CFP: Sport / Spectacle Conference

Calls
Sport­ / Spectacle: Performing, Labouring, Circulating Bodies Across Sport, Theatre, Dance, and Live Art

Friday 14 and Saturday 15 September 2018, Kings College London, Strand Campus
Day 1, Keynote and Screening with Jennifer Doyle, 14 September, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM, Nash Lecture Theatre
Day 2, Papers, Workshops, and Performances, 15 September, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM, Anatomy Museum. Reception to follow. 
Organized by Broderick D.V. Chow (Brunel University London), the Dynamic Tensions: A Research Network for Theatre, Performance, Sport, and Physical Culture, and the Kings College London Arts and Humanities Research Institute. Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Brunel University London.
 
Call for Proposals: Papers, Provocations, Performances, Workshops (Deadline 2 July 2018)
“It is fundamentally wrong to pay more attention to the dead weight lifted, than to the living body that lifts it” — George Hackenschmidt, wrestler, physical culturist, performer and philosopher, Vienna, 1925.

At the centre of both sport and cultural performance are bodies. In the spectacles of professional or amateur sport, plays, musicals, dance, and opera, bodies are made to transcend their fleshly existence by the mise-en-scène and the audience contract. The (sport) spectacle transforms the embodied subject of the athlete/actor into a representation of human potential and possibility. At the same time, bodies are the primary medium, material, tool, and commodity of the spectacle: they are circulated, exploited, bloodied, bruised, and torn apart. This spectacularization/exploitation of the body’s potentiality intersects with other embodied racialized, gendered, and sexual experiences and identities. 

What is at stake in spectacularising bodies? What are the consequences of the body’s participation in a spectacular regime of labour, circulation, and performance? How might the body resist its spectacularization through gesture, movement, or stillness? 

This interdisciplinary conference aims to work with existing and potential intersections in theatre, performance, and sport research to explore these questions of the body in the spectacle of sport, athletics, and performance. Previous events and networks have begun to mine this rich seam of interdisciplinary research, including the Fields of Vision research network on sport and the arts (https://artsinsport.wordpress.com/), At Leisure: Amateur Sport and Performance (QMUL, 2014), and the theme for the North American Society for Sociology of Sport’s upcoming 2018 annual conference: Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, and Culture. In theatre and performance studies, sport has long been influential to theory and practice; and a number of contemporary live artists and theatre makers have built on this history by drawing on athletic practices in their work (Cassils’ Becoming an Image, PanicLab’s Rite of Spring, Amber Hawk Swanson’s Online Comments + CrossFit). Sport / Spectacle aims to build upon this fertile ground by interdisciplinary and collaborative research in performance and sport. In particular, it aims to encourage innovative and especially embodied research methods (such as autoethnography and artistic Practice-as-Research). 

We welcome proposals for traditional (15-20 minute) papers, shorter (5-10 minute) provocations, workshop activities, lecture-demonstrations, performances, and other presentation forms that may not necessarily fit into the categories above. Possible themes and topics might include (but are not limited to): 
  • The economies of spectacularised bodies: how do bodies circulate, labour, reproduce? 
  • Professional, trained, and amateur bodies
  • Gendered, racialised, queer identities in the sport-spectacle
  • The mise-en-scène of sport
  • Athletic practices in theatre, live art, dance, and other cultural performance
  • Mass spectacles of bodies; mass sporting events
  • Embodied labour across sport, theatre, dance, and performance: how is human labour highlighted or hidden? 
  • Embodied activism and performance; gestures of resistance
  • Everyday spectacle in sport: training, gyms, etc 
  • Aesthetic sports: gymnastics, bodybuilding, figure skating
  • Professional wrestling and liminal spaces between sport and theatricality
  • Theatricality and performance as critical lenses for sport research
The conference will open on the evening of Friday, 14 September 2018 with a keynote presentation from Jennifer Doyle, Professor of English, University of California, Riverside, followed by a programme of video art that Professor Doyle has curated. In 2013, Jennifer Doyle started research into the “Athletic Turn”, which explores the recent and extensive turn toward sports in contemporary art and performance. She is the author of Campus Sex/Campus SecurityHold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art and Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire. She was the 2013-2014 Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation at the University of the Arts, London, and editor of The Athletic Issue, a special issue of the journal GLQ.  In 2010, she co-hosted The People’s Game, a World Cup daily podcast for KPFK in Los Angeles; in 2011 she wrote a series of articles on women’s soccer for Fox Soccer’s website. 

Please send 300-word proposals for 20-minute papers or alternative proposals, along with a short biography, to the conference convenors at the following address: dynamictensions@gmail.com. Deadline: 2 July 2018. We will notify authors of abstract acceptance by 20 July 2018. 

