Thursday, November 24, 2005

Lucha for Dummies II : Dedicated to Nik and Victor!!

Nik , my English speaker friends and Victor this is the show I will attend tomorrow and Well expect a little scope about it but in the meantime I am posting the words of a nice Essay I read some time ago, I am still looking for the Essay that was written by Carlos Monsivais that is one of the most famous intelectual minds in my country but in the meantime You are going to enjoy this description done by Ricardo F. Macip.

I am eliminating the info that I consider irrelevant.
Lucha Libre
The interior of the arena is beaten up. Its construction materials (cement and iron) are sturdy and cheap and are covered with dull oil paint. White and color beam lights that are missing too many bulbs constitute the poor lighting that illuminates the ring. The arena separates audience from performers establishing the ring at the center; then seats are further divided into three classes: ring side, general, and popular. Fans at the ring side are very close to the action, can shake hands with the wrestlers and experience the danger of the fights that spill out of the ring. These seats are the most expensive and the people who use them tend to dress up. They are objects of jokes and insults by those in the popular seats. General seats are located in a second level a little above the ground. This area is the safest and the matches can be appreciated with a good sense of detail. As with the ring side seats there are chairs to sit on. The popular section is on a second floor and lacks individual chairs. This is the cheapest area, is not illuminated and is also separated from the rest with a chicken-wire-fence to stop the projectiles that people throw. It is the most raucous section and in opposition to the other two areas. The arena has seen better times but is still able to attract a regular crowd.
The arena has the atmosphere of a fiesta. Cotton candy, sweets, toys, masks, and other memorabilia are sold much like in a fair. Whole families attend bringing three-generation households together. Children and women are the most notorious spectators, the first because of their great numbers and the second because their prevalence in the verbal exchanges with the wrestlers. Between the matches children enter the ring to wrestle but run away once wrestlers enter the stage. Then women take the led engaging the wrestlers with insults and cheers.
At eight o'clock the matches begin. A function usually has four or five matches that proceed in a crescendo. The first match is hardly noticed because people are still coming in and it is usually reserved for beginning wrestlers. Usually a hand-to-hand match, the novices that perform in this appetizer tend to cover their whole bodies in part because they are still teenagers who have not developed muscular shapes. Like all matches, it takes two out of three pins to decide a winner. The second match gets much more attention and is usually reserved for promising wrestlers in teams of two against two. The audience recognizes the characters and follows them with interest. A brazen display here, a fantastic movement there, these matches stir up the emotions. Wrestling still takes place mostly in the ring. The third match should put people on the edge of their seats based on the histrionic skills of the wrestlers: the moral forces of good and evil engulf the audience. Wrestling takes place inside and outside the ring once passions have come to dominate the match. The wrestlers run after each other, some of them using chains and other outlawed objects. It is not uncommon for the audience to get involved and hurt in the rumble. The match reaches a high point of stress and, independently of the outcome, the abuse of rudos (evildoers) is prevalent. This match is usually fought in teams of three against three. The fourth and usually last course includes the local heroes. It can be a match of teams of two or three wrestlers or a one to one, but in any case it is the last hope of the night to restore order and achieve catharsis. When there is a fifth match it is usually filled with an extra element of attraction such as a royal battle, a caged ring, or a bull terry match.
In lucha libre wrestlers perform dramas that ambiguously play with cultural and political contradictions dear to the audience. This carefully choreographed art represents and plays with Mexican realities by mixing elements of subversion and dominance. The audience is aware of its theatrical value and they engage it as such, as a performance that has to touch their emotions. It is common to see children sobbing in distress when their idol is beaten up as well as to see old ladies with sewing scissors trying to stab a particularly hated character. Men who go overboard and push or punch a wrestler are severely hurt by the rage of a wrestler who needs to be truthful to his character. This violence in the spectacle is related to the everyday violent life of home and street. The arena is the temple where violence is sublimated into a discourse of morals and justice. The arena is the temple where the asymmetry between divinity and mortals is established; the spectators are the mortals, the wrestlers are incarnations of divinities.
