Marketplace of Champions

Audience Studies, Scholarly Wrestling Reviews
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The people sitting near me in cheap(ish) seats in Boston’s TD Garden Sunday night for the 2017 Clash of Champions represented a cross-section of northeast WWE fans.

I am a middle-aged academic who has been a wrestling fan on and off since childhood. I’ve been coming to the Garden to see wrestling since long before it was named after a bank. I popped for Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan as a kid in the Garden (which was really a different building in the same location as the current Garden). I was the true wrestling geek in the micro-community that formed in the environs of our seats. My date was my partner, just a bit younger than me and a woman, not an enthusiastic wrestling fan but game for a strange night out.

To our left sat two young men who told me they had driven down to Boston from New Hampshire, maybe an hour and a half. Over the course of the show, one of them held out his phone to me so I could see a photo he’d taken with AJ Styles during a fan event earlier in the day. He and his buddy sang Bobby Roode’s song, celebrated Rusev Day heartily, joined with my partner in chanting for Zayn against my chants for Nakamura, and generally showed themselves to be enthusiastic and unironic fans.

To our right was a family group: two adult men whose relation was not clear to me and two boys of about ten years of age. Both boys were fully decked out in John Cena merchandise, from their “U Can’t C Me” hats to their orange wristbands and rally towels. They must have been wearing $400 in John Cena merch between them. Directly in front of us was a straight hipster couple, about the same age as the guys on our left, who joked together throughout the show. They made an intimate little audience of their own. Directly behind us were some particularly loud (and not altogether unfunny) members of that ineradicable species, the facetious wrestling fan.

A note: all these people (including us) were white, but the crowd was relatively diverse. We took the subway to the show from our home in an ethnically diverse section of the city (Boston is deeply segregated) and on the train with us were several African-American and Latinx kids holding toy belts, plus one African-American man with an impressive replica of the Universal Championship belt.

The only crowd reaction in which this cohort unanimously and enthusiastically participated was Bryan’s “Yes!” chant. Otherwise, our reactions were remarkably fragmented. I don’t like Roode’s schtick or the Rusev Day stuff that appealed to our neighbors on the left, and the only reaction I shared with the kids on the right was an enthusiasm for The New Day (who were otherwise less over in that building than Rusev, incredibly). The lovers in front may have shared some attitudes with the facetious guys, but they were quiet about it.

Reflecting on this diversity of enthusiasms with an eye toward writing this post, I experienced a feeling as unwelcome as it was unusual, a spasm of sympathy for Vince McMahon. Booking wrestling for a crowd like this is a different thing from the booking Vince Sr. was doing when I was just becoming a fan. Young boys and smart alecks are permanent, of course, but the dense web of interests on display in our group, with its subtle crosscurrents and nodes of attraction and repulsion, was the product of a long period of diversification. McMahon is the most important architect of this process, but it must frighten him now. He maintains a delicate econo-demographic balance, giving each of us in our little section just enough to keep us sitting in the cheap seats, covering ourselves in John Cena-branded stuff, and subscribing to the WWE Network. If any one of us walks away, we will be accompanied by our thousands of counterparts in similar arenas across the country and beyond. And if that happens enough times over the next twelve months, what will happen to rights fees, or the stock price, or network subs?

And in the main event, sure enough, there was something for Vince McMahon to be afraid of. This time it wasn’t anybody walking away, but an even worse nightmare under conditions of capitalist market struggle: people not showing up to begin with. Jinder Mahal may have been taking his title back from AJ Styles on this show if a few more hipsters, Cena-enveloped kids, and facetious fans in New Dehli had been willing to lay down their money for the chance to add their own unique hopes, tastes, and desires to this complex mélange. Yet they demurred, so us Boston fans watched Styles drag a mediocre and irrelevant match out of a Mahal who is probably headed back down the card in the coming weeks. But the crowds will be great for Smackdown’s next visit to Gainesville.

Calls for Conferences

Calls, Works-In-Process

Central States Communication Association 2018

We are looking to create a panel for the 2018 Central States Communication Association convention to coincide with the release of the Popular Culture Studies Journal  special edition on professional wrestling studies. Since the convention is the same time that the special edition will come out (April 4-7, or Wrestlemania weekend), we thought it would be a good time to have such a panel to talk more about professional wrestling studies.

