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Selling heroes : trangression and identity in contemporary American professional wrestling Jaswal, Harvey S.

Abstract

In the past decade, American professional wrestling has moved from the fringes of mainstream entertainment to its centre, from a cult-favourite to a contemporary cultural phenomenon. This study consists of a series of interviews used to examine the shift in hero construction between two distinct periods in professional wrestling, the Golden Age and post-Golden Age of professional wrestling, to help explain the explosion of popularity of this extremely understudied cultural phenomenon. While the wrestling hero has always been the key source of transgression for the wrestling fan, it has been the proliferation of the most recent incarnation of the wrestling hero, the no-frills anti-hero hero which has been central to the most recent successes of professional wrestling kingpin Vince McMahon's company "World Wrestling Entertainment" (WWE). This period reflects a fundamental shift in the sensibilities of the wrestling fan, and has helped take the appeal of "sports entertainment" to mainstream audiences. The purely physical and emotional spectacular nature of professional wrestling has expanded, rapidly occupying the cognitive dimension as well, as it appears that wrestling fans now more deeply identify with particular characterological features of favoured combatants. Building upon the theatric and athletic (mimetic) dimensions of professional wrestling, this paper explores the broader context of identity as an emerging basis for appeal to wrestling fans. Today's version of professional wrestling represents the Rabelaisian Carnival more than ever, as the hero is now constructed around the notion of a challenge to the prevailing order and the oppressive nature of routine. The wrestling fanatic seems to identify with the hero and thus uses him to cope with his or her own frustrations, or even his or her oppression.

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