Steel Chair To The Head edited by Nicholas Sammond

July 12, 2019

There’s a lot of talk about the wrestling bubble and it’s always interesting to get the perspectives of people who don’t follow professional wrestling as a fan, but this collection of academic essays is often a case of missing the point.

As you’d expect if you’ve ever seen the references section of a college paper on wrestling, this starts with philosopher Roland Barthes’s 1957 essay “The World of Wrestling.” Respected as Barthes may be in his field, this doesn’t offer much depth or insight: even in the 1950s, it shouldn’t have come across as a stroke of genius to note that wrestling is a performance of good and evil and a morality tale rather than a pure sport. The problem is that there’s little if any acknowledgement that pro bouts are put on primarily to draw ticket-paying customers rather than as a moral and artistic cause in their own right.

Many of the essays are along similar lines, focusing on wrestling being a masculine melodrama, political allegory or even a sado-masochistic narrative, with many of the points somewhat undermined by reading levels of symbolism that were surely not intended by the performers involved.

Some parts are more intriguing though, including a look at the importance of the mask in Mexican culture, an exploration of Latino characters’ portrayal in the US, and studies of the changing fan base of the 1990s that became more aware of the dual reality of on-screen and backstage conflicts.

As a whole, it’s certainly worth a read, though possibly one to dip into rather than be overwhelmed with the academic and philosophical perspective in a single sitting.

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