Sónico’s argument is perhaps not inaccurate. However it presupposes that professional wrestling is completely devoid of political significance. Assuming that wrestling was somehow completely isolated from the realm of politics, I may have conceded. However, knowing that professional wrestling is thoroughly steeped in ideology, I continued with my original plan to wear the shirt. Our exchange did remind me that I still have work to complete in this realm.
Accordingly, I am compelled to again write about pro wrestling. Within the next week I intend share a proposed outline and itinerary for completing this project. It is admittedly an ambitious one, and incredibly multifaceted. As is customary for my approach, I will address professional wrestling in a critical academic fashion. However, in order to make the topic accessible as well as to offer a thorough exploration, I will utilize a multimedia approach that will include images, video, and audio, in addition to writing. The aforementioned approach ensures that each post will be unique, but also that completing each one will be no small task. Consequently, I may not be able to provide weekly updates, save for the occasional unrelated musings.
As previously stated, this will only be a pure “wrestling blog” in that it will be demonstrably using examples from wrestling for argumentative purposes. That is to say I will be writing about wrestling in an academic sense, but I will not be “chronicling” the history of wrestling, writing about my own wrestling adventures, nor providing fan insights like a damned mark.
It has been a while, but I’m stoked to be back. 🙌🏽
It is with some sadness, albeit zero trepidation, that this will serve as my final blog post. My reasons are few: mostly I have just become too busy to dedicate the time required to write at the level that I demand of myself. Although I have not talked about it here, I recently began picking up stunt work for commercials and film, which—in addition to regular lucha gigs, full time employment, and my 7-day training regimen—not only occupies more of my time, but also has forced me to broaden my focus from just lucha libre. Given this personal shift, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to dedicate the same rigor to thinking and writing about lucha libre that I was once capable of maintaining.
Despite the breadth of topics, my quarterly workouts (which were initially just filler posts) proved to be my most popular posts. I feel it’s safe to say that post-Mexico, I had no coherent vision for the blog and thus it never found a voice.
To that end it should be noted that I am not abandoning the blog on account of it not gaining monumental popularity: I knew quite well that the blog of a non-famous luchador would garner only a specialized, rather small audience (nevermind the fact that the blog was simultaneously academic in tone). Rather, this blog represents a particular chapter in my life that was rife with uncertainty, fear, and passion: uncertainty in the wake of moving to Mexico City to pursue the impossible; fear of said uncertainty; the unbridled passion for a sport. I was in an intense, naive, love affair with lucha libre, for which I flung myself into a personal exodus, into Mexico City, into the birthplace of lucha libre.
While I still love lucha libre, our relationship is now an established one; the maddening, lusty, honeymoon phrase has passed. And although my visions of performing in CMLL during my time in Mexico City did not come to be, I have not abandoned my passion for lucha libre nor the pursuit of excellence, and opportunities within the sport. In fact, I will achieve one of many lucha goals this August when I perform in Arena Naucalpan alongside three of my colleagues from Lucha Volcánica.
I am leaving behind this blog because of it’s significance from a specific period within my relationship with lucha libre, and by extension, a period within my life. I am instead shifting my focus to my future with lucha libre.
Put differently, I am moving on.
No, I am not moving on from lucha libre: when I started this blog I was pursuing, thinking, and dreaming about doing lucha libre. Now? Now I am simply too busy with the doing to be dreaming, a luxury that I was dreaming about back when I first started here.
And I like it that way.
PS: You can still find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
For those of you who follow my adventures, you’ve probably noticed a distinct descrease in posts over the past few months, something that I would like now to address.
For me there seems to be a inverse causal relationship between doing and thought: the more I’m doing something, the less time I have to think about it abstractly. Conversely the less I’m doing a thing (e.g., when I first started Rex N Effect), the more time I may spend exploring it intellectually. Beginning back in January, Lucha Volcánica has had monthly shows in Seattle. We have scaled back our training regimen from daily, to 3-hour sessions on Saturday & Sunday. This schedule affords me more time to focus on weight training and conditioning, as well as to train for stunt work. However the increased frequency of shows also means that I’ve been spending more time preparing for shows than I have previously, which in turn, seemingly leaves me less time to ponder the sport in which I am participating.
