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It’s Still Real to Me, Dammit! Performed Ontologies and Professional Wrestling


Neal Hebert

Ph.D. Candidate (Theatre History), Louisiana State University

Jon Cogburn

Associate Professor (Philosophy), Louisiana State University

American Society for Theatre Research

Performance and Philosophy Working Group


On November 9, 1997, the 20,593 professional wrestling fans who packed Montreal’s Molson Centre—plus approximately another million fans watching around the globe on pay-per-view—gathered together to watch the World Wrestling Federation’s Survivor Series Pay Per View.1 For the majority of the show, the wrestling matches, improvised skits, and direct address monologues that jointly comprise the spectacle of contemporary professional wrestling proceeded as expected. Sometimes the heroes prevailed against villainous adversity, and sometimes they failed to overcome the odds against them but nonetheless vowed revenge. Things changed in the marquee match, or main event, of the show, however: the main event featured the villainous leader of the irreverent faction of wrestlers DGeneration X, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, challenging the Canadian hero and reigning WWF Champion Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and ended with a scene later christened The Montreal Screwjob.

Fans knew that Hart, despite spending more than a decade with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation, had been released from his WWF contract and would soon wrestle exclusively for the rival wrestling promotion World Championship Wrestling. Although less than a year before Hart gave an emotional speech live on Monday Night Raw affirming that he had signed a WWF contract guaranteeing his employment for the next 20 years (with a rumored salary of $1 million per year as the downside guarantee), WWF chairman Vince McMahon released Hart from his contract because of the company’s inability to honor the contract given a lack of revenue. As such, Hart was allowed to enter negotiations with Eric Bischoff’s World Championship Wrestling and jump promotions without a non-compete clause—which meant Hart could immediately begin appearing on television for the rival wrestling company.

After receiving an offer of nearly $3 million each year of guaranteed money from World Championship Wrestling, Hart gave his notice to the WWF while WWF champion. Hart was scheduled to become an active member of the WCW wrestler within a few weeks; the real-life promotional war between the WWF and WCW had caused numerous wrestlers to jump from one promotion to the other, and Hart was by far the highest profile performer to change companies. Other wrestlers, when switching promotions while holding championships, had done storylines disgracing the belts and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon reportedly feared Hart would do the same.2 Thus, in the main event of Survivor Series 1997, McMahon colluded with referee Earl Hebner and Michaels to double-cross Hart during the match. When Michaels placed Hart in Hart’s signature submission maneuver, the sharpshooter, McMahon signaled the ref to end the match prematurely, ensuring Hart’s defeat and guaranteeing that Hart would not leave the WWF as its heavyweight champion. Hart, furious and disbelieving, began destroying the ring, set, and cameras surrounding the ring to the crowd’s vocal approval. Before the pay per view went off the air, Hart spit in the face of WWF chairman Vince McMahon—who, at that time, was in WWF storylines only an announcer rather than an authority figure—and began tracing the initials “WCW” (for World Championship Wrestling) while standing in the WWF ring surrounded by the property he had just destroyed.

None of the above likely sounds unusual to most individuals casually familiar with professional wrestling—wrestling shows always have bad guys (“heels,” in wrestling’s carnie argot) cheating to defeat good guys (“babyfaces”). Unlike these other scripted incidents, however, the Montreal Screwjob was not part of the planned show’s storylines, nor was Hart aware of what would happen. Instead, the Screwjob—the most famous in-ring double-cross—was “real” life played out in-ring and onscreen. Unlike prior true double-crossings3 where the public never figured out that something untoward happened in storyline, the actual double-cross behind the Montreal Screwjob was openly acknowledged on WWF television and became a key storyline after the incident. Its subsequent influence on the performance of professional wrestling is impossible to misinterpret, and the event’s later incorporation into storylines led to the WWF’s greatest successes in both attendance and ticket sales.

