Popaganda: Pro Wrestling with the Sublime

Pro wrestling hasn’t been the kindest entertainment industry for women. Relegated to Playboy-sponsored pillow fight matches or mud wrestling, women wrestlers didn’t get to shine for their athleticism or fighting prowess very often until Chyna came around in the late ’90s. Her storylines were pretty meta, with male wrestlers and announcers who questioned her qualifications being on the receiving end of her feminist rage. But even then, women wrestlers like her had to constantly endure being sexually objectified and called “yapping female dogs” by the commentators.

Yet pro wrestling is still very much a part of American pop culture, with folks making connections between it and other forms of expression as an art form. So what’s the draw? Why does pro wrestling affect people so much, to the point of emotional catharsis? And…is it art?

Today’s guests are two people who’ve shown me just how cool wrestling can be. First, I talk to Julian Burrell, producer of a really great podcast called Tights and Fights, about a wrestling match that made him cry. Then you’ll hear from Kath Barbadoro, a comedian and host of Wrestlesplania, a podcast where she explains to her cohost, Rachel Millman, why wrestling is good.

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Image: EVE - Pro wrestling at the Southbank by Dave Pearce via Flickr

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TRANSCRIPT

SOLEIL HO: Support for Popaganda comes from Sasquatch Books, announcing the release of Tough Girl. In this Battle of the Sexes meets Wild memoir, a lesbian and former Olympic swimmer takes on a 500-mile solo hike to come to terms with the end of her marriage and reclaim the resilient spirit that defined her childhood. More information at SasquatchBooks.com, or find Tough Girl at a bookstore near you. 

Hi there! You’re listening to Popaganda, a podcast by Bitch Media. This is Soleil Ho. On this episode, I’m gonna talk about pro wrestling! Or, as I like to call it privately, fightman theater. 

I used to watch pro wrestling a lot when I was a kid in the 90s. In the summers, my cousins and I would sit in their cool basement and watch WWF matches and daytime TV. I remember being so enamored with Chyna, also known as the “Ninth Wonder of the World,” this 5 foot 10 inch, unbelievably buff woman whose jawbone could cut glass. She threw herself into the wrestling ring with everybody and anybody, doling out equal opportunity beatdowns with the best of them. I think I was kind of in love. 

[recorded clip from YouTube; crowds yelling in the background] 

HARDCORE HOLLY: This is no place for a woman! So you got two choices, honey. You either get your ass up or get your ass outta this ring because I’m not wrestling you tonight. 

[crowd roars] 

ANNOUNCER 1: Oh! Hardcore Holly laying down the law! And wait a minute! 

[crowd erupts even louder] 

ANNOUNCER 1: Chyna! She’s taking no for an answer! 

ANNOUNCER 2: No! Oh my gosh! 

[bell] 

ANNOUNCER: She delivered the scale to the back, and here goes Chyna now! She’s hammering away on Hardcore Holly…. 

SOLEIL: But over time, I drifted away from wrestling. I discounted it as a white dude thing. And after Chyna left the ring, I didn’t see much reason to tune in anyway. Despite my misgivings, I’ve recently noticed that pro wrestling is still very much a part of American pop culture, with folks making connections between it and other forms of expression as an art form. So what’s the draw? Why does pro wrestling affect people so much, to the point of emotional catharsis? And…is it art? 

We’re also soliciting reader ideas for topics we could cover on future shows, so please email your ideas for topics or even people you’d like to hear on the show if you’ve got ‘em! Thanks. 

[theme music] 

Pro wrestling hasn’t been the kindest entertainment industry for women. Relegated to Playboy-sponsored pillow fight matches or mud wrestling, women wrestlers didn’t get to shine for their athleticism or fighting prowess very often until Chyna came around in the late 90s. Her storylines were pretty meta, with male wrestlers and announcers who questioned her qualifications being on the receiving end of her feminist rage. But even then, Chyna was kicked out of the WWE—partly because of her involvement in the adult film industry—and endured years of slut shaming by fans and fellow colleagues. [mellow music plays]  Other women wrestlers like her still had to constantly endure being sexually objectified and called “yapping female dogs” by the commentators. A lot of wrestling trash talk can be homophobic as well, with men calling each other “fruity” to rile their opponents up. It’s pretty fucking gnarly. 

