In theatre the principal goal of an actor is to perform as another person on a stage in such a way that becomes believable to the audience—to become another person via performance. Such is also common in movies and TV, of course.
However in lucha libre, such is always not the case. Despite external forces (promoters, advertisers, sponsors, audience expectations, etc.) some luchadors are merely themselves in the ring. However the vast majority of individuals are hardly charismatic enough to hold an audience’s attention, and therefore even those who choose not to perform a gimmick have to exaggerate something in the ring. Because no person is merely one-dimensional, we then might ask: what aspects of self does one perform on stage?
I, for example—and this is not uncommon—take a facet or two of my personality and magnify them for the stage. If you’ve ever listened to one of my interviews, it’s immediately obvious that my in-ring antics, yelling, and hypermachismo are hardly my modus operandi. Yet my performance as non-luchador, as myself in the world, would hardly make for interesting lucha libre. Thus I take the assumptions and expectations of the audience (male, luchador, champion, muscles, tattoos, and so on) and extrapolate to create a character that is believable within said parameters. Although I try to play with these expectations from time to time, I am keenly aware that should I make a complete break from hegemonic normativity, I will likely lose the interest of the audience. In short, being cognizant can make character creation a bit tricky.
As a luchador enmascarado, I am afforded the luxury of fading into anonymity after removing my mask. For me this separation of character and self is important.
For one lucha libre is a theatre of violence: it’s ontology is constructed of nothing but fierce conflict and the solvency of these battles depends upon its actors being able to destroy each other physically. Historically, of course, this is the realm of masculinity (for the particular challenges this presents to luchadoras—female luchadors—check out La Avispa’s blog) and therefore machismo is presupposed and expected by the audience. Although I am no pacifist, I have no intentions of becoming a person who quickly resorts to violence, and thus this separation provides both an outlet for energy that may have been diverted towards violent behavior. Further this creates distance between said behavior and myself outside of the ring, as I am only “Fénix” in the ring, and I am never “Fénix” outside of the context of lucha libre.
This distance is not an excuse for offensive behavior, however. Although some hacks might argue otherwise (e.g., at a wrestling show last year, I watched a white male “performer” use the phrase “beaners” in attempt to evoke heat from the predominantly Latino crowd), being in character does not absolve the performer from all responsibility for his or her actions in the ring. But this is not to say that the stage cannot be used to explore ideas or for social commentary, for theatre is nothing if it is not exploring some state of the human condition, whether abstract (e.g., existentialism in Samuel Beckett’s End Game) or social commentary (race relations/socioeconomic inequality in Suzan-Lori Parks’ In The Blood). For a modern example of this within professional wrestling, check out the feud between Border Patrol and Blue Demon Jr. Exóticos also have great capacity for criticism via satire and hyperbole, but more on that later.
Secondly, anonymity allows us luchadors to be in the world uninterrupted. While few luchadores in the USA have any fame resembling that of celebrities, I am comforted knowing that regardless of my popularity, I can fade into the crowd and go unrecognized.
Not all luchadores put this much forethought into crafting a persona, and admittedly many of these are a posteriori deductions from interrogating my own performances, which I have put in conversation with my personal values and understanding of lucha libre as performance art. More at a later date on how lucha libre can function as criticism, but for now check out performances by exótico Maximo, and—as previously stated—the ongoing conflict between Border Patrol and Blue Demon Jr.