JoshH, one of this blog's readers and a faithful commenter on these pages, has been petitioning for a while now to do away with all talk of "real wrestling," finding the expression inescapably vague and broadly homophobic. I cannot disagree with him entirely, though his and my tastes differ in some key areas. His preference is for one-sided squashes, mine, for more or less even contests, though in the past year I have come to appreciate the squash job, too. He seems to hold that the current state of homoerotic wrestling is flooded with the kinds of wrestling I like, whereas everywhere I turn I mainly find the kinds of wrestling I would assume he likes. Perhaps it's just a matter of semantics. I don't know. And I really don't care. He makes a point. On the other hand, I cannot entirely agree with him either. "Real wrestling" is an expression that does reverberate in me, though, as JoshH would correctly say, "realness" means many things to many different fans.
There are many wrestlings. Mine, JoshH's, Bard's, Bruno's, Kid Leopard's, Krush's, yours, the fans', the wrestlers', and on and on. I think of wrestling as a ritual. More ritual, than sport, more ritual even than entertainment.
Sport operates according to a set of rules and a set of well defined skills applicable to that sport. Wrestling exists as a sport, of course, and as a sport it is my favorite. But wrestling exists also outside the rules and skill sets of the sport--as in pro wrestling, where the breaking of the rules is not just expected but pretty much required, and, of course, in erotic wrestling, where the skill sets are altogether different from the sport's.
Entertainment provides escapism--supplying glamour for the depressed, suspense and intensity for the bored, action for the couch potato, and companionship for the lonely. It accomplishes this by straddling the line between giving audiences what they expect and disguising it so that audiences get the illusion of experiencing something unique, original, unprecedented, and full of surprises. It's a hard balance, but the most successful entertainments give audiences exactly what they paid for, while at the same time stringing them along with the expectation that what they are about to see has never been seen before. So far, WWE has come closest to realizing wrestling's potential as conventional entertainment and spectacle, an accomplishment I'm of two minds about, but on the whole I have come to respect what WWE does and enjoy it for what it is.
Ritual, however, is another matter. Ritual is not exactly about escapism. It is about creatively achieving an ecstatic state, which is, in turn, cathartic and liberating. It is concerned less with originality--or the illusion of originality--than with duplicating set forms and processes. For a while now I've been mulling over the spiritual dimension of erotic wrestling. I think that, because I see wrestling as a ritual, I do not so much mind its predictability--whether a match is one-sided or evenly-divided between two good wrestlers.
BG East prides itself on its fine sense of drama, expertly choreographed and convincingly sold, and Can-Am has probably pushed further in exploring the theatricality of erotic wrestling--with matches set in prisons and business offices, featuring superheroes and hockey players, and going so far as to use expressionistic lighting and computer-generated special effects. Still, underlying most of these companies' product is a strictly limited set of forms and processes, which, I believe, account for their long success. Recently, Thunder's Arena has presented itself as a synthesis of BGE's and Can-Am's styles.
Companies like Krushco and UCW-Wrestling make my point more clearly, though. As entertainment and spectacle, these promotions have little to offer. Anyone expecting mere entertainment may find Krushco's long, tight, agonizing holds rather boring. Sports enthusiasts may find UCW's endless rounds of gut-punching pointless. However, they are successful, even beloved by me and others, because they provide customers not with escapism or novelty but with repeated and firmly committed enactments of holds, moves, and characters the viewers (who see themselves as "participants" rather than simply "audiences") come to expect. BGE and Can-Am (and even WWE) provide the same things; however, Krushco and UCW have stripped away most of the trappings of sport and entertainment to focus more on the ritual. PWP, NHB-Battle, and other small firms likewise offer similar bare-bones rites of domination and submission as part of an eroticized ritual of masculinity.
Jake Jenkins versus Cliff Johnson, a recent match released by Rock Hard Wrestling, can be taken as a case in point. The two wrestlers, Jenkins and Johnson, are young and extraordinarily well built and good looking. They are new to me, but for all I know some of you may recognize them from other promotions. My point is, though they are new to me, the ritual they perform is familiar, very familiar, very predictable. And I don't mind a bit. Jenkins, 5'7", 155#, nicknamed "The Machine," is smaller than Johnson, 6'1", 175#, nicknamed "The Model." Of a battle between Machine and Model, I have certain expectations. This match fulfills them. The bigger, arrogant fighter picks on the feisty smaller guy, but soon finds out that the fiery (red-suited) underdog is not so easily pushed around.
We know the angle, and the combatants check off the whole routine, item by item, just as we expect. There is "back and forth" action, one dominating for a while, then the other, but, unlike sport, we continue watching not mainly to find out which is the better or the more prepared athlete, and, unlike entertainment, not simply to escape the humdrum disappointments of real life. We watch to achieve some measure of ecstasy--erotic, but more generally sensuous--and to sustain our belief in the beauties of masculine competition. Rock Hard accompanies the action with music--of a different sort than, but with the same effect as, the music accompanying a high mass.
As exemplars of male beauty, Jenkins and Johnson are superb. Like most of you, I pick matches largely (at first, anyway) on the photogenicity of the fighters. Their physical contest is vigorous and exciting. They are brand new at this, so not as polished as a Randy Orton, a Brad Rochelle, a Jimmy Dean, a Krush, or even an Axel or a Big Sexy. Still they are very good. Good to watch now, possibly going to be even better in the future. They hit their marks, and the ritual is very satisfying--um, "uplifting," "bracing," and "cleansing." Hmm. Its prurient pleasures aside, there is, quite seriously, a spiritual aspect to it, too, though at this point I'm in no position to explain that aspect--but I suspect that the spiritual and the sexual are closely aligned, if not (in pure pagan fashion) inseparable.