In our paper we embark on the first steps of our larger project to provide an ontology of professional wrestling. We take the profoundly postmodern moment of the Montreal Screwjob as a paradigm example of how professional wrestling performs both its fictional storylines as well as the material conditions that allow for those storylines’ performances (which often contradict the very storylines being performed). In particular, we draw on Nicholas Wolterstorff, Jerrold Levinson, and Noel Carroll’s contributions to the metaphysics of art (aesthetic ontologies) to analyze the specific admixture of real and unreal found in professional wrestling. As Wolterstorff, Levinson, and Carroll demonstrate, to provide an ontology for a popular work of art is to identify an art’s identity conditions (that which makes a given artistic genre and any genre-relevant entities what they are) and individuation conditions (that which serves to distinguish a given aesthetic genre and its genre-relevant entities from everything else).

To appreciate professional wrestling in the wake of the Montreal Screwjob, an audience member, much like audiences of professional wrestling throughout the 20th century, must be able to grasp its identity and individuation conditions as in other arts. But unlike more traditional arts—be they pop art, mass art, or high art—professional wrestling in the wake of the Montreal Screwjob demands different paradigms of spectatorship that have been naturalized within audiences since 1997. After the Screwjob, every single performance of professional wrestling is intimately engaged in questioning, complicating, and reinscribing its identity conditions as it plays with audiences’ abilities to distinguish between reality, the scripted event, and the material and political forces shaping the writing of the scripts that govern the event in question. Where once wrestling was predetermined sport, since 1997 wrestling is and can only be meta-theatrical in performance.

We contend that the differing ontologies operative within professional wrestling have a meaningful impact on the types of spectatorships necessary to enjoy these performances. In this paper we will begin the task of providing an ontology of professional wrestling. Any such theory will be complicated by how spectatorship has changed in the aftermath of the Montreal Screwjob given the way the Screwjob has redefined the genre-relevant norms of professional wrestling. Because of this sea-change we contend that for an audience to appreciate post-1997 professional wrestling’s performance any attempt to articulate the aesthetic ontologies of contemporary professional wrestling (identity and diversity) must be accompanied by a concomitant account of the competing ontologies that inform contemporary professional wrestling’s spectatorship. We dub these competing ontologies the “shoot” (i.e., the reality of the performers behind the storylines) ontology and the “work” (i.e., the fictional account of what’s going on in storyline) ontology.
I. Metaphysics? Ontologies? Profession Wrestling?
Before we proceed with our argument, however, we first need to clarify both the performance practice we have taken as the object of our paper as well as what exactly we mean when we say “metaphysics” or “ontology.” Although certainly everyone reading this paper understands in some way the performance practice to which we are referring when we say “professional wrestling,” we understand that this performance practice is, at present, theoretically undetermined; as such, it is incumbent on us to fill in the gaps no doubt present in some readers’ minds given the complexity of the performances that jointly constitute professional wrestler. Moreover, we recognize that the terms “ontology” and “metaphysics” are terms that are frequently contentious within the discourses that comprise theatre history; given the ubiquity and specialized meanings that accompany these terms in the analytic tradition of Anglophone philosophy within which we work, it is our responsibility to contextualize and concretize our attempt to combine the theoretical framework of analytic philosophy with a more traditional performance analysis.

We will begin by clarifying what it is that we mean when we refer to professional wrestling. If a person were to tune into an episode of World Wrestling Entertainment’s flagship show Monday Night Raw at 8:00 PM each Monday night, or Total Nonstop Action’s TNA Impact show any Thursday at 8:00 PM, what follows would almost certainly be true of the events that they would see. Understand that performance norms in professional wrestling, like those of other performance arts, have always been contingent upon the tastes of the audience for these events; as such, some of the norms of contemporary professional wrestling were different depending on the tastes and expectations of audiences in different times, places, and countries.

At its most basic level, professional wrestling is a simulation of an athletic contest (specifically a fight) between at least two performers: the performers are referred to as wrestlers, while the simulation is commonly referred to as a match. Within each match wrestlers frequently subject each other to strikes using their feet, hands, and joints (such as elbows and knees), submission holds that appear to put performers limbs and joints under stress while nonetheless keeping an opponent’s face and body visible to audiences and cameras, and assorted other simulated attacks. Wrestlers typically pull their strikes, feign submission holds’ lethality, and fall in such a way that the impact of their bodies on the canvas is evenly distributed throughout their body and thus less painful, but this is far from a painless event: wrestlers minimize the damage done to each others’ bodies, but no amount of care can prevent injuries from accruing given the nature of the performances on display.4 These maneuvers are read as having a certain “meaning” in the match, largely determined by the context within which the move is done.

