Reimagining Barthes' Spectacle of Excess: The Consumption and Production of Modern Professional Wrestling on Reddit
Davidson, Nicholas P. (author)
Giardina, Michael D., 1976- (professor directing dissertation)
Eccles, David W. (university representative)
Du, James (committee member)
Newman, Joshua I., 1976- (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
Department of Sport Management (degree granting department)
Professional wrestling has been a special interest component of human culture since the early 20th century. A mesh between sport and theatre, it presents a unique combination of production elements to consumers. French theorist Roland Barthes wrote about such in his 1957 text Mythologies when he attended professional wrestling in Paris and coined the elements of professional wrestling in unison as what he called 'the spectacle of excess'. What Barthes (1957) presented were socially constructed components of French bourgeoisie society that Barthes labeled as 'myths', popularized components of their society that prescribed acceptable behaviors and justifications for those behaviors, without necessary criticism of such. In line with the thematic of Mythologies, Barthes (1957) presents professional wrestling as a sensationalistic version of society, with societal themes guiding its production. Barthes observed themes such as the audience cheering the professional wrestler portrayed as the 'good guy' and hoping that the 'bad guy' is brought to justice. Barthes (1957) highlighted that professional wrestling's production in France was not intended to invoke the response that a traditional combat sport like boxing would, but rather to present a theater like experience that evoked the emotion of audiences. The production of the spectacle of excess as seen by Barthes (1957) was one of rigid consistency and role. Wrestlers who portrayed the good would always portray the good, those who portrayed the bad would always portray the bad, such roles were often defined by the physical appearance of the wrestler, and the audience would never delineate their support from the 'good' to the 'bad', for that would demonstrate a deviation from the acceptable. Since its publication, Barthes (1957) chapter has been, and rightfully so, considered a seminal text in scholarly endeavors into professional wrestling. The 'spectacle of excess' has been popularized by scholars, journalists, historians, and in other literary disciplines as a calling card phrase to describe what professional wrestling 'is'. Some have engaged with Barthes' spectacle of excess and applied its components to professional wrestling events they observed, or to professional wrestlers of today (Webley, 1986; Rickard, 1999; Hainey, 2017). Yet, there remains a gap in the literature on reimagining how professional wrestling's contemporary production has evolved or differs from the era of wrestling Barthes (1957) observed, specifically in the United States, a place that Barthes (1957) notes has different thematic elements such as politics than its French counterpart. In an interconnected world, with advents such as the internet, the modern-day professional wrestling consumer knows more about the sport than ever before (Toepfer, 2006; McBride and Bird, 2007; Wrenn, 2007; Koh, 2009). No longer is the professional wrestling consumer only concerned with what is immediately presented to them at the wrestling show as Barthes (1957) alludes, but rather is invested in understanding not just what is happening in the wrestling ring, but behind the curtains, and why (McBride and Bird, 2007). Professional wrestling consumers of today engage in conversation about the sport and offer immediate feedback, criticism, and opinions on virtually all aspects of the professional wrestling industry on the internet through social media outlets, message boards, and blogs within what is known as the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC). The IWC has emerged as a conversation line between professional wrestling consumers and professional wrestling producers such as companies and wrestlers themselves. Within IWC spaces, these parties engage in a two-way communication channel about professional wrestling producing narratives that could not have been envisioned during the time of Barthes (1957). In this study I utilized narrative analysis to observe and examine digital narratives of the production of contemporary professional wrestling through the digital social media and message board platform Reddit. Through doing so I demonstrate a reimagined version of Barthes' (1957) spectacle of excess by analyzing the two-way communication between producer and consumers and how this communication has potentially altered the thematic elements and production of professional wrestling. The two-way communication on the production of professional wrestling was inserted into du Gay, Hall, Janes, Mackay, and Negus' (1997) circuit of culture as means for visualizing its process. The potential implications and contributions of this study are insights into a unique sporting platform whose predetermined and produced nature offers potential for consumer influence on the production unlike any other domain of sport.
Circuit of Culture, Professional Wrestling, Spectacle of Excess
October 26, 2021.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Sport Management in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Michael D. Giardina, Professor Directing Dissertation; David W. Eccles, University Representative; James Du, Committee Member; Joshua I. Newman, Committee Member.
Florida State University