While I never set a particular scope for Rex N Effect, I did pride myself on writing a non-wrestling wrestling blog of sorts. Further, I never wanted this blog to merely a newsletter of my activities, but now that my activity level within the sport has increased, it may mean that I will need to take a different approach to how I share on Rex N Effect. Although I still intend to explore lucha libre through writing, I will likely be diversifying how the exploration occurs, including more photos, videos, and perhaps (maybe) the resurrection of the mythical podcast.
I recently had the pleasure and honor of being a guest judge at the 2015 Annual Piñata Bash in Seattle, Washington. A day or two preceding the event, a random individual posted on the Bash’s event page on Facebook, asking if we were partnering with any Latino organizations, and (not so) subtly accused the Bash of co-opting Mexican culture. Initially I was only put off by the condescending—yet blissfully ignorant—tone of the post. However through 30 seconds of Facebook stalking, I was instead offended by the fact that the perpetrator was white. And by “white,” I don’t mean just physically white in appearance, I mean clearly in no way a Latina. Chicana. Mexicana. Hispanic. Whatever nomenclature you prefer.
Which of course, brings me to the focus of this discussion: white people, please stop trying to tell us how to conduct our culture.
Before you assault me with angsty retorts in the comments section (I’m looking at you, recent liberal arts graduates), let me clarify two things: I’m not saying that you ought not to align yourselves with historically oppressed peoples, as we love and appreciate your support; I am *also* not trying to speak on behalf of oppressed peoples everywhere. What I *am* saying, is that not everything which vaguely resembles a thing that you understand as a tenet of a specific culture is a potential battleground against cultural appropriation.
Let’s take the case in question: the Piñata Bash is, in fact, organized by a group of white individuals. Never mind the fact that less than a minute of research would have revealed that the event was being sponsored by Lucha Libre Volcánica, which is owned by a Mexican and is an exhibition of a Mexican folk art. The point of contention for this person seems to be the central theme itself: the piñata.
This is one place where her critique breaks down: another minute (I know! So much time…) of research yields that the piñata may originate in China well before it ever became a Spanish tradition. For those of you who are unaware, China is not in fact, in Mexico. Further, Spain (if you’re following, happened to have adopted the Chinese tradition) was an imperialist occupier of Mexico. Essentially this means that the piñata is at least two-steps removed from Mexico—Spain’s cultural imperialism notwithstanding, of course. This is where I encounter a second problem with the critique: at what point do we judge something as cultural appropriation?
But beyond assaulting papier mâché (spelling and accents courtesy of the internet) with a stick, this misguided inquiry provoked further questioning about how authenticity and culture are policed. Where would such a conception of cultural currency put a luchador like me: a half-Mexican adoptee who was raised functionally lacking of any relationship to Mexican culture? What about my white colleagues in the sport, who are sometimes better performers than their Mexican counterparts? What about my friend La Avispa, who is white but speaks way better Spanish than I do? Do her language skills have more cultural currency than my skin tone and Mexican blood? Does it matter that she’s a white woman performing within an arena that is traditionally occupied by Mexican men? Sex and gender aside, how ought we to go about quantifying one’s ethnicity, and at what point does one lose the “cultural privilege” of being “ethnic?” Did I even technically qualify as a “supervisory Mexican” for the Bash? Did she know that I am adopted, and that’s why she insisted that we partner with a local Latino non-profit to “legitimize” the event?
