, I was struck by the part (referring to Mazer's essay): "...these fans, who come to ringside in costume, mimic the catchphrases, waving signs they hope will get camera, might see themselves as part of the performance, enacting spoofing, taking pleasure in the imaginary roles and fantasy values on offer" (300). For a while now, I've tried to decipher what it is exactly that attracts me so strongly to wrestling, particularly live events. There is a certain high obtained from watching a pro wrestling event live and in-person. It is a very different sensation than going to a play or going to a concert, both very fun events in themselves. But wrestling is different. And for a while, I just chalked it up to the fact that I'm seeing these celebrities in person, I see the things that happen during commercial breaks, I'm bonding with fellow fans. But I knew it was more than that. It had to be. I mean, I see plays and concerts and don't get nearly the rush I do at a wrestling show. And it's for this exact reason--I feel a part of the performance. I don't feel like a spectator. I feel like another character in this grand spectacle. As I've stated in an early blog post, I can shout at a play and that will have no effect on the plot. But if I shout at a wrestling match, I matter. My words are acknowledged. When the crowd is chanting and cheering for a specific wrestler loud enough, and for long enough, eventually that wrestler will be pushed.

It's also interesting to note that Jenkins critiques Jhally and Katz for not recognizing this. I hated that they made some legitimate points because they made me feel like I shouldn't like wrestling, that I shouldn't support it. But reading Jenkins' critique of their critique, it's clear that they don't understand the population they're trying to critique. It's impossible to evaluate wrestling culture through the lens of mainstream culture because it is simply not mainstream culture. We must acknowledge the application of cultural relativism if we are to study wrestling. Does the wrestling subculture say something about the greater culture it exists within? Yes. But we must look at wrestling through the eyes of a wrestling fan if we are ever to attempt to truly understand it.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Very well put, Katie, and I appreciate that Henry's piece helped bring some of this into perspective for you. The way his piece maps critiques of wrestling--and wrestling itself--on a larger American culture, I think, helps contextualize how and why we should make sense of wrestling as a phenomenon. Henry (the father) is not a "fan" of wrestling, per say, and he openly voices his discomfort with several aspects of the performance. But he also appreciates many aspects of the performance, too, and he grounds his understanding of his text in taking the time to deeply understand the fans and the fans' relationship to the text itself.

In this sense, I think we could critique Jhally and Katz for reading a wrestling text and considering its impact on fans a.) without considering the serial aspect but b.) also not understanding how fans relate to and engage with that text.