To look critically at and compare wrestling and politics presupposes the use of two visual metaphors commonly summoned in Mexico: mirrors and masks. Both refer to specific gazes inscribed in a visual regime of truth and disguise. The mirror is the object that reflects images of reality, but the image can be tricked or distorted. If it is tricked it has an array of preconceived purposes. If it is distorted it simply reflects the imperfection that any artifice implies. Lucha libre can be appreciated as a mirror and collection of images reflecting Mexican society. It is a collective creation of the urban underclasses and the heroes who confront each other week after week. The images of lucha libre are imperfect, they are distorted reflections, and they are versions of reality in which several stories about their own makers can be seen. This evocation of mirrors is a sine qua non for the comparison and interpretation of lucha libre and politics. According to Hernandez(other Hernandez not me) :):
To be reflected in lucha libre, to think that this can be translated into every day life is an elemental part of lucha libre. Things that happen in real life are reproduced with shifts in wrestling but there you have a reflection. The arena is the reflection of many things you cannot find, or see in society, that you cannot find out because you have no access to power domains. But in the arena you can. People see political candidates every six years when they are proselytizing. On those occasions they can touch them, shake hands, talk to them, and be close to them, but this happens every six years. In the arena you can do it every Sunday. Every time you go to the arena you have the chance to approach the wrestler, to know that it is your hero who is struggling amid good and evil and he can greet you and you can touch him. Lucha libre is parallel to power domains. People in charge of the administration of justice, those in charge of social development programs, all of them, if you tranfer them to the ring the same thing happens, the same domains of corruption. The most evident is the referee. He who has to apply the law is the most corrupt and favors all outlawed moves from rudos. The same happens in the governmental system. Somebody with power cannot be condemned even if he steals, rapes, or rustles. Impunity is associated with power, until they lose power, of course. The parallel of those people who are disguised as common folk during the day and those who by night are disguised as aberrant beings is quite strong. However while the wrestler tends to be truthful to people, the politician does not care. Both disguise and fool people but with different consequences. -Alejandro Hernandez (interview November 1999).
Lucha libre is a spectacle that combines athletics and theater within a framework informed by the incarnation of power. Mexican wrestling fans use the word pancracio (from the Greek pankration) as a synonym of wrestling and by doing so they refer to a classical conception of power that associates a disciplinary form of body empowerment and the projection of this power to the rest of society. Pankration refers to a form of power embodiment in which the mastery of body and mind are parallel achievements with sociopolitical resonance. The power achieved by disciplinary methods--training, exercise and performance--is regulated to exert power over other men. This power is also institutionalize in society. Pankration conflates the differences between political and corporeal domains. It is an organized assertion of male dominance.
The most distinctive feature of lucha libre is the coding of opponents within an oppositional moral field. One side is evil, the other good. They receive the names of rudos (rude, fierce, brute, coarse, evil) and tecnicos (technical, schooled, skilled, fair, nice, polite). Each match becomes a play in which a moral confrontation takes place. The characters of the wrestlers, the structure of the matches, and the separation between good and evil, rudos and tecnicos, borrows symbols from theater, myth, religion, and popular legend. The spectacle is not conceived as an athletic competition but as a play in which several sorts of meanings are deployed by the wrestlers and picked up by the audience.
Rudos and tecnicos are not only moral opposites. They also have corresponding wrestling styles. As their names suggest one is sinister while the other is technically dexterous. However there are exceptions: some rudos are masterful Greco-Roman wrestlers and some tecnicos are very limited. A better indication of their difference is the attitude they project towards the audience. The low moral character of the rudos is expressed though meanness, betrayal, disdain, abuse and the like, while the tecnicos act under the moral codes of the "goodie-two-shoes". According to Eslabon Perdido:
Of the two styles, I am more attracted to the rudo style. I feel that to be a tecnico is to be weaker, softer, more submissive. It is easier to please people as a tecnico. The applause or people's admiration for a tecnico is for me the shouting, the whistling, the cursing. (interview October 1999)
