Whenever I think about professional wrestling, and in particular my interest in it, I find myself asking the same question. Why? Why am I a fan of such a sport? What drives me to tune in week in and week out? Amazingly, every time I ask myself this question, I come up with a different answer. The most recent time I posed this question to myself, maybe the most satisfying explanation came to mind thus far.
Usually, when pondering this question, I come up with multiple individual reasons for being a fan of professional wrestling. This time around however a much different reason occurred to me. I like professional wrestling because it contains elements of human culture that we as people have been drawn to for thousands of years. In the 1500’s Italians looked to the Classical period, that of Greek and Roman culture, for inspiration. Because of this look back a great Renaissance occurred that shaped the very culture we live in today. I too have taken a look back to this classical period and, upon inspection, have decided that the Greek and Romans probably would have been wrestling fans had they lived today.
Greek and Roman culture share many of the same elements with professional wrestling. The first of these elements is that of competitiveness. The modern Olympic Games, in which take place with athletes from around the world approximately every two years, first originated in Ancient Greece. Their culture was one of competition. They came together in the name of sport to honor their gods, and it is no surprise that one of the most popular sports to take place at their Olympic games was wrestling.
One thing that modern professional wrestling does not share with the Ancient Greek Olympians is the fact that they would wrestle in the nude, but other parallels can be made. We constantly argue over “who is the best” and the wrestling world uses championships to denote the best in their federation. This marker of excellence, a World Championship, is usually what the wrestling program rotates around. Should we be surprised that thousands of years ago men engaged in wrestling for the purposes of declaring “who’s the best”. It is also interesting to note that to win in wrestling during ancient times the opponent must be thrown to the ground three times. Does our modern day three count pin share any commonality? Maybe. Yet the fact is that we, like the ancient Greeks, are drawn to wrestling because of its competitiveness.
Modern day professional wrestling combines another element that makes it even more enticing. That element is one of drama. We are attracted to professional wrestling not just because of the competitive nature of the sport but because it also contains the unique element that it is “story driven”. What I mean by this is that the matches are generally driven by feuds between wrestlers. Story lines are woven together and eventually climax in the ring in one form or another.
Yet even this notion of story or drama can be linked to the classical past. The Greeks were famous for their tragedies, dramas, and comedies on the stage. They were so popular, in fact, that many live on today. What this tells me, however, is that the tradition of storytelling and drama that unfolds in professional wrestling was just as important to our classical ancestors as it is to us today. Granted, some would be quick to point out the level of taste is much different in some circumstances, and they need look no further than the Katie Vick angle to prove their point. Yet, taken out of context, the idea of Oedipus killing his father and then marrying and sleeping with his own mother could be seen as on the fridges of good taste as well. Then again, this is a famous Greek tragedy and I in no way placing it on the levels of something such as the Katie Vick fiasco. The point is that we are drawn to the same things as were our ancestors long ago.
The idea of drama closely ties into another aspect in which I find similar, and that is one of fantasy and mythology. Both the Greeks and the Romans honored a number of gods, and had stories about many of them coming down to Earth. Famous among them are Hercules and Achilles. Both are strong and fierce. Achilles could not be defeated, save for one flaw in his heel.
I would go so far as to argue that we too view many professional wrestlers as our own mythological heroes. They play a role before us that would lead us to believe, and willingly so, that they possess strength and power above that of an ordinary man. They do things that we ourselves cannot imagine anyone else doing. Joseph Campbell, famed mythologist, argues that there are certain archetypal traits that all heroes throughout time possess. I believe this to be true, and it can be witnessed first hand by looking at the modern day professional wrestler. All of the greats seem larger than life, yet they all have their Achilles heel as well.
Campbell also argues that one archetypical trait of many heroes is that of a sort of duel personality. Many of them are not clearly good or bad but contain shades of darkness. They either came from a dark past or are fighting their demons inside. I could name a number of wrestlers who fit this bill perfectly. One that comes to mind is Eddie Guerrero.
None the less, the idea of mythological heroism plays important roles in both classical and wrestling culture. There is yet another aspect that cannot be denied. That is one of violence. We are a people, from the time of the Romans, who crave violence. While I personally would rather enjoy a Chris Benoit or Shawn Michaels versus Kurt Angle technical masterpiece any day of the week, it cannot be denied that violence plays an important part in professional wrestling.
Granted, we do not send wrestlers out to die like the Romans did to their gladiators, slaves, prisoners, and Christians, but wrestling has devised a number of ways for fans to get their fill of violence. It is no wonder that ECW was so popular and still has such a ravenous fan base. It was “hardcore”, “extreme”, and the epitome of violence in professional wrestling. Sometimes I wonder why we are so drawn to violence, but after examining the Romans and other historical cultures I wonder if it is in our nature as humans.
Another striking resemblance I see between Roman games and the violence of professional wrestling is the varieties of it. Much like modern day wrestling fans would not be satisfied with seeing one 1-on-1 match up after another, the Romans would also be bored by watching two gladiators fight to the death over and over again. We have devised a number of different match types, such as the Hell in the Cell, the Elimination Chamber, the Cage Match, the Last Man Standing Match, and the No Holds Barred Match just to name a few in order to fulfill our quotient of violence. The Romans created a number of different spectacles, weather it be animal versus man, or groups of men battling each other, or even a naval battle fought in the middle of the coliseum for our ancient counterparts to get their dose of violence.
As I see when exploring this issue, a number of aspects stand out which lead me to believe that we as humans today are attracted to the same things as humans were thousands of years ago. And with all of these different aspects one major feature seems to tie them all together. That is one of entertainment. The competitiveness, the drama, and the violence are all tied together in our quest to be entertained. Just as these elements entertained the masses over 2000 years ago, they still continue to entertain us today whether we be in Athens, Rome, or sitting ringside at Madison Square Garden. So next time you question why you are drawn to professional wrestling, recognize that it contains key elements that have drawn mankind together for thousands of years. And further recognize that this link we have only goes to show how similar we are as wrestling fans to those who lived before us.
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