In response to the slim opportunities for women to succeed in pro wrestling, independent companies popped up to give women the same billing and respect as men. GLOW, the campy Netflix comedic drama about women in pro wrestling, is based on a real company that started in the mid-80s. EVE, a “feminist-punk-rock wrestling” company based in East London, has been training women to be pro wrestlers and putting them in the ring since 2010. And finally, the WWE held their first Women’s Wrestling Championship match at the 2016 Wrestlemania. So there are bright spots in the world of pro wrestling. 

I also love reading and listening to takes on pro wrestling by fans who are comfortable discussing both its problems and its joys. Today’s guests are two people who’ve shown me just how cool wrestling can be. First, I talk to Julian Burrell, producer of a really great podcast called Tights and Fights, about a wrestling match that made him cry. Then you’ll hear from Kath Barbadoro, a comedian and host of Wrestlesplania, a podcast where she explains why wrestling is good. Stay tuned! 

[eeeeh macaCENA by OBLITER8 ] 

♪ And his name is John Cena!!!! ♪ 

SOLEIL: Julian Burrell is the producer of the Tights and Fights podcast, a show hosted by Hal Lublin, Danielle Radford, and Open Mike Eagle. I wanted to talk to him because he’s definitely a super fan and could probably talk about pro wrestling all day. He’s got a really nuanced perspective on it, so I asked him about his thoughts on how companies like the WWE do when it comes to race and gender. 

The articles I had read about this mentioned that, you know, ‘cause there are Black wrestlers— there are many—that they tend to be in the sort of jabber positions. So their job is to just get the shit kicked out of them, right? 

JULIAN BURRELL: Hmm. I’m not sure if I would say that all of them have been. I feel like it’s fair to say historically that’s happened a lot. But there’ve been a number of Black wrestlers today that I feel like have gotten a big position of prominence amongst the, on TV, and amongst fans, they’ve gotten a ton of recognition and a ton of just you know, dollars and cents. A lot of them have been paid very well. I’m trying to think. I think the best example of it would be this group today called The New Day, who I always tell people is basically like if Black Twitter was a group of performers, you know? 

SOLEIL:  [laughs] 

JULIAN: They go out there. They talk about, they not only quote memes, but they also create their own memes in the moment. They’ve got great slogans that the audience loves to do. They’ve kind of been a fixture. They’re this tag team of these three wrestlers. One of them’s named Big E, the other one’s named Kofi Kingston, and another one is named Xavier Woods. And they’re ridiculously popular. I feel like they might be one of the most bankable acts from WWE over the last it’s like 10 years or so they’ve been that powerful. But none of them has ever been WWE champion before. They’ve been tag-team champions several times over, and they’ve been singles champions but never quite to the, they’ve never quite been allowed to ascend to that WWE championship, world championship level. Now, they’re all very young, and they’re all very talented. So I have faith that it could happen at one point in their career or another, but we’ll have to see. I personally love it. I don’t really think that charisma-wise there’s anything preventing them from it, but with these things in WWE, it all comes down to a group of white people in the back who kind of have to decide is this person the person that can make us the most money, and we can put them on a track to the championship that’s going to get people excited and is going to be in the best interest of the WWE? 

SOLEIL:  Right. So what you’re saying is that it’s not quite a meritocracy. It’s not like the guy who hits the other guy who’s the best becomes the champion. 

JULIAN: Part of it could be seen as a meritocracy in that, I feel like it’s just like in a movie, you know? If somebody has a better look, even if a person has been working in Hollywood for 10 years or something like that, there’s not really an obligation on the part of the producers to give that person who’s been there longer the big roles. At the end of the day, they’re just gonna go with who they think is in the best interest of the company. And that could be because that person who just came in is, I guess, like from an outside perspective is going to draw more eyeballs. It could be because they just have some inherent talent that the other person doesn’t. But it could also just be because you know, it’s just the right timing. 

