- Performance and Professional Wrestling eds. by Broderick Chow, Eero Laine, and Claire Warden
I can never get enough of wrestling. The matches I saw as a kid—when I first witnessed wrestlers, fans, and managers engage with different models of heroism and villainy—remain ingrained in my mind. Other kids may have been raised watching pantomimes and musicals, but I remember hanging [End Page 269] on to every line of dialogue or unexpected entrance by wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. Even then, I implicitly realized that its pleasures came precisely from it being fake and overly theatrical. As an adult theatre scholar I can now see an even more profound overlap between theatre and wrestling. Much like rigorous devised theatre–training methods, wrestlers go through intense physical-training systems to perform in leagues like World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). In shared ways, both these somewhat incongruous styles of live and devised performance engage with their respective publics by connecting the bodies of performers—actors or athletes—to new experiential aesthetics. Contemporary wrestling evolves into a more multimedia and metatextual experience, because its theatrical elements migrate beyond the borders of the wrestling ring into television broadcasts, video games, and social-media platforms. Broderick Chow, Eero Laine, and Claire Warden explore this inherent connection between wrestling and theatricality by guiding readers through an eclectic volume of essays that showcase the application of performance studies theories to contemporary wrestling.
This collection of slightly short articles impressively combines a variety of approaches to the different professional and amateur wrestling-league developments since the mid-twentieth century, when wrestling gained global popularity and transformed into a new kind of performance entertainment. While the case studies are short, the editors make the most of each essay by skillfully organizing the book into seven thematic sections—Audience, Circulation, Lucha, Gender, Queerness, Bodies, Race—that allow these concerns to echo across different pieces. Articles about Mexican lucha wrestling demonstrate its shared evolution with burlesque performance, as well as historicize lucha as a major mode of performing public resistance to US influence. The section on audience showcases the absolutely critical role that audiences play in the success and failure of larger matches and their subsequent television pay-per-view viewers. Two particularly strong pieces showcase wrestling's impact on racial violence in the southern United States, as well as on legislation concerning flag desecration, which often happened in the ring during the Hulk Hogan era as foreign wrestlers routinely maligned life in the United States. These short sections are effective topical introductions to considering wrestling through critical approaches like affect and gender studies. The collection could have been better served by a glossary regarding the specific language of wrestling—explaining technical terms like "baby face" and "heel"—but each article does an excellent job of explicating its specific terminology. It is a sincere pleasure to read a book with a total focus on wrestling, where names like The Undertaker or Chris Benoit get used with the same frequency as Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Marina Abramović. One refreshing aspect of this collection is the many new and emerging voices of performance studies who are helping to shape an academic appreciation of wrestling as a performance experience. Veteran scholars of performance studies and wrestling like Sharon Mazer—who adds an epilogue filled with personal anecdotes about seeing wrestling in New Zealand—are included in this volume as well. This book deserves a broad readership, as its success at drawing connections among theatre, performance, and wrestling helps to expand the boundaries of theatre and performance studies.
This said, there are aspects of these articles that could have focused on more specific elements of contemporary sociopolitical life. The world of wrestling, while understood to be fake, finds ways to actualize genuine social fears about international conflict and politics of difference. Wrestling emerges with its own performance standards of nationalism and identity, which often include grossly exaggerating US heroes in our ever-globalizing world. During the era of Donald Trump—once appearing as himself for a brief time...