Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Macho Style







I like masculine men. Masculinity means many different things. I know that. I also know that I'm not anyone's picture of ideal American masculinity. (David Sedaris wrote, "Boys who spent their weekends making banana nut muffins did not, as a rule, excel in the art of hand-to-hand combat.") Today people distrust masculinity, even many of us who idealize it. Even to bring up the subject makes a lot of us uneasy. It's hard to call someone or something "masculine" without raising one eyebrow or crooking our fingers to make quote marks in the air.

Busick versus Thatcher is an old-school catch-as-catch-can match that ends not only with the two opponents shaking hands, but with the loser on both knees bowing to his conquerer. It's a radical nose-to-the-canvas kowtow, too. This is beyond old-school. It's caveman macho stylings we seldom see in pro wrestling anymore, having for decades camped up ring machismo for chuckles or transformed it into the more easily marketable exhibition of body-beautifuls parading around in loud, sparkling colors, all traces of their post-pubescent maturity erased, some of them built like Greek gods, but still smooth and unimposing as 18th-century castrati. Wrestling is now mostly a spectacle of gigantic boys. (Someone else, I forget who, once said we now live in an age of "guys" and "dudes," not "men.")

Although I crave more of the old macho style of Thatcher-vs-Busick, I can see why most fans today wouldn't take to it. Both these men wear beards, black trunks, and heavy boots, unexceptional signifiers of maleness without the tell-tale clues that might push us to cheer for one or the other or expect him to win or fail. A bit of pink or pomade or a foreign flag might help whet our expectations. We want to know up front who the top is. We rely on sartorial hints to tell us which wrestler is the better man.

The potential for violence and destruction or even the joyous acceptance of risk that old styles of masculinity involve now upsets us. Nowadays masculinity is something we prefer to be ironic about. We clean it up with cool accessories (tuxes, martinis, sports cars, and casinos), or we make it into a loutish caricature we can feel snidely superior to. Or we remove the human element from it entirely, and let Godzilla, Transformers, and werewolves be our sole reminders of what masculinity used to mean.

Also we are impatient. Old-school catch wrestling requires tenacity on the viewers' part--for one thing the wrestling action itself (not the characters or the pageantry) must interest us. Timothy Thatcher takes more than 30 seconds to bend Biff Busick's wrist backwards, almost bringing the man's knuckles to rest against his own hairy forearm. That's way too long. Most of us want to see acrobatics, chairs and ladders flying, sparks fanning out over our heads. When one of these battlers stretches his arm or leg to reach the ring rope in order to stop an agonizing hold, it takes seemingly for...ehh...ver. Who has time for mat grappling anymore? Who has the patience for a toe-to-toe chopfest in the center of the ring or a grinding armlock that lasts even a full minute?

I do, as a matter of fact. And though I can and often do enjoy the cartoonish busyness and bright splatters of noise and color that constitute the new style of American TV wrestling, I sometimes look at an old photo of pro wrestling in the 1930s and 1940s, pre-television, with a certain amount of longing and envy. This Beyond Wrestling battle from a "secret show" back in April helps fill the bill for me. We have the bare rafters, cinderblock wall, and scruffy, taped-up mat; we have shirtless youth downing cold beverages, propping their elbows on the ring apron; we have two brawny and mature roughnecks in the ring; and we have a ref who sweats bullets trying to contain the brute force that these two fighters are heroically unleashing.

That's not just entertainment. That's pro wrestling.


2 comments:

  1. It looks like an excellent match. But they look too much alike! Döppelgängers! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Joe this is probably a first. I saw this match before I read your review. And I "favorited" it on YT. Amen to all you said and also enjoyed the intimacy of the venue (hence allowing "propping their elbows").

    ReplyDelete

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