Eight travel bursaries of £50 are available for post-graduate students, adjunct/temporary faculty, and independent scholars and artists to aid participation in the conference. Please indicate on your proposal whether you would like to be considered for the bursary, and under which category you are applying.
Broderick D.V. Chow, PhD, FHEA
Senior Lecturer in Theatre
AHRC Leadership Fellow 2016-2018
Department of Arts and Humanities
T +44 (0) 1895 265493
 
Office GASK111
Follow @bruneltheatre on Twitter
Follow @broderickchow on Twitter

Brunel University London
College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences
Brunel University London, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH, United Kingdom
T +44 (0) 1895 274000 | F +44 (0) 1895 232806

WrestleMania 34 Rhetorical Recap: Golden Spotlights, Crimson Masks, and the (Unconscious) Race Politics of Smarks

Audience Studies, Scholarly Wrestling Reviews, Works-In-Process
maniatoday

Image credit: https://www.f4wonline.com/sites/www.f4wonline.com/files/maniatoday.jpg

Throughout the year, the Professional Wrestling Studies Association has offered a range of event coverage for WWE Pay Per Views as well as a host of vintage and indie shows and performers. Our goal is to cultivate an exclusive space for creative and scholarly writing, from close readings and fan perspectives. WrestleMania 34 offers the first WrestleMania since the official launch of PWSA, and with that, the goal for this Rhetorical Recap is to explore the final convergence of many years’ long narratives. Having covered each of WWE’s “Big Four” Pay Per Views starting with last year’s Summer Slam, the focus of this coverage will be to explore how long-form wrestling narratives come to a head—in success and failure—with some culminating stories years in the making and others impromptu due to unforeseen circumstances like injury, industry, or opportunity. Thus, with the cumulative event, this WrestleMania 34 rhetorical recap will emphasize arc over in-ring minutia, and aesthetic spectacle over a chronological review.

EDITOR’S NOTE: All unidentified images come from the WWE’s online gallery collection.

Preshow Highlights: The WrestleMania 34 preshow has evolved in recent years, stretching from a nominal hour to an hour and a half, only to extend well into a two-hour infomercial sprinkled with a couple of minor memorable moments. The majority of the preshow runs with Renee Young hosting a rotating roundtable of commentators, mostly to hype the main card events and provide bumpers to the video packages that have already aired on RAW, SmackDown, NXT: Takeover, and will air again prior to each key event. For this reason, it is highly recommendable that viewers skip or strategically skim the pre-show after it airs so as to fast-forward past the 75-80% of integrated marketing filler.

The two noteworthy moments of this year’s preshow included fan-favorite “Woken” Matt Hardy winning the “Fourth Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Rumble” with an assist from (Woken?) Bray Wyatt, as well as a predictable yet interesting showdown between Sasha Banks and Bailey in the first ever Women’s Battle Royale. The two best frenemies worked together on the final eliminations before Bailey pulled a fast one by chucking out Sasha from behind. However, this proved to be short-term glory, as Naomi happened to re-emerge still an eligible member. These curious conclusions marked the beginning of an interesting trend that continued in WrestleMania 34: dangling plot threads rather than the typical bowtie story-arc endings.

Show Open: The main card show kicks off a traditional combination of video package and national anthem. The national anthem is performed by a younger duo in arguably a quieter rendition than, say, the Super Bowls that cap with jets screeching overhead. But over the heads of the female duet rests a pagan tower of an entrance stage. The entrance stage and ramp over the last four years fit the definition of hyperreal. They are behemoths as if Greek and Roman titans will soon descend from behind the black curtain of smoke and pyrotechnics. The New Orleans Mardi gras color palette plays a central role, but the high definition LED lighting seemingly elevates these colors to the 4K-resolution era.

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First Match: The opening card aims to kick the show off in style with the Intercontinental Championship Triple Threat Match between “The Kingslayer” Seth Rollins, current IC champion The Miz, and the first WrestleMania appearance for Voodoo-esque Finn Balor (sans Voodoo-esque Demon persona). Rollins enters with what seems like a Game of Thrones combination of King of the North meets The Night King theme, complete with ice-tinged contact lenses. The Miz entered with a garish steampunk court jester wardrobe but soon shed his Miztourage atop the entrance ramp. With a newborn child part of his transmedia narrative that stretches across WWE kayfabe, E! Network’s Total Divas, and a new USA Network reality show, the breadcrumbs represent either continuous false finish babyface teases or an authentic turn (to coincide with the press run for the reality series) or the likely signal that his reign will end tonight. Finn Balor enters with yet another set of new tiny trunks; this time sporting an LGBTQ-friendly rainbow pattern for his Balor Club insignia. And in case anyone was to simply assume WWE is reappropriating the colors as part of its Mardi gras theme, Coach and Michael Cole point out that the stage full of Balor Club fans (in matching T-shirts) has branded his club “inclusive” as well as a celebration of “diversity”. Given how much praise Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi quickly received NJPW/ROH’s ambiguous Golden Lovers, this has all the shades of a James Dean-y feel.

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Oh, and there was a match too.

This bout actually progresses somewhere between 90 and 100 miles an hour. These three superstars obviously each have proverbial chips on their shoulder and clearly want to “steal the show” (it’s both already clear but also the announcers cannot help but use the same repeated phrasing to drive the point home). For each, the year has been one of rebound spikes and also roster regression. Miz became the reason to watch SmackDown week in and out, but then was quickly “traded” to RAW where he fell back down the deepest show roster hole in the company.

