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Wrestling nell’Olimpo

“That night we were out to see live wrestling, our latest passion. The wrestlers elevated barroom brawling to the level of martial arts, coming in screaming and clapping, with white music blaring, Van Halen hair swaying and chins raised to the point where their egos spoke directly to God. […] That’s what we liked about it, this mixed-up stew of languages that gave it all a certain style, a bit of grace, and turned the con into a ritual.

This youthful memory of wrestling can be found at the beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ A Wonderful Fight. There are now many examples of the ennobling that this form of entertainment, so much derided at the time, has received in recent years. He still recounts that ‘they were crazy. They babbled like a black preacher, with the same rhythm, but they wore silk dressing gowns, bikinis, and sequined belts. Sometimes they went on stage with a parasol, reciting poetry. […] They told far-fetched stories from completely made-up classical myths, until the day came when Hercules Hernandez descended from Olympus and Iron Shei explained the Middle East to those poor Midwesterners.

I am reminded of the brilliant 1983 essay The invention of tradition by Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Reger.

And I am also reminded of what Milan Kundera wrote about kitsch in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

At the moment I am watching Glow, a Netflix series that recalls the curious story of female wrestling, when “unconventional women” were recruited in the middle of the 80s to add erotic attraction to the attraction of these caricatures of fighters. Glow also recounts the mechanism by which the language of television required actresses to squash their personalities into one-dimensional, pure stereotypes, and any stereotype would do.

The first time I thought seriously about wrestling was a few years ago, when I read a text on the history of the ancient Romans, in which it was argued that the infamous gladiator duels were actually feints, antics made only to entertain the public. In short, they were ‘like modern wrestlers’, the historian concluded.

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