I was quickly drawn to Roland Barthes Mythologies, specifically The World of Wrestling chapter in the book. As a kid, I grew up watching the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) on television. I was fascinated by all the different wrestlers and all of their colorful personas and backgrounds. At that age you could not help but to be in awe seeing the feats of athleticism these men were able to perform, to me they were the closest thing to real life superheros. As I grew older I learned the truth of “professional” wrestling, it was staged. I became a bit disenchanted with professional wrestling, and at that point began to watch it less and less. I come across the WWE from time to time on TV. Ironically, it is still quite entertaining. However, I have never actually made the connection between wrestling and theater, it is not everyday that someone compares the world of professional wrestling to the stories of “Arnolphe or Andromaque”, as Barthes did. At the heart of Barthes’ argument is “Passion”. Just as the viewers of traditional theater, viewers of professional wrestling view this spectacle, even just for a moment, to escape the realities of their lives and through shared meaning, live their “passions” and emotions through the actions of the wrestlers. Wrestling may be staged, but the action portray passions that are in fact real.
During the time Mythologies was published, Barthes was heavily criticized for comparing the world of professional wrestling to that of theater arts. Wrestling was seen as an event that catered to sadists, but Barthes countered those critiques with claims of his own, “it is not true that wrestling is a sadistic spectacle: it is only a intelligible spectacle”. (Mythologies, Pg. 18) Although wrestling with all of it’s locks, forearm smashes, and slams, it uses these maneuvers as tools, to personify the spectacle. Wrestling’s goal was to make their event comprehensible to the everyday man. As Barthes said,
“In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result. (Mythologies, Pg. 14)”
wrestling is not about the result, it is about the expressions of the wrestlers who personify the audiences deepest kept passions. Wrestlers with their excessive gestures, exploited the meanings of their socially-inspired nuances and as Barthes called it, the spectacle was a “Real Human Comedy”. Rightfulness, conceit, these were all passions that the audience held dear.
In my opinion, Barthes objective with The World of Wrestling was to change people’s assumptions on what a text is. Even something as brute as wrestling held underlying themes that related to all those in the audience. Whether it was the “bastard” having his way in a wrestling match by performing an illegal strike without the referee’s knowledge, or the face (hero) finally “laying it on his rival”. Wrestling is symbolically an exaggerated representation of our lives. We have all experienced disappointment, not receiving what we feel we rightly earned. And we have all felt triumph, finally achieving a lifelong goal others doubted we can ever aspire to. Wrestling is all of those passions. We are the wrestlers we watch. When you watch a wrestling match you live through the actions of that particular wrestler you most relate to, and you see his trials and tribulations as your own.
Wrestling is a form of escapism. For that one moment that you sit down in the crowd, the problems of the outside world disappear and the victories of the wrestler become your own.