Meanwhile, Balor had to reestablish his WWE career after a 9-month shoulder surgery and injury that resulted in him relinquishing the Universal Championship and missing WrestleMania 33. WWE teased Balor in a number of high-profile RAW matches but “the Club” carries none of the Bullet Club buzz just as his lingering supernatural feud with Bray Wyatt felt like a placeholder gamble. Rollins also tumbled down the card due to RAW’s super heavyweight division featuring Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and the 2017 rise of Braun Strowman. Then Rollins slipped into quasi-interim glory with a cut short The Shield reunion and Tag-Team Championship run with Dean Ambrose. A real-life virus to Reigns and then elbow injury to Ambrose left Rollins hovering in No Man’s Land with WrestleMania looming.

Collectively, all three are deserving of a spotlight match and yet none had anything of worth until mere weeks before WM34. Thus, their match goes off like a canon and sustains a comparable fireworks show from start to finish. A key downside might be that variations of this match have taken place on RAW for at least the last month. Thus, the only unknown was which man would walk away from the champion. After foreshadowing suggested Balor may finally get another belt on his shoulder, Rollins showed why the brass in the back has so much favor in him. WINNER: Seth Rollins.

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Charlotte’s Golden Entrance, courtesy of Daily Charlotte Flair@FlairDynasty. Original video imagery credit: WWE.

The Hedonic Titan theme continues in match #2.

Second Match: Charlotte Flair enters from a literal golden throne, accompanied by three men in full Spartan soldier armor. The gold lit intro is brought to life with Ric Flair’s vintage “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (aka, 2001: A Space Odyssey theme) before Charlotte’s techno-variation accompanies a blue-tinted set change. But audiences ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Suddenly a 3D projection of Geisha masks fills the stadium (and I’m still trying to figure this out) as Asuka enters with a sparkling mask replacing her traditional white mask with colored tears. These two competitors have been destined to clash since they each entered WWE. Bookers were smart to keep them apart this long, moving Charlotte to SmackDown just as Asuka came up to RAW from NXT. Charlotte has dominated both women’s rosters with multiple title runs, while Asuka has only held the NXT belt but still remains undefeated.

While much discussion has gone on about what match should go last, and which men’s bout will “steal the show,” my WrestleMania prediction (especially following this year’s Royal Rumble) is that this match is the dark horse of the entire card. I think it’s got the most in-match potential once the bell rings. And by just the mid-point of the match, this “pre-mon-EEE-tion” feels accurate. These two are lightning in a bottle, and for never having met previously, their chemistry is fluid and sensational.

The camera cuts to John Cena sitting nearby in a grey T-shirt, beer in hand, recur so frequently that the foreshadowing seems almost clumsy (WWE does know sober adults watch, right?). But hey, kids watch too and Cena is now the Billy Crystal of the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.

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Courtesy of WWE.com: https://www.wwe.com/shows/wrestlemania/wrestlemania-34/gallery/john-cenas-wrestlemania-reactions-photos#fid-40214527

Back to the action: it’s phenomenal. It might be moving even faster than the IC Triple Threat, and already I feel like I’m having a hallucinatory CrossFit dream. By the end of this thing, Charlotte is bloodied and crying, while Asuka seems to be setting up her ultimate victory. But in the quick of things, somehow the momentum shifts just a bit back, and Charlotte inexplicably races a figure four into her patented figure eight, and even more ludicrously, Asuka, universally impervious to pain, taps. Everyone is stunned. Charlotte seems stunned. I’m stunned. Asuka followed red carpet all the way from NXT up but earned it strong-style. Then, she made history by being the Soul Survivor and first Women’s Royal Rumble winner. So naturally, on “the grandest stage of them all”…lose?

This feels like a last-minute booking swerve. The politically safe decision “for the brand.” But to be clear, both are deserving before the match, during the match, and in the months and perhaps years to come. And yet the match was definitely even, and Charlotte has earned her stripes. It was not the ideal finish to Asuka’s 2-plus year winning streak. Todd Phillips notes how Asuka’s streak sits at 914 days, which shows staggering patience by WWE. But then again, WWE messed up Charlotte’s PPV win streak over a year ago as well. WINNER: Charlotte Flair.

Third Match: In the United States Championship Fatal Fourway were Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev. Smartly, WWE looks to push another triple threat out of the way early — er, excuse me, fatal four-way (Sheesh!) — for US Title (aka, the “Meh” second-tier belt on SmackDown). Matches like these showcase how too many belts deflate the prominence behind such storylines. This match is the SmackDown equivalent of RAW’s IC Triple Threat: three talented superstars with stutter-stop storytelling throughout 2017 and the Road to WrestleMania. Technically, Jinder Mahal had the best year of the three, becoming a first-time WWE Champion for the duration of summer 2017. He even feuded with Orton for a couple of initial PPVs.

The silver lining? Rusev, Jinder, and Roode each getting a decent mid-card match at WrestleMania 34. The downside is that this year’s card happens to be so magnificent that the hype might just overshadow matches that are simply “pretty good.” The other silver lining? The match is appropriately short (don’t let the audience get too tired). After a finishing move spot fest, Rusev gets a moment to bask in the “Rusev Day!” glory with the audience. The moment is his, just not the belt. Jinder ducks in last-minute and catches Rusev off guard, pinning him in the process. In hindsight, this was an interesting bout that demonstrated WWE’s talent-heavy issue in 2018. Namely, how to fit so many superstars into a PPV that, with pre-show, will have lasted an absolutely exhausting 7 hours and 10 minutes. Indeed, the brand split is looking smarter and smarter with each passing talent acquisition. WINNER: Jinder Mahal.

The Mid-Point (and Creative Peak) Main Event

In a bit of a surprise, for the fourth match, WrestleMania 34 pivots to one of WWE’s marquee mainstream attractions: the mixed tag match between Triple H and Stephanie McMahon against RAW GM Kurt Angle and Rowdy Ronda Rousey. The entrances were relatively vanilla. Triple H is known for his outlandish wish fulfillment entrances, including riffs on King Conan, the Terminator, even Sons of Anarchy. With out-of-control self-one-upmanship, the retread this year is a less impactful sister sequel to WrestlemMania 33’s oversized choppers revving down the entrance ramp. Meanwhile, Angle and Rousey’s reveals appear quite pedestrian.

And yet…unlike some weeks, the audience seems primed to play nice and root for Ronda. This match had all of the pomp and circumstance theatrics of a hokie celebrity tie-in. But the longer the match went on, the more the crowd got behind Ronda and Kurt (but Ronda especially).

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For all of the gimmick match pieces in place—a McMahon family member, the outsider non-wrestler participation, semi-retired GM and legacy member back-in-action—there was a lot to suggest this match could easily fall into parody. The early uses of Ronda showed potential as well as a woman’s wrestler work-in-progress. Even the strategic placement across ESPN’s programming was hit-and-miss. With so much at stake, this foursome went all in on a gambit match every bit full of stakes, symbolism, danger, and all of the high drama that makes pro wrestling an addictive bit of cathartic theatrical athleticism.

The net results? The mixed tag program turned out to make a case for match of the night. While Angle and Trips were always in play to protect Ronda’s inexperience and Stephanie’s non-competitor corporate role, both women turned in superior performances. Ronda stepped up to the mat while Stephanie arguably played the best version of herself that she’s ever put on. The peak moment occurs when Rousey becomes stirred into attacking Hunter with such ferocious quick strikes that he oversells cowardice falling back into the corner. He is comically emasculated but also putting WWE’s new star over in front of a raucous crowd. The four performers span the emotional spectrum of sports entertainment without the pressure of going last. WINNERS: Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle.

Match Five: The New Day then comes out in a State Fair-themed lowbrow performance complete with dancing little people dressed as pancakes. I can’t even with this kind of sideshow attraction appeal. In the 2.5 sitting’s that it took me to take down the five hours of programming, I fast-forwarded through this “happy” bit both times (it’s probably my aversion to pancakes, but whatever). Truth be told, the New Day bit, which some scholars have compared to a contemporary minstrel show, was the “get excited!” start to the SmackDown Tag-Team Championship triple…*YAAAAWN!* threat match. For what it’s worth, The Usos are pretty slick performers. But this was always projected to be a transitional squash match finally awarding the Bludgeon Brothers (Rowan and Harper of Wyatt family fame) a tag title reward. WINNERS: The Bludgeon Brothers

Tensions between Stockholder Expectations and Fan Service with “Dream Match” Booking

I don’t know if I would feel this way if I didn’t sample SiriusXM’s Busted Open Radio, but the yearlong hype, discussion, and speculation concerning the Undertaker’s (alleged) retirement pushed this inevitable match into predictive overhype. The fans circle virtually shaped the WrestleMania 34 narrative as one that would welcome back the mid-career “American Badass” persona. And all of the ingredients supported this direction: Undertaker retiring his hat and gloves last year, Roman’s need to keep the claim that he “retired the Dead Man,” the induction of Taker’s biker anthem singer Kid Rock into the WWE Hall of Fame, and even the symmetry of the American Badass persona as the first backstager (and champion) to greet Cena after his inaugural WWE TV match. It made perfect sense. At least on paper and out loud and in my head it did.

Greatest Hits, Part I: Liminal Icons (Match Six). But for whatever reason, none of these events unfolded in the way that the teasers suggested. And this is WWE trolling its own “smart” fans for overthinking the simplicity of their narrative structure in the current era.

Cena buried Elias once more, in at least the third such squash since the Royal Rumble. The encounter appeared to be a ruse that took Cena out of the audience and into wrestling gear. The audience was meant to feel duped by Elias, and as Cena solemnly and effortlessly walked back up the elongated ramp mixed with celebration and disappointment, the lights cut to black. The Undertaker returns, traditional Dead Man wardrobe, his patented slow walk as slow as ever.

And yet…wow. The match was less a “greatest hits” between the two mega-stars and more of a complete Cena squash. At most the match went 3:30 minutes in-ring. It was a shocker, and for my money, not in a good way. Not after everything that came before, and arguably everything that would come after. The only gift the match offers fans is another year or more to speculate as to just why this happened in the first place.