SOLEIL:  He brought me back to thinking about Chyna and everything she must have gone through to perform like she did. 

JULIAN: Vince McMahon didn’t want Chyna to be a part of the WWE. He just didn’t. I remember there was this wrestler named Triple H who Chyna was paired with, and they saw Chyna just lifting weights like in, I don’t know if it was a gym or a hotel gym or something. And they were like, “We could really work with her. She just has something where you wanna look at her.” And she was huge and just so muscle-bound. And they went and pitched it to Vince, and he said, “Oh no. No. Come on. A woman beating up a guy? Come on. Nobody’s gonna believe that, and that’s not”— And they fought for her to get her included, and eventually they did. And Chyna got herself, in wrestling terms, what getting popular with the crowd is called “getting over,” and she definitely got over on her own merit. Everybody just wanted to see her to the point where they wanted to see her beat up the dudes a lot of the times because she looked like she could. 

Most wrestling fans, like anybody who says that, “I don’t believe that a woman could beat up a guy; it’s not believable,” I feel like they’re looking at it the wrong way. It’s just it’s perception. Nobody’s playing a video game and thinks, “Oh, Chun-Li couldn’t beat up Ryu.” It doesn’t matter. It’s a fantasy. It’s a world where things can happen because you decided it happened. “Oh, well, that couldn’t happen?” Well, it just did. You know, we made it happen. That’s, to me, what’s important, and that’s cool. 

SOLEIL:  I mean yeah, the fantasy part of this is really important here, you know? If you believe The Undertaker is believable [laughs]— 

JULIAN: Yeah! [laughs] 

SOLEIL:  —any sort of personal or physical basis, then I think a woman beating a man is the least you could hope for. 

JULIAN: Yeah. Undertaker has died multiple times and come back. 

SOLEIL:  [laughs] 

JULIAN: The suspension of disbelief is inherent in wrestling as a concept. So I mean it’s just, especially nowadays that everybody is aware that what they’re watching isn’t a real thing that’s going down; it’s a performance. It’s art that’s getting performed in front of you. I feel like in general, we need more people out there who are willing to fight for things to be just a little bit different and to try new things, you know? That’s more fun. 

SOLEIL:  The art potential of wrestling is so interesting. What, for you as an adult, how has the way you see wrestling and interpret it changed? 

JULIAN: Compared to when I was a kid, now, I’m always very interested in the story aspect of it, and sometimes the stories can be just ridiculously dumb. Like they can be such low-brow garbage entertainment where it’s like— I’m trying to think of an example. Like gosh, a couple of weeks ago, maybe even a couple months ago, there was a story where one character, who was a bad guy, brought out what he purported to be another character’s sisters. Now these “sisters” were just a bunch of guys who were in drag, and it was the most painfully stupid segment I have ever seen. 

SOLEIL:  [laughs] 

JULIAN: Like it just didn’t, it was meant to be funny, which it wasn’t. So it was just like it was one of those things where I’m like, what on earth am I spending my time watching, you know? It literally made me ashamed to be a fan. I was just like gosh, it just hurts when you see them do something so stupid with a concept that could be so great. But on the other hand, wrestling now, wrestling will move me and stir emotions in me in ways that I don’t think any other form of media can. I just, like there’s something like when you watch a movie, you’re aware that everything is scripted down to the letter. But in wrestling, yeah a lot of it is scripted, and yeah a lot of it, almost all of it is preplanned, but there are things that happen and elements that go down in it that are tinged in reality. There just are. And it’s that weird blurring line of when something happens, and it’s like wait, was that supposed to happen? And it’s just, you just, and since you’re seeing it played out in front of you—whether you’re watching it on TV, or you’re in the audience—there’s just something spontaneous about it that’s just like amazing to watch. I just don’t think that there’s anything like it as a story happening in front of you and being so invested in the characters. When they get it right, it’s just oh god! It’s note perfect. It just feels so good to know that they got it right. 

SOLEIL:  The idea that pro wrestling could include moments of real, piercing emotion was a new one to me. So I asked Julian to explain a little. 

