Cruel Spectacle

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Thus the function of the wrestler is not to win: it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him…  Wrestling offers excessive gestures, exploited to the limit of their meaning.  In wrestling, a man who is down is exaggeratedly so, and completely fills the eyes of the spectators with the intolerable spectacle of his powerlessness.

– Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling”

Dave Batista says, “Wrestling is storytelling.” Wrestling is not about scinillating maneuvers or off-the-hook pain, but stories and plots.  Take a Batista match, for example.

Batista’s matches run like clockwork.  The pyrotechnics signal the arrival of the Animal.  Slam, punch, kick.  Both wrestlers get thrown out to the arena floor, and the opponent takes the advantage.  After trading blows through the course of a match, the downed Animal starts to get second wind, and unloads powerful punches of his own.  Kick, punch, slam.

Batista whips his opponent to the corner; he runs toward his opponent, and clobbers the bad guy with a clothesline.  The whiplash is enough to disorient the opponent, and Batista hoists him on his broad shoulders, slamming him to the mat with a forceful slam.  The opponent is whipped to the ropes, and Batista lifts him up with a powerful, authoritative spinebuster.

“BA-TIS-TA!  BA-TIS-TA!”  The crowd cheers, realizing that this 6’6″, 300-pound monster is about to put the exclamation point to the match, which is all but seven minutes into an unannounced time limit.  The muscle-bound multiple-time World Heavyweight Champion walks towards the ropes.  He stomps his foot with ruthless aggression.  He shakes the rope violently; the thumbs go up, the thumbs go down.  The crowd goes wild in anticipation.

Batista hauls his beaten opponent to his shoulders, and delivers the Batista Bomb.  With a violent crash that makes the whole ring shake, with the opponent knocked out cold, Batista makes the cover.  One, two, three… it’s over.

While there seems to be a fascination for Batista on account that he’s half-Filipino, the fascination for wrestling is in its spectacular qualities.  The playwright Antonin Artaud called it the “theater of cruelty:” sensory overload.  For all the convolutions that there are in professional wrestling, it is the last fantastical representation of good against evil.  You cheer a face, you boo a heel.  You make delineations between what is a “legal” move, and what is an “illegal” maneuver.  While the lines may be blurred at times, there will always be a hero or a villain in any plot line or any match.

Everything about wrestling is an over-the-top performance coupled with over-the-top athleticism.  It’s not about “choreography” as it is about “exaggeration;” every attack, hold, and aerial maneuver in wrestling is not about a show of strength or agility, but is about entertainment.  I’m not saying that wrestling does not legitimately hurt or cause pain, but that wrestling is the exaggeration of real life.  Everything about wrestling – from the technicalities of attack and submission to plot lines and story arcs – is exaggeration.  It is a realization of realities.  It is not “fake,” but more realistic than the realities we experience when we contend with good and evil.

I’m not saying that wrestling shows the world as it is, or that wrestling holds and a knowledge of professional wrestling maneuvers will get you far in a fight.  As Barthes implies, it is an exaggeration of such things like justice, fairness, the triumph of good against evil.  Wrestling heroes like Batista will get beaten up until they will triumph, win the championship, and hang on to it to mark their own eras.  The only difference is that in wrestling, the story lines are booked and prepared way in advance.  Life, on the other hand, does not have the benefit of writers and bookers.

The violence and the pain that there is in wrestling is not a flair for award-winning storylines or Oscar-winning performances, but about the visceral and the base.  It’s not the sight of muscle-bound men wrestling each other and stretching a few innuendos about piledrivers and the abdominal stretch, as it is about satisfying something so fundamental to the human “instinct.”  Or maybe a preference or propensity towards violence or exaggeration.

In many ways, wrestling is as much a mindfuck as it is sports entertainment.

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