One example of this would be a punch: in professional wrestling in America since the mid-1990s, punching has been a “legal” maneuver in professional wrestling and a staple of most professional wrestling matches. In All Japan Professional Wrestling’s 6/3/1994 match between Toshiaki Kawada and Mitsuharu Misawa for the Triple Crown world championship, however, Kawada only punches Misawa after thirty minutes of wrestling. Although this move frequently begins any number of other matches, given the context of the championship match in Tokyo and the pride of both performers to win the move meant something decidedly different than it would have had it opened the match. On that night and at that time, Kawada’s punch to Misawa—the only punch in the nearly 40 minute match—performed his desperation to hurt his opponent. It was only part of a sequence of strikes wherein Kawada used every offensive strike in his arsenal of maneuvers to try to hurt his rival, and the crowd in the Tokyo Nippon Budokan grew so excited that the thousands of fans in attendance began stomping their feet on the concrete floor in appreciation.

Frequently, a match occurs before a live audience, although this is not necessarily true of all matches.5 Often, these performances involve at least one other performer who simulates officiating the athletic contest by enforcing its (sometimes) nebulously-defined rules: the referee.6 Matches rarely occur in isolation when they are performed. Although single matches might have been put on as a complete performance early in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when championship matches could last for up to four hours, presently companies produce a slate of matches that are jointly labeled a card: audiences buy tickets to see a group of matches performed by a single producing entity.

The producing entity is understood to be a company or “promotion” by audiences; performers are signed exclusively to a given promotion, and their matches can almost always only be seen on shows that are produced by a given promotion. This promotion—whether through a single storyline writer (called “booker” in wrestling’s carnie argot) or through an entire writing team dedicated to this purpose—determines the creative direction of the company: this means that the situations that lead to matches, the results of the matches, and the characters portrayed by the performers in matches are all predetermined or fictions created by the producing entity. The booker or writing team decides which wrestlers are champions, whether matches are championship matches (matches where championships can change hands), and why any number of wrestlers are wrestling each other rather than anyone else (“feuding”).

Although a given card might have eight matches, each of those matches is—on a well-booked show—expected to serve a different role. An opening match is frequently designed to excite a given crowd. Sometimes it does this through acrobatic maneuvers; sometimes it does this through the pace at which the wrestlers do maneuvers; or sometimes it does this by showcasing a fan-favorite wrestler. Using our eight match show as a hypothetical example, subsequent matches would feature virtuous wrestlers (“babyfaces”) in contests against evil (“heel”) wrestlers. After the opening match, the show will “slow down” by featuring slower-paced, less exciting matches to avoid exhausting the crowd. After the opener, subsequent matches should consistently crescendo until the final match of the evening to ensure that the main event match receives the strongest reaction.

The above, of course, is only part of the story. While it certainly accounts for much of the content of a given evening of professional wrestling, it does not account for all of the things one sees at a live event or on television. The wrestler’s entrances to the arena, irrespective of whether one is discussing their arrival to wrestle a match or to simply appear before a crowd, are also an integral part of professional wrestling: music, masculinist/feminist posturing, pyrotechnics, and dance are all synthesized into the short performances that accompany wrestlers’ appearance on stage. Moreover, sometimes wrestlers appear in the ring within which matches are contested with a microphone: rather than engaging in a physical contest, the wrestlers perform direct address monologues to the crowd or verbally duel a future opponent (wrestlers deem the act of performing a monologue or an improvised scene “cutting a promo”). Shows frequently supplement the matches with improvised skits between multiple wrestlers (either backstage or in the ring), advertisements for wrestling-related merchandise (such as replica championship belts, apparel, or DVDs of past wrestling events/matches), video packages that summarize prior storylines, and assorted other things. Given all of the above, it becomes possible for someone to say that they watched wrestling for three hours despite their being, perhaps, only a few minutes of actual wrestling within the context of a match (or matches).7

As can be seen from all of the above, when we discuss professional wrestling in this paper we are necessarily referring to the hybrid performance practice that unites all o the above disparate elements into a single event. Each of the above, when said element occurs within the context of a professional wrestling event, can be referred to as professional wrestling in the same way that a match can be deemed to be professional wrestling. But although all of the above can be meaningfully referred to as “professional wrestling” in common parlance, none of the above practices necessarily bring us any closer to discerning what the ontology or metaphysics of professional wrestling are—or even what those terms mean within the context of our paper.

