The democratic stage: the relationship between the actor and the audience in professional wrestling

Warden, Claire (2013) The democratic stage: the relationship between the actor and the audience in professional wrestling. In: Le Cache Et.../Professional Wrestling and..., 31 Jan - 1 February 2013, University of Bordeaux.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


From John Fiske to Mikhail Bakhtin there is a strong tradition of reading professional wrestling through the lexicon of theatrical performance rather than sporting competition. Given its carnival background the connection is not surprising: wrestlers become ‘actors’, sport becomes ‘entertainment’, there are dancers, pyrotechnics and ‘promos’. At the very centre of this performative reading is surely the relationship between the actor/wrestler and the audience. An initial reading might see the wrestler as entertainer/acrobat, paid to amuse the crowd, tell a story and receive its predictable boos and cheers. In fact in previous studies (and certainly in the mainstream media) this audience is viewed as rather ignorant, bamboozled by the antics of their heroes, unable to discern the difference between ‘fake’ and ‘real’. Yet the history of professional wrestling, recent storylines and the growth in the ‘smark’ online community all provide a counterargument.

Using two major examples (2002 Wrestlemania XVII main event between The Rock and Hulk Hogan, and the 2004 Wrestlemania XX match up of Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg) this paper will argue that the wrestling arena is one of the most democratic and, indeed, potentially subversive forms of popular theatre. Both these events were directly and immediately influenced by their audiences, the performance narrative changing as the audience members interacted with the matches. Indeed, despite the obvious commodification of professional wrestling and its interpellation into capitalist economic systems, it presents an arena of exciting actor-audience interaction rarely seen on the theatrical stage.

Concluding with a brief examination of the growth in theatrical-style starred rating from fans such as Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller, this paper will suggest that professional wrestling remains one of the most exciting twenty-first century examples of performance-based democracy.

Subjects:L Social studies > L990 Social studies not elsewhere classified
W Creative Arts and Design > W490 Drama not elsewhere classified
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
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ID Code:9800
Deposited On:10 Jun 2013 11:48

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