Sport and Spectacle, Second Edition
Timely updates to the first book to look at professional wrestling as a theatrical performance
Professional wrestling is one of the most popular performance practices in the United States and around the world, drawing millions of spectators to live events and televised broadcasts. The displays of violence, simulated and actual, may be the obvious appeal, but that is just the beginning. Fans debate performance choices with as much energy as they argue about their favorite wrestlers. The ongoing scenarios and presentations of manly and not-so-manly characters—from the flamboyantly feminine to the hypermasculine—simultaneously celebrate and critique, parody and affirm the American dream and the masculine ideal.
Sharon Mazer looks at the world of professional wrestling from a fan’s-eye-view high in the stands and from ringside in the wrestlers’ gym. She investigates how performances are constructed and sold to spectators, both on a local level and in the “big leagues” of the WWF/E. She shares a close-up view of a group of wrestlers as they work out, get their faces pushed to the mat as part of their initiation into the fraternity of the ring, and dream of stardom. In later chapters, Mazer explores professional wrestling’s carnivalesque presentation of masculinities ranging from the cute to the brute, as well as the way in which the performances of women wrestlers often enter into the realm of pornographic. Finally, she explores the question of the “real” and the “fake” as the fans themselves confront it.
First published in 1998, this new edition of Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle both preserves the original’s snapshot of the wrestling scene of the 1980s and 1990s and features an up-to-date perspective on the current state of play.
I don’t know what to say about something like that. To me that’s bullshit coming from someone who is really trying to stir up something. [. . . ] I think she’s overthinking things . . . two guys going out there wrestling.- Rolling Stone
Sharon Mazer knows professional wrestling, from Gleason’s Gym where wrestlers train to Madison Square Garden and television where they perform their rough-and-tumble shows. In this vivid study, Mazer explores an American sport that is also a body-slamming, crowd-roaring entertainment. Mazer uses her performance studies skills to reveal what’s really going on when these big-bodied heroes and villains collide.- Richard Schechner, professor emeritus, New York University, and editor of TDR/The Drama Review
Sharon Mazer’s groundbreaking ethnography insightfully applies a performance studies approach to look at how wrestlers are trained, how fans participate in the performance, and how we assess what makes ‘sports-entertainment’ such a compelling experience. Along the way, she reflects on the ways masculinity and femininity get constructed in the ring and through the hoopla which surrounds wrestling within the culture. And if this were not enough, I regularly draw on her insights about the power dynamics informing the ethnographic process to help guide graduate students wanting to apply these methods to their own projects in contemporary communications and culture.- Henry Jenkins, University of Southern California