I am the byproduct of a Mexican immigrant father and a white (mostly German, with a hint of French, and tidbits of Native American) mother; I was later adopted as an infant by a white family. During the course of my life I’ve been told by several (usually white) adults that I should “connect with my culture.” As a child I was completely unclear as to what that meant, short of learning Spanish or eating exclusively Mexican food. As I have become an adult, I am not any less confused as to what it means to “connect with my culture”: I am unclear as to where culture ends and begins. Regardless of my “connection” (or lack thereof) to Mexican culture, I grew up as a person of color. The quality of being Mexican is always already thrust upon me by a culture that identifies white as normative, and thus my “authentic” Mexicanness is largely irrelevant to my life experiences as a brown male. Regarding the Bash, this particular individual was out of her depth in the attempt to level a critique about the event. And although frustrating, I found myself asking more questions about cultural appropriation and who has the right to officiate public events involving (not white) culture. While I do not have the answer, I know for damned sure it was not this particular person.
I’ve been pretty open about my lack of interest in American pro wrestling. I am however, a fan of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, and I recently listened to his interview with former WWE star CM Punk, who at the end of his interview stated how he often feels fat and out of shape. Not that I enjoy the misery of others, but it was affirming to know that I shared an insecurity with another—although significantly more prominent—pro wrestler.
I want to make clear that this is not a covert public confession to an eating disorder, something with which I am not affected. If anything this could be considered an admission that for years I struggled with insecurities regarding my physical appearance. More broadly it is an attempt to illustrate that such insecurities are not uncommon, and further, are exacerbated by aesthetic ideal conceptions of masculinity proper. In doing so we will look at a series of case studies that will illustrate how the physicality of pro wrestlers bear signs which adhere to particular conceptions of the otherwise complex milieu of social constructs such as race, class, gender, and so on. That being said, it should be immediately obvious that it would impossible to give such a topic a proper treatment within the average blog post length. Consequently this will be the first of a series of installments: this discussion will primarily set up the theory within which I understand the aesthetic and physical expectations of the masculine body; subsequent additions will examine case studies such as the Ultimate Warrior, Viscera, and other pop-culture icons.
Further it should be noted that this is not an attempt to equivocate the physical and aesthetic expectations of men’s and women’s bodies, but rather to explore the social and cultural expectations of beauty that are particular to male performers—and perhaps men in general, although such a broad claim is well beyond the scope of this discussion.
The dominant cultural presupposition holds that body image issues are inherently a women’s problem. For example the phrase “manorexia” is clearly a verbal play on the eating disorder anorexia: the addition of the “m” masculinizes the word thereby distinguishing it from “anorexia.” But this action presupposes that anorexia is inherently a female disorder, and thus the anorexic man is an anomaly as he is suffering from something that is thought to only afflict women. While this example is specific to a particular condition, it indicates a broader cultural understanding of body image issues as being exclusive to women.
My interest in this topic was rekindled by ESPN’s decision to feature professional baseball player Prince Fielder on the cover of their annual Body Issue, which subsequently fueled a public discussion about men’s physique. Despite the fact that Fielder is a professional athlete, his perhaps “husky” appearance incited public criticism of his “less than ideal” physical appearance—in other words he wasn’t svelte enough to conform to the masculine ideal aesthetic that we’ve attached to athletes.
Such aesthetic expectations are omnipresent in sports, and given the hyperbolic, theatrical nature of professional wrestling, such aesthetics tend to be overrepresented. But the representation of ideology within the body is not new, and is in fact a somewhat intentional and integral part of pro wrestling sport. Despite the athleticism of pro wrestlers, it differs from sport proper in that pro wrestling is simultaneously steeped in theatre. This theatrical nature gives professional wrestling a sort of license to intentionally draw upon ideological conceptions of beauty, heroism, and masculinity.
In his famous essay The World of Wrestling, Roland Barthes states “What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and places before the panoramic view of univocal nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.” In other words professional wrestling distills otherwise complex intersections of—among others—race, class, gender, good and evil, and reifies them as physical signifiers within the body of the wrestler which in itself constitutes a basic sign. These signs are constructed to resonate with and conform to dominant ideologies of the audience, and thus are simplified and hyperbolized so that there is no need to connect the signs to what they signify—they are immediately readable.