At the same time, the layout is entirely understandable. The Undertaker is in indecisive retirement stasis and Cena’s Hollywood schedule is starting to stack up as heavily as The Rock’s. Perhaps neither could fully commit to the appearances, the booking, the rehearsal, and so on. And no one can say they haven’t earned that right, because dollars and cents and longevity on the roster vindicates how things played out. In an information economy, perhaps WWE sees the digital discourse as more valuable than the final product. And given Cena and Taker’s diverse schedule, it is pretty clear this is all they could arrange with limited coordination. There you have it, a clear picture of what impromptu execution looks like.

For the record, as there are competing narratives online: at 2:29:14 the bell rings. Then, the pinfall occurs at 3:32:00. That’s right, the actual match comes in under 2 minutes, 45 seconds.

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Here is the match in a snapshot, courtesy of WWE.com https://www.wwe.com/shows/wrestlemania/wrestlemania-34/gallery/daniel-bryan-shane-mcmahon-kevin-owens-sami-zayn-photos#fid-40214263

Greatest Hits, Part II: Vendetta Tag Match (Match Seven). One match that carries all the hype but perhaps came off just a little bit flat was the Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn tag match against the SmackDown brass of Shane McMahon and the headline-grabbing return of Daniel Bryan. Bryan’s situation, not unlike Undertaker’s, suffers from a bit of hype fatigue in that anything short of a 1-hour 5-Star match would underwhelm obsessive fan audiences. WWE actually executed smart booking by having Shane take a pummeling for the majority of the bout. This narrative approach gave the match a meta-reflection of the 2-3 year Bryan gap, played out over the course of the match. This projects the real-life Brian Danielson (who would likely have some ring rust) and then allows him to play his “greatest hits” move set for a quick pin once he enters. It’s a doppelganger to Undertaker, a fan service match with all the ingredients (Uber-babyface Shane-O-Mac, indie-love for Owens, NXT nostalgia for Zayn). WINNERS: Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon

How To Book a Narrative Payoff (Match Eight).

The WWE RAW Women’s Championship match reached an appropriate cathartic conclusion that feels like it has been building longer than it really has. Throughout most of the last year, Alexa Bliss manipulated Nia Jax into a kind of one-way friendship as a method of diversion. This kept Nia from fully committing to challenge for the RAW Women’s Championship while occasionally protecting Bliss and providing a partner in tag matches. This made sense with both characters embodying distinct shades of heel (the hard-talking coward and the monster, respectively).

This succeeds as a long-form narrative arc because it allows characters to develop patterns while still leaving WWE booking options. Asuka was a player in the fold and could have easily overcome Bliss for her belt. And yet after winning the Women’s Royal Rumble, Asuka chose the noblest option possible by going after the strongest competition in Charlotte. Meanwhile, the insertion of Ronda Rousey into the Women’s Division equation created immediate possibilities in all directions, with the most logical decision to gain favor by taking out the boss (Stephanie). Thus, the Alexa/Nia angle came into focus at just the right time.

Mickey James transitioned from opponent to frenemy to mean girls accomplice, which put Alexa in position to accidentally and carelessly expose her low opinion of Nia. In a storyline that featured bullying, body shaming, smack talking, and gaslighting, these two performers tapped into some of the most authentic reflections of toxic masculinity/femininity in digital culture today. Their match is excellent and encapsulates the year’s worth of ups and downs with appealing choreography. Real-world incidents, unfortunately, end far too often in tragedy, but this match concluded with the appropriate level of triumphant, cathartic pathos. WINNER: Nia Jax.

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Nia vs. Bliss, courtesy of WWE.com http://www.wwe.com/shows/wrestlemania/wrestlemania-34#full-detail-40040893

Match Nine: WrestleMania 34 was insane in just how few times there was room for filler or letdown matches. Arguably, the sheer volume of content is what led some matches to appear more valley than peak (U.S. Championship) and the adrenaline crash of week-long festivities will always give way to audience impatience in the final acts. The WWE Championship is a different verse to the same song that haunted parts of the WrestleMania 34 macro narrative.

To clarify, the A.J. Styles versus Nakamura is a story that doesn’t need a heavy narrative setup (good thing too, because SmackDown mostly ignored it), but these strong styles (double pun?) do need temporal room to breathe. And yet a double bind emerges within this win-win setting. The performers will always already be compared to their previous, less restrictive New Japan Pro Wrestling main event at the Tokyo Dome. And while a large portion of WWE’s audience has never and will never see this match, the Nakamura character got further lost in translation moving from NXT to the main roster.

This sounds like a bit of armchair bellyaching and fan wallowing. Truth be told, this is another terrific match that had the relief of a Style victory (deserved) and the refreshing surprise of a Nakamura heel turn (which should fix some of his weekly character issues). Instead of the over-labeling of a “Dream Match” payoff, the post-match low blow to A.J. perhaps signals a new beginning (no end in sight!) that suggests this rivalry is just hitting its appropriate stride. WINNER: A.J. Styles

All TV Finales Suffer If You Binge-Watch the Entire Show in one Long Sitting

There is a danger in over-thinking pro wrestling, but one wonders if the proverbial transitional gimmick match between championship main events doesn’t serve as a “pallet cleanser” so much as a potential scapegoat for any time the final match doesn’t execute perfectly for either the performers or the fans.