In this paper we are committed not merely to providing an ontology or metaphysics of professional wrestling. We are doing so while working within the tradition of analytic philosophy rather than the tradition of continental philosophy that so informs much of the exciting research that has been and is being done in theatre history.8 Analytic philosophy is arguably the most prevalent philosophical tradition practiced throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and The United Kingdom; throughout the English-speaking world, it has come to dominate philosophy departments and its work is featured in numerous top-tier peer reviewed journals. At its most basic level, analytic philosophy is a tradition that concerns itself with quality and clarity of argumentation: frequently, arguments in analytic philosophy rely upon an understanding of formal logic or philosophy of language to ensure that arguments actually work. Moreoever, this tradition is based in part upon Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore’s rejections of continental philosophy (specifically Hegelianism) because of their issues with clarity. The work of Moore9 and Russell10 was soon enhanced by the research of Gottlob Frege’s research on predicate logic,11 Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language,12 the rise of logical positivism,13 and ordinary language analysis.14 Where a work of continental philosophy such as Foucault’s History of Sexuality is exciting precisely because of the far-reaching consequences the arise from Foucault’s overarching post-structuralist analysis, an archetypal work of analytic philosophy would likely make a far more limited, conservative, and precise intervention into a much-narrower discourse.

The intervention we make within this article to the discourse on metaphysics and ontology fits within the tradition of analytic philosophy. We stress this point because metaphysics and ontology are terms that mean different things within different philosophical traditions. Within the continental tradition, it is not uncommon for philosophers to express skepticism of metaphysics given that many continental philosophers employ both argument and description of what it is like to exist in the world: if the goal is, in part, to describe what the world is really like, metaphysics can be problematic since it is not something that one experiences within the world. In the analytic tradition, however, interest in metaphysics and ontology (the words are, in this tradition, frequently used interchangeably) has dramatically increased in the past seventy years as many Anglophone philosophers began disputing the idealism of the early analysts or the logical positivists.

The type of ontology we are doing is an aesthetic ontology. In brief, we are concerned with what makes a work of art a work of art as well as a specific type of art: what makes a given artistic genre and any genre-relevant entities what they are (identity conditions) and serves to distinguish a given aesthetic genre and its genre-relevant entities from everything else (individuation conditions). This is a discourse within analytic philosophy that was reignited with the publication of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s “Toward an Ontology of Art Works” in 1975. It is in Wolterstorff that we first see a philosopher make a distinction between performance-works and art works. The challenge of accounting for the ontology of postmodern art is first raised in Wolterstorff as well.15

Although Wolterstorff determines that works of art are ultimately Kinds and provides arguments for this, for the purposes of this paper we embrace Jerrold Levinson’s account of what a musical work is: Levinson improves upon Wolterstorff and other aesthetic ontologies given his understanding of the role temporality plays on the existence of a work of art. Levinson defines a musical work with the following formula:

“(MW) S/PM structure-as-indicated-by-X-at-t” (Levinson, 20)

(MW) is the abbreviation used for any given musical work. The S/PM abbreviation refers to the compound of two structures that go into a musical work: the sound-structure S (or sequence of notes that comprise a song) and the performing-means structure PM (the specific instruments that are intended to produce the sequences of notes that comprise the song). The variable x is used for a composer, while t refers to the time at which the work is composed. The advantage of Levinson’s formulation of the ontology of musical works of art is that his ontology accounts for the relationship between a work of art’s historical context and the aesthetic properties we ascribe to it in a nontrivial way.

This importance of this move cannot be understated, and its relevance to art forms than musical composition should be obvious. While the blank verse of Shakespeare’s works were de rigueur in early Modern England, a contemporary playwright who works within blank verse would be creating an aesthetic work that works differently than a piece by Shakespeare’s works: perhaps critics would hail the work for its homage to the Bard, but more likely such a work would be considered tiresome or of lesser value than the works of Shakespeare irrespective of the quality of the blank verse. Even if blank verse, dramatic action, characterization, and all of the other properties of a play were somehow better realized than that in the works of Shakespeare it would be unlikely that a play written in this way would be considered great: the time within which the play was written have a nontrivial relationship with the aesthetic properties we ascribe to the work of art.