Good is violently threatened by evil and its restoration or defeat is the outcome of the struggle. The audience witnesses an encounter of necessary opposites and takes positions of identity by supporting one or the other. The wrestlers, as actors, play with the magic of this moral field and with the emotions of the audience, generating a catharsis. The pursuit of this catharsis is the dominant aim in the arena. In order for this to be achieved the wrestlers have to be good athletes and superb actors. In a set of four or five fights one or two reach this cathartic stage. The most important fight will be remembered by the audience throughout the week or, in some cases, for life. The catharsis purifies the spectators:
Lucha libre, I think, has elements of sports, but what it represents for society is very different from soccer or baseball. Lucha libre assumes a function as a spectacle of good versus evil. There is no revenge, just the plain implementation of justice. It is where everybody experiences equal circumstances, where all are equals. (Alejandro Hernandez November 1999)
Even though people remember who won and who lost, this memory is less important than the reputations and personas of the wrestlers. People approach the wrestlers before the match to ask for autographs, to have them touch their kids, to be photographed with them or simply with the desire to be near an idolized figure. Once the match begins people shout all kinds of things, from candid cheering to obscene insults. The audience yells, coaches, and runs during the match. If the audience does not participate, the match is a failure.
One of the most notable elements in lucha libre is the widespread use of masks. Masks are not used exclusively in wrestling but are an important element of Mexican popular culture. The use of masks is a constant in rituals and festive ceremonies as well as in popular mythology. Rural and indigenous villages preponderantly include masks in their religious celebrations, dances, and didactic evangelical performances. Longstanding stories and myths of bandit-heroes, outlaws, and tricksters include the use of masks as necessary paraphernalia and a source of fascination. Outside Mexico well-known characters include Zorro, today a Hollywood icon, and Subcomander Marcos, the spokesperson of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. However the range and array of local heroes and characters is far more generous and vibrant. Some essayists (Criollo 1999:46) have suggested links in this practice to pre-Columbian cultures living in historic Mexican territory. Although provocative, this suggestion only presents fragmentary evidence of masking and body painting, and fails to consider the dramatic transformations of colonialism.
The most evident effect of masking is the hiding of the identity of the wearer. In a visual culture where the face has come the means of knowing and learning the true identity of a person, where the face contains the fundamental information on who is who, the space where day to day phrenology is exercised and meaningful elements for ranking a person are negotiated, the mask has the power to confuse. Mexican society has a hierarchy of phenotypes based on the colonial discourse of castes. Profoundly undemocratic, Mexican society has, in face to face encounters, an arena where privilege and prejudice are negotiated. Each time a person meets a new acquaintance a wide array of resources are mobilized to negotiate ranking. The power of identity masking, of veiling a person, is therefore a mighty resource. Wrestling journalist and essayist Gaston Garcia Miranda has written succinctly and with eloquence about the effects of masking in lucha libre
The mask reflects the ferocity that every warrior has and at the same time it hides the identity of the person creating a mystery that scares the challenger. The attraction of the mystery is passionate for the public, transforming the user of the mask from a simple mortal into a semi-god. It is amazing the power of seduction that a mask has. In short, the wrestler who wears one stops being the person next door and becomes idolized, admired, almost all-powerful. Of course, it also has a very important meaning for the public. To see your favorite wrestler in the ring is a big deal already, but to see a man with an spectacular mask has a formidable appeal. Why? Because the public is not seeing a common being. The eyes of the public are observing a body who makes wonders in the ring and the air; and, on this body is a face that is no face; in other words it is a hidden face, a mystery that is jealously kept under an attractive mask. Whoever wears it is a big deal. It can be any man who walks quietly all hours of the day; but at night he puts the veil on his face and the metamorphosis is completed. So, the nobody is now the center of attention for all the gazes and all the aspirations. In his interior a fantastic change has occurred. It leaves behind the quiet and pacific citizen and lets out a fierce animal or wonderful athlete with technical powers.
The mask of the wrestler builds a credibility and loyalty in itself. Masked wrestlers have to be truthful to their masks. Eslabón Perdido, defines his relation with his mask:
If you decide to be a masked wrestler, the mask is everything. I mean, I wouldn't dare get into a ring without the mask; I wouldn't dare do a lot of things that I do in the ring without the mask. In addition to giving you security, the mask is your treasure, your trophy, something you are going to defend. It is nice to be masked. The fact that nobody knows your personality, your identity, that's nice. When you are fighting, some people approach you and yell that they know who you really are, and they have no clue! To carry a double personality is pretty neat. All of us who wrestle are a little crazy, we like to complicate our life, we do not want people to know us, but to live a dream. When I put on the mask I experience a change of 360 degrees. It is a very strong change. People who know me and who are aware that I wrestle, or at least figure this out, tell me after they see me in the ring, it is not possible that that is you. The same person who drank a coffee with us yesterday cannot be that fierce. (Eslabón Perdido October 1999)
Through masking, the person becomes anonymous as an individual and is replaced by a public persona who has a life of his/her own and which can be immortalized and become a legend. The mask is a public face and wrestlers have to behave in a coherent way, honoring the persona they have built through the mask. In a masterful argument Subcomander Marcos (1998), a masked hero, demands that politicians and public men be truthful to the masks they have built for themselves. He also demands that the public request some congruence between the politicians' public faces, their masks and their actions because, he argues, one day all politicians and public people will be unmasked and brought to trial to confront how they have honored their masks.
Within Mexican wrestling no other event attracts more attention than the betting of mask against hair (known as Mascara VS Cabellera) when the mask veils a tecnico and the rudo is defiantly barefaced. The winner has the opportunity to unmask or shave the opponent. The unmasked one has to reveal his identity while the shaved one faces public ridicule. The unmasked one becomes frail by loosing his mystique while the shaved one is symbolically castrated because the shaving is an allegory of scalping. In this case the rudo asserts his power with arrogance, as he is literally barefaced (descarado--shameless), without mediation.
The mask in lucha libre has several readings including its relevance as a dramatic resource in which the whole spectacle is a masquerade. Lucha libre is an elusive flamboyant performance in which political culture is critically (re)produced. Wrestlers are tricksters who are able to translate cultural and political fields. They have the ability to make evident, and at the same time to mystify, the relations between those plateaus through reflections, analogies, and representations. Lucha libre masks power domains.
Mexican wrestling is a phenomenon of the 20th century. It developed in a modernizing, industrializing, and urbanizing society. In this century, the country experienced a radical change from a rural to an urban order, developing its own sense of the modern, urban, and industrial. Mexican wrestling derives directly from the US catch-as-catch-can style. As they appropriated it, Mexicans transformed the spectacle, creating their own styles of performance and types of spectators. Today lucha libre is a central element of popular culture and imagery in Mexico.
It was between the 1940s and 1950s that wrestling achieved a prominent status in popular culture and acquired the definitive features of its Mexicaness. Lucha libre was not only a spectacle but a powerful media industry that included comics and movies. However, the most enduring products of lucha libre are the idols. Lucha libre gave to Mexicans the idols that have defined generations, cult objects, and profiles of dominant masculinities. Among them, no one matches the power and appeal of El Santo, the silver masked one, a real life hero of unabashed Mexicaness. El Santo and his cohort of foes and friends are the embodiment of subaltern male power (Monsivais 1995).
Recently a group of scholars of Mexican cultural studies identified and labeled the period between 1940 and 1968 as a "Golden Age" of Mexican life. The works edited by Joseph, Rubenstein, and Zolov (2001) provide a very rich sense of what was previously overlooked as an unbearably gray and dull generational period (Bartra 1993:13). A Golden Age seems ironic and provocative, but it is appropriate for the crystallization of lucha libre as a generative phenomenon of mythmaking. Lucha libre's greatest idols and profiles were framed in this Golden Age of nationalism and mass-mediation. Every golden age implies a dark age, usually that in which nostalgia and selective memory for the golden past are anchored (Williams 1973), and I will suggest the Mexican "crisis" (1982-2000) is the corresponding Dark Age.
