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Southern Cultures 11.3 (2005) 62-79



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Friday Night Heroes

Small-Town Wrestling in Tennessee



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In local auditoriums, national guard armories, gyms, and bars, people gather to watch epic battles between heroes and villains. These are regular working people, waitresses and factory workers, farmers and mechanics, retail clerks, young and old, all seeking a release from the mundane routines of life, present to witness a spectacle at times shocking and repulsive, at other moments truly comedic and falsely tragic in its performance.

I remember my first trip to a wrestling match as an adult, sitting in my chair and wondering if and when and what to photograph. The crowd was at a fever pitch, seemingly waiting for an excuse to tear something apart. Would it be me? Would my camera provoke the crowd's hostility? The wrestlers themselves seemed to be parodies of the human body, in some cases more and in some cases less than human. Some marched around with more muscles than one would think necessary for any human, while others walked with equal confidence in bodies of more untoned mass than is healthy for any human. Their movements and gestures resemble those of fighting cocks, prancing around the periphery of the ring, staring at each other, shouting insults. They are actors. Regular folks by day, forces to be reckoned with at night.

This atmosphere of chaos, this spectacle of apparent violence belies the real reason fans and wrestlers alike are drawn to these venues. They are there to have fun, to vent freely and without consequence. Truly the last thing they want is violence; this is not why they are here. Violence is the job of the wrestler, who acts out a story, a human story of triumph and loss and struggle. The spectators are there because they have been fighting something all week that they could not beat: a boss, bills, a divorce. By Friday they are tired and want to see a fight that the good guy can win. [End Page 63]


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Figure 1
Madison, Tennessee, 1999. All photographs by Joseph Shay.
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Figure 2
Smyrna, Tennessee, 1999.
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Figure 3
Smyrna, Tennessee, 1999.
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Figure 4
Smyrna, Tennessee, 1999.
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Figure 5
Columbia, Tennessee, 2000.
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Figure 6
Smyrna, Tennessee, 2000.
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Figure 7
Dickson, Tennessee, 1999.
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Figure 8
Dickson, Tennessee, 1999.
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Figure 9
Smyrna, Tennessee, 2000.
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Figure 10
Columbia, Tennessee, 2000.
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Figure 11
Smyrna, Tennessee, 1999.
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Figure 12
Madison, Tennessee, 1999.
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Figure 13
Columbia, Tennessee, 2000.
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Figure 14
Madison, Tennessee, 1999.
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Figure 15
Columbia, Tennessee, 2000.
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Figure 16
Madison, Tennessee, 1999.
Joseph Shay studied photography at Middle Tennessee State University. He currently lives in Durham, North Carolina, where he is pursuing various documentary photographic projects.


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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 62-79
Launched on MUSE
2005-08-29
Open Access
No

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