Thursday, January 5, 2012

For Rasslin' Fans






Usually I don't go to the online Urban Dictionary to educate myself on word meanings. Since it is open source (a la Wikipedia), the definitions often give more insight to their authors' personalities than to the ways the words are used in ordinary conversation, for instance, this 2005 definition of "cock": "the best goddamn thing in the world. If I could, I would ride one all day long" (as in the sentence "Cocks feel so great in my pussy"). The other definitions on the site can be jokey, snide, or sometimes indecipherable.

But every now and then it hits its target. The 2009 definition of "rasslin'" is, I think, worth paying attention to: 
a southern style of professional wrestling which emphasizes kayfabe and stiffness, with fewer squash matches and generally longer feuds. It was synonymous with the NWA-affiliated promotions. Rasslin' included TV tapings at smaller venues, as compared to the larger and more well-known arenas utilized by northern U.S. promotions such as the AWA and WWF. The term is derived from a phonetic spelling of how the word "wrestling" sounds when spoken with a heavy Southern accent [emphases mine].

"Kayfabe," as I think everyone knows, is pro wrestling's pretense that it is "real," as well as, in the last twenty years or so, fans' willingness to suspend disbelief and enter into the spirit of the show, without over-analyzing its realism or authenticity. Perhaps Southerners' general eagerness to oppose fact-based reasoning--"God said it I believe it That settles it"--makes us especially willing to pretend to believe wrestling's fakery and illusions. We appreciate a good yarn and have a high tolerance for bullshit as long as it's colorful.

"Stiffness" refers to the use of excessive force in a wrestling match. It's when wrestlers deliberately (or inadvertently) injure themselves and their opponents by pushing past the kayfabe to make the pain real. Mainly associated with bloody hardcore wrestling now, less extreme forms of stiffness were a part of the American roughhouse I grew up with--slapping, punching, choking, pinching--on military bases and in my later adolescence in South Florida ... rowdy, sometimes drunken fun, where some real "ouch" could cut through the monotony of everyday life and a black eye could serve as a badge of successful male bonding.

What struck me most about the Urban Dictionary definition was the phrase "with fewer squash matches." It had not occurred to me before that, since I grew up in the days of regional wrestling promotions on local television, I might prefer evenly matched, toe-to-toe fights (as opposed to other kinksters who prefer that some victim get a thorough and one-sided bashing) because my principal imprint growing up came from NWA wrestling shows in Florida and Georgia--that, and the aforementioned roughhousing at school and in bedrooms and backyards, where the evenness in size and skill of the two opponents could ensure that our fun lasted longer. It might have something to do with the old antebellum notion of chivalry and fair fighting too. I don't know.

I would add to this definition that, for me, "rasslin'" also strongly implies maximal body contact, shiny with sweat, usually against the ropes or on the mat, as opposed to high-flying acrobatics and quick, don't-blink glances of skin on skin. But I wrote about my attraction to body contact, especially when it's aggressive, just last month.

The screen captures above feature Kevin Von Erich versus Chris Adams in a bright outdoor match in 1984 in Dallas, Texas. You can watch the match here. Almost as if to illustrate the stiff aspect of pro wrestling, after Von Erich won the match, Adams attacked him with a folding chair, purportedly giving Kevin a concussion. The caps below (from this video) show us Kevin fighting Thor, in a bout climaxing with the kayfabe spectacle of Kevin's slow, studied, and up-close application of the "iron claw." Mighty nice, yall.



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