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Wanna Wrassle?

 article about wrestling
2004-02-23 17:03:18
I recently watched the documentary Beyond the Mat, a middle-aged fan's insight into the world of professional wrestling and the private lives of the sports superstars. It was an engrossing film to watch, mostly because I've always had a curious fascination with the sport (as I also have an interest in the lives and psychology of serial killers and porn stars - don't ask me, I'm a weird guy).

I've never been an actual fan of wrestling. I've never seen it live, I've never bought a single piece of merchandising, and I wouldn't be able to tell you who the current champion is. But from the few telecasts I've seen of it, I've found it absolutely compelling. It both repulses and fascinates me.

It's the last place you can turn to, when all other arenas have failed, to witness epic battles between gods and devils. It's the stuff mythology is made of, and it contains that same visceral charge as the stories of old. But at the same time, it seems to be a haven for the ignorant, a place to go where you don't have to worry about being an idiot, because there's always someone stupider than you.

The first taste I got of it as an adult was about three years back, on cable. I flipped over the channel one night and came across one of the most gaudy spectacles I'd seen in quite some time - Hulk Hogan versus Goldberg.

I'd grown up with the concept of Hulk Hogan as a good guy, as the champion of professional wrestling. So when I heard the crowd booing him, I was a little taken aback. Little did I know that, at the time, Hogan had turned heel to help bolster the ratings of the WCW (World Championship Wrestling), a newly-formed wrestling association that was hoping to go up against the industry titan that was/is Vince McMahons World Wrestling Federation (WWF).

Of course, if you'd told me at the time that Hulk Hogan's turned heel, I wouldn't have known what the hell you were talking about. It's only been through reading posts on Internet message boards that I've been able to find out that heel is wrestling slang for villain, and face is the term for hero.

All I knew at the time was that Hulk Hogan was getting booed, whereas this Goldberg guy was being trumpeted as this almighty saviour. It was a very troubling state of affairs for me, what with my view of Hogan.

I watched the match trying to maintain my detached curiosity, but the circumstances wouldn't allow it. It was all so symbolic in my head; the golden hero of old, cast aside by his once loyal followers, is superseded by this grim, dark monster of a man (if you dont know who Goldberg is, think of the tallest, muscliest, baldest guy you've ever seen, throw him in a black loincloth and give him a hungry-for-blood sneer, and you've got a fairly accurate picture of the guy).

Being a comic book fan of old, the imagery and the symbolism behind the whole thing got to me. What really clinched it was when Goldberg won the match, breaking Hulk Hogan before a roaring crowd. The man-mountain then began to roar in triumph himself, accompanied by a dazzling display of white-hot fireworks. I mean, God damn, this was close to Biblical!

So I gained a semi-understanding of what wrestling fans found so compelling about the sport. They know its fake only the youngest and most moronic among them think the feuds are genuine but it's the spectacle of the thing - that's what makes it so fervently viewable. That's not to say the wrestlers don't get the crap kicked out of them when they perform. Sure, they pull their punches. Sure, they mug for the camera. But when you get hit in the head dozens of times with a folding chair, no matter what it's made of, it's really going to goddamn hurt. The show's manufactured, but the pain can sometimes be very real.

I started watching wrestling off-and-on at that stage, reading what the more knowledgeable fans had to say on message boards and slowly gaining an understanding of it. I never bought into it completely. I always found it pretty funny how homoerotic the show could get at some times. It seemed like it was some way of allowing the teenage audience to explore their sexuality without having to be confronted by actually having to question it. But then, I feel that way about all sports - I suppose it's why I'm such a pasty, skinny geek.

So, yeah, I was observing more than watching, but the fact remained that I was compelled to do it. Like a car crash, or a celebrity gossip show, I couldn't help but stare in awkward fascination.

And then, something happened that signalled the end of my being bothered with wrestling. It just pissed me off too much.

I can't remember the character's name, nor can I really encapsulate the gimmick - I think he was meant to be a Canadian censor or something. He wore a white shirt and a black tie, and would come in telling the other wrestlers to watch their language and to cover up and stuff, all the while denigrating the audience for being idiots. Didn't really do it for me. I was more into the characters that had some form of edge to them - Kaine, Mankind, the Undertaker (well, when he was a lord of darkness, rather than some white trash biker dude), and, because of how tongue-in-cheek he was, the Rock. Getting sidetracked;

Anyway, the Canadian censor guy decided to walk into the middle of the thing and start reading something by Shakespeare - Hamlet, I believe. The crowd, of course, started to boo. As if sent from on high to answer their prayers, WWF headliner Stone Cold Steve Austin came rushing into the ring to beat the crap out of the censor guy and then, after that was done, tear up the book in front of the cheering audience.

God, I don't even know where to start with that.

It was just such a stupid, ignorant, petty pandering-to-the-audience moment that I couldn't handle it. It pissed me off so much. Why design a scenario like that? Why did the writers (and yeah, wrestling has writers and everyone knows they have writers) decide to do that?

Dont worry, kids! Here comes redneck guardian of all things moronic - Steve Austin - to stamp out any form of literature or higher learnin'! Take that, book smarts! Where's a bonfire, I wanna go all Nuremberg rallies on this Shakespeare guy's ass!

I tuned out after that. It might seem petty in some people's minds that that would be the catalyst for my disliking of wrestling, but the symbolism of it was too much, and as it was symbolism that had drawn me to the thing in the first place, it was symbolism that also drove me from it.

I haven't watched any wrestling at all the past few years. I don't know who's in or out anymore, who's heel and who's face. And it doesn't really bother me that I don't know.

Guess it's just not my thing.





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