There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle. The virtue of wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. -- Mythologies, Roland Barthes
Among the most popular programs on cable television in the USA are the wrestling programs from the two rival organizations: WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and WWF (World Wrestling Federation, which even has a latino website). Whilst wrestling has a long history as a professional sport, the beginning of the modern era can be dated to 1982, when the WWF declared that the sport was fake (the proper term was "sports entertainment"), thereby releasing it from being scrutinized by various state athletic commissions. Thereafter, wrestling became as much television sport entertainment as a live spectator event. The combined revenues of these two organizations coming from live attendance, television shows, merchandising and licensing exceed one billion US dollars per year.
These wrestling programs are carefully scripted, with distinct storylines evolving over the course of time. This means that a proper appreciation of the content would require the awareness of the traditions and conventions of the sport (such as the "steel cage" matches, the "royal rumble" format and so on) and familiarization with the cast of characters (Hulk/Hollywood Hogan, Goldberg, Brett "Hitman" Hart, the New World Order, Ric "Nature Boy" Flair, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, "The Undertaker", "The Rock", "The Boss Man", Vince McMahon, as well as celebrity guests such as Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone, Jay Leno and others) and their idiosyncrasies. Some of these storylines are based upon specific cultural values. For example, the popular WWF theme at the moment is the working class hero Steve Austin against his ruthless corporate boss Vince McMahon. The immense popularity of this story line is undoubtedly due to its ability to tap into a deep part of the collective American psyche about worker-employer relationships in an advanced capitalist society. If you ask a fan why Vince McMahon is evil, the answer is simply, "Vince is corporate", as if that were a sufficient explanation in itself. For this reason, American-style wrestling may be difficult to export to other parts of the world.
In the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1998 study, we asked the survey respondents if they regularly view American-style wrestling programs. Currently, these programs are available on cable television as well as broadcast television in Latin America. Overall, 8.2% of all persons between the ages of 12 to 64 inclusive indicated that they watch these programs regularly. In the table below, we show various breakdowns by geodemographic subgroups.
|Geodemographic Group||% Watched Regularly|
Balance of Central America
Balance of South America
Less than 6 years
6 or more, but less than 12 years
12 years or more
|Understand Spoken English
Not at all
(source Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1998)
Thus American-style wrestling program audiences are
These demographic characteristics illustrate the contradictory nature of American-style wrestling in Latin America. Wrestling is typically considered to be a sub-cultural form of entertainment and is therefore downscale, but American-style wrestling requires some familiarity with American lifestyle and culture and is therefore upscale in Latin America.
In Mexico, there is another strain of professional wrestling that has evolved independently from the American version, with very different rules, rituals and symbols (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre). Most significant is the presence of masks of every kind, representing animals, Greek gods, death, violence, fear, cowboys, Indians, and so on. The wrestlers never take off their masks, inside or outside the ring (see, for example, the legendary El Santo), and the ultimate fight is the mask-versus-mask match, in which the loser is stripped of his mask and can never wear one again. Mexican wrestling matches can be seen in the USA on the cable television channel Galavisión. Due to the radically different cultural assumptions, the appeal has been so far limited to latino audiences in the USA.
Reference: Roland Barthes (1957) Mythologies. Editions du Seuil, Paris.
(posted by Roland Soong on 1/30/99)
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