The name for the doing : a moment of narrative silence in Lucha Underground

In “Pops and Promos: speech and silence in Professional Wrestling,” Claire Warden1 examines the ways in which narrative context is established or disrupted, and power is negotiated through the inclusion or exclusion of speech.

In episode thirty-three of season one of Lucha Underground, we see another moment for the record books. Following an interruption of action weeks earlier, where Vampiro left his post at the commentary desk and entered the ring to keep Pentagon, Jr from breaking Sexy Star’s arm, Pentagon returns in this episode to call Vampiro out and challenge him to enter the ring again, to face him.

Vampiro stands up and while the crowd is going wild, chanting “Vampiro” and “Lucha! Lucha!” the usual steady presence for the audience at home from the commentary desk is silent. Obviously, Vampiro is not in a position to provide commentary, but Matt Striker is completely silent.

The experience is completely disorienting for the viewer once-removed from the action. As Warden says of the moment when Nexus embroiled themselves in a match between John Cena and CM Punk in a 2010 Viewer’s Choice match of Raw, “The absence of commentary is obvious and disconcerting. In fact, the silence compels the television spectator to heed sounds often masked by the narration – bodies slamming on the mat, incredulous boos from the crowd, wrestlers talking.”2 Between the two commentators, Striker is the one to provide a balanced perspective. He is the voice of (relative) calm and reason, and most committed to providing a play-by-play of the action, and grounding the visual in a coherent narrative sequence. Without Striker’s descriptive structure, the television viewer is left at the mercy of the tension between Vampiro and Pentagon, Jr and the crowd of “believers” in the Temple.

The question of kayfabe is largely at rest,  even interruptions are recognized as scripted; the commentators, even when surprised, are quick to adapt to them.

With Vampiro standing head-to-head (literally) with Pentagon, Jr, and Matt Striker completely silent, there is real uncertainty about what is going to happen next. The crowd suddenly seems to have real power: their chants of “Vampiro” move the commentator forward, bringing him closer to Pentagon, and to the ring.

The power structures of the league are suddenly thrown into question as the mediating force of commentary is made visible through its absence. Usually, Vampiro, through his excitement of the moment, parallels the fans, and Matt Striker’s narrative commentary creates expectations within the audience and guides their attention to various parts of the action.

Without those that guidance, suddenly it is the will of the crowd versus the management provided by referee. The silence makes it impossible to guess which of the two will win out.

In Warden’s description of the aftermath of the Nexus invasion of the Cena-CM Punk match, which saw the commentators become victims of the violence, she says, “The silence not only brings a distinct feeling of realism to the segment, but it also leaves the audience unanchored in a sea of violent, destructive images.”3 The destruction is absent in the (apparently) narrowly avoided clash between Vampiro and Pentagon, Jr. But when Vampiro sits backdown, and Matt Striker’s voice finally returns, he sounds shaken, calling for a cut to commercial – cutting the television audience out, forcing the gaze away from the action – and his final words before he pulls his headset off (the last image before the cut to commercial) is him asking Vampiro if he’s alright.

The sequence effectively creates that same “distinct feeling of realism” that Warden described. It underscores the real emotional engagement that can be generated for an audience removed from the spectacle, and the importance of the narrative commentary in shaping the action in (and out) of the squared circle.



  1. Broderick Chow, EEero Laine, and Claire Warden, Performance and professional wrestling (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2017), 17-25. 
  2. Ibid. 24. 
  3. Ibid. 24. 

2017.03.23: “THIS IS AWESOME”

Last night I watched 6 or so episodes of El Rey Network’s Lucha Underground. I have never watched wrestling before. l pretty much decided to give Lucha Underground a shot because of my intense respect and love for Robert Rodriguez .

I’m still trying to decide what I think of the show. I have no idea how it compares to wrestling generally, but even as a contained entity I am struggling to identify and categorize my opinions.

One part of me wants immediately to write about the folding chair as an image of betrayal, unconstrained violence, and evidence of a lack of honor. At the same time, I am not familiar with the role of props in the unfolding of narrative morality in wrestling in general. I am vaguely aware that prop usage is a part of wrestling, because of the way it is lampooned in other cultural documents. There is also a continuity of wrestling history and character evolution which I can only be aware of missing; the color commentary is designed to compensate for audience ignorance but I get the sense that some of the narrative is intended to recast familiar actors / characters in new ways.

Another part of me wonders if something can be understood about the American psyche – especially politically – from this popular pageantry. Much is being made of the difference between performance action and real intent currently in politics. Wrestling is a crash course in per formative action. No one is supposed to be seriously injured, people aren’t necessarily even really being hit in to face. Not to mention that a good bad guy is as necessary as an honorable hero. Rehashing old grudge matches and communicating a continuity of character and personality through opposition and through one’s opponents is an integral part of generating and maintaining narrative in the ring.