The 1990s brought important changes for lucha libre. The most notable has been the transmission of matches on TV by a company searching for broader audiences (see Levi 2001, Macip 2001). Molded after the WWF in the US, the AAA succeeded in reaching watchers that had no arena experience or interest in wrestling. Wrestling became more popular than ever by mixing the usual crowd of arena goers with TV watchers. It also introduced financial problems for local arenas and non-TV wrestlers who were partly abandoned for TV idols. The AAA company generated a new kind of spectator bifurcating the audience into classicist and novelty fields. It certainly invigorated the spectacle by catching the attention of larger and more heterogeneous groups of potential audiences. Different kinds of fans still disagree on the merits and costs this has had for the spectacle. On the one hand, a hardcore group of older fans maintains arena-going as the essential form of appreciation and enjoyment while demanding classic wrestling styles "close to the mat". On the other hand, new fans focus on and follow the rise of idols through TV transmissions. The combined outcome is a lively debate and a renovated interest in the spectacle, which has become a favorite with video-makers, photographers, and essayists.
The fascination with the spectacle moved from a hardcore audience to a larger one that looked to it for symbols and meanings of authentic Mexicaness and a vibrantly codified political culture. In the words of Ruben Cruz:
Some of us who [became interested in wrestling in the 1990s] were there because it is a phenomenon of our own, it is a carnival of joy and color which is quite contagious to the sight. I am part of this contagion which was possible because we were looking for our roots but not in the usual way which means to go as far as becoming an indigenista. No, we were looking for closer things. I do believe that we certainly are a product of the mixture of several cultures but there are important elements that have been neglected, which are part of our recent history. It is in the end a search for that history. (interview November 1999)
This encounter of wrestling with broader audiences happened in a generation crossed by the contrasting processes of an embourgoisment of proletariat tastes and the effective proletarization of the petite bourgeoisie (Bartra 1984). A Dark Age indeed! In her analysis of lucha libre Levi (2001:345-7) finds this generational search and appropriation of popular-urban symbolism as a "neopop" discovery of a (new and authentic) Mexican sensibility. Levi (1999) states also the great ambiguity regarding rudos and tecnicos in the 1990s. Although the basic characterization of good and evil remain constant, the fans have changed and rudos and tecnicos have similar groups of fans and they win as many matches on either side. This change reflects an inherent ambiguity in the spectacle, but I will argue that it reflects also the very basic changes in Mexican society under the crisis and the neoliberal transformations.
Echoing these generational shifts, lucha libre can be seen to have more than one narrative. I have found three narratives and named them as narratives of dominance, subversion, and fatalism. I reconstruct these narratives from conversations with different fans that critically engage the changes within the spectacle. Friends whose youth corresponded to the Mexican "Golden Age" mentioned above first brought me to the arena in the early 1980s. Most of them are retired now and tend to be very critical of the stagnation that wrestling underwent in the 1970 and 1980s and they are scandalized by the clownish and cheapening effects introduced by TV in the 1990s. Younger arena acquaintances have milder perspectives sharing some of the nostalgia of the "old timers" while remaining open to innovations. To a certain degree the narratives follow generational correspondences but not strictly. The same person can use different narratives to appreciate separate matches and the same match can be interpreted with more than one narrative. In a sense the narratives are different lyric genres available to the spectators. Although they are all dramatic, there is space for variation between epic and tragedy.
The narrative of dominance identifies the tecnico as the heroic representative of society and state, as the incarnation of Mexican values. The tecnico is a mortal who fights all kinds of beasts and monsters and restores peace. Based on his disciplinary technique and dedication, the tecnico can overcome any excess of ferocity. Wrestlers of this kind are the likes of Blue Demon, El Santo or Huracan Ramirez. Nationalistic and patriarchal, they restore the order of things hand to hand, inch by inch on the mat. This narrative and kind of tecnico have clear temporal and generational referents. They are associated with the crystallizing moments of wrestling mythmaking and the corporate state from the 1940s to the 1960s but remain a vigorous model today (see Demon 1999). Offspring of a social dynamic that feeds the authoritarian political system of the state-party, these tecnicos represent the state and each time they appear justice is imparted. In opposition they face debauched and degenerate rudos who represent alien forces such as primitivism, foreign influences, homosexuality, and low moral character. Against the roughness of some barbarians, the charges of Chicanos, Gringos and other strangers, the exotic sexual energy of queers and punks, the tecnicos answer with modern forms of body discipline, the strength of Mexicaness, and patriarchal roles. Well behaved with children and grannies, these role-models are ideal citizen-politicians. This narrative mixes elements of dominant masculinities belonging to the household and the public. On the one hand, the tecnicos are supposed to be good sons and parents, and on the other hand, they act like ideal politicians. Few rudos have a chance against these embodiments of heterosexual and patriarchal law.