Barthes also helps us understand the importance of the appearance of the body in pro wrestling. Unlike most sports wherein a particular body type is produced from repetitive movements and actions, pro wrestling’s theatrical nature means that the body of the professional wrestler is crafted in order to fit an ideal aesthetic: a continuous cast of Spartans.
While Barthes wrote specifically about wrestling, he wasn’t the only academic to understand how the human body is used as a conduit of signs. The late French philosopher Michel Foucault noted that “the body is directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it; mark it, train it” and force it to “emit signs.” The signs themselves are a product of “an overall effect” of the “strategic positions” of hegemonic power. By using Foucault’s and Barthes’ ideas as lenses through which to view professional wrestling, we understand the body of the wrestler as a hyperbolized sign which functions as a signifier for pre-existing ideological conceptions of race, class, gender, good and evil, and national identity.
But how does all of this theory relate to body image issues? Given that their bodies are a central feature to the sport, wrestlers are often hyperaware of their physical appearance. The narrative structure within professional wrestling—from long-form storylines of the WWE to the minute narrative of a single match itself—are constructed upon these very ideological conceptions. When these popular conceptions break down there is a sort of ideological disruption. The most relevant and obvious example lies in the aforementioned Fielder case, wherein Fielder’s masculine form failed to conform to the ideal athletic body.
I am specifically interested in a variety of things: if the theatre of pro wrestling functions as a sort reflective field of ideological conceptions, it can be used as a means through which to gain perspective on how a particular culture understands itself. What do I mean by this? In case studies—which we will examine at length later—we will look at Hulk Hogan’s (Terry Bollea) super-patriotic gimmick from the 1980s. I argue that his “American hero” character would have been unsuccessful if, for example, Hogan had been a man of color. This claim, of course, is an historical one and thus cannot be divorced from the context, a context that we will examine in order to illustrate the conversation around race and national identity during Hogan’s run as the “Real American.” Thus we can use this information to gain a particular understanding of how viewers perceived American identity itself—i.e., American identity proper—during that time.
Peripherally I am also suggesting is that these “ideal” masculine forms are hyperbolized and distilled within pro wrestling in such a way that drives wrestlers to aspire towards an unrealistic—and often times unattainable—physique. Repeated failures to achieve such perfection undoubtedly lead to a sense of inadequacy, and many wrestlers end up altering and sometimes destroying their bodies striving to such ends.
As someone who has to continually fight back impulses to try semi-promising fad diets or health supplements from body building websites in order to drop to an unhealthily low body-fat percentage, I often find myself contemplating this fleeting sense of inadequacy. While some of the aforementioned theory may seem obtuse on its face, it can be instructive to help trace a sort of metaphysics of masculinity, as well as a broader means through which to inductively unpack cultural self-identity. I find both of these ends to be simultaneously intellectually and personally fulfilling, and the former can be a theoretical framework with which one can confront their own body image issues.
We’ll continue the discussion with a series of case studies. This is an open-ended project, and thus I cannot enumerate subsequent entries. However anticipate a multifaceted analysis including not just pro wrestling photos, images, videos, and excerpts from interviews, but also social and political history where contextually relevant.
Barthes, Roland. “World of Wrestling.” Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. 23-32. Print.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Print.
Social complexity is at the very foundation of lucha libre, wherein partners and rivals, enemies and friends, are often one in the same. The fact that rudos and technicos may not actually hate each other is not revelatory. However the relationships between luchadors both in and out of the ring are significantly more complicated than many realize: the kinetic energy that ignites between two clashing luchadors is not only a mutual desire to create an exemplary show, but is also an overflow of tension from by the friendship/competition dynamic that is an innate quality of the sport.
Creative performance is my driving inspiration. As a professional luchador, I become a character through my performance: my very persona is created by the nuances and broader actions within the ring. Ave Rex then is the end product of that which I create: it is the individual words I choose and the consistency of my actions which give shape to my identity and breathe life into the performance.