One new entry this week, an updated re-release of a 1998 title, Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle, Second Edition by Sharon Mazer
Professional wrestling is one of the most popular performance practices in the United States and around the world, drawing millions of spectators to live events and televised broadcasts. The displays of violence, simulated and actual, may be the obvious appeal, but that is just the beginning. Fans debate performance choices with as much energy as they argue about their favorite wrestlers. The ongoing scenarios and presentations of manly and not-so-manly characters―from the flamboyantly feminine to the hypermasculine―simultaneously celebrate and critique, parody and affirm the American dream and the masculine ideal.
Sharon Mazer looks at the world of professional wrestling from a fan’s-eye-view high in the stands and from ringside in the wrestlers’ gym. She investigates how performances are constructed and sold to spectators, both on a local level and in the “big leagues” of the WWF/E. She shares a close-up view of a group of wrestlers as they work out, get their faces pushed to the mat as part of their initiation into the fraternity of the ring, and dream of stardom. In later chapters, Mazer explores professional wrestling’s carnivalesque presentation of masculinities ranging from the cute to the brute, as well as the way in which the performances of women wrestlers often enter into the realm of pornographic. Finally, she explores the question of the “real” and the “fake” as the fans themselves confront it.
First published in 1998, this new edition of Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle both preserves the original’s snapshot of the wrestling scene of the 1980s and 1990s and features an up-to-date perspective on the current state of play.
Here’s my review of the original:
In the days when wrestling books were a relative rarity, this was a reasonable buy. Today it will be of little interest to most fans.
Part of a “Performance Studies” series, this is two for two on the “wrestling academia” checklist: it quotes Roland Barthes’ essay on wrestling, and it devotes little or not attention to the fact that people promote professional wrestling events as a business.
Indeed, most of the book continues along the usual lines: wrestling is a drama, not a sport; there’s a lot of emphasis on masculinity despite men in tight underwear rolling around with one another; the portrayal of women is very simplistic.
A couple of chapters do offer new takes, at least within the context of the academic wrestling essay. One sees Mazer spend time at Johnny Rodz’s gym watching trainees go through their paces, contrasting their training with that of boxers in the same gym who are solely there to learn legitimate combat. Another looks at the growth of the ‘smart fan’ as wrestling became more popular online, and the way some fans refuse to believe anything they see on TV for fear of being ‘worked.’
All in all though, fans of wrestling won’t really learn much from the book, other than to see how some things might look different to the outsider, such as Mazer’s insistence that there’s something homosexual about Hulk Hogan asking Zeus how he’ll feel when the world’s largest arms are wrapped around him…
29 October: GLOW: Vs The Star Primas by Tini Howard
28 January: Smackdown Town by Max Nicoll & Matt Smith