That said, while the match was perfectly entertaining and serviceable, the fan reaction shifted into neutral during the A.J./Nakamura match and may have only popped hard one other time when Braun Strowman tagged in a young teenage kid that he “randomly selected from the crowd” to serve as RAW Championship tag-team partner. Other than that, the RAW Tag-Team bit was excruciating to watch primarily because WrestleMania 34 was at this point past the four-hour threshold. And six hours if one counts the pre-show. And nine and a quarter hours if one counts NXT: Takeover New Orleans. And fourteen plus hours if one considers how mind-numbering excess of a five-hour Hall of Fame ceremony Friday evening (I can never watch another Hillbilly Jim match ever).

The density of all this WWE content highlights their industry attempt to suffocate the competition, which is the typical corporate consumers buy into with Disney, Wal-Mart, the NFL, Netflix, etc. In reality, market saturation has led independent organizations to fight even harder. Every legit indie product now shadows WWE at the annual host site for WrestleMania. The entire week becomes a pro-wrestling mecca, and anyone who’s anyone makes appearances at multiple venues. The WWE may harness an unstoppable corporate hegemony, but the pro-wrestling community thrives as always from the success of warehouse outlets and passion-fueled communal productions.

To return to the final main events, it makes logical human sense that fans would face exhaustion de la spectacle after a full week of festivities (and thousands of dollars). If the adrenaline crashes for performers that “blow up” if not properly fit and fueled, imagine the average fan that is expected to sustain emotional investment from the antsy pre-gate moments in route to the stadium, up through the 7-hour card. The elongation of WrestleMania thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for impossible odds at show’s close. The bigger question is, why wouldn’t audiences be flat?

Match Ten: The interim tag-team championship was, apparently, entertaining. Braun went ultra babyface by picking a virtual child partner from the audience, in the process maintaining his strength cred by then beating Cesaro and Shamus (no slouches) to single-handedly gain the RAW tag titles. This much was telegraphed weeks in advance. WINNER: Braun Strowman (and Nicholas)

Match Eleven: Speaking of telegraphing, Brock Lesner versus Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship. Industry insiders were talking about this match regularly as far back as spring. There were times throughout 2017 where I thought this made no sense. So many fresh foes emerged from Samoa Joe to Braun Strowman. The four mentioned superstars even shared a fatal four-way main event at Summer Slam 2017, so the idea of reteaming only two of them felt soft and repetitive. But there I was overthinking WWE’s booking again.

Regardless, I thought Reigns was aces in his weekly mic promos. The “suspension” storyline also made sense, and the UFC tease of Brock “skipping” this year’s Elimination Chamber to dine with Dana White brought back classic levels of kayfabe in mainstream media. As much as we all love to suspend disbelief, sometimes President Trump is accurate with this alternative definition regarding “fake news”. But I’m talking about Kardashian levels of gossip rag publications and websites, not scientific journals.

Days after WrestleMania 34, I am still perplexed by the main event. It was terrific and also a supersized rerun sequel. It closed with two shocking surprises, but only one of them felt (looked) organic. These two absolutely pummeled one another, but jaded fans that paid probably thousands of dollars on their ticket seemed disinterested. And for fans that still chant “C-M-Punk!” after all these years, I don’t feel like it’s a false equivalency to compare this act to constituents voting against their own interests. There is a certain Idiocracy Effect to paying thousands to go wait around an entire day just to sneak in and blow up a beach ball.

Is “safe booking” always fun? No. But neither is going to a murder mystery dinner theater and then refusing to eat or engage others or put your phone away when the theme is set to Victorian England. Dear smart mark fans: get over yourselves instead of trying to get yourself over.

Fans aside, the showdown between Reigns and Lesner was crazy weird. Braun and Samoa Joe each fell to a single F-5, but Reigns needed to take six. The false finishes piled up so high that each shoulder burst moved the match into Frank Miller Dark Knight Strikes Again/All-Star Batman & Robin territory. The surprising non-comeback and eventual win by Lesner recall the early seasons of Game of Thrones, where everything tells you the story is heading toward a noble mythological victory only for the hero to die. And how about that crimson mask on Roman? Along with Ronda emasculating Hunter and Charlotte’s golden-tinted entrance, this trio of images cultivates my visual memory of WrestleMania 34. LOSER: Roman Reigns

With Reigns losing, there was a sadness to letting the air out of his longstanding chase for the title. WWE and others constantly remind audiences that Roman is now in “Hulk Hogan” territory with four WrestleMania closing matches. But the angry mob wins in not letting him enjoy a legitimate title run, despite all of the clear work he puts in.

I have several working thoughts and critiques as to why fans fawn over Daniel Bryan but reject Roman Reigns, and cheer for Brock Lesnar despite a handful of yearly appearances. There is something toxic to this type of fandom. When it’s aimed at the company, at the corporation, there is a working class catharsis to such frustration. But when the angst seems to be aimed at a superstar that does everything fans “respect” from names like John and Mark and Daniel and Terry…I have to rhetorically question what that missing ingredient might be.

