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PARTICIPATORY FANS JOIN FAKE SPECTACLE OF PRO WRESTLING

SHARE PARTICIPATORY FANS JOIN FAKE SPECTACLE OF PRO WRESTLING

QUESTION: Why do people like professional wrestling so much even though it's obviously fake?

ANSWER: People aren't as gullible as you think. Perverse, yes. Willing to abandon their last vestige of dignity and cheer large sweating men in underwear engaged in a lurid ritual, yes. Gullible, no. Wrestling fans know it's fake.They just pretend it's real. The fans are acting, same as the wrestlers. It is their job, for example, to taunt the bad-guy wrestler and prevent him from noticing that the good-guy wrestler has suddenly recovered consciousness and is about to take the bad-guy wrestler's head to the canvas in a crushing scissors-hold.

This is participatory theater at its best. If the fans didn't show up, or if the TV cameras didn't work, the match would be canceled.

So why do people enjoy this jive? The answer must be that the wrestling match is an allegory for the larger society, for life itself. Yes, it's that heavy. Think for a moment: There is always a clean, polite, neatly groomed Good Wrestler who plays by the rules and an Evil Wrestler, usually dressed in black or some kind of hideous mask, who employs illegal holds, back-breaker knee-drops and "foreign objects" that are readily apparent to the crowd and to the appalled TV announcer but somehow escape the notice of the beleaguered, hapless referee.

"It presents a very clear-cut ethical system - what's good and what's not. You don't have to think about it," says William Coleman, a theater professor at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, who has written about the purported sport. In a 1984 article for the journal Etc., he wrote, "All of this might be interpreted as a reaction to a world (from the fans' vantage points) where individuals are powerless, where justice is not administered fairly and where the good guys and bad guys are not known for certain."

In wrestling there is no such ambiguity and Good always triumphs over Evil. Whenever Evil does manage to win (for instance, by banging a chair over the good guy's head when the referee isn't looking), it is merely the penultimate act in the drama, setting up the revenge of Good.

The referee represents, perhaps, the legal system and the civil government, which people think of as witless and inept and fundamentally unfair. The announcer is the press - deluded, imperceptive. Only through the spunk of the individual can justice be meted out.

Of course, no wrestling fan would admit to any subtle motivations. They'd probably just say they like the violence, the celebration of brute force. That people would invent these false gladiator duels is a sign of both the untapped reservoir of hostility in society and the desire to create a system of beliefs that is bizarre enough to allow exclusive membership. Wrestling is a psychological tree fort.

QUESTION: Why do eyes turn red in photographs?

ANSWER: This seems to be true of every Polaroid snapshot. The picture would be perfect except the subjects are staring into the camera with eyes that look possessed by Satan.

This is caused by blood.

The flash from the camera is being reflected on the rear of the eyeball, which is red, from all the blood vessels. The problem can be solved by using a flash at a distance from the camera or by getting your subjects to look somewhere else, so we don't have to look straight down inside their eyeballs.

QUESTION: Why don't Communist leaders ever get assassinated?

ANSWER: Because they don't kiss babies. There's a direct correlation between baby-kissing and crumpling over with a lone nut's slug in your gut. Unbeholden to electoral requirements, Communist leaders don't press the flesh, and so they don't get exposed to the Hinckleys and Oswalds out there. In East Germany, for example, the members of the ruling Politburo didn't live in Berlin, but in a private, super-secure community called Wandlitz, about 15 miles north of the city. Your average run-of-the-mill assassin can't get anywhere close to the place.

"The top elite do not go out among the crowds. And when they do they're undoubtedly endangered. That's why they don't do it. East German (leaders) have always been afraid of their population," reports A. James McAdams, a Princeton professor and expert in Communist-bloc politics.

One of the arguments by Communist hard-liners against the wave of reforms is that Western-style freedoms are more trouble than they're worth, allowing crack addicts, crime in the streets and political assassinations. The common thread of several assassination attempts in recent years has been that the targets were campaigning: JFK was in Dallas on what was essentially a campaign trip in advance of the 1964 election; Robert Kennedy and George Wallace were both campaigning when they were shot, in 1968 and 1972, respectively. So there is that downside to Western freedoms. On the other hand, our stores are filled with merchandise and we aren't forced to drink soup made from beets.

Another factor to consider is that Communist countries do not tolerate the goofier elements of society. The state is the sacred body of society, not the individual, and so when a person's demeanor or habits come into conflict with state goals, it's Hello, Gulag. In contrast in the case of Oswald, a known kook who had defected to the Soviet Union, repatriated to the U.S. and made a spectacle of himself by handing out pro-Castro literature in New Orleans. In America you can't be jailed just because the government thinks you might be the type to shoot the president. Otherwise, they'd have to lock up half the journalists, just for starters.

"It's much easier to be nutty in our society," McAdams says. "The burden of proof lies with the state in our society, and the burden of proof lies with the individual in a socialist society."

There are some exceptions to the rule that Communists don't get shot. Lenin was shot twice by an assassin in August 1918. He survived, but one of the bullets remained in his neck for four years.

Someone tried to kill the Bulgarian dictator Zhivkov in the mid-1960s, but that may have been part of a coup attempt. And a few years back, former East German leader Erich Honecker's car was driven off the road. That anyone would use a cheap B-movie technique to kill a leader shows how backward those people are in assassination skills. Which reminds one of the Trotsky case: Leon the famed Bolshevik was dispatched by a Stalinist operative in Mexico in 1940. The weapon: An ax.

Send questions to Joel Achenbach, Tropic Magazine, in care of The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132.