“There are two camps of wrestlers in lucha libre: the técnicos, or experts who abide by the rules, and the rudos, or rough ones who break them.”
After I heard that photographer Lourdes Grobet died, I checked out a collection of her photos of Mexican wrestlers from the library. Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling is a wonderful book — a feast for the eyes, for sure, but it also has some great writing.
There’s an essay in the book by Superbarrio Gómez about when he made explicit the connection between politics and wrestling:
In the real world, you have the referee and the state, the rage you feel before underhanded politics and the demagogy that thrives without censure or scorn on television and in the press. In the lucha, the rudos do what they want. They don’t hide their behavior. A dirty wrestler isn’t sneaky about his wrongdoings. It’s all there for the public to see. In fact, he goes out of his way to offend the public, to give the finger to anyone who calls into question his corrupt ways. A rudo with a referee in his pocket is capable of anything, of using any available ruse to take down the scientifico, the clean fighter. This is how it is in the real world too.
Meanwhile, the good guys, the técnicos, can be a bit wide-eyed. They’ll extend their hand to their crooked opponent only to have the gesture of good faith paid back with some treacherous blow. The rudo will hold out his hand and, despite the crowd yelling “No! No!” the técnicos will accept it and get whacked. How many times have the people told their leaders “No!” only to be ignored and then suffer the consequences. Wrestling fans know perfectly well who the rudos are. When they’re spotted on the streets, they’ll yell out, “Enough! We’re sick of all your screwing around!”
My hipper friends have told me over the years that if I wanted to understand politics, I needed to get into pro wrestling. (Heck, Dan Sinker put together a whole podcast about politics as wrestling, but couldn’t get it picked up before the 2020 election.)
“Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle,” Barthes wrote.
“The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees.”
“Thus the function of the wrestler is not to win; it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him.”
As I understand it, in American pro wrestling, the terms “tecnico” and “rudo” are replaced by “face” and “heel,” respectively.
- “kayfabe,” the “portrayal of staged events within the industry as ‘real’ or ‘true,’ specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not staged. The term kayfabe has evolved to also become a code word of sorts for maintaining this ‘reality’ within the direct or indirect presence of the general public”
- “the heel—face turn,” in which an evil wrestler (a ‘heel’) sometimes has a change of heart and becomes good, thereby becoming a ‘babyface.’”
- “promo,” an interview a wrestler gives before a match
- “work,” anything scripted, or part of kayfabe
- “shoot,” anything “real” or not scripted
- “worked shoot,” work + shoot put together, “something that is definitely part of the act, but attempts to trick the viewer into thinking (if only for a second) that it’s real”
- “heat,” a (usually) negative crowd reaction, or the animus between the wrestlers
- “pop,” similar to heat, but positive
And so on. As Sean T. Collins points out, you can see how all of this is applicable to contemporary politics. (And art, music, etc.)
Even more becomes clear when you read about the history of Trump and the WWE. (Kurt Andersen: “WWE is, if not the key, a large key to the Donald Trump phenomenon we’re experiencing today.”)