Finally, I wonder about how the Mexican aspect of Lucha Underground creates a complex politics within a medium known for its popularity, on American television, with white, rural and working class people. Here, mistrust is built through ceceo and honor is conveyed and conferred through machismo and everything pays respect to the tradition of lucha which goes back to the Aztecs. Not to mention the luchadores hailing from outside the United states introduced with the full description of their cities and states in Mexico. Every thing is made bilingual, multicultural, and political. Will the Mexican fighters get their visas to enter the country legally to compete? What about the barriers of wrestling as a historic and cultural institution and the lucha that so many people fight every day in the streets? How should women be treated when they step into the ring?

I don’t know if my new engagement with this is the first step on the road to matching the WWE or if this is another blip in the long list of new media artefacts that I have explored in the past year. Mostly, I hope that Prince Puma makes it through and that Chavo Guerrero Jr gets knocked down hard – preferably with a folding chair.

Is 80% “good enough”? Thoughts on Internet Penetration is Franklin County

Yesterday in the car, driving along Route 47, my friend said, “Wow, Sunderland really is just a lot of land.”

As a student at a large state university, it is strange to think about my current home as being “rural”. Nevertheless, that is exactly what it is, don’t let the pizza place or the laundromat fool you. The stretch of land between routes 116 and 47 is farmland, when it’s been cultivated or put to use at all.

The definition is elusive for the reason that many things are in New England, unless you’re overlooking the ocean; it’s hard to see much of anything at all with all the hills and trees interrupting your vision. The university helps hide it as well. The migrant population of tens of thousands of young bodies is reason enough for a reasonably extensive public transit system and provides more than enough indenture to build and maintain any number of housing complexes, which cause little related businesses to sprout up to attend to the needs they create (like pizza and laundry).

Without thinking about the landscape at all I’ve been contemplating what it means to be a rural area. In a fit of frustration about the cost of our telecoms utilities, I started looking to see if there were alternatives to our current subscription.

In the process, I visited BroadbandNow, a site which bills itself as a consumer interest group, looking to provide information on the services and available to a person in every county in every state in the US. Of the three options in Franklin County, in Western MA, only  one provider achieves the minimum download speed necessary for “broadband internet”. The FCC has set “broadband” speed as a minimum of 25 Mbps (megabits per second) download speed and a 3 Mbps upload speed. Xfinity by Comcast is your only choice if you want broadband internet. Their promotional first year rate is approximately $35/mo. if you keep their service for over a year, it goes up to nearly $90/mo.

comcast pricing-Recovered

Graphic displaying promotional vs. actual internet subscription rates from Comcast.

The thing that got me stuck on this issue is from the little factoids that run along the side of the BroadbandNow website when you look up a particular region. There’s a little box there that reads, “Approximately 5,000 people in Franklin County don’t have access to any wired internet.” It’s unclear if the other number, 14,000, which is the number of people who don’t have access to internet with a speed of 25 Mbps or higher, is inclusive of the 5,000 who don’t have any wired internet at all. To a degree, I’m not entirely sure that it matters. What I can tell you, from looking at the maps of “underserved” or “unserved” towns, is that Wendell, MA, 33 minutes away from the University by car, has no cable or DSL at all. Leverett, 13 minutes away, and Shutesbury, 19 minutes away, have only partial DSL, and no cable internet at all.

If you overlay the maps of the underserved towns, over the map of wireless broadband access, you’ll see that most of Franklin County only has mobile wireless.

I don’t know for absolutely sure, but I imagine that this is what it means to feel left out of the political conversation. The Internet was supposed to be the wave of the future; this was going to connect everyone to everyone else, make us all equals in a massive interconnected conversation. But, in this, as in most things, it seems that some are more connected, and more equal, than others.

The Female Corps(e)

The dressing room has a brightly lit pedestal, and we look back at ourselves from three walls. We stand on it and twist our shoulders and hips, crane our necks, examining ourselves from all sides as infinite, increasingly crooked copies of ourselves list sideways and disappear into the murky darkness of the mirrored mirrored mirrored reflection.

We’ve all done it; fourteen-year-old girls and married women and middle aged women and old women do the anxious, preening dance that the mirrors inspire. But our gaze is always critical – how does the cloth fall? Does it show too much? Does it cover the right things? Is it really me?

The perfected female form – handed down to us through fine art books and museums from the Ancient Greeks – is a sculpted, smooth, white body without a head.

IMG_1845

perfection, discarded.

This paragon of beauty reminds us that our bodies are just objects: mere vessels for that which truly makes us human.

The eyes are the windows to the soul – it is no wonder then that the mannequins in the storefront have smooth, anonymous faces.

But that’s no different than the statues in the museums, their features weathered away by time and rain and nature, making lepers of the ones that still have heads. Otherwise, smooth, marble shoulders sweep up into elegant stumps, and we make eye contact with empty space.

Historically, young English lords made off the easily carried heads of the statues in Greece—the pillage of the Classical by the Romantic—and doing so, took with them whatever expressions those statutes might have made, the rest of us have to make do with what was left.

