Sunday, 21 November 2010
Back to Wrestling : Savagery
Clearly pro-wrestling is about something other than a technical contest according to fixed rules between two fairly equally matched wrestlers. There are several kinds of bout.
Tag matches, for example, involve two against two, three against three, four against four, and so on, the ostensible rule being that while only two wrestlers are in the ring at a time, either may touch the hand of his or her team mate waiting by the ringside as a signal that he should take his place.
But there is much more. There are handicap matches where one big man might fight two smaller ones at once. There are lumberjack bouts and cage bouts. A pretty comprehensive list is given here. These include: ambulance matches, bar room brawls, blindfold matches, junkyard scrap, object on a pole match, weapons match, singapore cane match, and, in extreme forms, thumbtacks death match, human torch match and chamber of horrors. For female wrestlers add catfight, bra and panties match, good housekeeping match and evening gown match. Altogether the site lists well over a hundred forms.
There is no denying the sadistic aspect of the spectacle, though outright sadism is more the ghost on the stairs than a fully kitted figure in the hall. Wrestling is organised in small promotions or circuses where fighters have to fight each other all the time. If they really hurt each other there'll be one contest less next time and probably a smaller crowd. In any case a circus is a team and a real sadist would quickly become unpopular.
Ritualised violence is central to human life, no matter whether you are a pacifist or a warmonger. It exists partly to give form to suppressed transferable energies, partly to help us imagine pain and death in a controllable environment. No violence, no death: no art. No Macbeth or Lear, no Beethoven or Schubert or Bach, no Chaucer, no Keats, no Giotto, no Delacroix and certainly no Picasso. Gender makes no difference, it simply shifts the arena a little. The cultured experience violence through language; the underclass through the body. That is, of course, too hard and fast a distinction, but it indicates a spectrum.
Form too is violence of sorts in that it insists, asserts, cuts, and drives. Wrestling form does much the same. What is peculiarly British about it, as it is practiced here, is that it presents savagery as intimacy. The whole family is there, the children are looked after, the handicapped are treated with considerable care and tenderness, the raffles offer anything from DVDs to matching lilac envelopes and writing paper (I know, we won a set once). If a child has a birthday everyone is encouraged to sing Happy Birthday and a gift of some sort is produced. When the women fight (as they did this time) it isn't played for sex but as a stage for female athleticism, spite and fury with the odd feminine gesture thrown in (a wave of the hand, a wriggle of the hip, a look from under the brow) but then it's back to the business of flinging each other about.
Wrestling has to look dangerous and bloody (wrestlers will cut themselves on small razors to get a show of blood) and it certainly takes courage, strength and athleticism (most of the time), but the chief danger is accidents. Pain (aka Dr Death) is the ghost on the stairs looking down on the hall with its semi-comical guests, the characters at the party, but the hall itself is full of our clutter, is cheap and cheerful, and the guests seem to be grinning and bearing it.