In the subversive narrative the tecnico struggles against odds and defeats the evil rudo. The tecnico pits his abilities not only against the rudo but also against the referee (usually a former rudo) who sides against him. Here the tecnico represents the quiet and docile citizen who is abused in everyday life but takes a stand against injustice. The tecnico has to invert the unfair, unequal, and abusive state of things into a moment in which a dream life is possible, when things are properly done and justice is achieved. This "do the right thing" narrative is subversive because the Mexican state--the main referent of the play--is profoundly unfair, unequal, abusive, and against the little guy. This narrative, in which a common person is able to become a hero and put things in order, is perceived as a remote wish found in lucha libre. The referee and the rudo act as villains within an organized structure comparable to any branch of the Mexican state after 1968. The rudo and the referee are insulted constantly by the audience, the first focusing on personal traits, the second on corruption. In this narrative it is possible to reverse the order of things to a more fair and merit-based reality. Every time a tecnico wins there is hope for life. Common folk can win; lucha libre offers a struggle in which they can achieve victory. In opposition, the rudo acts with impunity using prohibited moves and weapons. He is able to do so because authority is on his side and he, indeed, may become a referee. The rudo is a ruffian who represents all the evil of society using his outlawed resources for torturing the tecnico. In every match the rudo has a greater chance to harm his opponent. The rudo performs a didactic role making it evident how difficult and insane it is to challenge organized power. The rudos are immune to justice. In order to have hope, in order for good to exist, there is the need for evil to manifest itself and the rudo performs that role. Life is full of unbearable obstacles but the tecnico has the individualized power to restore hope: hope that is only found by transcending everyday life.
In the narrative of fatalism, the tecnico arrives to the ring with the allure of good. It does not matter what he is really like. He fools people by wearing the symbols and assuming the attitude of a good guy. He is masked as good. He pretends to be good and by doing so he fools people, increasing his prestige, fame, and personality cult. The tecnico is a public figure like politicians who deceive people through masquerades and disable them. The tecnico takes people's aspirations and leaves with all those hopes. In opposition, the rudo cannot do anything but survive. He has to be bad, to betray and be hated but he cannot do otherwise. He is condemned and everything he does will be perceived as wrongdoing. If a tecnico uses a forbidden move the audience covers it up, whereas they don't with a rudo. The rudo stands for those wretched ones who have been condemned to a low life and moral opprobrium. The rudo represents the petty thief and the crook, unredeemed to the point of assuming evil as his nature. He does not represent any source of power but coarse crime. Unlike the tecnico, the rudo has no gift of choice--he only fulfills the drama of his life. This narrative of clear hopelessness points to the masking of public figures and the criminalization of impoverished masses of young men. It has a political overtone in its desire to unveil the lies in politics and calls attention to the ever-growing criminal lifestyles of children of the street, male prostitutes, pick pocketers, and bums. Behind the mask of good there may be a real criminal--a criminal who wants to commit crimes--while in the rough and reckless petty crook there can be a victim. This inversion of values over an already distorted image has important implications. It is a protest against cynicism and mystification: we cheer for the tecnico because he is powerful and blame the rudo for being a jerk.
This narrative asserts that tecnicos are worse than rudos because they fool people, while the rudos are only doing what they have to do to survive. This narrative as a generational reading of people who lived their youth within the cultural framework of "the crisis" sees and reflects disenchantment, cynicism, and hopelessness in lucha libre and Mexican society. Fatalism is based on the common experience of neoliberal transformations and is part of the larger justification for rule breaking, which is also explicit in the glorification of narcos (evident in popular music). Fatalism is embedded in a hyper inflated individualism that has meant the abandonment of collective alternatives.

Really long but beautifully said what I feel about Lucha Libre.

Have a great day!!



Crónicas de Sepelaci said...

¡Buen post!, pero...

¿Y la traducción? :-P

Vale, vale, era broma...


Un saludín

antonio said...

hahahahah mil disculpas estimadisimo Victor que he perdido la traduccion...hahahahahahah!!
Un abrazo!!

Lo mas chistoso es que La Lucha es mas compleja para nosotros de los que nosotros mismos pensabamos...
Espero en otro momento empezar a poner llaves de luchadores famosas...en fin tanto por hacer y tan poco tiempo..