WrestleMania 34 Honors

Wrestling Match of the Night: Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

Wrestling Story of the Night: Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H

Wrestling Story Arc of the Year (fulfilled): Nia Jax defeating Alexa Bliss for the RAW Women’s Title

Best Entrance of the Night: Charlotte Flair

Best Heel Turn: Nakamura

Fan Service Award: Daniel Bryan comeback victory

Scarlett Letter Award: The Roman Reigns Crimson Mask

CFP: Professional Wrestling: Politics and Populism

Calls, Works-In-Process

Professional Wrestling: Politics and Populism

Call for book chapter proposals

Deadline for abstracts (250 words): 15 March 2018
Contact: Sharon Mazer (smazer@aut.ac.nz)

Provoked by the disruptive performances of Donald Trump as candidate and president, and mindful of his longstanding ties to the WWE, this edited book will look at the infusion of professional wrestling’s worldview into the twinned discourses of politics and populism. In so doing, contributors will consider the ways that professional wrestling as an embodied, cultural practice might be seen to perform, represent, model, interrogate, and even resist diverse manifestations of populism across the political and national(ist) spectrum in the USA, Mexico and Latin America, Britain and Europe, Japan, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.

This book project began as a cross-disciplinary conversation – theatre, performance studies, anthropology – presented first in a panel (‘Rasslin’ in the Trumpocene: Politics and Pro-Wrestling in the 2016 Campaign and Beyond’) at the American Anthropological Association’s 2017 conference. The editors wish now to expand the field to allow a wider range of perspectives and voices to weigh in on the question of how professional wrestling might be implicated in the current resurgence of populist politics, whether Trump-inflected, right wing and reactionary, or indeed leftist and socialist. Publication in the ‘Enactments’ series, edited by Richard Schechner (Seagull Books), is scheduled for 2019.

Proposals are invited for chapters (approximately 6000 words). Topics potentially include:

  • The introjection of professional wrestling’s power dynamics and its constructions both of the ‘Other’ and of anti-establishment stances into the political arena;
  • The ways the Trump administration has leveraged various forms of social consent, negotiated power, and recast or silenced oppositionalities to create a new normal in politics, in the USA and beyond;
  • The staging of masculinity and violence, power and ‘truth’ in populist politics as in professional wrestling;
  • Feminist readings of the relationship between professional wrestling, populism and politics, including professional wrestling’s simultaneous complicity and questioning of masculinist power;
  • The connection between the popular and the populist, between the mediated and the live, and between the quotidian and the exceptional in professional wrestling as in contemporary politics;
  • The (dangerous) practices of representing race, immigrants and other Others in professional wrestling as in populism and politics now and in the past;
  • The ways key concepts, such as kayfabe and heat, can be seen as invocations of the various commercial and fictional worlds and universes that inform and create our politics today;
  • The reflection of the ‘rigged game’ in the fixed fight of professional wrestling.

Timeline
March 15, 2018 – abstracts (250 words) due
August 15, 2018 – draft chapters due
December 1, 2018 – final chapters due
January 31, 2019 – book to press

Editors
Heather Levi is an assistant professor of anthropology at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. She is the author of The World of Lucha Libre: Secrets, Revelations and Mexican National Identity.

Nell Haynes is a visiting assistant professor in anthropology at Northwestern University. She is currently completing her monograph, Chola in a Choke Hold: Remaking Indigeneity through Bolivian Lucha Libre.

Eero Laine is an assistant professor of theatre at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He is one of the co-editors of Performance and Professional Wrestling and is in the process of completing his monograph, Professional Wrestling and the Commercial Stage.

Sharon Mazer (Auckland University of Technology) is author of Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle. Her article ‘Donald Trump Shoots the Match’ was recently published by TDR.

The link to call for papers: https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/cfp/2018/02/12/professional-wrestling-politics-and-populism-edited-volume

A League of One’s Own: South East Women Wrestlers

Scholarly Wrestling Reviews, Works-In-Process

South East Women Wrestlers (hereafter SEWW) are an artist collective in Athens, GA consisting of female and female-identified performers who seek to subvert patriarchy and the male gaze through spectacle and role play.

Started in Summer 2017, SEWW has produced performance events — such as SumHERslam, Fall BRAwl, and HalloKWEENhavoc — as well an exhibit at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art and Ring Boi tryouts. Inspired by League of Lady Wrestlers, SEWW produces events that appeal to wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike. Tentatively planned for next year are events such as WrestleKWEENdom and WrestleWomynia.

As you may be able to tell from these event names, if you had to choose a theoretical framework for SEWW, it would include intersectional feminism and a large dose of postmodern play. According to SEWW founder Kaleena Stasiak, “Aside from an entertaining event of throw-downs, elaborate costumes and scripted role-play, SEWW promises a body-positive space, free from the male gaze where fantasy alter egos can be constructed, cultivated and performed. The humor and absurdity of these performances comes with the serious promise of a moment of optimism and possibility in the face of oppressive cultural values in order to promote empowerment, gender equity and community.”

