Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Understanding Professional Wrestling, Part 1

Posted by nathanpowers22 on March 21, 2017

Transitioning directly from soap operas to professional wrestling, I knew there were bound to be similarities between the two. The lengthy histories of each have led to intergenerational fanbases; both rely on large rotating casts of characters; conflicts are only temporarily resolved to perpetuate a cycle of drama; overreactions and camera techniques are used to amplify emotion; the list goes on. However, as a more cursory wrestling fan (I had friends who were into it growing up), I wasn’t really aware of how dynamic the nature of wrestling personas truly is until I read the chapter from Bodies of Discourse on Mick Foley. This passage also illustrated for me how much fans play a part in this back-and-forth of underdog to champion, everyman to legend, “face” to “heel” etc. that you see to some extent in soap operas (though this is clearly decided far less often by fans than writers). However, as the reading points out, this isn’t a binary system where the actor is either in one state or the other, but a complex plurality of roles that drives fan engagement.

Other than the more figurative aspect of polysemy, the multiple ways fans interpret a wrestler’s performance, Mick Foley WAS three different characters for a short time: Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love. It’s interesting to me that this was a possible turn of events in the world of professional wrestling, but also how these characters became refined and consolidated over time to give Foley, the persona, intellectual dimensions inspired by Foley, the actor himself. Of course, this commingling of fiction and reality isn’t unique to Foley because live performances are the core of this media genre. As a result, real-life events strongly impact the WWE’s narrative because there must be fictional rationalizations for why a wrestler cannot participate in a match or other events. This can be seen in a very recent example with Mick Foley where he was “fired” from RAW due to an upcoming hip surgery [1].

[1] – http://www.givemesport.com/1011855-mick-foleys-first-tweet-since-being-fired-from-raw-generates-huge-support-from-fans


2 Responses to “Understanding Professional Wrestling, Part 1”

  1. jacobkaraglanis said

    I liked your note about the wrestler, Mick Foley and his leg surgery. Because with the crazy fans of WWE they need everything to go along with the script that they made. This to me is insane because there is no need to keep the story going on for everything that happens in the lives of wrestlers.

    • nathanpowers22 said

      I don’t think it’s insane. I actually think it’s kind of cool that performers like Foley are so dedicated to their craft. At the end of the day, you have to keep in mind that this is all just for the sake of entertainment. How boring would it be to just say, “Sorry, I need hip surgery. I’ll be back in a little while,” when wrestling fans come for the overblown drama? They don’t want to see such human weakness because its kind of an escapism to see this everyman, a reflection of themselves, as a legend. Plus, it’s just a plot device that introduces a host of new conflicts once he’s written back into the show post-recovery.

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