Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Back to Wrestling: Characters

The British cast of characters is limited compared to the American. That is to say in my own, admittedly limited, experience. So far I have seen the following villains that I recall:

A shaved green dwarf: Clearly a villain, especially since he was fighting a handsome hero. Nevertheless, the dwarf 'succeeded' in tying the hero's limbs into a knot. A small alien from another planet. Think of the Mekon in Dan Dare or an evil genie escaped from a sinister bottle.

Giants: five or six, generally depicted as mean, stupid, lumbering and glowering, though the Norfolk based Pit Bulls, including the 30 stone Bulk, were local heroes. Not so much heroes in, say, Suffolk. Prototype: the local Ogre of Smeeth, to be defeated by gallant Tom Hickathrift.*

Flash Harrys: Sometimes Americans, sometimes Italians or Frenchmen. Foreigners are generally Flash. They brag, scowl and cheat. There are exceptions. Nordic types are generally heroes.

Narcissists: Similar to Flash Harrys but for the fact that they are possibly gay or hint at gayness. There has clearly been a homo-erotic aspect to wrestling in different places at different times. There were wrestlers such as Adrian Street, Bobby Barnes and the camp, ballet dancing American genius, Ricky Starr, but gayness is less of an outsider issue now so old camp is new camp, presenting itself between a different set of inverted commas - or so I suppose from the outside and I might be wrong. All the same, it would be hard to see a new Danny LaRue or even Lily Savage, starting from where they started. Time moves on. When I was Fellow at Trinity College Dublin, in 2000, preparing to write the wrestling novel that was not to be, I put some wrestling photos up in my office and people asked me if I was gay. I have yet to see a camp or narcissist wrestler in mucho macho Norwich.

Death mask variants: Locally we have the baseball-bat wielding, black and white painted demon, the Kendo Nagasaki samurai model, Count Bartelli, Dr Death himself, the Mummy and others. Partly Hollywood, partly horror film. I haven't yet seen a vampire, a werewolf or a fully fledged zombie but there's always hope. Meanwhile there is the relatively small store of gothic and UK Halloween. The masked are there to be unmasked. Essentially they are leading double lives. Baseball Man dramatically unmasked himself last week. A little bathetic at times. (Kendo was never unmasked as Peter Thorne of Crewe, but as a man with a tough scalp tattoo, in effect another mask.)

The rabbit or coward: Acts hard, pouts and runs or is simply there to be a rag doll to be thrown about. Cheerfully booed by the crowd.Helplessness is hard. You can't play it up.

Bad ganglang boss: Long leather coat, sunglasses, jewellery, or more likely would-be gangland boss. Drugdealer, possible paedophile.

These are the main types of villains. The heroes are less interesting in that there are fewer models. Clean-cut and handsome will do, though if you are local you can be the deepest-dyed villain and you'll still be hero. As dear Mr Best (Bestashvili) our Georgian landlord in London explained to me in 1973, the reason the huge statue of Stalin was still standing in Tbilisi at that time was that though he might have been a bad man, he was, nevertheless, our bad man.

There is, interestingly, a special place for the biker hero, probably best represented by Johnny Brookside, long-haired, slender, spectacularly athletic, born out of heavy metal. Heavy metal tends to be the medium for everything. Wrestling, apart from Ricky Starr, is a heavy metal world.

Female wrestlers can be either heroes or villains and switch more readily from one to the other. The local brand still serves, but as I wrote earlier, the catfight is not exploited in sexual terms. It is simply Rough Girls fighting between themselves. It's What Really Goes On When They Are Not Being Ladylike. But after the fighting and snarling they can switch sweet back on, should they want to.

What to make of this and the dramas they engage in? Next time. And I'll add a couple of links and pictures.


Alfred Corn said...

A little surprised at naivete' in a man so experienced as you, Geo. If Freud hadn't taught that we all have bisexual natures in varying degrees, historical anthropology would. Also, look at the classical world. Or contemporary prison experience. I speak as a gay man who was happily married for five years. Of course Judaeo-Christian-Islamic culture has discouraged the propensity. The return of the repressed for heterosexual men takes the form of contact sport and TV wrestling, which almost exactly reproduces sexual grappling. The great majority of its audience are "straight" males and women because of course it is stimulating, even if the stimulation goes no further than voyeurism. Gay men prefer the real thing. Inability to acknowledge the above facts qualifies as what Freud called "resistance" of the superego to what the unconscious mind experiences. But can anyone deny that he knows which men or women are physically attractive and which not? I often have a sharp intake of breath when I see a beautiful woman. I also put it to you that any person who has ever maturbated has enjoyed a homosexual experience.

