“It is therefore in the body of the wrestler that we find the first key to the contest.”
– Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling,” Mythologies
When you break wrestling down to its essentials, the general context of wrestling is quite simple and straightforward. Some compare it to David and Goliath, but I’d rather much compare it to Samson breaking down the pillars of the Temple of Dagon. Before this all descends to the Bildung and frisson of analyzing simple things, it’s quite simple: in a match between the good guy and the bad guy, the good guy gets kicked and slammed around first before he mounts a comeback and beats the bad guy. This may last for as short as a quick 5-minute match, or throughout a whole storyline.
For those enthusiastic about pro wrestling trivia, this pattern emerges throughout the history of the spectacle. Take Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. Or Shawn Michaels and Vader. You can even go back as far as the match that started it all: the muscular, chiseled George Hackenschmidt versus the athletic and toned Frank Gotch. In a post-“wrestling-is-scripted-not-fake” understanding of professional wrestling, it’s easy to see why passionate wrestling fans all over the world think that the WWE brass is screwing over Daniel Bryan in favor of the Big Show.
But isn’t that the very basic foundation pro wrestling is built on: the battle of big and small? And isn’t that applicable to things like, say, life itself?
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Those who fancy the “postmodern” or the “structurated world” frown upon the “oversimplification” of binary opposition, preferring either “dualities” or “multifaceted approaches,” some even going for analogies like trees (“arboreal”) or mushrooms (“rhizomatic”) to present a more accurate view of the world. Accurate and nuanced as it may be, the brutally simple is often the brutally dramatic. The brutally simple is often what’s brutally true. And the brutally simple, more often than not, is manifested in the brutally obvious.
Nothing rings more true in the world than the big and small standing at odds with one another. When you strip away the incidentals, you’re left with the essentials. David and Goliath is a battle of the big and the small. Samson was one man, blessed by holy strength, destroying an edifice of evil and idolatry. Hackenschmidt was the foreign Russian heel that showed contempt for the wrestling represented by Gotch, the American hero and his Transatlantic roots. And in an industry driven by storytelling – as is marketing and advertising – that isn’t a half-bad way of telling a story. This is all badly put, and this half-bad story can be told better, but you know what I mean.
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Binary opposition may make for lazy analysis for some who view the world in nodes and branches. On the contrary, it may not be “sexy” in a world where the “subaltern” exists in something as brutally simple as good vs. evil, but it is what it is: brutally simple self-evidence, axiomatic realities, the premise of reasoning. Many feminists, for example, decried the portrayal of a CG Filipina girl to catch pedophiles. She is, after all, small, a child, female, brown, from a poor country such as ours. And she stands there as a victim for sexual criminals who are big, adult, male, not brown, and from more affluent countries. That is what you get when you peer into the structure that holds all nuances together: good and evil, big and small, black and white.
Or Napoles, for that matter. We’re the poor, hardworking, law-abiding taxpayers who stand in opposition to someone accused of things that run counter to our values: scandalously wealthy, enriched herself through questionable ways, a purveyor of graft and corruption at the expense of our taxes. It doesn’t make it the most “accurate” and “intelligent” view of things, but it does facilitate understanding.
Understanding is often all we really need to work the motor of the world. We act on what we can understand.
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All this brings me back to wrestling: the best example of a world in binary oppositions. Sure, there’s that clamor for a more nuanced booking, more emphasis on the small, agile wrestlers working the main event, a desire for more depth and complexity. Yet those are incidentals to the essentials of the storyline. “Tensions,” as is often invoked in the wonderful world of advertising. It doesn’t make it “realistic” by any stretch of the imagination, but more than that I think it makes it true. Which, come to think of it, makes it a little more valuable and a bit easier to hold on to. Again, when you strip away the incidentals, you’re left with the essentials.
Which makes for a case for a big man like Triple H to fight a small man like Daniel Bryan, but that’s another story.