JULIAN: Well, OK. So there was one match not that long ago that actually made me cry, and that had never happened before. I’d heard some people say it, and I was like, yeah, you know, I’m not really feeling it. But the first example I’ll give you is that one. There are these two characters:  one of them’s name is Tommaso Ciampa, and the other one’s name is Johnny Gargano. And Johnny Gargano was betrayed by Tommaso Ciampa because they were a tag team. They were a really popular tag team. Everybody loved them as a tag team. 

[recorded clip from YouTube plays in the background, crowds cheering] 

But Tommaso Ciampa attacked Gargano and left him broken, in a waste. 

[crowd goes wild] 

ANNOUNCER 1: What?! 

ANNOUNCER 2: Oh my god! What the? 

ANNOUNCER 1: What are you— 

ANNOUNCER 2: Don’t! 

ANNOUNCER 1: What are you— 

[crowd continues roaring] 

ANNOUNCER 1: Ciampa? Ciampa, what are you doing? 

ANNOUNCER 2: Come on! 

ANNOUNCER 1: Ciampa? 

ANNOUNCER 3: What is happening here? 

ANNOUNCER 1: Ciampa’s beating the hell outta Gargano. 

ANNOUNCER 4: I can’t believe this. 

JULIAN: And Gargano was kind of haunted by the fact that his best friend betrayed him. He took their trust, and he stomped it into the ground. And Ciampa, he actually caused Gargano to lose a match that meant he was gonna get fired from the company. And he got fired. So then of course, in that storyline he got fired; in reality, he was fine. But yeah, then you see of course, Gargano has to have his redemption match, right? 

[cheering and booing crowds play in the background of this section] So he finally challenges Ciampa to what’s called a unsanctioned match, which means like oh, nothing matters except the three count. You can hit a guy with a chair all you want. So there was this moment towards the end of the match where they had just beaten the crap out of each other. It was so just scary. It was really brutal stuff. No blood, thankfully. They’ve gotten a little bit better about that. But just in terms of the emotions and the faces that they were making the entire time, you really felt the weight of it. And then at the end, Gargano’s finally got Ciampa kind of beaten, and he’s gonna try and hit him and just end the match and get his job back. But then he sees Ciampa, and he’s kind of got this look on his face where he’s upset or sad and doesn’t look. And you see Gargano in his face, he’s kinda thinking like, is there any part of my best friend in there? And then he just sits down because he just can’t do it. 

[crowd erupts] 

ANNOUNCER 1: Is he having an emotion or something? 

ANNOUNCER 2: I can’t believe what I’m seeing here. [crowd continues] 

[loud thump and crowd and announcers go wild] 

ANNOUNCER 2: [unclear due to screaming] Ciampa was trying to sucker punch him again [unclear]. Is Ciampa gonna be forced to tap? 

JULIAN: Then Gargano sees it coming. He makes Ciampa tap out. And it was just this, that moment of euphoria like, oh my gosh. He did it! 

[crowd erupts, bell rings furiously] 

ANNOUNCER 2: THERE’S THE TAP! 

JULIAN: The bad guy finally got what was coming to him! You know, that kinda stuff. That stuff is really special. 

[rock music plays in the background of the match] 

ANNOUNCER 3: Who is now reinstated to NXT? Johnny Gargano!!! 

ANNOUNCER 2: How symbolic is it that Jonny Gargano used Tommaso…. 

[mellow music] 

SOLEIL: Kath Barbadoro’s podcast, Wrestlesplania, is another favorite of mine. In it, she breaks down the intricacies of pro wrestling to her friend Rachel, a relative newcomer to that world. So it’s really accessible and super funny. In Kath’s own words after our conversation, “I feel like if I could sum up what I like about wrestling, it’s 50% the experience of the sublime that we talked about and 50% a drunk hunk talking about the time he burned his dick in a tanning bed.” 

KATH BARBADORO: I think it’s entertaining just as spectacle. You don’t need to kind of think critically about it if you don’t want. It’s a bunch of people doing cool flips, and it’s really fun to watch. Or if you want to be sort of more intense and come at it from a more intellectual or artistic viewpoint, you can get a lotta stuff out of it that way too. 