Although wrestling is neither music or theatre—despite its incorporation of both within the genre—the temporal component of Levinson’s formulation is appealing for our attempt to formalize the ontology of wrestling. We recapitulate it in this way:

(PW) E/pE structure-as-indicated-by-X-at-t

(PW), perhaps obviously, refers to professional wrestling. Event, or E, refers to any promo, improvised skit, or match that can be multiply instantiated through performance, while pE is a performance of the event E. X stands for a given performer; in the case of an event that features multiple performers, this could well be XvY, XvYvZ, ABvCD, and so on (v, in these instances, stands for versus; we borrow the abbreviation from boxing and other combat sports). The time within which the event occurs remains t.

Given the earlier explanation of what professional wrestling is, it might as yet be unclear exactly why the relationship between E/pE as a structure is necessary to understand the ontology of professional wrestling. Suppose we wish to bring attention to the feud between Rick Flair and Ricky Steamboat. The first question is: which feud? The two performers feuded with each other multiple times during the 1970s, again in the early 1980s, and yet again in the late 1980s. If we were to stipulate that we were discussing the feud in 1978 the two had over Jim Crockett Promotions’ United States heavyweight championship, the nature of the professional wrestling industry at that time was extremely significant: television matches were used to create storylines that would promote local shows that audiences would have to pay to see live to get a resolution. So Flair and Steamboat’s “grudge match” for the championship would have been a match set up on television that would only be resolved at local, untelevised house shows. Fans in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Spartanburg, South Carolina would both see the event (E) that is Ric Flair v. Ricky Steamboat (XvY) for the JCP/NWA United States heavyweight championship in 1978 (at-t): but the match in Charlotte would be as much a pE as the match in Spartanburg. Indeed, both matches might have the exact same result—and the (identical) result of the nontelevised matches will be discussed on TV as if only one E occurred.

Given the way our ontology accounts for events that are televised as well as nontelevised, an attentive reader will no doubt discern that the medium of distribution of these peformances is relevant to our account. Indeed, our above formulation is informed by the work of Noel Carroll, particularly his account of the importance of mass art to the philosophy of art. Carroll, in “The Ontology of Mass Art” attempts to “draw the attention of philosophers of art to questions concerning mass art” (Carroll, 187). For Carroll, a work of art (or x) is a mass artwork

If and only if 1) x is a multiple instance or type artwork 2) produced and distributed by a mass technology, 3) which artwork is intentionally designed to gravitate in its structural choices (e.g., its narrative forms, symbolism, intended affect, and even its content) toward those choices that promise accessibility with minimum effort, virtually on first contact, for the largest number of relatively untutored audiences. (Carroll, 190)

Given the historical importance of television (and, eventually, pay per view) to the dissemination of professional wrestling, producing an ontology of professional wrestling that was not attentive to wrestling’s essential potential for multiple instance was simply unfeasible. After all, the popularity of the television did not explode until professional wrestling was used to fill broadcast time on networks in the 1940s; as John Capouya notes in his biography of George Wagner, the prospect of seeing clean cut masculine wrestlers defeat the preening bad boy “Gorgeous George” was used to market the television in the United States after Wagner’s first televised match in 1947. Moreover, assorted territories throughout the 20th century produced local television shows that performed extremely well for decades.16
Partial Conclusion. It’s Still Real To Me, Dammit
The date is November 19, 2005. Several hundred professional wrestling fans gathered in Spartanburg, South Carolina to attend “A Tribute to Starrcade,” an event hosted by the regional professional wrestling promotion Carolina Championship Wrestling. The main draw of the evening was the opportunity for fans to reminisce about wrestling shows of the past: Starrcade, to fans in South Carolina and around the world, was a name with history and emotional resonance.