We would like to propose a panel for the Pop Culture Interest Group that would have people from different perspectives reflecting on professional wrestling and professional wrestling studies. We are looking for panelists who are either writing for the special edition or are not – so, basically, anyone who would like to come and reflect on any of the following:

  • the importance of professional wrestling studies
  • the fields of professional wrestling studies
  • an applicable field, method, approach for professional wrestling studies
  • what question(s) professional wrestling studies can answer
  • a particular perspective on the past of professional wrestling
  • a particular perspective on the present of professional wrestling
  • a particular perspective on the future of professional wrestling.
  • a research study that does any of the above.
If you would like to be on this panel (we are looking for 5 people), then please send to me by September 28st the following:
  • The title for your talk.
  • A 500 word abstract for your talk (that I will need to edit down, but I want a longer one to allow you to be as clear as possible about your idea).
  • Your contact information (university affiliation, address, phone, email).
We only want proposals from people who can commit to be at the convention in Milwaukee; here is more information about the convention: http://www.csca-net.org/aws/CSCA/pt/sp/callforpapers
If you are interested, then please send your proposal by October 5th to CarrieLynn D. Reinhard at creinhard@dom.edu.

Southern States Communication Association 

We are looking to create a panel for the 2018 Southern States Communication Association convention in Nashville (cultural proximity to Memphis Wrestling and Mid-South Wrestling, no doubt). This event hopes to coincide with the release of the Popular Culture Studies Journal special edition on professional wrestling studies. Since the convention is the same time that the special edition will come out April 4-8, or Wrestlemania weekend), we thought it would be a good time to have such a panel to talk more about professional wrestling studies.

We would like to propose a panel for the Popular Communication Division that would have people from different perspectives reflecting on professional wrestling and professional wrestling studies. We are looking for panelists who are either writing for the special edition or are not – so, basically, anyone who would like to come and reflect on any of the following:

  • the importance of professional wrestling studies
  • the fields of professional wrestling studies
  • an applicable field, method, approach for professional wrestling studies
  • what question(s) professional wrestling studies can answer
  • a particular perspective on the past of professional wrestling
  • a particular perspective on the present of professional wrestling
  • a particular perspective on the future of professional wrestling.
  • a research study that does any of the above.

If you would like to be on this panel (we are looking for 4-5 people), then please send to me the following no later than 5:00pm September 30th:

  • The title for your talk.
  • A 500 word abstract for your talk (that I will need to edit down, but I want a longer one to allow you to be as clear as possible about your idea).
  • Your contact information (university affiliation, address, phone, email).

We only want proposals from people who can commit to be at the convention in Nashville; here is more information about the convention: http://www.ssca.net/convention

If you are interested, then please send Garret Castleberry your proposal by September 14. You can send them to this email at garret.castleberry@macu.edu

International Communication Association 2018 

I am writing to see if anyone would like to submit a proposal for a possible panel at the 2018 International Communication Association conference in Prague (https://www.icahdq.org/page/cfp2018).
The theme for the conference is Voices, and I was thinking we could do a panel on the voices of professional wrestling.
Briefly, the panel could consider any voices: wrestlers, promoters and fans. The idea would be to present on how to study these voices, or how these voices are used to make professional wrestling. Thus, the presentations could look at issues of performance, activism, social media presence, storytelling, fan activities, histories, marketing, and representations (specific types of wrestlers).
If you are interested, then please submit the following to CarrieLynn D. Reinhard at creinhard@dom.edu:
  • 150-word abstract for what you would discuss
  • A title for your talk
  • Your contact information

Please send this proposal by October 25th.

Southern Sociological Society 2018

I’m writing to you on behalf of myself and JT Thomas, asking the members and readers of the PWSA website to consider submissions for the 2018 Southern Sociological Society (SSS) annual meeting, which will be held April 4-7, 2018 in New Orleans – the same place and time as WrestleMania 34.

We are looking to hold a session, or possibly multiple sessions, exploring the intersections of pro wrestling’s fictional reality with our own social reality.

Possible topics might include the ways in which wrestlers, wrestling, and wrestling fans are portrayed in the media, the explosion of articles in the news comparing the ascendancy of Donald Trump with pro wrestling, the presentations of specific groups (racial and ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, and so forth) in the world of wrestling, and the ways in which wrestling as a business and as an art form constructs reality – the concept of “kayfabe” itself.

Submissions are due November 1st and can be directed through the SSS website, http://www.southernsociologicalsociety.org/annual.html

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me (Cenate Pruitt, ccpruitt@ung.edu) or JT (jmthoma4@olemiss.edu).