SOLEIL:  So what’s really interesting in what I learned from you especially is that you can access wrestling through low-brow and high-brow lenses, you know? 

KATH: Yeah. 

SOLEIL:  But there’s also a lot of complicated class judgment baked into those approaches as well. You said something really interesting on Twitter the other day actually about, you know, people say that pro wrestling can be art, right, but there are a lot of assumptions about what art is based in that statement. 

KATH: So there’s like sort of a debate within wrestling fandom about whether wrestling is art. And I think a lot of that, I think a lot of people who are resistant to that are resistant to people, honestly, people kinda like me, people who didn’t grow up with it, who are coming in to this community and going like, “Oh, wow! Look at all this amazing art happening! Look at this. Wow. The incredible homo-erotic power dynamics” of whatever. And they’re like, “This isn’t your world. Don’t come in here and apply your language and your intellectual framework to this, something that is not yours.” And I think that people can feel kind of condescended to. 

The thing I said on Twitter: I certainly believe that wrestling is art, but I think a lot of people, the way they talk about that, they’re like, “Oh, well, wrestling is actually art,” like they think they’re really clever for figuring it out, that it’s a creative form of expression. Which is really condescending to kinda the entire industry of wrestling, which has been going on for 100 years, to come and be like, “Me! My upper class white person here to identify the art.” You know what I mean? 

SOLEIL:  Right. 

KATH: So I think that’s where some of that resistance comes from. And that you know, as a fan who is kind of like that, who is newer and who does approach it more from that angle, that’s something that I wanna be really cautious of. Because first of all, I can’t stand people like that just in general. 

SOLEIL:  [laughs] Sure. 

KATH: They’re not cool to be around and not fun to be around. But also, it is, the wrestling community is very problematic in a lot of ways. It’s historically been very misogynist and pretty racist. But it is a community that I am an outsider to, not just as a woman, but just as someone who didn’t really grow up with wrestling and someone who grew up in a culture that kind of looked down on it. So I wanna try to be respectful of that while also being critical of the elements of it that are unwelcoming and discriminatory for illegitimate reasons, you know? 

SOLEIL:  Yeah. I guess when people come in, maybe there’s this assumption that the fans that already exist are too unsophisticated to actually notice what the newcomers notice. 

KATH: Exactly. And that is a problem, I think. But I think that people who are sort of discovering it later in life right now, if our podcast is anything to go on, so for listeners, if you don’t know, this podcast that I do, Wrestlesplania, you kind of outlined a little bit of what it is. But the thing that people are sort of interested in about it is it’s two women talking about wrestling. And you know, we’re straight, cis, white women. We’re not particularly marginalized in any way, but our fan base seems to be primarily young queer people and a lot of trans people in particular. 

SOLEIL:  Hmm! 

KATH: And the fact that they have gravitated to our show just is like, oh thank god it’s not some dudes talking about wrestling, I think, shows that there’s a huge section of the wrestling fan community that is underserved by wrestling media because there are a ton of people who are not your sort of “average” bro wrestling fan who are into this. And it’s not just online or whatever; it’s people at shows. And I think it’s getting better where people like that are starting to feel more welcome and more willing to go to these things and don’t feel like they’re gonna be unsafe. And I think that also, the people who wrestle are different now. Like you know, there’s old stories about the types of people that were involved in this industry, and they’re generally not the most, you know, they’re not the best people. 

SOLEIL:  [laughs] 

KATH: A lot of them were kinda horrible and led kinda horrible lives. And I feel like now, indie wrestlers—I’m a comedian—and I feel like they’re a lot more just kinda like comedians. They’re just, my joke is that they’re sort of like a combination between a jock and a theater kid. They’re sort of halfway between. 

SOLEIL:  Mmhmm. 

KATH: So they’re just like the vibe is a lot less sort of macho and aggressive, and I feel like most people who work in that industry now—I don’t know; I guess most is probably an overstatement—but I feel like they understand the play of masculinity of wrestling and don’t feel the need to enact that in their regular lives because that’s what the show is. They get that it’s a show, and I think that that helps a lot. 

