Monday, August 16, 1999
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Wrestling studies are a real mindbender
It will either usher in a new era of respect and understanding towards professional wrestling or herald the arrival of the apocalypse.
Gerald Pocius, a folklore prof at Memorial University in Newfoundland is developing a course on pro wrestling. He'll be teaching about The Rock on the Rock.
Bad jokes aside, wrestling is serious stuff, particularly to Pocius, a longtime wrestling fan who finally decided to put his vast knowledge of the industry to work in an academic setting.
When the third-year undergraduate course is actually offered at Memorial - maybe this year, but more likely next - he will have, as far as he knows, the only course on professional wrestling in North America.
Pocius has been a busy guy since the news broke last week about his proposed addition to the university course calendar. Not only did he get enquiries from reporters wanting more information, he got a call from a local independent wrestler who is also an archeology student asking to take the course. Perhaps the most surprising call came from Carl DeMarco, the head of the World Wrestling Federation's Canadian operations, who gleefully offered any assistance he could.
DeMarco will probably be happy to know that the course will have a solid WWF component, seeing as it is the best known wrestling organization in North America. But Pocius won't focus exclusively on Vince McMahon's organization.
"It will basically look at how academics have studied pro wrestling, from sociology and history and anthropology," he says, running down a laundry list of subjects he wants to cover; everything from how the presentation of wrestling has changed over time, to how wrestlers put matches together, to marketing and souvenirs.
The course will also delve into the cultural and social aspects of what is commonly called sports entertainment. "One of the criticisms that people have instantly is that they don't watch it because it's fake," he says. "Star Wars is fake and Shakespeare's plays are fake. But wrestling is dismissed because of that."
Pocius maintains studying wrestling is no different than studying opera or classical music. It's just that the stigma attached to the wrestling world brings hoots of laughter that anything so absurd could be taken so seriously.
Pocius says that's just a smokescreen covering the real issue. The debate isn't really about the validity of wrestling, he says, but a broader one about who defines acceptable forms of culture. To the elitists, we should all be listening to Beethoven and reading the Bard.
The problem is a lot of us would rather listen to rock and roll and read comic books - topics that would not be foreign to, nor raise an eyebrow amongst, the folklorists in his department.
So it's really a debate over who sets the canon - the elites, or populists. And pro wrestling is one of the quintessential expressions of mass populism - or at least it must be, given its current boom of popularity combined with its rather large and rabid base of hard-core fans.
The irony there, of course, is that the actual ownership of the two major North American wrestling leagues is in the hands of people who would be considered the financial - if not cultural - elites.
The WWF, which is preparing a public stock offering, made a $56-million US profit last year on revenues of $252 million, while its rival, World Championship Wrestling, is part of the Time Warner empire. That seeming contradiction is probably just more fodder for Pocius' lectures.
"I make no bones about this is serious academic course," says Pocius. "You have to sit down and think about why intellectually you like it so much and why you relate to it. For many people who are interested in wrestling, I think they're curious as to why it fascinates them so much, and why they get off on it so much. And that's what we'll do. Analyze why it appeals to us."
Remember then, those many hours us wrestling fans spend watching Raw and Nitro, it's not just for fun. It's for our intellectual advancement.
Michael Jenkinson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
His homepage is at http://www.the-newsroom.com. His work, which originally appears in the Edmonton Sun, has graced our pages on numerous occasions, including: