Thursday, April 30, 2015

Professional Wrestling And Life Writing

Yet another fun file find here!  Back in 2007, I wrote a proposal for a Modern Language Association (MLA) conference paper.  I wasn't surprised that the proposal didn't get accepted, as many MLA panels seem to be prefabricated, but the panel organizer did ask me to write the paper and submit it to a journal that he edited.  Alas, I never followed up on it since I had other scholarly projects in process then and didn't have time to add another project.  It would have been fun to work on.  If someone hasn't written a similar paper yet (and I do recall hearing one that was in the same ballpark, er, wrestling ring that focused on inconsistencies between two different biographies by the same wrestler a year or two ago at the Popular Culture Association conference), then please feel free to have a go at it.  I doubt that I will ever get around to doing this project.

"Grappling With The Past:  The Genre Of Professional Wrestling Biography"

Since 1999, when professional wrestler Mick Foley's first autobiography, Have A Nice Day:  A Tale Of Blood And Sweatsocks, achieved the number one slot for hardcover nonfiction on The New York Times Best Sellers booklist, dozens of professional wrestling biographies have been published.  Though most of the biographies are ghostwritten, some wrestlers become more involved than others in crafting the narratives of their life stories, particularly Foley, who writes his books himself, having published three autobiographies to date.  But, regardless of the level of the involvement of the wrestler with the book, the interest of fans of professional wrestling in such books has caused the professional wrestler biography to emerge as a genre within celebrity life writing.  Why has professional wrestling, a form of popular culture often held in low esteem by nonaficionados, turned so literate in recent years?  Part of the attraction of such books for wrestling fans is learning about the world of professional wrestling beyond the ring.  For, despite the knowledge that it is typically scripted, professional wrestling continues to thrive on mixing fantasy with reality, or what in wrestling terminology is known as a "shoot" (real) and a "work" (fake).  Fans, especially the hardcore vocal minority who participate in Internet forums and likely purchase many of the books, often seem to delight in analyzing storylines, attempting to distinguish artifice from reality.  However, though the dedication to keeping trade secrets, known as "kayfabe" within the wrestling industry, has lessened with wrestling's recasting of itself as "sports entertainment," even the supposed tell-all professional wrestling biography may not be as forthcoming as it appears to be.  Indeed, the construction of the identity behind the wrestling character in the biography may be just another mask to hide behind.  In this paper, I examine several representative wrestling biographies in an attempt to, pardon the pun, pin down notable aspects of the genre.

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