On “The Reality of Wrestling: Or, Why Everything Is Fake”

My friend Tim Kail hit the nail on the head on The Work of Wrestling today with this essay about the flawed concept of “fake” in professional wrestling. Hopefully you’ll click on the link go read it after I tempt you with this excerpt:

Yes, Ronda’s aches and pains resultant from her hard work and her righteous battles are legitimate.

Rocky’s wounds are paint. Sylvester Stallone does not feel their pain.

But the emotion experienced by the viewer, in either case, is the same. We do not differentiate, in the exact Moment of Pop, between perceived reality and perceived fiction. We just pop. We may discern some difference after the fact. There are those who will attempt to argue that there is a difference between the emotion inspired by real-life fighters and the emotions inspired by fictional fighters. That is a fool’s errand that misses the larger point, for in the moment of ecstasy we do not go to great lengths to justify our emotions or attempt to prove someone wrong no matter what inspired those emotions. We just feel, and we’re unconsciously grateful to whatever inspired that feeling.

As I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve thought a lot about why wrestling is so compelling to it’s fans, and Tim articulates this so very well in his essay. Wrestling is a venue in which an open display of feelings is accepted and encouraged, both for the performers and the audience. Society so often forces us to mask and bottle our emotions, deems them immature, uncivilized, even feral. But we all still have these emotions, and they cause us a world of pain and problems if we don’t find a way to set them free. While other arts and sports offer Moments of Pop, it is the whole aim of wrestling to lead us to that moment of catharsis. Even a wrestling match that displays exquisite athletics isn’t considered successful unless our emotions “pop” in response.

So real vs. fake is indeed a false dichotomy. Wrestling is real because it’s an art form that welcomes all our emotions, encourages them, even models them for us. It is willfully, even joyously evocative. Roland Barthes noticed this as well. “In wrestling, as on the stage in antiquity, one knows how to cry,” he wrote. “One has a liking for one’s tears.”

Thanks Tim!

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