Of course if you feel this comment is ill-suited to your blog, it's all right with me if it's deleted.

George S said...

I am indeed naive, so I hope you might forgive me. I don't disagree with a word you say, nor did I disagree with it before you said it. In my defence I would only add that what I write is based on observation of the wrestling crowd and its relation to what presents itself as camp. There is less camp about than used to be, I'm pretty certain of that. The interesting thing about the camp wrestlers I mention is that they were held in some affection by the, essentially working class, crowd.

My supposition was that the more general acceptance of the articulation of gay life has meant that the acting out of camp was now of less overt interest. I make a distinction between camp with its representation of gayness, and the homoerotic impulse as embodied in specific wrestlers who did not play camp but who were nonetheless perceived as ready objects of homoerotic desire.

As to that desire itself, again, I could hardly disagree with you, nor did I disagree with you before. Statements about gayness work on two primarily levels : one as shorthand in conversation. (A student asks me if I am gay and for conversational purposes I simply answer no, but am happy to continue the conversation. ) The other is the level of decision. I have no doubt that I would be just as capable of developing homosexual desire as not. Most people are. On the level of decision I chose otherwise for all kinds of mysterious reasons, possibly involving the idea of a less complicated life as I perceived it. Not that there was a moment of decision as such: one does what one does, and then, to some degree, becomes what one does.There is nothing better or worse about that. It is a shape in life, that's all, the shape I have lived with. That too is simply a report, much as my observation of the crowd was.

The Gedle said...

There may be evidence of our bisexual tendencies dating back to classical antiquitie, but there is also plenty of evidence that we have fought.
Human's have long had the instinct both on a personal and a collective level that if you can take the opposition out of the picture you ensure your share of territory, mates, resources and tribal status.
Animals show these instincts too. I hae listened to many a nature documentary voice-over explaining brutal fights between males of species ranging from bison to badgers to birdies as being over prospective mates or territory.

Given that sex is only one of the survival instincts we share with the animals, and also that public fighting is probably more frowned upon than homsexuality, Do you not think that the popularity of wrestling might be linked as much to a vicarious satisfaction of our desire to take out our opposition by simply bashing them rather than having to play a smarter game against them within our now complex and rigid social constraints?

Or do we need to re-evaluate our view of the natural world, discount the explanations of animal fighting sponsored by the establishment and accept that those to bison are fighting because of some primal sexual need to touch each other?

George S said...

I wouldn't suggest that sex of any sort is the foremost dynamic of British pro-wrestling. The hunch I have been following is that it works on a pantomime-allegorical level.

Certainly desire (women have traditionally been the most dramatically demonstrative supporters) and Darwinian competition (as you have it, The Gedle) are aspects of it, but those are common in all contact sports.

There is, I believe, something else at play here, a crude drama which the 'blind' referee, the stalking evil manager are important functionaries.

Poet in Residence said...

I suspect the time is now ripe for you to set down your blockbuster wrestling novel - you can't put it off forever.
The lead character, a Hungarian wrestler travelling across Europe in a Circus. Taking on all-comers for the price of a square meal etc. Romantic macho and pure! A bit like D H Lawrence's Gypsy.

Alfred Corn said...

George, I'm glad you didn't take umbrage but instead reasoned. On the face of it, the fact that life as a heterosexual in our society is easier would seem indisputable. Yet I have seen my heterosexual friends with children under truly terrible pressures to survive and give their children something better than subsistence. I sense that most parents would sacrifice their lives rather than see their children suffer. For an artist, the sacrifice is double: her/his life and the possibility of practising the art. I am so glad not to have been faced with that choice.
To return to Freud, the instincts of Eros and Aggression are an indissoluble binary. Which helps explain why there are so many rapes. And why fighting and killing so often take on a sadistic flavor. Not enough to kill your opponent: you must castrate him and stuff the severed parts in his mouth. I'm going to avoid discussing the 1940-1945 camps. There never seems to be a lack of personnel willing to serve as torturers.

John Jack said...

Actually....i think poet In residence's idea sounds excellent...please write this!!


Anonymous said...

"To return to Freud, the instincts of Eros and Aggression are an indissoluble binary. Which helps explain why there are so many rapes. And why fighting and killing so often take on a sadistic flavor. Not enough to kill your opponent: you must castrate him and stuff the severed parts in his mouth. I'm going to avoid discussing the 1940-1945 camps. There never seems to be a lack of personnel willing to serve as torturers."

And now back to Dickie Davis, in the studio!

George S said...

Ah! A grapple fan! Is that the sound of Kent Walton in the background?