Cold War

On Sunday, Adam Evans started posting full-length vintage wrestling broadcasts from Chicago in the 1960s, each divided into five segments, including this match between Russian bad guy Nikolai Volkov and American straightshooter Johnny Gilbert. For black-and-white Kinescopes, the picture is good. You owe it to yourself to watch a few of these fights, and encourage the speediness with which the site has been uploading them.

What I have looked at reminds me of watching my uncle, can of beer in hand, as he watched wrestling on TV in Miami back in those days. Interestingly enough, my first glimpse of pro wrestling disgusted me. Flabby, hairy, sweaty guys my father's age and older, huffing and puffing as they groped each other. I was more fascinated by the dully grim look on my uncle's face, as cigarette smoke swirled between him and me. 

But repulsion is one part fascination, and though I would never have admitted it (partly because my parents disapproved of my uncle, as did my aunt, the man's own wife) the grunting slobs held a lurking allure. Partly it was the simplistic good-versus-evil narratives, and partly it was the long sweaty manhandling, one of the very things I had told myself was disgusting.

The slobs fought with a sort of aslant intimacy I did not see when Steve Reeves hurled boulders at Kirk Morris in CinemaScope. I could only dream of Hercules grinding up against an equally muscled foe like this--or Tarzan choking a white hunter with the same sustained concentration. Hollywood fights, though hot enough for me as a child, lacked the fleshy, almost olfactory sensations that these Schlitz- and Tiparillo-sponsored spectacles offered, had I only the taste for them then.

Today pro wrestlers have the kinds of physiques I could only fantasize about back then, with fuller, wavier hair, shot in Technicolor with high-definition camerawork that makes every droplet of sweat pop out. The mixture of loathing and attraction I felt for their lardy predecessors has blossomed into a full-blown obsession and a distinctive slant in my views of masculinity, eroticism, and aesthetics.


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