For those unfamiliar with Starrcade, it is the name given to a series of annual performances that, from 1983 until the final event in 2000, tell the story of how professional wrestling would change at the end of this past century. The first Starrcade, later dubbed “the grand-daddy of them all,”17 took place at the Greensboro Coliseum of Greensboro, South Carolina on November 24, 1983. The event, promoted by Jim Crockett Promotions in affiliation with the National Wrestling Alliance18 (or NWA), was the first annual wrestling “super-card” to be broadcast around its territory through closed-circuit television, an important forerunner of the now-ubiquitous pay per view. Moreover, the first Starrcade is also illustrative of the numerous events that come together during a given night of professional wrestling. The eight matches that collectively comprise the Starrcade “card” are not exhaustive of what we call Starrcade. Each match’s story is supplemented by the announcers (called “commentators” in wrestling jargon) that concretize the story of the match currently going on in the ring, tease the coming attractions later in the broadcast, and, sometimes, create future storylines. Furthermore, these matches do not occur in a vacuum. Video packages containing clips of the storylines that caused the central conflict of a match are played before some matches to ensure that the audience understands the story, and throughout the show wrestlers who have yet to perform will perform monologues about the beatings they will deliver to their oponents in their upcoming match or, alternatively, appear in short skits with other wrestlers to further develop the drama driving the simulations of violence. Wrestlers’ entrances are accompanied by music, and there is an improvisatory spirit that is inseparable from any live performance.

Starracde began as a Thanksgiving evening supercard for the Carolina-based Jim Crockett Promotions. Within three years the event was held in Chicago and broadcast across the country live on Pay Per View. After the purchase of Jim Crockett Promotions by Ted Turner and the establishment of World Championship Wrestling on Turner’s TBS Superstation, Starrcade remained the premiere pay per view event of its promotion until the final Starrcade was broadcast on December 17, 2000. Less than one month later, WCW was sold to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation.

Wrestling fans know that the history of Starrcade is the history of professional wrestling in the late 20th century: the death of the regional territories and the rise of national promotions. Although wrestlers now are larger-than-life celebrities who only come to a town once each year, in the earliest years of Starrcade fans throughout the Carolinas could see their heroes each week at “spot shows” (non-televised local shows in smaller arenas). An event like Carolina Championship Wrestling’s “A Tribute to Starrcade” offered more than a chance to remember the performances of Carolina fans’ childhoods; its two-hour “No Holds Barred Question and Answer Session” allowed fans to interact and ask questions of the stars of their youths. The panel featured former NWA heavyweight champion Terry Funk, former American Wrestling Alliance (AWA)19 champion Jerry “The King” Lawler, Jim Cornette and his former NWA world tag team champions the Midnight Express: “Loverboy” Dennis Condrey and “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton.

The panel was, at first, a rather pedestrian affair. The wrestlers on the panel talked to each other, answered fans’ questions, and shared their memories of wrestling at different Starrcade events throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Things changed, however, once Terry Funk began castigating the wrestling industry, as well as performers like himself, for not ensuring that the next generation of performers avoids the substance abuse problems and injuries so common with the survivors of 1970s and 1980s professional wrestling. According to Wills, Funk “spoke about how most cities have a crack house… [and] he ventured to say that a crack house in Spartanburg would have had less deaths in the last five years than wresting has had” (Wills 2006).

Shortly after Funk’s extemporaneous speech, die-hard wrestling fan David Wills was given the microphone and allowed to speak. His question spawned a Web meme and inspired the title of this paper. “I just wanna thank each and every one of y’all,” Wills began with great emotion, “for all you’ve done to your bodies.” Wills pauses, his face contorts, and he begins weeping uncontrollable. Through his tears he shouts, “It’s still real to me, dammit! I mean, thank you guys. Thank you so much, Mr. Funk, for saying what needed to be said. I don’t wanna see another one of these…” (Youtube 2006). Although Wills breaks down before finishing his sentence, the words he left unsaid are obvious from the context: “I don’t want to see another one of these young wrestlers die.”

This is confirmed by Wills’s writing after the video is released: throughout the fan festival his excitement at meeting the heroes of his childhood was constantly intruded on by the reminders of the physical toll wrestling takes on the human body. Wills noted that Harley Race and Funk, both former champions, were clearly disabled from the numerous bumps and bruises they had taken throughout their careers, and the event occurred only six days after the death of WWE champion (and fan-favorite wrestler) Eddie Guerrero.

