Professional wrestling, popularized worldwide by the company World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), has something “transgressive and even transgender”, told Lusa the North American journalist Abraham Josephine Reisman, author of a biography of WWE leader Vince McMahon.
The biography, entitled “The Ringmaster”, will be published in the United States on March 28th, by Simon & Schuster, with no edition planned in Portugal so far, despite the positive sales registered by the biography of Stan Lee, signed by Reisman, that Kathartika launched in November.
“One thing I see now that I didn’t see as much before I started this journey of coming out as trans is that I didn’t see how ‘queer’ and trans wrestling was,” says Reisman, crediting this realization to the woman. , the writer SI Rosenbaum.
Reisman highlighted that “although ‘wrestling’ is textually very heteronormative, despite being very focused on reinforcing heterosexual and cisgender constructs [que tem uma identidade de género igual ao sexo que tem à nascença]there is also this subtext which is about gender transgression”.
“You have this layer under all that, where often handsome, chiseled men show a lot of skin, wear bright colors and, above all, show weakness. The essence of ‘wrestling’ combat is not strength, it’s weakness, you need to show the public that you feel pain when your opponent is doing something to you in the ring”, said the author of “The Ringmaster”.
This weakness “is something that men are not taught [nos Estados Unidos]”, added Reisman, who underlined: “We are not taught to show weakness, we are taught to hide it. There’s something very transgressive and almost transgender about the tough guy in the ring pouring out his heart, even if it’s just performative.”
‘Wrestling’ consists of “semi-choreographed” combat, in a ring, by two or more people (generally men, but with increasing female presence), which requires cooperation between the participants and skill to execute the foreseen movements.
In other words, despite the fact that for decades staging remained a trade secret, it is now assumed that it is something performative, with previously agreed arguments and results, something that was made clear in the context of a court case in the 1980s and fully assumed by McMahon with the transition from WWF (World Wrestling Federation) to WWE, which translates to something like “World Wrestling Entertainment”.
In this context, narratives are created between the good guys (called ‘faces’, from ‘babyface’) and the bad guys (‘heels’), with more or less complexity and narrative artifice.
“If you were a 13-year-old kid in 1999, wrestling was impossible to avoid”
In Portugal, WWF shows were broadcast on RTP in the early 1990s, with commentary by Tarzan Taborda and António Macedo. The then WWF performed live at Dramático de Cascais, in 1993. More recently, after several channels had the rights, the transmissions were up to Sport TV, which stopped showing WWE at the end of 2022.
As Reisman writes in McMahon’s biography, “wrestling shaped an entire generation of male millennials”. “If you were a 13-year-old kid in 1999, wrestling was impossible to avoid”.
“I learned about serious artifice, about the blurred lines between good and evil in the world, about how people can change their moral valences for a penny. Plus, I learned how society wanted boys to be. Even though I stopped seeing this art form, and even though I now identify as transgender, it left an indelible mark on me – and me”, added the author.
“We are the children of Vince and we are about to inherit the earth”
In the work, Reisman adds: “I am not alone in this. The generations that were children when the WWF product first melted into our brains in the 1980s and 1990s are now rising to positions of power. We are, in our ways, Vince’s children [Mahon]and we are about to inherit the earth.”
Wrestling, also classified as American wrestling, became a global spectacle at the hands of the World Wrestling Federation (known as WWF, now World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE, after a legal dispute with the environmental organization World Wildlife Fund ), a business giant that earns more than 325 million dollars (306 million euros) a year, with fans worldwide.
The accusations against Vince McMahon
Over the decades in which he led the WWE, Vince McMahon faced allegations of various types: “He is accused of having violated the company’s first referee, Rita Chatterton, and of having sexually assaulted an employee of a solarium. He employed two men accused of making sexual advances to minors, only firing them after a media frenzy. He was accused of enforcing the use of steroids and of allowing injuries that destroyed the bodies and minds of his athletes”, can be read in the introduction to “The Ringmaster”, still not scheduled for publication in Portugal.
