"War minus the 'Shooting'": The Rise and Fall of Nationalism in Professional Wrestling, 1945-2001

Grant Fry Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Vivian Deno Butler University
Professional wrestling is an almost untouched topic of study for historians. Sports psychology and sociology was not taken seriously until the “Cultural Turn.” Even with intensified interest, scholars concentrate on its elements of violence, sexism, and homophobia. Thus, current historiography lacks any cohesion of adequately describing and tying together the recent history and impact of professional wrestling. Yet, a “pseudo-sport” perceived to be “fake” and “low-browed” is precisely perfect for understanding the spectacle around American nationalism. In a country filled with fear and angst over its asserted and dominant global position, nationalistic gimmicks and angles were opportunistic. Promoters and wrestlers made easy money in the Golden Era by “working” the crowd and refusing to “shoot.” However, these tactics became less effective and even rejected by the Attitude Era, a period where everything is taken to its extremes. This development is surprising, especially in a nation trying to navigate itself in an uncertain Post-Cold War period. War minus the “Shooting” grapples with the development and eventual downfall of nationalism in professional wrestling, pondering specifically the exterior factors. Why was Sgt. Slaughter readily redeemed after becoming a Saddam sympathizer, while crowds chanted “You Suck” at legitimate gold medalist Kurt Angle only eight years later? Primarily, nationalism arose due to its situational and simple nature, but this lack of complexity and adaptability was not sustainable for audiences oversaturated with tropes. Though, nationalism must compromise and contend with third era globalization. And with this paradoxical relationship, the ring is revealed as a spectacle of an American society still wrestling with nationalistic doubt.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

10:00 AM
Jordan Hall 278