SOLEIL:  Hmm. When you say “the play of masculinity,” can you elaborate on that? 

KATH: It’s sort of like an over-the-top presentation of masculinity to the point of camp. And I think that the best performers in wrestling understand that and understand the camp element of it too. I mean one of the most fascinating things about wrestling to me is that it’s this play between like the real and the artifice, you know? It’s a fake fight, but these guys are still really doing all that stuff, you know, and they’re still really getting hurt. And they all are playing characters, but they also all, in some ways, it’s an extension of themselves. They use like real things that happen in the fake stories. There’s a lot of interplay between—the wrestling terms are “shoot” and “work”—there’s a lot of interplay between the shoot and the work. And I don’t know. I think it’s just at this point in time, doing something like that in 2018 which upholds this very absurd standard of masculinity, you kinda have to acknowledge that it’s a little bit silly. 

SOLEIL:  Mmhmm. 

KATH: That’s kind of toxic masculinity is not as policed as you would think it would be. And I feel like now, in 2018, the people that do that kind of thing, that are that sort of embodiment of the real kinda aggressive toxic masculinity, they tend to be heels. 

SOLEIL:  A quick note for those not familiar with wrestling lingo, of which there is a ton: the “heel” is the wrestler who plays the villain in a storyline. Alternately, the hero is called a “babyface.” 

I notice there’s a lot of that similar dynamic, ‘cause I fell into a Chyna video k-hole last night, right? And so I was watching a ton of videos of Chyna, the wrestler, and the promos and the insults that were being swapped in the ring. And she was reacting to a lot of misogynistic sentiment in a lot of attacks, but it was always the heels who were holding the mic and saying like, “Women don’t belong in the ring.” 

KATH: Right. 

SOLEIL:  “I’m not gonna fight a woman.” And then of course, she kicks their asses. 

KATH: Right. 

SOLEIL:  And it seems like, even in the 90s—which was not the most utopian time, right, for pro wrestling—even then, there was a bit of meta-acknowledgement that is really fascinating, looking back on. 

KATH: Story lines like that in wrestling represent a culture trying to figure out where it stands on this stuff. Like you can have the same behavior, and it’s read as heelish in one era and as babyface-ish in another era. One of the cool things about wrestling to me, as a live performer, as a standup, is that it is completely shaped by crowd reaction. So it’s not scripted really. WWE is scripted now, but almost everything else is, it’s really up to how the crowd responds. And so all of the story lines and all of the performers have to be incredibly adaptive. So when you do something like that, when you go out and you do something like that, you probably have some idea of how it’s going to be received, but you can’t be totally sure. So giving that kind of thing to an audience, going up there and saying misogynistic stuff, you don’t necessarily know. You might get cheered. And I think that’s the thing that’s been changing, you know? I don’t think, again, I don’t wanna overstate how good wrestling fans are ‘cause a lot of them are garbage. And my friend got her ass grabbed at a show we went to like two weeks ago. It’s still full of pieces of shit, but it’s getting better, I think. And I don’t think you could go out there and do that kinda stuff and get cheered. So I appreciate that. 

SOLEIL:  So what brought you in? What was the trigger, I guess, for you to just be like, OK, I’m totally into wrestling now? 

KATH: Honestly, it was going to a live event. That, to me, really sort of tipped the scale. So a few years ago, I was dating a guy who liked wrestling, and we’d watch WW pay-per-views. I’d always been kinda interested and thought it was cool, but I’d never really watched a lot of it. I’d like go to somebody’s house if they were having a Wrestlemania party and kinda half watch. But we watched some pay-per-views, and I liked it. And then he brought me to an indie show in Austin. There were probably 200 people there, just like a pretty small indie show. We had good seats. And that, to me, really sold it. Being in that live environment was, I was like, I love this. I wanna do this all the time. 