“However, he fought tooth and nail to prevent these same athletes from organizing [em termos laborais] against you. Not to mention the biases of the characters and narratives he created and enforced, and the impact they had on the countless young fans who grew up watching them.”
Now 77, McMahon was born into a broken family, estranged from his father, who then played a role in young Vincent’s later growth, eventually ceding control of the company he created to him.
Today relatively distant from the company he built, after the Wall Street Journal revealed payments of millions to women with whom he would have had sexual relations, Vince McMahon continues to “be able to come back whenever he wants”, the author of the book told Lusa, stressing that remains the main shareholder and is currently back as executive chairman after months away.
In the decades in which he popularized the now WWE, giving the world names like ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson or John Cena, Vince McMahon – and his creative teams – introduced “fabulous new ideas that grabbed the attention of the ‘mainstream’”, as well as at the height of the medium, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, after the “Hulkamania” phenomenon in the 1980s, starring Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea.
“I don’t see that happening right now. I could be wrong, maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but it seems that the model itself is quite static”, said Abraham Josephine Reisman.
Staging was a trade secret
‘Wrestling’ consists of “semi-choreographed” combat, in a ring, by two or more people (generally men, but with increasing female presence), which requires cooperation between participants and skill to execute the foreseen movements.
In other words, despite the fact that for decades staging remained a trade secret, it is now assumed that it is something performative, with previously agreed arguments and results, something that was made clear in the context of a court case in the 1980s and fully assumed by McMahon with the transition to WWE, which translates to something like “World Wrestling Entertainment”.
In this context, narratives are created between the good guys (called ‘faces’, from ‘babyface’) and the bad guys (‘heels’), with more or less complexity and narrative artifice. As the medium evolved, it became more diffuse to perceive what was real and what was fiction, crossing the boundaries between the two things and, in doing so, increasing popularity.
This barrier was crossed in such a way that, in 1999, when a work accident caused the death of fighter Owen Hart (brother of one of the biggest stars in the history of the medium, Bret Hart, who years before had played a turning point in the blurring of between reality and fiction), which fell from a height of more than 20 meters onto the ring, in a pavilion full of people, the spectators – who had just watched a live death – did not know if what they were seeing was true or not.
When Donald Trump went to the WWE ring
It is here that Reisman considers that the influence of wrestling is felt in the transition to “real life”: “Mr. McMahon and the ‘performers’ could say the unspeakable, do the unthinkable – the more shocking the better – and fans would give them their utmost attention because they couldn’t always tell if what they were seeing was real or not. The human mind is easily exploited when trying to navigate the choppy waters between fact and fiction”, wrote Reisman in an article for The New York Times about the relationship between wrestling and the current Republican Party in the United States.
According to Reisman, this “is the essence of the Republican Party’s strategy for campaigning and governing today,” which “will come as no surprise given McMahon’s influence on party politics.”
McMahon has been friends with former President of the United States of America Donald Trump since the 1980s, and Trump has participated in numerous WWF and WWE events, including in the ring. Years later, Vince’s wife, Linda McMahon, joined Trump’s White House executive, as responsible for small business administration, a position she left to head a political action committee in favor of Trump.
For Reisman, ‘wrestling’ is “often obscene and unforgivable in ethical terms, but as entertainment it is unsurpassable”.
Asked how McMahon wants to see his legacy, the biographer explained to Lusa that the WWE manager “wants people to see him as someone deserving of recognition, [inspirador] of fear, and of love, in a way”, without letting anything stop him from showing how his critics are wrong. “It’s about money, it’s about power, but most of all it’s about validation”.
Author of a biography of the American writer Stan Lee, entitled “The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee”, released in Portugal by Kathartika in November last year, Reisman thanked the Portuguese public for the way in which her first book was received on the market and said he hoped to launch more of his work in Portugal.