Sunday, July 27, 2014

Précis: Roland Barthes, "Mythologies" (The World of Wrestling)


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.            

10 comments:

Angela Jiang said...

I appreciate that your writing flows in a very organized pattern that makes your points easy to follow!

This particular myth on wrestling is one of my favorites of Barthes' mythologies. The only thing is that I would like to have seen an incorporation of Barthes' foundation on mythological semiology: what is the signifier, signified, form, concept, etc.

J Seagull said...

Erick, I think you are right on with your note that the point here was to "change people’s assumptions on what a text is." That is exactly what reading Mythologies did for me a few years ago when we read excerpts from this in community college. I have to admit that I was a long-time culture snob. I did not pay any attention to anything on the radio or TV, it all seemed like a waste of time. But learning to see these cultural objects as texts did make them a lot more interesting, and I could see them as a different way to learn about the world around me. Thanks, Barthes!

Kerri Chen said...

I enjoyed your piece! It was pleasantly self-reflective, and the part about watching a wrestling match leading to us relating to the wrestlers was especially resonant with me. I believe people are always seeking escape as a form of entertainment, and that is an important thing that wrestling and theater have in common. I think that may even happen in real situations when we observe the drama of other people around us unfold.

Erick Berrios said...

Thanks for the comments guys! If you have any other suggestions please don't hesitate to comment, I appreciate all input.

Erick Berrios said...

@Angela, thanks for the suggestion. I wanted to try to add some of the concepts from Barthes other writings but I wanted to see first what you guys thought. I wanted to keep my focus on the wrestling piece in specific, but if you feel it would have been better to add all the other concepts I will try to implement them in my next revision.

Jo Hodaly said...

Well organized precis, and I appreciate the personal reference to WWE. While I personally didn't watch wrestling as a child, my cousins would do so constantly. I got to witness their zeal when they'd talk about a match they had just seen, or when they got a new WWF video game to play. One thing I gathered from reading Barthes was that to understand populist entertainment like wrestling as a performance, which engages in the production of stereotypical caricatures of idealized types of people. I think in understanding our consumption of WWE now through Barthes' critique, we should include the warning against spectacle as a mode of distraction. It's also interesting you should refer to the staging of wrestling as yet portraying "passions that are in fact real." Do you mean that in the sense of theater as a potentially cathartic medium? Are you relating wrestling to theater performance in a literal sense?

Allyn Benintendi said...

I am hesitant, but am intrigued. I hate wrestling. In my former opinion, wrestling was an event that catered to sadists, although I'm not sure if that opinion of mine developed from my own hatred of the spectacle and wanting to somehow explain how people could possibly enjoy such an experience. I don't know why, but I just can't get myself to agree with Barthes. Maybe it's my own ignorance, but I can't help but wonder if enjoyment of spectacles such as these has to do with gender preference or other. I took a look at the wwe website, and it said that 65% of viewers are men, while 35% are women, which is a statistic that completely invalidates what I thought. Also, I guess it would be pretty Valerie Solanas of me to think that men are sadists.

Shayda Azamian said...

I had never really thought of wrestling as a performative art before reading this piece and your precis! Your precis has compelled me to look into how wrestling matches are staged and planned, because this is actually new information to me. I am curious as to whether "performing" a wrestling match is a standard within the business, like if planning and choreographing the show is a standard in most wrestling matches. In addition, I found it very intriguing that you compare the progresion of the wrestling match to a person's individual life in terms of the routine failures, wins, and comebacks that people experience throughout life.

Anonymous said...



It is interesting to think of professional wrestling as commercial performance art. When you think about the fantastic production of it, wrestling is dripping in artistic decisions. Marx Landis, a great screenwriter, compared wrestling to the Muppet Show. He said that wrestling is solely supposed to be a competition where people come out and fight. But the producers show what happens backstage between the fighters, and somehow there always something that goes wrong. You see the fantastic personalities of the opponents and their brawls. Similarly, on the Muppet show, he says you see the sketches but you ALSO see the disorder of the backstage production. In that sense, they are alike.

I am confused about when you say that the fighting in wrestling is staged, are the injuries planned out?

-Samiha Baseer

Samiha Baseer said...

It is interesting to think of professional wrestling as commercial performance art. When you think about the fantastic production of it, wrestling is dripping in artistic decisions. Marx Landis, a great screenwriter, compared wrestling to the Muppet Show. He said that wrestling is solely supposed to be a competition where people come out and fight. But the producers show what happens backstage between the fighters, and somehow there always something that goes wrong. You see the fantastic personalities of the opponents and their brawls. Similarly, on the Muppet show, he says you see the sketches but you ALSO see the disorder of the backstage production. In that sense, they are alike.

I am confused about when you say that the fighting in wrestling is staged, are the injuries planned out?