Respect for Wrestling

My disappointment with the majority of wrestling events today stems from their flippancy, the unspoken insinuation that today's wrestlers, promoters, and fans are too hip for all this sweaty grunting and groaning. This latter situation really took off with the decline and fall of kayfabe, as realism gave way to tawdry and over-the-top spectacle. (I also suspect this was partly a reaction against a growing consciousness of the sport's innate eroticism.) Something similar happened to underground wrestling, as sophomoric clowning and ersatz beauty contests superseded honest grappling. Lightweight, non-threatening cuteness came to prevail. My gripe is not so much with "bad" wrestling as with "trivial" wrestling. As I see it, even inept grappling, done with respect and heart, is hotter than mechanical displays of brawn and jokey, leering fluff.

I realize I come off as humorless when I talk like this. Humorlessness is the worst crime in contemporary American culture, taking things too seriously -- or seriously at all. I swear I do have a sense of humor, even if it isn't evident here. But I think lightness and self-consciousness can be taken too far. When nothing is serious, nothing is majestic, marvelous, or transcendent. In a purely tongue-in-cheek world, there is no rapture. Wrestling, to my mind, possesses a certain level of gravitas and mythic importance, the way some of my friends feel about baseball.

Of course, there never really was a "golden" age of wrestling--that's the product of imagination and false memories. And I would not go so far as to say that a sense of the sublime has entirely disappeared. Even the worst offenders like WWE have fleeting moments of majesty worthy of Homer. But I do yearn, with a profound but sentimental nostalgia, for the nights of black trunks, sawdust, local heroes, and ethnic surnames, when professional wrestling was real for most fans (even if only through "willing suspension of disbelief") and when it touched on deep and troubling dreams and desires--and when gay wrestling fans looked back to the ancient Greeks for inspiration, or at least to adolescent rites of roughhouse that cemented friendships and determined one's ranking in the hierarchy of the pack. Glimmers of all this remain, of course ... thankfully.


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