As can be seen from the above, wrestling is more than just a bunch of matches to a fan like Wills.

Meltzer, Dave. 2010. “March 8, 2010 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: Mir Controversy,

Umaga Death, Kong vs Bubba, Flair 911 details.” Wrestling Observer/Figure Four

Online, March 8.
Moore, G. E. 1993. Selected Writings. New York: Routledge.
Russell, Bertrand. 1967. The History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon and


Russell, Bertrand. 1967. Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and

Related Subjects. New York: Touchstone.
Wills, David. 2010. “It’s Still Real To Me…Damn It. Dave’s Story of Spartanburg.”

World Wrestling Insanity, January 26.


Wilson, Jim and Weldon T. Johnson. 2003. Choke Hold: Pro Wrestling’s Real Mayhem

Outside the Ring. Bloomington: xlibris.
Youtube. 2006. “It’s Still Real To Me Dammit.” Last modified May 1, 2006.


1 The World Wrestling Federation, or WWF, was the name of Vince McMahon, Jr.’s northeastern wrestling promotion from 1979 until 2002. Prior to McMahon Jr.’s purchase of the promotion between 1979-1980, the promotion was called the World Wide Wrestling Federation, and was promoted by Vincent McMahon, Sr. From 2002 until the present McMahon Jr. renamed the company the World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. This change was not McMahon’s choice: in 2002 the World Wildlife Fund successfully sued McMahon and his company for trademark violation. According to a deal McMahon signed with the World Wildlife Fund, the initials “WWF” were the exclusive trademark of the World Wildlife Fund within Europe. McMahon’s Web site, WWF.com, and company logo from 1999-2002 both violated this agreement, and the company was ordered to change its trademarking. Throughout this paper, we refer to Vince McMahon’s company as the WWWF if we are referring to events that occurred between the company’s establishment in 1963 and its namechange in 1979, the WWF if we are referring to events that occurred between 1979-2002, and WWE if we are referring to events that occurred between 2002 and the present.

2 Debrah Anne Micelli, who wrestled as Madusa (shortened from “Made in the USA”) in the American Wrestling Alliance, the National Wrestling Alliance, and World Championship Wrestling, and as Alundra Blayze in the World Wrestling Federation, did just that when she jumped ship from the World Wrestling Federation to World Championship Wrestling: on the December 18, 1995 edition of WCW’s Monday Nitro, Micelli threw her WWF Women’s Championship belt into a garbage can on live television. Micelli wrestled for WCW until 2001, then began a separate career as a monster truck driver.

3 There are numerous examples of this throughout wrestling history. We would like to direct your attention to two famous examples that help historicize this event: the 1985 WWF women’s championship match between then WWF Women’s champion Wendi Richter and The Spider Lady (legendary women’s wrestler and “shooter” The Fabulous Moolah under a mask) that ended when the Spider Lady rolled up Richter in a move called a small package and the referee quickly counted to three despite Richter “kicking out” of the pinfall attempt; and the 1925 championship match between Stanislau Zybyszko and Wayne Munn, which Zybszko won after “shooting” on Munn, legitimately pinning the world champion after agreeing to lose to him in the behind-the-scenes negotiations for the match.

4 There is, ultimately, no truly safe way to wrestle given the types of performances that occur in matches. Although wrestling’s travails with steroids and other performance enhancing drugs have made news since the late 1980s, less attention has been paid to the chemical dependency issues that plague both active and retired wrestlers. When tallying only former WWF/E performers, 48 wrestlers have died before reaching the age of 50. In many (if not most) of these cases, the cause of death (where a cause of death is released) is typically either steroids, prescription pain pill overdoes, or a combination of the two.

5 In the Memphis territory, Memphis Championship Wrestling, Jerry Lawler and Terry Funk had one of the most famous matches that did not take place in front of a live crowd: the “Empty Arena” match of 1981 that was only aired on television. In 1999, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Mick “Mankind” Foley had a similar match that was taped in an empty arena and aired during the 1999 Superbowl’s halftime show on television only.

