Something rather cool happened this morning.
My friend Lee Donnelly was a big WWE fan. I hadn’t really thought about wrestling since I was about ten or eleven, but it was mentioned at donno’s funeral and I’d been thinking about it since then. Wrestling is very strange, when you look at it: it’s obviously theatrical, yet it claims to be real, and the pretence of reality is taken far further than any other form of theatre. To any other person, it looks pantomimic, yet it takes itself so seriously. It seemed very odd to me.
When I turned my computer on this morning, I found this article about Wrestling on the BBC website. I read it, and came across the name of an academic I didn’t then recognise Dr. Ben Litherland. Deciding it was time to look a bit further into this bizarre phenomenon, I plugged the name into google expecting to find a musty old academic, but the strangest thing happened: it turned out that I already knew the guy, and he was a school friend of my brother Luke. We had chatted before, six years ago, having come across each other not through Luke but a mutual friend, James C. I love how the web works sometimes.
We got chatting (again) and I told ben of my newfound interest. Apparently, there is a growing literature on the subject, but Litherland said he was against the idea of a ‘wrestling studies’. That seemed curious to me: if wrestling is an art, shouldn’t it be studied like any other (narrative) art form in terms of it’s characters and storylines? But he seemed to be suggesting it was something else; not just a weird panto about men hitting eachother or a type of soap opera. It has a real world, political dimension, especially when you consider that Trump has appeared on it, and Vince McMahon was one of the biggest backers of the Trump campaign. That which I once dismissed as childish and puerile now seems worth looking into deeply.
Something very, very strange is going on with professional wrestling. It’s obviously fake, but claims to be real. It is presented rather like a soap opera, but disbelief is suspended and the illusion of reality is kept to the extreme. Ben even introduced me to their word for it: Kayfabe. Something which might appear childish does in fact take itself deadly seriously, and to it’s fans is as real as any other sport. These people cannot actually be hitting one another or they would be seriously injured; and the way in which the camera captures events outside the ring suggests the action is somehow planned and choreographed; yet, as in sport, events are shown live and the audience seem to think they are watching events which have not been rehearsed. Thus I am baffled – what is it? Theatre? Sport? artform, or something else? How can something which appears so silly have so much cultural impact? When I read a book or watch a film, I know I’m dealing with a created artefact – something designed or created by someone to tell me a story or convey a message to me. Wrestling is obviously a similar kind of creation, yet it refuses to admit it is anything other than real (undertones of Lacan there, maybe?) I must admit I’m intrigued.