In the early 1980’s the Iranian hostage crisis was still fresh in the minds of Americans and the Cold War with the Soviet Union still continued until its collapse in the following decade. Though not a single shot was fired there was a battle being fought somewhere in the union hall, or small arena inside a small box like object called the squared circle.
The match for the night pits Iranian Sympathizer and current champion the Iron Sheik versus the upstart underdog challenger Hulk Hogan who runs down the arena with a torn up tee shirt; a bandana, holding the American flag and pointing to his opponent while “Eye of the Tiger” is blasted around the arena. Before the match starts the challenger attacks the Sheik and rips the Iranian flag much to delight of the crowd watching this spectacle. In the match’s climax the challenger springs from the ropes, drops his leg on his opponent to become the new champion. The match didn’t ease the conflict with Iran in real life, but in the scripted world of professional wrestling the battle had been won. Professional Wrestling is still a big business enterprise in the 21st century and despite the fact that the matches are pre-determined and the athletes are portraying characters that perhaps do not identify with themselves outside of the ring. Despite the scripted dialogues and matches that look nothing like the Greco-Roman style in the Olympics; the crowd ranging from children to grandparents still come in droves to see their favorite gladiators do battle. Even this year’s Wrestlemania a pay-per-view that can be considered World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) equivalent of the Super Bowl drew one of the highest audiences for a pay-per-view event. Unlike Greco-Roman wrestling that one sees in the Olympics the Pro Wrestler can rake his or her opponent with the eyes, hit them with chairs, ladders, and tables, and jump on the opponent. While the matches resemble battles between Gladiators during the Roman Empire, the violence is controlled between the two actors much like a fight scene in a film, controlled enough so the two can work again the next day, and believable enough to draw the audience into the storyline. A pro wrestling match than becomes part athletic event, and part soap opera.
If Horkheimer and Adorno would have a ring side seat they would probably use the argument that was made in their composition of The Culture Industry. Pro Wrestling could be added into their argument of amusement in disguise of intellectualism and the idea that “to be entertained is to be in agreement.” In the match between the Iron Sheik and Hogan, the villain wears a stereotypical dress and shouts “Iran number 1” helping the audience agree that this guy is Anti-American and adds to the crowds anti-foreigner chants, while Hogan with the arms and size of a real life comic book hero comes with great enthusiasm of the crowd as if he is the example of the U.S. dominance over the “evil” empires. In the wrestling ring the heroes or faces as they are called are often the everyman, the “Real American,” whereas often the villains or heels are often foreign, intellectual, or sometimes they are a group that works much like a corporation as if the line is easily drawn between the idea on good versus evil, even though the terms outside of the arena are not so easily defined, and yet in the ring we see this battle being fought in pre-determined fashion.
The ideal woman in this industry is viewed as one that has the looks that appeal to the adolescent male, someone that looks like the crossover between the “girl next door” and a vixen, while the ideal male in the ring looks like a Greek Sculpture coming to life, this Horkheimer and Adorno would argue would be where truth is lost in the name of entertainment. Truth is replaced by the ideal, and reality is replaced by fantasy; of what is an “ideal man” or “ideal woman” and of what is good and what is evil.
In the real world one cannot show his or her disdain for their job by punching their boss, but whenever Stone Cold Steve Austin beat up his boss Vince McMahon in the late 1990’s to the eyes of that person, Austin was that rebellious spirit for the working class worker dealing with that jerk of a boss, the childish behaviors of various characters can exude sort of the rebellious spirit of the teenage male of which the genre caters to for the most part.
Barthe uses the example of how myth shapes our cultures. And as society moves away from traditional mythologies and religions these myths than subconsciously become part of other mediums such as films and books (“Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter”). In the ring mythologies come to life in the eyes of the viewer, one could see a match that pits the largest versus the smallest as if the battle between David and Goliath are being recreated before our eyes, or see match with a character called the Undertaker who plays into our fears of death, the character appears in black like a mythical character in an old western the music sometimes features Gregorian Chant as if this character has been raised from the dead, one character called Sting even appears from the rafters looking down at his opponent like a mythic Phoenix, when Hogan picks up and slams someone like an Andre the Giant it is like the spectator is witnessing the illusion of either Superman or Hercules in the flesh.
American ideals are stored in the storylines a hero such as John Cena than embodies the spirit of the underdog one in which a character often faces an opponent who is more athletic, and perhaps bigger and stronger the overcoming of this obstacle is expressed in the American ideal of hard work which was instilled by early Protestant settlers and instilling what Max Weber calls the Protestant work ethic.
And it is through that work ethic the hero conquers the villain and wins the prize which is the championship belt. The villain on the overhand uses intellectual and illegal tactics, using the ring as a weapon; if he wins the villain often does so by hitting the opponent with a foreign object or grabbing his or her opponent’s tights, or from interference from an ally, and like an athletic opera these two contrasts clash. And much like an art lover can view an original painting the viewer of this saga can make their own judgment of which of these extremes they identify with. Sometimes the hero’s message is what resonates, and sometimes the teen can identify more with the villain or hero who rebels against the establishment.
Much like the punk culture of Hebdige’s society, the wrestling fan is compromised by young adults who seek to identify themselves and so they become involved with these characters whom they proudly cheer and jeer each time they tune in to an episode of Raw, Smackdown, or TNA Impact.