January smackdown

A cultural history of professional wrestling


January 2013: The month that the strange and wonderful world of professional wrestling (or rasslin', as they say in these here parts...) officially comes to Wofford College, though not in the form of the WWE or TNA. No, pro wrestling comes to Wofford in the form of an interim course taught by Professors Matt Cathey and Dan Mathewson (aka. the GrrrAnimal Matt and GrrrAnimal Dan, pictured to the right). Who's the other good looking guy with the snazzy headdress, you ask? That's none other than Chief Jay Eagle, the renowned lifelong pro wrestler and owner of American Pro Wrestling (more on that in a minute).

What does one do in a pro wrestling class? Well, many of the same things one does in other classes: read academic studies (mostly from a cultural studies perspective in our case), have writing assignments about these studies, and talk about the issues these studies raise.

Oh, and train to become professional wrestlers at pro wrestling school...which, on second thought, might not exactly be what goes on in other classes.

That part about wrestling school, however, is what makes this a distinctively Interim class: the combination of the academic and the experiential.

And oh, what an experience the experiential will be!

The students who register for this class will train to become pro wrestlers under the expert eye of Chief Jay Eagle, a wrestler and trainer with decades of experience at his craft. The students will also develop their own wrestling characters, their own feuds, and they will shoot their own promos. They will also form their own wrestling organization.

At the end of January, the students will be licensed by the great state of South Carolina as certified professional wrestlers and they will perform in their very own wrestling show in Andrews Field House in front of a live (and hopefully quite raucous) audience.

A word of warning for those thinking of registering for the course: the world of pro wrestling can be a little offensive. On the surface it appears quite violent, and it no doubt relies on -- and even celebrates -- racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes. Dig a little below the surface, however, and you find so much more. Roland Barthes has rightly called pro wrestling a "spectacle of excess." In his analysis, wrestling's characters and story-lines are infused with "the legendary themes of [culture's] mythology" (Barthes, "The World of Wrestling"). For North American pro wrestling this means (in part) that the wrestlers themselves embody all of our cultural stereotypes -- all the benign ones (the heroic military man, the all-american golden boy), and all offensive ones (those that deal with race, class, gender, sexuality). Nothing is subtle at all. (See what I mean?)

What is interesting from an academic perspective is what professional wrestling does with these stereotypes. Wrestlers seem to enact in the wrestling ring all of the tensions, fissures, and conflicts that simmer slightly beneath the surface of civil society. Pro wrestling takes the best and worst of our cultural forms, and through its productions of violent display, it probes and prods, critiques and reflects, destabilizes and reifies, all at the exact same time.

Wrestling's "realer" than you'd think -- something we will discover together this January in class and in the ring.

Without further ado: introducing the newly minted wrestlers of the American Wrestling Federation of America.


Interim 2013:

GrrrAnimal Matt, Ph.D

GrrrAnimal Dan, Ph.D

Chief Jay Eagle, Pw.D

(Doctor of Pro Wrestling)

MWF - 9:00am-noon

TR - 6:30-9:30pm