Brett Robinson

Thesis: “The Cultural History of Professional Wrestling in North America”

Abstract: Professional wrestling is a significant subject in the realm of popular culture. In my work, I will critically analyze the influence of pro wrestling in North America throughout history. I plan to examine professional wrestling as a sport and as a medium of entertainment. Pro wrestling exists in a complex space between sport and entertainment; perhaps being most closely likened to live theatre (theatre-in-the-round more accurately) or dance performance (ultra-masculine Cirque du Soleil?). Drawing from texts written on the history of combat sports and professional wrestling I will analyze pro wrestling’s evolution as “sports entertainment.” I will evaluate pro wrestling’s audience and its changing demographics throughout history in North America and interpret the reasons people are attracted to it as a form of entertainment. I plan to study professional wrestlers as performers by evaluating them in relation to theories of subjectivity, identity, and performativity by drawing from the work of Judith Butler. Professional wrestlers perform identities in perpetuity throughout their careers. Unlike other individuals working as performance artists, such as Hollywood and stage actors, pro wrestlers perform their characters out of the ring (or offstage if you will) beyond the programming in which they are featured in and the live performances in which they partake. With this, professional wrestlers exist in a mode of celebrity akin to that of the reality television star. Pro wrestlers are a complex amalgamation of fictional character, sports star, and real-life superhero. I also plan to critically examine the history of professional wrestling through a Queer Studies reading and evaluate the homoerotic nature of pro wrestling and the fetishes it has inspired such as “customs” or “apartment wrestling.”

I bring to this subject a unique perspective, having conducted experiential research as a participant observer in the field for the past three years working as a pro wrestler while travelling across Canada, the United States, and Mexico. I have gained first-hand experience of the incredible spectacle that is live pro wrestling by attending hundreds of events across North America and performing the complex identity of a pro wrestling character in front of audiences of a large variety. Professional wrestling is an art form that has not received adequate attention from the perspective of meaningful academic research and I would like to address this shortcoming with my work.

Keywords: popular culture, media studies, sports, entertainment, film and television studies, North American history, psychology, identity, gender, performance, performativity, masculinity, sexuality, the body as spectacle

Supervisor: Dr. Christine Daigle