‘Cause I think as a comic, when I used to watch standup, I would get so wrapped up in it, and I would just kind of lose myself in watching this performance and being sort of one with this audience experiencing it. And now that I do standup, I can’t enjoy it that way because I’m looking at it too academically. And going to a wrestling show, I feel that again. I feel like I can just be— There’s a term in sort of wrestling lingo. So if you’re a wrestling fan, you’re a mark, right? And if you’re like that sort of oneness with the crowd where you’re just completely losing yourself, that’s called marking out. So I feel like I can really mark out at wrestling, and it’s a very special experience that I can’t get from any other kind of art that I like or live experience that I go to. 

SOLEIL:  Wow. So marking out is like an experience of the sublime, [chuckling] in a way, right? 

KATH: Yeah! Yeah. I absolutely would say that. I really think it is. I talk about it on Wrestlesplania all the time, like the ego death that comes with it. And I feel like marking out is the corny fan way of addressing that phenomenon. 

SOLEIL:  Yeah. That goes back to your original point about the fact that wrestling fans, we might stereotype them as just, I don’t know, a lotta bad things, right? [laughs] 

KATH: Right. Yeah. [chuckles] 

SOLEIL:  But they have the language. It’s just not the language that is academic to talk about these concepts that are often considered to be very academic. 

KATH: Yeah. I really think they do, and I think that again, it’s a matter of there’s just not, they don’t need to talk about them in that way to appreciate it. And I remember saying on one of the first episodes of Wrestlesplania, ‘cause I was explaining to Rachel— So Rachel, my cohost on Wrestlesplania, comes from theater. She went to theater school and stuff. And so she was interested in it initially for the performance aspect. And we were talking about character work and stuff, and I was like, “Oh, well, in wrestling, your character work, your whole character thing is called your ‘gimmick’.” And she’s like, “That’s so disrespectful. Why is it called your ‘gimmick’? That’s so cheap.” And I’m like, “Because that’s what it’s called. It’s not disrespectful. This comes from carnie language. It’s your gimmick. They don’t need to wax poetic about their Meisner technique or whatever. It’s their gimmick, you know?” 

SOLEIL:  [laughs] 

KATH: “It doesn’t make it lesser. It’s just that’s what it’s called.” 

SOLEIL:  So I didn’t even ask you: the cynicism that comes from knowing that wrestling is fake, right? And this is a very basic question, but I think it’s important to talk about. So you would say marking out is just letting go of that. Is that correct? 

KATH: Yeah. I think that the thing that I think is so fascinating about wrestling and that I love so much about it is that it is a conscious disavowal of that cynicism because you do know it’s fake. But you’re willing yourself to believe that it’s real, and you’re in a group of people who are all choosing to believe in this reality together. And that is, I think, part of marking out to me. That is part of the sublime, is choosing not to be cynical about it. To me, wrestling is so obviously fake that you don’t get to feel smart by pointing out that it’s fake. 

SOLEIL:  [laughs] 

KATH: So there’s no incentive to because yeah, no shit. We’re all acting like it’s not fake ‘cause it’s fun, you know? 

BOTH: [chuckle] 

[90s synth pop music. G.L.O.W. theme rap] 

♪ Gorgeous ladies of wrestling 

We’re all champions in the ring 

We come from the street 

We come from the city 

We come from a world where there is no pity ♪ 

Woo hoo! 

SOLEIL: Thanks to Julian Burrell and Kath Barbadoro for geeking out with me. You can find their shows, Tights and Fights and Wrestlesplania, on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. 

[theme music] 

And thanks to you for listening. This episode was produced by Alex Ward. Our jingle is by Mucks & Owen Wuerker. Thanks to OBLITER8 for their very interesting cover of The Macarena. Additional music was provided by Blue Dot Sessions. 

If you have thoughts or feelings or feedback on the show, please feel encouraged to send me an email to soleil@b-word.org. Or as always, review us on iTunes. That helps other people find our show. 

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by Soleil Ho
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Soleil cooks for a living and writes sometimes. When she was in kindergarten, she reviewed a book for Reading Rainbow that she didn’t actually read. She cohosts Racist Sandwich, a podcast on food, race, class, and gender.

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