Dr Claire Warden, De Montfort University, presents the lecture, ‘Pops and promos: speech and silence in professional wrestling’.
According to Nicholas Sammond the professional wrestling ring is innately visceral, ‘brutal…carnal…awash in blood, sweat and spit’. In such (to borrow Roland Barthes’s famous moniker) a ‘spectacle of excess’, there might appear little space for articulate speech. However, using Judith Butler’s theoretical interweaving of speech and the body, this paper claims that both a Powerbomb and a scripted storyline are physical acts, and both play significant roles in the performative success of professional wrestling. It focuses on the art of the wrestling promo – its poetic intricacies, its storytelling capabilities and its ability to unite ‘actor’ and audience – and the contributions of the commentary team, whether directly intervening in a storyline or acting as a voice for the audiences at home watching on TV.
However, professional wrestling is all about oppositional forces (to borrow the tagline of Wrestlemania III, ‘the irresistible force meeting the immoveable object’) so what of the alternative to literary presence, that is literary absence? The second half of this paper unravels the tricky place of silence in professional wrestling, as both a potentially democratic intervention from the audience and, inevitably, as a feature exploited by the professional wrestling company. Ultimately this paper seeks to uncover professional wrestling’s complex and compelling performative constructs.
Dr Claire Warden is VC2020 Senior Lecturer in Drama at De Montfort University. In addition to her work on modernist performance, she is the co-editor of the forthcoming ‘Performance and Professional Wrestling’ (with Eero Laine and Broderick Chow) (Routledge 2016) and, in 2015, won a grant from the Popular Culture Association for her work on British professional wrestling.
Admission free, all welcome.
Art by Rod Hunt
14 December 2023