Poster_SEWWER

Image Credit: https://art.uga.edu/news-and-events/school-art-mfas-wrestle-gender-through-performance

This summer, when I first heard about SEWW, my reactions ranged from horrified (“that sounds so dangerous”), to delighted (“that sounds awesome”), back to horrified (“they are going to build their own ring??”*) and finally to nervously excited. This idea of wrestling free from the male gaze drew me in. I knew the planning, scripting, and executing of events would be primarily done by women, but I was worried about the crowd because audience participation is crucial to pro-wrestling.

About 90% of my wrestle-friends and wrestle-demia colleagues are male, and wrestling audiences are primarily male. Even the good ones sometimes slip into oppressive cultural norms at times, and I’ve seen female wrestlers stoop to using misogynist language to get over with male-dominated crowds. Additionally, I have been witness to some absolutely shameful instances of toxic masculinity at wrestling shows. We at SEWW have a code of conduct, but haven’t needed to enforce it. I’m not entirely sure how this has worked out, or if it will continue, but apparently SEWW’s environment leaves no room for this type of behavior. I suppose it’s partially, if not fully, because SEWW is so obviously not for those male fans, but I wish there was a specific thing I could point to and say “do this, promotions, and you, too, will be free from toxic masculinity.”

The character I developed is named Joan of Snark. I’ve loved Joan of Arc since I saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as a child, and a friend gave me the excellent pun. As a medieval studies PhD student, I now like her even more. My initial characters had nothing to do with my discipline specifically, but after reading The Public Medievalist‘s series on “Race, Racism, and the Middles Ages” which interrogates the historical inaccuracy of white supremacists’ co-opting of the Middle Ages, –particularly Paul B. Sturtevant’s “Leaving ‘Medieval’ Charleston” — I decided to be a female knight.

South East Women Wrestlers

Image Credit: https://art.uga.edu/news-and-events/school-art-mfas-wrestle-gender-through-performance

Sturtevant reminds people involved in any kind of medieval role-playing that “you have a responsibility to ensure that the Middle Ages the white supremacists cling to is not the one you revel in.” My role-playing activities do not involve me working with white supremacists, since we don’t have any in SEWW and I don’t wrestle elsewhere currently, but I wanted there to be more medieval characters out there that are emphatically not in line with white nationalists’ racist project. Though Joan judges all other SEWW performers harshly and doesn’t like any of them except Catherine Crusader (her tag partner), she high fives everyone she can reach in the audience in an attempt to create an inclusive atmosphere aligned with SEWW’s mission.

If you have ever seen any of my conference presentations on wrestling, or read any of my writing in zines (under various names) and on the web, you likely know a few things about me: 1) the stuff above shouldn’t be surprising, 2) I study gender roles in wrestling, and 3) I love the absurd spectacle that is the Japanese promotion DDT. Typically, I am intensely disappointed in the very limited types of female characters present in women’s wrestling, i.e. I don’t think dating a man or being related to a man counts as a character.

If you, like me, are frustrated with such things, I have good news: there’s none of that in SEWW. Since wrestling is performance, and gender is performance, we present wrestling as gender performance. We have performers that include everything from party girls to cougars, business women to post apocalyptic warriors, Catholic school girls to Catholic saints, and mad scientists to dominatrices.

SEWW-7

Image Credit: https://art.uga.edu/news-and-events/school-art-mfas-wrestle-gender-through-performance

In a world full of dragon wrestlers like Super Dragon, Último Dragón, Drago, and Dragon Dragon, have you ever wondered what issues a female dragon wrestler would have to face? SEWW has an answer for you in Dragon Yer Ass’s fight with Amazona Prime (hint: it has to do with female bodily autonomy and reproduction).

Are you wondering who would cheat more in a fight between religion and science? We may be able to answer that for you shortly.

Love matches with ridiculous props or matches with stipulations so complicated we should really make a PowerPoint? We have those, too.

Without worrying about the constraints of what wrestling has been and instead thinking about how fun it could be, SEWW undermines the hetero-patriarchal hegemony of normative professional wrestling.

Obviously I am biased, but as a wrestling fan, scholar, and now performer, I think promotions like SEWW offer a radical new perspective on the creative potential of professional wrestling. We are not alone in doing this, and there are performers who have been doing this for as long as wrestling has existed, but the more the better! I also think there should be more female-run wrestling promotions, and enjoy our place as the little sister to League of Lady Wrestlers and Pro Wrestling: Eve.

-JH Roberts is a PhD student studying medieval literature, gender studies, and popular culture. Her work on wrestling has appeared in The Atomic Elbow, Pro Wrestling Feelings, Girl Wrestling Fan Will You Marry Me?, Uproxx, Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion (“‘Don’t Call Me White’: Fashioning Sami Zayn’s Arabic and Transnational Identities”), and forthcoming in Popular Culture Studies Journal (“The Well-Wrought Broken Championship Belt: Object-Oriented Professional Wrestling Criticism”). She trains at Landmark Arena. You can follow her on Twitter at @jh_roberts.

*We didn’t build our own ring, don’t worry.