I watched Lucha Libre (Mexican) wrestling at the Mexico Festival at Toronto’s Harbourfront this weekend. I don’t know why. I guess because I’ve never seen wrestling in real life before and was curious. Mexican wrestling is essentially the WWE (previously the WWF) but with masks. Watching it, a few things struck me.
One is that although everyone (I hope, but I doubt it) should know by now that wrestling is fake, it looks so much more fake in person that on TV! Laughably so. The athleticism of what these guys do is undeniable, but it is essentially just like tumbling or gymnastics. Flying through the air, flips, and jumping over their opponents’ heads requires the same athleticism as gymnasts have. The only difference between wrestling entertainment and gymnastics is the injection of hyper-machismo and ample homo-eroticism. The fact that those two things co-exist—and are indeed as important a part of wrestling as the athleticism and fake rivalries—is quite a paradox. How do you have the ultimate in male bravado paired with the ultimate in homo-eroticism? Sweaty, buff, waxed, nearly naked men hug each, perform complex coreographies together, and stick their crotches in each others’ faces while simultaneously claiming to want to annihilate the other guy. Again, the word laughable comes to mind. Many of these men act like they are or at least would purport to be homophobes, yet they are participating in an activity that is so gay!
And the acting is pretty terrible. These men are clearly athletes and body builders (and perhaps closet cases), but actors they are not. The way they played up each fake hit was so cartoonish I almost expected stars and tweeting birds to circle their heads. I commented to my friend at one point that the whole thing was very Three Stooges.
I was also struck by the reaction of the crowd. The men and boys were completely into it, oohing and aahing, ouching and sucking in their breath, fist-pumping and jumping up and down, yelling and macho-posturing. A few elderly ladies, while not so caught up in it, seemed to believe it was real, saying things like, “Ooh, that must have hurt!” But the women? The women were in on the joke together—the joke being the wrestlers and the men in the audience.
I wish I could thank the women around me for making the experience so enjoyable. Their quips were priceless; here are some paraphrases:
- “Wow, they really wax everything! I wonder if that guy will give me his waxer’s phone number.”
- “Come on, kiss! Kiss!! Or at least just caress one another!”
- “Does that guy think he’s a cave man?”
- (Dubbing in the wrestler’s voice who had his crotch in another wrestler’s face): “Ooooh baby. Yes, right there! Oh yeah, that’s how I like it! You’re soooo good!”
And general laughter and merriment at how ridiculous the whole display was. Again, I am not claiming that the athleticism required is ridiculous (it’s very real), just the macho posturing, pseudo-rivalries, and fakeness of it all; it’s almost insulting that we’re meant to buy it.
I had to wonder whether this is the only acceptable way for men to experience the athleticsm of tumbling and gymnastics. Watching other men doing flips and other athletic feats solo in the realm of gymnastics would be far too gay, but watching nearly naked sweaty men in duos or groups doing flips and other athletic feats under the guise of beating the crap out of each other is somehow okay; it implies nothing. Or so they think….
(I should add that I don’t think only men enjoy wrestling. My friend pointed out that she knows multiple women who are very into wrestling. Personally I have never met any, but I don’t doubt that they exist.)