Pro-wrestling, unionisation and American capitalism

This fascinating article on Jacobin offers an historical persepctive on professional wrestling, a sport that “with its screaming neon lunatics, potbellied big daddies, and tasseled ‘ring rats’, has been considered too absurd to be taken seriously”. Yet the dominant World Wrestling Entertainment trades on the New York Stock Exchange with a capitalisation of over $856 million and professional wrestling has a long history which intertwines in complex ways with that of the United States itself:

Nothing is more real — and more obscured by the smoke and mirrors of the mat — than a simple fact: the billion dollar spectacle of pro wrestling relies entirely on the ruthless economic, mental, and physical exploitation of its performers. In that world, of lingering physical ailments, screwjob employment contracts, and chugalug drug abuse, Hulk Hogan is a millionaire named Terry Bollea, a favorite of WWF management, poached from a Minneapolis wrestling promotion and transformed into the star of “Hulkamania.” In that world, in 1986, Bollea ratted out his fellow wrestlers to crush a nascent unionization drive ahead of Wrestlemania II. In that world, wrestlers are exploited and injured and thrown away — their final contribution to the world, a mortality rate on par with day one of Antietam.

For a fake sport, pro wrestling sure has a lot of real casualties. Its only business model is fear.

Yet it wasn’t until recent decades that wrestling would grow unbelievably profitable, just as control of the entire industry came to rest with one corporation. On New Year’s Day, 2014, WWE CEO and Chairman Vince McMahon could claim to be a billionaire in almost full control of the industry.

But these machinations are the stuff of rich men. Most wrestlers are not rich men.

It’s a wonderful piece, even by the high standards of Jacobin Magazine. Read the full essay here.

Categories: Rethinking The World

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