6 Some matches, that are presented as “unsanctioned” matches, certain “street fights,” or matches that are otherwise “too dangerous” for a company to allow to appear on their television, do not have a referee to preserve the illusion that these matches are solely to settle a private issue between performers rather than a part of the show—even if the matches air on television of pay per view. Obviously, this is a fiction within the storyline given that these matches are invariably integrated into shows such that audiences can buy tickets or tune into specific television shows or pay per views to watch these unsanctioned matches.

7 According to Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer, the 3/1/2010 edition of WWE’s Monday Night Raw contained only 16 minutes and 35 seconds of actual wrestling. The remaining time of the show was dedicated to interviews, monologues, skits, video packages, and the like. Throughout much of 2010, both WWE and TNA relied primarily on non-wrestling content to fill their shows.

8 Virtually every major philosopher cited in theatre journals (excluding, of course, those working in the field of cognitive studies) fits within the continental tradition. Indeed, most of the discipline’s foundational philosophical texts are best understood as works of continental philosophy: historiography (de Certeau, Foucault); phenomenology (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, or Derrida); semiotics (Barthes); post-structuralism (Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard); materialism (Marx, Adorno, and Gramsci), and so on.

9 Readers curious about Moore’s work could refer to his essays “Is Existence a Predicate?” or “Proof of an External World” (both available in Moore’s Selected Writings) to gain an understanding of the methodology that informs Moore’s analytic philosophy.

10 Russell’s seminal monograph, The History of Western Philosophy, or his shorter essay Why I Am Not a Christian are both excellent resources for readers curious about Russell’s work.

11 JON, I know you know what to cite here. I don’t.

12 JON, which Wittgenstein should we recommend non-experts to look to?

13 JON, what would you recommend here?

14 Jon, same question.

15 Wolterstorff, “Toward an Ontology of Art Works,” 130-131. In particular, refer to Wolterstorff’s articulation of the problems aleatoric composition (and other postmodern arts) pose to how one accounts for the properties of art works and the relationship between performance and the kinds they instantiate.

16 Mid South Professional Wrestling in Louisiana was the first weekly episodic prime time television show aimed at a mass audience to employ cliffhangers to drive ratings on a weekly basis. Memphis Championship Wrestling, at various points throughout its nearly four decades on television, would draw more viewers and higher Nielsen ratings during its weekly Saturday morning television show than would the Superbowl once per year.

17 The reference to the nickname of the Rose Bowl is significant, here.

18 The National Wrestling Alliance, or NWA, was a formal organization of regional professional wrestling promoters to create a governing body that could independently regulate professional wrestling around the world (although, for the most part, NWA membership was only offered to promoters in the Americas). Founded in 1948 by Orville Brown, Al Haft, Harry Light, Sam Muchnick, and Tony Strecher, the NWA was the result of multiple regional promoters (and their promotions) to jointly recognize a single, unified world champion and jointly share control of who that champion would be, how that champion would be presented, and where that champion would wrestle. Throughout the 1950s, NWA promoters divided up the United States, Japan, and assorted other regions of the world such that promoters would gain undisputed access to promote shows in a region, complete with promises from other NWA members to unite against any challenges to NWA authority: “outlaw” or non-NWA-approved competition to NWA promoters resulted in all promoters blacklisting talent that appeared for non-NWA groups. Although an anti-trust settlement (U.S. v. National Wrestling Alliance, 1956) “officially” ended these business practices, the NWA remained a major player (if not the central player) in the global performance of professional wrestling until the 1990s. Jim Crockett , the head of Jim Crockett Promotions, was a regional member of the NWA until Crockett gained the NWA presidency in 1980; throughout the 1980s Crockett attempted to turn the NWA from a governing body into a formal promotion responsible for promoting events in response to Vince McMahon’s WWF and that company’s attempts to promote nationally.

19 The American Wrestling Alliance, although not an NWA member territory, was a smaller-scale alliance of promoters based in the American Mid-West. Founded by professional wrestler (and perennial AWA heavyweight champion) Verne Gagne, the promotion began as a territory that featured a non-NWA “world” championship for Gagne to hold. Gagne’s repeated requests to be NWA heavyweight champion were always denied, and Gagne made his own promotion and championship out of frustration with the NWA .

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