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ESSAY The "Tennessee Test ofManhood" Professional Wrestling and Southern Cultural Stereotypes by Louis M. Kyriakoudes and Peter A. Coclanis ? his Georgia Scenes, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet describes a fight between two early-nineteenth-century backcountry brawlers, Billy Stallions and Bob Durham. Each fighter was reputed to be the toughest in his locality, although their friendship had heretofore kept the issue of county champion unresolved. One day, however, after an exchange ofinsults between their wives, honor now aggrieved, Billy and Bob agreed to setde the matter in " 'a fair fight; catch as catch can, rough and tumble.'" It being market day in the county seat, word of the coming batde spread quickly through town, and a large crowd gathered, forming a ring in anticipation ofthe contest. Each combatant's supporters boasted oftheir man's impending victory. "What's Bob Durham going to do when Billy lets that arm loose upon him?" "God bless your soul, he'll think thunder and lightning a mint julep to it." "Oh, look here, men, go take Bill Stallions out o' that ring, and bring in Phil Johnson's stud horse, so that Durham may have some chance!" The spectators appealed to Squire Tommy Loggin—"a man . . . who had never failed to predict die issue ofa fight in all his life"—for insight into the outcome, and his inscrutable gaze encouraged both parties that victory would be theirs.1 The fight began when Bob "dashed at his antagonist at full speed," grasping Billy in an " 'all under-hold'" that put Billy's " 'feet where his head ought to be.'" The struggle continued. Bob "entirely lost his left ear, and a large piece from his left cheek," while Billy lost "about a third of his nose," which was "bit off," and his "face [was] so swelled and bruised that it was difficult to discover in it anything of the human visage." Less one finger and upon having "dirt and sand" ground into his eyes, Billy ended the batde with a cry of " 'enough!'" The audience erupted in "shouts, oaths, frantic gestures, taunts, replies, and little fights."2 Present-day professional wrestling owes much to the type offighting described by Longstreet. When examining the role of sport in southern culture, one in- evitably must come to terms with these local contests. Nineteenth-century visitors to the southern backcountry WrestHnP noted the frequency ofbloody brawls and the large crowds , T .u ~ * a c ? ? ucu.--u personas draw they attracted. So prevalent was such fighting, one might -t consider it, alongwith horse racing, the South's first spec- Upon Stereotypes tator sport, albeit on an amateur level.3 Today, profession- j., al wrestling's core American audience is southern, with ' r r some estimates placing 60 percent of the attendance at culture to attract live matches in the South. Southern athletes also make upJUlJT ' a disproportionate share ofprofessional wresders.4' The catch-as-catch-can style ofbackcountry fighting, a interest. free-for-all constrained by few meaningful rules, persists in creative combat in modern professional wrestling. Consider this description of a match between Crusher Blackwell, a "huge wrestler from the Georgia hills," and Bruiser Brody, a Texan. Upon their meeting in the ring, "kicks, punches, and gouging [became] the general order of the day." The two wresders carried their fight over the ropes to the floor below. "Blackwell rammed Brody's head into the iron post [and] Brody responded in kind . . . ripping a huge gash in the Crusher's forehead." The combatants turned to whatever was at hand to pummel each other, and the match "soon became an epic feat ofarms, legs, cowboy boots, and even folding chairs." The match ended with the combatants "all saturated with somebody's blood, [and] the entire ring area looked like a Red Cross donors' bank."' More than just unbridled violence connects the fight in die Georgia backcountry with present-day professional wrestling. Backcountry fighting and modern wrestling both are embedded in cultural contexts that draw audience and combatants—spectators and spectacle—together to create a larger competitive narrative. The Stallions-Durham contest was held before an audience that was keenly attuned to the drama ofthe fight and needed to consult an expert evaluation ofthe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 8-27
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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