Monday, December 3, 2012

Wrestlemania: Roland Barthes vs. "Jeff"

I doubt I would have picked up Roland Barthes’ Mythologies , if I hadn’t loved the heck out of The Marriage Plot  by Jeffrey Eugenides. But I did, so... I did.

Still, I feared I was headed for some hoity-toity philosophy text that I would find extremely hard-to-follow. Imagine my surprise when the first essay jumps right into the seedy world of professional wrestling. He makes some great points about how the petty bourgeois spectacle of wrestling is just the latest evolution of ancient Greek theater:
“There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of Suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque [Barthes here refers to characters in neo-classic French plays by Molière and Racine]. Of course, there exists a false wrestling, in which the participants unnecessarily go to great lengths to make a show of a fair fight; this is of no interest. True wrestling, wrong called amateur wrestling, is performed in second-rate halls, where the public spontaneously attunes itself to the spectacular nature of the contest, like the audience at a suburban cinema. Then these same people wax indignant because wrestling is a stage-managed sport (which ought, by the way, to mitigate its ignominy). The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees.”
Now, I once paid hard-earned money to see the Undertaker and the Ultimate Warrior clash in a so-called “Body Bag Match” in 1991, so this could just be me justifying my junior high dalliances, but I think there’s definitely some truth in what Barthes is saying- maybe wrestling isn't so much about maintaining a veneer of believability, but fills some deeper human need instead.

Of course, this guy would disagree:


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