Thursday, April 06, 2006


Living the Gimmick

When Red State Rabble was a boy we traveled in small packs, walking and riding our bikes, not on the streets, but up and down the alleyways where all manner of treasures could be found.

On our childhood wanderings, we collected pop bottles to turn in for the 2 cent deposit. On a good day we could gather enough throwaways to buy a bottle of soda pop at the corner store to drink before going home to captivity and dinner. We turned old boards into rifles and forts and soap box derby cars. Coming across a stained, cast-off mattress was enough to provoke an impromptu wrestling match among our skinny, shirtless band.

We copied the moves we saw on our brand new black and white television sets. We did half-nelsons, full-nelsons, and knee drops from the tops of handy trash cans. We wrapped our legs around our opponent’s midsection in imitation of scissor holds we saw broadcast between professional bowling and roller derby from this or that grimy armory.

Even at that impressionable age, the professional wrestlers we watched perform before the screaming crowds seemed less like real athletes than big-bellied men in swimsuits, who were, perhaps, already a bit past their prime. The bouts, a transparent morality play rather than a hotly contested athletic competition. Even so, each of us knew someone who passionately believed. Who against all evidence to the contrary could not be persuaded that the primitive ring dramas were anything less than absolutely real.

Although RSR must confess to having lost touch with the colorful world of professional wrestling in the intervening years, we are, nevertheless, aware that the sport has changed with the times. While roller derby has faded into a well-deserved obscurity, pro wrestling has more than survived.

The small, boxy black and white sets of our youth have given way to thin and sleek big-screen color plasma, LED, and rear projection sets. And, pro wrestling, with pumped up stars sporting names like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Stone Cold has adapted to supply the jazzed up sham spectacle required by that new medium.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the stilted mock drama, and the fans who want to believe so passionately that it’s all for real.

Thomas Hackett, the author of Slaphappy: Pride, Prejudice, and Professional Wrestling, who we listened to last Saturday on the NPR sports program “Only a Game,” says that:

"We are a society consumed with measuring status. We are also obsessed with image..." and "there is one area of contemporary culture called professional wrestling that explores these concerns in every single show." Hackett believes that pro wrestling offers fans the chance to scream insults and obscenities at the performers, each other, and to throw chairs at the ring. It’s their only chance to "be tough, be yourself."
"If the country's major investment banks couldn't be bothered to question the sham profits of Enron," argues Hackett, "why should teenage boys second-guess the fabricated prestige of professional wrestlers?...And as President George W. Bush proved, you needn't have been a soldier to seem heroic; you just had to dress up like one."
The most successful pro wrestlers keenly understand that they are entertainers first and foremost. Athleticism of the body building sort is an entry requirement, of course, but speed, agility, and strength, though required, are secondary to a marketable persona.

With an eye to developing the cross-over appeal that will propel them into lucrative movie and television contracts, wrestlers such as The Rock work as hard at developing their stage personas as their wrestling moves.

Wrestlers who delude themselves into believing in their own athletic prowess and celebrity status, perhaps succumbing to the fog of steroids, are said derisively to be “living the gimmick.”

After listening to Hackett on “Only a Game,” we happened to be re-reading a section of Creationism’s Trojan Horse, published just two years ago in 2004, by Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross.

Writing of William Dembski, Forrest and Gross say that “charges of fraud and conspiracy [against scientists] are not part of Dembski’s role, and that sets him apart. His is, at least on the surface, a more decorous method, and that sets him apart (page 88).”

A day later, we read on Dembski’s blog, Uncommon Descent, that he’d personally called the Department of Homeland Security to report that University of Texas Ecology Professor Dr. Eric Pianka plans to kill 90 percent of the world’s human population with airborne Ebola. He is, according to Dembski, a terrorist and a threat to national security. Reportedly, the FBI is following up on Dembski’s report and will interview Pianka soon.

The charge that Dr. Pianka wants to kill 90 percent of the world’s population with Ebola virus is a product of the fevered imagination of creationist Forrest Mims – a man who Pianka says has been nursing a grudge against him.

Dembski, of course, was not present at the Texas Academy of Science’s annual meeting where Pianka supposedly laid out, in public, his dastardly plan. He relied on Mims’ report, here, when acting as an informant for DHS.

For the record, a report on Austin’s KXAN News asks:

Does it sound crazy?

The professor whose ideas are under scrutiny says it's not just crazy, it's not true.

UT Ecology Professor Dr. Eric Pianka does not want everyone on Earth dead.

"I don't bear any ill will towards anybody," Pianka said.

RSR thinks Forrest and Gross will now have to revise Creationism’s Trojan Horse. Dembski's decorous method has given way to something darker. He believes. He’s living the gimmick.


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