Wrestlemania is here – and I have a challenge for you. I dare you to watch. I literally dare you. Yes, that’s right, WWE, ‘make-believe fighting’ if you really must label it that, where grown men and women play-fight on television for the entertainment of billions worldwide. “But Jack,” I hear you cry, “You’re a culture writer for the Norwich Radical! Surely you know better than to revel in such uncultured pastimes?!”
Now, in order to refute that, I could go into a lengthy and tedious history of the marriage between art, philosophy and combat. I could talk to you about wrestling in the world’s first democracy of ancient Greece, at the dawn of western civilisation. I could talk to you about the ancient Eastern martial arts that inspired Bruce Lee to greatness. I could reference Roland Barthes famous essay on the subject if I wanted. I could, but frankly, I don’t fancy pandering to the inherent class-snobbery behind suggesting wrestling is a ‘lowly’ distraction.
I could, but frankly, I don’t fancy pandering to the inherent class-snobbery behind suggesting wrestling is a ‘lowly’ distraction.
Every nook and crevice of our daily lives is riddled with fictions – ‘common sense’ fantasies we believe to make sense of the world – or to justify the suffering and inequality that surround us. Wrestling, like any other art form, can equip us with the interpretive tools to see through those fictions, to the contradictions at the heart of our way of life. Sure, the fighting isn’t real, the feuds are fake, and the messages constructed; it is — often absurd — fiction. But because of that, wrestling becomes an artistic space that, even with the polluting influence of corporate interest, opens up the possibility of cultural and social critique, of accessible satire that can be received by a colossal audience on a weekly basis.
Oscar Wilde famously said, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” A century later, Slavoj Zizek, the controversial Slovenian Marxist, furthered this – “We have a name for fantasy realised: Nightmare.” What we believe we want is so often coloured by the dominant ideas of our oppressors: our bosses, politicians, overseers. In modern capitalist society, the elite perpetuate liberal conceptions of individual success. But what kind of a psychotic society does this sanctified ‘equality of opportunity’ actually build? A horrific scrabble for scraps amongst the mass of the population, cannibalising themselves to emulate a ‘self-made’ elite.
In order to make the dream a reality, we must make monsters of ourselves. Contradictions like this lie at the heart the best satire though; where artists make ‘common sense’ insufferably unpalatable to an audience by taking ideological promises to their logically irrational conclusion – and that brings me to this Sunday (29th March). Wrestlemania.
in order to make the dream a reality, we must make monsters of ourselves.
Ignore the title fight between the preening Roman Reigns and the hulking imbecile Brock Lesnar, the main event this year is Bray Wyatt verses the legendary Undertaker. The Undertaker’s character is an undead myth that literally refuses to be laid to rest. He is the embodiment of every idealistic capitalist’s fantasy self-image; the rugged individual. ‘Taker’, whose gimmick is literally being undead, is an anti-hero who, whilst motivated first and foremost by his own desires, does unintentional ‘good’ unto others by serving his own needs. He is guided by the figurative invisible hand of the free market. Furthermore, the character dresses this ideological language in the clothes of the immutable laws of death — making the economic myth he represents seem inescapable common sense. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The self-made… man — or whatever the Undertaker is — is a myth that comes with a dark contradiction at its heart. It simplifies the world under capitalism into an impossible fairy tale where anyone who has the iron will to prosper can do so — and in the process will benefit others — but the hideous reality this cloaks is far more horrific than any supernatural phenomenon. The truth is there is not as many as one ‘self-made’ maverick millionaire in the world.
There is but one route to the top of capitalist society — and it is climbing a ladder built from the bent and broken spines of other human beings. Harnessing the power of exploitation, paying workers less than their labour is worth to line your own pockets, as every two-bit Steve Jobs might do, to pursue your self-interest certainly doesn’t ‘benefit’ others either. By relentlessly plundering the energy of their employees, wives, friends and families, those who buy into the myth of the individualist ‘anti-heroes’ crush millions of individual’s hopes and dreams.
There is but one route to the top of capitalist society — and it is climbing a ladder built from the bent and broken spines of other human beings.
And that’s where Bray Wyatt comes into play. The self-styled ‘eater of worlds’ is an un-sanitised realisation of the same dream — untempered by rhetorical flourishes and moralistic pleasantries. He is the waking nightmare that the promises of ideology actually deliver. From the very beginning as a character, Wyatt embodied the primal savagery at the heart of what seemed a pleasant, and just concept — the individualistic pursuit of wealth which brings us ‘begrudgingly’ to rob and murder our fellow human beings time after time.
In 2013, in one of his infamous promos, Wyatt stated, “People buy and sell fear. They worship war, they crave war. But I’m not afraid of their wars, I CREATED WAR! And I think it’s time for the masses to wake up… Look at this lie they’re living… I’ve seen it all in my dreams and in my thoughts, and above everything else I understand. This is not the beginning…..it’s the end.”
That statement sums up exactly what Windham Lawrence Rotunda, who wrestles as Wyatt, has created. Wyatt is a figure who not only embodies the insanity of his own surroundings — but perceives that insanity — the horror within a world of contradictions. Where austerity-mad politicians make ‘hard decisions’ to line their pockets, where we make war in the name of preserving peace, where the state monitors people’s internet use in the name of ‘freedom’. Wyatt is Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979), sneering at the US generals who extoll the virtues of ‘humane’ slaughter — of oxymoronic sanitised warfare — and the fact they’re so convinced by their own ideological illusions, they cannot see the unsustainability of it all. Either their ways will end, or the world will end — and by embodying a caricature of their horrific ideology, Wyatt shows us that. Rotunda has created a monster to battle that end — to shake us from our slumber, and make us aware of the horror around us, and inside us and our heroes.
Rotunda has created a monster to battle that end — to shake us from our slumber, and make us aware of the horror around us, and inside us and our heroes.
Every week, the darkened arena fills with light upon his entry, as Bray’s ‘fireflies’ (audience members holding up their phone-torches) sway in support of his ‘movement’. In that respect, it doesn’t necessarily matter what he does to the Undertaker. Wyatt calling out the ‘dead man’ has made plain the contradictions of Taker — of the ideology he represents. Whoever wins, the nature of his mythology have been laid bare. The real defeat for that concept will not come from a wrestling ring, but from the people who divest from those ideas — and their number is growing day by day. Anything else is a bonus. And let’s be clear; with two supremely talented athletes, one legend, one nightmare, tearing each other apart in the ring — it will be on hell of a bonus.
So, returning to that challenge I issued earlier… The UEA SU Blue Bar will be showing the event in its entirety on Sunday night. Lefties, progressives, radicals of Norwich, if you can get over whatever hang-ups you had about WWE — come and revel in the horrific grandeur of this match and embrace another opportunity to engage millions of people with an ideological critique. If you can do that, I’ll see you at Wrestlemania.