Friends, family, sales associates are always quick to remind us: the lights in the dressing room are unnaturally unflattering. But the critical gaze, the self-critical gaze, the critical self-gaze, knows every imperfection. We seek them out and itemize them, exacerbate them, magnify them, and when we gives them voice, we are met with confusion and incomprehension from our audience. There is nothing that will more quickly imbue us with a sense of alienation, of insanity, than attempting to explain our physical imperfections. Our audience—those same friends, family, sales associates—will always assure us that our flaws are either not as noticeable as they might appear, or that they cannot see those things that are so obvious to us. But we know they are there.

One of the two, either the eyes or the audience, has to be lying. Which to trust?

We know to doubt our own vision of ourselves, just as we are not as smart as we think we are, as commanding as we hope to be, or as confident as we pretend, we must equally not be as ugly as we imagine. But if we are not ugly, then how come the clothes never fit? How come we cannot find pants or shirts or sweaters that flatter our bodies? Our audience must be lying, because clearly we were made wrong, a store full of clothes none of which fit like they should, someone must fit into them…

If only it were easy for the secret to reveal itself: we are all built wrong, or rather, our bodies, as imagined—smooth, white, hard, all angles and swooping curves, no softness, no quiet surrenders to gravity or time, limited by musculature and tendon flexibility—are beyond the alchemy of elastic underwear, liposuction, gym memberships, early morning work outs, calorie counting, and anorexia. Our pathetically human flesh can never compare to life-like marble. We can only glitter in the sun with the help of expensive, mass manufactured powders, salves and elixirs that promise that lit from within glow.

All we can do is catalogue all we see when we stand on that pedestal and hope for the time, money, and energy to manufacture our best selves; rigid, stony perfection, on a box, inside a little velvet rope enclosure with a sign that says Please, do not touch.

 

Articulate in the face of Absurdity

In 2011, I heard Billy Collins read a poem about the word like, it was called “What She Said”. This, at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ, was after I had heard Michael Cirelli, a Rhode Island native, read “Dead Ass” about discovering new slag. The contrast between the tones—superior and celebratory, respectively—couldn’t have been more different.

Lately, I’ve wondered about the phrase I can’t even. Which is more appropriate? Mockery or consideration?

It is fair to criticize its abrupt construction, which robs it of both specificity and substance, means that it functions through familiarity; its meaning is contextually and idiosyncratically imparted.

Having emerged from the unreliable and overwhelmingly multifaceted depths of the internet, it is met with distrust by grammarians and the other vanguards of the English language. Whatever inherent meaning might have existed within the aborted structure was further eroded by use in the regressively repetitive reblog threads on tumblr.

But we live in a world dominated by the absurd.

In the country boasting the strongest economy and largest military force on the planet, a reality TV star is running for president against a former Secretary of State and First Lady, after after the two of them beat out an avowed Democratic Socialist, and a man so fundamentally lacking in charisma that a large swath of the public is willing to believe his is the Zodiac Killer, regardless of temporal impossibility. Meanwhile, policemen with military grade equipment shoot unarmed citizens in the streets. While children and families go hungry, Congress shuts down the government out of spite, and the people drown in debt after bailing out bankers facing no new regulation despite nearly creating a financial apocalypse.

Meanwhile, globally, the field is dominated by radicalism, terror, slowing economic growth, and environmental disaster. In a new era of demagoguery, the death of nuance seems both inevitable and potentially absolute. Our political discourse is reduced to emotion rooted in personal truths and we have accepted the dissolution of a collectively structured reality. With the banishment of facts, concensus reality is abolished and events already past can be re-imagined out of existence (Vladimir Putin will not invade Crimea).

A system without rationality can hardly be called a system. It becomes difficult to rely on language, which is a system, composed of atomized concepts and consistent rules, as a means of expression. We resort to other means. Our subjectivity—the production of the self—is given over to the front-facing camera. We situate ourselves within the social, physical, and political world through selfies taken on vacations, with friends, at rallies, and in the presence of our heroes and idols. The camera lens and the portable screen eloquently communicate where we stand on issues, with which candidates, in which cities, and in front of which works of art.

Yet we cannot avoid words: you open the newspaper, or a browser window, or an app and read that the government is refusing to do their constitutionally mandated job, and that, furthermore this comes as no surprise, and that a nation produced a vote which not even the politicians who lobbied for it can support, and that we cannot get the data to know how many people are killed each year by cops, or how many firearms are sold in the country, or how much money is secreted away in off-shore accounts. The words are concrete and undeniable (except by the newly greased escape hatch out of concensus reality) and finding a word to respond, one that encapsulates the emotional state developed under long term absurdity, can feel impossible.

Perhaps one exists within those linguistic traditions which survived the Soviet empire. But even there concensus reality existed, two of them, in parallel. The reality of the state and the reality of the people, spoken and whispered. English—the language of empire, of capitalism, of finance—lacks the appropriate philosophical and linguistic tools.

Beyond its near impossibility, it feels like defeat to attempt to express the entire cycle of horror-distress-incomprehention-frustration-disappointment-anger—and ultimately—complete lack of surprise, never mind cobbling together a framework of rationalized acceptance.

Instead, I reach for the only tool developed to express the whole of our collective emotional disorder: I can’t even.