The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture

By Henry Jenkins | Go to book overview

4

Never Trust a Snake
WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama

See, your problem is that you're looking at this as a wrestling bat-
tle—two guys getting into the ring together to see who's the better
athlete. But it goes so much deeper than that. Yes, wrestling's in-
volved. Yes, we're going to pound each other's flesh, slam each
other's bodies and hurt each other really bad. But there's more at
stake than just wrestling, my man. There's a morality play. Randy
Savage thinks he represents the light of righteousness. But, you
know, it takes an awful lot of light to illuminate a dark kingdom.1

—Jake “The Snake” Roberts

There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport.
Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble
to attend a wrestled performance of Suffering than a performance
of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque.2

—Roland Barthes

Like World Wrestling Federation (WWF) superstar Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Roland Barthes saw wrestling as a “morality play,” a curious hybrid of sports and theater. For Barthes, wrestling was at once a “spectacle of excess,” evoking the pleasure of grandiloquent gestures and violent contact, and a lower form of tragedy, where issues of morality, ethics, and politics were staged. Wrestling enthusiasts have no interest in seeing a fair fight but rather hope for a satisfying restaging of the ageless struggle between the “perfect bastard” and the suffering hero.3 What wrestling offers its spectators, Barthes tells us, is a story of treachery and revenge, “the intolerable spectacle of powerlessness,” and the exhilaration of the hero's victorious return from near-collapse. Wrestling, like conventional melodrama, externalizes emotion, mapping it onto the combatants' bodies and transforming their physical competition into a search

-75-

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