1:30-1:50: “Gimmicks and Good Workers: Practices of essential work, (bodily) care, and support by professional wrestling gear makers”

Jessica Fontaine is a PhD candidate in Communication Studies, with an Option in Gender and Women’s Studies, at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

As Jon Moxley entered Daily’s Place to defend the AEW World Championship on Dynamite, he passed by two sewing machines in the backstage hallway. On Being the Elite, Matt Hardy and Trent played gator golf around seamstress Sandra Gray as she worked at a sewing station. In these brief, liminal moments, AEW audiences glimpsed a generally unseen site of labor, where work required for wrestling matches is performed. This paper attunes to how professional wrestling’s “liminal genre” (Levi, 2008) and “always-already-ongoing” stories (Pratt, 2019) might ask us to attend to the already-ongoing practices of labor and care that are performed by wrestling workers both in and out of the wrestling ring. In doing so, it shifts focus from the spectacular bodies of largely white, straight, cismale wrestlers and brings gear makers from minoritized positionalities into view as “good workers”.  

Following Warden et al (2018), I work with the “low theory” (Halberstam, 2011) that emerges from professional wrestling to provide a critique of the uneven social conditions of wrestling work. I engage professional wrestling slang, which is “writ through with the language of work” (Laine, 2019), to analyze how professional wrestling discourse obscures the labor of non-wrestler workers, particularly those engaged in feminized labor, such as sewing gear. By working with Ngai’s (2020) concept of the “gimmick” (a device that works too hard and not enough), “gimmick” personas (Chow, 2014), and the affordances and materialities of gear, I examine how gear makers’ labor enables and cares for wrestlers’ bodies and work.  

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