"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 27 September 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
La Cage Match Aux Folles



In San Francisco in the '70s,

when the free love of

Haight-Ashbury had evolved into

the fee love of a hundred North

Beach strip joints and massage

parlors, there was a huge sign

on Broadway Street advertising


In one of life's great

disappointments, that palace of

Lilliputian crotch-grappling

disappeared before I was old

enough to witness bare-assed

homunculi hurling metal folding

chairs at one another, but hope

flings eternal. With all of the

Nutrasweetened sciences that are

now showing new life in the wake

of professional wrestling's

apparently permanent hammerlock

on pop culture, tiny distaff

brawlers may once again return

to the squared circle. Or maybe

not. Like porn and heavy metal,

the two other great arts of the

white working-class,

professional wrestling is an

extremely static enterprise,

indisposed to all but the most

subtle tweaks to its basic



Vince McMahon, of course, is the

genre's most accomplished

mixologist: in true Barnumesque

fashion, he's made wrestling

more popular than ever before by

giving fans less of it.

According to researchers at

Indiana University, only 36

minutes of a typical two-hour

World Wrestling Federation

opéra bouffe are dulled

by actual wrestling — the

rest of the pageant is devoted

to freestyle oratory,

interpretive prance, and various

other well-scripted forms of

burly hurly-burly. But despite

the remarkable success of

McMahon's approach, his lessers

have interpreted the WWF's lack

of action as an opportunity for

counterprogramming. They promise

lean, mean, more extreme forms

of combat, with less bluster and

poses and more busted noses.


Indeed, the biggest draw of

events like the Toughman

Competition and Extreme

Catfighting is the untutored

vulnerability of their

combatants. In the case of the

former, where well-lagered bar

bullies and smack-talking Tae

Boasters sweat mightily on one

another for three one-minute

rounds, professional boxing

experience disqualifies one from

the proceedings. And in the case

of the latter, the technique and

artifice that characterize

professional wrestling give way

to more primal factors. "Extreme

Catfighting is about beautiful

women with little or no fighting

ability, willing to compete in

the no holds barred World of

Extreme Fighting," explains the

spontaneously punctuating

impresario of Catfighting

Productions. "All of the

fighters have little or no

Martial Arts training. Extreme

Catfighters, fight on Instinct

and adrenaline. You can expect

to see blood, hair pulling and a

lot of attitude, when two

Catfighters meet in the center

of the ring."



But are such amateur tributes to

our collective blood lust really

likely to duplicate professional

wrestling's success? Certainly

in these times of polymorphous

aggression, when once-peaceful

rock festivals turn into chaotic

cage matches and no brooding

loner feels like he's really

made it unless he's had his 15

hours of blanket coverage on

MSNBC, any business plan

combining violence with

entertainment seems like a sound

one. And it also makes a fun

parlor game to predict how the

current levels of ring-based

violence will play out. Now that

Extreme Championship Wrestling

is mainstreaming body-slam

flambés and cheese-grater

facials via The Nashville

Network and slightly more

underground endeavors like the

Ultra Violent Combat Zone are

making staple-gun assaults a

sports-entertainment staple,

what will next season bring? The

long-anticipated debut of

do-or-die prison-yard battles

via CorcoranTV? Extreme Child

Wrestling? In Scotland, an

11-year-old ruffian named Terri

Paul was banned from sparring at

her local boxing club. But here

in America, where the cult of

youth informs even our appetite

for violence, consider how much

better the Columbine Massacre

played than the Atlanta

Day-Trader Meltdown — the

pugilistic prodigy would no

doubt find an arena for her

talents at Catfighting



But while a league of

bare-knuckled Lolitas tricked

out in sassy pink unitards would

no doubt attract a sizable

following, competitions that

simply offer more mayhem than

the WWF or the WCW will never

wrest the championship belt from

those box-office titans. After

all, violence is the most common

commodity in our culture these

days, and if violence were truly

all that the WWF and the WCW

offered, professional wrestling

would be no different than Cops or

The McLaughlin Group: a

moderately successful

entertainment franchise but not

a full-blown cultural



In the late '90s, wrestling has

replaced Madonna and TV talk

shows as the lazy academic's

Rosetta stone for understanding

pop culture, and thus, there are

plenty of theories to explain

its unanticipated popularity.

Wrestling is the quintessential

TV sport, many exclaim, and

that's undoubtedly true.

Cartoonish and colorful —

but with good, old-fashioned

white heroes supplying most of

that color — it moves at the

same no-time-outs speed as the X

Games. But it's even better than

ESPN's extreme moneymaker,

because while sky surfing and

dirt-bike jumping lack the

direct competition of old-wave

channel-clickers like baseball

and football, wrestling has no

shortage of mano-a-mano




In fact, wrestling's

mano-a-mano struggles are so

heated, many theorists believe

the squared circle would be

better represented by a pink

triangle. In this scenario, the

ring would serve as

semi-clandestine safety zone

between the closet and the

bathhouse. It'd be a place where

engorged man titties could

strain against waxed thighs

without fear of heterosexual

censure, where unabashed

invitations to "Suck it!" and

"Kiss my ash!" would be met with

passionate clinches instead of a

cold shoulder, where the ecstasy

of defeat would reach heights

previously achieved only in the

slo-mo, blood-and-spit money

shots of Rocky fight scenes, and

where sometimes the fiercest

GLAADiators would rip the mask

off the subtext completely and

come out flaming.


But as neatly ironic as this

explanation of wrestling's

appeal is, the empirical data

doesn't really support it. Scan

the stands at a typical match

and you'll see what we mean: How

many of those beer-swilling

fist-pumpers really look like

they're harboring a secret

passion for Biedermeier

secretaires or Paul Turner

mysteries? While female

aficionados of the WWF may dream

about sweaty, no-holes-barred

mat dances between Prince Albert

and the Too Cool twinks, the

majority of wrestling's male

fans, one suspects, look to

their heroes to fulfill more

broad-based cultural fantasies.


That wrestling is a soap opera

for men is a truism now, but

this platitude rarely gets the

complete articulation it

deserves. After all, every cop

show on TV is a soap opera for

men, too, but there's a

significant difference between

NYPD Blue and the Blue Meanie.

In short (or perhaps, more

accurately, in purple Spandex

briefs), wrestling is drag for

straight men, it's Wigstock starring

Hardcore Holly instead of the

Boybar Beauties. Its main

attractions primp and preen and

shake their greasy, Botticellian

mullets with so much histrionic

enthusiasm that they make RuPaul

look like a blushing wallflower.

And for suburban Joe Sixpacks

who never read Details in the

early '90s and thus lack the

quetero panache of their

big-city brethren, it's a

revelation. They, too, can

shine! They, too, can experiment

with fashion and express their

creative side and dream about

showing the world what bitchy,

narcissistic divas they truly




And that's why naked lady midget

wrestling, extreme catfighting,

and any male-oriented exhibition

that puts pugilism before

plumage, peacockery, and

calculated outrageousness can

never hope to rival professional

wrestling's popularity. In the

upcoming movie Fight Club, Brad

Pitt and Edward Norton star as

alienated bruise buddies who

engage in brutal, Saturday night

smackdowns, but once again,

Hollywood gets it wrong. Because

while movie-star regular guys

may think that cracked ribs,

black eyes, and mussed-up hair

is the surest way to overcome

premillennial malaise, regular

regular guys know that

zebra-print thongs and white

leather go-go boots represent

the true path to salvation.

courtesy of St. Huck

[Purchase the Suck Book here]