Wayward Wrestling Entertainment:The Fight between Good and Evil for our Enjoyment
David L. Cruz
Wayward Wrestling Entertainment:
The Fight between Good and Evil for our Enjoyment
Throughout history, many cultures have portrayed the fight between good and evil through many different avenues of entertainment for the public. Some examples include jousting, gladiators fighting in the coliseum, and boxing. In more recent history, you can see it in movies, television, and comic books. One of the more wayward but entertaining forms is wrestling.
Many people criticize wrestling as fake and point to the fact that the alleged opponents are not really fighting. Wrestling is scripted in terms of match outcomes and what moves will be performed on each other. But wrestlers do sustain injuries if moves aren’t performed correctly or if someone doesn’t fall the right way. Wrestling takes what you see in the movies and comic books and adapts it into the squared circle. There’s always a hero (called a face) and a villain (called a heel) fighting it out for the chance to grab championship gold. Similar to traditional superhero stories, a face may be confronted by a heel that’s too strong for them or a woman who may be used against them. Some other interesting facets that add to the unpredictability of wrestling go as follows: faces or heels can align themselves into a super group (stable); a face may not always win (going against the popular idea that the hero is always victorious), and a face could turn into heel just by committing a single evil act. These scenarios are what have kept wrestling a wayward, but highly entertaining and unpredictable spectacle to watch.
One of wrestling’s most popular and notable faces in the industry is Hulk Hogan. If anyone personified the superman of wrestling, it was the “Real American” Hulk Hogan who was adored by kids and adults alike. It was only natural that he was so well-liked because of his personification of the ideal male body (Soulliere & Blair 270). The look and sheer size of Hulk Hogan made him seem like an unstoppable force, like Superman or Hercules, which led to his extreme success as one of the top stars ever in wrestling history.
Hulk Hogan. (One of wrestling’s most popular stars, who epitomized the superman of the business.)
Having been World Champion numerous times, he defended his title against many of wrestling’s famous villains, including the late great Andre the Giant. Both started out in the business around the same time, but weren’t paired against each other until the late eighties. One of their iconic matches was their steel cage match on July 13, 1988. This match is a perfect example of what Roland Barthes refers to as “immanent justice” in his article “The World of Wrestling.” “For a wrestling-fan, nothing is finer than the revengeful fury of a betrayed fighter who throws himself vehemently not on a successful opponent but on the smarting image of foul play. Naturally, it is the pattern of Justice which matters here, much more than its content: wrestling is above all a quantitative sequence of compensations (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth)” (Barthes 1). As Barthes explains, wrestling fans will root for the hero even if he uses cheap tactics because he is exacting “compensation” on his villainous adversary who would use the same tactics if possible. This relates to the traditional fight between good and evil because wrestling fans “enjoy them as they would enjoy an inspired episode in a novel” (Barthes 2). Ashley Souther offers a similar opinion on wrestling relating it to role-playing, stating that “stepping outside oneself, theater can allow us to imagine, and even enact the narrative, needs, and views of ‘the other.’ Pro Wrestling can do both. Due to its unique liminal existence as both sport and drama, P.W. can be a vehicle for community cohesion, as well as a forum for entertaining fresh outlooks and creative solutions to intractable social conflicts” (Souther 241). The same idea can describe the swerve put on a story when the popular hero becomes the hated villain.
During WCW’s Bash at the Beach in 1997, one action solidified the “Hulkamaniac” Hulk Hogan from everyone’s favorite hero into what he fought against for so many years. “The Outsiders” Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were known for being a notorious tag team bent on taking over WCW no matter what it took.
As their six man tag match was underway, a mystery opponent was yet to be seen to come help “The Outsiders.” When Hogan’s music hit, everyone was sure that he was here to save the day and help save another famous face and past tag team partner, Randy Savage. Low and behold, his attack on Savage was the definitive moment where everyone knew he changed sides, resulting in his change of character from “The Real American” Hulk Hogan” to “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and the formation of the super villain stable, The New World Order (nWo).
Hogan’s evil action relates to the typical villain’s behavior as Barthes describes as “foul play” giving examples like “administering a big kick to one’s beaten opponent, taking refuge behind the ropes while ostensibly invoking a purely formal right, refusing to shake hands with one’s opponent before or after the fight, taking advantage of the end of the round to rush treacherously at the adversary from behind, fouling him while the referee is not looking (a move which obviously only has any value or function because in fact half the audience can see it and get indignant about it)” (Barthes 3). Even though Hogan was still a huge star, his gimmick was getting stale and repetitive after so many years. Swerves such as Hogan’s heel turn keeps the audiences wanting more and renews interest in a character because the average wrestling fan “would probably die of boredom and indifference if wrestlers did not quickly return to the orgy of evil which alone makes good wrestling” (Barthes 4). Now even though a heel turn is very shocking, a villain becoming a hero is even more shocking, especially when he becomes the anti-hero.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2011, the appropriately named “The Summer of Punk.” Top heel CM (Chicago Made) Punk announces that his contract with WWE will end soon and he will leave the company with the WWE Title. At this point in time, his opponent, John Cena, was the current champion and the WWE was becoming boring in the eyes of the older, more dedicated fans. John Cena is similar to Hulk Hogan, being this generation’s top face, but only the younger fans like him. Older fans in the 18-29 range are sick of Cena because of his stale gimmick involving constant dominating and consecutive title reigns, which was already done with Hogan.
This lead to CM Punk making his world famous speech known as the “pipe bomb”, in which he basically goes off script, airing out his grievances about the CEO, Vince McMahon’s business direction, the current state of the company and the favoritism shown towards John Cena. The style of this speech was unheard of in wrestling history because it seemed unscripted, raw and edgy. Souther would agree on Punk’s speech leading to his face turn, stating that in wrestling “On a psychological level, anger must be dealt with and can even be turned into a positive and mobilizing force” (Souther 271). The older fans rallied behind Punk after his speech because he simply stated what they thought about the WWE. Afterwards, CM Punk was “suspended,” but was eventually brought back a week later. As one of the most wayward and unlikely face turns in wrestling history, Punk went on to win the title at the Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View, leaving the WWE with the championship(only to come back later).
Even though wrestling entertainment is one of the more wayward sports in the U.S., it portrays the classic good vs. evil aspect, engrossing the audience into the story inside the squared circle. Fans will naturally cheer for the good guy who portrays the clichéd hero (Hulk Hogan, John Cena), boo the villains who desperately want to dethrone their role model, and even cheer for the anti-hero who embodies the complete opposite of the natural hero (CM Punk, Stone Cold Steve Austin). Wrestling is an experience like no other, swaying the crowd’s emotions based on what each wrestler is fighting for. Some fight for glory, some for respect and some for dominance. Its waywardness is what strikes peoples’ curiosity, giving someone the power to cheer for the hero or villain, while the conflict occurs right before their eyes. The squared circle tells a story that no other traditional contact sport can do, where good or evil could be the victor.
(*All video links are courtesy of youtube.com/wwefannation)
Barthes, Roland. “THE WORLD OF WRESTLING The grandiloquent truth of gestures on life’s great occasions..” Trans. Array Mythologies. Scott Atkins. New York: 1984. Web. 21 Dec. 2012. <http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~ikalmar/illustex/Barthes-wrestling.htm>.
Soulliere, Danielle M., and James A. Blair. “Muscle-Mania: The Male Body Ideal In Professional Wrestling.” International Journal Of Men’s Health 5.3 (2006): 268-286.
Souther, Ashley. “Professional Wrestling As Conflict Transformation.” Peace Review 19.2 (2007): 269-275.